Engaging Older Students with Reading Disabilities: Multimedia Inquiry Projects Supported by Reading Assistive Technology

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Multimedia Inquiry Projects Supported by Reading Assistive Technology

Is there a creative and engaging way for special educators to support older students with reading disabilities (RD) in inclusive classrooms? Can technology be used to promote all students' comprehension skills? For our students, the answer was "yes!"-by creating multimedia inquiry projects using reading assistive technology.

Creating accessible and engaging lessons for students with RD in inclusive classrooms is particularly challenging for special educators in upper elementary and middle school settings. Older students with RD have difficulty accessing the texts that serve as the basis for instruction; years of repeated failure can leave them discouraged and unmotivated. It is imperative that special educators find ways to allow all students, including students with RD, to be successful in the general education classroom. Both the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and IDEA 2004 stress this necessity of accessibility and progress in the general education curriculum. As a result, educators are increasingly integrating the ideals of universal design for learning (UDL) into their teaching (Garderen & Whittaker, 2006; Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2005). Innovations in instructional technology provide teachers with opportunities to expand the ways in which they present lessons to students with disabilities.

We combined the use of multimedia and reading assistive technology with the DDL principles of access, presentation, and motivation in developing a summer reading clinic project where students created Microsoft PowerPoint 10.0.6 inquiry projects. (see boxes "What Are Multimedia Projects?" "What Is Reading Assistive Technology?" and "What Is Universal Design for Learning?") This article describes the five steps of the project, and gives examples of student work. The student projects were integrated into a comprehensive reading intervention program designed to improve the phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension of 10 upper elementary and middle school students with RD. We also developed a rubric to evaluate the multiple purposes of the project. A description of the rubric follows.

Why Use Multimedia Inquiry Projects?

Multimedia inquiry projects can be designed to complement and support students' development of reading comprehension skills across the curriculum. These projects require students to read for meaning and to apply a generally recognized reading strategy of identifying and summarizing main ideas (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001; Manset-Williamson & Nelson, 2005). The organizational structure of the project-create key questions, summarize ideas, and create a storyboard-is designed to mirror the text structure of expository text. In structuring the projects, students have the opportunity to construct the type of text they are meant to comprehend in subjects across the curriculum. This organizational structure also addresses deficits in the recognition of text structure found in many students with LD {Williams, 2003). The authenticity of the task and novelty of the multimedia provides an opportunity for all students, including those with RD, to practice comprehension strategies within a motivating activity.

What Type of Background Preparation is Necessary?

Multimedia PowerPoint inquiry projects require similar background preparation as do other instructional activities in an inclusive classroom. This includes identifying an area of the curriculum where integrating these projects supports the goals and standards of the discipline; providing students with instructional materials, support, and guidelines for the successful completion of the activity; and ensuring adequate class time is allotted for working on the projects. For example, our students were instructed to include at least eight slides and three resources (minimum of two books and a Web site) in their projects. …