Top Tech Tools for Kids Who Struggle to Read and Write

Dr. Brian Friedlander discusses the top tech tools for kids who struggle to read and write. From voice dictation to word suggestion and more, this podcast talks about the practical tools that will help kids empower themselves to learn.


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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

Top Tech Tools for Kids Who Struggle to Read and Write

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Vicki: You know when you struggle, sometimes it’s knowing about the right tools.

Today we have Dr. Brian Friedlander @assistivetek with us, and we’re going to be talking to those of you out there who do struggle.

So Brian, when someone is struggling, and you’re trying to use technology… Let’s talk about some of your favorite tools.

So what’s the first one you recommend?

Tool #1: Read and Write for Google Docs

Brian: Usually the students that I work with tend to have difficulty or challenges in reading. I always like to look at various text-to-speech tools. With today’s technology, everything we’re working with is being done in the browser – usually the Chrome browser – and so there are some really great tools. Things like Read and Write for Google Docs.

Whether you have the premium or the free version, you always have the text-to-speech tools, and these are tools that can be used by students when they’re editing their written work in Google Docs, as well as whether they’re reading something on the web.

I find that – even as students progress in their reading skills, typically students with reading challenges tend to read much more lowly. They really need these tools as an efficiency tool, and they’re just so ubiquitous. Whether you’re using something like Read and Write, or Snap and Read, these are some great tools that can be used to access text in Google Docs or on the web.

Vicki: OK, so tell us. What will they get, for example, with Read and Write?

Brian: What they’ll get is a tool that will highlight the sentence in one color and highlight each individual word as it’s reading it, using a high-quality text-to-speech engine. Students can vary the speed at which the engine is reading the text.

I find, too, that these are really efficiency tools. Students may start out at one speed, but over time they’re going to be able to push that speed up so that could accomplish the reading task in the same time frame as their peers. It’s a great efficiency tool for students.

I was actually working today with a student. I was explaining to this high school student that’s involved in lots of other activities, and if he uses these tools, he’ll have more time to be a member of the club, or be on the sports team. Reading just takes him so much longer to do.

Vicki: Yeah, so they can have the web read to them, and they can highlight things. It can read to them. There are so many great things it can do.

Tool #2: Voice Typing

OK, what else are you giving to that student so that they can free up more time for having a life outside of school?

Brian: Probably one of the more powerful technologies that I’ve seen in the last year has been – they call it Voice Typing – but for years we called it speech recognition. Years ago, you’d have to install a dedicated application.

Now within the Chrome browser, whether a Mac or Windows or Chromebook, you can use voice typing that’s built into Google Docs. The students can write using their voice. It’s very accurate.

I tell students about the whole concept of the machine “learning” and artificial intelligence. Because Google has been collecting all these keyword searches for so many years, it’s able to contextualize what we’re saying. So, it’s very accurate, and it’s very empowering.

A lot of kids that I work with – where they have dysgraphia, where they have difficulties getting their ideas down, or their ideas come to them faster than they can write or type – this is just an incredible technology. Really, there’s a very low bar to just get into it, especially if you have a laptop.

Just go to the tools menu in Google Docs. Select Voice Typing, and give your microphone permission to access it. Start talking. This is really exciting! No training is needed.

And actually, Microsoft just released Microsoft Dictation, which is an add-in to Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and Outlook, that does the same thing. Regardless of the platform, you can have tools that allow you to do speech recognition on the fly – which is really exciting!

Tips for Successful Voice Typing

Vicki: So, give us a tip on Voice Typing. You have to say the punctuation, right? What do you tell kids about how you Voice Type successfully?

Brian: I like to start out with students using Voice Typing to answer a homework question, kind of structured. It is a little more challenging when you have to write a research paper with your voice. So, certainly, things like doing a Mind Map or doing an outline if you’re doing a more extensive writing with your voice. That’s going to be important.

But I think that short answer responses, just to get used to it and comfortable with it, is important. The other part, too, is that you can always go back and edit.

