Online Learning And Students With Dyslexia
Online learning is a given in our technology-obsessed world, but perhaps never more so than in the case of the student with dyslexia. That's important, because one in every five students has dyslexia or other reading difficulties. That means that every teacher is going to encounter such students. In spite of the fact that reading difficulties are part and parcel of the modern classroom, most of the technology that benefits students affected by dyslexia is not designed for this purpose. Sometimes a user may discover an advantage of online learning or assistive technology (AT) through trial and error. More usually for students with dyslexia (and these students’ teachers), such discoveries are happy accidents.
Webpages Are Flexible
While there remains much to learn about the benefits of technology for students with dyslexia, a few general conclusions can be drawn:
- When reading is a slow and/or often inaccurate process, websites can help by offering the reader the ability to restrict the amount of information visible at any point in time. Further restrictions on the amount of text can be introduced by increasing the font size on an individual webpage.
- Most online texts can be copied and then manipulated in various ways to suit the students' needs.
- Websites offer many visual resources to supplement reading, offering a more active learning process, and stimulating greater student engagement with the learning material.
- Some websites have voice-to-text capability and this allows the student to hear the words as well as see them, serving as a form of remedial reading help, and to familiarize students with the process of translating symbols to sounds.
- Some websites allow the user to change the background color or the text color on a page. This can be beneficial for students who need a choice of color or lighter or darker background or text for effective reading.
- The default font on webpages can be changed to suit the needs of a student with dyslexia. This is important, because those with reading difficulties need clear distinctions between similar-appearing letters, such as small i and small l or m and n, and may have trouble with the serif fonts, or those fonts with decorative hooks, for instance.
- The web can offer teachers a vehicle for presenting classroom text-based materials in a different way to students with dyslexia.
Covering The Same Ground Online
This last point is awesome, because the online texts don't need to differ in any substantial way from texts used in the classroom. Instead, the texts can be read and manipulated in a variety of ways by the student online. The student can control his own (online) learning environment, in order to cover the same ground covered by students inside the (traditional) classroom.
While the traditional classroom teacher is bound to confront students with reading difficulties, most teachers have not received much (or any) preparation for the specific teaching challenges these students present. As a consequence, teachers may not even know that they are seeing a reading difficulty in action. After all, dyslexia is defined as an "unexpected" reading difficulty. A teacher without training in spotting the student with dyslexia, may decide a student is unmotivated to learn, stubborn, or lazy.
This is a serious problem, since early intervention is key to managing reading difficulties. Students are learning to read from first through third grade. After that, it is said they are reading to learn. Some enterprising states (for instance, Virginia), are working to pass dyslexia laws to ensure teachers know how to spot and secure support for very young students with reading difficulties. Many more states, alas, have not taken such steps to support teachers and their students with reading issues.
Who could have imagined where technology could take us and make education soar? And yet we remain woefully behind in spotting, supporting, and teaching the one in every five of students in every classroom who finds it difficult to read. More to the point, we aren't designing technology with these students in mind.
With all this in mind, experimenting with existing technology for the purpose of helping students with reading difficulties becomes a noble goal. Meantime, happening upon the discovery of new online learning benefits remains crucial to the academic success of students with reading difficulties. Even more critical is sharing with others what the community of students and with dyslexia and their teachers have gleaned, in those happy accidental moments of discovery.