Using Standard Technology to Enhance Learning: Part 3
By Lisa Wahl, M.A.
You probably know about assistive technology (AT) tools that can help students with learning disabilities (LD) with reading, writing, math, listening and organization. Perhaps you have purchased educational software for your child. However, you may not be aware of the extent to which the computer hardware and software you already own may include several features and functions that can improve your child's academic performance. In this article, we will explore how electronic text can be adapted to assist students with LD. The use of standard technologies to enhance and support reading can benefit students as young as third-graders, throughout their education, and into the working world. You and your child will want to experiment with the techniques described in this article to find those that help him most.
Line spacing and page layout
Some students are able to read more easily with fewer words on the screen or page. Increasing the width of the margins and double spacing are two methods you can easily try. If you are going to print the text because your child prefers working from a hard copy, leaving a lot of room on one side for notes, diagrams or drawings can be helpful.
As you and your child experiment with different combinations of font, size, color and line spacing, remember that what reads best to you may not be what reads best for your child. Once you discover modifications that help your child, make note of them and remind your child to use them. If your child works on a computer at school, you'll also want to share this information with his teachers.
Customizing text: Reorganizing and editing
Electronic versions of text allow a parent or teacher to rearrange or add to the information presented, in order to reduce the child's frustration and/or increase his comprehension of material. For example, an article on geology may be broken up into shorter paragraphs. After each paragraph, you might insert key questions about the facts, along with room for the student to type the answers. You might also insert a summary before the actual text, to give the child a "preview" of the text that follows. For a student who needs a reduced amount of text to read, you might eliminate less important material, such as details not essential to understanding the concepts presented.
Tip: Electronic sources of summaries and test questions can be found online from sources such as SparkNotes.
Text to speech: The computer reads the text aloud
Software that converts text to speech may be helpful if your child is a struggling reader but an effective listener. According to a review of the research by the National Center for Innovative Technology, when the computer reads "a nonjudgmental learning environment is created, where a student can reread the same passage with a fluent model as frequently as needed."
Having the computer read text aloud is a strategy that can be used in a number of ways. A student who struggles with decoding may increase comprehension as a result of an auditory pre-reading and/or post-reading. Some children may find specific words difficult and will only need to hear those words read aloud. Some programs highlight each word as it is read aloud, offering the reinforcement of reading and listening together.
One way to have a computer read text is to use speech features within a program you may already own, such as Inspiration®, Kidspiration®, AppleWorks®, StoryBook Weaver Deluxe®, and KidPix Deluxe®. You can use these programs to highlight and read aloud electronic.
Books you download may be formatted for the free Microsoft Reader software for the PC, which maintains the look of the original book (page numbers and graphics), and offers book-marking and other helpful features. Microsoft Reader offers a free Text-to-Speech Package for speech access.