Dys disorders, 10 years after the introduction of technological aids

Ten years have passed since the introduction of technological aids and it is clear that the situation has changed a lot for students with learning disabilities, more specifically dys disorders. In this dossier, we present an inventory of resources, in addition to giving examples of winning practices for teachers, students and parents.

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A joint dossier from Carrefour education and L'École branchée

Introduction

In 2009, École branchée presented an "Introductory Guide to Technological Aids" in his magazine. It was while doing research for this dossier on learning disabilities that I remembered having worked on the subject, more than 10 years ago now.

At that time, the time was right for the presentation and democratization of these digital tools, which were sometimes poorly understood in circles. It was necessary to convince of their relevance and to ensure that the assistants follow the pupil throughout his school career.

Ten years have passed since then and it is clear that the situation has changed a lot for students with learning disabilities. Moreover, this situation no longer rhymes with academic difficulty. In the communities, a number of teams have mobilized and organized to offer support that better meets the needs of students. At the same time, the use of digital tools has spread in schools. These facilitate learning and encourage students to persevere despite the difficulties encountered. Far from becoming crutches for the pupils, they represent on the contrary a source of motivation and an effective compensatory means in the face of their difficulty. And the results are convincing, according to people we spoke to. 

For many remedial teachers, there is quite simply the world before technological aids and the world we have known since their integration into schools. But beware, if technological aids can give students a serious boost, they are not magic. Their use must be combined with targeted and sustained interventions with students. When the winning conditions are in place, young people with learning disabilities can do better.

In this report, we will briefly review what learning disabilities are, more specifically disorders dys. However, we especially want to present an inventory of resources, in addition to giving examples of winning practices for teachers, students and parents.

For the realization of this file, we discussed with:

  • Hélène Forbes, remedial teacher and lecturer in education sciences at the University of Quebec at Rimouski;
  • Eugénie Pettigrew Leydier, orthopedagogue, director of AIDEOR; 
  • Édith Sabourin and Marilou Laplante, remedial teachers and educational advisers at the Académie Lafontaine;
  • Isabelle Gendron, Natalie Ruest and Haniyeh Moghaddam, remedial teachers and educational advisers at the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Services Center.

Contents

1. What are the disorders dys?
2. The evolution of knowledge
2.1 The role of each stakeholder
2.2 Response to intervention (IR)
3. How does the situation of students with disabilities dys has it evolved?
3.1 Compensatory measures 
3.2 The increased use of digital
4. The use of technological aids tools
4.1 Technological aids and their functions
4.2 Debunking the myths
Conclusion

1. What are the disorders dys?

Learning disabilities that are most important when discussing disabilities dys are the following : 

  • dyslexia (specific reading disorder)
  • dysorthography (specific writing disorders)
  • dyscalculia (specific calculation and math disorder)

These often present in conjunction with other disorders, such as disorders of executive functions, dysgraphia (graphomotricity), dysphasia (spoken language), dyspraxia (coordination) or attention deficit disorder. with or without hyperactivity (ADHD).

Source: CADRE21


In general, it is estimated that these learning disabilities affect between 5 to 15 % of the population and this estimate remains unchanged over the years, despite the screening being done earlier and earlier.

Learning disabilities, usually permanent, are characterized by persistent difficulties. Students then have difficulty following the regular school program, despite compensatory measures. When they are spotted early enough and receive appropriate support and follow-up, academic success is always within their reach. This is also part of the advances made in recent years, when many students with learning disabilities are now entering post-secondary studies.

Moreover, the troubles dys are no longer perceived as a medical condition for which the student must absolutely have an official diagnosis before measures are put in place to help him. They are part of a student's special needs and those needs can change over time.

2.The evolution of knowledge

Over the past decade, teaching practices have evolved, helping to better support students with learning disabilities. First, the subject is less taboo. Then, prevention and intervention techniques were refined. Then, more and more resources are available to support students. 

“More and more teachers are sensitive to manifestations related to learning disabilities. It is a subject that we talk about more openly than in the past. There is a real desire to promote educational success for as many people as possible. Educational practices have changed over time. There is more talk of benevolent education and inclusion. This is beneficial for all students and especially for those who have problems, ”says Eugenie Pettigrew Leydier.

