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Freedom Scientific Learning Systems Group Presents
The WYNNing Word
April 2009


A WYNNing Toolbelt Theory

Person wearing a toolbelt“Unfortunately, for people with dyslexia, we live in a text-based world, which is unfair, but we also live in a time when we can solve this. I find WYNN to be a lifespan solution,” states Ira David Socol.

Ira David Socol is a doctoral student in the College of Education at Michigan State University.  His research is going in two directions.  First, he is investigating the classroom use of technology, particularly text-to-speech, and second, the societal attitudes that limit the uses of supportive technology in schools for all students.

Ira’s own struggles with learning led him to his interest in assistive technology. Ira has dyslexia and dysgraphia.  It was while he was an undergraduate at Grand Valley State University in Michigan that a professor working with Ira’s reading limitations said, “There are software programs which read to blind students; there must be something that will read to you.”

During his time at Grand Valley, Ira also worked for Academic Computing/Instructional Technology. His boss, recognizing that there were many students who could use a tool that would read to them, gave Ira a year to research assistive technology that would be incorporated into a campus accessibility plan. They bought many different types of hardware and software and tested each of them.

“That is when I discovered WYNN – back when it was produced by Arkenstone.” Ira explained that WYNN became an extremely important tool for him to use to gather and understand information and to communicate the written word.

Maybe because Ira has had many experiences in his life, he realizes the right tools are important to the success of any task. Ira has been an art student, an architectural design student, a NYC police officer, a designer, a Web master, and a computer network support person. He has worked in journalism and taught art at the university level.  Since 1997, he has worked in assistive technology at a university, at a homeless support agency, and with a vocational rehabilitation agency. During this time, Ira formulated his theory that everyone needs a properly equipped toolbelt to get through life. He says it does not only pertain to people with disabilities, but to everyone. He further explained that he feels each of us needs to assess the “job” and decide what tools will help accomplish the task successfully. To this end, Ira has developed his Toolbelt Theory.

The Toolbelt Theory

At 2008 CSUN presentation, A Toolbelt for a Lifetime, Ira stated:

Toolbelt Theory is based in the concept that students must learn to assemble their own readily available collection of life solutions. They must learn to choose and use these solutions appropriately, based in the task to be performed, the environment in which they find themselves, their skills and capabilities at that time, and the ever-changing universe of high and low-tech solutions and supports. After all, few of us have a toolbox with just one screwdriver, or just the tools we were given when we were ten years old.

So the Toolbelt is designed to:

  • Break the dependence cycle
  • Develop lifespan technology skills
  • Limit limitations
  • Empower student decision making
  • Prepare students for life beyond school

While toolbelts will vary with each person, the ultimate goal is to assemble tools that will span a lifetime. As the tasks change, so may the toolbelts, but some tools lend themselves to successfully stand the test of time and task.

“Some technologies are better at support for the “lifespan” than others - one reason I love WYNN is that I can teach it any entry level, and yet I've watched it carry many students through graduate school and into high-tech careers,” explained Ira in his CSUN presentation.

Ira has found that WYNN “fits” very nicely into many of his students’ toolbelts. He has seen students of all ages - from six-year-olds to older adults returning to college - discover that WYNN has to be in his or her toolbelt. Most of the students have dyslexia or attention issues, although some are physically limited students who need effective ways to read their textbooks when their eyes are tired.

WYNN Changes Lives

Ira cited several examples of how WYNN changed the lives of some of his students:

“I’ve seen a high school junior, a complete non-reader, graduate from high school, succeed as a history major at the university level, and go on to graduate school using WYNN for every bit of his reading!”

“It was exciting to see a single father, who was an apprentice plumber trapped into low wages and poverty because he could not read well enough to study for the journeyman exam, use WYNN to successfully complete his studies and get his license.”

“There have been scores of university students succeed through the use of WYNN for some or all of their course reading.”

Why does WYNN work for these students? Ira explains, “WYNN provides dual-sensory input with dual highlighting, which strengthens word-shape recognition and holds attention while supporting spelling and sentence-form recognition. It is highly individualizable, and nothing is better at scanning text in or at reading diagrams. The diagram-reading capability has made WYNN a big success in training for technical trades.”

Text-to-Speech Technologies for Younger Students

Ira is currently exploring his theory that “sophisticated text-to-speech systems are often thought of as accommodations for readers who have already fallen behind their classmates, and these systems are rarely employed with students in the primary grades. Yet these are the very supports which might make massive differences in school success, right from the start.”

