iPads and Dyslexia (and just good apps!)

Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes students to be poor spellers, lack fluency in reading, have a hard time putting their thoughts down on paper, and have a hard time with names and dates.  Of course, these are just general guidelines that we look for when we suspect a student is dyslexic.  A formal psychological evaluation will lead to a formal diagnosis. 

The iPad is a great tool to help students with ALL of the difficulties associated with dyslexia.  If my son has to be dyslexic, I am so thankful that he is dyslexic in a time when iPads are so widely used and schools are allowing students to bring their own devices to school.  At the beginning of the school year my husband and I met with Eli’s teachers and the 2nd accomodation we put in his 504 plan was to be able to use his iPad in every class.  The 1st accomodation was extra time – we know from research that the single biggest factor that helps level the playing field for students is extra time on tests. 

Eli uses his iPad for every subject!  The best tool for Eli is the voice button on the iPad.  All Eli has to do is press the microphone on the keyboard and the iPad will turn what he says into typed messages.  This is extremely beneficial to students with dyslexia because students with dyslexia have a hard time getting their thoughts down on paper.  Dyslexics have WONDERFUL and CREATIVE ideas, but encoding them is extremely difficult.  Through the use of this feature of the iPad, Eli is able to dictate his ideas and then go back and edit them later.  The iPad will also playback anything that Eli has typed.  This way he can hear what the sentence should sound like.  Dyslexics have a hard time rereading their work and hearing errors because they are so used to compensating when reading for something to make sense, that if something is incorrect in a sentence – they just make it make sense in their mind.  That is one of their coping strategies (I hope that sentence makes sense to the reader – I understand what I am trying to say, but it is difficult to put into words!).

To use the speech to text feature of the iPad you only have to press the microphone on the screen when you are typing.

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To enable the iPad to read text you will need to go to settings – General – Accessibility…

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Then, go to Speak Selection…

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And finally, turn Speak Selection on…

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This one feature of the iPad has changed the way my son works and writes.  Now he can speak his ideas and they will freely flow from his brain to the iPad.  It does take some work getting used to enunciating clearly for the iPad to know what you are saying.  Generally, we have to edit some of his work, but that is easy compared to trying to write his ideas down!  He doesn’t use this feature in class, just when doing homework and working on papers.  I also want him to learn how to overcome his disability, but these features make writing for him much easier!

Another life saver for us is the app Read2go.  This is an amazing app that is supported by the website Bookshare.  Bookshare offers free audio books (newspapers, magazines, textbooks, etc) for anyone with a print disability.  All you have to do is supply a copy of your child’s or your own psychological that proves the disability.  The Read2go app plays all of the content off of the Bookshare site.  We use this app for ALL of Eli’s independent reading and anything he has to read from his textbook.  The app gives visual support as it reads by highlighting the text and the app reads the text.

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Another amazing app is the AppWriter US app.  This app is a word processing app that is specifically designed for dyslexics.  Students can type papers in this app.  The app allows students to take a picture of any text and the app will convert it to text.  The app has context word prediction and will read what has been typed.  If you couple this app with he text to speech function of the iPad, your student will feel significantly less stress about writing!  This app also claims to use a font this is supposed to help dyslexcis, but the research is very mixed on if that claim is true – the font has been around for many years.

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Another app that is a life saver for us is iMovie.  My son uses iMovie to study.  He creates movies about what he is learning.  This method of studying allows him to use his creativity but also is a great review of content.  I have put  couple of his movies below so you can see how he uses them to study.  The WW1 movie helped him study for a test and the Abe Lincoln movie he made in class rather than doing a paper/pencil assignment. 


Another app that we use quite often is iThoughts HD.  I find that Eli is extremely visual.  If I can show him how concepts go together rather than tell him, he is more likely to retain that information.  Below is an example of a mindmap that we made to help him write a paper.

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We also use iCard Sort to help him study.  We make decks of vocab words and their definitions.  Then we shake the iPad, which mixes up the cards and he has to match the words to the definitions.  The tactile nature of this method of studying helps him retain the information.   And now iCard sort allows pictures to be put on the cards, which makes it an even better app for studying!

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Finally, the last app we use a lot is Strip Designer.  This app makes comic strips.  Eli loves being creative and studying at the same time.  This app also allows him to use his visual memory by attaching pictures to concepts.

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These are the apps we use most for Eli but, I also use these apps all the time in my classroom and the students LOVE them!


Our Dyslexia Story…

Because October is Dyslexia Awareness month I wanted to share my own journey with Dyslexia, through my son and then share some fabulous apps that help my son with his work!

