In every class I have ever taught, there are always the following kids: the student with average intelligence who has extremely low decoding skills and the student with significant ADHD symptoms that has trouble sustaining reading for more than a couple minutes at a time. For the first few years of my career, I could never figure out a way to get these kids to read a lot. Students with low decoding skills would be mired in “baby books” interminably, while my students with ADHD would perhaps be able to read a couple pages at a time if I provided tons of prompting and proximity. For the low-decoders, reading was a source of tremendous frustration and anxiety, while the kiddos with ADHD needed so much help just focusing that they never could get “into” the book. When used appropriately, Assistive Technology has potential to turn these non-readers into voracious readers.
If you are looking to pilot an Assistive Technology program at your school or in your classroom, the best thing to do is to start small and begin with just a few kids who most desperately need these supports. More specifically, it may be very helpful to start with students who already have IEPs or 504 plans in place.
Identifying Students with Decoding Disabilities
As many of us already know, the Specific Learning Disability (SLD) category is extremely broad. Not every SLD student is a great fit for text-to-speech supports. For our purposes, the students who would most benefit are students who have decoding skills that lag far behind their overall intellectual capacity (i.e. Full Scale IQ). Students with more global difficulties may not benefit very much at all from text-to-speech supports. One great place to begin getting this data for a student with an IEPs is her most recent Psycho-Educational evaluation. The Letter-Word Decoding or Pseudo-Word decoding subtests examine the student’s ability to correctly decode real and nonsense words, respectively. An important thing to remember is that most assessments have a median score of 100 and every 15 points represents one standard deviation. Below are a couple of examples of some hypothetical students and the reasoning behind whether or not they are a strong candidate for AT.
The first two students may have learning disabilities, but they are not going to benefit very much (or at all) from text-to-speech support. However, for our third student, the ability to decode words may be the only barrier preventing her from performing on grade level. Her IQ is very comfortably within the average range, but her decoding skills would be in the bottom 3 or 4% when compared to her same-age peers.
If you don’t have access to a student’s Psycho-Educational evaluation, you believe the assessment may be invalid, or simply want an additional data point, using F&P data can also be helpful. Say for instance that you are teaching a 7th grade student that is reading on a Level P (beginning of 4th grade level). You first want to look at why this student didn’t pass the Level Q assessment; did they fail the fluency and decoding portion of the assessment or the comprehension portion? If their area of weakness is decoding (and/or fluency) it may be worth doing a bit more digging. One option is to administer a roughly grade-level F&P assessment to the student, but read it aloud to them. Then see how they do on the questions. If their independent level when receiving read-aloud accommodations is at least one or two years higher, the student may be a great candidate for AT.
Identifying Students with ADHD
Often, our students with ADHD are easier to locate. Their disabilities prevent them from truly focusing for more than a few minutes at a time. Before I began using text-to-speech support with students, these were the kids that were often “off-task” and who “hated reading.” However, over time I realized that these students often benefit from text-to-speech support because it allows them to lock into a book and tune out distractions. It is truly amazing! I never thought it was possible, but it could turn a kid who never reads into a fantastic reader!
As Matt and I have discussed before here and here, there are many reasons why some of our students struggle to choose and persevere through books. Sometimes, this could be because they simply need a better book recommendation or require some conferencing throughout the book. Text-to-Speech supports do not eliminate the need for these interventions. However, for students who are reading the right book, and who are receiving targeted conferences and are still struggling to focus for more than a few moments at a time, text-to-speech may be a great tool to experiment with.
Need help implementing this with your students? Contact Rob via email at Rob@GrowingReadersDC.com
Check out our other articles about Assistive Technology here.