Educational technology, sometimes referred to as assistive technology, can help many students with learning disabilities. This technology includes laptop alternatives, software or special equipment. The purpose of these tools is to help a student compensate for a weakness and function more independently. The technology may also enable the student to utilize a strength to compensate for a specific weakness. Technology is something that is best used in conjunction with remedial instruction or tutoring, not in place of these services. It also needs to be incorporated across learning environments. Some educational technology tools include:
>>Tools for Reading
>>Tools for Writing
>>Tools for Organization
Tools for Reading:
There are numerous tools available to assist students with reading. Most of these tools are designed to read text aloud, giving students access to the curriculum. Students can listen to these texts in a variety of formats – via computer, MP3 players or iPods, or through special playback equipment. Student needs and preferences may dictate some of the decisions that are made regarding this equipment. This may seem like an inappropriate tool for a student that can read, but if fatigue, frustration and reading speed or fluency are issues, these tools may be beneficial. Some things to consider are:
• Can the student follow along with a printed material or textbook as it is read aloud?
• Does the individual prefer a human voice, a digitized voice or a combination of both?
• Does the student need access to other supports such as bookmarks, highlighters or text notes?
• Will the school allow the student to use this equipment in class?
• Who will order, scan or prepare the text for the student?
Tools that may be beneficial include:
• Playback equipment that gives students access to text in a digital format. This playback equipment allows students to adjust reading speed and volume and go directly to a certain page in the text.
• Subscription services that allow students to order textbooks or pieces of literature for educational or enjoyment purposes. These subscription services can read text in a digital (computerized) format or can be read by a human voice, depending on the listener's preference.
• Special software that allows text to be scanned into the computer. The student can have worksheets, tests and textbooks read aloud through the computer. The computer highlights the text as it is read aloud.
• Many of the services and equipment listed above allow the audio file to be placed on MP3 players or iPods; student may listen to the text away from the computer.
• Certain software applications and playback equipment incorporate study skills tools such as embedded comprehension questions, highlighting strategies, note tools and bookmarks.
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Tools for Writing:
Many of us use writing support tools every day. As our use of technology increases, these tools are a common component of many word processing programs. Knowing how to utilize features like spell check and how to find synonyms and look up words in a dictionary or thesaurus can strengthen anyone's writing. Some students require more support with writing than these basic programs can provide. It is important to carefully analyze what the problem is in order to put the appropriate tool in place. Some important consideration include:
• Does the student break down with the physical task of writing?
• Is the student so disorganized with their thoughts that they cannot get the information on paper?
• Is spelling a barrier in the student's ability to express themselves in writing?
• Is it some combination of the above factors?
Tools that may be beneficial include:
• Spell check or grammar check – This is a feature common in most word processing programs. In a program such a Microsoft Word, misspelled words are underlined in red, and grammatically incorrect sentences are highlighted in green. By right-clicking on these errors, the program suggests corrections to the spelling or grammatical error. Some programs offer suggestions based on phonetic spelling, but a student needs to get reasonably close for a program to pick up on these spellings.
• Word prediction software – This software attempts to predict what the next word will be as a student types. There are several word prediction programs available, offering a variety of features. The strongest word prediction programs predict phonetically (based on spelling) and also syntactically (based on sentence structure). Some word prediction programs also offer customizable word banks, allowing individuals access to topic-specific vocabulary based on the writing assignment.
• Dictation software – Dictation software allows students to speak into a microphone, and the computer will then transcribe their spoken message into a word processing program. There are several items to consider before attempting to implement dictation or voice recognition software. This is a technology that continues to improve but can be cumbersome to use.
• Text-to speech – This is a feature that allows students to hear what they are writing. Most of these programs have customizable features that can be programmed to read words, sentences or paragraphs aloud. This auditory feedback may allow a student to catch errors in sentence structure, organization or spelling.
• Laptop Alternatives – For students who struggle with the physical task of writing, a laptop alternative may be an appropriate option. These devices are light-weight, durable, have longer battery life than laptops and are less expensive. These devices come with a myriad of other features such as text-to-speech, word prediction, customizable word banks, keyboarding programs and calendars and to-do lists. These devices can be interfaced with a printer or computer to print assignments. Some of these devices allow for documents to be sent to the device.
• Customizable Word Banks – This is a low-tech strategy that can also be incorporated into a piece of software or laptop alternative. By giving students topic-specific vocabulary banks during writing assignments, students can demonstrate what they know instead of what they can spell. The ability to spell words correctly can significantly limit a student's written expression. This simple tool or strategy can enable students to express their knowledge regarding a topic.
• Graphic organizers – These consist of charts, diagrams and webs that allow students to organize information. Graphic organizers can be hand-drawn diagrams, templates or software applications. This is a great tool for visual learners and for students who have a hard time organizing their thoughts in the initial phases of the writing process. Graphic organizers can also be used by teachers to present information, summarize a chapter or create study guides and notes.
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Tools for Organization and Study Skills:
Many students struggle with organization, yet it is a skill that is not explicitly taught. Organization is also something that is based on individual needs. Students with language and attention issues often struggle with organization and study skills. They may break down in one or several of these organizational domains:
• Time Management – Being able to allocate the appropriate amount of time to complete a project, use time effectively and schedule time for projects and extracurricular activities. Tools that may be beneficial:
- Visual or Chart Schedules
- Calendar Programs
• Spatial Organization – Being able to manage their physical space, including their room, backpack, locker and desk, as well as having all the necessary materials to complete a project (pencil, paper, textbooks, etc....)
- Materials caddy
- Scheduled daily or weekly clean-outs
- Color-coding system
- Filing system
- Planning books
• Categorization – The ability to sort information, papers and notes into the appropriate categories. People categorize in different ways; it might be interesting to see what strategy your student is currently using and set up categories that work for him or her.
- Color-coding system
- Accordion file folder
- Sorting and grouping tasks
• Prioritization – The ability to determine what is most important and should be completed first.
- Color coding by importance
- Putting important materials on an easel
- Build planning time into study time
• Sequential Organization – Being able to break down a complex task, like a research paper, into logical and manageable chunks.
- To do lists
- Visual schedules
- Task analysis
Click on these links below for general information regarding organizational strategies.