Citation
Facing the dragon

Material Information

Title:
Facing the dragon boy writers speak up using voice-recognition technology
Creator:
Sherman, Sharon Luz
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
ix, 156 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Automatic speech recognition ( lcsh )
English language -- Composition and exercises -- Study and teaching (Middle school) ( lcsh )
Automatic speech recognition ( fast )
English language -- Composition and exercises -- Study and teaching (Middle school) ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 141-156).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Sharon Luz Sherman.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
256730533 ( OCLC )
ocn256730533
Classification:
LD1193.E3 2008d S43 ( lcc )

Full Text

FACING THE DRAGON:
BOY WRITERS SPEAK UP
USING VOICE-RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY
by
Sharon Luz Sherman
B.A., University of Denver, 1989.
M.A., Judaic Studies, University of Denver, 2001.
M.A., Curriculum & Instruction, University of Denver, 2001.
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado-Denver
In partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
2008


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Sharon L. Sherman
has been approved
by
Alan Davis
Maria Thomas-Ruzic
Honorine Nocon
Barbarosia Richardson
Date


Sherman, Sharon Luz (PhD., EDLI)
Facing the Dragon: Boy Writers Speak Up Using Voice-Recognition Technology
Thesis directed by Full Professor Alan Davis
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this study was to examine the mediated participation of
middle school students with special needs as they used voice-recognition software to
improve their writing in a resource room setting. Learners with special needs face
academic challenges at the secondary school level that often draw attention to labels
and disability at a time when they are developing distinct personal identities. The
participants in this study all embraced personal writing as part of their identity
(especially narrative fiction writing), but separated that from academic writing which
they mainly associated with writing conventions and editing skills. According to this
study and analysis of classroom use of voice-recognition software (VRS), student
resistance to working with this tool became associated with special education. In
students eyes, use of Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 (DNS9, also known as The
Dragon) conveyed a deficit identity of themselves as academic learners.
This study was designed using a sociocultural conceptual framework that
views learning as a social process that is inseparable from issues of interpersonal
interaction and identity. Voice-recognition technology was introduced to eight
middle school boys in a study hall classroom and two research questions were
developed:


(a) How do adolescents with special needs view themselves as writers?
(b) How does the use of voice-recognition software influence students
participation in the writing process and their writing production?
Training and working together with the software, the eight teens interests,
challenges and unique agendas converged as they completed a collaborative
assignment. Participants negotiated how to use available technology to enhance their
writing without challenging how they viewed themselves amidst general education
peers. Use of voice-recognition software in this study drew attention to how
adolescents with special needs engaged The Dragon collaboratively and thus
improved their writing by revising their work more often. Frustrations that arose with
use of The Dragons voice commands are also featured.
Recommendations to teachers, administrators and school policy makers
regarding assistive technology allocations are made in light of 2004 Individuals with
Disabilities Educational Improvement Act (EDEIA) mandates and current use of
Response to Intervention (Rtl) as a special education service delivery system that
monitors how classroom interventions made on behalf of special needs learners are
implemented. Suggestions for future educational research are also proposed.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
SIGNED
Alan Davis


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
My thanks go first to my family, both near and far, especially my mother,
Luz Sherman, who persevered managing a household, a garden and the addition to
our home without me for better part of a year through this process, (jGracias))
Thanks also to the school administrators and faculty at Mountain View
Middle School who supported me, particularly Kay Miller (an amazing proofreader
and exceptional Dragon trainer) and Derek Branstrom (who unwittingly supplied
the basis of the Tools classroom birds-eye diagram). Special thanks also go to Alan
Woody Morawiec, for helping out when I needed to distribute release forms to the
Tools boys and to Kim Walter (co-worker and EDLI colleague) without whom this
study might have never gotten off the ground were it not for her tech-savvy advice
and help in putting together the teacher-researcher grant proposal.
Thanks also go to my advisor, Alan Davis, who walked through the fire with
me as I organized this study and patiently critiqued many versions of this
dissertation. Alan also showed me how to run the Tools Club at another middle
school sitean experience that was invaluable to developing my vision for the Tools
class. He e-mailed me, took my calls, tolerated my outbursts, and always challenged
me to make this manuscript my best work.
Thanks to my other committee members as well, Maria Thomas-Ruzic,
Honorine Nocon, and Barbarosia Richardson. Your knowledge and expertise were
always generously shared and your revisions and advice most thoughtful.
Thanks go also to the other doctoral students at CU-Denver, particularly
those in the Lab of Learning and Activity (LOLA) and the Doctoral Students of
Color (DSOC) organization. Your support, encouragement, and dedication to all
scholarly endeavors in the School of Education and Human Development have
helped me reach this day. Particular thanks go to Marge Mistry, who joined the
EDLI program when I did, and Ruth Brancard who always had a hug and a kind
word. Genuine thanks also go to Elyse Yamauchi and Khushnur Dadabhoy for their
leadership as phenomenal women in higher education who are bringing about
change, each in her own way.
Finally, thanks goes to the International Reading Association (IRA) for
awarding me the Teacher-Researcher grant that enabled me to invest in voice-
recognition software for the Tools classroom. May more teachers also investigate
their own classroom practices and share their findings with various educational
communities as a result of the fine work this organization does.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures........................................................ix
Tables ........................................................ix
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.................................................1
Background................................................1
The Research Problem......................................3
Research Questions........................................9
Rationale for Conducting This Study......................10
Conceptual Framework.....................................11
Engaging Adolescent Learners in Activity..............15
Identity Formation.................................16
Leading Activities in Adolescence..................18
As-If Worlds.....................................20
Communities of Learning...............................22
Three Planes of Social Activity....................23
Research Design..........................................28
Chapter Summary..........................................30
Structure of the Dissertation............................31
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE....................................32
Introduction.............................................32
Technology Integration and Adoption in Schools...........33
Technology Use in Special Education......................35
Writing with VRS and Fear of Stigma...................38
Using VRS as a Classroom Intervention.................41
Background on DNS9....................................42
The Writing Lives of Special Needs Middle Schoolers......47
Chapter Summary..........................................48
vi


3. METHOD
50
Introduction..................................................50
Site and Participants.........................................50
The Tools for Success Setting...........................51
Software Selection........................................51
Participant Selection.....................................53
Study Participants........................................53
Writing Process Innovation....................................54
Forming Groups............................................55
The IC Assignment in Context..............................56
Participants Computer/Writing Experiences....................57
Data Collection and Analysis..................................58
Interviews and Questionnaires.............................59
Field Notes...............................................61
Audio Taped Transcripts...................................62
Written Drafts and Final Products.........................64
Chapter Summary...............................................65
4. FINDINGS .........................................................66
Introduction..................................................66
A Quick Glimpse into the Fishbowl.........................66
Tools Students Perceptions of Themselves as Writers..........69
School Writing Versus Informal Writing....................72
The Process of Writing with Voice Recognition Software........77
Technical Issues..........................................84
VRS Use and Work Completion...............................90
The Impact of VRS on Students Written Products...........91
Changes in Self-Perception as Writers.........................98
Socially-Constructed Identity.............................100
Adult Support as an Antidote to Marking.................104
Concluding Thoughts...........................................106
vii


