Information Literacy and Dyslexia: Why it’s important and five ways to teach it

by Todd Hanson Mary Pembleton

macro photography of the word dyslexia from the newspaper underlined in red marker

Everyone’s a content creator these days. Between social media platforms, mainstream and alternative media websites, and email inboxes that fill as quickly as we empty them, our devices inundate us with written information in a way that didn’t even exist twenty years ago.

Here’s the hitch: 5-20% of the United States population have a reading disability like dyslexia. With the enormous amount of information we process every day, and the enormous cognitive demand required for a person with dyslexia to so much as read a sentence, how can we prepare dyslexic learners to navigate this new world that’s simply teeming with written information?

And, as technology gave rise to all of this information, what role should it play in schools, especially as it’s increasingly integrated into the workplace?

Todd Hanson, the director of EdTech Integration at a school for children with learning disabilities in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, has a lot of thoughts about why and how educators should shift the definition of literacy to include the necessary skill of information literacy. In fact, at Groves Academy, it’s a primary focus.

“Literacy is no longer about having a book in front of your face, it’s about grabbing the ideas from it. It’s about the information you take from it,” he says.

Accessibility is a huge component of Groves’ focus as well, because making information easily accessible to everyone—including folks with dyslexia—opens up learning to everyone (not just the students who are strong at reading fluency).

The skills needed to be successful in the current technology-rich workplace include collaboration, the ability to read and process large amounts of information, and the ability to critically evaluate that information.

Below, Todd walks us through the 5 approaches Groves is taking to technology integration and information literacy this year, in order to best prepare learners for an ever-evolving world:

1. SAMR model

The SAMR model, developed in 2010 by researcher Ruben Puentedur, provides a progressive framework for integrating technology into educational processes, and we use the SAMR model at Groves to constantly evaluate how we’re integrating technology into education. SAMR stands for:

Happy teenage boy pointing on white board in classroom
  • Substitution– technology provides a direct substitute for the old way of doing things. For example, having students type answers into a PDF worksheet, just the way they would if they were writing on a worksheet. Or writing on a SMART board in exactly the same way as a whiteboard.
  • Augmentation– technology provides a direct substitute for the low-tech model but also improves the process. An example would be using my SMART board as a whiteboard, but also including videos or a website in my presentation.
  • Modification– technology allows tasks to be markedly redesigned for the better. An example of modification would be using Google Earth on my SMART Board to explore the physical terrain of another country.
  • Redefinition– technology allows for the innovation of brand new tasks that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. An example of this would be the ability to Zoom in an expert who lives thousands of miles away to discuss a topic we’re studying.

2. Accessible literacy integration

Our professional development initiatives at Groves this year are focused on seamlessly integrating accessibility into our days.

Student using an iPAD with a screen reader tool active

To represent the old model of accessibility, I use the idea of a wheelchair ramp—one that’s an addition to an old building as an afterthought. It clearly doesn’t fit. On the other hand, integrated accessibility would be represented by a newer building where accessibility is an integral part of the structure, where a  ramp is integrated beautifully into the whole stair system.

Accessibility takes on so many different forms, and there are so many different barriers to contend with. For example, to extend the metaphor of the wheelchair ramp: there are a million barriers to wheelchair access that able-bodied folks don’t consider until they face these hurdles themselves.

After an accident, I used a wheelchair for a month and a half, and seemingly small obstacles, like a half-inch lip of a street curb, became something insurmountable. So to apply that disability metaphor to our students, all of whom are contending with learning disabilities or attention deficits, we may not truly have any concept as to the extent of their needs.

Snap & Read logo blue
Co:Writer logo blue

That’s why making assistive technology—screen readers, text-to-speech, audiobooks, Livescribe pens, and programs like Co:Writer and Snap&Read—available to every student is such a high priority. We’ve universally adopted assistive technology; every student has access. Data shows one in five students is dyslexic, but far less than that are on an IEP or have a 504 Plan—meaning they don’t receive services of any kind.

In education, we typically rely on a deficit model, which focuses on a student’s more obvious weaknesses, to determine which services are needed—and that translates to a lot of kids squeaking by with their struggles unnoticed. For example, I worked with a student who was a junior; she was mostly an A-student, but was spending six to seven hours each night doing homework. Once I showed her some tools that could help, that time was greatly reduced.

Are you ready to see what Snap&Read can do for your students?

3. Collaboration

Group Of Teenage Students Collaborating On Project In IT Class

Everything we do here at Groves is collaborative, and this is quite intentional. Discussions, assignments, projects— technology integration allows for collaboration and has fostered a collaborative environment in the workplace, particularly in the remote learning environment of the pandemic. We now approach learning as an educator-student and peer-student collaboration to match it.

We want to give our students skills that lead to successful collaboration to meet the current demands of the workforce.

4. Open note tests: “show what you know”

All of my tests are open note. I take this approach because we no longer live in a society where regurgitating information is a necessity. We can always look something up, and it’s faster to do so if you’re well-versed and practiced in the skill. Therefore we focus on teaching kids how to do this effectively.

Once a test is turned in, I make notes identifying what’s inaccurate or problematic allowing them to revisit the problems the next day.

I take this approach because in the real world, your boss does not give you a project with no resources or feedback. Typically, in the workplace, you have the support of a collaborative team, access to research and other resources, and guidance as you complete a project.

We teach students the skills they’ll need to know when they go to college and work.

5. Teaching students to take an analytical approach to information

Literacy is generally defined as the ability to read a book or physical text. I’d argue that literacy is actually the ability to get information from text, and reading happens in many different forms: eye reading (physical books), ear reading (audio books), finger reading (Braille), etc.

Digital composite of Pile of books with blue gear graphics against blurry bookshelf

When I was in high school, I had to memorize facts like historical dates, wars, the names of generals, etc., and while this knowledge gave me an appreciation of history, I don’t remember any of it now. And if we ever do need to know, all we have to do is pull out our phones and Google it.

However, this ability also means that information literacy is super important: when I Google something, how do I discern if a source of information is legitimate? That’s why we teach our students how to discern truth. We go over ways to analyze infographics and statistics, ways to determine if a blog or social media post is factual, and how to understand what separates fact from opinion.

The need is knowing how to discern factual information. The need is to educate people to be literate information consumers.

Todd has compiled a guidebook for the staff at Groves Academy that emphasizes the approaches above, and his closing message is one that can be applied, we think, universally:

“I believe that technology can level the playing field for our students, and will continue to do so in ever-increasing ways. The doors that will open because of our preparations, dedication, and knowledge of these technologies will benefit our students in ways we may never know.

Just like we ask our students: be curious, share your findings, collaborate, think deeply, and be better.”


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