Will Finkelstein likes to show off his Kindle.
It has a dictionary, and it has sound, said the Glenforest School eighth-grader as he runs through a demo of the e-reader. And you push this button here and get Text to Speech.
Text to Speech is a particularly useful feature for Will who struggles with dyslexia. Now when he comes across a passage hes not sure about, he can turn on Text to Speech and have it read back to him. He also can get a quick definition of a word.
It helps me to understand better, he said.
Using assistive technology to overcome learning difficulties is not new. But newer gadgets like Kindles, iPads and smartphones are becoming some of the most popular tools.
Its leveling the playing field, said Danielle Cevallos, special education coordinator for the private school based in West Columbia.
Combining the latest in high-tech tools, with long-used low-tech devices, help students at Glenforest manage conditions such as dysgraphia, a difficulty with handwriting, dyscalculia, a difficulty comprehending arithmetic, and the more widely known dyslexia, which affects reading comprehension.
In Kristen Boomhowers afternoon math and science class, one student sits on a yoga ball while another rocks gently in a rocker. Considered low-tech tools, the seating helps channel ADHD students need to constantly move.
And theyre just fun, said Boomhower. Anything that makes my classroom more inviting is getting them in here and learning.
While rocking or bouncing, students also use smartphones or iPads to key in answers to a problem Boomhower outlines on her classrooms smartboard. From her desktop computer, she gets instant feedback on how many answered the problem correctly and how her students are doing overall.
All of these tools and techniques have been added to the schools environment over the years, but the addition of 74 new Kindles and 10 new iPads last fall are the most noticeable additions to the assistive technology program.
The Kindles were provided through a grant from Amazon, after the school approached the online retailer about the possibility of a discount. To the surprise and delight of school officials, the company responded with a $5,000 grant enough to provide all students at Glenforest with their own e-readers.
I wish I had had these when I was in school, said Shayna Simoneaux, who handles community relations for the school.
Many of the classrooms required texts have been moved to Kindles, sparing students from hauling heavy backpacks, Simoneaux said. But the real reason Simoneaux is envious of Kindles as learning tools is because, she also struggled with dyslexia as a student.
Im really glad to work at Glenforest now, she said. (I get) to see students who have struggled like me doing so well.
Not only have the new tools helped students like Will and his classmate Greylon Zander who have been busy reading such classics as I am Legend and The Outsiders on their Kindles, theyve opened up a whole new world for the boys, who admit they once didnt like reading.
I used to have to beat these guys over the head to get them to finish an assignment, said the boys English teacher, Rich McCaskill Now theyre (often) the first ones finished.
In addition to seeing a massive jump in his students reading levels, McCaskill said the technology, whether its a smartphone, tablet or e-reader, has helped restore students confidence and self-esteem.
Just the look of the technology, he said, has helped.
It doesnt stand out as much as some of the more traditional tools once used in assistive technology programs like clunky tape recorders or books on tape.
If youre a kid, you dont want to stand out in school, he said. A lot of these kids have struggled and struggled. It wears them out emotionally. But this, this has just opened up everything for them.
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.