Children reading a bookTo expand this theory, Ira is currently planning research to foster the hypothesis, “Text-to-speech software is not just an accommodation for struggling readers; it can support primary literacy instruction in ways that prepare all readers for lifelong learning.”

WYNN is in Ira’s toolbelt for this research. He sees the following aspects of WYNN as being instrumental in supporting the success of young readers:

  • Ease of use for the greatest age range of learners
  • Potential to increase “read-to” time
  • Enhancement of the connection between word shape and word sound
  • Ability to offer content, information access and sophisticated story access
  • Supports for improved student writing
  • Tools to assist effective student evaluation

In this same research, he will also investigate how best practices with text-to-speech systems can offer the maximum impact for students in primary schools. Again WYNN has been chosen as the text-to-speech system. Ira likes the software’s effective options for teachers:

  • Increased “read-to” time for students by converting any type of book into a WYNN document
  • Creating custom toolbars and settings that provide the best starting points for young students
  • Interactive structures within WYNN to bypass decoding problems may be used as effective tools for evaluating reading comprehension and content knowledge
  • Bimodal text-to-speech system to build essential skills for students struggling with sight words
  • Dual-highlighting system to emphasize sentence structure
  • Voice notes that allow interaction even with limited writing or keyboarding skills
  • Make content accessible regardless of decoding capabilities
  • Web-browsing capabilities to simplify interacting effectively with digital text

We agree with Ira that additional research is needed to raise awareness and to prove that new reading and writing support technologies for students will increase their success rate. This success will not only encourage the student in the immediate timeframe, but for a lifetime.

We look forward to Ira’s findings.

WYNN – A Lifespan Tool

Ira Socol“I know the difference WYNN has made to me.” Ira started using WYNN many years ago, and to this day, it remains in his toolbelt. He reaches for WYNN almost everyday for his academic readings and sometimes for pleasure reading. Although with all that Ira is involved in, pleasure reading must be at a premium!

In closing, Ira explained why he considers WYNN an excellent lifespan tool. “Unfortunately, for people with dyslexia, we live in a text-based world, which is unfair, but we also live in a time when we can solve this. I find WYNN to be a lifespan solution. You can use it to support literacy from the start, and its sophisticated tools allow you to use it forever. I used to say it was ‘expensive,’ but it isn’t at all. It gives you access to information and literature. And that’s priceless.”

If you would like to know more about Ira’s Toolbelt Theory, please visit these sites:


Eye on the news Keep an Eye on the News

Technology and Teaching Children to Read: What Does the Literature Say?
This report is intended to provide background information that will help reading specialists, education technology specialists, classroom teachers, and special education teachers work together to understand, evaluate, and implement effective uses of technology within K-6 reading programs.

CSUN 2009: Text-To-Speech from the Start
Read how text-to-speech is not just an accommodation for struggling readers, but how it can support primary literacy instruction.

How the President’s Stimulus Package will affect Schools
eSchool News has compiled stories, links, and other guidance to help you follow the latest developments in the stimulus process. We thought we might like to learn how you might be able to take advantage of these funds.


Tip of the Month - Bright idea balloonTip of the Month

We asked Ira what he felt would be a good tip for our WYNNing Word readers. He felt the best tip might be to emphasize the power of text-to-speech as an editing tool for struggling writers. He feels that using WYNN to read your own writing back to you does wonders not just for grammar, but for the whole writing process.

“It is not simply that grammar seemed to improve, but so did readability, clarity, rhythm and description. Missing words were discovered and repairs made. Repetitive word use (and pronoun use) decreased. Phrasing became far more sophisticated. And content changed as well, description being added and clarified. One student re-listened to her first version four times, eventually declaring, “That’s not what stories sound like.” Most importantly - the students did the work independently. It was their writing, crafted on their own,” Ira states in his presentation, Students Editing Their Work Via Text-to-Speech.


WYNNing Word Archives

Want to view past issues of WYNNing Word? Please go to Archives of WYNNing Word Articles.

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About Freedom Scientific LSG

Freedom Scientific, Learning Systems Group provides products that are acclaimed for their easy-to-use interface, innovative technology, and flexible but powerful features. Designed by educational experts to enhance the learning process for struggling students, WYNN provides reading and writing solutions. Freedom Scientific LSG also created TestTalker, which provides test-taking preparations and worksheet completion. To find out more about our products, please visit us at www.freedomscientific.com/lsg.


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For more information, call 1-800-444-4443 or e-mail wynn at freedomscientific.com.

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