Diving into Digital An expert explains how best to add digital texts to your interventions. Overheard
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Overheard  |   September 2015
Diving into Digital
Author Notes
  • Melissa Malani, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a practicing SLP, professional educational workshop/course developer, University of Central Florida adjunct instructor and AAC consultant for Saltillo Corporation. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; 10, Issues in Higher Education; 11, Administration and Supervision; 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication; and 18, Telepractice. melissa@floridaspeech.com
    Melissa Malani, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a practicing SLP, professional educational workshop/course developer, University of Central Florida adjunct instructor and AAC consultant for Saltillo Corporation. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; 10, Issues in Higher Education; 11, Administration and Supervision; 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication; and 18, Telepractice. melissa@floridaspeech.com×
Article Information
Development / School-Based Settings / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / Overheard
Overheard   |   September 2015
Diving into Digital
The ASHA Leader, September 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.OV.20092015.np
The ASHA Leader, September 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.OV.20092015.np
Moderator: To start, can you tell us the most important benefit of using digital texts over paper-based ones?
Melissa Malani: Yes, I’d love to. First, we have to keep in mind that our students will interact more and more with digital texts over the coming years. Incorporating digital texts earlier allows them to start becoming more familiar and fluent with their use, and it also allows us to customize and differentiate the text(s) to their needs.
Denise Yess: If one is a digital dinosaur such as myself, where would be the best place to start in finding out technological programs that I could use for both expressive and written language?
Malani: Great question! First, remember that technology, software and apps are changing all the time. It’s never going to be an “I’ve learned all I can about what’s out there” type of scenario, so that may help it seem like not such a lofty goal. Some of the best areas to start with are conferences and workshops that allow you to see a few [tech] areas or items that professionals use and like, so that you get a “taste” of the technology and can start to visualize with your own caseload. Second is to ask other professionals, follow different [email lists] or join an ASHA Special Interest Group. Those are very helpful ways to watch the “headlines,” if you will, about what others are using, as well as their reactions. And last, if you feel as if actually looking at the apps is an easier place to start, [online] app stores themselves are great. You can filter the results to the top 25 in a specific area and see what people like, and think about how you could use the app to meet the needs of your students.
Carol Rice: Have you seen any of the digital books that allow the teacher to set the reading level (from a choice of five) for the student and, if so, what do you think of them?
Malani: This is an area that we do see coming up more and more. Yes, there are texts you can customize and some of these options can be great for students—for example, to build intrinsic motivation and self-esteem—but it depends on how they are able to be customized. Some texts will allow the teacher (or user/adult) to completely change the text, whereas others will only allow for adjustments of the reading level (e.g., AR [Accelerated Reader] level, Lexile, etc.). I find that the texts that allow only the readability level to be adjusted (not the complete text) maintain their integrity as a text better than the others. Teachers and clinicians can adjust the complexity to work on various aspects of reading/writing, etc., as a form of scaffolding. But be careful of others that allow for a complete editing option because it can very easily turn into a totally different text than what was intended or originally constructed.
Michaela Torres: I agree with your concerns that students use a “squirreling” approach when reading digital texts. Do you have any suggestions on correcting this behavior if you see it happening?
Malani: Yes, the squirreling! (Squirreling is a way to describe how some, or most, students approach digital texts—like a squirrel looks for food. They dig fast and frantic, and then when they find one, they digest quickly and move on to do the same thing. So rather than reading in a linear, start/end fashion, they look for bits of info and then move around in a haphazard and disorganized fashion. Not reading to learn, but rather more like a search for info to answer questions.) Here is what I do: I start off instruction/intervention with explicit instruction and some Q&A. I will note the differences between the paper and digital versions (if I have a paper version). Then we will have a detailed conversation about how we would approach reading the paper version and how we “think” we would approach the digital version. It’s quite an interesting conversation with younger kids! Then, depending on the answers they give, I will model so they can see what I do right/wrong, and we set up an errorless learning environment for them to practice. We go through this until they know to do this independently, and not automatically “squirrel” around the text or just hit the hyperlinks.
Pamela Wilkes: Would you please comment on the number of schools that are moving toward using digital texts? Is it mostly middle and high schools or are elementary schools moving in that direction as well? Is it only in certain areas of the country?
Malani: Great question! The national timeline is 2017 for all K–12 public schools. Some states, like Florida, are trying to move that date up. Most schools (or even states) that have started earlier adoption started in the secondary grades, but we now see digital texts of all types across all school types and grades. When we look at the anchor standards for the CCSS [Common Core State Standards], use of technology and the Internet for all ELA [English Language Arts] strands is encouraged and even explicitly stated in some. Therefore, elementary schools are starting to use digital texts more because they know what the students will be exposed to and asked to use in secondary grades. Additionally, some state-mandated tests require kids to use computers to take the exams, and so integration of technology and digital texts is very important from a younger age now.
Elementary schools are starting to use digital texts more because they know what the students will be exposed to and asked to use in secondary grades.
While it is a national initiative, some rural areas or areas with lower [socioeconomic status] may find that the adoption is slower or not as widespread across areas/schools/districts. So it will vary depending on where you are, but yes, it is a national movement and, yes, we are seeing it earlier and earlier to prepare our students for success in later grades.
Katie Keck: I feel like most children are taught reading-comprehension strategies using paper books, yet high-stakes testing uses a digital-text format. Do you feel that the disconnect between text types could produce significant differences in children’s performance?
