Dyslexic Students Becoming Independent with Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and Mac Devices

ipadImagine constantly being presented with the printed word and not able to read it. Imagine being in class listening to the teacher, actively participating in class discussions, but then the teacher hands out a worksheet that you can’t read. Imagine the frustration of knowing the answers, but because you can’t read the test, you are unable to show how much you know and thus you keep making failing grades. Can you really imagine that? How would it make you feel? How would you survive in a world like this?

Unfortunately, 1 in 5 students live in a world where the written language is a source of great frustration. They have Dyslexia, a condition that makes reading extremely difficult. They are often unable to decipher letter sounds and patterns, hence reading is hard. Spelling and written expression can be just as difficult and a tedious process for them. The shame of knowing that they are not functioning on grade level doesn’t help matters.

College student and Dyslexic artist, Thirsala Wiggins is one such students. She recently had her first art showing hosted by Triumph in Life, Inc., a non-profit organization whose mission it is to help students like Wiggins reach their full potential in life.


Chowan University senior, Thirsala Wiggins at her first Art Show

On the difficult of reading, Wiggins stated, “What would be 2-3 hours of reading for assignments for most students, turns into a full day of reading for me.”  Unlike many students who share her condition, she has vowed not to give up.

“It’s not going to stop me,” she stated.

But many other students do let it stop them. They give up. As educators, how can we support these otherwise bright students who encounter great difficult in reading? As many of us know, it’s not an easy fix, but with the advancement in technology there are ways around it. We have to teach these learners that oral reading is only one way to access printed material. The other way is reading with your ears.

Reading with your ears is the other way we can help our students get meaning from printed text. Listening to it being read aloud is the only hope for students to have access to grade-level curriculum. While some may not consider this real reading, the end result is the same- they get information from the printed word. We have to change our way of thinking and find ways to help our students gain access to reading either by it being read to them (there is no time) or audio books (too expensive). What’s left?  Their phone! That’s right, students iPhones are game changers.

It seems that everyone has them; even our poorest students have iPhones or iPads. They have a far greater use then simply talking on the phone or texting. Many students don’t realize how powerful their phones and pads are and how it can help them be more independent in class and at home doing homework.

The Speak Selection on iOS and OS X allow users to highlight certain text and have the text read back to them using text-to-speech. They are only a click away from reading with their ears webpages, newspaper articles, emails and so much more. What makes this function even better is that on iOS, Speak Selection even highlights words as they are being spoken to help the student follow along and increase the users’ chances of learning the word using the whole word approach to reading.

I know what you are thinking, how does this help in cases where you have assigned the student to read in his textbook or other handouts? Apps! That’s right there is an app called Prizmo that can be downloaded on iOS devices. Prizmo allows users to snap a picture of an article or document and Prizmo will recognize the text using optical character recognition and read it back using text-to-speech in a matter of seconds.

Apple will soon be introducing a predictive keyboard that will help with poor spelling by suggesting words based on the first few characters. Until then however, dictation or speech-to-text is also integrated into iOS and OS X. This function allows users to fully express themselves without having to rephrase or restructure their sentence because they can’t spell what they really want to say. Dyslexic students do this a lot. As a result of poor spelling, they very rarely use their awesome vocabulary in their writings because they can’t spell half the words they know.

iPhones are game changers. However, the question now becomes will teachers fight to allow their students to use them in class when it goes against school policy?

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