Why should dyslexic students consider using technology that ‘levels the playing field’ when studying?
In this article you will gain an insight into why a student with dyslexia would use assistive technology to bridge the gap between themselves and non-dyslexic peers when it comes to learning.
‘Higher levels of effort to get the same result.’
A good friend of mine who trains teachers about how to teach young people with dyslexia once told me what it is like for a dyslexic student to learn. She told me that the effort a dyslexic student puts in is the ‘square of the effort that a non-dyslexic student puts in’.
What she meant was that in general a dyslexic student will be putting in so much more effort into their studies to get the same result as their non-dyslexic peers. As someone who finds the processing of information a challenge when studying, that resonates really strongly for me. Personally, I know (and it has taken me a long time to understand why this happens) that I seem to naturally want to avoid reading content that I am not necessarily motivated to read because I know how tired I would get with relatively little benefit in terms of comprehension. I would need to read passages from text books a number of times before the information seemed to be logged in my brain. My reading therefore needed to be little but often and that is fine, but when I was studying this wasn’t helpful as I had a lot to read. Studying, in the end, required a load of effort on my part to even get an average result. It was humiliating and discouraging, but I knew that I needed to not give up despite how I felt.
When I did my degree, I wasn’t aware of resources that could support me in my studies, I simply didn’t ask as I thought that the problem was due to something that I couldn’t change about myself. It was just something that I had to deal with and studying became a chore rather than something really interesting.
I think that this why I am so passionate about technology that helps with studying or using the proper term, ‘assistive technology’.
Assistive technology ‘levels the playing field’ for dyslexic students.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I believe strongly that assistive technology levels the playing field for dyslexic students. This is technology that can be used as a tool to support reading comprehension, or note-taking or helping one to get down on paper what it is that one wants to express. For some students with Specific Learning Differences such as dyslexia, this is where the challenge lies with studying. It is not the level of intelligence that they possess or the ability to debate or verbally express what they want to say. The challenge is being able to learn in a way that our current education system dictates, which, as we know, does not account for a student who has dyslexia.
So what are the factors that motivates a student to use assistive technology?
Here are three factors that I believe would motivate a student to use assistive technology:
It helps to overcome the physical and emotional barrier to studying.
In my own experience, if I knew that I had to read a lot of text in order to understand academic concepts, before I even got going I would be telling myself that the process was going to be exhausting and my anxiety surrounding that process would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By using technology to help me to make reading more accessible, such as text to speech technology, I know that I can relax more as the technology reads out the text for me. I don’t always use it but in knowing that the resource is there, I know that I can use it when I really need to. For many years, students needed to scan text book pages onto their laptops to be able to access text to speech technology which was time consuming, but now it can be as simple as carrying around a ‘scanning pen’ that you can use to simply read out text or you can download PDF versions of text books that text to speech software can then read out.
The following video illustrates how a ‘scanning pen’ works.
It helps the student to be able to showcase their ability to learn.
If a student can worry less about the ‘mechanics’ of learning and be free to showcase their ability to learn then naturally the process is going to be more enjoyable and creative. So often students are expected to learn in a particular way that doesn’t suit their own ‘style’ of learning. In G.C.S.Es students will lose marks for poor spelling and grammar and whilst good spelling and grammar is important for communication, surely it can’t be as important as the learning itself and showing understanding. It would be like saying to a dyslexic storyteller that because the may have dodgy spelling and grammar that the story that they want to communicate is not a valid story. No! Assistive technology can help with spelling and grammar so that the student can just concentrate on what they want to communicate which is what they have learnt.
By removing those emotional and physical barriers to learning, the student can focus on showcasing what they have learnt and what their perspective is on any given topic. Dyslexic students have a wonderfully broad way of thinking about content and how they piece together concepts. Assistive technology simply brings out those strengths.
It can make exams more accessible.
OK, don’t get me started about exams. For a dyslexic student these are huge stressful activities. You sit down to read your exam paper in a time focused environment and questions can be misread, unreadable or they take too long to comprehend thus wasting valuable time. Having an easy way to simply read out the questions on an exam paper is a ‘no-brainer’. The dyslexic student can then focus on sharing their answers or reasoning because they have accurately been able to assess what the exam paper is asking of them.
Assistive technology in exams is becoming so useful that the Joint Council For Qualifications is now authorising the use of certain assistive technologies as standard in exams for students who struggle to read questions.
Dyslexic students have a right to not be held back by the school system.
Whatever your challenges are as a dyslexic student, it is unlawful for a school to discriminate against you. By not giving you the support that you need, they are discriminating against a condition that is covered by the Equality Act 2010. You have a right to ask for support.
Assistive techology could result in being an effective and cost effective solution to helping a student be the best that they can be. Ask your SENCO or student welfare teams about how assistive technology could be useful to you.