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.

Strategies to Help Students Unlock Poetry

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Kids hate poetry. Well, not all kids, but by the time students entered my 9th Grade English class their feelings for poetry were typically between the levels of nonexistent to complete disdain. Students think poetry is difficult to understand, not relevant to their lives, or in a form that is not what they normally read or write.

Poetry depends on the effort of the reader.

Unlike a lengthy novel or even this blog post which allows me to write, explain, and use as much space as needed, poetry is intentional, compact, and demands an enhanced awareness from the reader. Educators can help students unlock the meaning of poems, which I believe, helps to change the negative perception of poetry into a positive one.  

Before Reading:

  • Notice the poet and title – what clues do they provide to help the reader understand the poem?
  • Identify form or visual clues – how many lines does the poem contain? (14 lines and looks like a square it is probably a sonnet) Is the structure familiar? Punctuation, font differences, stanzas, line placement (does the poem have a shape?) How could the form relate to the content?

After collecting initial thoughts based on the “Before Reading” preview of the poem, students should:

  • Read the poem multiple times
  • Read the poem out loud – your ears will pick up more than just reading it in your mind, does sound play an active role in the poem’s meaning?
  • Marginalia – annotate and make notes in the margins

During Reading:

  • Look up words that are unknown – every word that is in a poem is meant to be there. If a student does not know what a specific word means to have them look it up. Why did the author choose that specific word? How does knowing the definition of the word change what I am thinking?
  • Identify the speaker and situation – The speaker of the poem is not always the poet. What do I know about the speaker of this poem? Situation deals with time, location, and event. While a reader may not be able to identify all parts of the situation, the more one can identify aids into the understanding of the poem as a whole.
  • Identify tone
  • Notice rhythm and rhyme scheme – how is understanding enhanced?
  • Identify figurative language – imagery, metaphors, enjambment, slant rhyme, alliteration; how does the poet play with language and how does it enhance a reader’s understanding?
  • Notice the structure – Does the poem tell a story? Ask and answer a question? Structured like a speech or letter?

After Reading:

  • Reread margin notes
  • Reflect on notes, sound, information about the poem
  • Shared inquiry discussion with classmates

Providing students guidance and modeling on how readers unlock a poem’s meaning is a daunting task. Students should not be required to analyze and interpret every poem they read. Sometimes it is best to just read poems aloud to students, allowing them to appreciate the sound and interpret the poem holistically. In my own classroom, I would model these strategies of interpreting poetry for students before expecting them to do them on their own. We would read, write, and listen to all types of poems, some to unlock the meaning, others because I wanted them to hear some of my personal favorites. We would discuss poetry’s relationship to their lives, parallels to music, or current books they were reading all in verse. I wanted to reawaken their love of poetry, or at least open to giving it another chance.

When students become aware of intentional writing in poetry it enhances their awareness in the world. They begin to notice small nuances in what they see, read, watch, and hear and how these noticings amplify understanding of the world around them.

Part 2: 5 Quick Wins to Support English Language Learners in the Classroom

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This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and their partner Digital Promise. All ideas and thoughts are mine.

Data, when used in telling a school’s story, helps to paint an image in the minds of those receiving the message. From test scores to computer use, educators and administrators alike rely heavily on statistical information to help make decisions, target funding and share their school’s story with all stakeholders. While test scores or computer use may vary to the extreme ends of the spectrum, one thing that is on the rise for almost all schools is the number of English Learners (ELs) in the K-12 student population. In fact, according to US Department of Education, over 4,800,000 ELs were enrolled in schools between 2014-2015.

From interactive charts to maps, Our Nation’s English Learners offers a multitude of stories about the students we serve across the nation. Much of the information may come as no surprise to teachers in the trenches supporting English Learners in their classrooms, but what does plague the minds of many of these same educators is how best to support ELs and what best resources and learning opportunities are available to hone their own craft while their student population changes.

I have recently begun a series of posts on this matter and its intersection in literacy teaching. You can read my first post Here. This post offers how all teachers can model language learning by using these 5 techniques as well as an extension to your own learning through micro credentials offered by Digital Promise.

First, all teachers, no matter grade or content area, can apply simple techniques in the form of modeling and instruction to support students in the classroom, especially ELs.

