Understanding Technology Tools

There are a plethora of technology tools available to educators. The task of choosing which ones to implement in your teaching practice can be overwhelming.  In one of our TalkLD podcasts, Chad Downes, Assistive Technology Advisor at Amethyst Demonstration School, shares his advice to keep in mind when thinking about the many tech options for your classroom.

Click the play button to listen to the sound bite with Chad Downes.

Click here to access the transcription of this sound bite.

Click here to access the full podcast How Assistive Technology (AT) Affects Self-Esteem.

With this advice in mind, it is important to understand the specific functions that different technological tools have to offer, in order to select the best ones for your students and for your learning goals.

As you review the technological tools and functions below, think about your students and which functions may help them to either:

  1. complete a particular task, or
  2. circumvent certain difficulties.

High-tech Devices

The sections below are adapted excerpts from an evidence-informed LD@school article. Click here to access the original article Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities.

While AT can be low or high-tech, most of the AT for students with LDs is high-tech[i]. Teachers should become familiar with AT and understand how it can be incorporated within their teaching to support an inclusive learning environment.

Laptop Computers & Computerized Devices

Laptop computers and tablet devices are beneficial for students with LDs because they are portable and lightweight. For students with handwriting difficulties, being able to take notes on a laptop or computerized device (such as an iPad) can improve the quantity and quality of their notes[ii].

Computer-assisted instruction refers to software and applications that have been designed to provide instruction and practice opportunities on a wide range of devices (e.g., computer, laptop, iPad, mobile technology). Computer-assisted instruction provides immediate and dynamic feedback and students with LDs can benefit from this nonjudgmental computerized drill and practice[iii]. Computer-assisted instruction has been shown to be helpful for students with LDs in spelling and expressive writing skills[iv] as this software can reduce distractibility[v] and can help students learn to read[vi] and achieve other academic outcomes[vii]. Computer-assisted instruction is also an effective way for students with LDs to practice math drills[viii], as students who used computer-assisted instruction to practice math skills were able to memorize math facts more easily, and developed a more positive attitude towards math than students who did not use computer-assisted instruction[ix].

image of a laptop on a desk

Software Functions

Click here to access a list of Ministry of Education approved software titles.

Text-to-speech software can read aloud digital or printed text. This is beneficial as students are more likely to understand text when unfamiliar words are read to them[x]. Text-to-speech can have a positive effect on: decoding and word recognition[xi]; reading fluency and reading comprehension[xii]. Text-to-speech software can be especially helpful for students who retain more information through listening than reading. This software can assist students with monitoring and revising their typed work, as hearing the text read aloud may assist students in catching grammatical errors that may have otherwise gone unnoticed[xiii]. After reviewing the literature, Strangman and Dalton (2005) reported that the use of text-to-speech software can improve students’ sight reading and decoding abilities. In addition, text-to-speech software can improve the reading comprehension of individuals with specific deficits in phonological processing (difficulty hearing letter-sounds) as students can learn to decode new words when they are highlighted as they are read aloud[xiv].
Speech-to-text software transcribes spoken word into computer text, allowing the student to bypass the demands of typing or handwriting. Freed from these effortful tasks, students may compose stories that are longer, more complex, and contain fewer errors[xv]. Speech recognition accuracy improves with use; however, new users can become frustrated with the training process, and they may lack the ability to efficiently edit the program’s text output. Titles such as XpressLab are licensed by the Ministry of Education and can be used to improve expressive oral language for students in grade 7-12. Voice recognition software can improve word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension skills for students with LDs[xvi]. MacArthur and Cavalier (2004) found that for students with LDs, essays dictated using Dragon Naturally Speaking were better than handwritten essays, but essays dictated to a scribe were even better. These authors found a differential impact on students with and without disabilities, providing evidence that this technology removes a barrier based on disability.
Word prediction software was originally designed for students with physical disabilities who experienced difficulty typing. However, word prediction with text-to-speech is also effective for students with LDs because it reduces the need for handwriting, and improves students’ spelling accuracy and writing skills[xvii]. In addition, students may find it enjoyable to have the words recommended through word prediction and be able to form sentences without having to worry about spelling and word-choice[xviii]. An analysis of 25 years of research[xix] found that word prediction increases transcription accuracy and may also increase word fluency and compositional quality of writing for students with learning and academic difficulties. In one particular study[xx], children and their families generally found WordQ to be helpful, and reported improved vocabulary use and increased independence, productivity, and motivation to write. While there are potential benefits to the use of WordQ, a basic foundation of phonological awareness is required as students who are unable to identify the beginning sound of words will not benefit from using word prediction software because the user has to provide the first letters of the word[xxi]. In addition, word prediction demands a fairly high level of attention to make use of the suggested words[xxii]; and as a result, each child must be considered on an individual basis in order to select the appropriate technology for his or her learning needs.

Click here to access the handout When I use Text-to-Speech.

Click here to access the handout When I use Word Prediction.

Click here to access the handout When I use Spell and Grammar Check.

