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ICT for Struggling Readers and Writers Lets Get on with It

by Paul Nisbet

on Wed May 22, 2013

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I had a call yesterday from a parent who was concerned about her 10 year old son who is dyslexic and dyspraxic. He has been receiving good support from the school staff, particularly with regard to his reading - his mum said that his reading age had been 1.5 years behind but that followed intensive work with staff, using Toe-by-Toe and other techniques, he was now reading at the same level as his peers.

However, she was concerned about his handwriting, which because of his dyspraxia, is difficult to read. He doesn’t like writing at all, finds it very hard to read his own writing, and is getting upset about it. The parent had raised the possibility of her son using ICT instead of handwriting with staff, and said that the school were not very enthusiastic.

Now, I don’t know the details and without meeting the pupil I wouldn’t be able to say whether he should  or should not use ICT instead of or as well as handwriting. But it does make me worried and so I thought I’d offer a few thoughts around this issue. Here’s what I think.

If someone in Primary 5 is dyspraxic and consequently has slow and illegible handwriting then it’s time to stop causing them grief and time to start helping them to access the curriculum. Forcing a pupil to continue writing by hand when there are easier, faster and more effective methods is not good practice. It risks disengagement, prevents them from accessing educational opportunities and creates low self-esteem. It’s not successful, not confident, not responsible, not effective and not what schools should be doing.

Here’s an example of a (different) pupil’s handwriting he was in Primary 7 at the time:

Here’s a sample of his writing using a simple word processor (an AlphaSmart). Much easier to read, although the spelling is a bit of an issue.

befor you go you haf to make a traye. First get a peace of fishing line about 1  metre long.  Then get a reasnedul sised hook after you have got one big enuf and sharp enuf laiy it to your trais and then get a flote. put the end of the trais that does not have the hook thro the hole at the top of the flot then tiay a not.

And here’s a sample of his writing with a word predictor (Co:Writer). Readable and much better spelling:

First get a piece of fishing line about 1 metre long. Then get a reasonable sized hook.  After you have got one big enough and sharp enough tie it to your trace

No contest, really, is there?

It’s personal

ICT, in the form of a personal netbook, laptop, tablet or iPad is vital for pupils who have difficulties with reading or writing. It’s like an electronic jotter. You need to have a device on your desk, available at all time. Getting up from your desk to go to the back of the room to use the class computer is no good: you wouldn’t expect someone to get up and go to the back of the class every time they needed to use a pencil and write in a jotter, so why accept this with ICT?

It’s a skill that needs taught

We teach handwriting. We also need to teach keyboarding (ideally, touch typing, if possible) and ICT skills. We teach handwriting skills to develop speed, fluidity and automaticity so that ideally, your thoughts flow direct from brain to page without having to think about the formation of letters. So too with keyboarding the main reason for learning to touch typing, in my view, is not speed, but to develop the same automaticity.

Despite the notion of ‘digital learners’ young people are not born with innate ability to use a word processor or a word predictor. They have to be taught. By their teachers. This needs staff who know the technology, and time set aside for teaching.

Use it most or all of the time

It’s tempting to think that you only want to use the ICT for ‘extended’ writing, but there can be a few problems with this. It’s too easy to leave the device on the side and not have it ready and inevitably the battery goes flat and you get out of the habit and before you know where you are, the pupil is in S4 and about to use a scribe in his exams. Avoid this: make ICT the default tool, not the exceptional tool.

To do this we need to think digital: use ICT yourself to create resources and give the same resources to the pupil so they can access them on the device. Get digital versions of textbooks from the Books for All Database. Use digital reading books. Scan paper worksheets and other materials into the computer so that the pupil can complete them on the device. (Lots of programs can do this, from the free Foxit Reader, to for example Acrobat Pro, FineReader and more specialist software like ClaroRead, Read and Write Gold or Kurzweil.)

Let’s stop making life hard for ourselves and our learners.

Take a look at this video for some inspiration.

Tags: ipad

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