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11/8/2012 10:51:29 AM
Faith Berens--HSLDA
Struggling Learner--Let's Talk Tech Tools: Gadgets and Gear Help Turn Struggles

Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner
HSLDA Homeschooling a Struggling Learner

November 8, 2012

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Where can you learn about the interventions that you can begin at home? We have many listed on our website. On the first page, just scroll down to “The Four Learning Gates.” You will find checklists that will help you determine your child’s learning issues. Also, click on the Struggling Learner Newsletter Archives. The newsletter, “Understanding Reading Difficulties” will give you an easy checklist to help you determine the level of your child’s difficulties, and the interventions that parents have found to be most helpful and cost effective.

Remember that HSLDA graciously provides three special needs learning consultants to talk with you in person, to help you determine what would be the best course for you to take for your struggling learner. You are not alone! We come along side and help you with these decisions. Just contact us at 540–338–5600.

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Let’s Talk Tech Tools: Gadgets and Gear Help Turn Struggles Into Success

By Faith E. Berens
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

Assistive technology tools can help make learning (and demonstrations of learning) easier for students who have learning disabilities. So, what do I mean by "assistive technology" tools?


Faith Berens helps HSLDA members homeschool their students with special needs. Learn more >>

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (Public Law 108-446) assistive technology is defined as: "Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. The term does not include a medical device that is surgically implanted, or the replacement of such device."

I would like to present five technology tools that can open up new possibilities (not to mention lighten your load) and help your children be more independent and successful learners this school year!

1. Dragon Naturally Speaking

Dyslexic students and struggling spellers can get their wonderful thoughts onto paper without first having to learn how to type and spell by utilizing the voice recognition software tool Dragon Naturally Speaking. Users talk into its microphone, and the software types what is said into the computer -- spelled correctly. The software will then read out loud what it typed. If you want to change anything, it's as easy as grabbing the mouse and editing it.

This software can even send and receive email. When a new email arrives, Naturally Speaking can read it aloud. Users can then click on "reply," dictate their response, and click on "send."

Investing in, installing, and learning to use Dragon Naturally Speaking allows students with dysgraphia and dyslexia to work more independently. The premium edition of Naturally Speaking costs only $199, and runs on Windows-based computers. To learn more, or purchase it online, click here. Dragon Naturally Speaking is also availablefor Macintosh computers.

2. The Pulse Smart Pen

For many people who have dyslexia or other learning disabilities, taking notes can be difficult. Incoming freshmen at Stanford University who have dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities, are encouraged to get and use a Pulse Smart Pen.

According to Susan Barton, the founder of Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, this pen is very easy to figure out and use. This pen is practical, affordable -- and a really cool solution to taking notes -- whether you're at home, in a classroom, a lecture hall, a business meeting, an interview, or wherever! To watch short video clips of this amazing new tool, click here.

3. Audio Books and Textbooks

Students with dyslexia can learn content in books, even if they cannot yet read at grade level, by listening to books on audio.

Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) has available over 200,000 textbooks already recorded by human narrators. Parents can sign up for a membership and then download their child's textbooks as audio files.

The audio texts can also be played on a iPad, iPhone or iTouch using their app, called RFB&D Audio, which is available on the Apple iTunes store. To learn more, click here.

Other sources of books on audio:

  • Check with your local librarian. Many classics are available through inter-library loans.
  • You can also download e-books -- the text from books. Then, if you have screen-reading software (such as a Kindle), the computer can read the book to your child. For a list of sources of e-books, click here.
  • Recorded Books rents current best-sellers, classics, and leisure books recorded by professional actors.
  • Books on Tape also rents current best-sellers and classics.

4. Kurzweil 3000: The Reading Machine

This combination scanner and software does more than just read any book, magazine article, or set of notes to you. It is a fantastic study tool. It will read definitions of words to you (or show you synonyms and antonyms), allow you to highlight text in four different colors (just like you highlight a real textbook), put virtual sticky notes on a page, and even extract a study guide.

Many colleges also have Kurzweil 3000 "Reading Machines" available for students with learning disabilities to use at no cost.

To learn more, or to request their free trial version, click here.

A similar product is available from Arkenstone, called WYNN. To learn more, click here.

5. Intel Reader

Intel Reader is a fairly small, handheld device, which runs on rechargeable batteries. It contains a high-resolution camera that allows you to take pictures of handouts, articles, or even textbook pages -- which are instantly converted to text that you can see on its screen, and listen to them being read to you - out loud or through earphones.

You can choose from a wide variety of voices and the speed of reading can be varied, as well.

You can also connect the Intel Reader to your computer's USB port and download audio textbooks in DAISY format from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic -- and any WAV or MP3 files, or ASCII text files.

Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) works with leading publishers to make their books accessible to more than 270,000 individuals with visual disabilities and dyslexia. RFB&D members can use the Intel Reader to access and enjoy its entire collection of 62,000 digitally recorded, DAISY-formatted textbooks and literature titles. RFB&D's digital library - the largest of its kind in the world - provides current editions of state-adopted texts, ensuring that students who struggle with reading can learn from the same versions as their classmates and enjoy educational success. RFB&D recently changed their name to Learning Ally.

It see how easy the Intel Reader is to use, and what it can do, watch this very short video.

For a more in-depth demo, go here.

For a list of vendors, and links to their websites, go here.

Happy tech exploring!


“Homeschooling a Struggling Learner” is a newsletter of the Home School Legal Defense Association. All rights reserved. For more information on Homeschooling a Struggling Learner or the Home School Legal Defense Association please contact us at:

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