Scribjab app provides multilingual visual aids

Language tool helps users tell tales

Nine-year-old Elise Leroux has illustrated and written 10 stories in English and French and published them online within the last six months.

Leroux published her stories that include “Jazzy, The Whale Who Made Music!” and “The Black Cat” using a new website and free iPad app called ScribJab created by professors at Simon Fraser University.

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The Grade 4 student is captivated by art and writing and considers ScribJab her creative outlet.

“What I like about ScribJab is you only have to put a few words in,” Leroux said. “It’s mostly a picture book and that it lets me do some really detailed work.”

ScribJab, created to boost the skills of language learners, was initiated by SFU education professor Kelleen Toohey. She had worked with a teacher in Surrey in 2010 whose class of Grade 4 and 5 students interviewed their grandparents about their childhoods. The youngsters then captured their elders’ stories in storybooks, written in both English and Punjabi, that the grandparents could read to younger children.

The project was such a success that Toohey joined forces with SFU education professor Diane Dagenais and developers at SFU to create ScribJab. The project was completed with the help of Decoda Literacy Solutions, the non-profit that took over from Literacy B.C.

SFU officially launched the multilingual online storybook-creating tool Jan. 14, just in time for national Family Literacy Day Jan. 27.

Authors use ScribJab to illustrate and write a story in English or French along with another language of their choice, likely with the help of a teacher, parent or online resource, and publish it online. Teachers can create a specific group for their students.

Translation isn’t provided and there’s no spelling or grammar check.

“Once they do publish it to ScribJab, it represents where they’re at in their language learning,” said Dagenais.

Writers can record themselves reading their own story and comment on other stories.

“It’s really important to teach young authors to read and write by engaging with the text that they produce or they read and [by] responding to the content and to get them to elaborate,” Dagenais said. “So we’re hoping that other readers of the texts will respond to the content and ask them questions.”

ScribJab is meant to celebrate multilingualism and help children connect with their ancestral languages.

Toohey and Dagenais developed ScribJab for 10- to 13-year-old language learners but younger and adult learners are using it.

Dagenais heard an English as a second language high school teacher used ScribJab with a student to assess his background knowledge on a specific topic. The teacher got the student to illustrate what he knew and label his images in his first language. They worked together to find the

English equivalent and then forwarded that information to his classroom teacher.

Leroux, who attends a Francophone school and tried to write a story in Italian using a phrasebook while she was on a cruise with her parents in Europe, has mostly improved her storytelling skills.

“We wind up talking a lot about stories having a beginning and a middle and an end and not just being a random collection of prose,” said Leroux’s mother Sandy Eix, who works in education at Science World.

Overall, Leroux likes using ScribJab. She has tried multiple online storytelling tools and said ScribJab is easy to use.

“If I don’t finish it that one day, I can’t find an end,” Leroux said.

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