Using technology to support children with learning difficulties

One opinion often expressed about the role of technology in education is “It’s not about the technology but about the pedagogy”. Too true! Technology is a very powerful tool and no less so in the area of teaching and learning. But like any other educational tool it is just a means to an end but can play a key role in student learning and particularly is very important in supporting students with learning difficulties. Technology can be used to support diverse learning strengths and weaknesses and provide essential scaffolding around a pupil’s learning needs. Technology we use every day can be the path to successful learning. Technology allows the pupil with learning difficulties to become independent and can be the starting point to future success.

There is a plethora of technology tools, apps, websites out there to meet the needs of those with learning difficulties but the wide choice can be more confusing and there is no one size fits all solution. While the tools are there the problem most people face is which ones to choose and then how to utilise them to best advantage.

Now that Christmas is getting nearer maybe you are thinking of purchasing an iPad, iPhone or iPod for your child. Maybe your child already has one of these ‘gadgets’. You can get a multitude of ‘apps’, free or paid, for these devices that can support your child’s learning in so many ways. However, before considering any apps, your Apple device can be modified to support children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, without the need to purchase extra apps. The Apple operating system is iOS and with every update of this system the built-in tools continue to improve. My iPad is now using iOS 10.1.1

I would like to introduce you to some of the in-built tools that can support you child in their learning difficulties. One of the great features of the Apple devices is ‘SIRI’.

SIRI can be used to dictate their writing into any app or website. I’ve used this myself and find it extremely accurate. Once you start speaking SIRI will populate the screen with your words. If you want a full stop or comma, just say those words and they appear. If you want to start a new paragraph just say “new line”.  Before you can use this feature you must make sure that SIRI is turned on. Go to SETTINGS > SIRI and turn on this feature. Once the feature is turned on, open any app, press the MICROPHONE symbol on the inbuilt keyboard and speak.

The example here is using the NOTES app. SIRI will type what you speak. If you want to use full stops, commas etc you must speak those words where appropriate.

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Many of the other useful features are also found under SETTINGS and need to be turned on. GO to SETTINGS > GENERAL > ACCESSIBILITY. Not all the features are worth exploring but here are a few that are worth considering for those with learning difficulties.

Follow the instructions above and under ACCESSIBILITY choose SPEECH and turn on SPEAK SELECTION and SPEAK SCREEN. This feature will speak content that is typed on the iPad, iPhone etc. While there select the SPEAKING RATE. You can also select a VOICE.

SPEAK SELECTION allows you to highlight any text in any app or website and have it read aloud. With SPEAK SCREEN you can swipe two fingers down from the top of the screen and it starts reading the whole text, with a toolbar appearing to pause, rewind, fast forward etc.

Another useful tool is DEFINE/DICTIONARY.  When you highlight a word in a text a new menu appears. One of the options is DEFINE. When you click on this option it gives you the meaning of the word and it says what part of speech it is … noun, adjective etc. In this new screen you can select DICTIONARY and here you get the meaning of the word and other derivatives of the word e.g. “tedious” meaning too long, too slow or tiresome. This is defined as an adjective and other forms of the word are “tediously”/adverb and “tediousness”/noun.

CHECK SPELLING is another helpful option. Go to SETTINGS > GENERAL > KEYBOARD and here you have lots of useful options such as AUTO CAPITALISATION, AUTO CORRECT and CHECK SPELLING. Make sure these options are turned on. If you misspell a word it is highlighted or underlined in red. To replace the incorrect spelling just tap or highlight the word and then select REPLACE with the suggested word. If you are unsure if this is the correct option you could highlight the replacement and select SPEAK to hear the word or DEFINE to check its meaning.

The inbuilt KEYBOARD that comes with your iPhone, iPad has a very useful feature called QUICKTYPE and as you are typing it tries to predict the word. A selection of predictions appear above the keyboard and if you see the word you want just tap it and the word will be inserted into your text. You can also purchase 3rd PARTY KEYBOARDS from the APPLE store.  These can aid writing and improve readability – try KEEDOGO, SUPERKEYS or SWYPE.  You can add a new keyboard to you device. Go to SETTINGS > GENERAL > KEYBOARDS > ADD NEW KEYBOARD.

So many useful features and not an ‘APP’ purchased yet!!  As you can see the iPad, iPhone and iPod have many in-built features that are useful in supporting children with dyslexia. Over the next while we will look at some of the APPS available for Apple, Android and Windows that support children with learning needs.

If you only have a laptop, running WINDOWS, here is a free plugin for MICROSOFT WORDWordTalk is a free text-to-speech plugin. It was conceived and developed by Rod Macauley of TASSC in Aberdeen, Scotland. This plugin is for people with reading and writing difficulties and its features include:

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  • Speaks entire document, paragraph or word.
  • Highlights the text as it goes
  • Talking dictionary
  • Change voice and speed
  • Convert text to speech

 

 

 

It supports all versions of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Word 2007 – 2016. It’s COMPLETELY FREE to download and comes with instructions on how to setup. To download go to http://wordtalk.org.uk

Next time we will look at some useful APPS for Apple, Android and Windows. Hope you found this helpful!

 

References: www.callscotland.org.uk

“Using Technology to engage students with learning disabilities.” Bill Krakower and Sharon LePage Plante

 

 

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