5. DISCUSSION AND SUMMARY......................................109
Introduction.............................................109
Review of Findings.......................................Ill
Lessons Learned..........................................113
Figured Worlds........................................114
Students Participation in Activity...................117
Role of Adults........................................119
Recommendations for Practice.............................122
Developing VRS Use in Schools.........................123
Changing Perspectives on Students Use of AT..........126
Recommendations for Future Research......................129
Conclusions..............................................133
APPENDIX
A. Interview Protocol..........................................137
B. Survey Protocol.............................................138
C. Six Traits of Writing Guiding Questions.....................139
D. IC RubricHistory Component.................................140
REFERENCES............................................................141
viii


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure Page
1 68
2 86
3 87
4 .................................................................93
5 .................................................................94
6 ...................................................................105
7 ...................................................................106
Table
LIST OF TABLES
Page
1
54
2 .59
3 .63
4 .70
5 .74
6 75
7 .78
8 ..................................................................80
9 85
10
.97
IX


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Background
The purpose of this study is to examine the mediated participation of middle
school students with special needs as they use voice-recognition software (VRS) to
complete a writing assignment in a resource room setting. Little research has been
conducted on adolescents developing written products via the use of technology with
adult guidance and peer collaboration (Childers, 2003; Coogan, 1999, Farrell, 1987)
even though writing, use of technology and the ability to work on teams are areas
that are desirable in high school graduates. Writing, in general, is indispensable in
todays information economy (Beaufort, 1999; Darrah, 1996; Dias, Freedman,
Medway & Pare, 1999; Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996; Gee, 2000), yet given that
many students struggle with writing (Morgan, 2005; Newkirk, 2002) and do not like
working on their writing for school purposes (Fletcher, 2006; Witte, 2007), it is
surprising that studies on the use of tools like VRS technology have not been more
widespread, particularly with special needs students who exhibit attention-deficit
issues. More often than not students who fall in this category have been part of
experimental trials as noted by researchers who have evaluated the literature on such
studies (Xu, Reid, & Steckelberg, 2002), but even these types of investigations are
not in abundance.
1


By using voice-recognition software to help middle school students with
special needs improve their writing, I moved away from analysis of exercises and
activities that were teacher-directed. Investigating the use of a software program to
complete a written product, I hoped to facilitate the editing process for eight Tools
for Success students by making it easier to produce multiple drafts of their work
before submitting a final copy for a grade. Reports on writers workshops and
conferencing time with teachers (California State Department of Education, 1987;
Kaufman, 2000) suggest that students gain from talking about and revising their
work. Some research also exists suggesting that students learn basic academic skills
better via the use of technology (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997); this
encouraged me to consider how use of The Dragon could effectively support the
needs of the middle school learners in my study hall class.
Synthesizing the results of some 20th century studies on the effect that
teaching and learning with technology has on students work, the North Central
Regional Educational Laboratory reports that instructional applications of
technology to the classroom appear to have minimal effects on students learning
(2002) due to challenges experienced when integrating technology into classrooms.
Particular studies on the use of assistive technologywhich is where VRS is
presently categorizedhave been conducted with school-age learners, but many of
these generally focus on elementary school students who exhibit cognitive
challenges that impact their learning. Learners who receive special education
2


services, however, are often afforded classroom support due to inability to attend in
class and complete class work and homework on their own. Often, many of these
students are diagnosed with physical disabilities, such as attention-
deficit/hyperactivity disorder1, and thus require using technology in different ways to
support their learning. This study, therefore, focuses specifically on learners with
attention-deficit issues and their ability to use a VRS program presently on the
market: Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 (DNS9).2 This software is a product that
allows the user to speak directly into a personal computer and have his words
encoded by the word processing system instead of having to type. This investigation
was conducted with eight male middle schoolers to address the influence this tool
had on their ability to complete school work and how they, as academic writers, felt
about using this tool.
The Research Problem
I started working full-time at Mountain View Middle School (MVMS) in the
fall of 2004 as a moderate needs teacher. Prior to accepting this position, I spent two
years facilitating an after-school club modeled, in part, after the Fifth Dimension
work established by the University of California-San Diegos Laboratory of
1 Attention-deficit disorder is a disorder that is evident in areas of inattention and impulsiveness.
Individuals with this diagnosis have difficulty getting organized and completing tasks and may shift
from one activity to another without following rules correctly. Overactive behaviors are also evident
in individuals who have this diagnosis. This term was first introduced in the 1980 edition of the
Diagnostic Statistical Manual-Ill (DSM-III) and renamed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in
the 1987 DSM-III-R (revised). ADHD includes gross motor over-activity such as excessive talking,
fidgeting or restlessness.
2 This software package is produced by Dragon Systems, Inc. (1997).
3


Comparative Human Cognition (Cole, 1996). Prior to working with middle school
Toolslingers in that urban setting, my instructional use of computers with students
to that point had been limited to word processing, but by engaging a number of club
participants (some whom I later found out were labeled as special needs learners),
my thoughts about inclusion and the use of technology in informal learning settings
started to take shape. At the time, various educational games were out on the market
that drew adolescent students to learning in ways that paper and pencil tasks did not
because they encouraged learners to access online help or engage others to attain end
5
results together. It thus came to my attention that the more Toolslinger teens worked
together to complete certain tasks, the more they seemed to get doneas long as
participating adults provided guidance. The same was not true with direct instruction
about how to play a new video game; the youth I worked with seemed to have a
handle on what they needed to accomplish in a given amount of time and often just
wanted to figure out how games worked amongst themselves. My two-year
experience with the Toolslinger club suggested that more boys than girls continued
with the club on a regular basis as these teens became eighth graders. When I started
noticing the number of boys who were enrolled in the Tools for Success class at 3
3 James Paul Gee (2007) writes about how video games contribute to students learning through the
types of interactions they afford youth. Games that Toolslingers used often had online resources that
would walk them through challenges to move onto new levels; club members would often confer
about the use of particular cheats after school and try these out at home as well as during club
hours.
4


