USING TECHNOLOGY TO IMPROVE THE LITERACY SKILLS OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
Within the early literacy stage, learners begin to utilize letter-sound relationships to decode printed words not recognized by rote or sight. Problems occur when students cannot discriminate between similarly shaped letters, such as “b” and “d,” or cannot recall the sounds belonging to the letters. Memory problems often slow the symbol-to-sound translation process and leave little working memory for constructing meaning from print. Finally, in this stage, students begin to utilize a variety of context, syllabication, and structural-analysis cues to assist them in word identification (Clay, 1991; Mercer & Mercer, 1998; Pinnell & Matlin, 1989).
Fluency can be defined as the reading of grade-level material at a minimum of 100 words per minute with few errors (Deno, Fuchs, Marston, & Shin, 2001). Good readers at this stage often recognize a large bank of irregular sight words (e.g., was, sight) automatically. Students with disabilities, as well as other poor readers, continue to struggle with the decoding process at this stage. The process of reading may become so painful for poor readers that they begin to avoid reading whenever possible, which increases the gap between skilled and unskilled readers (Stanovich, 1986). The development of increased comprehension is also part of this stage. Typically, students at this stage can comprehend a wide variety of reading materials independently to gain knowledge and facilitate abstract thinking (Clay, 1991; Pinnell & Matlin, 1989). However, poor readers often exhibit difficulties with metacognitive skills, failing to monitor their comprehension during reading and failing to employ repair strategies when comprehension problems occur (Lerner, 1997).
Written composition is considered by many to be one of the highest forms of communication; it depends on complex thinking, comprehension, concept development, and abstraction. Successful writing requires organizing ideas to convey a message in addition to the lower order tasks of spelling, handwriting, and punctuation (Mercer & Mercer, 1998). The writing of students with disabilities is different from that of their nondisabled peers, both in quantity and quality. Their writing is frequently disorganized with fewer ideas, poorly developed themes, and more spelling and handwriting errors. Poor writers often have fewer planning and revising strategies in their repertoire, which results in a poor product at completion (Englert & Raphael, 1988).
As mentioned previously, oral expression is also a key aspect of being literate. Although the focus of this paper is limited to technologies that address reading and writing difficulties, interested readers are encouraged to investigate information on technologies that promote oral expression and verbal communication. Excellent resources can be found at the following Web sites:
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association—www.asha.org/public/speech/
The Augmentative and Alternative Communication Institute—www.aacinstitute.org
Learning Point Associates