Mid-tech Devices

Mid-tech devices, such as audio recorders, portable note takers, mp3 players, calculators, and pentop computers, can be useful without the cost associated with high-tech devices.


Graphic organizers provide an organizational framework to help writers generate topics and content for writing projects and can assist with the planning and organizational stages of writing, and using concept mapping software can increase the quality and quantity of writing[xxiii]. Graphic organizers benefit individuals who experience difficulty expressing their thoughts on paper as well as visual learners who need to see their ideas mapped out. While graphic organizers completed without technology can help students with LDs to improve the quality of writing[xxiv], electronic versions, such as Inspiration, allow students to arrange their thoughts on the computer screen without worrying about order, level of importance or categories because the text can be easily manipulated. Using a web-based graphic organizer with procedural prompts enabled students to produce better organized and higher quality papers, than they could produce with handwritten organizers[xxv]. Furthermore, being taught a strategy to plan and organize writing can improve the compositions of students with LDs[xxvi].
Pentop computers, such as LiveScribe smart pens, are cheaper than high-tech devices like iPads but can provide text-to-speech, strategy feedback, and other organizational functions. As cost-effective and self-regulated reading aides, pentop computers may be a useful tool for students with reading disabilities[xxvii]. Pentop computers are also useful because they utilize instruction strategies such as providing auditory feedback during composition or math work. Handheld computerized devices that provide feedback have shown to be helpful for students with LDs for essay composition[xxviii], and receptive note-taking and multiplication skills[xxix]. For example, pentop computers are able to provide reminders such as “don’t forget to carry” during multiplication questions[xxx].
Students with LDs may have a history of academic failure, which contributed to their development of learned helplessness in math. For some students, a fear of failure and low academic self-concept can lead to math related anxiety. While the use of calculators can level the playing field for students with LDs, some research has shown that calculators may actually provide unfair advantage[xxxi]. Graphing calculators may be particularly effective because they provide visual conformation of the graph-shape. The added advantage of visual data can be highly motivating for students with LDs[xxxii]. Math drill programs can be an effective way for students to learn to mentally solve math questions[xxxiii], they are also effective in increasing motivation and the addition and subtraction skills of students with dyscalculia[xxxiv]. Math Trek 1,2,3 is an example of software licensed by the Ministry of Education for use in the classroom.

To learn about other technological functions to support student learning, click here to access the article Assistive Technology Available on Standard Mobile Devices.

Click here to access the article Graphic Organizers.


For full reference listings, click here to access the Learn More page of this module.

[i] Lewis, 1998

[ii] Vaughn & Bos, 2009

[iii] Stetter & Hughes, 2010

[iv] Wanzek et al., 2006

[v] Hecker, Burns, Elkind, Elkind, & Katz, 2002

[vi] Lee & Vail, 2005

[vii] Chiang & Jacobs, 2009

[viii] Bouck & Flanagan, 2009

[ix] Adcock, Luna, Parkhurst, Poncy, Skinner, & Yaw, 2010

[x] MacArthur, Ferreti, Okolo, & Cavalier, 2001

[xi] Raskind & Higgins, 1999

[xii] Izzo, Yurick, & McArrell, 2009; Montali & Lewandowski, 1996; Stodden, Roberts, Takahishi, Park, & Stodden, 2012

[xiii] Raskind & Higgins, 1995; Rao, Dowrick, Yuen, & Boisvert, 2009; Zhang, 2000

[xiv] Fasting & Halaas Lyster, 2005; Holmes & Silvestri, 2009

[xv] Graham, 1999

[xvi] Higgins & Raskind, 2000

[xvii] Cullen, Richards, & Frank, 2008; Evmenova, Graff, Jerome & Behrman, 2010; Handley-More, Dietz, Billingsley & Coggins, 2003; Lewis, Graves, Ashton, & Kieley, 1998; Silió & Barbetta, 2010

[xviii] Evmenova et al., 2010

[xix] Peterson-Karlan, 2011

[xx] Tam, Archer, Mays, & Skidmore, 2005

[xxi] MacArthur, 1999

[xxii] MacArthur, 1998

[xxiii] Sturm & Rankin-Erickson, 2002

[xxiv] Institute for the Advancement of Research in Education, 2003

[xxv] Englert, Wu & Zhao, 2005; Englert, Zhao, Dunsmore, Collings, & Woblers, 2007

[xxvi] MacArthur, 2009

[xxvii] Schmitt, McCallum, Hennessey, Lovelace, & Hawkins, 2012

[xxviii] Bouck, Bassette, Taber-Doughty, Flanagan, & Szwed, 2009

[xxix] Bouck, Flanagan, Miller, & Bassette, 2009

[xxx] Doughty, Bouck, Bassette, Szwed, & Flanagan, 2013

[xxxi] Bouck & Flanagan, 2009

[xxxii] Bethell & Miller, 1998

[xxxiii] Adcock et al., 2010

[xxxiv] Amiripour, Bijan-zadeh, Pezeshki, & Najafi, 2011