Mountain View my interest in finding more high-tech ways to engage them to
complete quality school work became a priority.
The Tools for Success class was created prior to this study in response to a
perceived need in the building that a space should exist for struggling learners to get
built-in school time to complete assignments with adult support. Over the years, the
class had moved about the building at Mountain View due to space availability and
undergone various configurations. More often than not, the students who populated
the Tools classroom were learners who had Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and
received special education services based on the goals and objectives outlined in
these plans. MVMS teachers often supported the idea of accommodating general
education learners by encouraging enrollment in the Tools class as a way of
extending their learning time. As a small group intervention designed to supplement
general classroom instruction, the Tools class fit nicely into the three-tier
intervention model described in 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Educational
Improvement Act (EDEIA) legislation as Response to Intervention (Rtl).4 This model
originated as a tool to aid reading teachers in the process of documenting their
students progress in accordance with the No Child Left Behind (NLCB) Act of
4 Initially identified as a strategy through IDEA in 1997, this service delivery program has the
potential to impact the way that educators keep all children from being left behind because it sets out
to help meet the goals of NCLB. More information on how Rtl influences educational policy is
available in recent National Association of State Directors of Special Education reports (Batsche,
Elliott, Graden, Grimes, Kovaleski, Prasse, Reschly, Schrag & Tilly, 2005; Batsche, 2007).
5


2001. In 2004, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disability Education Act
(IDEA)which eventually came to be titled the IDEIA
elevated the Rtl program to become the monitoring component of the IDEIAs
service delivery system. In other words, a special education classroom like the Tools
class might more formally be described as a Tier Two response to intervention
classroom where enrolled students (learners who did not respond to general
educationi.e., Tier Oneclassroom interventions) would be served. More frequent
data collection and progress monitoring around IEP goals and objectives could take
place in this setting and more family involvement could be afforded parents by
encouraging them to keep in contact with Tools group leaders (learning specialists,
i.e., special educators) in response to their childrens grades, work completion, and
study habits.5
The Tools study hall was located in a classroom that had previously served as
a computer lab at the start of this study. Arranged around an oval conference table,
classroom seating had been reconstructed during the summer of 2005 to create safe
spaces for bean bags in quieter areas of the room. White boards along one side of the
room had also been installed; I used these to encourage students to work with me or
their peers to solve math problems aloud and we occasionally used these panels as a
projection screen. These accommodations set out to make the room more
5 How the Tier Two category influences service delivery is described well in a Headstart study about
young learners with behavioral challenges (Barnett, Elliott, Wolsing, Bunger, Haski, McKissick,
VanderMeer, 2006). However, if the Rtl model works with young children, one should not assume it
will support the needs of teen learners with varying needs in a middle school setting.
6


comfortable for the smaller groups of students that met their daily (seventh and
eighth graders, during different class periods).
In the 2005-2006 school year, I started introducing the use of hand-held
recording devices into my classroom to help eighth grade Tools boys in one all-male
study hall class complete narrative pieces of writing in small groups. I continued this
practice in the fall of 2007 while introducing the use of Smart Board technology to
help male learners (all of whom were enrolled in my Tools study hall class) share
and edit their work. It was at that time that I received a small grant to invest in
Dragon Naturally Speaking 9, a software program that had, up to that point, been
used at Mountain View in reading resource classes, pull-out settings not too unlike
the Tools for Success class offering. With the support of the special education
department at Mountain View, I invested some of my grant award to make DNS9
software available on three new Dell computers that were being purchased with
school funds for the Tools classroom. My training in the use of this tool prior to the
study was limited, but once Tools students in my all-male study hall class started
working with the software we learned a great deal about its effectiveness and
limitations together.
Analyses of school interventions with students who have been identified
with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) often focus on these learners classroom behaviors (Stage & Quiroz,
1997; Sutherland, Wehby, & Gunter, 2000) rather than the obstacles they face
7


when trying to keep up with their general education peers. If concerned with these
students academic progress, research on how Rtl interventions operate have
generally been confined to measuring the effectiveness of curriculum-based
techniques,6 not the introduction of an innovative technology tool to aid in
students individual learning. Studies that focus on how learners with attention
issues cope in the mainstreamed classrooms generally use functional behavioral
assessments (FBAs)as originally mandated by the Individuals with Educational
Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 1997to measure outcomes, but these tend to focus on
how to develop better positive behavior support plans, not how to face these
students academic challenges head-on.7 By introducing use of DNS9 into a study
hall class I sought to encourage the building of social supports through the joint use
of assistive technology and discover more specifics about social adaptation and
cognition among learners whose needs include finding ways to deal with attention-
6 Curriculum-based measurement (CBM) is a system that was originally designed to help special
educators progress monitor students and aid them in writing IEP goals and objectives. When
combined with universal screening of struggling students and the use of brief interventions in
classrooms, CBM reduces the number of false-positive identifications for special education eligibility
(VanDerHeyden, Witt, & Naquin, 2003). Curriculum based measurement fits Rtls need of a
monitoring response to track student progress before and after special education placement. By
measuring performance discrepancy to reduce the number of false-positive identification for special
education eligibility via implementation of CBM, the Response to Intervention delivery system as a
whole decreases the number of over-identification mistakes (Macmann & Barnett, 1999). Generally
speaking, CBM is a monitoring system that aids in the implementation of three-tiered basic skills
intervention programs.
7 Over the last 20 years published studies that used FBA or functional analysis as a measure to better
plan how to influence students classroom behaviors generally focused on learners with (a) severe or
profound mental retardation; (b) those who were capable of hurting themselves physically; or (c)
learners who exhibited stereotypical behaviors in the classroom (Iwata, Pace, Dorsey, Zarcone,
Vollmer, Smith, et al., 1994). These studies results had less external validity regarding students who
have average IQs or those who exhibited higher incidences of behavioral difficulties in classrooms
due to disability (Drasgow & Yell, 2001; Gresham, 2003; Sasso, Conroy, Stichter, & Fox, 2001).
8


deficit issues. Drawing on Vygotskys interpretation of cognitive development as a
sociocultural process (1978) and Rogoff s apprenticeship model (1990), as well as
her concepts of guided participation and appropriation (1993), I focused this study
on male eighth grade students for whom writing posed special challenges. Many of
the boys I worked with in the Tools class had difficulty completing assignments for
core content area classes on time; so, without primarily relying on curriculum
based measurement (CBM) calculations to support my findings, I sought to
consider how learners who produce text through the use of technology might
enhance their ability to revise their work and create lengthier pieces of writing. In
this study, I decided to embed my observations, data collection, data analysis and
interpretation of my findings in a sociocultural framework to address how special
needs learners in-school activities may influence their perceptions of themselves.
Research Questions
This study will address the following questions:
1) How do adolescents with special needs view themselves as writers?
2) How does the use of voice-recognition software (VRS) influence
students participation in the writing process and their writing
production?
As the Tools for Success classroom fits into the Rtl service delivery model at a
Tier Two level, the introduction of a VRS technological innovation into this
classroom is considered an appropriate intervention (i.e., it is deemed appropriate
9


due to its level of intensity in response to a Tier One classroom concern around
work completion). This study will address how student participants writing efforts
progressed over a short period of time and whether or not use of the voice-
recognition tool influenced their perceptions of themselves as writers, both in and
out of school.
Rationale for Conducting This Study
This study can provide more insights into the challenges that middle school
learners face as academic writers. Viewing learning as the internalization of the use
of cognitive (symbolic) tools in the process of carrying out writing activities, I was
particularly interested in addressing the learning needs of male teens with ADD and
ADHD from a Vygotskian perspective. Using Vygotskys theories on learning and
the practice of working within students zone of proximal development (Vygotsky,
1978), I set out to incorporate use of DNS9 in the Tools classroom as a mediational
tool to foster negotiation, planning and problem-solving to complete a collaborative
writing project. By drawing on sociocultural theory, I investigated how learning took
place through engagement in a study hall activity and whether or not participants
internalized the actions they engaged in with each other. Next, I looked more closely
at how learning and development are linked to participation in activity and the
construction of a writers identity to broaden the theoretical framework of my study.
10