This openness means that students identified as having disorders are much less stigmatized in their class. “Whereas before, these students could be more victims of bullying, today, on the contrary, I observe a lot of mutual aid between the students. They want to make sure that their classmates have all the tools they need to learn, ”says Hélène Forbes.

“Certain teaching practices have proven their worth and are recognized as winning conditions for the success of all students. Effective teaching and differentiation, for example. If they apply to everyone, they give a solid helping hand to students with learning disabilities, ”adds Édith Sabourin. 

She also notes that the deployment of technology in schools has also opened up new possibilities for students to develop to their full potential. We will come back to this in another section of this dossier.

2.1 Role of each stakeholder

The teacher)

When it comes to identifying students with learning difficulties, teachers are the ones on the front line who often make the initial observations. They witness certain behaviors. They can be alerted by certain situations. 

If many still feel helpless in front of pupils in difficulty, they should not hesitate to consult the specialists present in their school. And if the support is not immediate, Édith Sabourin notes three practices that can allow the teacher to "go a long way in his class": 

  • set up the differentiation;
  • keep more traces;
  • give more feedback to guide students in their learning.

Also, Hélène Forbes recalls that “we must be careful not to confuse difficulties with troubles. This is why you must always allow yourself time (by intervening in differentiation, for example) before deciding on a student's disorder ”. In a multi-ethnic school environment, for example, it could happen that a pupil's difficulties are simply caused by learning a new language.

Prevention activities or various assessment activities, carried out in collaboration with a remedial teacher, may separate those who experience difficulties (often temporary and which resolve) from learning disabilities, which will persist over time. 

In addition, in order to contribute to the training of teachers and make them recognize certain learning disabilities more easily, CADRE21 has developed a self-study which is available free of charge for teachers in Quebec and French-speaking Canada. Hélène Forbes is the content specialist for this new training.

The remedial teacher

In schools, it is remedial teachers who play the main role in evaluating students when doubts arise. They can then offer more regular support for the targeted students. If no improvement is observed, other actions and measures can be implemented, up to and including rehabilitation. 

Other specialists will also be called upon to continue the assessment of the student's needs (psychologist, special education technician, etc.), as will the parents of course. For example, when a student is suspected of suffering from dyscalculia, the contribution of a mathematics pedagogical advisor is highly relevant.

Source: Institute for Learning Disabilities 

In any case, all the remedial teachers we spoke to were categorical: above all, we must not wait to have an official diagnosis to get into action. Every pupil with difficulties must be helped. “Teachers don't need a formal diagnosis to put measures in place in their classroom to help a student who is struggling. They can also team up with remedial teachers to start interventions and some rehabilitation, ”says Marie-Lou Laplante.

2.2 Response to intervention (IR)

In several settings, the response to intervention (RÀI), an intervention model, resulting from educational research and developed in the United States, is used as a tool for prevention and intervention with students in difficulty. 

As mentioned in the reference framework in orthopedagogy of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Service Center : “Current research in education advocates a three-level intervention model that aims to identify students at risk for literacy, numeracy and behavior early and to scale up intervention with them. The three levels of intervention proposed are complementary to a differentiated learning approach (educational differentiation). This approach responds to a school organization that promotes the optimal development of all students ”.

At the first level, we aim effective intervention for all students. At the second level, we intervenes in a way intensive and targeted with subgroups of students who are having difficulty. It is at the third level that specialized and individual interventions are carried out with students whose difficulties persist. The model is well illustrated in this figure presented on the website of a TELUQ University course.

Source: TELUQ University

“In this model, […] the establishment of a special education service must be based on the analysis of the needs of all students. Consequently, the duration of the sessions, the frequency, the number of students followed and the type of intervention may vary from one cycle to another or from one class to another. At any time, the distribution of services can be modified following a periodic collection of new data or an analysis of the progress of the targeted students ”, we also read in the article. CSS Marguerite-Bourgeoys reference framework in orthopedagogy.

However, for the effects of interventions to be effective, the research review makes it possible to propose:

  • At level 2: 
    • sub-groups of 2 to 5 students, in or out of class, with similar needs;  
    • sessions of 20 to 45 minutes depending on the age of the students.
  • At level 3:
    • subgroups of 1 to 3 students with similar needs;  
    • 20 to 60 minute sessions depending on the age of the students.

