EdTech's Role in Special Education Reform by Dr.Michael Hart

Please join me as we explore Dyslexia and edtech solutions in a 5-part series with Dr. Michael Hart. Dr. Hart is the Principal and Owner of DoctorMichaelHart.com, has special expertise in dyslexia and attention deficit disorders.

After 25 years of practice

, he now provides online services including consultations, courses and webinars. He blogs regularly and writes for several publications.

Dr. Hart breaks down the foundation of Dyslexia and provides a map for parents and educators to use in determining which solutions really help. Dr. Hart believes the key is to ask the right questions.

Please look for Part II: “Mapping Educational Technology to Language-Based Learning Problems”


Core of Education ETR w/ Michael Hart

Dr. Rod: Welcome to the beginning of what is going to be a 5 part series. In most of the conversations I have, there are conversations behind closed doors with folks after the interview. One very significant area that comes up in many of the closed door conversations with guests has been special education. That includes working with special education and in those specific areas where children, parents, and teachers need some assistance. Because of that, I’m bringing in Michael Hart, a good friend of mine, and we’re going to work on a 5 part series titled “Education Technology and Dyslexia, Using Tech to Eliminate Needless Suffering.

I wanted to bring on Dr. Hart because he’s been working for 25 years, and he has his PhD. in psychology. What’s very interesting about him, and I think it’s going to really tie together education technology along with our learning about dyslexia, is that he also has his MBA from Wharton and he spent 10 years in startups working with technology. That gives him a very unique background in consulting in education and technology so I think it’s a very wonderful blend for us to be able to put this together. This is our first installment that we’re really excited about. This is going to be a general introduction to dyslexia and edtech . Dr. Michael Hart, welcome to the program.

Dr. Michael: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Rod: It’s really nice to have you on. We’ve talked a lot off-air about working on this series. I’m very proud because it’s something we’ve been talking about organically and the audience has been wanting more information. I think it’s really going to be beneficial to focus on one specific area when we look at helping young people increase their access to education and to a better world around them. With that said, you talk about educational technology sparking a very specific global revolution in caring for people and kids with dyslexia. What do you mean by that?

Dr. Michael: Obviously technology is a core component to what’s happening in education and reform around the world. There’s not an area of society where it’s not going to make a huge impact. Interestingly, with regard to dyslexia there’s a unique dynamic in this corner of education. For multiple reasons, there’s a very significant disconnect between what we know from the research in terms of literacy development which is how people learn how to read, neuroscience which is how a person’s brain is wired, and what educators actually are exposed to in their university programs.

This is true in the United States but I think I can say this generally. To this day, most teachers go through a 4 year program and university, and never take a single class in reading instruction, much less how to use educational technology for the student. There’s an amazing disconnect, even to this day. Now with the explosion of educational technology, we have this way of providing access to both teachers and parents. That’s access to knowledge that’s specific to language based learning issues and attention deficits. It’s now mobile to any corner of the world.

Dr. Rod: It’s very scary to think about reading instruction and retention not being taught to these individuals who are going on to become teachers. I’ve had a number of interviews lately with people around teacher preparation programs. I guess this just goes to the fact that we need these standards that CAEP recently put out. It makes me think about how many kids were missing along the way. It changes things when you throw that into our conversation, about kids with dyslexia. Give us a little background, and frame it up for us if you will, about the term dyslexia and what it means. I think we all have a general or a pop culture knowledge of what dyslexia is, but I don’t think that gives enough justice for what it really means, and the complexity around it.

Dr. Michael: First, all that the term dyslexia means is that a person is having difficulty with reading, writing, and spelling. I want people to ask a different question. Instead of asking, “What is dyslexia?” you really should be asking, “What is it about my child’s brain, or my student’s brain, or my own brain, that is causing difficulty with learning to read, spell, and write?” We know from the research that dyslexia is caused by underlying issues, or underlying difficulties in language processing. There are a lot of different components to language processing, which we’re going to talk about a little bit later in the series. This is across all countries, all ethnicities, all socio-economic groups. About one-in-five kids across the world has some degree of issues with language processing that can impact their learning to read and write. The concept, is tying together the learning issue of dyslexia with language processing early on. That sets the stage to begin mapping educational technology choices specifically to how a person’s brain is wired. That’s super critical.

