Answered by Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger
The act of reading draws on many different processes simultaneously. A reader must decode words, know what they mean, understand words when they are strung together in sentences, understand the use of pronouns, make connections between ideas using relationship markers, create mental pictures, make inferences, sum up information, and so forth.
The right technological tools can make a significant difference to students who struggle with reading.
The ability to read develops over many years. At the primary level, students learn word reading, a skill that often poses a great challenge to students with LDs. Difficulties with word reading, in turn, tend to cause problems with the other processes required for effective reading.
It is important to note, however, that difficulties with word reading only affect processes related to written language. If a student with this challenge were to hear a story read to them, the processes required for comprehension of this verbal text would not be impaired.
There are many technological tools that can support students with difficulties in word reading. Click here to access the Reading Rockets webpage about their recommended literacy apps.
Later on, comprehension becomes the key focus of reading instruction. Educators must support students in the following ways:
- Expose students to a variety of reading material and media
- Develop their understanding of literary devices
- Model comprehension strategies
The following two sections present technological tools that support these reading goals.
Twenty-first century readers must be able to comprehend many different types of texts, such as comic strips, fairy tales, news, informational documents, and many more. Some texts are similar in digital and print forms, but others are available only through the use of technology. For example, tweeting and blogging are texts that now play a role in many of our daily lives.
Digital texts greatly facilitate the task of differentiating instruction. Students are able to use accessibility functions to customize their settings (font size, spacing, colour contrast, bolding, etc.), which frees up cognitive load for comprehension.
Furthermore, most digital texts include features that help students to better understand the texts. For example, many sites have a menu or table of contents that remains visible on the screen, which helps readers understand the structure and main ideas of the text.
Finally, hyperlinked text helps students compensate for a weak vocabulary and access further information on concepts for which they have little prior knowledge.
Visual Learning Software
Visual learning software, such as graphic organizers and mind maps, is another indispensable tool to develop students’ reading comprehension skills. It can be used to illustrate different text structures (narrative, descriptive, argumentative, etc.), and it helps students identify the most important elements of the text they are reading, as well as see an overview of the entire text.
In a different setting, when students “read to learn”, visual learning software helps to reduce the burden on working memory and to display the ideas in a different way to better draw connections between elements of the text by categorizing them or by linking supporting evidence to key concepts.
Educators can also model the use of visual learning software to demonstrate relationships between characters in a novel. These relationships, often implicit in novels, become explicit and visual when visual learning software is used, which helps students better understand these subtle connections as they read.
Explicit Instruction of Reading Strategies
Even when students use technology to compensate for an area of weakness, it is crucial that they be able to exercise their other reading skills in order to comprehend the text. Therefore, educators should explicitly teach reading strategies to all students.
Related Resources on the LD@school Website
Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger is the French Learning Disabilities Consultant of the LD@school team. She is completing a Masters degree in education science at the University of Quebec at Rimouski. She holds a bachelor degree in special education from the same university and a certificate in ICT integration in education (TELUQ). She is also a sessional instructor for the integration of ICT in education at the UQAR. Her current position is special teacher at the Charlesbourg Public Secondary School where she enjoys working with teenagers and a diversity of learning difficulties. Nathalie is glad to bring her contribution and expertise to the LD@school team and to network with teachers sharing the same passion for the success of students with learning disabilities.