Technology Integration for Students with Dyslexia
Texas Education Code §38.0031, added by Senate Bill 866 (82nd Texas Legislature) states the following:
(a) The agency shall establish a committee to develop a plan for integrating technology into the classroom to help accommodate students with dyslexia. The plan must:
Determine the classroom technologies that are useful and practical in assisting public schools in accommodating students with dyslexia, considering budget constraints of school districts; and
Develop a strategy for providing those effective technologies to students.
(b) The agency shall provide the plan and information about the availability and benefits of the technologies identified under Subsection (a) (1) to school districts.
(c) A member of the committee established under Subsection (a) is not entitled to reimbursement for travel expenses incurred by the member under this section unless agency funds are available for that purpose.
The Committee on Technology Integration for Students with Dyslexia was charged with developing a plan for integrating technology into the classroom to help accommodate students with dyslexia. The organizational structure of this plan is as follows:
- Section One: An overview of the benefits of integrating technology into the classroom to help accommodate students with dyslexia, including research to support the plan
- Section Two: A list with descriptions of classroom technologies that are useful and practical in assisting public schools in accommodating students with dyslexia, considering budget constraints of school districts
- Section Three: A methodology for providing the technologies to students with dyslexia
"Clearly, technology is one of many powerful tools in our educational tool-kit."
- Edyburn, 2006
A special thank you to the following members of the Committee on Technology Integration for Students with Dyslexia for sharing their valuable input and expertise:
Committee on Technology Integration for Students with Dyslexia
Suzanne Carreker, Ph.D.
Sandy Maddox, Ph.D.
The Texas Education Agency
Associate Commissioner, Standards and Programs
Managing Director, Division of Curriculum
Director of K-12 Foundation Education, Division of Curriculum
Statewide ELA/Reading Coordinator, Division of Curriculum
An Overview of Benefits of Technology for Students with Dyslexia
The research is definitive regarding technology and instruction for students with dyslexia. When students have access to effective technology, their overall performance improves. Technology has many benefits for students with reading difficulties, but the opportunity to access rich content ranks at the top. Technology tools allow students with dyslexia to be equal participants in school-based learning experiences.
The Texas Education Code (TEC) §38.003 defines dyslexia in the following way:
Dyslexia means a disorder of constitutional origin manifested by a difficulty in learning to read, write, or spell, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and sociocultural opportunity.
In addition, the International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as follows:
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
The goal is to support students in skills not yet mastered by providing access to instructional/assistive technology in conjunction with learning strategies and targeted reading instruction.
Effective instruction can help students overcome the difficulties described above, and current research indicates that a wide range of options in technology can be an important part of that effective instruction and an important part of student support. Much of the technology intended for instruction can be used in an assistive manner to support all students, especially those with dyslexia (Puckett & O’Bannon, 2012). As technology in general adds more useful features, the challenge for educators is to discern ways to use appropriate forms of technology to accommodate students with dyslexia.*
In order to grasp how technology can support students with dyslexia, one must understand the following definitions. Assistive technology is any technology that can “increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with disabilities” (Individuals with Disabilities Act Amendments, 2004). Instructional technology is any technology that is readily available in the classroom and is used by all students (Puckett & O’Bannon, 2012). The beauty of technology is mobility; it allows for continuous learning opportunities both at home and at school. For instance, a cell phone, once considered cutting-edge technology, is not only used to make phone calls but also can provide access to text via the Internet. For the purpose of this resource, the term assistive technology, often associated with special education, will be used in a broader sense as any type of technology that will provide an appropriate accommodation to assist students with dyslexia in their learning.
Although the technology addressed in this resource is increasingly available in educational settings, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is being used effectively. Therefore, there are considerations to be made in matching appropriate technology to students' needs. Decision-making teams ought to ask the "remediation versus accommodation" question when determining appropriate technology. Remediation requires the teacher to fill in the gaps and teach the skills that students have not mastered. An accommodation is intended to reduce or even eliminate the effects of a student's disability. More specifically, decision-making teams must determine what percentage of time and effort should be devoted to instruction through remediation and what percentage of time and effort should be devoted to accommodation (Edyburn, 2006).
