The Herbi WriteAbout Windows 8 app
History and acknowledgements
In 2006 I was contacted by Susan Thompson, an occupational therapist who has worked with a number of students with different types of disabilities. Susan was looking for Tablet PC software which could help her students develop their handwriting skills. At the time there was no such software available, so based on what would be useful to Susan's students I built the Herbi Writer handwriting development software. Thanks to Susan's expert input and feedback, I could focus on what was most important to the students. For example, providing some simple positive feedback when a student's letter was considered to be correct, and adding some element of a game to give the student something to work towards.
Susan provides workshops and consultations on developing fine motor skills and has worked with schools districts to implement her strategies in the classroom. To learn more about Susan's work, visit http://HandyLearning.com. Susan has had an article about Herbi Writer published in OT Advance magazine. (Read the article.)
Since 2006, a number of occupational therapists, teachers and parents have used Herbi Writer as a tool to help students develop their handwriting skills, and I enhanced the tool based on their feedback.
In 2010 I built the Herbi WriteAbout app for the Windows Phone. This tool
incorporated the same letter evaluation feature as that in Herbi Writer, but few
of the other features. This app was also enhanced based on
2012 sees the arrival of Herbi WriteAbout for Windows 8. This contains the same feature set as that of the phone app, with one important improvement. The letter evaluation feature has been significantly improved to provide a much more consistent experience around whether the student's letter is evaluated as correct or incorrect.
New in Version 2.5!
When the app starts, it starts in a new "waiting" state. So no ink or score appears until you press the Go button. When the Go button is pressed, it changes to be a Stop button. When the Stop button is pressed, the button changes back to being a Go button, the score and ink vanishes, and the app resets itself to be in a "waiting" state. (This means that the app’s waiting for you to press the Go button again.)
An new setting has been added to show or hide the score. This can be useful when you just want to practice writing the letters. When you later turn showing the score back on, the app can show the score that you achieved while your were practicing.
A Settings page has been added for the less commonly changed settings. This is accessed by swiping from the right edge of the screen, clicking Settings, and then Defaults. A new setting has been added to control how long the pause is between letters. Previously the pause was fixed at two seconds when the letter is evaluated as correct and one second for incorrect. Now you can set your own times for each of the Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels.
Get the app
The Herbi WriteAbout app can be downloaded for free at the Windows 8 App Store. Get the app at the Windows 8 App Store.
Using Herbi WriteAbout
When you run the app, a letter will appear on the screen. The goal for the
student is to trace out that letter with either the pen that came with the
Windows 8 PC or their finger, (depending on the ways in which the PC can be
used.) A red dot shows the way the letter should be formed. The student doesn't
have to trace over the red dot itself, but they must follow the path shown by
the dot. If the student writes the letter in a way that doesn't match the
expected path, the letter will not be evaluated as correct.
Have a go! Write the letter shown on the screen. If you write a letter that's a close enough match for the sample, the Herbi character near the top right of the screen will smile for a couple of seconds, and your score will increase. Herbi WriteAbout will then move on to another letter. If your letter is not evaluated as correct, you will simple move on to another letter.
Herbi WriteAbout will continue showing letters until all the letters in the set
have been shown. For the default set of lower case English letters, this is the
26 letters. You can restart the scoring by tapping the Go button near the top
left of the screen.
Too easy? Too hard?
If you swipe down with your finger at the top edge of the screen, the Herbi
WriteAbout options will appear at the bottom of the screen. This include an
evaluation level choice of Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced. By default Herbi
WriteAbout uses the Intermediate level. By changing which level is used, you are
controlling how far a student's letter can be from the sample letter and still
have the student's letter evaluated as correct. For students who find
handwriting a challenge, the Beginner level can provide positive feedback to
engage the student in the use of technology. Over time as the student's
handwriting skills develop, the level can be change to Intermediate.
Have a go! Can you get 26 out of 26 using the Intermediate or even the Advanced level?
What do you want to practice?
When Herbi WriteAbout first starts, it shows lower case letters. If you go to
the options, you can choose other things to be shown, including upper case
letter or numbers. If your student has yet to progress to letters, why not start
off with some shapes?
Have a go! Select the Shapes set from the options. Uncheck all other chooses from the list, as Herbi WriteAbout lets you mix your selections, for example, lower case letters and numbers. And remember - the Advanced level is very difficult, so you may want to make sure you're on Beginner or Intermediate.
Want to have another go at a letter?
Herbi WriteAbout will move on to the next letter when the student's letter has
been evaluated as incorrect. If you go to the "Allow retries" options, you can
say that you want the student to have a chance to retry an incorrect letter a
few times before moving on to the next letter.
