There are hundreds of software programs for helping kids with reading, writing, and math.
The TechMatrix is an online database of products, maintained by the Center for Implementing Technology in Education and the National Center for Technology Innovation. A good place to start is with the two dozen customized searches for particular needs.
By Valle Dwight
Chelsea Eubank has such severe learning disabilities that her mother resigned herself long ago to the fact that her daughter would never be a reader. In spite of that, Chelsea, 20, is in college, has started her own business, and was recently named a national finalist for the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards
How did she do it? Her mother, Linda Eubank, credits technology. Chelsea started using a laptop in third grade and has since worked with a variety of hardware and software to help her read and write, including optical readers, word-prediction software, spell checkers, and audio books.
Such tech tools are playing a larger and larger role in the world of disabilities, helping some students remediate their learning differences and giving others a way to work around their disability to access the general curriculum.
“Technology is not a silver bullet, says Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, deputy director of the National Center for Technology Innovation. “But it can make or break a child’s ability to keep up with the class and the general curriculum.”
According to Silver-Pacuilla, technology has been particularly successful in helping students who struggle with math, reading, and writing. If a 10-year-old is stuck at a first-grade reading level, for instance, but his classmates are plowing through the Harry Potter books, he is missing out on a whole world. And not just the world of wizards. He’s missing out on new vocabulary, increased background knowledge, and the chance to develop a love of reading. If that child listens to Harry Potter on tape, suddenly he is part of that experience.
A child who struggles with basic math facts is stuck at the starting gate while his classmates go on to learn higher math concepts. But if that child uses a calculator, he can move ahead with his class.
“Technology lets kids do more interesting things,” Silver-Pacuilla says. “Don’t let a lack of fluency hold them back.”
Laura Close credits a computer reading tutor for changing her son’s life. He was diagnosed with dyslexia in first grade and went through five years of intensive intervention, trying everything from listening and vision therapy to tutors to a series of reading interventions to physical therapy.
“Everything helped a little,” Close says. “But nothing helped enough.”
After those five years, her son’s self-esteem was in the toilet — he was reading at a first-grade level and wanted to quit school. Then Close, an education consultant, learned about a phonics-based software program that systematically takes students through a series of more than 60 lessons that work on decoding, fluency, and comprehension. After using the program for eight months, her son was reading at a grade 7.5 level.
“He’s a completely different person,” she says.
Close thinks the software succeeded where other therapies failed because it is repetitive and does not let her son move to the next lesson until he has mastered the current one. Working with a human teacher introduces variables that can change the experience — the child might fool the tutor into thinking he’s learned something, or the teacher might be having a bad day or make mistakes the child picks up.
A computer running a research-based program can perform constant diagnostic tests on the child as he goes through the lessons, review the material, and target areas of weakness.“Also, in school it’s hard to get the minimum 30 minutes to an hour a day, five days a week, that these kids need,” says Close.“It really has been a miracle for him. My only regret is that we didn’t find it earlier.”
Lifting spirits as well as test scores...
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