Conceptual Framework
The conceptual framework of my study draws on sociocultural theory as
conceived by Vygotsky and applies Rogoffs apprenticeship model to in-school
writing endeavors that involve[s] active individuals participating with others in
culturally organized activity that has a part of its purpose development [of] the less
experienced participants (Rogoff, 1993, p. 132). Rogoff drew from Vygotskys
theories to formally apply sociocultural concepts to childrens learning processes in
her work. I specifically incorporate her thoughts on adults facilitation of learning
activities by focusing on students progress with the development of a writing
assignment via VRS technology.
I drew on sociocultural theory because it centers on social aspects of human
development (Lave, 1996; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1990, 1994, 1997; Rogoff,
Mistray, Goncii, & Mosier, 1993; Wertsch, 1991, 1995, 1998). This theory was
derived after Vygotsky advanced his theories on learning from conducting research
with special needs children in Soviet Russia (1978). Generally speaking, Vygotsky
found that humans personally change their behavior when they influence their
relations with the environment (1978, p. 51), that is to say, when they engage in an
activity with others in a specific environment that is culturally mediated (Cole,
1990). Activity, in this case, is defined as those actions that take place when
organized around a particular purpose, called the object of activity by activity
11


theorists. Leontev, (1978) clarified the defining importance of the object to the
notion of activity:
... we always must deal with specific activities, each
of which answers a definite need of the subject, is
directed toward the object of this need, is extinguished
as a result of its satisfaction, and is produced again....
Activity does not exist without a motive;
nonmotivated activity is not activity without a
motive, but activity with a subjectively and objectively
hidden motive.. ..just as the concept of motive is
related to the concept of activity, the concept of
purpose is related to the concept of action (pp. 62-63).
Not easily read in translation, a later rendition of Leontevs conception of activity
states that the basic parts associated with human activities are the actions that
translate them into reality (1981, p. 59). Marie Halls 1978 translation (featured in
the longer quote above) goes on to explain that work activity exists in work actions,
school activity in school actions, social activity in social actions (acts) of society
(Leontev, 1978, p. 64). A process, whether internal or external, takes place when
actions occur. If actions (like teenagers relationship-building actions) were to
become less valued within a particular context (such as a school) they will not
always culminate in a purposeful chain of actions that some (namely adults) may
12


expect. In school settings, educators and students can benefit from learning about
each others attempts at innovation rather than prioritize systemic expectations as a
way to achieve better learning outcomes. Finding a happy medium between peoples
genuine motives in schools is therefore importantthe motives of teachers and their
students.
Cultural mediation is the notion that human beings live in an environment
transformed by the artifacts of prior generations (Cole, 1990, p. 91). Artifacts that
fit this description are cultural in that they are both ideal and material products of
human endeavor. Concepts instilled about how to use word processors, for example,
are ideas that are coded in the ways that people interact with these tools, based on
previous interactions between individuals and personal computers. The space that a
tool (like a PC) inhabits makes it a material form that is partly involved in human
interactions mediated by tools.
Vygotsky believed that studying something historically required the
researcher to investigate a phenomenon during the process of change when a learner
actively incorporates neutral objects (artifacts) into the task of problem-solving.
Looking back on Vygotskys work with special needs learners, at first it may appear
that he was an advocate for what is today called full inclusion (Gindis, 1999); but
over time, he came to believe that children should receive accommodations to be
able to interact with peers as long as differentiation based on a childs potential was
implemented to ensure that mediated learning experiences would create new
13


opportunities for acculturation to take place (Vygotsky, 1993). In this study, I use the
term acculturation to refer to the process of conditioning that takes place when a
child adapts to different patterns for learning via close contact with a new tool.
Below, I delve into what makes this practice a historical process when learners use
tools to mediate interaction with the world.
Where Vygotsky uses the words culture or cultural, we can often
substitute words like society, social or societali.e., human psychological
functionsto better understand his work (Cole, 1990). If we, therefore, regard
special needs students more constructively as culturally diverse learners rather than a
population that lacks skills deemed necessary to be successful in academic settings, a
significant shift in the practice of special education could be achieved. By looking
more closely at classrooms as situated social contexts, we could better address how
assistive tools designed to level the playing field for a number of learners can more
constructively aid instruction and help struggling learners deal directly with objects
available for individual use to help them complete tasks. A teacher would then act as
a mediator in this process (Gifford & Enyedy, 1999), a role that many special
education teachers are not accustomed to taking on in resource room settings. It must
be said, however, that secondary school learners, especially those with special needs,
are often not accustomed to leading their own learning and struggle academically at
the same time that they feel challenged by the need to negotiate social roles and
identities among their peers. Used to working in resource rooms since elementary
14


school, middle school learners with special needs often view the study hall setting as
an arena where work is completed when an adult says it is. Here, in contrast,
highlights how middle school learners took more responsibility for their own
learning when working with voice-recognition software. By framing this study from
a sociocultural perspective, I refrain from typical intervention/remediation
approaches and instead propose that once adolescent learners are engaged in activity,
their identity development must be considered as key to their adoption of a
technological innovation.
Engaging Adolescent Learners in Activity
In light of current Response to Intervention (Rtl) policies in special
education, which intend to shift decision-making around use of educational resources
away from disability classification and instead focus on instructional delivery and
evaluation (Dickman, 2006), it is important to consider Vygotskys work regarding
how to engage learners in activity using his concept of the zone of proximal
development (ZPD). According to the types of expectations adults have for teenagers
in schools, it is clear that students with special needs ought to improve their reading,
writing, and math skills before they enter high school, but ZPD is a dialogue
between the child and his future; it is not a dialogue between the child and an adults
past (Griffin & Cole, 1984, p. 62). Rather than develop classroom interventions as
remediation responses that attempt to meet students needs, a teacher who introduces
learning activities asserts that school environments have to be managed carefully to
15


