2006 Conference General Sessions



Linda Hecker
Landmark College Institute for Research and Training
1 River Rd South
Putney, VT 05346
Day Phone: 802 387 6735
Fax: 802 387 6762
Email: lhecker@landmark.edu


One of the greatest challenges to academic success for students with learning disabilities, as well as other groups of under-prepared students, is the ability to accurately and efficiently extract and recall information from expository texts such as textbooks and articles. This has been well documented in K-12 schools across the nation, and the problem persists into post-secondary education, with large numbers of students with learning disabilities assigned to remedial and developmental reading courses as they enter college (Achieve, Inc. 2005).  Causes of poor performance on measures of reading comprehension are complex, but they include difficulty with efficient decoding (word recognition) and a lack of instruction in the upper grades in a strategic approach to understanding complex text (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004).  Landmark College, which exclusively serves students with learning disabilities and attention disorders, has focused on both these areas, providing remediation in !
basic decoding skills as well as explicit strategy instruction aimed at increasing comprehension.

One of the most promising avenues for helping students improve their skills in reading comprehension involves the use of Assistive Technology to compensate for deficits in decoding, attention, and memory as well as to scaffold students in becoming more strategic readers. Faculty at Landmark College, working under a federally funded Assistive Technology Demonstration Project, developed several classroom-tested approaches that exploit this potential and which are fully described in the Landmark College Assistive Technology Manual: Guide for Educators (Landmark College, 2003).
Our work built on a small but growing research base that strongly suggests that assistive technology is generally not effective for students with LD unless it is combined with instructional and learning strategies that permit students to take advantage of the power of the technology.  The Active Reading Cycle, the focus of this session, is one example of Landmark College’s portfolio of Assistive Technology supported Learning Strategies (ATLS).

Research Base for Combining Assistive Technology and Learning Strategies
Assistive technology is most effective for students with LD when it is combined with instructional and learning strategies that permit students to take advantage of the power of the technology. This general principle has been demonstrated in research involving assistive technology for reading   For example, studies of the effects of screen reading software by students with LD have found positive effects on fluency but not on comprehension without integrated instruction in comprehension and study strategies (MacArthur et al., 2001). Preliminary studies by Ellen Engstrom at Landmark College and by researchers at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) have similarly explored the benefits of combining instruction in research-proven comprehension strategies such as SQ3R and reciprocal teaching with text-to-speech software and electronic texts with built in scaffolding such as maps, illustrations, dictionaries and prompts to employ those strategies at appropriate times (En!
gstrom, 2004; Pisha & O’Neill, 2003).

The Landmark College Active Reading Cycle
The Landmark College Active Reading Cycle provides students with learning disabilities with a step-by-step strategic process for comprehending text beyond the literal level and storing important information in long term memory.  The process is made more accessible to students with decoding, memory and attention deficits by being supported at all stages by Assistive Technology, including text-to-speech, graphic organizer, and the Reviewing Toolbar (in MS Word). The steps include:
1. Previewing the text looking for titles, headings, subtitles, captions and graphics in order to get the overview or “gist”
2. Using the Read function of text-to-speech to accurately, efficiently decode text and track all lines of text sequentially
3. Using the Study Skills toolbar of text-to-speech programs such as Kurzweil 3000 or WYNN to
a. Highlight main ideas, key supporting details, and new vocabulary
b. Margin note observations  about text structure and paraphrase main ideas
4. Using the Dictionary feature of text-to-speech to define unfamiliar words
Using the Extract feature of text-to-speech to extract
a. Main ideas and details for a study guide
b. Margin and side notes that delineate text organization
c. Vocabulary with definitions
Using graphic organizer software such as Inspiration to create a concept map of key ideas
Converting the graphic organizer to outline form, exporting into a word processing program to create a written summary
Using the Reviewing Toolbar to revise the written summary
Using text-to-speech software to proofread summary for accuracy

This process has been classroom-tested over the last three years at Landmark College and in pilot projects at several high schools with promising preliminary results (Engstrom, 2005). This session will demonstrate each step of the active reading cycle process and illustrate it with examples from student work.

Achieve, Inc. & National Governors Association. (2005). An action agenda for improving America’s schools. 2005 National Educational Summit on High Schools: Achieve Inc. and National Governors Association, Washington, D.C.

AT Act of 1998, Public Law 105-394, 29 USC 2001, 31, 3002, 3.

Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. (2004). Report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York: Reading Next—A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. Alliance for Excellent Education: New York, NY.

Bisagno, J. M., Haven, R. M. (2002).  Customizing technology solutions for college students with learning disabilities.  Perspectives, International Dyslexia Association, 28(2), 21-26.

Bryant, B.K., & Crews, P. S. (1998). The Technology-Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act: Relevance to individuals with learning disabilities and their advocates. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31(1), 4-15.

Elkind, J. (1998). Computer reading machines for poor readers.  Perspectives, International Dyslexia Association, 24, 238-259.

Engstrom, E. U. (2004). Reading, writing, and assistive technology:  An integrated developmental curriculum for college-bound students. [Manuscript submitted for publication.]
Higgins, E. L. (1995).  Assistive technology for postsecondary students with
learning disabilities: From research to practice. Annals of Dyslexia, 45,

MacArthur, C. A., & Cavalier, A.  (in press).  Dictation and speech recognition technology as accommodations in large-scale assessments for students with learning disabilities.  Exceptional Children.
MacArthur, C. A., Ferretti, R. P., Okolo, C. M., & Cavalier, A. R.  (2001). Technology applications for students with literacy problems: A critical review.  Elementary School Journal, 101, 273-301.  
Mastropieri, M.A., & Scruggs, T.E. (1997).  Best practices in promoting reading
comprehension in students with learning disabilities: 1976 to 1996.  
Remedial and Special Education, 18(4), 197-214.

Montali, J., & Lewandowski, L. (1996). BiModal reading: Benefits of a talking computer for average and less skilled reading. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29 (3), 271-279.

Todis, B. (1997). Tools for the task?  Perspectives on assistive technology in educational settings. Journal of Special Education Technology, 13(2), 49-61.
Wise, B.W., Ring, J., & Olson, R.K. (2000). Individual differences in gains from computer-assisted remedial reading with more emphasis on phonological analysis or accurate reading in context. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 77, 197-235.

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