The Importance of Word Prediction for Students with Dyslexia

Some of the best assistive technologies are those that find their way into our everyday computing lives. Word prediction is a great example. From Google search suggestions to autocorrect, word prediction helps people complete their thoughts and spell words correctly, regardless of whether or not they have learning disabilities.

For students with dyslexia, the prevalence of word prediction is providing a useful accommodation across various platforms. On iOS devices, QuickType word prediction is built into the native Apple keyboard. On Android devices, students can use the word prediction that is part of the Google Keyboard. There are also several third-party keyboards and apps for mobile devices that predict text; and a number of applications and extensions that utilize this beneficial assistive technology are available for desktop computers and Google Chrome.

How Does Word Prediction Work?

Word prediction is technology that anticipates the correct word or phrase that a user wants to write after only a few characters are typed. Usually, there is a box or toolbar with several suggestions, and a click or tap on the desired choice will insert it into the text. More advanced word predictors provide a preview option by reading the choices aloud with text-to-speech technology. For all users, word prediction can speed up the writing process and help with word recall and correct spelling. For people with dyslexia, especially students who are still working to improve their language skills, it can act as a bridge between remediation and accommodation.

Dictation vs. Word Prediction

Dictation technology has become almost as prevalent as word prediction. In addition to robust software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, dictation options can be found on iOS devices, Android devices, the Windows and Mac operating systems, and in a number of Chrome apps and extensions. Unlike word prediction, however, dictation is purely a compensatory tool. Students who have difficulty spelling can just speak their words and have them transcribed on the screen. Word prediction also helps students arrive at correct spellings, but the technology requires them to utilize their knowledge of phonics by identifying sound-symbol relationships and typing at least a few letters of each word before receiving assistance. Because of that, word prediction can actually help students improve their spelling over time.

In general, word prediction technology is appropriate for younger students who are still developing their language skills and for older students who need practice with phonics as part of a remedial program, such as Orton-Gillingham. Word prediction may also be used for taking notes in class when dictating would distract others. By the time that students with dyslexia reach high school, longer assignments will likely require them to use dictation technology in order to complete their writing efficiently. Because writing situations vary, it is important for students with dyslexia to gain experience with both dictation and word prediction.

Two Powerful Word Prediction Options

The best word prediction technology for dyslexic students not only makes predictions based on just a few typed letters, but it can also identify and correct phonetic misspellings. In addition, features like topic-specific prediction and usage examples can be indispensible for students who have difficulty with language. Don Johnston’s Co:Writer and Quillsoft’s WordQ are two examples of full-featured word prediction.

The thing that sets Co:Writer apart from other word prediction options is its unparalleled ability to recognize and correct phonetic misspellings. For dyslexic students who are studying phonics and working to remediate their language skills, this is an extremely important feature. It also gives students the ability to create and activate dictionaries to receive suggestions that are topic-specific. The desktop software will even make the topic dictionaries visible as word banks for students who have difficulty generating ideas while writing. Co:Writer also has text-to-speech feedback to help with proofreading, the ability to adjust the prediction according to vocabulary level, and various visual settings. Currently, Co:Writer is available as standalone desktop software for Mac and Windows, as a Chrome extension, as a standalone iPad app, and as the cloud-based Co:Writer Universal, which allows students to work among a desktop computer, an iPad app, and a Chrome app.

WordQ is a second word prediction option that has multiple features to make writing easier for students with dyslexia. Like Co:Writer, it provides text-to-speech feedback by letting users hear letters, words, and sentences aloud as they are typed. It can also recognize and correct creative, or phonetic, misspellings. Perhaps the most beneficial feature is that it provides usage examples for easily confused words and homonyms. For example, if a student writes “two” in a sentence and wants to check if that is the correct spelling of the number, WordQ will provide a sample sentence for verification. Currently, WordQ is available as standalone software for Windows and Mac computers, as an iPad app, and as a Chrome app.

Accommodations are essential for the success of students with dyslexia. Now that word prediction is readily available, students have greater access to an important tool in their assistive technology reserves.