High-Tech Help for Reading and Writing
By Sheryl Knapp
The following information is based on a presentation by Shelley Lacey-Castelot, ATACP, MS for Smart Kids with LD.
For students with language learning disabilities, Assistive Technologies (AT) are powerful and empowering tools. When matched appropriately to a student’s needs, AT enables access to grade-level content corresponding to a child’s oral language skills and cognitive abilities, thereby leveling the playing field with classroom peers.
Kids that struggle with decoding, fluency, comprehension, and other language skills often find electronic readers invaluable. The built-in dictionary, thesaurus, and study support enable students to obtain definitions and synonyms online, highlight important text, and even extract text to create an outline or summary with voice and text notes. Embedded scanning allows printed text to be converted to audio, which is then read to the student.
The voice quality of text readers has improved dramatically, sounding almost human, and students are able to select from several voice options as well as adjust speed and phrasing. Portable electronic readers, which can scan text on demand—for instance, a restaurant menu— are also available. Although not a replacement for explicit reading instruction, research suggests that these devices may improve fluency through repeated exposure to the same words.
Students can also gain access to course content through videos, widely available online and via DVDs. This medium is very powerful for many students with learning differences—particularly those who struggle with language, as it helps them to map words and concepts with the visual images they see.
Electronic Readers To Consider
- Blio (still in Beta testing)
- Premier Literacy Suite
- Kurzweil 3000
- TextHelp Read & Write Gold
- Microsoft Reader
- EText Reader
Help for Writing
A wide array of solutions are available for students who struggle with all facets of writing, including spelling, letter formation, and organization. Portable word processors, spelling/grammar checkers, and sentence expansion software have become commonplace. Word prediction software also is a powerful tool, providing increasingly refined “guesses” at words as additional letters are entered. (A limitation of this type of software is that typically the second or third letter in words is a vowel, which tends to be problematic for students who struggle with spelling). Graphic organizers help students to order information in coherent passages, even when entered non-sequentially.
The latest and most rapidly expanding technology for struggling writers is speech recognition software, which converts language into printed text. In newer versions, speech detection accuracy is nearly perfect for students who receive appropriate training and have the right equipment. As a positive side benefit, students that become accustomed to dictating specific punctuation often grow more attuned to grammatical concepts in general. Software even exists for “reading” the text in PowerPoint presentations, enabling students who struggle with reading to add their own bullets.
Many of these technologies can be used individually, but they are often more powerful in combination (e.g. word prediction software coupled with speech recognition software). They are also becoming increasingly portable, with speech-to-text software and other functionality now available on many standard smartphones and laptops.
Writing Technologies To Consider
- Spelling devices: Franklin Speller
- Portable Word Processors: AlphaSmart 3000; Calcusribe; QuikPad; Writer Fusion
- Grammar/spelling/homophone checkers: White Smoke Grammar-Spell Assistant; Ellipsis Annagrammatical Spelling Assistant; KeyStone Homophone Scanner
- Word prediction software: Co:Writer; WordQ; Wordsmith (Texthelp);
- Word prediction software combined with speech recognition software: SpeakQ
- Graphic Organizers: Report Writer Interactive; Inspiration; Kidspiration; Draft:Builder; VYM (View Your Mind); MindMapper USB; Belvedere; C-Map; FreeMind; Compendium; ThinkGraph
- Writing Online: Writing Fun; Wacky Web Tales; Writing Fix; Read/Write/Think; OurStory; Memograph; ToonDoo; Ginger Spelling; Ghotoit; Scholastic: Story Starters for Grades 1-4; MyWebspiration (Beta version of Inspiration)
- Reading-Writing Bars: My StudyBar; Kurzweil; Premier Literacy; Read 7&Write Gold
- Speech recognition software: Dragon NaturallySpeaking; ViaVoice; Mac Speak; Microsoft Speech Engine
- Speech recognition software combined with software for dyslexic writers: SpeechMaster (Dragon NaturallySpeaking combined with KeyStone ScreenSPeaker)
- Portable Solutions: Dragon for Blackberry, iPhone; Voice on the Go; KReader Mobile
- Videos for Learning: Discovery Education; various available through www.donjohnston.com (e.g., Incite! series).