On August 20th and 21st, a handful of us from PHRD went to an ERLC session called "Using Technologies to Support Literacy for All Students". The conference focused on five tools: text to speech, speech recognition, word prediction, visual mapping, and symbol writing. I was impressed with the way the tools could help students and easily become such a regular part of any classroom for any student who would want to use the tools. I then thought of students that I have taught in the past who struggled in school, no matter how hard they worked, and found the required assignments extremely frustrating and emotionally draining. At the conference, we saw videos of real students from real public schools using these tools and exemplars showing the improvement in their work. The results for me were indisputable. These tools are a great way to help those students who are capable of learning the content, skills, and other fun stuff that we want them to learn, yet their ‘invisible disabilities’ have prevented them in the past. I love how reading and writing do not have to interfere with a student’s understanding of math, science, social, or any other subject any more with these assistive technologies.
In my excitement and enthusiasm, I was discussing what I learned at the conference with another teacher. This teacher listened to me, although I could tell there was plenty of skepticism. After I told stories of the videos we saw of real students using text to speech and speech recognition, the teacher I was talking to asked me, “Okay, fine. But will these students ever actually learn to read and write?!?”
My answer, after a brief pause: “Nope. They won’t ever learn how to read. Of course not. That’s why they need these technologies.”
I think we can’t get caught up on making sure these types of students learn how to read and write. We have to realize something simple – some of our students are not going to learn how to read or write the way that we've been teaching them and this can have disastrous consequences on their schooling performance and emotional experiences. I don’t mean to say that these students cannot read or write at all. They are simply not going to be able to read and write the traditional way, at grade level or at a place where we wish they could be. Through the use of these technologies, we can begin to eliminate barriers and overcome the ‘invisible disabilities’ that are holding these students back and help level the playing field for all students.
I should note that through more conversation, the teacher I was talking with now understands the use of these technologies and appreciates their use in our classrooms.
Pembina Hills has purchased Word Q and Speak Q, which have the tools of text-to-speech, speech recognition, and word prediction. We look forward to rolling out these assistive technologies throughout the upcoming school year!
This blog and resources website has been developed through the work of various AISI coaches in PHRD. The lead collaborative teachers for the 2015/2016 school year, Cheryl Frose, Christine Quong and Tammy Tkachuk will continue to update this site. If you have resources you would like to share or would like to contribute to the blog, please contact us.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License.