answer questions about learners discoveries regarding different tasks. For this
approach to learning to work, however, students need to develop identities as
academic learners and believe they belong in an academic world in order to stay with
the task at hand.
Identity Formation
Erikson defined identity formation as a process of simultaneous reflection
and observation that takes place across all developmental periods by which an
individual judges himself... in light of how he perceives himself in comparison to
[others] and to types that have become relevant to him (Erickson, 1968, pp. 22-23).
Lave & Wenger (1991) described learning as what happens when individuals engage
each other in activity. When they participate together, learners develop their own
identity in association with the practice they engage in:
Participation confers a sense of belonging. Moving
toward full participation in practice involves not just a
greater commitment of time, intensified effort, more
and broader responsibilities within the community, and
more difficult and risky tasks, but more significantly,
an increased sense of identity as a master practitioner
(1991, p. 52).
Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner & Cain (1998) use Leontevs notion of activity to
paint a picture of figured worlds that are historical events to which people are
16


drawn (or are signed up) through their work together. These events, like activities,
are not objects or units of analysis, but rather processes or traditions of
apprehension which gather us up and give us form as our lives intersect them
(Holland, et al., 1998, p. 41). In these encounters, participants identities have
substance and may take on different forms. A figured worlds construction depends
on its participants role definitions and how these are reproduced. When roles, or
identities, move along with participants engaged in tasks that are different from those
that brought the community of learners together, the figured world can impact
different fields of activity.
Identity conflict arises when the meanings associated with certain practices
and tools (such as the use of VRS) in a school context are not compatible with the
identity valued by the student in his figured world. As middle schoolers, all
participants in this study exhibited decreasing confidence in their ability to advocate
for themselves academically, an experience that has been noted in both multicultural
and special education literature (Nieto 2000; Pavri & Monda-Amaya 2001). In the
Tools classroom, students had the opportunity to rehearse social roles and identities
that they were not afforded outside of this classroom setting. By using DNS9, Tools
students had the opportunity to build a space of freedom (Bakhtin, 1981) that
could lead to assuming different identities as learners through the writing project
they engaged in. Working with voice-recognition software gave them a chance to
learn how to inhabit an as if cultural world that could affirm their ability to be
17


someone else. In Chapter 4, this idea becomes important as I focus on the Tools
students identities as writers. Their concerns about use of voice recognition software
surfaced as a major finding of this study. Next, I look more closely at studies that
address teen learners need to develop peer relationships to explain how the Tools
class setting and use of DNS9 affected students perceptions of themselves.
Leading Activities in Adolescence
Adolescents are known for having apathetic attitudes to learning and study in
secondary schools. Their inability to balance the need to socialize with completing
school work mandates often results in students describing school experiences as
boring (Fallis & Opotow, 2003; Gentry, Gable & Springer, 2000; Kanevsky &
Keighley, 2003; Larson & Richards, 1991). In secondary schools, students are most
concerned with becoming less dependent on adults and more connected to same-age
peers (Manning & Bucher, 2001). Vartanova (2007), in her work with ninth graders,
determined that students who seek out peer approval will avoid academic pursuits
when they feel they might lose this approbation. Though Vartanova did not
specifically explore the needs of special education learners, her views on identity
development are pertinent to my work to understand identity formation in the context
of these adolescents transition to adulthood.
Leontev stated that the development of ones personality is not founded on
generic activities, but rather leading activities that emerge and become
differentiated [when] special psychic processes are formed or rearranged
18


(1935/1983, p. 285). These activities depend on the changes in personality a child is
undergoing at any particular stage of development. In adolescence, how an activity is
structured, its purpose, the way it is measured (from a research standpoint) and how
it relates to learning all determine if it guides teens behavior at this stage of their
intellectual development. Elkonins research with children and young teens
suggested that developing intimate-personal relations was the leading activity in
their lives (1971/1989, p. 73). By observing preschoolers engaging in role play and
adolescents interacting with each other, Elkonin determined that a motivational-
needs sphere exists where the predominant assimilation of tasks, motives and
norms of relations between people takes place {Ibid., p. 75). Polivanovas definition
of leading activity, however, views teens need for communication as an intention
that must be encouraged through talking, feeling, and experiencing together (2006,
p. 83) and finds that adolescents leading activity is derived from their need to
experiment:
According to my conjecture, experimental activity of
necessity requires some space of action within the re-
created situation, and not merely communication about
this situation.. .Within such an activity, in the form of a
probe or a trial, the adolescent discovers in his own
way certain adult (presumably heroic) actions and
19


tries them on himself by means of re-creation (Ibid.,
pp. 83-84).
In this type of scenario, if teens find that school demandslike VRS use
conflict with their relationship-building needs (their leading activity) then peer
relationships will take precedence. Public schools are not always the most
welcoming of environments for learners who redefine themselves daily in order to fit
in with their peers. Middle schools, in particular, house the classrooms, hallways,
lunchrooms and playgrounds that can make or break a young teens reputation in the
building as s/he navigates pubertyand schoolwork does not factor into more
important tasks like figuring out how not to get shoved into a locker or making sure
you brought the clothes your mother wont let you wear out of the house to trade
with girlfriends in the restroom right before homeroom. When it comes to
academics, many middle schoolers might quip, [H]omework is the worst thing that
ever lasted three hours or just come right out and say Im not that curious
anymore (Perlstein, 2003, pp. 162-164). In suburban settings, where group work is
often encouraged, you can find kids who finish eighth [grade] thinking to
themselves, You get good at something and then move on (Ibid, p. 246), but this
isnt the case for all middle school learners.
As-If Worlds
It is important to consider that adolescents often struggle with the completion
of school tasks (including homework) because they do not make personal
20


connections to the material they are learning and/or do not value these tasks.
Vygotsky found that for people to grow they need to participate in learning activities
that meant something to them (1978). Because teenagers tend to focus on their
personal relationships as a leading activity (Elkonin, 1971/1989) during the
adolescent phase of their maturation, it is important to keep in mind that they are
trying hard to fit in with same-age peers.
One investigation I conducted as an inquiry project (Sherman, 2003) focused
on 15-year old Ashley, an African-American eighth grade student with special
needs who was a struggling reader and writer. Ashley and I initially shared novice
status at Tools Club when that research project began, but over time, Ashleys
collaborations with me and other adults provided evidence that her keyboarding
skills were becoming more consistent and she was using new e-mail tools to better
her ability to communicate. Her letters to an anonymous cyber entity (myself) not
only became lengthier, but Ashley also shared her thoughts on how in-school work
was taking on new meaning for her as she started taking a more active role as a
Toolslinger in the after-school program. By the end of the second school year,
Ashley had moved up from novice status in the Tools Club to take on more
responsibility by helping club newcomers play with different video games and club
projects as a Tools expert. In this way, Ashley was apprenticed into the Tools Club
microworld to master the types of leading activities provided by this informal
setting (Griffin & Cole, 1984, p. 53). My observation of Ashleys club experience
21


