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The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student

The Benefits of Using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student

Linda Lavinder Tavares

University of Maryland University College

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student
Abstract

The learning disabled student can be described as a pre-kindergarten through twelfth grader with impairments which interfere with their learning. The website medical dictionary.com defines learning disabled as an abnormal condition often affecting children of normal or above-average intelligence, characterized by difficulty in learning such fundamental procedures as reading, writing, and numeric calculation. The condition may result from psychological or organic causes and is usually related to slow development of perceptual motor skills (http://medicaldictionary.thefreedictionary.com). Students who fall under the category of learning disabled vary to the degree with what kind of intervention they need and which accommodations may help them learn to read and comprehend. There are many ways to assist students and assistive technology devices are becoming more useful in the inclusion classroom with learning disabled students when they are implemented in a conscientiously applied program. How helpful are assistive technologies with promoting reading comprehension? Which assistive technology devices are the best choices in an inclusion classroom which may contain a broad range of reading levels? How can assistive technology devices help teachers differentiate their lessons and meet the needs of all students? Keyword: assistive, technology, learning disabled, computer, reading, comprehension, literacy, cognitive impairments.

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student
Expectations of the Learning Disabled Student

The demands of the curriculum require all students to learn and perform on grade level. Students with learning disabilities (LD) are increasingly expected to perform on state tests on par with non-LD students, albeit with certain classroom and testing modifications depending upon the disabilities and as outlined in the students personal Individual Education Plan (IEP). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has been modified to meet the testing needs of LD students and, as explained in the article Assistive Technology in Education, The amended IDEA of 1997 includes changes that effect special education (and general education) practice (Dalton, 1999). In alignment with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, IDEA specifically states, a) students with disabilities participate in state and district-wide assessment programs, with accommodations where necessary (alternate assessments are used only as a final alternative) (http://idea.ed.gov). Studies show the reading challenges LD students face. According to authors Michael Kennedy and Donald Deshler, when we analyze the data from one important study, the National Longitudinal Transition Study II (2010) we find a) 21% of students with LD are five or more grade levels below in reading; (b) 31% of students with LD drop out of school compared with 9.4% of nondisabled peers (Kennedy, 2010). The goal of the educational system is to narrow the gap between the LD student and their nondisabled peers and to improve the retention rate of the LD student.

Practices to Assist the Learning Disabled Student

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student
Teachers face challenges of their own; how to differentiate lessons and meet the individual needs of each student. In an effort to support LD students and to meet the

requirements set forth in the NCLB Act, teachers of inclusion classrooms must use creativity with each lesson and must constantly revise and adapt lessons on a daily basis. Along with offering accommodations such as extended time on tests and modified student schedules, teachers must also present lessons which will encompass different modalities of learning in order to meet the learning requirements of the LD student and to better promote, among other things, reading comprehension. An important resource for teachers which will create an impact on improving reading comprehension of the LD student is the use of assistive technology devices. What is Assistive Technology? In the article, Assistive Technology in Education, author Elizabeth Dalton explains, assistive technology device means any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of students (or individuals) with disabilities (http://www.ric.edu). Assistive technology (AT) devices can play an important role in evening the playing field for students with learning disabilities and those without because they allow access to the general education curriculum for academic, social and extracurricular activities (Carpenter & Wright, 2009). Teachers must find and use appropriate lesson adaptations and this begins with the students Individual Education Plan (IEP). Once an IEP meeting is held with school administrators and staff members, a consensus is reached regarding the best type of assistive technology which would be helpful to the LD student while taking into consideration the

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student
students specific disability. Once a decision is made and the best device is chosen, it is

