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!

iPad Deployment for Teachers

I have been working all year to convince our IT staff and our leaders that the iPad is a necessary (helpful) teaching tool.  The higher ups have listened and our teachers are getting iPads!  I am so excited for the teachers.  I have read report after report (click here for the horizon report) that states that tablet computing and iPads in particular, are important in the classroom.  Of course, we can’t say that they are THE MOST important thing in the classroom because we know the the teachers are the most important part of any successful classroom.  But, I also know that iPads and technology engage students and without engagement, students won’t learn.

So, in order to continue our schools quest of becoming a school that embraces 21st century learning, we are rolling out this new technology for our teachers.  We are also getting 3 iPad carts and our 4th and 5th graders will be bringing their own devices to school.

We have been trying to put together a roll-out plan for awhile but we have so many questions!  I have put together a deployment flow chart, using ithoughts HD on the iPad (click on the picture for the pdf).  I keep trying to add in new trainings that I have forgotten or new apps that our teachers will need.  This is definitely a working document, but I think our plan is sound.  We are still trying to work through the apple ID dilemma – do we let the teachers use their own or do we use a school ID? 


Our first phase of the deployment will consist of giving the iPads to the teachers.  I have decided to do this in three groups.  The first group to get their ipads will be the teachers that already have apple products, the next group will be teachers that have smart phones, and the third group will be teachers that do not own a personal mobile device.  By breaking down the groups, I am hoping to ease the frustration of the teachers that already know how to use these devices by giving them their devices and then letting them move on.  I will be able to spend more time with each teacher in the third group because that group will be the smallest and I can walk them through their device step-by-step.

I am also setting up a menu of training, rather than offering a one-size-fits-all training.  The teachers will be required to attend a basics course where I will go over how to use their ipad (a little more in depth than the actual deployment training) and a teacher apps training, but then I am offering student apps training, productivity training, and a coaches training.  If they would like additional training they may come to one of those courses.   Then, in July, just before school comes back, I am going to train the teachers on how to build lessons around the ipad.

I will post my training documents as I create them.  I am just now beginning to work through my deployment training.  I would love to know any tips you have learned from your training!

Students using technology

My fifth-grade students run our school newscast.  Everyday out fifth-graders lead the school in announcements, the pledge, and general information.  I am blown away by how well the students can take the technology they are learning and put it to use immediately!  One of the teachers on the fifth-grade team helps coordinate our students on a daily basis for our TV programs which we call “Tiger TV”.  We have two green screens, a mini-mac, two camera’s lights, a teleprompter, and a board which controls all of the broadcast.  We have students which run all of the equipment on their own.  We have developing our TV program over the past three years and each year we add in a new feature.  Just last week we added the teleprompter.  Well, today it turns out that the two teachers that are always in the broadcast room with the students were both out sick!  YIKES!!!  Our students rose the occasion and ran all of the equipment on their own!  It was an amazing broadcast!  We have several students that are our students directors and then all of the other students rotate on and off of Tiger on a three week basis.  The students that are rotating off of the broadcast train the new students on the equipment.  This year we have even starting allowing our fifth-graders to write our scripts.  I am amazed every day at how well the students acclimate to technology!

I was thinking about this because of another blog post I was reading earlier about letting students play in the sandbox.  This is a concept that was developed by Vicki Davis and the author of the blog was discussing why it is important to allow students to play on technology that we are introducing them to so they feel comfortable.  I think that concept is extremely important and I believe that is why our students have taken ownership of our news broadcast; because they have been able to play, with guidance, and then today when they had to take control and use the technology they had no issue!  The students are using so many different software programs to run the equipment, even from a PC and a Mac, and they have no difficulty.  Allowing students to play in the sandbox and develop a level of comfort with the software will insure success in using software when they are required to apply the skills in class.

I can see in my own classroom where I haven’t let the students play in the sandbox and then I spent a LOT of time troubleshooting with the students.  If we give sandbox time on the front end, time will be saved throughout the lesson.

Time and Technology


I remember when I thought using technology meant I was teaching with a powerpoint.  Sometimes, just briefly, I long for those days when using technology just meant preparation on my part and the time spent in class was only used for actually using Powerpoint to teach the lesson.  Now, when I think about using technology in the classroom Powerpoint is the last thing that comes to mind!  Technology is time consuming!!!!

Last week I had my students work on a mind map of nouns and now that project which I thought would take a day and a half is stretching to three days.  I have my students working on a Civil War webquest and I thought that assignment would take 2 weeks and now it is easily stretching into 3 weeks and may continue on to 4!  My students are proficient with technology it is just using the tools that is taking so long for the students to use.

I am still trying to figure out what is so time consuming and I am coming to the conclusion that it is because the students are actually learning the material and not just memorizing the material.  The students are interacting with the material on a real basis and not just memorizing what they think will be on a test!  The only issue with that is then I get behind in what I am expected to cover.  In the world of standardized testing and cramming as much as possible in a school year, using technology seriously gets me behind!  I think the trick to overcoming that problem will be to combine standards and lessons to cover more information in one project – really embracing the project based learning and integration across subjects of curriculum.  The one bright side of the conundrum is that the students are learning the material and therefore, will score higher on the standardized tests than if they were just memorizing the information.

All of that said, it is not enough to convince me not to use technology in the classroom and maybe eventually I will get to the point where I can properly determine the amount of time one project will take!

Blogging mistakes


This blog is my first attempt at a blog and I am still working on figuring out all that goes into a blog and exactly how to use a blog.  Early this year, I entered my class in a blogging challenge.  I forgot that I had entered us into the challenge until we started getting hits to our blog from the challenge website.  The challenge is all about teaching our students to be better bloggers!  What a great concept because the reason we use blogs in the classroom is the help students understand that we are part of a global community and to really harness the power of Web 2.0 – the collaboration web.  I want my students to understand how to blog and why blogging is important.  Blogging isn’t important just to say that we have technology in our classroom, it is a discussion starter!  So the blog challenge is teaching students how to make their blogging a discussion and how to harness all the power we have in the internet into our posts and make them more interesting and promote discussion.

The challenge for week 5 was to have students insert links and pictures into their comments.  I must confess, I am still a little confused on this part.  It took me a bit to understand that when commenting on a blog post the students couldn’t just hyperlink, they actually had to write html code to insert the link!  I love the idea of the students learning html in fifth-grade, but I must admit my fifth-graders are having a difficult time figuring it all out.

I also told they students in my original post that they had to insert a picture into their comment.  I am still working on this issue but now I am learning that inserting pictures into a comment may not be possible.  In the original post students may put pictures but I am still researching if students can put pictures in a comment.  If you know the answer would you please pass it along?  I had to go in and edit my post to my students and remove the picture portion of their blog requirement this week because I am still trying to figure pictures out!

I am sure that I will make many more mistakes with regards to our class blog, but I am having so much fun learning about how to have my students effectively blog!  My students love being part of the web and web based discussions.  Their writing skills are improving, the only thing missing is a true debate or discussion.  Maybe that will be my focus next!