showed how her engagement in new activities increased and allowed her to become
more independent in her work over time.
Teens act by negotiating personal identities so as not to separate themselves
from the norms accepted by their peer group. This insight suggests that teenagers
who resist developing their writing with the use of assistive tools may do so because
they do not believe becoming proficient writers for proficiencys sake is enough to
warrant setting themselves apart from their peers or contradicting their own
perceptions of themselves as learners. In Coles Fifth Dimension (5D) world, of
which the Tools Club was a part, participants who struggled with connecting school
learning to real life eventually found that the 5D after-school activity structure
allowed them to do what they could not do in class (1996). Learning how to perform
school tasks in informal settings helped children learn to initiate and regulate adult
help while stimulating their own mental activities. My work with Ashley in the Tools
Club brought me to conclude, like Singer and his colleagues (2000), that the learner
becomes a member of a discourse community (Singer, Marx, Krajcik, & Chambers,
2000, p. 166). Over the two years that I was working with the Tools Club, I also
began to consider how that after-school setting resembled Rogoff s apprenticeship
model and I started to delve into reading more about communities of learners.
Communities of Learning
While Rogoff s investigations do not specifically focus on special education
populations, her methods can be extended to research on the completion of academic
22


tasks for special education learners in public schools. Rogoffs theories stem from
Vygotskian perspectives about the social nature of human development through her
work in the field of early childhood cognition. Events that stimulate learners
voluntary attention, mediated memory, and language are individual activities that
involve cognition (i.e., learning) as a process of solving problems (Rogoff, 1993)
versus teaching, which is a process that transmits knowledge.
Rogoffs theoretical framework, allows one to reconceptualize learning in a
supportive classroom by viewing learners disabilities as developmental
phenomena shaped by social influence and expectation instead of physical and/or
mental incapacities that are inherently viewed as being part individual learners. In a
community of learners, learning can be constructed by participants (regardless of
their ages or perceived levels of expertise) and built on relationships in which
participants identify with each other.
Three Planes of Sociocultural Activity
Three contexts in which problem solving, or learning, can occur are described
by Rogoff as processes that occur at different levels of sociocultural activity:
apprenticeship, guided participation and appropriation. In an apprenticeship,
individuals interact with less experienced participants to encourage the latter groups
overall development in a culturally organized activity (1993, p. 132). Guided
participation is a system where participants involvement is characterized by how
they communicate and collaborate to complete an activity that is valued by their
23


community. Rogoff specifically refers to the immediate interactions between
individuals (face-to-face) daily joint efforts that take place between peopleand
other distant interactions that dont require direct contact, but which still contribute
to completion of an activity. Finally, appropriation refers to what individuals acquire
following their involvement in a task or activity (which gives them
more preparation for future engagement in similar, or related, endeavors).
From Rogoff s perspective, research on the educational uses of technology
needs to take into account these activity contexts. School-based research on the use
of technology in classrooms tends to analyze the impact that computers have on
learning as if these tools will act as a magic cure for teachers whose instruction
still mirrors traditional practice (Cramer & Smith, 2002). Increasing student
achievement is of utmost importance to teachers, lawmakers and families, but basing
academic success primarily on state standards mastery is not productive. High-stakes
testing does not take into account how the social structure of schooling and the
cultural tools that schools offer up for individuals to be able to problem-solve impact
students development as intellectual participants in community.
By developing the concept of a community of learners to account for
informal or non-traditional learning that occurs between adults and children, Rogoff
finds the apprenticeship metaphor applies to the community level best because it
depicts how the nature of an activity or event reflects an institutions communal
practices: economic, political, spiritual, and material (1995, p. 142). Rogoffs work
24


parallels that of Holland & Eisenhart (1981) who discuss the importance researchers
should place on explaining how community influences individuals relationships. In
their book, titled Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds, Holland, Skinner,
Lachicotte & Cain (1998) describe figured worlds as frameworks within which
individuals engage in activity, construct identity, and improvise ways to meet their
own needs to solve problems. Together, these researchers drew on the idea of
activity (Leontev, 1978) into their definition of figured worlds to better focus on
events or occurrences that take place outside individuals. In their chapter titled The
Woman Who Climbed the House, the spontaneous decision of a Nepalese woman
who needed to keep an appointment with another woman of a higher caste (she
climbed up the outside of a building in order to enter it through a second story
balcony rather than trespass in a home that was off-limits to her) is an example of
creative agency that allows the individual to work within an existing cultural
framework and still negotiate between conditioned behaviors and ones personal
goals and desires.
With the idea of individual agency in mind, I look at Rogoff s concept of
guided participation as a level that is interpersonal because it is a system that is
managed collaboratively by individuals and their social partners (1995, p. 146) and
because it provides a space for participants to negotiate how they engage with others
and the materials, or tools, that are available to them. Rogoff would agree with
Holland and her colleagues that people have agency over their role in an activity
25


(and how management of others roles takes place) as well as how they facilitate
access to use of materials or other resources while engaged in an activity. She also
finds that it is when guided participation occurs that novices will be more apt to join
in an activity and [communication and coordination with other members of the
community stretches the understanding of all participants (Ibid). Rogoff follows her
line of thinking by addressing the possibility of improvisational actions taking place
at the guided participation level as participants are determining interpersonal goals,
even if joint actions dont make their goals or objectives obvious in the moment:
Their goals may not be particularly task oriented (e.g.,
their aim may be to pass time enjoyably or to avoid an
unpleasant task) or held entirely in common with
others (e.g., some may resist the direction of others).
However, peoples involvements are motivated by
some purpose (though it may often be sketchy), and
their actions are deliberate (not accidental or
reflexive), often in an opportunistic improvisational
fashion.... (1997, pp. 147-148).
The final plane that Rogoff discusses in her analysis model is that of
participatory appropriation. In my study, I considered how Rogoff associated this
piece with the individual who changes through participation in the writing project by
using the VRS to become prepared for subsequent involvement in related
26


activities... and handle a later situation in ways prepared by [his] own participation
in the previous situation [in the group assignment] (1995, p. 142). By internalizing
how to use particular tools during the course of one activity, Rogoff believes that
individuals will see themselves as future participants in a similar activity because
they are not separate from it {Ibid, p. 153).
Rogoffs analysis of a Girl Scout cookie sale gave me the impetus to consider
studying a small group of male students because the involvements and social
configurations she observed between girls reflected their connections to each other as
well as the attainment of a goal that was relevant to an institution linked to, but not
directly connected to, their everyday dealings in meeting a fundraising objective.
While this study did not look at boys engagement in an activityor explore the use
of technology to enhance the production of boys writingRogoffs work helped me
explore the ways I observed boys communicating with different Tools partners and
students who were not directly involved in my VRS study. Her research accounted
for seeing Girl Scouts taking on more responsibility for accomplishing certain tasks
at the cookie sale in ways that paralleled my observations of Tools students stepping
up to complete different tasks for one writing assignment because they engaged in
activities related to their final goal together. Next, I describe this studys design and
how it is set up to encourage student participation.
27