important the teacher is given appropriate training for how to use the device because, according to the article Assistive Technology: What Every School Leader Should Know, failure to consider this aspect may lead to assistive technology abandonment (Carpenter & Wright, 2009). This training helps assure the teacher and student are correctly using the device, that they are fully utilizing its capabilities and the student obtains the maximum assistance and as a result has the best opportunity to succeed. Students with disabilities are no longer found only in the Special Education classroom but those with mild to moderate disabilities are in the regular education inclusion classroom. AT devices can play an important role in an inclusion class and according to the article, Assistive Technology: Supporting Learners in Inclusive Classrooms (2009), research indicates AT can be used at all levels to promote academic success among students with disabilities and the use of such technologies by students of all ages can help promote not only academic success, but also independence, self-worth, and productivity (Simpson, et. al). Many different kinds of hardware and software are available for use in the classroom. The choices vary from low-tech inexpensive choices to high-tech more expensive devices. Using AT devices in the classroom has been proven to be effective when used in a consciences program in the inclusion classroom which has a mix of LD and non-LD students. In the article, Introduction to the Special Issue on Technology Integration, written by Sean Smith from the Department of Education at the University of Kansas, Smith explains, Students who were taught using the technology-based materials made significant gains in number of vocabulary words learned vs. control condition students (Smith, 2009). However, many teachers and their students are not embracing and accessing technology-based solutions. If AT

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student
devices are so helpful, it stands to reason they would be prominently positioned and used in

classrooms throughout the school systems. An analysis of a study conducted through George Mason University, Who is Using Assistive Technology in Schools, outlines important information regarding who is using AT and finds AT services are closely related to other forms of services in that they are the third most frequent service being received by LD students after speech-language and occupational therapies (Quinn, 2009). The sample they used included all grades, preK-12 and indicated the largest percentage of students receiving services in a self-contained setting (40.47%). The most common disability was multiple disabilities (27.71%) (Quinn, 2009). In their analysis of the data it was indicated AT was effective in enhancing the skills of students with multiple disabilities but mainly in self-contained classrooms. It was recommended AT should be considered for all students with disabilities but at this time access throughout the majority of regular education and inclusion classrooms has not become a reality (Quinn, 2009). Teachers in all classrooms have the important responsibility to provide the necessary tools and resources so each student may be successful, however many At devices are abandoned by teachers due in part to lack of training. An article published in Elementary School Journal (2008) examines the results of a study conducted using 159 first grades students using assistive technology. The article, Technology Infusion in Success for All: Reading Outcomes for First Graders, randomly assigned students into groups of technology or nontechnology conditions and focused on combining visual and auditory memory systems working in conjunction with the lesson because, as stated in the article, visual and auditory memory systems are distinct, each system has a limited capacity, and combining verbal and visual content (words and moving pictures) provides learners multiple pathways to retention and comprehension (Chambers, 2008). Using technology, lessons were

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student
created which embed words and moving pictures (multimedia) interspersed and repeated

throughout the lesson. For example, one skill that beginning readers need to master in early reading instruction is to decode simple (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. The embedded multimedia strategy we describe contains a series of puppet skits designed to provide a brief, memorable model of how to sound out these words (Chambers, 2008). Students who received embedded multimedia lessons scored significantly higher on formal assessments than nontutored group. Assistive Technology Devices and Descriptions Teachers do not need to reinvent the wheel or spend a great deal of money in an effort to differentiate lessons for their students. One powerful software program available through Microsoft is PowerPoint. Lessons can be created and presented to students which encompass visual, auditory and interactive (kinesthetic) modalities of learning. Once the PowerPoint lesson is created it can be presented whole group to the class, downloaded on student computers for independent or small group work and made available to students to review at home. A free PowerPoint Viewer is available for free and can be downloaded by families who do not have PowerPoint software (Coleman, 2009). By scanning book pages and placing the scanned work into a PowerPoint presentation, teachers allow the student to have access to the same books as his/her peers and is a free option for teachers who already have a scanner and PowerPoint software. Coleman (2009) furthered examined using PowerPoint as assistive technology for the LD student and explains, Many students are motivated by computer-assisted instruction and, for some students who have decreased motor, cognitive, or learning abilities, PowerPoint opens up opportunities for independent skill practice that would otherwise require adult assistance (Coleman, 2009).

