Bottom Line: An app so original and advanced in its capabilities, we lack categories to describe it yet. Useful for all teens needing a confidence boost in their use of language in social settings.
ConversationBuilder® Teen (CB Teen) is the latest gift from developer Mobile Education Store and joins a growing portfolio of apps aimed at children and now teens that need instruction in language skills. It along with SentenceBuilder Teen represent what appears to be a growing recognition by Mobile Ed that there is a need for pragmatic language instruction for older children.
The app has much the same look and feel as the original ConversationBuilder app which Ron gave five stars. Set-up and navigation are straightforward, and there is a tutorial for those unfamiliar with the Mobile Ed dashboard or in need of some tips for implementation. The app is aimed at teens and even tweens who have difficulty with language used in a social context. These are kids that can answer a question about a math problem in class, but may struggle with how to respond to a peer that uses sarcasm or locker room humor. Those with Asperger's or High Functioning Autism are the obvious target, but any shy, introverted or socially awkward youth could benefit.
In CB Teen the emphasis is on learning the rules of a proper social exchange rather than the right words. Three hundred different practice exchanges covering topics from sports and entertainment to clothes and relationships are included. For each exchange, users hear an audio clip that relates to a picture on their screen. Three possible responses that relate (or not) to the topic of conversation are given. Users select a response and record it. When the conversation is complete, the entire exchange can be played back or viewed like a series of text exchanges through the conversation history. Responses are recorded and tracked by user so teachers and therapists can monitor progress.
If an odd response one is chosen, the narrator reminds the user not to answer a question with a question; not to repeat what somebody just said; not to get too personal; and when it's okay or not okay to change the topic. Over 500 hundred recorded clips are carefully matched to the response. An added bonus not found in the original ConversationBuilder is that choices can be read out loud with real voices rather than text to speech to hear proper voice inflection. This is a nice upgrade.
Although sex and drugs are among the subjects covered, there is nothing salacious or titillating about this app. The conversations are as vanilla as the skin of the teens talking. There's a token black guy with a speaking part, but otherwise, it's like a casting call for Gossip Girl. Also, there's hardly a zit in sight and not even a hint of peach fuzz gracing the chins of the adolescent boys. Nobody has Weight Watchers on speed dial, and other than poor Julie having braces, these could be the Stepford Teens.
Some of the conversations flow naturally, but the reality is teens are cruel and judgmental. Girls are catty even with their friends and boys can be crude. Much of this is missing from the programmed responses. My tween boy did a conversation where he asked a girl on a date and she shot him down. When recording the boy's final response my child ad-libbed a nasty but well-deserved expletive describing the girl. His response was probably much closer to an actual conversation between teens of the opposite sex than any of the canned responses available.
I would love to see an ability to personalize slang. Are friends dudes or bros? Is a proper greeting "Yo" or "Whassup?" Being able to pop in these type details through the settings would help ensure the app stays current and the practice scripts are as real as possible. Adding specific locations would also help make the app more relatable. ConversationBuilder asked for location in its set-up so I'm not sure why this wasn't carried over to CB Teen or even expanded upon. Giving a mall or store name frequented by the app user would seem to better ground the conversation. These suggestions may be incredibly difficult to implement, but they would be dynamite additions if the coding is feasible.
In addition to the 300 preset exchanges, there are endless opportunities to practice the lessons learned with the free-flow conversations. In this mode, teens take turns talking about a picture. The subject photo can be imported along with head shots of the participating teens. The narrator prompts the teens to pass the iPad around when it is their turn to talk. As each speaks, his or her photo appears in the conversation history. Physically passing the iPad and the conversation history which tracks each speaker by showing the headshot reinforces the turn taking required to have a social exchange. It's why there are so many turn taking apps for preschoolers.
I love this part of the app because it lets kids talk about what interests them and real-world timely stuff. This week may be a practice conversation about the US election results and next week could be about Black Friday shopping. I successfully used it with my child to prep him on how to sweet talk his absent grandparents into buying him an expensive toy (Madden 2013 Score!). Even better would be using CB Teen for practice job interviews or conversations with college admissions officers.
ConversationBuilder Teen is a sophisticated app that transcends the special needs market. School guidance counselors can make as much good use from it as speech therapists. The app name is awkward and the participants are a bit too homogenous, but overall this is a tour de force.
Jill Goodman will be visiting her favorite teen vampires and wolves at the movies this weekend and highly recommends The "Fault in Our Stars" by John Green for the most amazing teen talk ever put on paper.