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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Using Technology to Overcome "Print Disabilities"

Recently at the MassCUE conference, I heard Dr. David Rose, a developmental neuropsychologist and educator, discuss the notion of "print disabilities."  I was fascinated by his discussion, and prompted to think more carefully about this as I work with children.  Essentially "print disabilities" or "print challenges" relate to the way people use text to make meaning.  He suggests that technology provides us with many new avenues to remedy "print disabilities" for learners.

Anyone familiar with Ellin Keene and her book, Mosaic of Thought, knows that one way to remedy students' challenges with text is to teach the comprehension strategies, cognitive strategies which help children make meaning from text.  Another way is to use the computer effectively and strategically to help students.

I tried this out recently as I completed a short story analysis for a writing class I am taking.  There are a couple of factors that have always stood in my way when analyzing literature.  Those factors include the quick recall of facts, vocabulary and organization.  So this time I decided to conduct the entire analysis online using Google docs with the following strategy:

1. Download a copy of the story (free or purchased) onto a Google doc.
2. Color code as I read:
  • pink - words I'm unsure of.
  • red - descriptive phrases.
  • orange - main events that move the plot along.
3. Then using the Google "define" or image search tool on the menu bar, I looked up definitions and/or images for all the words I wasn't sure of.  I copy and pasted to make a vocab list to reference.

4. Next I read through the story again, listing questions and summary notes in blue along the way.

5. After that, I made a quick story time line.

6.  Then I completed the assignment, sometimes checking the Internet for clarification of concepts and ideas.  

In the days, months and years to come, people will be coming up with all kinds of strategies to make print more accessible to learners.  This Google doc strategy coupled with my knowledge of the comprehension strategies allowed me to turn a tough text into a provocative learning experience. On a smaller scale, I hope to try out this strategy with some of my students soon.  Let me know if you have anything to add.  It's a wonderful new world of learning.


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