In all cases, a frequency of 3 to 5 times per week depending on the needs of the students and a duration varying between 8 and 15 weeks depending on the degree of severity of the difficulties encountered are recommended. Specific targets should be identified and frequent monitoring should be done.

Here is an overview of the roles of each at each level:

Source: Reference framework in orthopedagogy of CSS Marguerite-Bourgeoys

For her part, Edith Sabourin has developed a tool in order to guide the teachers in the progression of the levels and the possible interventions to help the pupils. 

In addition to the subject of the RÀI model:

3. How has the situation of students with dys disorders changed? 

The watchword in schools is now the following: put in place the necessary measures to allow students to succeed, regardless of whether they have an intervention plan or not, whether they have received an official diagnosis or not. This means more prevention, more support, more follow-up. 

All the strategies put in place make it possible to identify pupils in difficulty more quickly. Close monitoring helps to avoid major difficulties and to identify young people with learning disabilities. Personalized support and rehabilitation contribute to their success. 

It is no longer rare for young people with learning disabilities to make it to CEGEP, and even to university. “With support and a good dose of organization, they can do it easily now,” says Natalie Ruest. 

The transition with post-secondary institutions is not always smooth, but there have been improvements and awareness continues. “While at the outset, we had to ensure that technological assistance tools follow the child from elementary to secondary, we are now working with other levels of education (vocational training, adult training, CEGEP) to raise their awareness. and allow young people to continue using their tools. They had no other choice but to adapt to the context. Students who wear glasses, we do not take them off! », Summarizes Isabelle Gendron.

Some remedial teachers we spoke to are now building bridges with post-secondary institutions in their area to ensure the best possible transition for their students. “Collaboration is growing, but there is not yet a remedial teacher in all areas,” says Edith Sabourin. 

In addition, if the diagnosis is not necessary in elementary and secondary schools (as well as in vocational training and general adult education) to allow students to use help functions, it is. still in CEGEP and university. In this regard, parents are more and more involved in follow-ups, which allows for better coordination. Nevertheless, this shakes up a little the way of doing things of post-secondary establishments, accustomed to doing business with "adults" and which, traditionally, communicate little (or even not at all) with the parents.

3.1 Compensatory measures

Despite the lack of professional resources in some schools, teachers still have the opportunity to take action to help their students as soon as they perceive particular difficulties. 

Among the simple practices to put in place (and which could even benefit all the students):

  • Take into account students' difficulties in forming work teams; 
  • Assign a preferential place to a student in the classroom (in front, near the reading corner, near a window, etc.);
  • Divide the work to be done into smaller tasks;
  • Keep multiple traces in order to follow the progress of the students (or the lack of progress); 
  • Assess with different modalities;
  • Allow students to demonstrate their understanding and deliver productions in different forms (written, oral, etc.);
  • Allow students to write text on the computer rather than just paper / pencil.

On this subject, you can (re) read our dossier on educational differentiation

On the other hand, when the difficulties persist, genuine compensatory measures will have to be put in place. Still, the remedial teachers insist, it is necessary to make sure to identify the needs of the child. You really have to go on a case-by-case basis, even if certain measures tend to be generalized.

And contrary to what one might think, these measurements are not always digital. For example: allow the text to be read the first time before an exam, obtain a more airy or larger paper copy, with larger fonts, print the texts on paper of different colors, etc. We also often hear about a third of extra time to complete an exam. However, this last measure remains difficult to implement in secondary school because of the more supervised schedules. 

For students with an electronic device, speech synthesis, word predictor and corrector help functions are also widely used. We present them below.

Either way, the measurements should be justified, try them out, see the results, and decide whether they are appropriate for the student or not. When they work well and give results, they can be officially recorded in the intervention plan of the students who have one.

3.2 The increased use of digital 

The deployment of computer devices in classrooms has helped to generalize the use of digital technology among students. While in 2009, students with learning disabilities were often the only ones in a classroom who could use a computer, it is no longer uncommon for entire classes to have a device for each student. In this context, the student with learning disabilities is “less visible” in the classroom; stigma decreases.

