I was fortunate enough to attend a professional development day run by TextHelp in Auckland earlier this month. It covered the use of technology to enable all students to learn effectively. The focus was on assisting students with dyslexia & other textual processing disorders.
The predominance of textual processing disorders such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia are on the rise. Teachers and schools are being forced to adapt/improve pre-existing models of education to ensure these students are accessing the curriculum and achieving at their best. Often these students struggle with accessing traditional teaching practices such as “read this article and answer these questions”, even the completion of a handout is a huge undertaking.
In the past we have struggled to cater for these students, teacher aides have been used to read aloud to them and schools have bought in audio books. But these options are limited in their effectiveness and are not long-term solutions for these learners. With the advent of handheld technology we now have the opportunity to make our curriculum accessible for every learner. One way we can do this is through the use of adaptive technologies such as ReadWrite for Google, Fluency Tutor, Prizmo and WriQ.
These technologies often prove cost-effective and can be used by students throughout their schooling/university and into their career pathways. The thing I love the most about ReadWrite is that it can be linked directly to your Google Apps. It’s seamless and can be automatically turned on for students within your organisation. Once they learn to use them, suddenly instead of failing to fit in the “box”, they can create their own toolbox to enable them to succeed in school.
ReadWrite is available as an extension for your Chrome Browser or as an installed programme on individual devices. It can be pushed out domain wide if the school takes out a subscription. The software enables text-to-speech, where you can highlight and get a voice of your choice read the text to you. A screenshot reader, you can drag and drop a box around the text within a PDF or other websites such as Wheelers eBook platform and the voice will once again read it out to you. I currently teach a group of about 25 students, approximately 60% of them have trouble processing plain text.
I planned and taught a unit last term on Wild Pork and Watercress. I purchased eBook copies of the text, which worked with the Screenshot Reader. The eBook also allowed the students to adjust the background, text size and colour so that it suited them best. I also made all of the comprehension questions available to the students via a Padlet wall where all of the questions were recorded audio. The students could then answer the questions on the Google document using the Speech-to-Text function of ReadWrite or alternatively via a voice note.
The software did take a bit of teaching, but once the students started using it, you could see it spilling over into all of their other classes. Another feature I have enjoyed using is the in-document dictionary. During my literacy classes, we always start our reading sessions with pre-teaching vocabulary. The students could highlight the word in their worksheet and then use the ReadWrite inbuilt dictionary to find the definition. This enabled them to understand the new words before they started reading. It also gives them a point to refer back to.
Kindle and Wheelers eBook readers also have dictionaries inbuilt in their apps. This is awesome to teach students how to use, as it allows them to take control of their reading time. Rather than getting stuck and then eventually going to a dictionary or just not understanding at all, students can quickly and easily find a definition, highlight the word for later and keep reading.
Another cool piece of software is Prizmo. This little app can be installed on mobile phones, tablets, i-Pads, basically anything with a camera. It allows you to take a photo of a worksheet, street sign, menu and the software scans the photo for text. Then you can have it read out to you! Imagine suddenly being able to read a menu at a restaurant rather than having to have it read to you. Life changing.
Often our disabling of students is because WE are not thinking outside the square and using technology to our advantage. In the same way having the technology and not teaching students how to use it is just as disabling. We are educators, we are in the business of enabling.
If you haven’t already had a play with ReadWrite, take a 30-day trial. It will change your teaching FOREVER.
NB: I am not employed by or affiliated with TextHelp, these opinions are my own from using the software.