Our story started when my son was three.  I wasn’t a teacher then and didn’t know any of the signs of dyslexia (even though my sister, my dad and especially my granddad were all dyslexic).  My son’s speech was difficult to understand and we lived in TX at the time.  He had a hard time pronouncing words and my husband and I were the only ones that could understand him!  Our pediatrician referred us to the public school where we lived and they did a battery of tests on him and detected a phonological weakness.  He was setup to begin speech therapy at 3 years, but we were transferred to FL and he never started.  The public school in FL didn’t have the ability to do the speech therapy on him, so we just skipped it (big mistake – but we didn’t have the money to pursue private therapy).  He struggled with letter recognition in prek3 and prek4.  

The summer before kindergarten we moved to GA and enrolled Eli in the private school where I would be teaching.  He didn’t do well on entrance exam but they let him in.  Eli struggled with reading throughout kindergarten.  I helped him with flash cards of letter sounds, but he never picked it up and was never consistent with what he missed!  It was very frustrating and I am ashamed to say that he got yelled at a lot for “not trying” hard enough.  After Kindergarten we transferred him to the public school for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important was so that he could get speech services.  His IEP from TX was still good so the public school here had to honor it and we knew we needed to get him help.  At the time we didn’t know he was dyslexic, we just knew that he was struggling with sounds.

In first grade they called us in and told us Eli wasn’t reading well and they were going to give him targeted help through speech therapy and some RTI (Response to Intervention)work.  I continued to work with Eli at home and he progressed well.  My husband and I convinced ourselves he was fine.

At about the same time I was attending a professional development class, led my Brenda Fitzgerald, and she was discussing common reading difficulties.  She asked the class to think about the students in our class as she described a set of characteristics.  I was sitting in the back of the class and just started crying as she described a dyslexic child.  She called me out, from the front of the room and said, “You just thought of one of your students didn’t you?” and my reply was, “No, you just described my son!”.  It was then I knew that Eli was dyslexic.  I got my hands on everything I could read about dyslexia (Sally Shawitz’s book, Overcoming Dyslexia is amazing).  It was then that I also realized teachers have NO IDEA what dyslexia is or how to help a dyslexic child.  Most teachers are trained to not even say the word, much less help these babies that are in their class that have dyslexia.  I have found teachers to be most apathetic where dyslexia is concerned.  Here is a quick guide that I got from a forum with the Shawitz’s from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity that shows signs and gifts from dyslexia.

IMG_2860 Starting in 2nd grade I told Eli’s teacher he was dyslexic and the school was not happy!  They quickly “graduated” him from speech therapy and took all of the ability away that I had to fight legally with the school (He no longer had an IEP –Individualized Education Plan).  By the end of second grade I requested full psychological testing for Eli.  They tested him and his tests came showing that Eli was extremely intelligent and the school refused to give any services.  He started third-grade and struggled even more due to the writing demands and I continued to fight with his school because his classroom grades and work didn’t reflect what the test had said.    

By the end of third grade we decided to have him independently tested for dyslexia – even though I already knew he was severely to profoundly dyslexic.  When we had him tested the results were indisputable, Eli was dyslexic.  We showed the results to the school at the beginning of fourth-grade and they disputed the results and decided to have a THIRD psychological done on Eli in 1 year and 3 months.  Their testing, yet again, showed there was nothing wrong with Eli and they refused to provide services.  I backed off of my craziness a bit in fourth-grade just to get a feel for how he would do.  He had a terrible fourth grade year, mostly due to his teachers.  We started tutoring with an Orton-Gillingham tutor during his fourth-grade year, but that was all the extra help he received.  His fourth-grade year he failed all but one portion of the CRCT and amazingly the school now agreed their was a problem.  It is a sad world we live in when the school will only give help when the CRCT is failed.

We started fifth-grade with a different attitude.  I met with the principal before school started to get Eli off to a good start.  The school wanted to give him help because of his CRCT performance, but not special classes – just EIP (Early Intervention Program – how is it early intervention when help is only given AFTER a student fails!) help.  We discussed the best teacher fit for him, one that used technology so Eli could use his ipad.  He worked hard, continued to tutor, and I was very involved – especially in working on his writing. He had an excellent 5th grade year and exceeded math, science, and SS on the CRCT and passed Reading and LA.

Eli’s psychological has a line that keeps me motivated every day to help him and other dyslexic children – “It is very likely that Eli feels inadequate much of the time”.  No child should be made to feel that way.  The public school psychologist told us that Eli shouldn’t know he was dyslexic, that he would use that as a crutch (this same psychologist just won psychologist of the year in GA) – that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard – Eli needed to know that he isn’t stupid and that there is a reason he struggles.  We told the school that the psychologist is not allowed around Eli or to have any contact with him – I can’t let people that believe such crazy things to impact Eli or the way he views himself.  At the Dyslexia meeting we went to last week the Shaywitz’s said that students should ABSOLUTELY be told they are dyslexic.  They need to know for their own self worth that there is a name to their struggle.

