Mar 9th , 2010
One of the challenges of working in the field of assistive technology is figuring out how various tools can work together to support students with writing disabilities. Written language is an extremely complex and demanding task that assumes that the student has a good foundation in organization, grammar, mechanics, idea, and punctuation. If you are a good writer you take for granted all of the sub-skills that are needed in order to get your ideas down in a coherent fashion. For students that struggle with written language writing an essay or book report can be a frustrating and daunting experience. For many students whom I have worked with, written language is their weakest skill and one of their least liked school activities. So then how can we provide these students with some scaffolding and supports to help them to be more successful when doing their school writing projects? As an assistive technology consultant I am often asked by teachers and schools to help them match the students learning profile, the tasks, and recommend some tools that can support the student in the area of written language. Many students with written language disabilities often have difficulty starting their writing assignments and often need some software applications to help structure the task and help them move through the process.
In my professional experience software tools like Inspiration are wonderful for students who need the opportunity to brainstorm and need a more structured approach to their writing assignment. Inspiration is an ideal tool for brainstorming and freeing up the students to get their ideas down without the need to be concerned about the order or structure of their ideas. Using the RapidFire feature within Inspiration is a great way to engage students in the process of creatively getting their ideas down on the screen before setting off to write. The latest version of Inspiration now supports mind mapping and allows students to create visually appealing mind maps with the flexibility of allowing students to move their ideas around freely in the mind map. Giving students this freedom allows them to work with their ideas and organize them into a more coherent piece.
For students who may need more structure and support Inspiration can provide that as well. Many teachers that I have worked with using Inspiration, have developed their own writing templates which can provide students with the necessary prompts to help engage them in the writing process. In the screenshot provided you can see how one teacher provided a structure for a basic paragraph. Teachers can create frameworks for their students depending on the type of writing assignment that can go a long way in helping students to break down the task as they move through the writing process. Teachers also have access to a rich array of built-in templates that they can draw from and are easily accessible from within Inspiration. For students that need text to speech support that is available within Inspiration and can be easily accessed by students. Once students access the prompts that has been created by their teachers they are ready to get their ideas down. Inspiration is a very flexible tool and students can add their ideas into the mind map or into a more traditional outline. Whichever method they choose, they will be glad to know that their work will be saved and can be transferred to Microsoft Word. Students also have the option to add Sticky Notes and Audio notes to their graphic organizer which are just two other ways for them to get their ideas down before they begin to do more traditional writing. It is important when using Inspiration in the writing process to help the students understand that while it may seem to them like one more step that in the long run when they use this strategy that they will become more proficient and productive writers.
For students who have moved through this process and transferred their written work from Inspiration to Microsoft Word they will immediately see the benefits. Some of the students will have the “Aha” moment when they see how quickly they were able to put a draft together. Working within Microsoft Word the students now have access to a suite of tools and features that will let them flesh out their written work.
For students that need more spelling and grammar support- they can look to Ginger to provide it. Ginger is an easy to use spelling and grammar correction tool that is unique in that it looks at words that are misspelled in the context of the sentence. So unlike typical spelling correction tools that just check for common spelling errors, Ginger helps to support students by looking at the word in the context of the sentence.
With Ginger’s powerful algorithms and text to speech support students can feel confident that what they hand in is correct. With so many wonderful tools out there for students to access to support their written work it is great to know that Inspiration, Microsoft Word, and Ginger can work so fluidly with one another to support the writing process for student with writing disabilities.