Technology Tools That Can Help Dyslexic Students

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This is chapter five of the MindShift Guide to Understanding Dyslexia. You can find the remaining chapters and a complete printable PDF of the entire guide by clicking here.

TECHNOLOGY HELPS—BUT ONLY IF IT CAN BE USED

Even after years of intensive intervention and tutoring, dyslexic students can continue to struggle with reading and writing. That’s why advances in technology have been invaluable to students who read and write slowly.

Dyslexic students are finding they can complete assignments faster when they employ special features on a laptop or iPad that help work around their dyslexia-related issues. But to fully maximize how technology can help students with learning differences, educators’ expectations may need to be shifted.

For struggling readers, assistive technology such as reading with audiobooks is a way for students to fully participate in assignments instead of just focusing on the laborious task of reading, writing and spelling.

According to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, author of Raising Kids Who Read, listening to books is still reading and isn’t cheating. For most books, and for most purposes, he writes, listening to a book and reading it are basically the same thing: “Listening to an audio book might be considered cheating if the act of decoding were the point; audio books allow you to seem to have decoded without doing so.”

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Also, most dyslexic students don’t have a problem understanding information— so allowing them to record a class instead of painstakingly take notes, or to speak an essay into a tablet instead of writing it down can change the game completely.

TECH TOOLS AND ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY FOR DYSLEXICS: A SAMPLING

Although the following is not a complete list, it can provide the basis for further discussion and investigation.

Speech-to-Text
Students can turn their speech into text using apps like Dragon Dictation, Google’s VoiceNote, Easy Dyslexia Aid or just speaking into the microphone of a phone, tablet or laptop. Some speech-to-text devices are sensitive to different kinds of voices and will require some experimentation.

Google Chrome Extensions
Extensions are small software programs that customize a user’s web browsing experience. Users can tailor functionality and behavior to individual needs or preferences. The programs are built on technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Chrome offers several extensions for free or low cost that can help struggling readers and writers.
Read&Write offers text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and word prediction
Snap&Read will begin reading aloud from a click
SpeakIt lets students highlight a piece of text and have it read to them
Read Mode removes ads and images from websites so students can focus on the text

Kurzweil
Kurzweil educational software offers study skills features and Texthelp Read&Write, plus highlighting, sticky and voice notes. Notes can be compiled into a separate study guide, and files can be imported into sound files for easy listening.

WhisperSync
This Amazon app allows readers to switch between reading and listening to a book. For those whose slow reading can be exhausting, this app allows them to switch to audio to listen for a while.

Audiobooks with Accompanying Readers
Amazon’s Immersion Reading and VOICEText by Learning Ally both allow readers to read and listen to a story at the same time. Each comes with a highlighted text feature that helps dyslexic students follow along, allowing them to read books at the level of their peers.

Livescribe Smartpen
Livescribe offers a computerized pen that doubles as a recording device, recording what’s being said as well as what the student is are writing. The student can tap the pen on any written note to replay what was said while they were writing.

Franklin Speller
These mini electronic dictionaries provide

• handy lists of confusable words
• context-sensitive help text
• spellcheck
• print and cursive options for words
• an arithmetic tutor Free apps like Speller and Grammarly also correct spelling.

As for reading print books, some early research has suggested that certain fonts like Dyslexie and Open Dyslexic make it easier for dyslexics to read by adding extra space between letters and weighting the letters at the bottom.

Although experts have encouraged caution in using the dyslexic-friendly fonts—studies haven’t been peer-reviewed and there is still much to learn about their effectiveness— some dyslexics say special fonts do help, and experts like Nancy Mather at the University of Arizona say they might be worth a try.

This is chapter five of the MindShift Guide to Understanding Dyslexia. You can find the remaining chapters and a complete printable PDF of the entire guide by clicking here.

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