Interview transcript continued on the next page...


Dr. Rod: What should we be looking for if you’re developing a guide? What’s critical in in finding the right edtech with kids that have language based learning problems?

Dr. Michael: We have to break it down a little bit. You’re going to hear me continue to talk about how we build a map. What kind of criteria do we use? The criteria is different, for parents, for teachers, and for students. For instance, with parents and teachers, they need to be educated. They need access to basic, evidence based content from regular resources on the web. These can help them understand what they’re dealing with and then what to do about it, whether that’ll be an app, or something else. In the beginning when they’re just educating themselves, it will probably be a set of web or mobile enabled pages. Then the question begins, how do I chose a program or app from the plethora out there that are coming out every day? That’s an issue that we need to discuss.

When you talk about the student, there are a lot of questions. What’s appropriate software for apps at home vs. school ? Are they somehow integrated so the child doesn’t get confused? Is the software program, or app, integrated into the existing curriculum in the classroom? Again, you don’t want the child to feel like they’re being pulled in multiple directions. The risk there is that they’ll get confused and want to step away from it all.

Probably most important is something that most people don’t talk about because it’s so new. Everybody gets so organized around the app and all its cool aspects. They don’t really think about the child’s personality and learning style. That’s why you see thousands upon thousands come out, but the vast majority of them don’t really stick. They’re not being developed by educators, so they’re not asking those questions when they develop the apps.

Dr. Rod: As you where listing some of your questions, I was thinking to myself, “Does that mean that the assumption is that a dyslexic child is going to want to reach that information in the same manner as another child with dyslexia?” So I think you went ahead and answered that for me when you said, “you’ve got to look at their learning styles.”

Dr. Michael: We’ve always had tools for students to use when they had learning issues, now we have technology tools. The whole point of these tools is to provide a way for the student to compensate or find ways to leverage their strengths to mitigate their weaknesses. When you’re thinking about what the right kind of app is for a child, you want to think about, “What are the students’ strengths?” and, “What are they really good at?” We want to find a way to draw on those strengths to manage the weaknesses.

Again, there’s the point of context. Where are the tools going to be used? Are they going to be used at home, school, or social settings? How easy is the application to learn, and to operate? That’s a really a big deal. If a child’s already struggling with how to read, write, and spell, and this is just one more area where they have to struggle to figure out how to use this tool, then it’s really going to be difficult to get them to embrace it. How reliable is the tool or app? How well does it work with other technology? What kind of technological support does the manufacturer offer? What kind of local support do you need to make sure that things are working well? All these things are going to be key factors in determining whether there’s going to be adoption , use, and success. So finding the right match between those factors is important. I think that education technology tools and the needs of the students who have issues is going to take work. But if done thoughtfully, it can really be invaluable in terms of promoting successful learning and performance.

Dr. Rod: Your point about, do they integrate with other technologies, is a very valuable one when trying to understand that. What I hear, from a lot of people, is that they’ve purchased or are using a number of different solutions that don’t fit together, so they don’t know how to fit them into their everyday life when they are really important. Is it your recommendation that a parent, or a teacher, goes with a solution that is tied in to other technologies just for that fact, so we don’t have all these disparate solutions hanging out there?

Dr. Michael: I think that’s a functional and practical thing to do at this point because it’s so early. It’s kind of like how we began to build automobiles and there were a thousand automobile companies in the United States. Then we went through a consolidation period and now there’s three or four. You’re seeing it in India and China I think, where all kind of companies that are using technology are exploding and we’ll have to wait and see. We’ll have to give it time to see who’s really going to be the main people that we use. That’s a really good example of going with the best at the moment. It’s a reminder to be thoughtful when you do make choices, that there should be some discussion about how well this links in with everything else that’s going on out there.

Dr. Rod: Let’s go to that discussion Michael, the discussion of resources. Where do you recommend parents and teachers go to start this exploration?

