Will my child require assistive technology to keep up?
In many traditional content-based settings, students with language-based learning disabilities require assistive technology to be successful (e.g., text-to-speech; speech-to-text). Such technology helps students take in, process, and express the content demands of the classroom by “bypassing” their weaknesses. Although students may well benefit from these techniques once they have left us for other educational settings or careers, "bypass” techniques are not necessary in Landmark’s specialized setting.
Landmark is not a traditional setting. Our approach is skills-based, with multi-grade classrooms comprised of five to eight children with similar goals. In addition to three specific language-based classes daily (Tutorial, Language Arts, Oral Expression/Literature/Study Skills) a student’s content classes (Science, Social Studies) are language-based as well. Students are grouped into these classes according to their reading and language needs, with grade level playing a secondary factor for developmental reasons. In math classes, groupings are done according to common mathematics goals but here, too, the emphasis is on understanding the language load inherent in comprehending and mastering mathematical operations.
Philosophically, we have found bypass methods unnecessary or, at worst, in conflict with our program and structure for several reasons:
Children are accepted to Landmark for remediation of language-based needs, such as dyslexia, with the understanding that they will return to less intensive settings when appropriate. Our mission dictates that we identify literacy skills, study skills, and organizational skills, and make them the primary focus of our teaching. In most cases, the recommended assistive technology’s role is to compensate for these same learning needs and remove them as barriers to accessing content and demonstrating mastery. This is not necessary at Landmark, where one-to-one and small group teaching, specially designed methods and approaches, and skills-based classes address the learning needs, remove the barriers, and provide strategies to use in the future.
Assistive technology may actually work against an essential tenet of Landmark teaching philosophy, the diagnostic-prescriptive approach. Briefly described, this approach means that teachers work from careful observation and recording of errors, using daily diagnosis of learning needs to inform and refine teaching approaches. A technological bypass is frequently intended to correct errors before they reach the teacher; but a product that has been altered by spell-check, predictive writing programs, and speech-to-text renditions does not provide the instructor with individualized data that reflects that student’s understanding. In these cases, formative assessment — the valuable feedback loop where student performance and teacher adaptation influence the instructional process — is actually defeated by the technology bypass.
Pacing and Demand Loads
Assistive technology is often intended to address the mismatch between the language processing and output skills of the student and the demands of a mainstream classroom. In the Landmark classroom, the very purpose of our structure and teaching is to adjust the classroom to the student and eliminate this mismatch. By attempting to address the same issue, assistive technology may be an unnecessary intervention.
For example, the pace at which presentations are given and notes are taken can be remedied by assistive technology interventions in the traditional classroom. At Landmark, however, teaching style, presentation delivery, note-taking strategies, and self-advocacy skills are already aimed at providing students with an environment where they can function successfully and transfer skills to future similar contexts.
As another case in point, the demands to process a certain quantity of text or produce an expected quantity of written output may be unrealistic for the dyslexic student, not due to any cognitive limitation but solely due to language-processing constraints. Assistive technology can allow a student to keep up with the quantity of work. At Landmark, the student is not pressured to read or produce an unrealistic quantity of text. Instead, they are given organizational templates, individualized instruction, and language strategies that teach them to understand their learning style rather than bypass areas of difficulty.