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student

Another example of reading assistive software which has been shown to be successful in motivating and increasing reading comprehension of LD students is Kurzweil 3000 (http://www.kurzweiledu.com). Kurzweil 3000 is a low-cost assistive reading software where teachers can scan text documents and the student can read the highlighted words while it is being read out loud to them (bimodal) at their own pre-selected reading pace. The student can stop, click on an unknown word and have a dictionary show and tell the definition of the word. In the article Engaging Older Students with Reading Disabilities (Elder, Manset, Nelson, & Dunn, 2006) it is shown how using Kurzweil 3000 had an impact on student comprehension because it allows students to see the words being read and hear the words at the same time as they explain, a bimodal approach to instruction aids in the reading comprehension skills of students with LD. Additionally, reading assistive software with a speech element has been shown to impact comprehension by providing information with accuracy and at an accelerated rate, which might not normally occur if read without the support of the technology (Elder, et al, 2006). Interactive Whiteboards are an assistive technology which has been shown effective with differentiating lessons and supporting students with LD. When a Whiteboard is used it becomes an extension of your computer as an active desktop and special pens are used to draw directly on the screen. Text can be scanned, typed or downloaded to the computer desktop and then manipulated on the large screen of the whiteboard. Words can be highlighted, moved, underlined, and font sizes can be increased and shown in different colors to help visually impaired students. Bright colors are helpful encouraging students to stay on task and the interactive capabilities help students who respond well to kinesthetic learning (Anderson 2011). In the article Assistive Technology for Reading (2009), author Judi Cumley explains the benefits of using Reading Pens with LD students. Readingpens from WizCom Technologies

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student

LTD (http://www.wizcomtech.com) is a device which is shaped like a large pen and has a screen on the top side of the pen. The pen can be moved across the unknown word and it scans the word or line of words and it pronounces the word or reads the line of text (Cumley, 2009) and provides immediate definitions of scanned text. A similar device, the QuickLink Pen Elite from the same manufacturer can scan and store text and transferred later to a computer. This form of hardware can be especially helpful to LD students of any age because the level of text can be chosen by the teacher and tailored to the students needs and in line with the curriculum and can be used independently by the student. The cost of the Readingpen is $229.95. A lower cost version of the Readingpen is the Irispen (http://www.irislink.com) which functions in a similar manner but retails for $129. The BookWorm Literacy Tool from AbleNet (http://www.ablesdata.com) is a voice output reading device which allows the teacher to turn any book into a talking book and is helpful for students with multiple learning disabilities. The reading material is clipped to the device and the book recorded into the memory module. The student uses matching sticker affixed to the machine and press the keypad to listen to the story and follow along in the book as they read. An example of a software program teachers can use to differentiate lessons and assist LD students with reading comprehension is Picture It from Slater Software (http://www.slatersoftware.com). This software has a library of over 6000 pictures and symbols which are linked to words and the pictures can adapt books by using a picture over traditional text. These picture/word combinations can be read by or to the student by the computer and is accessible by switch, touch screen, keyboard or mouse. This kind of software might be used by most learning disabled students from those categorized as mildly LD to the more struggling

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student
learning disabled student. In either case, Picture It supported text is a very useful assistive technology device in the promotion of stronger reading skills.

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Electronic text comes in many commercially produced forms and is used to manipulate text making access to text more available to LD students. Electronic text allows words to be seen and heard when using a text reader. These kinds of text readers can be an important form of assistive technology for students and can play a sound role in promoting reading comprehension. According to Judy Cumley (2009) students who use these kinds of devices have a better chance at comprehending what they are reading because, as she explains, being able to immediately decode a word by hearing it spoken within the context of a passage helps students build word recognition and vocabulary without disturbing the flow of comprehension (Cumley, 2009). Listed here are several versions and their descriptions: LeapFrog products (http://www.leapfrog.com) offer digital devices that can read text, spell and interact with students while they read books; Planet Wobble from Crick Software (http://www.planetwobble.com) provides hard copy and on-screen books. This device engages students with comprehension activities that can be differentiated and must be used with Clicker (http://www.cricksoft.com) software; Bookshare.org is a web based system of books in digital formats and offers talking books and also offers BRF format for Braille devices and printers for sight impaired students (Cumley, 2009). The article Assistive Technology for Reading points out the importance of these kinds of reading assistive devices and how they allow students to read on-level material while focusing more on comprehension and less of decoding. According to Judy Cumley (2009) These technologies provide a supportive reading environment and increase a students ability to read interesting and appropriate grade-level materials by minimizing the need for decoding skills and maximizing the students ability to comprehend (Cumley, 2009).

