Before technology became such an integral part of the school experience, learning vocabulary involved index cards, markers, and images cut from old magazines.
Such techniques may have worked well for many kids, but it created some difficulty for students with learning disabilities (LD). In particular, handwritten flashcards do not allow many LD students to be independent in their study. If they have trouble reading the text, they need to rely on others for help. In this day and age, there are plenty of assistive technology tools that can help LD students study vocabulary independently and effectively.
The most robust technology that can help with study skills is found on the desktop. One example is Read&Write Gold. Available for both Windows and Mac operating systems, it is a multipurpose tool that has several features aimed at improving overall literacy. In terms of vocabulary, it allows students to identify and annotate words they do not know in the context of a reading. The dictionary tool provides several definitions for unknown words, along with integrated text-to-speech support. The picture dictionary goes a step further and presents images for selected words, providing visual reinforcement. Vocabulary words can then be collected and extracted to a separate chart for further study.
Organizing new words in an electronic graphic organizer is a great multisensory technique for learning vocabulary. One of the best programs (also cross-platform) in which students can organize information visually is called Inspiration. Vocabulary words can be inserted into a diagram, or mind map, and images can be attached to the words. Definitions can be inserted into collapsible notes, and the software’s integrated text-to-speech provides auditory reinforcement during independent study.
Finally, there are a number of simple-to-use programs that allow students to take traditional flashcards to new heights. One of the best for Mac users is an OS X program called iFlash. It has integrated text-to-speech and gives students the ability to add images and audio notes to each card. In addition, the electronic cards of iFlash have multiple sides, unlike two-sided, traditional paper flashcards. This feature allows students to add things like example sentences and word origins for more advanced vocabulary study.
Less expensive, and often free, options for accessible vocabulary study can be found on the Internet. Quizlet is a fantastic vocabulary tool, and it offers free accounts that can be set up and accessed through existing Google accounts. Like other electronic flashcards, Quizlet has integrated text-to-speech and the ability to add images to cards. However, once a list of vocabulary words is created, the site offers multiple ways in which students can study those words. Besides studying the traditional flashcards, they can play games, take quizzes, learn correct spelling, and more. In addition, there is a free iOS app that syncs to online accounts for studying on-the-go.
Rewordify.com is a brilliant website that helps students learn new words in the context of readings, which can be copied and pasted to the site or imported from web pages. Rewordify analyzes the text and replaces difficult-to-understand vocabulary with words on a lower reading level. In addition, it will then automatically put those words into electronic flashcards with text-to-speech support, generate electronic quizzes, and give students the option to export the words to a CSV file that can be used with a spreadsheet.
iOS / iPad Apps
Because iOS devices are already such great learning tools for LD students, it follows that there are a handful of useful apps that can aid vocabulary study. Similar to iFlash for the Mac desktop, Flashcards Deluxe gives students the ability to add text-to-speech, images, and multiple sides to each card in a deck. It also allows several options for importing vocabulary lists and card decks from other sources, including Quizlet, Cram, Dropbox, and Google Drive.
Endless Alphabet is a phonemic awareness app for younger children, but it also introduces vocabulary to beginning readers. A variety of characters act out the words in clever, humorous animations, offering a fun and multisensory way for children to learn new words.
Finally, Apple’s own iBooks textbooks for the iPad offer older students an interactive way to study vocabulary. The books collect glossary terms and definitions and present them on integrated study cards, which can be read aloud with the iPad’s integrated text-to-speech. Students also have the option to include their own highlights and notes in the study cards.
A solid vocabulary is a key element of any student’s reading comprehension and written expression. For LD students, there is now an abundance of assistive technology that can help them build their vocabulary independently.