Friday, March 6, 2009

Guitar Hero Motivates Middle School Use of Writing Support Tools

"How many ways does Guitar Hero help your brain work better?" I asked. I was working with a boy that needed writing support for some slow processing issues. He was easily distracted and couldn't spell worth a lick.

"Hand-eye coordination," he said. He was very confident, sharp and really knew the laptop we were using. He shared he had a touch-screen tablet laptop at home.
"Good one!" I shared. "What other things do you do that would strengthen your brain?"
"I don't know..." he looked around the room. He was interested but had a hard time staying focused. I prompted him a little and said "You are getting distracted - pull it back in!" with a smile.
And so we worked - but I got him when I had him open "FreeMind" a mind mapping software and we typed "Guitar Hero" in the main cell. He began to label new ones connected with Hand-eye coordination, patterns and memory.
After doing the web of our little writing activity with the mapping, I opened "DSpeech," a talking word processor, and we chose a cool young guy with long hair falling across his eyes for the voice. I showed our student how to shrink both application's windows so he could see his map and copy the words of the main ideas into sentences he typed on the DSpeech text window.
He struggled with the first sentence, and hit "speak" to hear what he had so far. He caught that he had missed a space between two words when he heard them run together and fixed them.

When we were done, he had written 3 sentences, combined his ideas and had correct spelling. He liked to say, "Let's hear everything we have so far" and play it back. There was a sense of progress being made everytime he heard a little more. When he was done and listened to the whole thing, it was ready to be published or converted into an Mp3 sound file for others to hear.
He loved that he could downloaded the Access Apps Suite on a jump drive for free and access them. He could also save his homework on the jump as well - and nothing had to be loaded on a computer. It could all go between school and home.

I shared with the teacher afterwards that we could use DSpeech to write some writing prompt directions and save them to open so he could hear what he was going to do, then open Freemind and have an assistant help him organize his thoughts, then use DSpeech or another tool like Natural Reader by Naturalsoft to write and proof read through text to speech. These are two free tools that can really support developing ideas and provide an order to writing so a student gets guidance through the process visually. I showed him "The Sage" a dictionary and thesaurus that gives him word ideas. If he can't spell a word we will work with a free spell checker tool and get that going for him too.
I had buy-in and interest today as I worked on teaching this student these tools. Using Guitar Hero, gave me instant appeal factor for the assignment as well! Why not try some popular theme ideas to get your students to learn support tools that will strengthen their writing and literacy - maybe you will make self-accommodators out of them in the process!

All the best to you,


Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!


Karen Janowski said...

Isn't it tremendous when things just click and a student feels competent and successful? Success stories are great to share.
I didn't know about DSpeech - looks like one of the cool things you can do is assign a different voice to quoted text. I wish it highlighted each word as it reads it back.
Do you know how to change the avatar? I don't see any other choices.

Karen Janowski said...

Ok, just spent some more time and got the answer to my question. By changing the voice, the avatar automatically changes.
The Speech recognition worked well for me - did you try it with your student? I've tried a number of different programs and they all recognize my voice quite well. It's a different story, especially for middle school age girls.
This is a awesome tool! I'll add it to the UDL Tech Toolkit Wiki (

Lon said...

Hi Karen,
Just checked in and saw your comments. I am glad you are having fun with this. I am doing a lot more with it and trying it with students...I too wish it highlighted words as it read. I use the Natural Reader free version for that when I know students need the tracking support.
Thanks for your comments!

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