I think we’ve reached the stage in smart technology development where the ground gets pretty grey (Shades of Grey!) between smart tech tools that we all use and what is traditionally called assistive technology for boys and girls with dyslexia and other learning issues.
There is a furious whirlwind of discussion across the nation right now about how to integrate the digital media tools that children are using in their daily lives today. The opinions range from No Digital Media Tools at all in the classroom (really?) to a myriad of attempts to integrate smart phones, tablets, software, video hardware and software, audio hardware and other technology into our classrooms.
In my own humble opinion (including assistive technology for dyslexia), the horse is out of the barn! We cannot expect children to fully unplug from the way they live their lives outside of school and not use the digital media tools and connectivity in their “formal education.”
Assistive technology is just that. For as long as I can remember, our profession has been looking for ways to assist kids and adults with learning blockages, so to speak, with “workarounds” so they can capitalize on their strengths and bypass their weaknesses.
I remember when, in the mid to late 90’s, I was crowing that ALL children should have access to a computer in the classroom. More often than not I was met with blank stares and the sound of crickets. I was incredulous. Back then it was as simple as giving a child an opportunity to use word processing with spell check so that they could create a cleaner written product with few to no spelling mistakes. I was working with children with 130 IQs who took hours to write a one-page document while their verbal skills were off the charts. I think there are a few teachers out there who still punish dyslexic girls and boys for poor spelling!
So, nowadays, assistive technology is pretty common as a component of treatment or set of treatments for dyslexia. The number and type of digital educational tools has, of course, exploded. Let me just briefly discuss two tools and then finish with a call for discussion about educational apps–of which there are thousands!
Dragon Voice Recognition Software
If you haven’t heard of a product called Dragon from Nuance yet, run don’t walk to their website. This voice recognition software allows you to dictate your thoughts onto a Word document (or Mac version), email, calendar, text, etc. with amazing accuracy. It is a wonderful tool for children (or adults) that struggle with fine motor issues, word finding, spelling, etc. It opens the floodgate for our children to finally get their thoughts down on paper by circumnavigating their weaknesses.
Another relatively new tool that can be especially helpful for middle schoolers and up (through college and beyond) is the Livescribe Smartpen. This pen has a camera that records everything you write and a built-in microphone that listens to and records everything you hear during a lecture. Click on the link above and you’ll see three short videos that describe its features and functionality. I’ve seen this assistive technology in action and so sorely wish that I had it available for me when I was in school.