The Benefits of using Assistive Technology to Promote Reading Comprehension with the Learning Disabled Student

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A variety of free text readers is available on the internet. If you use the browser Firefox, a free program called TTS will work to turn text into speech. Adobe Reader is a free download that read many pdf file documents which can be downloaded from the internet. My Own Bookshelf from Softtouch (http://www.softtouch.com) lets students select the books they want to read. With this software teachers can create books and place them on a virtual bookshelf. Then when the student is ready to read a book, the system increases literary experiences by allowing students to listen to and read the stories independently. It highlights word-by-word and uses a computerized voice. Teachers can input their own text, images, video and sound. My Own Bookshelf is available for Macintosh and Windows and retails for $139 (softtouch.com). In conclusion, there are as many assistive technology devices available as there is sound research supporting the fact that using assistive technology with learning disabled students can promote better reading comprehension. Assistive technology allows teachers to create differentiated lessons that utilize many modalities of learning, allow students to be more fully engaged in lessons, become more independent learners, and more fully understand what they are reading. To fully implement AT devices in the classroom, teachers need support staff to assist them with training on each device.

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References Anderson, G. (2011) Glendas assistive technology information: Interactive whiteboards with special needs. Retrieved April 10, 2011 from http://atclassroom.blogspot.com/2011/02/ interactive-whiteboards-with-special.html Chambers, B., Slavin, R. E., Madden, N. A., Abrami, P. C., Tucker, B. J., Cheung, A., & Gifford, R. (2008). Technology infusion in success for all: Reading outcomes for first graders. Elementary school journal, 109(1), 1-15. Retrieved April 6, 2011 from EBSCOhost Cobb, A. (2010). To differentiate or not to differentiate? Using internet-based technology in the classroom. Quarterly review of distance education, 11(1), 37-45. Retrieved April 9, 2011 from EBSCOhost

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Coleman, M. (2009). "Powerpoint" is not just for business presentations and college lectures: Using "powerpoint" to enhance instruction for students with disabilities. Teaching exceptional children plus, 6(1), Retrieved from EBSCOhost Cumley, J. (2009). Assistive technology for reading. Retrieved April 6, 2011 from http://www.wati.org/content/supports/free/pdf/Ch7-Reading.pdf Dalton, E. M. (2009). Assistive technology in education: A review of policies, standards, and curriculum integration from 1997 through 2000 involving assistive technology and the individuals with disabilities education act. Issues in teacher and learning 21(1). Retrieved April 5, 2011 from http://www.ric.edu/itl/volume_01_dalton.php Dyal, A., Carpenter, L., & V. Wright, J. (2009). Assistive technology: what every school leader should know. Education, 129(3), 556-560. Retrieved from EBSCOhost. Elder-Hinshaw, R., Manset-Williamson, G., Nelson, J. M., & Dunn, M. W. (2006). Engaging older students with reading disabilities: Multimedia inquiry projects supported by reading assistive technology. Teaching exceptional children, 39(1), 6-11. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Goodfellow, G., & Maino, D. M. (2010). Technology can help students with learning disabilities succeed. Optometric education, 36(1), 16-18. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Hetzroni, O. E., & Shrieber, B. (2004). Word processing as an assistive technology tool for enhancing academic outcomes of students with writing disabilities in the general classroom. Journal of learning disabilities, 37(2), 143-154. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Kennedy, M. J., & Deshler, D. D. (2010). Literacy instruction, technology, and students with learning disabilities: Research we have, research we need. Learning disability quarterly, 33(4), 289-298. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Mechling, L. C., Gast, D. L., & Krupa, K. (2007). Impact of smart board technology: An investigation of sight word reading and observational learning. Journal of autism & developmental disorders, 37(10), 1869-1882. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0361-9 Quinn, B., Behrmann, M., Mastropieri, M., Bausch, M. E., Ault, M., & Chung, Y. (2009). Who is using assistive technology in schools?. Journal of special education technology, 24(1), Retrieved from EBSCOhost

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Simpson, C. G., McBride, R., Spencer, V. G., Lowdermilk, J., & Lynch, S. (2009). Assistive technology: Supporting learners in inclusive classrooms. Kappa delta pi record, 45(4), 1 72-175. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Smith, S. J. (2010). Introduction to the special issue on technology integration. Learning disability quarterly, 33(4), 240-242. Retrieved from EBSCOhost U.S. Department of education: Promoting educational excellence for all Americans (2004). Retrieved April 4, 2011 from http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cdynamic%2 CTopicalArea%2C10%2C