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Tech Integration Consultant at Keystone AEA in Iowa; MIEE; SeeSaw Ambassador;

My name is Laura Stanner, Mom to two incredible boys; advocate for Dyslexic students; supporter of UbD, UDL, AIW, AFL, 21st Century skills

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  • How have you used your knowledge in tech to help advocate for dyslexic students?

    What types of solutions are available?

    Laura Stanner's avatar image.

    Those are such a great questions!

    I enjoy a unique perspective on this topic as a General Education teacher, technology teacher, tech coach, now as an education consultant, and as a parent whose children both have medically diagnosed Language-Based Learning Disorders. The specific learning disability of Dyslexia, is actually a classification under LBLD, which many teachers don’t realize.

    Sadly, what I’ve learned as a parent is that educators have little to no education about Dyslexia. I’ve met several who also are grossly misinformed about Dyslexia is, isn’t, or claim that it really doesn’t exist at all.

    For those reasons, I do think it’s important to educate as many educators as we can, starting first with the fact that Dyslexia is neurobiological in its origin and has decades of scientific studies with brain-imaging to support findings. Dr. Sally Shaywitz is probably the most widely known and respected researcher in the field currently, but there are endless resources supporting these findings: of Dr. Shaywitz, a must-read for anyone really trying to learn about Dyslexia is Shaywitz’s book, “Overcoming Dyslexia.”

    I didn’t realize until I had my own children that LBLD can “present” itself in numerous ways. Until I saw it for myself, I never really understood that no two Dyslexics are necessarily alike, which is certainly the case in our family.

    Watching the film “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” captured so much of the angst, anger, sadness, fear, and confusion of what it’s like to discover your child is Dyslexic, recognize the struggles, and realize the serious shortcomings of our public schools. It may also be a great way to begin the conversations with communities of teachers.

    Yet, I am a public school teacher. And I’ve never had any meaningful training on what it means to teach Dyslexics in my pre-service training or at any inservice. What’s so frustrating and tragic is that evidence-based strategies have been around and documented for decades. And widely ignored for a variety of reasons, that just don’t make sense to me.

    So now I find myself in a challenging position. I’ve discovered the individual, political interests don’t reflect systemically what Dyslexic students need. And when I’ve kicked around the idea to offer a Dyslexia Strategies for Gen’l Ed Teachers session, it’s not embraced and shut down really quickly, so I’ve taken a different approach to educating teachers.

    Even so, I have discovered many Gen. Ed. teachers fail to realize they need that type of training. In fact, it’s only been within the last year or two that even saying the word “Dyslexia” outloud hasn’t caused people to head for the door, as if we were talking about sex in school or something. Seriously! It’s crazy! Sometimes, I think teachers are actually more comfortable talking about sex than they are Dyslexia. That’s why my advocacy has currently taken shape in two ways:

    As a parent, I am endlessly writing legislators, connecting with mediators, and challenging teachers thinking for my children’s sake. I have endless documentation and personally horrific stories, e-mails, etc., of the learning environment my personal kids have had to “do time” in over their short academic experiences in elementary school.

    As a consultant, I weave “teachable moments” on the topic into conversations, PD, etc., but always highlight benefits to Dyslexics and struggling learners. Experienced teachers know what works in the Sp. Ed room, is often what’s needed in the Gen. Ed. room, too.

    During these teachable moments, I try to highlight the decades of proven and effective strategies to setup the conditions for all learners to succeed. I try to dispel the myths that teachers have to move mountains and make a grand showing of accommodations for their classrooms, when in reality, it’s sometimes just simple tweaks that will benefit all learners.

    As a parent, I’m not necessarily unhappy with the targeted interventions in the resource room or with the Sp. Ed. teacher. Our personal experience indicates where we fail greatly is properly training General Ed. teachers to embrace the multitude of student needs within their classroom. Oftentimes, the general ed. classroom is the most appropriate educational setting for learning for Dyslexics, referred to as the “Least Restrictive Environment” under the Individuals for Disabilities Education Act (IDEA.)

