Last academic year, our SENCO set me a challenge – to work with a few dyslexic students who are given additional access to iPad as part of their statement, and to teach them how iPads can be used to improve their study. Having never used an iPad myself, I was unsure of where to start with this task, and so I asked the question – what types of apps are going to best support dyslexic learners?
This article was originally published in the January 2016 Edition of our UKEdMagazine
The most obvious answer was to turn to e-reader apps. Dyslexia is, after all, fundamentally a literacy difficulty, and so apps which read aloud are naturally going to improve access to printed material for these students. Having used Read & Write Gold software (bit.ly/uked16jan01) with a number of students the previous year, I instinctively headed straight for their iPad app iReadWrite (bit.ly/uked16jan02) with the intention of training the students in its use and not going much further.
This seemed like a good plan until I started asking questions: What would this teach the learners? How would it improve their literacy skills? How would it support the development of their study skills? In fact – would it actually hinder any progress, causing them to rely solely on the e-reader and so neglect all other forms of study and revision?
A major component of my job is writing Individual Education Plans for learners, and so I am used to writing strategies for teachers to use in support of dyslexic learners in their classrooms:
- Break all instructions into smaller steps and display these visually.
- Limit the amount of written work to be copied down.
- Encourage the use of mind maps and other visual learning techniques.
- Allow the student to make an attempt before committing it to paper.
- Support the development of time management and organisational skills.
I therefore set myself a challenge – to take these most common strategies and work out how to use apps to support each of them.
In doing this, I discovered a wealth of apps which these students have been able to utilise to support their learning in different ways. One of the students I work with has particular difficulties with copying written information accurately from the board. We are currently looking into the use of Splashtop (bit.ly/uked16jan03) to mirror the interactive whiteboard on his iPad screen, allowing him to take screenshots of the information and so have it recorded accurately when it comes to exam revision time. I have used apps such as Inspiration maps (bit.ly/uked16jan04) and Popplet (bit.ly/uked16jan05) to teach summarising skills, giving them another method of revision aside from just reading the notes. This can then be imported to My Homework (bit.ly/uked16jan06) where they can create a colour-coded timetable and add tasks, complete with attachments such as images or notes, and so keep track of their learning.
Using just two or three apps, we can have a massive impact on so many areas of development for these dyslexic learners.
And it doesn’t all have to be boring, either! My students love using Doodle Buddy (bit.ly/uked16jan07) because, to quote one of my Year 8s, “Its name sounds like you’re not doing work.” One of my favourite features about it is the fact that whatever you have written disappears as soon as you shake the device. This is perfect for dyslexic learners who have poor self esteem – I get them to attempt answers on this before writing them in their books, and they are much more confident at having a go when they know how easily they can get rid of any mistakes. I have also learnt not to be afraid of using games on the iPad to teach certain skills. One of my students is now slightly hooked on WordStreak (bit.ly/uked16jan08), and would much rather play a round of it than look at spellings. Little does he know I’m watching every word he attempts to analyse his spelling errors! Another game I find fantastic is Kitchen Scramble (bit.ly/uked16jan09) – for a game that appears to have no educational value whatsoever, it is fantastic for developing working memory, time management and the ability to multi-task.
The advice I would give about using apps to support dyslexic learners would be don’t be afraid to try something new. Think outside the box. Be guided by the learner’s specific difficulties and don’t just stick to e-readers!
Now, if anyone wants me, I’ll be over here playing level 415 of Kitchen Scramble…
Rachael @mcauleymiss is a qualified dyslexia teacher who is currently working as a Learning Support Assistant in a large Secondary school in Northern Ireland. She’s not quite sure how she fell into a specialism in assistive technologies, but she has developed a real passion for development in this area. Read her blog at mcauleymiss.wordpress.com