For kids that have not been as productive as they can in writing, it’s just a great tool for them to do a “brain dump.” They go back and work with the teacher in terms of structuring it or editing it.

Using this technology, students are able to really show what they are capable of doing, get their ideas down, and give the student and the teacher something to work with, to kind of craft and sculpt their writing.

In the past, they would be very unproductive, and there would be nothing on the page.

I think this is really exciting. And like I said, the bar of entry is very low. Just give it a try. It’s really exciting and it works well.

I think students need to understand that it’s not going to be perfect or 100%, but you get 95%? That’s pretty amazing.

Vicki: Yep. I had a student cry when I showed her how to Voice Type. She said, “Ms. Vicki, usually I can type in an hour, I can usually type 30 words.”

And she got out 300 words by Voice Typing.

Brian: I know!

Vicki: It’s so amazing.

Tool #3 Word Prediction

OK, what else?

Brian: What else… Well, I think it’s exciting for me too. One of the other tools that we use is word prediction.

I’ve always been a big proponent of using something like CoWriter which is now available within Google Docs, as well as Read and Write has that built in as a premium feature.

For some students who can’t (because of the environment) use VoiceType, as a fall-back they can use word prediction to help them. Especially those kids who spell very phonetically. CoWriter is really fantastic for those kids who spell phonetically.

And it also has a feature called Topic Dictionaries, so that if you know you’re writing about a particular topic, you can load that Topic Dictionary. So if you know you’re writing about ecology, it will load all of those technical words so that when you start to spell maybe the word “biome,” you type “b” and “i” and it’s going to complete it with the word “biome” because you’ve loaded that specialized dictionary.

Again, it’s another technology. It’s been around for awhile, but for certain students it works really well in helping them to spell.

Why we show kids tools and empower them to choose

Vicki: So Brian, as we finish up, would you give a 30-second pep talk to those who are either working with those who struggle, or those a person who is just struggling with reading and writing. They want to use technology, but it just makes them feel so dumb!

Brian: That is an issue. Vicki, but I think it’s so empowering when students can do things independently.

I think these tools are really important for building independence and confidence. So I think, as teachers, we need to reinforce for our students that they use these tools, because they’re not going to always be in our charge. Try it.

Teachers need to reinforce, and also problem solve. I mean, these tools are not perfect, but I think that students need to understand that by using these tools they can be more independent and more productive – and also have more time and satisfaction in learning. I think that’s important as well. Many of the students I’ve worked with were frustrated, and this kind of removes the frustration level and allows students to really show what they’re capable of doing.

Vicki: And that’s what it’s about, teachers. It’s about empowering those students who are frustrated. It’s about just giving them a little bit of extra help.

I know, for example, when I taught my student Voice Typing, she cried. It changed her life. You know, that meant so much to me. That’s why I do this.

So, we’ll have links to all of these in our enhanced Shownotes. So check out the blog and the Shownotes.

And Dr. Brian Friedlander has lots of resources, so you’ll want to check the Shownotes, too, to find out about all of the books and all of the things that he has to help us help those kids who struggle.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Dr. Friedlander is a school psychologist with expertise in assistive technology. Dr. Friedlander is an Associate Professor of Education at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J., where he coordinates Graduate Programs in Special Education and teaches graduate courses in assistive technology. He maintains a consulting and private practice in the area of assistive technology working with schools and parents to find innovative solutions to support student learning.

Dr. Friedlander is the co-author of the following assistive technology reference guides which are available from National Professional Resources, Inc. : Chromebooks in the Classroom: Changing the Landscape of Education & Co-Teaching & Technology: Enhancing Communication, Assistive Technology: What Every Educator Needs to Know, Co-Teaching and Technology:Enhancing Communication & Collaboration, iPad™: Enhancing Learning & Communication for Students with Special Needs (Updated), and Autism and the iPad™:Strengthening Communication and Behavior, (Updated). You can find him on his blog at and on Twitter and Instagram at @assistivetek. You can find Dr. Friedlander’s educational technology info-graphics on Twitter to help teachers quickly understand how technology can be used in the classroom to support learning.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.)

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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