To understand an appropriate accommodation via the use of technology, consider the following scenario: An adolescent learner who is reading below grade level is not able to decode enough complex words from his science text to read well, despite receiving high-quality, explicit instruction. To accommodate for this challenge, he may listen to the science text read aloud via text-to-speech software on the computer. This allows the learner to read with his ears as well as his eyes. As he listens to text read aloud, he follows along with printed material online. When he encounters a new, complex academic vocabulary word, he can click on it to determine the pronunciation and/or definition, rather than laboriously sounding out the unknown word. Since the student is not a strong decoder, the visual display coupled with the audio reinforcement can be enough support to generate meaning from the text. Additionally, his teacher can explicitly guide him through a deeper understanding by encouraging the student to look up the word, accessing an online graphic dictionary and creating a graphic display of the word. Such accommodations, combined with quality instruction, allow this struggling reader to access grade-level material and understand new words with which to build vocabulary. With this scenario in mind, consider the remediation/accommodation equation (Edyburn, 2006). As this student accesses grade-level content through an audio-visual accommodation and receives explicit vocabulary instruction from the teacher, remediation is happening (Filippini & Morey, 2012).
Technology provides a bridge between students' current skills and the tasks they must perform.
Research confirms the use of technology in a variety of areas. The most common ways in which technology is used to support students with learning difficulties are computer-mediated instruction and synthesized speech feedback to improve basic reading as well as access to electronic texts to aid in comprehension (Hecker & Engstrom, 2005). Furthermore, time management, note taking, exam preparation, and written responses are all enhanced through the use of such technology as a supplement to direct teacher instruction and intervention (Hecker & Engstrom, 2005). Studies demonstrate the effectiveness of tools such as word processors, word prediction, voice recognition, spell checkers, and graphic organizers as successful supports for student writing (Hecker & Engstrom, 2005). Whether the technology is accessed for personal use, instructional use, or assistive use, the accommodations can be effective in helping to compensate for the reading and writing difficulties that accompany dyslexia (Puckett & O’Bannon, 2012).
Technology provides a bridge between students’ current skills and the tasks they must perform. The goal is to support students in skills not yet mastered by providing access to instructional/assistive technology in conjunction with learning strategies and targeted reading instruction (Hecker & Engstrom, 2005). Such a combination results in student success.
Using Technology to Assist with Reading
One of the best ways to use technology is in combination with instruction in reading strategies and processes (Pisha & O’Neill, 2003). Technology is not intended to take the place of quality reading instruction. It should be used in combination with teacher-directed instruction and intervention. Technology should never be used as a substitute for quality instruction; it is intended to supplement, not supplant. In fact, technology shows mixed results in improving phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary, with computer-mediated approaches having no clear advantage over teacher-directed instruction (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011).
Assistive technology does, however, have clear benefits in supporting fluency and comprehension (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011). For example, text-to-speech (TTS) software removes the burden of decoding, allowing for a focus on comprehension. Reading software programs that read digital text aloud can highlight text as students read. Students can regulate the reading rate, adjust voice type options, read text files and text on the Internet, and choose writing options. When choosing an appropriate technology for a student with reading difficulties, careful consideration should be paid to the tasks that need to be completed (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011).
Using Technology to Assist the Writing Process
Several research studies have confirmed the use of word processing in combination with revision instruction as a means for improving the amount and quality of revision as well as the overall quality of students’ writing. In addition to word processing, studies have examined and confirmed word prediction and voice recognition as a path to quality writing (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011).
Visual mapping software reduces the need for writing because concepts can be expressed in brief phrases while the visual array represents relationships between concepts.
Despite the array of support in writing for students with dyslexia, students need to know when to ask for assistance in the writing process. When students identify a writing barrier, then decisions can be made regarding assistive technology. Technology tools can include visual mapping software, word prediction, voice recognition, text-to-speech (TTS) software, word processors, portable keyboards, and mini-computers or tablets.
