Dylan Bissonnette is a senior UMass Dartmouth sociology major with a minor in education. In 2008, Dylan was a part of a group that founded Middlebridge School in Wakefield, RI. Middlebridge School is a small residential program that works with adolescents with language based learning differences. With graduation on the horizon, Dylan is looking forward to expanding his role at Middlebridge and pursing a graduate degree in special education.
Students with learning disabilities face particular difficulties when reading. These difficulties affect how a student is able to comprehend text. Many learning disabled students (LDS) are able to read through a text fluently but are not able to gain any kind of meaning from what they read (Reid & Lienemann, 2006). A student’s ability to comprehend is directly related to orthographic and semantic processing (Reid, Liemann 2006). Orthographic processing relates to a student’s ability to spell and recognize incorrect or correct spelling. If a student struggles with this type of processing they are unable to make full use of the English language. Semantic processing is connected to a student’s capacity to understand the meaning of words (Reid & Lienemann, 2006).
In order to help students become strong and more confident readers, students themselves must first have an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses before any interventions can be used. This is accomplished through the use of metacognitive reading inventories. Metacognition is a cognitive process where students are able to step back from a situation and recognize their own strengths and weaknesses (Dawson & Guare, 2009).
This type of inventory helps students and teachers find out where the breakdown in their comprehension begins. For example, a student is asked: what do you do if you encounter a word and you don’t know what it means? To answer this question the student is given four to five options to circle that best illustrates how they deal with this problem. Poor readers or LDS lack the ability to monitor their understanding of the text. Only after the point of breakdown in comprehension is identified can productive strategies be put into place.
One strategy that can help LDS with reading comprehension is the Story Grammar Strategy (Reid & Lienemann, 2006). This model consists of five questions aimed at helping a reader identify the main elements in a story. Essentially this model helps students identify the “who, where, what and how” of a story.
Integrating technology as an application can expand this model. Presently students have the opportunity to use word dictation software on the iPod Touch. This development makes dictation technology more mobile and affordable than ever before. It also makes useful technology accessible to a greater number of students.
The process of integrating this form of technology into the story grammar strategy is very easy. Instead of writing down words that a student struggles with, the student is simply able to just say it all out loud into a microphone. The words then appear on the screen. The answers produced by the student’s questions are organized and legible. Equipped with organized answers and important vocabulary words, an LDS will be better suited to participate in class discussions as well as have a resource for studying.
Using this technology, students are able to work with an object that doesn’t represent a source of frustration for them. Expectations of written output can be a stressor for LDS. The iPod Touch becomes a tool to help build their orthographic and semantic processing skills without the task being boring, tedious or difficult. The dictation software allows a student to say a particular word that comes up in a writing selection that they don’t recognize. With intervention from an instructor they can say the word; it will come up on the screen spelled correctly. It will be important for the student to define the word and put the meaning of the word into context.
The act of saying the word and seeing it spelled correctly creates repetition that aids the student in building spelling skills and vocabulary. The student will be more likely to use it in their writing, and will build a more diverse and enriched working vocabulary. A student with a diverse and more extensive vocabulary will have an easier time understanding works of literature. All this can be accomplished by first establishing an understanding of how and why a student struggles. Working with students to evaluate their understanding of what they are reading is vital. Finding creative and current ways to develop reading comprehension skills is equally important. When teachers incorporate new technology and methods, students benefit.