    It’s within this General Ed. Least Restrictive Environment - LRE - that all students should have equal opportunities to perform at grade-level expectations and enjoy the Free and Appropriate Public Education they are entitled to under federal law. Yet, that’s where teachers have the least amount of training to manage and meet those documented or suspected needs. So where do we begin with that challenge?

    As a Tech Consultant, I find teachers sometimes think technology is the solution that "solves" the Dyslexic problem. That, of course, is completely inaccurate. Technology is a support, not a solution.

    As a support, when utilized effectively, technology becomes a potential equalizer to level the ‘academic playing field’ for students in that Least Restrictive Environment and help those students access grade-level materials. So, with the right supports in place, all students can have an equal opportunity to thrive. Note the keyword: opportunity.

    Dyslexia does not just magically disappear and go away because you hand a student a device. Dyslexics are dyslexic forever.

    There also isn’t just one device, app, or resource crowned as the “one” that all Dyslexics should use. Several factors must be considered when connecting a Dyslexic, Dysgraphic, Dys-whatever student to a resource. It may depend upon the age of the student, the school district’s attitude about technology, whether the district is a 1:1, shared, or BYOD environment. It also matters if the tech is seen as a band-aid solution and not truly integrated as a purposeful part of the regular school day.

    In some cases, it can be also be difficult convincing teachers that tech can be appropriate beyond just stating it in meaningless words on an IEP.

    For those reasons, I find it’s helpful to share with teachers that these supports are also often reflective of 21st Century Learning goals, or college and career initiatives. It’s useful to highlight these supports during tech integration planning using the SETT Framework and UDL (Universal Design for Learning) principles with General Ed. teachers, too.

    It’s a rare day as a Tech Consultant that you’ll successfully mandate what the Gen. Ed. teacher should do just for the Dyslexic student, even if that’s what the parent in me really wants to do! Instead, taking a moment to highlight the benefits of voice and choice, while planning for “student learning experiences” resonates more with teachers in my area for now... and just happen to create a great learning environment for the 1-in-5 Dyslexic students in their class.

    I also believe the Common Core shifts are fantastic because it’s pushing teachers to focus more on students grasping the “big ideas”, processes, concepts, etc., and encouraging them to be less dependent on pacing guides, or the notion that teaching is assigning endless chapters to read with low-level recall questions given on worthless worksheets. Not only do those Core shifts move educators toward developing (what we think!) are 21st Century learner, but we’re also creating opportunities for “out of the box” critical thinkers and communicators.

    Now bundle all of those considerations together… those are all positive approaches to helping Gen. Ed. teachers start creating more functional, welcoming learning environments for all learners.

    Keeping all of that in mind, as I highlight just a sprinkling of potential tech integration solutions for the General Ed. teachers.

    As a Tech Consultant, I prefer to focus on those creative apps or resources that can be used seamlessly across content areas, that are reflective of those “shifts” allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge, contribute a new perspective on their learning and thinking, while also giving all students fair access to content. If the resource is not easy and efficient to support those learning outcomes and gets in the way, it’s not the right tech support. That’s why I currently, believe the following resources are a few of the best resources for Dyslexics to have the opportunity to thrive in a LRE right now:

    SeeSaw - - An incredibly easy to use resource for both students and teachers on the iPad and web. This resource is easy to setup, access, and manage for teachers and co-teachers. Students from PK-12 can easily use SeeSaw to demonstrate their thinking in numerous ways. I currently LOVE how students can draw and record their thinking at the same time, recording up to 5 minutes of video. They can share observations, work in small groups, and turn things in quickly to the teacher. Teachers are also NOT tethered to any one device, as it is accessible on the web. SeeSaw also recently added a blog feature, which opens even more doors for reflect on learning. And, finally, the option to connect with parents/guardians in a safe learning environment fosters positive communication between teachers, students, and parents.

