Assistive Edtech: How Technology Helps Students with Dyslexia

Edtech is helping students and teachers in many ways, but one of the more concrete ways is assisting students who struggle with learning disabilities. Because October is National Dyslexia Awareness month, we are looking at what technology is doing for students who have issues with language processing.

Dyslexia is a general term for people who have difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling. It is a language learning disability that stays with an individual for the rest of their lives. It does not have anything to do with how a student sees a word, but rather how they understand and manipulate words and letters.  According to the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, dyslexia is the most common learning disability and about 20 percent of the US population, or one in five people, have dyslexia.

Edtech is changing the face of dyslexia

A quick Google search will lead parents and teachers to an exhaustive amount of apps and programs that help students with dyslexia. Lists upon lists will offer suggestions and may lead to what Dr. Michael Hart calls the “rabbit hole.”

Hart is a leading expert in helping students with dyslexia and attention problems. He did a five part series with Core of Education on how edtech is changing the face of dyslexia. Hart stresses that before getting lost in the rabbit hole, parents and teachers must figure out how the student’s brain works with words and sound so that the tools can be personalized for the student. Figuring out how the student processes language is a critical part of mapping edtech to the student. Language is a multilayered learning process, so spending the time to figure out the best ways to help the student will cut down on the amount of time wasted on researching edtech tools.

However, there are some things to keep in mind when selecting tools for dyslexic students:

  • Home versus school: Tools used at home are going to be different than ones used in the classroom. Consider how the student can integrate the tool into the classroom along with the rest of the class and still be able to participate in lessons.

  • Device of choice: Is this a tool that will be used on a tablet, mobile, or laptop? How will the tool be best used and will a different device enhance its use?

  • Simplicity is best: Simple tools sometimes work better. Digital textbooks, audio books, and text-to-voice tools simplify the experience and sometimes help students by cutting down on complex apps and platforms.

A multisensory approach to teaching

Education technology is even helping beyond its intended purpose. Online courses offer great alternatives to traditional classrooms because of their use of multimedia. Videos, moving graphs, audio lessons, and pictures are great ways to disseminate information in a way that may be helpful for someone struggling with language processing. Hart mentions using tablets is a good way to offer a multisensory approach to teaching, which is a much easier way for dyslexic students to engage in lessons.

Flipped classrooms is another way that changes the traditional teaching process and can be helpful for students with dyslexia. Hart said this method gives the parents a chance to be involved, and it gives the student time to comprehend the information at home and then go to class, ready to expand on that lesson.

Hundreds of new edtech tools come out every day for students with learning disabilities. It’s important to take the time to understand the student’s personality and learning style before jumping ahead into implementation. It is the perfect time to explore the technological possibilities to help enhance a student’s understanding.

Photo Credit: Janine

Michelle Harven

Michelle Harven

Michelle is a current graduate student at Emerson College and an intern at Boston's public radio station. She enjoys exploring the world of educational technology and writing about the ever-changing sector and its potential.