Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities:
The NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) have been involved since 1999 in writing Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities. Draft Guidelines were made available to all schools in 2002 and subsequent to review, consultation and evaluation the official version of the Guidelines has been compiled and released to schools. These Guidelines feature both revised and new materials.
Many teachers look for a list of the names of software programs suitable for students with different types of disabilities. This, however, is not usually the most beneficial approach. It is important to first identify the needs of the students, the environment where the software will be used, and the tasks that could possibly be addressed through the use of ICT (
After gathering this information, the NCTE recommends viewing software in different categories, each of which can be used for different purposes, and then choosing among the available products in a particular category. The following describes some of the main categories of software:
8. Access Tools/Software
1. Reinforcement (Drill and Practice) Software is used to reinforce basic skills through repetition and practice. This type of software covers many curriculum areas but special needs teachers most commonly use it to develop and reinforce basic reading and mathematical skills.
∑ Helps to develop skills and reinforce concepts and knowledge.
∑ Provides repeated practice on previously learned skills.
∑ Gives immediate, consistent feedback in non-judgmental fashion.
∑ Should be used to complement teacher instruction, not replace it.
∑ Skills are often presented in isolation.
2. Interactive Books (Talking Stories) are electronic books which bring stories to life and cater for a range of levels (non-readers to older students with reading difficulties).Common features include:
∑ Lively animations
∑ Story can be read aloud
∑ Individual words can be spoken
∑ Clicking and exploring options.
∑ Links written word with spoken words (strengthens word recognition).
∑ Improves vocabulary, word attack skills, fluency and comprehension.
∑ Gives students the opportunity to practice reading the same text more than one time.
∑ Edutainment value vs. Educational value
∑ Can be used in many areas of the curriculum.
∑ Teachers can develop own materials to meet individual needs of students.
∑ Helps students to overcome barriers to learning by making some reading and writing tasks much easier.
Most of this type of software will fall under one of the following categories:
a. Word Processing Programs enable the user to produce a wide range of products from basic text documents and newsletters, to calendars and posters.
∑ Students can express themselves without being worried about appearance.
∑ Spellchecker allows students to concentrate on content rather than spelling.
∑ Relieves pressures that face students with learning difficulties.
b. Talking Word Processing Programs are word processing programs that also include an inbuilt speech synthesiser that will read back text to the pupil. They can be set up to read back every letter, word, line, sentence, paragraph or whole screen.
∑ Allows students to monitor their work.
∑ Brings writing to life - auditory feedback links written word to spoken word.
∑ Auditory feedback assists students in correcting their spelling, grammar and syntax.
c. Word Prediction Software normally runs in conjunction with a word processor and suggests words as text is entered into the computer. As soon as the user types the first letter of a word, a list of words beginning with that letter appear. A typical word prediction package will give a range of options, which can be tailored to suit the individual.
∑ Suggests words so students can concentrate on context rather than spelling.
∑ Remembers words that student uses most frequently.
d. Word Bank Programs allow the teacher to input lists of words the student has particular difficulty with; topic words, lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, sentence starters etc. The pupil can hear any of the words in the word bank by pointing on the word with the mouse and then can easily input the word into a document by clicking on the word with the mouse.
∑ Teacher can chose words that individual students have difficulty with
∑ Students can concentrate on context rather than spelling.
e. Planning and Organising Software helps struggling students to visually organise their ideas and information. This type of software is ideal for students with learning difficulties who often think in pictures rather than words. Planning and organising software can be used for brainstorming, outlining, prewriting, diagramming and concept webbing.
∑ Ideal for students who think in pictures rather than words (visual learners).
∑ Helps students clarify and develop thoughts for writing.
f. Desktop Publishing/Art & Design Applications include a wide range of writing and drawing tools (draw tools, stamps, tiles, music, etc.) that can be used to draw a picture, write a story, create a newsletter, etc.
∑ Individualise for students by adding or removing tools
∑ Professional results help struggling students gain confidence in their work.
g. Multimedia Authoring Systems are authoring tools that allow the user to easily and effectively communicate ideas. Most multimedia authoring systems incorporate text, graphics, sound, animation and video to create multimedia projects and presentations.
∑ Encourages student creativity and allows them to present information in an attractive, exciting manner
∑ Can be used by the teacher to produce learning materials.
h. Presentation Software provides the basic tools needed to create professional-looking, customised presentations. This type of software allows a great deal of flexibility and versatility by giving the user easy control over the information displayed.
∑ Can be used to clarify or demonstrate points
∑ Can design materials to meet needs of individuals
∑ Allows students, even those with poor literacy skills, the opportunity to shine.
4. Exploratory Software puts students in real life settings using a combination of graphics, videos, soundtracks and digitised speech. Simulations require the user to face challenges, make decisions, and solve problems in order to overcome obstacles.
∑ Students can freely explore modelled environment without the constraints of real world.
5. Reference Software is designed to present a wide range of information in a multimedia format (text, audio, graphics, video sequences and animation). This type of software includes encyclopaedias and atlases as well as subject specific information (e.g. volcanoes, anatomy).
∑ Students more likely to retain information that is presented in a variety of media.
6. Study Skills Software assists students in developing the necessary skills needed for efficient study. Topics often covered include note taking, essay writing, exam revision, memory techniques and time management.
∑ Enables students to independently develop their own organisation and study skills strategies
∑ Provides students with direct instruction and practice in developing these necessary skills.
∑ Can be helpful in early identification of learning difficulties including dyslexia
∑ Results can be used to individualise instruction and develop individual education plans
∑ Progress can be monitored on a regular basis.
8. Access Tools/Software are most commonly used by students with physical disabilities or sensory impairments. These tools may be required to complement a range of peripherals, but some of them can also be used on their own. Access tools are neither content-based, nor subject specific. They are used as an additional tool working alongside standard software. Examples of software tools include:
a. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) Programs are usually used in conjunction with a scanner. It reads the text on a page and converts it to digital format to be displayed on your screen.
b. Scan/Read Software allows you to scan pages from any book or document and displays an on-screen version of the printed material which can then be read aloud. The text can then be adapted and altered (e.g. modify size and font, change spacing between words or lines, strip away graphics) to suit the individual needs of students.
c. Screen Readers will read back the text within any other program. This program will usually highlight the text as it is spoken. It can be used to read pages downloaded from the Internet, e-mails, text scanned from a book etc.
d. Screen Magnification Systems increase the size of the text or image displayed on the monitor. Thus, only part of the screen can be seen at any one time. This area will move around as the mouse is moved.
e. Voice Recognition Software can be useful for people who can speak but do not necessarily have good motor control. It allows the student to dictate written assignments, letters, notes or essays onto a computer as well as controlling the computer using his/her voice. There are some drawbacks to using voice recognition; the vocabulary must be developed for the software by the user, multiple users have different speech patterns and therefore the applications aren't versatile and continuous speech requires large system resources (memory and processor speed). Using this technology also requires clear speech and good proof reading and editing skills.
f. Switch Access Software is used by many students with physical disabilities who are unable to use a mouse or keyboard due to limited manual control. In these cases, switches can be used in conjunction with a scanning system. For example, a grid with a number of words can be scanned at various speeds and when the user hits the switch, the word highlighted at that moment, would be transferred into a word processor. Although, this can be a slow procedure, sentences and stories can be gradually built up and read back to the student via a talking word processor. Switches can provide students who are non-verbal with a simple means of communication within the classroom environment.