Visual mapping software reduces the need for writing because concepts can be expressed in brief phrases while the visual array represents relationships between concepts. Students who struggle with keyboarding, spelling, and word retrieval may increase writing fluency using a word prediction program. Some students, however, may find predictive text frustrating due to the number of decisions required when using such a program. Students using voice-recognition software will not automatically improve the quality of their writing but can usually produce more writing with less effort. This allows for more focus on ideas and organization with less frustration due to difficulties with handwriting, keyboarding, vocabulary, and/or spelling. However, educators should be mindful of the limitations of some voice recognition programs including the time and effort required to train the software to recognize a student’s voice (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011).
Using Technology to Support Study Skills
Study skills offer a concrete way to assist the brain in processing and retaining information. Working memory is not equipped to retain all the information contained in a textbook or a lecture, so strong study skills are necessary to foster information processing and to transfer data into long-term memory (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011).
A TTS program allows the student to annotate text by highlighting headings, keywords, and phrases. Annotated text can be used to create a study guide or to summarize text. Summaries can also be created in a visual form with the assistance of visual mapping software. A two-column note-taking strategy provides a system for documenting important information from a class lecture so that the notes later become an effective study tool. This two-column note-taking strategy is easily created in a word processing program. The two-column template is also useful in combination with voice-recognition software, making note-taking accessible to students with handwriting difficulties (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011).
* It is important to keep in mind that while some accommodations may be appropriate for instructional use, they may not be appropriate or allowable on a statewide assessment. Any question related to accommodations for statewide assessments should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online tools, such as the Matching Person and Technology (MPT) Framework; the Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) Framework; and the TechMatrix Framework offer direction for determining appropriate technologies to accommodate students' needs. Educators need a thoughtful process for selecting the best technology for students as well as introducing it in a way that promotes success from the start (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011). The following websites provide support in matching appropriate technology to student needs:
- Matching Person and Technology (MPT) Framework – This framework provides an individualized approach for matching a student with the appropriate technology.
- Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) Framework – This framework is a four part model intended to promote collaborative decision-making in all phases of assistive technology service design and delivery.
- TechMatrix Framework – This online website provides a powerful tool for locating educational and assistive technology for students with disabilities.
As districts begin the task of evaluating technologies to meet the needs of diverse learners, a thoughtful process must be in place to ensure success. Consult the rubric for guidance before making decisions regarding the purchase of new technologies.
As technology advances, educators must know where to access the most current information. Among the recommended sources are David Edyburn’s annual reviews of top articles in the area of special education technology and his daily online journal, Special Education Technology Practice. Other sources include the National Assistive Technology Institute, Assistive Technology Outcomes Measurement System project, Consortium for Assistive Technology Outcomes Research, as well as The Horizon Report 2014 Edition. Online journals include Closing the Gap and AT Benefits and Outcomes (Hecker & Engstrom, 2011).
At the state level, there are professional organizations that hold conferences focusing on reading resources, technology for special populations, and mobile technology. For example, there is the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, the Texas Computer Education Association State Convention & Exposition, and the Texas Assistive Technology Network State Conference. In addition, each of these organizations has publications and supporting materials to assist educators. Regional education service centers provide professional development opportunities in these areas as well.
Even though it is important to acquire skills that remediate or address reading difficulties, at some point, students must learn to compensate for their reading differences. Whether through the use of technology or via some other accommodation, students need access to the curriculum in order to keep up with the content that reading affords (Puckett & O’Bannon, 2012).
Important points to remember:
- Technology provides academic support for all students.
- Technology has a place in remediation and accommodation.
- Technology best supports students when their strengths and weaknesses are assessed before specific tools are selected.
- Technology is constantly evolving.
- Technology is not a substitute for good instruction.
- The limitations of the specific technology should be considered in decision-making.
- Technology is intended to empower students.
- Technology impacts learning at school and home through the use of mobile devices.
- Technology that is appropriate in the classroom for instructional purposes is not always appropriate for assessment purposes.
Educators should not simply teach technology for the sake of becoming technologically savvy. Technology should be approached as a tool to empower students, including students with dyslexia, to master and use all aspects of technology to support learning and increase opportunities to build upon academic success. Enabling students with dyslexia to use and even select their own beneficial tools of technology opens the doorway to continue success as lifelong learners.