27 ICT solutions for the inclusive secondary school
So, your students are fired up about technology.
And you want to investigate how it could break down barriers to learning for students with specific learning difficulties (SpLD).
But with such a dizzying array of ICT solutions out there, which to choose?
It’s a bit of a head scratcher...
So, to help you spend your budget wisely, we’ve compiled an overview of the most popular ICT solutions aimed at the schools market.
Choosing ICT solutions for schools
Before you choose a suite of ICT solutions for your school, you should first think about the type of learning environment you want to create.
Students with SpLD typically respond positively to strongly visual, multisensory, interactive learning solutions that shift some of the focus from written handouts and notes on the whiteboard.
Why not build the use of these solutions into your teaching practice by scheduling regular lessons for speaking and listening activities?
This would be great for delivering curriculum subjects in fresh and fun ways that engage ALL your students, including those with SpLD.
As to the ICT solutions available, here’s our breakdown across the following categories:
- Audio-capture tools
- Speech-recognition software
- Text-to-speech software
- Reading pens and portable reading tools
- Accessible formats
- Colour overlays
To encourage students who struggle with reading and writing to express their ideas, why not encourage them to speak about a topic, then capture these thoughts as a recording, before moving on to transcribing and writing further down the line?
The classic method of taking these recordings is to use a digital voice recorder.
There are several out there, so it might be worth comparing their relative merits on a tech review blog. They now often come with basic software for storing and organising audio files. Prices start at around £35, while the most advanced versions clock in at up to £150.
Another option is to take recordings using a laptop mic. For recording quality, we would recommend doing this with a portable USB mic. In our experience, the Samson Go Mic does a very good job.
The day will surely come when digital voice recorders and laptop mics are rendered obsolete by recorder apps for smartphones and tablets. These include basic voice memo apps, such as CaptureAudio and Recordium. And more advanced ‘studio recording’ apps, such as GarageBand.
You might also want to check out our free companion app for Audio Notetaker, Sonocent Recorder. And the Audio Notetaker software itself, which creates a multi-sensory audio-centric learning environment that can be beneficial for many students with SpLD.
NB To keep the noise levels down in class when your pupils are listening to their recordings, headsets with noise cancellation features are a sensible purchase.
You should be aware that for this software to be effective, your pupils will have to patiently train it to recognise the intonations of their speaking voice.
Here is some further information about speech recognition software from the British Dyslexia Association Technology website.
NB Speech recognition can be used as an access arrangement for GCSE and other qualifications if the candidate would qualify for a scribe and it is their usual way of working.
For SpLD students who struggle with reading, software that reads out text on a computer can help with written assignments and general confidence.
Computers generally come with basic text-to-speech software installed. Microsoft Office 2010 Speak is an example. While the Mac OS X comes with accessibility features, including text-to-speech, as standard.
However, paid versions can provide better sounding voices and options to highlight text as it is read. An example is ClaroRead SE. Some also offer more functionality, such as thesauruses, homophone checkers and speaking dictionaries. These include Read and Write Gold and Write Online.
NB As with speech recognition software, text-to-speech tools can be used as an access arrangement for GCSE and other qualifications if the candidate would qualify for a reader and it is their usual way of working.
Mind maps are a highly engaging way for your SpLD pupils to brainstorm ideas, make connections, visualise concepts, think critically and, ultimately, develop their reading and writing skills.
Teachers have been using mind maps in the classroom for years. But now there are ICT solutions which enable students to convert mind maps into Word or PowerPoint documents.
The mind mapping software from Inspiration Software has been specifically designed for education and has received many positive reviews from teachers and students. It comes with the option of a free trial. One alternative is MindView.
Reading pens and portable reading tools
Reading pens can create independence for students with conditions such as dyslexia.
In this scenario, the student scans over text with the pen’s tip to hear the text read aloud. They can do this using headphones in order not to distract the rest of the class.The Reading Pen 2 comes with a built-in dictionary while the Exam Pen is approved by The Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ) for use in exams if it is the normal way the student works. The Exam Pen is an alternative to using a reader in exam settings.
There are also a growing range of apps for tablets and smartphones that convert text to audio from photos. Simply photograph the text you want to hear and the app will convert it to text and read it aloud. Prizmo and ClaroSpeak (with OCr add-in) are simple low-cost apps while CapturaTalk for Android and iPad offers a range of reading and writing support tools as well as scan and read.
As SpLD students often struggle to read text written in standard font, you should consider making all curriculum materials available in accessible formats.
Probably the best option is to download accessible materials from the Load2Learn website - an online resource delivered by the RNIB and Dyslexia Action. Here’s how to sign your school up for a Load2Learn membership.
It pretty much goes without saying that your dyslexic students should check their written work with a spellchecker.
We are all familiar with the free spellcheckers that come with word processing software. These work by flagging words that aren’t included in the software’s dictionary. They also highlight grammatical issues, with varying effectiveness.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t help with some of the things that dyslexics struggle with, such as the age-old confusion with the use of ‘there’ or ‘their’.
For this reason, it might be worth investing in software with a wider range of features, such as Texthelp Read & Write Gold, which also includes text-to-speech functionality and homophone checking, and Global AutoCorrect which autocorrects for spelling errors as you type.
Some SpLD students, including dyslexics, can also benefit from the use of colour overlays. These are plastic sheets that you lay over written material to colour the text in dyslexia-friendly tones.
In terms of making it easier for SpLD students to read text on a computer screen, ClaroView includes a range of customisable features. You can use the software to create overlays and change the colour of text. Windows also includes customisable features, such as the option to change keyboard settings, as does Mac OS X.
Certain fonts, for example Arial and Calibri, are easier for SpLD pupils to read. Here’s a guide to accessible font styles.
Many schools are now turning to tablet devices when seeking to break down barriers to learning for students with SpLD.
These offer a number of accessibility features as standard and can be preloaded with apps that facilitate the learning process, such as text-to-speech and speech-to-text apps that offer some of the functionality of the full software.
Here is a comprehensive guide to using mobile technology to support SpLD students from the British Dyslexia Association Technology website.
Over to you
We hope this article has given you a good idea of the ICT solutions out there and how they can help your students with SpLD.
Before you draw up your shopping list, you should also read the excellent resource that the British Dyslexia Association Technology has produced on accessibility software.
In the meantime, are there any ICT solutions that you use to support your SpLD students, which you would recommend to other teachers?
Share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
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