This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Venus as part of their assessment for Unit 1 of the course. The brief was to evaluate technologies that could help students with specific learning needs to learn more effectively.
What is dysgraphia?
Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder that affects writing; but with the right support students can overcome barriers to learning, develop a growth mindset and realise their true potential. It affects all aspects of the writing process, from word spacing to spelling. The term comes from the Greek – “dys” meaning “impaired” and “graphia” meaning “making letter forms by hand”.
Writing calls for a complex set of motor and information processing skills; as a result, children and adults with dysgraphia may face a number of different challenges. Symptoms include a cramped grip which makes writing uncomfortable. Dysgraphia can make it hard to space out letters and words properly. Another key symptom is poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters.
Dysgraphia also affects the ability to put thoughts on paper and is classed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) as a neurological disorder. Although experts are not sure what causes it, in adults it is usually associated with damage to the parietal lobe of the brain (NINDS, 2021).
Assistive technology and dysgraphia
The good news is that students with dysgraphia can benefit from assistive technologies in many ways. According to Ash, assistive technology can help students participate in class and support their personal growth. “Students with additional needs are able to unleash their potential when equipped with the right device or solution” (Ash, 2020). Assistive technology can help learners by helping students in the learning process itself.
Here are some assistive technologies for students with dysgraphia:
Speech to text software
This software allows the learner to speak into their mobile phone or laptop and turn their spoken words into text. It can be used during lectures and seminars so students don’t have to focus all of their attention simply on writing notes. It can also be used for written assignments, such as essays.
For example, Dragon Home version 15 is an intelligent speech recognition solution that uses Nuance Deep Learning technology, Dragon transcribes words into text three times faster than typing and claims a 99% recognition accuracy rate. Students can dictate homework assignments, send emails and even surf the web by voice.
Recording lectures and making audio notes is great for students with dysgraphia. Claro AudioNote, for example, can be used as a personal scribe or notetaker. Students can listen back to any recording on a dedicated recording device, laptop, tablet or phone. Audio files can be turned into text in Word or into slides in a PowerPoint presentation.
Using learning theories to support students
Assistive technologies should be used as part of a supportive learning approach. Facilitation theory developed by Carl Rogers is about ensuring that educational institutes create the right environment for learning, providing three key elements – realness, acceptance and empathy. Each student should be seen as and approached as an individual (Quinn, 1993).
The challenges facing the student with dysgraphia align with Dweck’s concept of failure preceding and guiding the start of a more creative process, an idea within her notion of incremental theory and growth mindset. (Aubrey & Riley, 2019a: 269).
Dweck recommends that educators try not to assume that those learners who seem slow to understand concepts will never be able to learn competently, or even excel, in the future. Instead, educators should identify what these learners do not understand and which strategies they do not possess. (Aubrey & Riley, 2019b: 270)
This approach, supported by technology, can enable students to move from a fixed mindset (“I can’t write well, I can’t follow the lectures, I always make spelling mistakes”) to a growth mindset. Ongoing feedback for these students on their progress is also important.
Dweck recommends the adoption of “not yet” into an educator’s practice. “The word ‘yet’ is valuable and should be used in every classroom. Whenever students say they can’t do something or are not good at something, the teacher should add ‘yet’. This simple habit conveys the idea that ability and motivation are fluid.” (Dweck, 2010:19)
This approach ensures that students are not stuck in a state of “learning helplessness”. With the right support, students with dysgraphia can thrive.
Aubrey, K. and Riley, A. (2019) Understanding and Using Educational Theories (2nd ed.) London: Sage
Dweck, C. (2010) Even geniuses work hard. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 16-20
Education Technology. (2020). SEND help: the state of assistive technology in UK education. [online] Available at: https://edtechnology.co.uk/features/send-help-the-state-of-assistive-technology-in-uk-education/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2021].
Learning-theories.org. (2011). Instructional Design: Facilitation Theory [Learning Theories]. [online] Available at: https://www.learning-theories.org/doku.php?id=instructional_design:facilitation_theory.
http://www.ninds.nih.gov. (n.d.). Dysgraphia Information Page | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. [online] Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Dysgraphia-Information-Page#:~:text=Dysgraphia%20is%20a%20neurological%20disorder [Accessed 21 Jan. 2021].
Quinn, R.H. (1993). Confronting Carl Rogers. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 33(1),pp.6–23.