Date Published: July 24, 2017
Author(s): Cina P. Mosito, Albert M. Warnick, Emmanuel E. Esambe.
Developments in the teaching of children with disabilities support pedagogy that emphasises learners’ strengths as opposed to their assumed deficiencies. Educators and mediators who advocate this view continually strive for tools and methodologies that enhance learner participation in academic environments. Computer technology is one of the tools recognised for its potential to enrich learning experiences of learners with an intellectual impairment.
We sought to assess the influence of text-to-speech stories on the reading ability of intellectually challenged learners.
A qualitative action research study that involves learners at a special school in Cape Town, South Africa. Pre- and post-test data of the reading performance of learners are analysed with a focus on how they demonstrate change.
Although no claims can be made about the explicit influence on reading performance, computer-assisted learning has the potential in isolating reading processes that classroom-based interventions can address. In addition, computers enhance motivation and enthusiasm to learn.
A need for education based on inclusion and positive differentiation remains the key driver in any educational interventions.
A diagnosis of intellectual disability (ID) invites several questions on the extent to which one can learn and the speed at which learning can take place (Baroff & Olley 2012:1). ID has been noted to entail impairments that significantly affect (1) conceptual (language, reading, writing, mathematics, reasoning, knowledge and memory) (Alfassi, Weiss & Lifshitz 2009; Edyburn 2004), (2) social (empathy, social judgment, interpersonal communication skills, the ability to make and retain friendships, and similar capacities) and (3) practical (self-management in areas such as personal care, job responsibilities, money management, recreation, and organising school and work tasks) domains (American Psychiatric Association 2013a; Salvador-Carulla et al. 2011). The abilities affected by the ID suggest that knowledge and skills acquisition for learners with disability are often characterised by a higher level of challenges when compared to learners without the condition (Lesgold & Welch-Ross 2012). Given the wide-ranging challenges of this group of learners, the following question is worth pursuing:
What kind of change in reading abilities do learners with intellectual disability undergo when taught through text-to-speech books?
Literacy is an integral part of the curriculum. It is needless to say that success in other areas of learning is strongly linked to the extent to which learners can carry out the literacy acts of reading and writing (Erickson et al. 2009). In the case of learners with ID, literateness is regarded as a strong influence of how they are perceived because being literate enhances their face-to-face interaction with others (UNESCO 2006). In addition, increased levels of literacy among the intellectually disabled bring with them increased perceptions of competence from those without impairments.
This paper reports on part of a larger qualitative action research that was conducted in 2013. The broader study sought to assess the impact of text-to-speech technology on the reading ability of intellectually impaired learners. We opted for a qualitative approach because our interest is in exploring how individual intellectually disabled learners responded to the technology, thus assessing the strengths of such technology as a mediating artefact.
The findings presented in this section are from reading performances of learners during pre- and post-tests and highlights from interviews conducted with educators of these learners.
The gains made by learners might appear insignificant if we were concerned with a learner population without ID. For this group of learners gains like increased enthusiasm and motivation, observable increase in number of words read and sophistication in comprehension such as insertions of their own meaningful words in retelling the story could all attest to the joined mediational impact of educators and listening to and seeing story words on the computer. As reading ability consists of several processes ranging from word recognition, comprehension and fluency, we examine more specifically the nature of processes that emerged following the intervention.
The study set out to assess the influence of computer technology on reading abilities of learners with intellectual impairment. Two crucial implications can be drawn from the foregoing discussion: Despite initial intents, no claims of this influence can be made given the duration of the intervention and the non-exclusion of other influences within the study context which could have influenced the reading behaviours noted in the foregoing section. All the same, important learnings have unfolded from the study.