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Teaching language to pupils with dyslexia.

Abstract

This paper presents the development process of the educational software E-Teach, still in progress, at the Department of Technology Education and Digital Systems of the University of Piraeus. E-Teach is addressed to primary school pupils who have diagnosed dyslexia for teaching them the language lesson. Current educational policy and regulations in the field of Special Education in Greece are presented aiming at illustrating the limited spectrum of provisions for pupils with special needs and the urgent demand for carefully planned actions by the state. The aims and the structure of the educational software are described. The scheme of the educational software's evaluation and the results of its pilot evaluation are also presented.

Introduction

Dyslexia, which during the last years is called special learning difficulty in writing and in reading, is located in the weakness of students to acquire the necessary linguistic skills related with the process of reading, writing and spelling (Beaton 2004; Thomson 2001; Polychronopoulou 1989, 2000; Mavrommati 1995; Floratou 1998). This functional weakness appears irrespectively of the sufficient intellectual ability and the normal emotional growth of the individual as well as the suitable teaching that might be provided. The dyslexia is also considered as an imperfection to the elaboration process of information (Beaton 2004; Thomson 2001).

Pupils diagnosed with dyslexia appear considerable difficulties in meeting with success the ordinary school tasks and acquiring language mechanisms at an adequate level. These difficulties are focused mainly in the mechanisms of reading, writing and spelling. Dyslectic students might appear to have difficulties in more than one of the above domains as well as in Mathematics (Beaton 2004; Miles & Miles, Polychronopoulou 1989, 2000). Taking into consideration the benefits of using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Education, especially for the teaching needs of special groups of pupils, we strongly believe that ICT and educational software addressed to pupils with special needs can offer a lot to dyslectic pupils. Research shows that in cases when appropriate educational software or ICT special devices were used during the teaching process pupils with language difficulties appeared to have a significant improvement in their school achievement; they also become more sociable and their low self-esteem improved (Raptis & Rapti 2000; www.dyslexic.com).

Pupils with Special Needs: Provisions in Greek Schools

Pupils with special needs consist this category of the school population which has special educational, teaching and pedagogical needs. According to the recent data of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2003), almost one in ten pupils in the Primary School appears to have learning difficulties. According to the Law 1566/1985, in Greece, the support services of Special Education should consist of a multi-scientific team of special personnel, including psychologists, special needs teachers, vocational counsellors, social workers and other experts.

Nowadays, the Greek institutional frame for children with special needs provides the following educational measures. On one hand, there are the integration classes (formerly special classes). Children in special classes might have slight mental difficulties (e.g. intellectual handicap or minimal brain damage) or learning or behavioral problems. These pupils attend the regular classroom's program but at the same time they receive support in the special class by the special needs teacher for a few hours a week.

There also exist the special schools, where attend pupils with more serious disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, hearing or visual impairment. Pupils with such problems usually do not attend the mainstream classes. Since special schools are established in the proximity of mainstream schools, this offers to pupils with special needs the opportunity for social interaction with their non-special needs peers during school-breaks. According to the existing Law 2817/2000, changes in the structure and implementation of Special Education in Greece were necessary; as a result, the "Centers of Diagnosis, Assessment and Support" were established (in Greek 'K.D.A.Y.'). The role of these centers is to offer their services to all children that appear to have special difficulties and their operation has started very recently throughout Greece. Experts in the field of Special Education are engaged in these Centers in order to aid children with special needs to surpass their difficulties; until now, due to lack of public provision and still due to lack of additional support within the school, parents prefer to visit private institutions where they pay huge amounts (Paleologou 2002).

As far as children with learning difficulties are concerned- forming the group where our educational software is addressed- they consist a group for which it is difficult to have an accurate diagnosis; this is due to some extent to the fact that during their attendance at school these children often appear to have difficulties in the learning domain which could not be characterised as learning difficulties/problems at first glance and, most important, without an accurate diagnostic procedure. Later on, these difficulties could be explained by a variety of causal factors such as child's avoidance and fear of school, family problems (divorce, arguments between parents e.tc) or they merely form part of the child's developmental process (Achenbach 1987; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2003); in all these cases, the difficulties that the child has in the learning domain are connected with the socio-emotional difficulties that he/she also faces and, for this reason, they are called pseudo-dyslexia (Thomson 2001; Achenbach 1987; Polychronopoulou 2000). This is affirmed by the fact that when the conditions (familial and social) of the child's life ameliorate or when the child acquires a positive attitude towards the school environment and him/herself then these difficulties disappears.

On the contrary, when the difficulties in the learning domain persist throughout his/her school attendance then the possibilities for being characterised as a dyslectic pupil are high. The situation becomes much more complex in case the student is coming from a foreign country or when he/she is bilingual; in such a case the pupil usually appears to have difficulties in the learning domain because he does not speak the second or foreign language, which is the language of the host country (Paleologou & Evangelou 2003); as a result, teachers' usually and without second thoughts label him/her as dyslectic pupil (Polychronopoulou 2000). Indeed, nowadays there exists such diversity in the school population which prescribes for early detection an accurate diagnosis by specialists for all those children which appear to have difficulties in the learning or emotional domain. Contrary to other European countries, where children are examined at least in their audio-visual system for possible difficulties when they start school- in the frame of a first stage intervention- unfortunately even today this is not the case in Greece. Another important problem in the Greek schools is the lack of appropriately trained teachers in a specific field of Special Education (e.g. visual or kinaesthetic).