Research Design
Through the course of this study I sought to fill in some of gaps in general
education and special education teachers knowledge about successful uses of
assistive technology by analyzing writing produced by students using VRS to
complete an interdisciplinary group assignment. Adding the use of technology to a
small group setting can be efficient, energizing and powerful (Daniels, 1994), but
this was not always the case with the introduction of VRS to my study hall
classroom. My initial aim was to invite classroom participants to understand
language as fully interactional while emphasizing the struggle inherent in developing
ones own voice through writing expressive pieces in collaboration with their Tools
class peers. When the focus of my study shifted to the completion of one writing
assignment, however, I was not able to follow through on the implications noted
above that I believed sociocultural theory can have on writing instruction because
students were restricted in their ability to work together (DNS9 required students to
use headsets which impacted their ability to talk to each other). What resulted was an
experience that showed how participants use of the software tool reinforced in-
school perceptions of themselves as less-than-adept academic writers.
Given certain institutional constraints, I was required to support the writing
endeavors of students as they completed work assigned by other teachers rather than
engage study participants in expressive writing that they valued for personal reasons.
This effort thus focused on work completion and increased sample lengths instead of
28


emphasizing writing as authentic communication or connecting with participants
need to develop their own identities or build personal relationships in the study hall
setting. Still, a collaborative community was developed through the course of this
study that afforded me the opportunity to observe participants as they engaged each
other in the process of writing with a new tool.
Eight 14-year old male participants, seven of whom were enrolled in the
Tools for Success class as special education learners with Individual Education
Plans (IEPs), were engaged in learning how to use Dragon Naturally Speaking 9
over the course of three months. This study focuses specifically on the participants
development of written assignments over one weeks time using The Dragon to
complete a shared history-science project. It also draws on participants experiences
using other technological tools (including word processors, generally), training with
the DNS9 software, and researching their writing topics in and out of school with
same-age male peers who were not necessarily study hall class members.
The eight male students who were enrolled in my Tools for Success class at
a western suburban middle school in the spring of 2007 learned various computer
applications through the course of the 2006-2007 school year and kept up with
regular school work as Tools study hall class members. Participants learned how to
use different technological tools to accomplish personal goals with their written work
over the course of one school year. Specific feedback to teachers, school
administrators and families of participating eighth grade students about the
29


effectiveness of using the voice recognition software to develop their voices as
writers will be provided upon finalization of my dissertation report.
Chapter Summary
In this chapter, I describe how three main theorists helped me develop my
conceptual framework to study the writing processes that teens engage in while
situated in a special education study hall. Leontevs definition of activity shapes my
understanding of the effect that VRS use has with middle school learners. Elkonins
thoughts on adolescents leading activity as the need to develop interrelationships
among peers helped me interpret the manner in which I should conduct my study as
facilitator to apprentice students in the use of voice-recognition software and Lave &
Wengers work with communities of practice helped me define identity formation in
a resource room context. Rogoffs theories on guided participation were influential
in this area as well. Lastly, Vygotskys overall assertion that change occurs in human
behavior when people are influenced by their environment was helpful when I
needed to put on my researcher hat and consider the possibilities that lay before me
in the study hall setting described more fully in the next chapter.
Previous work experiences as a research assistant and facilitator of an after-
school program loosely based on the Fifth Dimension model (Cole, 1996) also
inform my study. In this chapter I describe how spending two years engaging
struggling learners in the use of educational software at an after-school club
influenced my role as study hall leader in a Tier Two Response to Intervention
30


classroom. These experiences also helped me see how use of assistive technology
(AT) in the Tools resource room setting requires having students place value on
classroom innovations. Research on identity formation and the impact that AT use
can have on middle school students ability to succeed as academic writers is
important to tease out when their apprenticeship as writers takes place in isolation
from general education peers.
Structure of the Dissertation
This chapter introduced the background of my study, my research problem, the
research questions, and my research method. Chapter 2 addresses research on the use
of assistive technology and how voice recognition software has been developed to
support writers as they draft and present their work. Chapter 3 describes my specific
research design and procedures. Chapter 4 reports my research findings. Finally,
Chapter 5 summarizes my findings, states my conclusions based on the findings and
makes recommendations for further study.
31


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Introduction
Since the advent of the personal computer, technological innovations have
been implemented in school settings with varying degrees of success. Research on
whether or not effective technology tools can be integrated into classrooms exists
that suggests that teachers resistance (Granger, Morbey, Lotherington, Ownston, &
Wideman, 2002; Mouza & Bell, 2001) or lack of training in the use of different
computers and software (Barowy & Jouper, 2004; Demetriadis, Barbas, Molohides,
Palaigeorgiou, Psillos, Vlahavas, et al., 2003; Granger et al., 2002; Lim & Chai,
2004; Pelgrum, 2001; Staples, Pugach, & Himes, 2005) is a primary reason for
students inability to access technology, but no studies exist that address secondary
students resistance to adopting a new technology when it is only made available
under specific circumstances. More specifically, research on why special needs
learners might resist using assistive technology (AT) in middle school is not on hand,
even though numerous assistive tools are provided in school and exist on the general
market for consumers personal use.
Some research on college users experiences with voice-recognition
technology, however, is available and it informs my work on writing with AT
support. In this chapter I note that, to date, researchers who have studied
adolescents informal use of new technologies to discuss how classroom technology
32


integration designed to support special needs learners writing experiences does not
reflect how these students regularly use technology out-of-school. In addition,
studies on this population do not show that writing instruction has made any
significant advances to implement assistive technology to better support special
needs learners writing process. Tools like voice-recognition software (VRS) are
only distributed to school-age learners with physical disabilities who exhibit gross
motor challenges or, occasionally, are still developing their ability to communicate
verbally. Here I explore how the specialness of assistive tool use in secondary
schools contributes to difficulties in technology integration because this label
conflicts with students perceptions of themselves as capable learners. In regards to
writing, this label can be seen as preventing learners with special needs from
exhibiting the ways they use technology out-of-school in the classroom. This label
can also be viewed as keeping students with special needs from developing school
identities as proficient writers, identities that they otherwise deem are self-evident.
Technology Integration and Adoption in Schools
A number of studies have been conducted around the use of different
technological innovations in schools that address both teachers and students needs
for newer advances to improve instruction and students learning. In regards to new
uses of educational software, some researchers have addressed teachers need for
programs that align with their curriculum (Demetriadis et al., 2003; Leu, Hillinger,
33


