10 Hacks to Help a Struggling Reader

10 Hacks to Help a Struggling Reader


Our app, Alphabetics, was just featured in Time Magazine. Thanks for the recommendation Jamie Martin!

To read the full article follow this link: http://time.com/10-tech-hacks-to-help-a-struggling-reader/?xid=fbshare


By Belinda Luscombe

Kids who struggle with reading get an early lesson in one of life’s more sucky realities; the earlier a person falls behind, the harder it is to even want to catch up. Their classmates move on to more interesting books, write stories that get noticed and get rewarded for finishing their work fast. Meanwhile the slower readers can barely make sense of the activity sheet in front of them. When a child can’t read, school becomes either a huge, grinding drag or a very efficient confidence-removal machine. Usually both.

Reading is not a natural ability. The vast majority of humans don’t just pick it up; they have to be taught it quite explicitly. Until Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanical movable type, most people had little use for reading, just as now the vast majority of people have no use for weaving. And for some, acquiring this essential skill is an incredibly frustrating experience. Education experts are not of one mind about how much of the population has a diagnosable reading disorder such as dyslexia, but it’s clear that while kids all read at different ages and stages, some otherwise average-intelligence people find reading an unusually hard slog.

Kids are resourceful and, if they find themselves in a jam, they will get out of it, sometimes by working harder, but usually by hiding, or distracting others from their vulnerabilities. That can mean playing the fool, deciding that they just don’t like learning or trying to get their classmates engaged in an activity where they have a chance to shine. Their behavior becomes an issue, they’re sent out of class and they fall further behind. And thus the downward spiral starts. (Studies suggest that 75% of prison inmates are functionally illiterate.)


However, not being able to read isn’t what it used to be. New technologies are revolutionizing education for those who struggle with the written word, whether reading it, writing it or organizing their thoughts in a coherent form–because they are all connected. And surprisingly, these technologies are widely available and often inexpensive. Most people have access to these tools, known as assistive technologies, without even knowing it, on their smartphones.

If you have a child who has just been given a dyslexia diagnosis (this usually doesn’t happen much before second grade, although it can, especially if dyslexia is known to run in the family), or a kid whose reading deficits are throwing him or her for a loop, the following suggestions might help. They won’t replace a program of specific and explicit instruction in reading, whether from a tutor, a school that specializes in remediating reading or teachers who are trained in how to handle a disability like dyslexia, but they may help your kid keep up in other areas as they catch up in reading.

One of the first things you should think about doing is getting your kid a tablet. It sounds counterintuitive— it feels like you should really be getting him or her a bunch more books and taking away all his electronics. But, actually, no. (Although you may want to disable the device’s access to the Internet some of the time.) Teaching a dyslexic to read is struggle enough, so follow any green lights when you can find them. Kids love tablets and they can help them learn: win-win.

The iPad, in particular, is a good digital device, says Jamie Martin, a consultant in assistive technologies who specializes in dyslexia, because it comes with a bunch of reading and writing helpers built in. There’s that little microphone at the bottom of the keyboard between the space bar and the emoji button. With that, your kids can say the words they want to write something instead of typing them. That gives them the chance to express themselves as well in writing as they do in speaking, a constant struggle for many dyslexics and new readers. And as the sentences begin to build up, they get the thrill of creation.

The iPad also has pretty decent word suggestion tech. When you start to type a word, it offers a bunch of choices in a bar just above the keyboard. The kids can practice beginning to spell a word, and write more fluently, without having to ask how every third word is spelled. Those apps are available for android and other devices, but (so far) only the Apple devices have them built in.

If you don’t worship at the altar of Apple, that’s fine, there are many apps for other devices as well. In fact, the number of programs that claim to help teach kids to read can get overwhelming. So here’s a guide on what apps and programs (available on all platforms unless noted) you might start with, according to Martin and other experts. This list is designed with dyslexics in mind, but many of the recommendations would be useful for any struggling reader. Fully-educated adults have found a couple of these really helpful too.




One of the first and highest hurdles all readers have to overcome is learning their phonemes: remembering the sound that a letter or collection of letters represents. For some reason the dyslexic brain takes a lot longer to make that link than the typical brain. For regular readers, strings of letters quickly become like the face of friends whose name they know without thinking about it. For dyslexics, those letter groups are more like a distant relative they met a while back, for whose name they have to fish around a bit. The only solution, alas, is repetition. Lots of repetition. Here’s how to make that a little bit fun.

Endless Alphabet: This app will let your kid play with letters. It’s an animation in which the letters dance around making the sound they make and then dosey-do into words. After the word is formed there’s a cute tableau to illustrate the meaning of the word. “It’s really a nice multi-sensory experience to build up that basic phonemic awareness on letter sounds and putting particular letters together to make those core vocabulary words,” says Martin. As they progress, kids can move up to Endless Reader and Endless Wordplay.

Alphabetics: Smaller kids get to practice their letters in multiple ways with this app. They can speak it, write it, hear it and pick it out of a group of other letters. Feels a little more like a game than Endless Alphabet, so they can be useful at different times.

Hairy Letters: The British Dyslexia association recommends this one; it’s the same idea—animated letters—but with slightly different games. And who doesn’t love a British accent?

Audiobooks: Martin is a big fan of getting kids using audiobooks early. Learning Ally is a good starting point for the world of audiobooks for the dyslexic. Its books are read by an actual human, so they’re more interesting for kids to listen to than the robot voices that come on some devices. Some parents resist audiobooks, figuring their kids need all the practice they can get. But Martin encourages parents to look at the bigger picture. “The worst thing for those kids whose reading level is below their intellectual level is to not give them an opportunity to read,” he says. “Even if it’s reading with their ears.” With audiobooks, books can become a source of joy instead of anguish. And the kids can keep up with the material the class is studying, so they can contribute, while also learning vocabulary they’ll need when their reading skills reach grade level.





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