To sum up, the implementation of Special Education in Greece has a long way in order to fulfil its mission and to come up to the expectations of parents having children with special difficulties. We very much hope that the Centers of Diagnosis, Assessment and Support will help children with special difficulties to receive all the appropriate services according to the type of their problem. These Centers should co-operate closely with the school community in order to help all those children labelled as dyslectic or with learning difficulties.

Needs for an ICT approach in SE

The introduction of ICT promises revolutionary changes in the field of Education. ICT provides tools that help the school's operation and management; it is an instrument that makes teaching more effective and stimulating; through specific applications such as Distance Education as well as by means of adequate CALL programs ICT promise a new perspective in the way SE is handled in school (Abbott 2001; Cummins 1998; Raptis & Rapti 2000).

Using ICT is a pleasant activity for pupils through which he/she is learning. Using multimedia makes teaching a challenging process, the attendance of pupil is increased and his/her interest maintains lively (Abbott 2001; Raptis & Rapti 2000). Pupils' navigation in the Internet can bring important educational results if it is developed in a suitable pedagogical way. ICT create a fertile learning environment, particularly for the acquisition of reading and writing mechanisms of the first or second language (Cummins 1998). Students can work in mixed teams, children with special needs with those without special needs, immigrants with their indigenous peers; they communicate, they come closer, they develop social relations and they create friendships. By participating the low self-esteem of pupils with special needs increases, they feel they can offer and hence they are worth more. Finally, the collaboration between schools and the opening of school to society are amongst the advantages of the implementation of ICT in Education (Cummins 1998; Raptis & Rapti 2000).

As far as pupils with special educational needs are concerned, ICT have offered a lot to this special category of the school population. Research shows that pupils with sight problems, with hearing problems, with corporal problems, with dyslexia have managed through the aid of computers to surpass many of the barriers they face and achieve things that are considered as miracles (http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~spneeds/; uavw.dyslexic.com/about.php/; Polychronopoulou 2000). The use of CALL programs that take into consideration modern learning theories, the learner's autonomy, the mindful and creative engagement of learners as well as the different learning styles of learners-users can aid students with learning difficulties to make optimum of computer resources to control the pace and direction of their learning.

The development of educational software

In the Department of Technology Education of University of Piraeus, in the frames of teaching courses of Pedagogics and Didactics to students with technological background there is an effort from a team of students towards the design, application and evaluation of educational software addressed to students with diagnosed dyslexia.

As we have already discussed, SE in Greece faces lots of problems in schools. On the other hand, we should not ignore the difficulties ICT face in their implementation too. There are two aspects of the problem where ICT can play a vital role: (a) in teachers' training in IE, (b) in students' with different or special needs education. Both of them can be managed in two ways. The first is to use off-line applications and the second is through Distance Education (DE) with the use of Web pages.

Regardless of the selected methodology for applying CALL programmes in SE (on/off line), the objectives that can be set are common in both cases. These are the following: a. To reinforce SE, b. To develop a new teaching methodology for SE based on the use of ICT, c. To encourage educational professionals to use ICT in the frame of promoting the right of equal chances in education for all students, and d. To provide teachers with new tools for SE and facilitate them in their work.

In general, the role of ICT is very important for children with special needs. For example, children with visual difficulties may be helped by special magnification software. Screen readers can offer access to a wide range of information sources including the Internet. Web browsers can be set to display text in large formats. Children with hearing difficulties by using electronic mail can also communicate (http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~spneeds/; www.dyslexic.com/about.php/; Polychronopoulou 2000).

The aim of the development of this educational software is to aid dyslectic pupils of Primary Education in the language courses. E-Teach has the following aims amongst the others:

* To contribute to the raise of the self-esteem of students with dyslexia through the integration of new models of teaching and learning by means of ICT.

* To promote the communication between pupils with and without special needs and to encourage the collaboration between them.

* To give an empirical and practical dimension in the education of students of our Department associated with pedagogical and teaching issues of ICT in Education.

From a general review on the educational software in the Greek market for teaching purposes addressed to dyslectic students it was ascertained that there is significant lack in complete special educational software packages. For instance, Texthelp is a popular educational software which contains a program of vocabulary addressed to users with dyslexia or other language difficulties in the learning domain (www.dyslectic.com).

The educational software E-Teach in its first version included four thematic units with relevant issues, material and learning goals:

1. Exercises for alphabet--A team, where the student-user is taught the right use of the alphabet so as not to confuse the similar letters.

2. Exercises for alphabet--B team, and in this unit the exercises have the previous aims but there is a ranking in the degree of their difficulty.

