Sara Swanson

Special technology helping Manchester students with reading & writing disabilities

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Example of Co:writer suggesting a word. Photo from

Lots of technical options exist for students with reading or writing deficits.  Some are easy to learn and work well with existing technology in the district. Co:Writer is one of these technologies, and recently the Manchester Community Schools Foundation was able to provide a grant to supply seven students in the Manchester School district a trial with Co:Writer. The grant was requested by a group of Special Education providers that includes Theresa Herron, Sarah McCaffrey, Jessica Pinner, Sandra Fillyaw, and Kathy Schamberger.

Co:Writer uses word prediction to help struggling writers become faster and more accurate with their writing. The Co:Writer application can be used with both iPads and Chrome books, the two technologies that are currently used with students in MCS.

Most students know how to use the built-in spell check that underlines misspelled words, but students with reading/writing disabilities can find that tool to be of limited help. Theresa Herron gave an example, “One student reported that he was trying to write a story that happened in the forest, but when he wrote “forst” the spell check would only offer “first” as a replacement, and he knew that was not the word he was looking for. When using Co:Writer, students are offered a list of words that they might be heading toward, based on what they have typed, and the position of the word in the sentence. For the student described above, Co:Writer might have offered frost, frosty, first, and forest.”

Another helpful feature of Co:Writer is the ability for students to hear the word read aloud, before they select it. The student runs the mouse over each word in the list and listens to each word until he/she finds the right one. Additionally, after ending punctuation is added to a sentence, Co:Writer reads the whole sentence aloud to give another chance to catch errors.

Within the settings for Co:Writer, the student can choose to focus on a particular set of vocabulary to increase the odds that the application will predict the correct words. For example, if a student is writing a paragraph about cooking, Co:Writer settings can be updated to include “cooking” as the targeted vocabulary. In that case, words that include food and cooking terms will be offered more often than other words, as the student is typing.

Herron continued, “At this point, the students selected for the trial are just getting started, learning how to use the application. Teachers are also learning how to help kids get logged in and using the tool in various classes and subjects. But right off the bat, it seems to be helping kids become more confident writers. Co:Writer has a data collection feature that will help teachers keep some data on how well it is received by students.”

If the trial is a success, the staff members hope to make a case for extending the use of the application to more students across the district.

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