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Assistive Technology for Reading

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Our educational systems place a high priority on literacy. Reading is a fundamental skill that helps children in all areas of life. Being able to read well is vital for decoding and comprehending complex text as students tackle more difficult concepts in other content areas.

But how can today’s educators accommodate the wide variety of reading challenges presented in the typical classroom? These assistive technology tools are a key addition to the modern teacher’s toolkit whether you teach special education or not.

Types of Assistive Technology

Although the actual tools may go by many names and come from a wide variety of nonprofit and commercial providers, three main categories of tech drive these solutions:

  1. Text to speech (TTS) allows users to see the words on the page and hear them being spoken at the same time. TTS tools can be interactive, requiring readers to click or point to a word or phrase they want to hear. They can also be passive, reading aloud without interaction from the user. The spoken voice is generally AI-generated, not recorded personally by a human.
  2. Audiobooks, first developed in 1932 by the American Foundation for the Blind, are typically not auto-generated; voice narrators create audible versions of stories. Users can listen in lieu of reading from a visual text, or pair audiobooks with the print versions for enhanced fluency and comprehension. Despite concerns from parents and some teachers that audiobooks may be “cheating,” using them does not keep students from learning to read and can boost confidence in reluctant learners.
  3. Optical character recognition (OCR) deciphers text from images or graphics. Scanning PDF files for conversion into Word documents is one application of OCR. Mobile apps have brought this into the real world for everyone; snap a photo of any text in your environment and hear it read aloud by a computer-generated voice.

More Traditional Resources Are Still OK

Teachers can continue to use more traditional classroom aids in addition to the above tools. These include graphic organizers, such as flowcharts, to help visualize words on a page. Dictionaries, thesauri and notetaking are lifelong resources for readers of any level and work well alongside assistive technology for better overall comprehension.

Teachers who tap tech versions (apps) of more traditional resources (dictionaries) gain the best of both worlds. Digital resources designed for mobile devices are usually more accessible for students who may not have a family library to fall back on.

Next Steps for Classroom Leaders

The changes in tech and literacy tools are exciting, and we can credit educators for helping drive developments in the classroom. If you are eager to be part of the conversation and learn more about the path to becoming a reading coach, interventionist or specialist, a Master of Education, Curriculum & Instruction – Concentration in Reading from the University of Louisiana Monroe can help get you there.

ULM’s affordable online M.Ed. program focuses on positive reading outcomes for children from all backgrounds, as well as students with reading disabilities. Specifically, it includes a course titled Teaching Reading to Students with Special Needs. If you have an undergraduate degree and teaching certification, the 36 hours of coursework can be completed in as few as 15 months.

Learn more about ULM’s M.Ed., Curriculum & Instruction with a Concentration in Reading online program.


Sources:

PBS: A Short History of the Audiobook, 20 Years After the First Portable Digital Audio Device

Understood.org: Assistive Technology for Reading

Understood.org: Do Audiobooks Get in the Way of Learning to Read?

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