We consider dyslexia a gift in our house!  Eli is so creative and he is a BIG PICTURE thinker.  He is in 6th grade now and doing very well.  All of the help we got him in elementary school is paying off.  He is still a slow worker and struggles with reversals, reading, and writing but he is able to be successful.  He just made the lego robotics team, which is a perfect fit for him.  I have not doubt that Eli will be some type of engineer one day!

This post is already long enough so I will post again about the apps that my son uses and the apps that I encourage my dyslexic students to use to help them in their studies.

Great Tools for Teaching Spelling

I find that when it comes to spelling, most teachers have the students memorize the list, play a few games, do the workbook pages or a tic-tac-toe choice board and then give the test.  I have to admit that when I was a classroom teacher, I did the same thing.  Where in the schedule is there time for spelling?  Truly, do we need to teach the skill of memorizing how to spell words, because really isn’t that what spelling is? 

My son is a terrible speller (as am I!), but when he was diagnosed with dyslexia I realized how important the skill of spelling is!  However, I also know that there is limited time in the school day and is spelling really one of those subjects that I am going to spend an enormous amount of time teaching?  I think the best approach to spelling is one that incorporates spelling into reading and writing.  We know that spelling, reading and writing are very closely tied together!  Show me a student with spelling problems and I will show you a student with reading or writing problems.  If a student cannot spell then that means the student is having trouble encoding words.  If a student can’t encode words, then the student is going to experience extreme frustration with regards to writing.  For my son, he can decode words fairly well, because he has had years of explicit instruction in phonics.  HOWEVER, he cannot encode a word to save his life!  Writing is extremely painful for him and he does not carry over his spelling words from his spelling list to his writing.  I see this exact same model play out in the classroom over and over – I just didn’t realize the link until my son was diagnosed (I had already been teaching 6 years at that point!).

In order to really work on spelling for kids that have significant spelling51D3qQ4ZAdL._SL500_AA300_ issues I highly recommend the book, Words Their Way!  It is a fabulous book, that is labor intensive in the classroom.  This book gives explicit  instruction in spelling patters.  It lays out lessons based on the child’s needs.  This is not a book that I would use in whole class instruction, rather I would use it to remediate students that need extra help.  Additionally, on the Promethean Planet website their are a ton of flipcharts that have already been made that support this program!  I love it when I can find resources already made!

Playing off of ideas in Words Their Way,  there are many iPad resources that can photobe used to help students with spelling difficulties.  One of my favorites is the app icardsort.  I load my son’s words into this app and then have him sort the words based on the phonics of spelling rule that he is learning.   We then have a discussion on why he thinks cards are sorted together.  Adding new words is very easy and the decks can be emailed.  So, you can create one deck for your class and send it to your students (if they have ipads) or you can load it onto a class cart of ipads.  If you do not have ipads, create a center with flashcards.

Another tip for spelling, that really is just rote memorization, but makes the learning fun is to record a story with the spelling words that all follow a specific rule.  For example, my son could NOT memorize the “le” , “el” list.  He could just not remember which word had which ending.  We talked to his Orton-Gillingham tutor about how he could learn these words!  She suggested us making up a story with all of the “le” words and then a different story with the “el” words.  This was AMAZING!  All of the words were learned and he made a 100 on that test!  WE use this strategy each week now.  Also, his carryover to his writing is greatly increasing.  He can  remember the stories and will write some (not all) of his words correctly now in his writing.  We use the app Voice Changer Plus Voice-Changer-Plusto make it fun.  The app allows my son to record his voice but, then change the recording into a bunch of different sounds like mice, or a guitar, or a choir!

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Finally, to study spelling words and learn them in a semi-fun way we use the app SpellBoard.  I LOVE this app.  My son and I load his words in to the app together (you have to record the words).   Then, my son can play games, study his words on his own and take a test (on his own) for the rest of the  week.  We have set benchmarks he must reach each day and he meets those goals every week.  One of the things I love most about this app is the freedom it gives teachers to individualize spelling instruction in her class.  Aphoto (3) teacher could conceivable have MULTIPLE lists going on in her classroom based on her assessments of spelling skills in students.  Students could load their own words (starting in 2nd grade) and then study and work at their own pace through the week.  Finally, students could take the test and then send the results to the teacher!  This would free up spelling time during the day for individualized, explicit instruction on both the high and the low end of the ability range in a classroom!