I recently attended an online workshop presented by Kelly Rasmussen from GotSmartz Assistive Technology Coaching on the topic of Assistive Technology (AT) for Writing. In the past, I thought of AT as students using the Voice to Text feature to help them with their writing. Or using the Read to Me feature in digital books to help with comprehending a reading. In the back of my mind, I assumed there was more available for us out there in the Kingdom of Unknown Knowledge but of course, I did not know what I did not know. After Kelly’s presentation, I am happy to say I now have more tools in my AT toolbox, and in addition to learning new tools, I learned a few new concepts plus I came to wonder about a couple of other points.
Benefits of using Assistive Technology for Writing
Kelly shared the benefits of using AT with our struggling writers which involved (1.) the students feeling included, (2.) it is an accommodation, (3.) it allows teachers to differentiate (i.e., making a voice note instead of writing for science), (4.) it gives students a voice, (5.) holds the students accountable for their learning, and (5.) provides the students better access to the curriculum.
Written Expression Disorder Defined
One wondering I have actually been considering off and on for quite a while was, I wonder why students have the ideas in their heads but have trouble getting them on paper? According to Kelly’s presentation, it may be because of a written expression disorder. This of course led me to wonder, what is Written Expression Disorder and what is Dysgraphia?
Chung, Patel, and Nizami (2019) described it as, “dysgraphia and specific learning disorder in written expression are terms used to describe those individuals who, despite exposure to adequate instruction, demonstrate writing ability discordant with their cognitive level and age.” This is what I have been noticing in some of my students; however, none of them have been diagnosed with a written expression disorder.
Steps in the Writing Process
In searching for answers, I discovered I first needed to consider the writing process. Specifically, the process of writing a sentence includes,
(I) internally creating the desired statement; (II) segmenting the desired statements into sections for transcription; (III) retaining the sections in verbal working memory while executing the task of writing; and (IV) checking that the completed written product matches the original thought (Chung, Patel, & Nizami, 2019).
Steps in the Speech to Text Process
In her presentation, Kelly shared with us the Speech to Text & Word Prediction steps: Think it, Speak it, Check it, Fix it. I found these steps similar to the writing process. Like we should teach students the writing process, we also should teach them how to use speech to text.
Tools in the AT Toolbox
Several tools were shared during the workshop and the ones I plan to incorporate immediately are the Chrome Extensions (1.) Read&Write, (2.) Session Buddy, and (3.) Power Thesaurus. In addition, I want to use Google Keep to save Anchor Charts for students to be able to pull up when working on a Google doc.
The Read&Write extension is a tool students can use to help with reading and writing digital content. Some of the features include simplifying the language and screen masking on a webpage for easier reading. This would be helpful for students with lower reading skills. It also has a text and picture dictionary, word prediction, and read-aloud options.
The Power Thesaurus extension is a quick and easy way for students to be able to check their words and help find synonyms and antonyms.
When writing, students can use anchor charts to help them remember punctuation rules, transition words, or other concepts they are trying to use in their writing. Anchor Chart graphics can be kept in Google Keep for the students to pull up quickly for reference on the right side of their Google document. Kelly shared a How-To video on this topic.
While reflecting on how to start incorporating AT with students, I realized they have two devices available to them, iPads and Chromebooks. The iPad can go home with them and they are just starting to learn how to use Chromebooks so this will be a big step in the process of them learning to write with a device and use the assistive technology to help them with their writing. The iPad has its advantages; however, I feel the Chromebook is better suited for word processing.
The four tools I plan to incorporate right away with my students will happen one tool at a time. We will play around and explore the tool with the goal of the students becoming proficient when using them. Students do not have to have a diagnosis of dysgraphia or a written expression disorder to benefit from using assistive technology. In fact, I will be using AT as a role model for students to see an adult using them. I will also encourage the parents and classroom teachers to also model the use of AT in their daily lives.