A Youthful Solution
Published 20th July 2011, 4:42pm
Patrick Comrie is a typical 17-year-old, yet over the past 24 months he's instructed more than 150 teachers and students in the Cayman Islands Government's education system to use the reading assistance software, Read and Write Gold.
His foray into instruction began after he and a colleague were introduced to the programme by Cayman Prep's Carol Baker.
After noting his obvious aptitude, his John Gray High School teacher Elaine King casually asked whether he'd mind showing a few of his classmates how to use it. He enthusiastically agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.
Thus far, he has taught students and teachers at John Gray and Red Bay Primary to use the software. But getting started was a new experience for him.
"Teaching other students wasn't a problem, but I was really nervous the first few times I had to show teachers how to use the software," he explained. "But Miss King helped out a couple of times, and then I was okay."
Explaining his motivation, Patrick said he saw it as an opportunity to help other students.
"Many who seem disinterested or disruptive in class may simply be having trouble reading or seeing the board or something similar," he explained. "Some of those kids have a very high mental capacity, but because they can't follow what's going on in class, they find other things to do.
"I knew that if they got access to this tool they could probably surpass some of the 'smarter' students."
The software is quite user-friendly, and once installed a person only has to connect headphones or speakers to their computer, activate the programme, highlight the text to be read, and hit the start button.
A computerised voice then reads the selected text to the user, highlighting each word as it progresses, thus helping the person to both see and hear what is being read.
Funded by the Ministry of Education, Training and Employment, the programme was piloted in all three government high schools during the 2009/10 school year and is now being extended to all government primary schools.
Information and Communication Technology Manager Steven Durksen, has been instrumental in the programme's installation and implementation trouble-shooting across government schools on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Just in time for the new school year, the ministry has acquired the recently released tenth version of the programme. He explained that the software will be automatically loaded onto all laptops issued to schools, and that the new version will resolve any prior connectivity challenges they've had with Windows 7.
Adding her endorsement, John Gray High School's Special Educational Needs Coordinator Elaine King commented, "We tend to assume that persons with average and above-average intellectual abilities who attend school regularly and come from homes that encourage learning, have similar reading skills. But that's not always the case.
"Conservatively speaking, some six percent of students in Cayman have specific learning disabilities. That is, they have average or above-average abilities and IQs, but by comparison, their reading and writing skills are quite low.
"For example, you may have students who are quite capable of learning humanities, sciences and the like, but when it comes to reading and writing they don't get to reveal how much they know. Read and Write Gold changes that."
She continued, "It increases both the student's self confidence and the teacher's expectations of the student. It also helps parents better understand their child's challenges and learning styles."
An award-winning literacy support tool, Read and Write Gold gives an added boost to those who need help with reading, writing and learning.
The programme integrates with mainstream windows applications and offers help with research, writing, and test-taking. Used continuously, it improves reading fluency and comprehension.
Though it's predominantly employed to assist persons who have diagnosed learning disabilities, it has also helped students who are slow readers gain confidence and make progress.