“There's no question that technology helps students,” says Edith Sabourin. And yes, it does make a difference in general, but technological aids make it possible to go further with students with learning disabilities. The verdict is unanimous.

A simple example: a student who has difficulty holding their pencil and / or writing will have a better chance of being able to express themselves using the computer keyboard.

"We must stop waiting for a diagnosis to use technological aids in class with students who have dyslexia or dysorthography," argues Natalie Ruest. “Using these tools has really changed the game. For me, this is a turning point in education, ”adds Isabelle Gendron.

The only downside is that many digital educational resources are still incompatible or unusable with existing technological aids. “Despite the omnipresence of digital technology, the supply of teaching materials is still very often offered exclusively in paper format. […] The digitization of documents is a significant time constraint, ”we read on the website of the RÉCIT national service in special education. In addition, a scanned document will not necessarily be compatible with the text-to-speech function, for example. 

The RÉCIT national service in special education also documents extensively what should be accessible digital resources. These infographics present the key elements to consider when designing accessible digital documents for students with special needs. 

4. The use of technological assistance tools

Since 2009, measure 30810 of the budgetary rules of the Quebec Ministry of Education is intended to help school service centers to buy equipment and materials for students in difficulty, as well as to offer them technological aids to meet the needs in learning for handicapped students or students with social maladjustments or learning (EHDAA). 

In 2020-2021, the budget for this measure was 6.6 million $. Each school must apply for technological assistance on behalf of the student. The tools granted remain the property of the school service center and are lent to the student for the duration of his studies, as long as he remains in the public system.

Furthermore, measure 30110 provides financial assistance to private schools for the purchase of technological aids. The administration makes the request to the government on behalf of the child, according to the needs established in the intervention plan. A maximum amount of 2,500 $ per student is granted.

Moreover, as already mentioned, no need to wait for an official diagnosis or even an intervention plan for a student to benefit from certain technological aids. 

Obviously, technological aids should especially not be seen as miracle solutions and we must always go back to the basis of the educational intention behind their use. What need should they meet?

"We must allow time for appropriation, continue to support the student, reassess," says Isabelle Gendron. The use of technological aids also requires very close work between remedial teachers and teachers to maximize the use of the tool, promote student progress and ensure follow-up from one school year to the next. In addition, they should be used on a daily basis.

“Parents must also be involved in the process, but they must always be reminded that they do not have to master their child's technological aid. He should be able to use it properly, alone. It is up to the remedial teacher to show him how to use it, ”points out Isabelle Gendron.

4.1 Technological aids

What is technological aid?

Technological assistance consists of technological assistance used by disabled students or students with adaptation or learning difficulties with a view to facilitating or carrying out a task that they cannot, or with difficulty, accomplish without the support of this assistance. .

There are different types of technological aids, including writing aids. These fall into four categories:

  • Writing assistance (for planning, organizing and writing a text);
  • Revision-correction assistance (for objectifying, revising and correcting a text);
  • Reading aid in the context of writing (for reading and proofreading);
  • Information processing aids (for note taking, annotation, collection and organization of information).

Technological aids can be used by all categories of students, but they will not have the same scope. For gifted or efficient students, technological aid may be "interesting", for average students, it will be "useful", while for another category of students (handicapped, in difficulty, or in difficulty). learning), it will prove to be “essential”.

For it to be useful, a technology must offer added value. Just because a technology performs well does not mean that it is adequate and relevant to a student's needs. Hence the importance of choosing according to the specific needs of the student.

In the learning context, all technological aids are permitted. Moreover, contrary to what some may think, the help functions can be used by all students, with or without an intervention plan, with or without academic difficulty. It should not be forgotten that some help functions are now in common use in the labor market and in society, such as text revision and correction tools).

In the context of evaluation, and more particularly ministerial evaluation, the school administration is authorized to implement certain measures for students with special needs. In these cases, an analysis report of the student's situation must be attached to his file. The link between the measures chosen and the student's particular need must also be established in an intervention plan. Measurements should also be used regularly by students during learning and assessment.