5 Quick Wins to Model Language Learning in the Classroom

  1. Model. Speak clearly and calmly. Use a constant and predictable speech pattern while utilizing repetition and visuals of important words and phrases. This helps to cue students into recognizing cues while listening or viewing that is important to their academic discourse.

  2. Discuss. Unless a beginning language acquisition student, give all students opportunities to talk, read and write during teaching. Encourage participation through carefully selected groups, partnerships, scaffolding, etc. Language learning should involve active learning. The more students are thinking about ideas, wrestling with texts, and using each other to co-construct meaning the more powerful the understanding of the content and language.

  3. Vocabulary. All learning is partially done via words. If students do not understand the vocabulary they have problems accessing the material. In addition, ELs have to learn a new language on top of the content. Teachers should preview material and pull out vocabulary to focus on with all students. Choose words that are conceptual and topical, ones that appear frequently, or are essential for continued learning. (If you are looking for more vocabulary information check out my post here).

  4. Differentiate. Along with previewing material for vocabulary instruction, identify ways to differentiate material based on student needs, interests, and multiple learning styles. Consider difficult passages or concepts that may need to be anchored to an ELs previous background or experiences. Present material in multiple modes, audio with immersive sound, visual, multimedia, and provide access and choice to ELs based on needs and preference. Eliminate confusion by ELs by connecting the topics studied to content that is relevant and engaging.

  5. Support. Remember that every lesson is not only focused on content but also an opportunity to be a language lesson for ELs. Provide multiple opportunities to practice words and sentence structures or grammar usage. Encourage support from peers and other partnerships that can be fostered to help ensure success. Use the home language for difficult concepts or abstract topics but avoid constant translation by adults or other children who speak the EL’s home language.

While all teachers may not feel equipped to teach language to our growing EL population, there are many quick-wins that all educators can start doing immediately to model and promote language learning in their classroom.

Second, educators can continue their own professional learning through connecting with and learning from a variety of supports. Connecting through social media avenues, book studies with colleagues, and one of my favorites, the learning available through Digital Promise. Digital Promise has built an innovative system of micro-credentials to recognize educators for the skills they learn throughout their careers in order to craft powerful learning experiences for their students.

As student populations across the country continue to change, the more information, resources, and learning opportunities for educators will provide the best learning for our EL students. Educators need to continue to invest in their own training and understanding on how best to support all students. We can all be models of language learning each day in our classrooms!

 

Edtech Literacy Resources to Support English Learners

ShaeLynn Farnsworth @shfarnsworth1A common trait with the districts I work with is the increase of English Learners (ELs) in the classroom. With a focus on literacy, I am often asked to support teachers in their pursuit of providing the best resources and strategies for students. Over the next few days, I will be posting different ways to support ELs in the classroom in terms of literacy instruction. First up, Using Bilingual Books in the Classroom

Using bilingual books in the classroom is advantageous for all students and teachers. Books written in the home language of your students convey the message that you value and respect their culture, their experiences, and them as learners. It provides practice of applying and connecting reading and writing strategies from one language to another. Connecting or “bootstrapping” emergent literacy skills and strategies from a student’s home language to English is essential to the acquisition. ELs (English Learners) use “bootstrapping” when they use their home language to help them read and write English.

Teachers gain valuable insight into their EL students when noticing the connections being made and the strategies they are equipped with their home language and apply them to learning English. Bilingual books in the classroom provide these opportunities for observation as well as experiences for teachers to discern their own language acquisition when reading a text in an unfamiliar language.

The Bottom-Line is:

  • EL students are resourceful learners and use every resource and strategy available to do well in school.
  • Having books in multiple home languages helps to build relationships and honors students as learners.
  • It’s easier to learn something new when it stems from something familiar. Providing books in multiple languages for students gives access to information and choice in reading.
  • Teachers can help bring connections between languages, as well as notice strategies students already possess when providing books in home languages for students to read.

