Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) offers a fully online Master of Science (MS) in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) with a Specialization in Reading program. This comprehensive degree program is designed to prepare educators for literacy instruction C&I leadership roles.
Educators in C&I leaderships roles are currently faced with a good deal of disruption to reading pedagogy in modern schools. The COVID-19 pandemic and advanced educational technologies have spurred educators to incorporate technology-based tools to effectively teach reading comprehension to students.
Assistive technology tools can help bridge the gap between in-person and remote learning environments. These tools can also enrich reading instruction for students who struggle with reading as well as students with various disabilities. Improving C&I design for students experiencing difficulties with literacy development is a core focus of TAMIU's M.S. C&I with a specialization in reading.
Here are seven assistive technology tools that are essential for modern reading education:
Some students have an easier time with reading comprehension if they can read visual text while hearing it read aloud. Text-to-speech (TTS) technology allows the reader to select a section of text and have a computer-generated voice read that selection of text aloud.
TTS technology can be embedded in any digital format, from classroom device-based reading materials to email and texts to website text.
- Audiobooks and Digital TTS Books
Like embedded TTS technologies, audiobooks (read by human voices) and digital TTS books (read by computer-generated voices) allow students to hear books read aloud. With many such technologies, students can also slow down the audio recording without changing the pitch of the voice. This can help students match the audio playback speed to the pace at which students read visually.
Reading Rockets notes that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped offers an extensive collection of audiobooks for students with certain disabilities. Many public libraries also have large collections of audiobooks (and eBooks) that readers can borrow virtually and download on a phone or tablet.
Plus, some audiobook and eBook services (Kindle and Audible, for example) can be linked. With these services, students can hear the book read aloud as they follow along with highlighted or scrolling text, helping to visualize pacing and word order.
- Optical Character Recognition
Optical character recognition (OCR) technologies can scan printed visual text. OCR analyzes scanned text, renders it into digital text form and reads it aloud as TTS. This assistance can be handy in the case of printed classroom materials and homework, library materials, handwritten teacher evaluations and grading.
- Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers allow students to take notes visually, mapping out ideas and concepts through visual representations (digital or handwritten). This tool helps visual learners who struggle with reading comprehension organize concepts in text in a way that suits their unique learning style. This can lead to a better understanding of the connections between and sequencing of ideas in a text.
- Annotation and Dictation Tools
According to Understood, other annotation tools (whether digital or pen-and-paper) can also help students retain information through taking notes and writing comments about what they are reading.
Dictation technologies can allow students who struggle with writing or reading without distraction to speak their notes and comments verbally while reading. The dictation software renders that speech into text the students can refer to as they continue and finish reading.
- Display Control
Display control can help students who struggle with specific fonts, type size or other visual variables adjust the way text is displayed and make it easier to read. Display control technologies can also block out certain portions of the screen, focusing the student's attention on a specific section of text. This feature can be very useful for readers who are easily distracted by visual stimuli while reading.
- Embedded Dictionaries and Other Enhanced Digital Text Tools
Edutopia highlights how assistive technologies like dictionaries and hyperlinks in a text can help "make vocabulary accessible" for readers of all types. Many devices include built-in dictionaries and thesauruses, allowing readers to click on any word and explore its definition, synonyms and meaning in context.
Key concepts in a text can also have embedded or hyperlinked videos, pictograms and other media that help students understand those concepts. This guidance helps students develop comprehension of ideas and passages aided by differentiated content to address unique learning styles and needs.
Assistive technologies can be essential for helping students develop reading comprehension skills in various, digitally enriched environments. These technologies can address the needs of diverse learners while enabling more impactful remote learning environments. Plus, assistive technologies help students develop digital literacy skills along with traditional reading skills, preparing them for life in the digital age.
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