So the Management guide for the certification of studies and ministerial examinations: general training for young people, general training for adults and vocational training provides that:

  • the use of a reading aid (e.g. speech synthesizer) and writing aid (e.g. grammatical and lexical corrector, word predictor) is allowed for the administration of ministerial tests (including reading tests in the language of instruction and in the second language);
  • any voice recognition function must be deactivated for the entire duration of the examinations in the event that writing skills are assessed;
  • translation software cannot be used in the context of a second language test;
  • the use of a computer is permitted subject to certain conditions, such as limiting Internet access to only those events for which this access is provided and the absence of communication between workstations on a network; 
  • the use of various writing devices;
  • the use of a tape recorder allowing the pupil, who is unable to write, to give his answers verbally.

Help functions

A distinction is made between “types of technological aids” and “assistance functions”. The main support functions used in schools are as follows: 

Text-to-speech

It converts digital text into a synthesized voice. It facilitates the proofreading of a text. The student focuses on understanding the text and its structure. Warning: the software reads what is written as is (example: gift = cado).

The spell checker

This tool allows you to analyze a text in order to detect and correct spelling errors. The corrector compares words in the text with words in a dictionary. The pupil must learn to pass judgment on the proposals made to him by the software. For students with severe dysorthography, it is suggested to use a phoneme / grapheme lexical corrector. Interesting fact: the Google search engine works on this principle.

Word prediction

Word predictor software offers a choice of words that becomes more precise with each new letter typed on the keyboard. The proposed words generally take into account the lexical structure of the text and grammar rules. The student must choose from among the proposed words. He is exposed to good spelling rather than trying to write words by guessing.

The originator, or organizer of ideas

It is a writing aid software that supports the student in his production and organization process by allowing him to write down ideas, easily move them to reorganize them and link them together in the form of diagram.

The RÉCIT national special education service is the reference for help functions and the choice of tools. This section of their website is the most complete reference in the field. The section on lhelp functions and differentiated pedagogy is also essential. 

This site of the Samares School Services Center is also a mine of information concerning technological assistance tools.

4.2 Debunking the myths

Here, it seems necessary to take a brief look back, in 2009, as mentioned in the introduction to this dossier. At that time, Jean Chouinard, of the RÉCIT national special education service, had identified three myths to be dispelled in order to allow technological aids to take a significant role in teaching practice. We consider it appropriate to recall them here. 

They are taken as is from École branchée 2009-2010 Annual Guide.

Myth 1: Technological aid is a crutch.

Technological assistance makes it possible to alleviate certain disabilities. A person in a wheelchair needs a ramp to get around the stairs, a person with a learning disability needs a means to help him get around obstacles in reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, memory or organization.

Myth 2: Assistive technology does the work for the student.

Technological assistance is one way to meet the challenges of learning. It does not eliminate the difficulties. The student must learn to use it in a pedagogical way. He must learn to make a critical judgment on the proposals made by the aid tool, which is also not infallible. The tool therefore assists the pupil and enables him to become aware of his mistakes and to learn from them.

Myth 3: Assistive technology does not allow the student to learn.

Technological assistance allows students to develop their skills by promoting their autonomy and involvement. It gives him an active role in his learning and, even more, allows him to progress in his educational path. Since he is less often exposed to error, the right notions are recorded in his memory, thus allowing him to go further in his learning.

Conclusion

Several advances have been made over the past decade to support students with learning disabilities towards academic success. The deployment of remedial teachers in secondary schools, awareness of the use of technological aids and the adoption of more inclusive teaching practices are just a few examples. 

Beyond all of this, there is a strong consensus that all students can be successful. “We have a benevolent gaze on children. They have the potential to be successful, ”summarizes Eugénie Pettigrew Leydie.

“Children are like popcorn kernels. They do not all explode at the same time, but they all have the potential to do so and to reach their full maturity ”, image Hélène Forbes.

The prevention component is more present than ever in schools. “The continuous training of school interveners remains a guarantee of success. We are progressing positively, we are pulling everyone up. It is a wealth ”, maintains Haniyeh Moghaddam.

What can we do to go even further? These four suggestions emerged from discussions with the resource teachers consulted for the drafting of this dossier: 

  • Take the remedial teachers out of their desks and bring them to class;
  • Continue to equip teachers with regard to inclusive pedagogical practices;
  • Gather all the necessary expertise around each child (it is not for the teacher to do everything in his class);
  • Foster the sharing of expertise through learning communities.

In addition : 

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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