Assistive Technology to Support Struggling Readers Including Dyslexia: Microsoft Learning Tools for the Win!

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As one whose passion is blended between literacy and technology, I seek out the best EdTech resources to share with educators to support literacy in their classrooms. Most of my teaching and learning experience involves both Google and Apple options, but recent investigation and application allow me to say, without a doubt, in the area of Assistive Technology to support struggling readers in the classroom, Microsoft Learning Tools wins, hands down, and offers students a comprehensive option.

Adolescents who struggle with reading face multiple challenges throughout the school day. They are constantly confronted with a text they cannot read in almost every discipline, motivation and peer acceptance play a major role in identity and self-esteem, diagnostic tools to pinpoint exact deficits are difficult to locate, and many of their teachers have had little to no training in foundational skills of reading. While many adolescent readers may have difficulty in comprehension and vocabulary, a rising number of older students are diagnosed with Dyslexia and experience decoding issues.

Dyslexia is not a visual issue; kids don’t see letters and words backward or in reverse. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability in reading; which impacts learning, not intelligence. It’s mainly a problem in reading accurately and fluently.  Decoding issues are a sign of dyslexia and direct instruction beginning with letter-sound correlation is often needed, but there are immediate things all teachers can do to help students, even if they have no understanding of how to teach phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency. This support can come in the form of Assistive Technology. “In a broad sense, assistive technology (AT) is any device, piece of equipment or system that helps a person with a disability work around his challenges so he can learn, communicate or simply function better.” (Understood.org)

As previously stated, I believe that Microsoft Learning Tools provides students who struggle with reading, including those with dyslexia, a comprehensive set of free tools to support their daily literacy needs. If the goal of AT is to provide students tools for independence, I recommend all teachers become familiar with the top 5 ways I see these tools helping students:

  1. Text to Speech – Text to Speech provides both the visual and audio needed to support fluent readers. By seeing the words and hearing it read aloud, students are not only able to access text that may have been too difficult to read independently but are reinforcing vocabulary and fluency.
  2. Display Controls – Display Controls allow students to customize their reading experience by font, size, color, and language. But, Microsoft Learning Tools takes it a step further, allowing students options with spacing, syllables, and parts of speech.  There is also an option to mask part of the screen minimizing distractions and focusing on the line read. (Slideshow below highlights options available)

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  3. Annotation Tools – Many struggling readers often use all of their cognitive energy decoding text and can’t remember what they had just read. Annotation tools allow students to take notes as they read. simply by switching browsers, students can use Microsoft Edge to annotate and save images directly from web pages into their OneNote Notebook. While there are many annotation tools out there, this one was so simple, streamlined and provided many annotation options! Plus…
  4. Optical Character Recognition – Microsoft also allows students to the option to capture text from pictures and pdf when shared to OneNote. So not only can students annotate digital text, they can save their notes, share them, and then extract the text in the image to customize with text to speech or display controls.
  5. Dictionary – Finally, Microsoft Learning Tools allows students to learn unfamiliar words with the built-in dictionary. Not only does the dictionary define the word, but it also provides a picture and an audio clip to hear the word.

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All students should have the tools and resources needed to access content in the classroom. Microsoft Learning Tools allows students to not only access information but provides customization, annotation tools, OCR, and a visual and audio dictionary for FREE. The beauty of these Learning Tools is the ease and compatibility they have to work together. Supporting struggling readers in multiple areas not only supports their literacy development but provide options for future learning that they do in and out of school.

Technology to Support Struggling Readers with Dyslexia

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I am often asked how best to support struggling readers, especially those with reading disabilities. While it is important to identify and provide interventions early, all students, no matter their age, can continue to learn and develop literacy skills throughout their lifetime. When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia there are many questions from educators on what exactly that means and how best to support these struggling readers. Simply put, dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder that affects the development of basic reading skills and spelling skills. Just because a child has difficulty in both decoding (written word pronunciation) and encoding (spelling) does not mean they have difficulty in comprehending what they hear.

Students diagnosed with dyslexia should continue to receive interventions and support in the areas of reading and writing but the addition of assistive technology provides these students access to the same content and curriculum as their peers. This is essential and also the law. Students diagnosed with dyslexia are protected under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and have the right to participate in the general education curriculum.

As a student gets older, accessing content across discipline areas become a priority for students with dyslexia. Fortunately, widespread use of technology in education has made this possible for many. Equipping struggling readers diagnosed with dyslexia with compensatory tools helps them identify ways they can access information for school and in life. Text to Speech is one resource all educators should be familiar with to support students.

Chromebooks and Google

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 3.42.48 PMGoogle Chrome Extension Read and Write for Google by TextHelp – Read and Write for Google offers teachers and students many more options than just text to speech. It also has a text to picture dictionary, word prediction, voice notes option along with much, much more. This one extension provides struggling readers with dyslexia support in both reading and writing. It is definitely one of my favorites, check it out. 

Reader Add-onGoogle Doc Add-On ReaderThis add-on reads all text on a Google Doc. It was easy to use and is available in multiple languages and dialects. It is free. A bonus with using Google, if you upload a pdf into your Drive you can open it as a Google Doc making this perfect for those text to speech tools that do not read pdfs.

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 3.40.13 PMGoogle Chrome App TTS-ReaderAllows students to copy and paste any text to hear it spoken. Students can pause, stop, and start this app and it remembers the position where the student left off. It highlights the spoken text and uses no data once the page is loaded. Supports multilingual and English in different accents.

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Google Chrome Extension Selection ReaderThis Chrome Extension allows you to simply highlight and play. It is easy to use and could handle a large amount of text selected. Paused naturally at commas and punctuation. Perfect for reading webpages a student may use.

 

Apple Devices 

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 3.24.18 PMMacbook – iOs accessibility features make text to speech on an Apple device a breeze. If you are on a Macbook, simply accesses the Accessibility Features under the System Preferences. Once you click on “Accessibility” simply choose desired rate and voice in the “Speech” option and enable “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”.

iPad – An iPad is similar to a Macbook in that you launch “Settings” and click on “General” to locate “Accessibility” options. Under “Accessibility” tap on “Speak Selection” and adjust the rate with the slider. For both the Macbook and iPad, text to speech works for websites, iBooks, PDFs, as well as many other apps you may have installed.

Accessible content for students who are struggling readers and are diagnosed with dyslexia is easy to do when a student simply needs to hear the text in order to comprehend it. Using an app like Tiny Scanner can help you turn any text into digital text that can then be read aloud using one of the Text to Speech apps above!

Resources Used – Nancy Mather and Barbara J. Wendling. Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention.  New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.