Sources for Bilingual Books

Digital Resources

  • ManyThings.org  (Multiple audio recordings)
  • Unite for Literacy (Books with audio available in multiple languages)
  • Newsela (NF, Multiple Text-Levels, Spanish and English)
  • TweenTribune (NF, Multiple Text-Levels, Spanish & English)
  • Latinitas  (Focused on empowering young Latinas using media and technology, digital magazine)
  • ReadWorks (lessons, texts, and resources for EL students and teachers)
  • MackinVia (library filled with digital books students can read and are available in multiple languages)

Finally, here is a list of activities that educators can do to accompany bilingual books in the classroom:

  • Use for the promotion of metalinguistic awareness.
  • Prepare students for new content for an upcoming unit as a sort of preview.
  • Free reading choice.
  • Self-assessment and monitoring comprehension.
  • Compare the texts in both versions with a focus on tone, word choice in each, evaluate each text.
  • Bring books home to involve families in literacy activities.
  • Write their own companion book for a text.
  • Use picture books and work on oral language acquisition.

 

Source: Nancy Cloud, Fred Genesee, and Elsa Hamayan. Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Censorship, & Banned Books

Adobe Spark (19)Last week, I began watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original series based off of the novel by Margaret Atwood. Set in a dystopian society and ruled by an extreme, fundamentalist regime; the series draws viewers in with multiple storylines, dynamic characters, and pendulum swings oscillating between hope and despair. Along with the brutal objectification of females in this radical, religious Totalitarian society, The Handmaid’s Tale, sheds light on the power of the literate individual.

Books, reading, and writing are outlawed in Gilead, and one scene in an early episode where “The Eyes” are burning books and art, immediately reminded me of other stories about censorship and book banning, such as Fahrenheit 451. The ability to read, write, and think for oneself is seen as a threat to the new government of Gilead and there is not a more powerful illustration of this then in the “Closet Scene”  from episode 4. Offred, the main character, was locked in her room for 2 weeks straight and finds a Latin phrase, Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, carved into the corner of her closet. This single phrase, written by her predecessor who failed to bear a child for the commander and his wife, risked her life to offer hope in the form of words that Offred couldn’t even translate. This small carving of words, hidden in the closet, reignited the fire of freedom that had been dimmed inside of Offered, get the Free E-Sign software here.  

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Words have the power to transport readers to new places, they can inspire a movement, and bring hope to those who identify with characters they read about or quotes that sing to their heart. This week marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration that recognizes  Students’ Right to Read and emphasizes the First Amendment. The theme for this upcoming Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 30) is “Words Have Power. Read a Banned Book.” The words in these banned and challenged books have the power to connect readers to literary communities and offer diverse perspectives. And when these books are threatened with removal from communal shelves, your words have the power to challenge censorship. (ALA)

The Right to Read implies that individuals have the choice in what they read and the ability to be selective in this endeavor. The same freedoms are extended to the group as well and oppose the individual’s efforts to limit what others read. “The right of any individual not just to read but to read whatever he or she wants to read is basic to a democratic society,” (NCTE). Censorship and the banning of books limit the access of information for students. It distorts their understanding of information, creates bias, and neglects to provide a whole picture of the successes and challenges of a community or culture.

In this age of information and with the access to content at the touch of a button, it is essential to develop critical thinking skills and savvy discerners of information instead of limiting what students read. Just as important is the classroom discussion around censorship, along with individual dives into inquiry around bias, banned books, and healthy skepticism.

During Banned Books Week,  I urge you to take part in the activities or create one of your own. In my classroom, I had students select a commonly banned or challenged book, preferably one they were familiar with, and answer the following questions:

  • Why is this book banned or frequently challenged?
  • What passages, lines, words, or characters are often attributed to the challenging or banning of the book?
  • What are the different opinions about this book?
  • What is your opinion?
  • Should this book be banned? Should any book be censored or banned?
  • How does censorship play a role in your life?

This short exercise made students aware of the issue, the sides, take a stand, and defend their thoughts. It provided us a perfect launch into Huck Finn (another frequently challenged book), as well as a larger, conceptual lens on censorship and the Right to Read.

Literacy = Power, Opportunities, Democracy, and Improved Professional & Personal Lives. And although contemporary books and movies, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, paint an extreme cautionary example of censorship and banning books, it does illustrate the importance of freedom and the role literacy plays in our lives.

***And if you are wondering the translation of the Latin words Offred found hidden in her closet, here it is: “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down”… fitting, don’t you think?