Nowadays, reading has become virtually an indispensable skill. However, children with learning disabilities often find it difficult to learn to read well. Therefore, it is paramount to take steps aimed at teaching them to read better. The current paper proposes a study for investigating the effectiveness of utilization of technology to improve sight words identification among young children with a learning disability. A brief review of literature is conducted; key definitions are provided, the benefits of using technologies for teaching children with learning disabilities reading sight words are identified, the significance of the problem is elaborated, and research questions for the proposed study are supplied. After that, the methods for the proposed study are discussed.
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Sight words can be defined as words that are used commonly and frequently, and that a person with strong reading skills can recognize automatically, without the need to decode the separate letters (Coleman, Cherry, Moore, Park, & Cihak, 2015, p. 196). Of particular interest in this case are the words that do not follow the usual pattern of spelling and cannot be decoded using the basic knowledge of phonics (for instance, “you,” “why,” “make,” etc.).
A learning disability can be defined as a characteristic of being unable to learn in a “normal,” conventional way (Holmes & O’Loughlin, 2012, p. 2). Individuals with a learning disability usually can still learn using some alternative ways; they often require additional attention from educators, who need to provide them with an opportunity to learn in these ways (Coyne, Pisha, Dalton, Zeph, & Smith, 2012).
In this paper, the word “technology” will be used to refer to computers and other hardware (such as phones, iPads, etc.) that can use software to store, manipulate, and display information, in particular, run programs that can provide learning opportunities to children (Carnahan, Williamson, Hollingshead, & Israel, 2012; Coleman, Hurley, & Cihak, 2012; Knight, McKissick, & Saunders, 2013). The word “technology” will also be used to denote such software.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
UDL can be defined as an educational framework that is based on research in the areas such as cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and learning studies (Coyne et al., 2012). UDL utilizes the understanding of the manner in which brain works and processes data to create learning materials, activities, and curricula that would allow for meeting the needs of individual learners (Coyne et al., 2012, p. 163). In particular, UDL serves as a framework for creating learning environments that meet the following criteria: (1) they supply multiple ways to obtain knowledge and information; (2) they provide multiple approaches to strategic tasks; (3) they have multiple manners in which one can become engaged in the process of learning, and stay engaged throughout this process (Coyne et al., 2012, p. 163). An important feature of UDL is scaffolding – putting the learner in a social context in which the teacher provides them with assistance, permitting them to solve a problem or achieve a goal that they would not be able to solve or achieve on their own (Coyne et al., 2012, pp. 163-164).
Benefits of Using Technology for Students With a Learning Disability
According to the literature, using technology for teaching students with disabilities while employing the educational framework of UDL might be highly effective (Coyne et al., 2012, p. 163). This is probably because technology provides numerous ways to diversify the learning experiences of students, which allows for creating learning environments that can be characterized as ones that meet the criteria (1) – (3) mentioned above, in the section providing the definition of ULD (Coyne et al., 2012). For instance, technologies may permit children to watch movies, play games, listen to music, etc. (Fälth, Gustafson, Tjus, Heimann, & Svensson, 2013; Ploog, Scharf, Nelson, & Brooks, 2013), which allows the learning environment/activities to meet the criteria (1) and (2); the criterion (3) is also satisfied if these activities remain interesting to the child. Also, technologies can also allow for scaffolding; e.g., some learning computer games may provide learners with hints, helping them do tasks that they would not be able to do on their own. In addition, because technologies offer alternative ways of learning information, they might be extremely useful for children with learning disabilities, who, according to the definition, can effectually study only using some non-conventional ways of learning.
Significance of the Problem
Improving sight words identification in young children with learning disabilities is highly significant due to numerous reasons. For instance, it is paramount for any child to learn reading skills in a young age, because these skills are crucial for virtually any further education; without sufficient reading skills, the child will not be able to study, and their chances of achieving success in life may drop considerably (Cullen, Keesey, Alber-Morgan, & Wheaton, 2013). For children with learning disabilities, the skill of reading is especially important, because they need to be able to compensate for their learning disabilities and practice some non-conventional methods of learning, which may require additional effort (Cullen et al., 2013). Also, these children often have serious difficulties while learning to read, so it is pivotal to find ways to mitigate this problem (Cullen et al., 2013, p. 87). Simultaneously, sight words identification is an important element of the skill of reading, for such words account for more than half of the words that learners are usually required to read, and this skill is necessary for effective reading (Cullen et al., 2013, p. 88). Thus, sight words identification should be learned by children, especially by ones with learning disabilities, to a sufficient degree.
In addition, it is significant to attempt to utilize technology to help young children with learning disabilities to improve their sight words identification skills because technology should be rather effective in this respect, for it may provide these children with a considerable number of alternative learning environments, which they require because of their learning disabilities, as has been mentioned above (Coyne et al., 2012; Holmes & O’Loughlin, 2012, p. 2). Simultaneously, studying the implementation of technologies for improving sight words identification in such children might potentially provide insights into effectiveness of some of these technologies, therefore allowing for creating more effectual learning technologies in the future. It should also be stressed that technologies can be used in numerous ways to teach such children; for instance, games may be offered; texts may be read aloud; interactive exercises may be provided; and so on (Musti-Rao, Lo, & Plati, 2015; Northrop & Killeen, 2013; Yakubova & Taber-Doughty, 2013).