3. Exercises of discrimination, classification and orientation in time and setting, where the student learns to distinguish and put in categories the units of time measurement, days of the week and months of the year.

4. Exercises of comprehension, in this case the student reads simple and of small extent texts and then he answers simple questions referring to the content of text. The aim of this unit is the comprehension of the text and the critical composition of answers.

E--teach (version 2) apart from the previous thematic units includes three additional teaching units, which are the following:

5. Exercises of resemblance and difference, where the student is taught to identify words with common characteristics that form a group. As it is known, the dyslectic pupil among other symptoms (e.g. difficulties in his/her orientation) is confused which letters to choose when he writes when these letters resemble.

6. Exercises for personal expression, where the student can express his own opinions and thoughts through pedagogic texts of social reflection.

7. Exercises in Mathematics, this exercise was placed at an experiment stage and aims at a first exploration through simple exercises of the degree of correlation of the difficulties between language lessons and maths which the dyslectic pupil appears to have.

Visual Basic 6.0 was used for the development of E-Teach version 1 and 2. One of the main advantages that this environment offers is the easy and flexible designing of the user interface and sheets. E-Teach is in the form of CD--ROM. A further goal of this effort is the implementation and use of this educational software through the Web in the frame of applying DE (Lionarakis 1998).

Concerning the assessment of E-Teach, the diagnostic evaluation was accomplished in its first publication on a small team of four pupils with diagnosed dyslexia of a public school, by means of interviews with regard to the kind of difficulties they faced in each exercise, their interest for each exercise and their suggestions for the enrichment of E-Teach. Their remarks were taken into consideration for the development of the second version of E-Teach. The formative evaluation of E-Teach in its second version took place on a sample of eight dyslectic pupils, who attended the program for dyslexia at a private diagnostic center in Athens. Also, a team of students of our Department evaluated both versions of E-Teach by providing relevant information for its pedagogic and technological adequacy on an observation sheet.

Concluding, after this discussion until now, we hope that in the frame of teachers' training towards the use of ICT in Education under the aegis of the 3rd and forthcoming 4th Community Support Framework teachers will feel secure to use educational software in the teaching process and design appropriate educational activities on their own in order to achieve an effective mainstream process for all their students (Wood 1993); undoubtedly, an effective educational design should take all these into consideration and give priority in teachers' needs and training on ICT and SE in the next years.

References

Abbott, C. (2001), Special Educational Needs-becoming more inclusive, in: Dilon & Maguire (eds.), "Becoming a Teacher", ed. Open University Press, pp. 192-202.

Achenbach, T. (1987), Child/Adolescent Behavioral and Emotional Problems: Implications of Cross-informant Correlations for Situational Specificity, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 101, no2, pp. 213-232. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2003, USA.

Beaton, A. (2004), Dyslexia, reading and the brain: a sourcebook of psychological and biological research, Hove: Psychology.

Cummins, J. (1998), "From the inner city to the global village: The microcomputer as a catalyst for collaborative learning and cultural interchange", Language, Culture and Curriculum, vol. 1, no2, pp. 1-13.

Floratou, M. (1998), Learning difficulties and not laziness, ed. Odysseus, Athens.

Ioannidis, G. S.& Garyfallidou, D. (2001), Education using ICT and ICT education: categories, methods and trends, In: Auer, M. & Auer, U. (eds.), ICL 2001 workshop: Interactive Computer aided Learning, experiences and visions, Villach, Austria, Kassel University Press, ISBN 3-933146-67-4.

Lionarakis A., (1998), Polymorphic Education: A Pedagogical framework for open and distance learning, The EDEN Conference 1998, vol. 2, University of Bologna, Italy, pp. 499-504.

Mavrommati, D. (1995), The compilation of a program for the treatment of dyslexia, Athens.

Miles, T. R., Miles, E. (1992), Dyslexia and Mathematics, 2nd ed., London: Routledge.

Paleologou, N., Evangelou, O. (2003), Intercultural Pedagogy. Educational, Teaching and Psychological approaches, ed. Atrapos, Athens, p. 133.

Paleologou N. (2002), "Repatriated families with children with sensory problems", The Cyprus Journal of Science and Technology, Frederick Research Centre, vol. 3, no 2, pp.45-66.

Polychronopoulou, St. (1989), The dyslectic adolescent, Athens, O.E.D.B.Children and adolescents with special needs and abilities, Athens.

Polychronopoulou, St. (2000), Children and adolescents with special needs and abilities, Athens.

Raptis, A. & Rapti, A. (2000), ICT in Education. Total approach, Athens.

Thomson, M. (2001), The psychology of dyslexia: a handbook for teachers, London: Whurr.

Wood, J. W. (1993), "Mainstreaming. A practical approach for teachers", 2nd ed., Merrill Publishing. http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~spneeds/ http://www.dyslexic.com/about.php/

Paleologou, Ph.D., post-doc in Education, is a visiting lecturer at the Department of Technology Education and Digital Systems--University of Piraeus
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Author:Paleologou, Nektaria
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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