    The Learning Tools Add-On for OneNote is incredibly impressive! I love the OneNote client for older students who are fortunate to have access to a device in a 1:1 environment. The Learning Tools Add-On is currently in beta, but the potential is incredible! Currently this add-on works with Windows OneNote 2013 and 2016. Why Learning Tools? Endless reasons include their Immersive Reader features including listening to text while user sees word being read, identifying parts of speech in color, incredible reading comprehension mode, dictation, and so much more. Check out this link for more info on Learning Tools:

    OneNote, in general, also allows students to organize, tag content, etc; Only drawback: I’ve found younger students not in 1:1 environments have not been able to quickly login and launch the client, to access these impressive tools without help just yet. If you can setup the conditions for success, though, it’s definitely a tool to learn, know, and integrate.

    Class kick is great for an iPad learning environment. The app allows the teacher to quickly see, intervene, and give feedback to students. Students can also ask for help, which is something I think is really great.

    For schools using Google Apps and the Chrome browser, the new Google Tools Voice Typing feature is fantastic! It’s so easy for students of nearly all grade levels to use this feature for dictation (a feature also available in those Learning Tools for OneNote). Apps in general is very user-friendly, simple, and easy to use since it’s web-based.There are endless Extensions, Apps you can add to the ‘experience’, based on needs. Sometimes that’s overwhelming, but the options allow for easy customization to meet individual user needs. All those apps and extensions also reflects there is no perfect product, as people create apps and extensions to fulfill needs/wants….

    As a whole, Apple products have incredible accessibility features built right into the operating system, with apps functioning beautifully across Apple products. Again, I have two kids with the umbrella diagnosis of “Language Based Learning Disorder”. Although each also has a Dyslexia diagnosis, they also have other, differing Specific Learning Disorders that require assistive technology be functional, easy, and customizable to meet their learning needs and grow with them. So far, as young students whose district does not prioritize technology as an integrated part of their school day, I’ve found they’ve been most successful with their Apple devices at home.My kids knows how to quickly dictate, have text read back them, access their books and create things with their favorite resources, etc. He picked up how to use his device as early as kindergarten. I also appreciate the parental controls built-into the iOS system. Here are other articles to consider regarding Apple supports:

    If I’m searching for specific apps or resources to help support a need, there are endless resources, including Pinterest and other social media. Maintaining and updating lists is incredibly challenging, though, which is one reason my old favorite “Appitic” is no longer active… and perhaps another reason to stay focused on creation apps and resources, vs. trying to stay up-to-date on all the new “digital worksheet” apps…

    You may consider checking out a few of these resources, among many others.. AND consult Assistive Tech coordinator for appropriate supports, access to materials and guidance…

    I haven’t really addressed the Special Ed. Teacher working on targeted interventions. In that smaller environment, where IEP goals dictate that work, you may find teachers need not just the creativity apps., but may appropriately use what I call a "digital worksheet" to hone in on a specific skill.

    I do find that perfectly acceptable and think those types of skill-based apps can be useful to reinforce targeted learning, document student’s growth or lack of growth, and capture data. Sometimes a skill isn’t “transferable”, though, so that’s something to consider when selected skill-based apps. For example, if working on writing, perhaps a student is just using their finger on the tablet. They do a great job, yet when they pick up the pen or pencil to apply that learning, it’s a disaster. Why? Perhaps that student needed a stylus that felt like a pen or pencil to reinforce that fine-motor skill?

    That’s also why Sp. Ed. teachers should work closely with their Assistive Tech consultant, as well as their General Ed. consultants, as they are working to meet goals and successfully close the gap within the Gen. Ed. classroom.

    Again, I believe the key for Dyslexic students to succeed is to provide the appropriate supports to access and produce grade-level work with ease within the determined Least Restrictive Environment.

    I also believe all students should experience an engaging learning environment that sets them up for successful, engaging interactions, often guided by UdL principles.

    And there you have it! More than you ever asked for or hoped to get in your brief two questions!