Think you know the letter?
The red dot shows how the letter should be formed. Remember - writing a letter
that looks correct isn't enough; you also need to write it in the expected way.
You can turn the red dot off, so that there's no indication shown for how the
letter should be formed.
Herbi WriteAbout shows letters in a random order until all the letters in the
set have been shown. If you'd prefer you can have them shown alphabetically, or
in the equivalent way for the Numbers and Shapes set.
How big should the letter be?
The letter shown in Herbi Writer is fairly big, but you might have a student who
finds it a challenge to control the size of their letters. By unchecking the
"Bigger" option, the letter shown will become smaller. Alternatively, if you
want everything to appear bigger on the screen, you could go to the Ease of
Access settings on your Windows 8 PC and turn on the "Make everything on your
screen bigger" option if it's available. If that options isn't available, you
could try adjusting the screen resolution of your computer to make things appear
Would high contrast colours be useful?
Some students with low vision use the high contrast colour themes available in
Windows. When Herbi WriteAbout starts, it shows blue ink on a white background.
If you turn off the "Blue on white" option, the app will use colours from the
Have a go! Turn off the "Blue on white" option in Herbi WriteAbout. Notice that any ink you write is black. Close down the Herbi WriteAbout app by following the steps described in the Tips section below. Once the app is closed, go to the Ease of Access settings and change the High Contrast setting. Restart Herbi WriteAbout and see all the high contrast colours used. Repeat the above steps to go back to the default colours.
Want to add your own letters, words or shapes?
It's easy to add your own set of letters which can shown to the student. This
might be a set written in a particular style that you prefer, a set of letters
from an alphabet other than English or a set containing only the letters from
the student's name. You can even add a set of words of shapes.
Have a go! In the Herbi WriteAbout options, tap the "Add my letters" button. This will take you to a screen where you can write your own letters. Click the "Add letter" button, after which you're ready to add a letter. Write a letter in whatever style you want. If you're not happy with it, tap the "Remove letter" button and then tap the "Add letter" button again. Once you've added your letter, tap the "add letter" button again. You'll see a list of letters building up at the left side of the screen. The letters you add are simply called '1', '2' and so on in the list. Now draw a shape. You can draw as many ink strokes as you want, so why not draw a smiley face? Now tap the "Add letter" button again, and write out a short word. You've now added your own set of things for your student to practice!
Having added the set, tap the Back button near the top left corner of the screen to go back to the main Herbi WriteAbout page. The next step is to try out your new set.
Have a go! The letters shown at the moment are still the ones shown before you added your set. So you need to go to the options and select your set. Go to the letter set choice and tap "My letters", and make sure to uncheck whatever other choices happen to be checked. Herbi WriteAbout will now show each of the three things you added in turn, in an order dependent on whether the "Random order" option is on.
When changing the use of high contrast colours or screen resolution, Herbi
WriteAbout needs to be restarted to pick up the change. To close down the app,
drag your finger down from the top of the screen into the middle of the screen
until the app shrinks down, and then continue the drag to the bottom of the
screen. Once the app has disappeared off the bottom of the screen, it can be
restarted from the Start screen.
Herbi WriteAbout will wait for the student to write the same number of ink strokes as the sample letter contains. If the student accidentally draws a tiny ink stroke, or lifts their pen or finger off the screen while writing, the app will consider that to be a stroke and will use it in the evaluation. So it's important not to let the pen or finger "bounce" on the screen while writing.
When evaluating the student's letter, Herbi WriteAbout will find lots of points in the letter to compare with lots of points in the sample letter. If you find that a letter is evaluated as incorrect, and you don't know why, you can have the dots shown. If your PC has a keyboard, press the 'd' key while tapping the Go button. By doing that, if a letter is evaluated as incorrect, the points are shown on the screen and the place where the student's letter is considered to be too far away from the sample while be shown with a yellow box.
What would you like the app to do?
All the Herbi.org apps are enhanced based on feedback from parents, teachers and Occupational Therapists. So let me know what enhancements you'd like made to Herbi WriteAbout for Windows 8 and I'll add your feedback to the list! Contact me at Barker@Herbi.org.
Here are some of the suggestions made so far:
Allow a tiny dot for the dot in the 'i' and 'j', rather than having to make a small stroke. (Also, for other letters, ignore a tidy dot, because that's usually caused by a pen or finger accidentally touching the screen.)
The Go button should change to be a Pause button, and there should also be a Reset button, to make it clear how to start again.
Maintain a history of the scores in order to track progress.