I have two passions in what I do, working with kids with learning disabilities/dyslexia and technology. It was only in the past several years that I have begun to meld the two, and in the past year really make them coincide with the same focus. Thus the beginnings of my blogging.
In the last year, Ben Powers opened my eyes to the things I had been dreaming about, but did not know how to bring to reality due to others not understanding my vision. He showed me that in reality the use of technology to impact dyslexic students was something that we could bring to the table, addressing not just accommodations, but remediation.
Ben connected me with Jamie Martin, who I consider to be my mentor. Jamie has done exactly what in mind I had wanted to do. He took his passion for working the dyslexic kids, and his love of technology, and has created a great program that helps kids learn to utilize assistive tech. What Jamie and Ben proved is that assistive tech is not about saying that a student can’t progress, but empowering the student to use tech to achieve, while still building skills. I so appreciate his willingness to show and share so I can too help my students become empowered through the use of technology.
Enter Ben Foss, author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan, and founder of headstrongnation.org. Ben recently spoke to the Eagle Hill Southport Community (@EHSSouthport), students and staff. Ben, his book and his organization, seek to help dyslexics, families, and others gain information to realize that “Dyslexia is not a disease. It’s a community.” Ben Foss is also the developer of the Intel Reader.
Ben Foss strongly advocates for how technology helped him, and can help other dyslexics. That it is nothing more than a tool that supports him and others become independent in a “mainstream” world. Why are we trying to fit dyslexics to the mainstream world ways?
Flashback: In graduate school, the culmination of my studies was a comprehensive exam. There was a course to prepare for this test, where we had to complete weekly essays that simulated what the exam would be like. I remember after a few weeks in the course, my professor asked to meet with me. He was concerned because he did not feel with what I had been producing in class that I could pass the exam. I was crushed, but deep down not surprised. Writing has always been a challenge for me. I had a writing tutor for several years, and knew it was an area of weakness. Coincidentally the next week, I happen to bring my laptop to class to complete the assignment because I got tired of all the handwriting. When I got that typed assignment back, my professor had written a note exclaiming what a turn around I had made. A light bulb went off. Using the computer enabled me to organize my thoughts with ease, as I could move things around, delete and rewrite, and craft my thoughts in a more cohesive manner. The computer didn’t give me the answers, we had to answer scenarios not recite facts and, heck it was 1996 and Google didn’t even exist. I still had to have the knowledge, and come up with the answers, but I was better able to express myself with the clicks of the keys rather than the scratchings of a pencil.
I have often thought of that occurrence since then. Not only how I felt when the professor expressed his concerns, but how I felt when I actually aced the comprehensive exam, typing my responses. I take that feeling into my teaching hoping that my students don’t ever feel like I am pushing them down the round rabbit hole, but that they are unique individuals with their own shape. They shouldn’t be splintered and broken because they don’t fit. They should be able to find their way to move ahead, and if a tool such as an iPad, an Intel Reader, a computer, or anything else guides them to show what they know, and learn in ways that fit their strengths then what is so wrong with that.
Whether words are read with eyes, ears or fingers, as Ben Foss would say, it is still reading. The words are still being taken into the brain, they still are being comprehended and given meaning. Words written with pencil and pen, are no different than the words created with the keys of a keyboard, or the ones spoken to a computer.
So I thank Ben Powers, Ben Foss and Jamie Martin for inspiring me to take the path I see ahead to do what I can to build the skills of my students and to also provide them ways to gain knowledge and show what they know. Proof was this week when a student struggling to get through a book for class, asked if it could be gotten from Bookshare.org, a service we are using that provides books in a text-to-speech format. The assignment of reading the book was not a decoding exercise, but a literary one, so why force the struggle of eye reading, when that was not the purpose of the task? After receiving the book in this format, the student reported how much easier it was for him and how he was better able to interact with the story.
Technology is the tool that can guide dyslexic students to fit in the hole best for them. We need to get beyond the debate of remediation vs. compensation, but rather think about what is best for each learner and what will foster their strengths while supporting their weaknesses to help them achieve successes. They don’t need to be made round, they need to be honored for the shape they are.