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USING TECHNOLOGY TO IMPROVE THE LITERACY SKILLS OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

The physical act of putting pen or pencil to paper can be a daunting task for a person with writing problems. Legibility can be difficult, as is the need to know the relationships between the symbols and the sounds of letters and words. Misspellings can come not only from lack of word knowledge, but also from replacing one letter with another, such as a “p” for a “q.” Persons who have to work hard to put words to paper often lose comprehension, fluency, and their ideas when writing (McLaughlin & Lewis, 2001).

Practice is the number one tool that makes a person a better writer. Allowing a user access to word processing can help alleviate hesitancy in writing caused by poor spelling, lack of grammar skills, poor handwriting, and an inability to proofread and edit handwritten work. When the goal of the activity or task is written expression and not handwriting or grammar, access to word processing on a computer or stand-alone keyboard (e.g., AlphaSmart®) could be beneficial for a person with handwriting or grammar difficulties that may impede written expression.

Built-in supports in most word-processing applications can make writing less difficult. Editing techniques can be helpful in correcting writing errors. “Cut-and-paste” and “click-and-drag” features allow the writer to move words, sentences, and paragraphs within the text with ease. Spell checkers and grammar checkers help users make fewer errors in finished products. However, spell and grammar checkers are not foolproof methods; spell checkers only capture misspelled words—not misplaced but correctly spelled words, words used improperly (such as homonyms), or the use of a wrong word. Users must still be able to proofread their work using text-to-speech software or other methods to ensure error-free documents. Word-processing software can also facilitate a sequential approach to writing when used with accompanying outlining software.

Idea-organization software, such as Inspiration, and idea-organization and draft-writing software, such as DraftBuilder®, allow users to input data in smaller segments, organize and reorganize ideas, and slowly build segments into a finished document. Speech-recognition software is also a viable option for those individuals whose keyboarding skills are too slow for efficient writing.

Individuals with writing problems may have problems with:

  • Copying or completing work on a printed page. The writer has difficulty copying words from a blackboard, book, or other printed material.

  • Taking notes from oral presentations. The student has difficulty writing down homework assignments correctly, or the writing process is too slow to get lecture points on paper.

  • Spelling skills. The writer spells phonetically and cannot remember patterns or spells words differently in the same document.

  • Handwriting or writing illegibility. The writer does not follow lines on paper, writes too small or too large, writes too lightly or too firmly, or pencil grip is incorrect.

  • Grammar, syntax, and organization. The writer demonstrates inconsistent memory for sentence mechanics and persistent problems with sentence structure.

  • Writing skills inconsistent with verbal abilities. The writer produces short or simple essays despite the ability to verbalize more complex thought, or the student can verbalize answers to tests, but written answers are wrong.

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Learning Point Associates

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