Dr. Michael: That’s the education process. At first they need to understand what they’re trying to do. What is dyslexia, what causes it, and what are they trying to do? The answers to that will inform the kind of technologies they use. There are informational websites all over the place, but I think, we can provide some places to start. The International Dyslexia Association has global partners. That site is optimized for mobile and it’s very easy to navigate. One of those partners in the Mumbai area is the Maharashtra Dyslexia Association. Find them at www.mdamumbai.com . So you can start there with a very trusted brand. It’s a compilation of a tremendous amount of information that will get you started so you have the proper information to make informed judgments down the road.

In the United States there’s the National Center for Learning Disabilities . Anyone in the world can access that. They’re optimized for mobile. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity is a great site. Those sites, for information purposes, will give you the understanding and the mindset that you need to make more informed choices. All of those sites have a section in them about edtech tools that have been reviewed and vetted by members of their team. They’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not an exhaustive list. There’s just thousands coming out every day, but it’s a great place to start. They can give you the comfort that this kind of review or recommendation is coming from people that are highly regarded in their field. You can also come to my site, which is DoctorMichaelHart.com . I’m a little different in the sense that I have all that basic information there for you, but I’m really looking at dyslexia as a marathon versus a sprint. A lot of times, it’s really helpful for people to have coaches, consultants, or someone to work with them as questions come up. So it’s not just an issue of going to a site and saying, “I read this, and now I understand it.” There’s that whole other component too of, you’re going to be the applicant, you’re going to be the person doing it, but it’s always good to have a live person with you.  

There’s another simple solution with regard to specific dyslexia training. I’m talking about webinars, for both parents and teachers. For teachers, this could be one way for them to get professional development in an affordable way, with the really highly valued vendors and experts. I know of three sites on YouTube they can go to. Dyslexia Training Institute is one of the core training institutes for a method for teaching dyslexics called Orton Gillingham. That’s really the gold standard. Barton Reading , which is Orton Gillingham based, but was developed by Susan Barton has a really well regarded reading system. Finally, Wilson Language , which is another Orton based, very well regarded program for both teachers and for parents. It’s good for those who really want to delve deeply into this and really figure out effective ways they can help their child at home. Those are some beginning points in terms of just being able to educate yourself enough to make informed decisions about technology.

Dr. Rod: I’m really glad that you mentioned, The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity . Our good friend here at the Core, Kyle Redford , who works with them and is also a teacher in Northern California. Her husband had a documentary on HBO called “The Big Picture”. It’s a really wonderful documentary that you might want to check out in the spirit of informing and understanding the world of a dyslexic and how that impacts them in an educational setting. I think you’ll enjoy that very much. Michael, I’ll ask you this, where do we go from here? Set that up for me as we preview the next steps of our series.

Dr. Michael: I think we need to drill down a little bit more. I’ve given a lot of information in regard to this whole concept of language functioning and language processing. I don’t think that’s necessarily something that’s in the normal discussion that people have day in and day out. It might make sense, in the next one, for us to delve deeper into that. Something you said a minute ago was really important. That is, if parents and teachers develop a language to discuss this, then their ability to remediate , and their ability to make choices in their educational technology, is going to be much more effective. We can drill down a little bit more, create a common language, and start talking specifically about how we can actually map it. If I know my child’s mind is wired this way, and these are their strengths and weaknesses, how do we make that decision about education technology tools? We’ll do that and we’ll get into more specific tools. I think those, on a general level, are going to be really helpful to the vast majority of kids.

Dr. Rod: I think this was a great launching point, and I think the audience is going to appreciate it, especially the section on the questions you provided Michael. In essence, you’re answering the question, “What do I need to be asking?” In anything we do, whether you’re going to build a house tomorrow and you’ve never done it, or anything else, you have to figure out what questions you want to ask. The same should be for a young person who’s trying to understand dyslexia, and the parents that are working with them, so they can better support them along the way. I think this series is going to be great, and we welcome your questions. Our next part to this series is going to be mapping educational technology to language based learning problems.


About the Author
Author: Dr Rod BergerWebsite: http://www.mindrocketmediagroup.com/
Rod Berger, PsyD, is President and CEO of MindRocket Media Group serving the global education market. Dr. Berger has been a VP of Education for an edtech firm, Keynote Speaker, Brand Strategist and continues to teach college courses and each summer guests lectures at Vanderbilt University.

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