Dyslexia has traditionally been viewed in a somewhat negative light, with a focus upon the aspects of learning which are most challenging for a person who has dyslexia, such as reading, spelling and writing.

And indeed, for a student who has dyslexia, differences in how they decode words, break down words into their component sounds and use their working memory can and do make classroom learning experiences difficult in many situations.

But there is a different viewpoint, which holds that dyslexia is associated as much with ways of thinking which include highly tuned creativity, skilful problem solving and an ability to utilise spatial skills, as it is with difficulties managing text.

A view which holds that dyslexia can be linked with beneficial skills in the classroom as well as learning challenges can lead the pro-active teacher towards technologies which support the student to attain their personal goals more readily.

Appropriate technologies can also challenge students to explore their potential in a wide range of learning areas, without their spelling, writing or reading skills being a limiting factor to their success.

Once a student has reached the middle to upper primary years, it may be useful to consider introducing technologies which increase the speed of note taking and writing, as well as making it easier for a student to identify and correct spelling errors and to self check and edit their work.

WriteOnline is a product from Crick Software, available in Australia from Crick resellers, which is highly appropriate for students in this age group who have challenges with their reading, writing and spelling skills.

It is a program which allows for easy scaffolding of learning tasks as well as encouraging greater independence on the part of the student.

It promotes self checking and identification of spelling errors and can be easily customised to suit particular teaching and learning experiences such as units of work on a set topic or research and inquiry projects.

It includes a comprehensive spelling predictor, text to speech function and learning grids which can be added to suit classroom topics and include vocabulary related to that topic in a word bar at the bottom of the screen.

Learning grids are ideal for situations where a student is learning new content or when they are completing a task such as an inquiry project, which uses specific vocabulary that may be complex and challenging to spell.

For example, we have tested the program recently using a project about Russia, and the learning grid allowed for the inclusion of many lengthy Russian place names as well as the vocabulary for sporting events, geographical features, buildings and landmarks and people.

This gave the finished project depth and complexity which would have been impossible to achieve without the scaffolding support of WriteOnline.

WORKSPACE FOR MIND MAPPING

A handy place for students to start is with the workspace which allows for rapid mind mapping to help give a structure and plan to a written piece of text.

This can help students focus their thinking and ensure they set a manageable goal for themselves when they work.

The mind mapping tool links well with the main document tab so that students can readily transfer headings and text from the mind map to their working document.

It is a relatively intuitive area of the program to use, and most students will require minimal instruction to get their ideas onto a mind map on the screen.

WORKING DOCUMENT

Students can then begin working on their main document, creating text for reports, essays, narratives, inquiry projects or other learning tasks.

The working document can be structured to suit specific preferences, with students able to access a host of useful features to help them write quickly, effectively and with a greater degree of spelling accuracy.

This helps reduce frustration, increase the use of multi-syllable and complex vocabulary choices and encourages the use of more complex sentence structures.

USER PREFERENCES

This tab allows you to set the preferences for a student before they begin to compose their text.

User preferences can be adjusted in areas including:

  • The size of the spelling predictor word bank and whether two, three or four letter words will be included within the prediction, based on the initial letters typed by the user
  • The voice used for the text to speech function
  • Whether words are spoken aloud when they are right clicked Whether incorrect spellings are underlined in red when typed
  • Whether proper nouns and the initial letter of sentences are automatically capitalised
  • Whether to include ‘sounds like’ words such as ‘scissors’ being found in the predictor when ‘siz’ is typed by the student

Setting user preferences prior to allowing students to begin using the program is helpful to ensure that it is able to function at its optimal level to encourage students to compose more confidently and freely.

LINKING WITH VCOP AND BIG WRITE ACTIVITIES

Many students in the primary years will be familiar with the concept of using VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers, punctuation) as a focus for their writing skills and to encourage them to use more complex vocabulary and sentence structures.

For students who have dyslexia, this can be a challenging task, as they are often more likely to make spelling errors when they attempt more difficult words.

Some students also find it difficult to retain spelling of words which they have previously learnt, leaving them feeling vulnerable and incapable in situations where they feel they should know a word.

Big Write tasks, where students apply their vocabulary and use of punctuation, connectives and openers to a chosen writing task for a set period of time, can also be difficult, particularly for students who experience stress when writing or who have difficulty producing clear, legible handwriting.

WriteOnline can be a highly useful scaffolding tool for supporting VCOP and Big Write activities as it can be set to suit individual needs, with learning grids developed either by the teacher or downloaded for free from the Learning Grids page online to suit particular Big Write topics.

For example, a student who is about to complete a Big Write task on the topic of taking a journey as part of an adventure could be given a learning grid which includes adventure-based words and preferred character names.

The process of talking about the Big Write task prior to writing might need to include some note taking on the part of the teacher to ensure appropriate vocabulary choices can be included for the student in their learning grid.  

Crick software gave the author a 50 per cent discount on the program to allow her to trial it at home with her primary school-aged  son.