Does the use of the “Sight Words” application for iPad (Camila, 2015; Edoki Academy, n.d.) allow for improving sight words identification in young children (aged 0-6 years) with a learning disability? Is this application more effective in teaching sight words than more traditional methods for teaching sight words, such as the method of constant time delay?
The three participants for the current study will be selected from three different groups of kindergarten students. Also, 2 participants from other groups will be selected for the control group. All the participants (aged 5-6) will consistently demonstrate lack of ability in reading.
The interventions will be conducted by the teachers of the groups during various activities these groups will do. All the children will be given the iPads and asked to play the game for some time. The participants of the study, unlike other children, will be assessed.
For the current study, such a piece of technology as an application (“app”) for iPad entitled “Sight Words” will be used (Camila, 2015; Edoki Academy, n.d.). The app is comprised of several games that a child can play; for instance, a small kangaroo invites the child to play hide-and-seek or some other mini-games (Camila, 2015). The games let children learn sight words during play; there is a total of 320 words in the games, which are spread over five levels ranging from pre-school to K-3, and the interface for parents or educators permitting them to prioritize words and monitor the progress of the child (Camila, 2015).
Dependent and Independent Variables
The independent variable in this study will be the use of the app “Sight Words” for children to learn new sight words. The dependent variable will be the number of sight words that the students will be able to correctly identify during a number of assessments. The sight words will be displayed to children separately, without the application, by the educator, and the rate of correct responses will be recorded.
During the baseline, each of the participants will complete the assessment procedure. The procedure will be as follows: the participants will be displayed sight words on a screen (one word at a time), and will be asked to read these words aloud. The rate of correct responses will be recorded. The instructor will show the word until the child reads it (correctly or not), but no longer than for five seconds for each word. The words will be taken from the vocabulary that is taught in the “Sight Words” app, from the subset of it which will be then prioritized by the teacher in the application.
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The intervention will be comprised of the participants playing the “Sight Words” application. (The interventions will be provided separately for children; the children will not interact while the experiment will be in progress.) The application will be prepared before the intervention; namely, the teacher will prioritize some words, those ones the knowledge of which will be assessed during the assessment procedure. The children will play the application for 15 minutes, and then some other activity not related to sight words learning will be proposed to them to distract them from the app and to finish the intervention. After another 30 minutes, the children will undergo the assessment procedure (as described in the previous subsection).
At the maintenance phase, the children will have several (e.g., three) playing sessions of 15 minutes, analogous to those described in the previous section, during three consecutive days. Similarly, the assessment procedure (the one described above) will be carried out 30 minutes after the child has finished playing the application.
Management of experimental control
An experimental control procedure will also be implemented so as to check whether the use of the “Sight Words” application was capable of improving the sight words identification better than methods that do not use technologies. For this purpose, a sample of children will be selected and taught the same set of words as the one that was prioritized in the application. The method of constant time delay will be used (Coleman et al., 2012, p. 281; Hua, Woods-Groves, Kaldenberg, & Scheidecker, 2013); for this purpose, paper cards will be utilized.
At the intervention day, the teacher will ask the learner to identify the word on the card; if the student provides an incorrect response, the teacher will immediately read the word correctly. At the intervention and maintenance phases, the teacher will always read the word correctly as well, but only after a 5-second delay after the student was asked to identify the word, and only if the learner did not provide a correct answer during those 5 seconds. If the learner provides a correct answer, the teacher responds with praise. Clearly, the words taught to children in this manner will be taken from the set of words that children in the experimental group were taught using the iPad application. Also, the children from the control group will not interact with one another and with the participants of the experimental group during the experiment.
Each day, three such sessions will be conducted, each of them 5 minutes long, so that the method of constant time delay will have been used for 15 minutes every day, similarly to the length of interventions with the “Sight Words” application. Also, the teaching will occur in the participants’ groups; between the sessions, other students will be taught similarly, to avoid suspicion on part of the children. At the baseline, and after 30 minutes after the last session during the intervention and the maintenance, an assessment of the children from this control group will be carried out, similar to those used in the experimental group.
The research design for the current study will be the multiple baseline design (Gast & Ledford, 2014, p. 252). In other words, the study will assess whether the intervention is effectual in creating the same change of behavior across several participants who show the same behavioral patterns in the same setting (Gast & Ledford, 2014).
The data will be collected using the assessment procedure that was described above, in the “Baseline” subsection. In addition, the rate of correct responses will be recorded by three independent observers, so as to ensure that the data was collected correctly. It will be unnecessary to carry out procedures for finding the interobserver agreement, because the measurement results will simply be the rate of correct responses of children.
The data will be analyzed via comparing the percentage of correct answers of children during the baseline, intervention, and maintenance phases. The comparison will be carried out using graphs. On the whole, the percentage of correct answers will be compared for each participant separately, among the members of the two groups (experimental and control), and among the two groups (experimental vs. control).
Fidelity of Implementation
The fidelity of implementation will be achieved thanks to the fact that the experimental intervention will be the same for all children, because they will be asked to play the same game. The potential differences resulting from the fact that children will come from different groups will be accounted for thanks to the baseline assessment.
The proposed study should be socially valid due to the fact that the children will be taught to read, a skill which is necessary for virtually any person in the modern world. In fact, reading is essential for achieving better life outcomes, and because children with learning disabilities often experience difficulty reading (Cullen et al., 2013, p. 87), a study exploring an intervention aimed at improving their reading skills should be socially valid.
Camila, A. (2015). The Sight Word adventure app gets kids learning about sight words the fun way [Blog post]. Web.
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