Malani: That is a great point, and one that I often address in workshops. This is what I did my dissertation on, actually. You are right—in most of what we teach students, we use paper texts. Yet, then we use digital texts in the classroom or discipline areas (science, etc.) and expect the transition to be seamless—and we don’t know for sure that those same strategies will transfer to the different text types! The good news: With the group of children I worked with, they did! (These kids were in eighth grade though, so more research is needed with younger kids.) Specific strategies, such as highlighting and making notes, were easily transferred, but so were meta-cognitive questioning skills. I think that until we have more empirical evidence with younger kids on the use of reading-comprehension strategies with digital texts, the best way to success is keeping with the explicit instruction and really making the differences known, as well as showing them how to use those strategies with digital texts.
Marlene Richards: While listening to your presentation, I was thinking how far we have come in the last 50 years, as many digital practices might have been considered “cheating” back then. What are some resources regarding digital-literacy ethics, and what ethical areas are the most problematic for students at the elementary level?
Malani: You bring up a topic I have thought about and pondered extensively for students K–12 and post-secondary! The last time I did a literature search for ethical concerns (aside from some of the more obvious with academic integrity, plagiarism, etc.), I didn’t find anything new. The biggest problem that we are seeing across settings, and also at the elementary level, is that of summarizing and paraphrasing. Kids are very quick to copy and paste—a necessary skill in this digital world—but they are not taught so early that this is not allowed. We know that as clinicians, we need to make sure that we are providing ethical intervention and assessment services, and that the technology we are using (or suggesting for use) is necessary and not just something that’s the “new” or “cool” thing out there. For example, the text-to-speech option: Many students truly need this, whereas others may not and it could be considered cheating in some environments. I think that is a decision that will also come down to the kids you serve and what their needs are. However, this is likely a fertile area for research!
We need to make sure that we are providing ethical intervention and assessment services, and that the technology we are using is necessary.
Ann McCormick: How concerned do we need to be about apps recording or accessing info about us/our students?
Malani: I’d bet most of us have heard stories about apps that were doing that in the background, and to be honest, I think it’s very important for all of us to have that knowledge for app use in and out of therapy environments. Personally, when I use an app, I do research to see how long it’s been out and who developed it, and to look into any complaints that may have been filed/posted publicly. You may also restrict some settings in the privacy option of your device. If you are going to use an external device (such as yours or your student’s) in a school or classroom, you should always get permission first. (There are schools and other settings that have adopted a BYOD, or “bring your own device,” policy). And as a practice of extra precaution, have your managers/superiors review the apps if you think they may have data tracking or audio/visual recording built in that can’t be turned off or declined. Some of these features are innate to the app though, and may be necessary for their use, so consider the app’s functionality as well.
Erin Lynn Carter: With funding being so limited in school, what are your top choices for apps to purchase for articulation and language?
Malani: Before I list a few, please know that I am not tied to any of these apps in any way, nor am I endorsing them. I just happen to find them helpful and also user-friendly for parents and family. For articulation, I really like Articulation Station. It has some add-ons (or in-app purchases), so you can save money if you don’t find you need the entire pro version. Smarty Ears has several apps that target both speech and language. Super Duper has several as well. For reading, if the children are younger, I really like Raz-Kids. And for foundational concepts, my Pre-K and kindergarten (and even some older kiddos!) like Bugs and Buttons and Bugs and Bubbles. They’re not speech or language apps, but you can easily incorporate tons of speech and language into their use. They are very cheap and the kids love them. Easy for parents to use and they hold the kids’ attention!
Jennifer Friedberg: Do you have any recommendations for apps that address critical thinking in school-age children?
Malani: I like puzzles and patterns for younger school-age kids. Puzzingo is one that is well-liked by younger kids. For older elementary kids, I like analogies and riddles, and I also very much love the Inspiration Maps apps—I showcased the graphic organizer app in the webinar—because they all foster thinking and the need to organize thoughts/work and allow creative creation.
Catherine Windom: Do you use an array of digital technology at every therapy session, or use digital technology a few times a week with each group?
Malani: I will vary it, and also it depends on with whom I am working. For example, some of my students are very motivated by technology and apps, but their goal(s) I’m targeting in that particular session may not warrant their inclusion. In that case, we don’t use any technology or apps that day. However, sometimes I will use the digital texts as a way to keep targeting their goals, but they see it as a way to use the iPad—a win-win! However, as much as I love digital texts and technology, our world and their world is not exclusively digital, so I don’t depend on or exclusively use the digital tools.
Cavin Fertil: For those of us who want to replicate what you are doing in our respective areas and practices, how did you evolve into such a tech-savvy therapist? How do you find the time to stay so current on everything that’s hot?
Malani: To be honest, I don’t consider myself to be current on everything. It is a big, big world of technology and digital texts. But here’s what I have found helpful: I follow various AT [assistive technology] and digital “experts” on social media and their [email lists]. Partnership for 21st Century Learning is a good one! I also watch app developers for new apps if they make ones that I like and use regularly. And of course, I regularly check in with other SLPs and clinicians who use various forms of technology to see if they have tried anything new. But it is a constant process and one that I don’t think ever is necessarily mastered. Take it step by step! You’ll be surprised how quickly you start to add to your technological bag of tricks!
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September 2015
Volume 20, Issue 9