From the very beginning of our school career, our opportunities to learn are deeply connected to our ability to read and write: although modern education is more geared towards a multimedia experience that includes images, sounds and videos, much of it is still text-based and may be more difficult for students who struggle with reading.
Before dyslexia was properly defined, students with reading disabilities were simply dismissed as less intelligent or lazy, but research has shown that there is no significant correlation between reading disabilities and IQ, much less with a student’s willingness to work to compensate for his or her struggles.
Compensation, however, should not be a burden for the students to carry alone: like every other aspect of education, finding strategies to even the playing field and give students with reading disabilities the same learning opportunities as everyone else should be a collaborative effort between pupils, educators and families in which education technology can play a significant part.
How EdTech can help students with reading disorder
Some of the simplest tools for compensation have nothing to do with EdTech: even just giving a struggling student more time to complete a test can make a difference. The use of technology in the classroom, however, opens up possibilities that would be unthinkable without it.
Voice recognition and text-to-speech softwares allow dyslexic students to understand and produce written texts that would be beyond their reach otherwise: imagine having a voice reading to you what you are struggling to comprehend in written form, or dictating your answers when writing them is stressful, time-consuming, and does not do justice to your actual knowledge of the material being tested.
Key concepts can be conveyed through animations and maps rather than long, daunting blocks of text: mind-mapping can be done even with pencil and paper in the absence of dedicated technologies, but software can make the process quicker, easier and more effective, helping students to summarize the most important pieces of information and the connections between them in a way that their brains can process faster and better.
Thanks to EdTech, even the relationship between student and teacher undergoes a change, becoming more interactive and less one-sided, which can be a great benefit to those students who have difficulties concentrating on long lectures or reading assignments with no chance for conversation or practical activities.
Dyslexic students can even be given the option to view text in specially designed fonts that supposedly decrease the frequency of typical errors connected to reading disabilities, such as confusing graphically similar letters, although the effectiveness of this solution has been called into question.
Supporting literacy with Read&Write
Read&Write by Texthelp is an example of a family of literacy softwares that combines many of these possibilities in one easy-to-use package: a software toolbar that can be used alongside most common file types and Web browsers and provides several helpful features for students who struggle with written comprehension and production for any reason, whether because they have a reading disability or because they are learning English as a second language. Highlights include:
- Tools to aid understanding of studying material and exam questions such as a Picture Dictionary to help understand keywords visually instead of through text, and most importantly, a feature that reads text aloud to students who need it without involving additional supporting staff;
- Tools for better, more fluent writing: Spell Check and Word Prediction support students who struggle with their spelling, and Read&Write can even read their own writing back to them for review, reducing the stress of the final proofreading phase;
- Easy tracking of student progression for teachers to visualize the impact of Read&Write on their abilities and grades;
- Adaptability to most commonly used software and to all subjects: better comprehension and writing have benefits across the board, from literature to science.
Once again, education technology proves to be an important tool in making all students equal, even those who struggle in a society such as ours, which is so heavily based on literacy and has not abandoned the paramount importance of text even in the age of mixed media: talent and intelligence are separate from reading ability, if all students are given a fair chance to express them.