Loseby, Balcom, Dinkin, Eckels, et al., 1998; Staples et al., 2005) while others have
also considered the barriers that impede adopting computer technology in classrooms
(Barowy & Jouper, 2004; Demetriadis et al., 2003; Granger et al., 2002; Tang &
Ang, 2002; Turbill, 2001; Wetzel, 2002), which includes teacher training (Lim &
Chai, 2004; Pelgrum, 2001; Staples et al., 2005) and whether lack of time to dedicate
to this area is an obstacle (Lim & Chai, 2004; Pelgrum, 2001; Tang & Ang, 2002;
Turbill, 2001; Wetzel, 2002). Through all of these investigations, adult input was
sought out to develop theories around the difficulties associated with technology
integration in schools, but the impact that students themselves have on adopting a
new technological innovation has not been the subject of recent studies. In addition,
technology adoption research that focuses on the needs of special education learners
as they navigate the challenges of secondary school expectations and the social
climate they experience in school as teens has not been conducted. Finally, when use
of VRS technology has been considered to address the specific needs of learners
with physical disabilities, these studies have been designed to inform occupational
therapists and speech specialists who mostly serve elementary-age learners, not
teachers who work with adolescents diagnosed with ADD and ADHD.
Generally, research on this population has been limited to clinical evaluations
of patients (as Pludes 1996 study of the neurological processes of ADHD learners)
or discussions associated with medication (Pelham, Carlson, Sams, Vallano, Dixon,
& Hosa, 1993). Computers have been used to gauge ADHD learners responses to
34


biofeedback in a number of studies (Alhambra, Fowler, & Alhambra, 1995; Barkley,
1992; Braud, 1978; Linden, Habib, & Radojevic, 1996; Monastra, Lynn, Linden,
Lubar, Gruzelier, & LaVaque, 2005) and researchers have focused on problem
behaviors of students with ADHD (DuPaul, Guevremont, & Barkley, 1992; Evans,
Ferre, Ford & Green, 1995; Ford, Poe, & Cox, 1993; Muscott, & Gifford, 1994), but
studies designed to advise teachers about how to improve writing instruction via use
of assistive technology are nonexistent. In order for teachers to implement regular
assistive technology use in the classrooms, however, a discussion of the special
education laws that outline accommodations to provide AT has to be introduced.
Below I explain why voice-recognition software is classified as an assistive
technology and take a closer look at special needs teens resistance of technological
innovations in secondary schools.
Technology Use in Special Education
Widespread use of assistive technology is a relatively recent phenomenon in
schools, particularly with the availability of classroom computers. Assistive
technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, or product system... that is used
to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with
disabilities (IDEA, 1997, Part A, Sec. 602 (1)). In the early 1980s, fewer than half
of American schools had computers (Office of Technology Assessment, 1988), but
by the late 1980s almost every school owned at least one (Scrogan, 1988). By the
early 1990s, approximately every 20 students had access to one computer at school
35


nationwide (Kinnaman, 1992). Over time, computers have steadily become more
powerful, but are also less expensive and software is more visually appealing to
users (Lewis, 1998; Eisenberg, 2002).
Public Law 94-142 and the American Disabilities Act (ADA) have given
strength to efforts to adapt technology so all students have equal access to
educational opportunities. This is reinforced in the IDEA of 1997 which states that
assistive technology devices can help disabled students. To date, assistive devices
serve two main purposes: to help learners perform specific tasks or to improve areas
of learning where students may be deficient (Day & Edwards, 1996). Unfortunately,
most of the day-to-day barriers students with special needs face are not generally
known to teachers. Current literature on the use of assistive technology is centered
around learners with physical disabilities (gross motor challenges, for example) that
impede their ability to write, students with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or
attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not generally offered the same
types of interventions that may help them address their physical challenges, despite
legislation enacted via Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that makes this
accommodation possible.
With regards to specific technology challenges, special needs learners have
trouble securing assistive devices (in part due to high costs for such equipment) and
may also perceive some tools as not available to them because most products on
todays market are not generally tailored to people with learning or attention-deficit
36


challenges. In many cases, editing tools cannot assist students with spellings they
produce, like phonetic spellings (Gerlach, Johnson, & Ouyang, 1991; Mac Arthur,
Graham, Haynes, & De la Paz, 1996) or grammar errors (Kohut & Gorman, 1995).
Problems arise when students plan their work to complete lengthier assignments.
Negotiating students writing so their texts are not too verbose is most difficult when
students are confronted with tasks that require organizing their ideas (Barbro,
Themlund & Nettlebladt, 2006). This is especially true when working with students
diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.
Most voice-recognition software programs have been geared towards
alleviating reading challenges and the advances made in writing programs for
struggling learners focus on word processing (actual typing aids) as an assistive tool.
Aids that allow spoken language to be encoded or synthesized and word prediction
programs for students with attention-deficit challenges are alternatives that can be
implemented (Newell, Amott, Booth, Beattie, Brophy & Ricketts, 1992; Zordell,
1990; MacArthur, 1998), but can be costly. Less expensive hardware, like speech
synthesizers, are difficult to comprehend (Mirenda & Beukelman, 1990) though
research shows that comprehension grows as students become more familiar with
listening to speech recorded by software (Rounsfell, Zucker, & Roberts, 1993). Still,
as learners with special needs encounter new situations for which some tools are
inadequate they will come to change tools or create new uses for the ones that they
have available. By learning how and when to use technology that can aid them in
37


both short-term and long-term problem solving in groups, students may take on
different responsibilities to accomplish joints efforts.
Writing with VRS and Fear of Stigma
In regards to the use of technology in classrooms, two school-based
classifications divide general education learners and special education learners for
funding purposes (I have added italics for emphasis): assistive technology is only
considered to meet the needs of students receiving special education, whereas
educational technology is being used with all students (Loeding, 2002, p. 232).
Once use of tools are divided along these lines, these terms make it difficult for teen
learners with special needs to participate in activities that separate them from their
social objective to interact with general education peers in school. As active
constructors of themselves and the ways they interact with others in the world, teens
use social norms, models, and relations that exist among the adults in their society
as standards for the behavior of their peers (Karpov, 2003, p. 150),8 but what they
are really interested in is making the leading activity at this place in their lives
interacting with all peers on a social level.
Research on adolescent stigma in the field of special education is limited to a
few studies, like Nancy Wards work with labeling (1996), and addresses special
needs students sense of being stigmatized when school interventions set them apart
8 Y.V. Karpov makes this statement summing up the results of the following Russian neo-
Vygotskian researchers work (Ibid.): L.I. Bozhovich (1968); I.V. Dubrovina (1987); D.B. Elkonin
(1989); D.B. Elkonin & T.V. Dragunova (1967).
38


from their general education peers. Previously, this arena was a focus of Ray
McDermotts work with learning disabled students (1993) where he argued that
students with IEPs acquired a completely different set of rules and were provided
accommodations by which to function as learners in pull-out sessions rather than be
mainstreamed with their peers. Both Wards and McDermotts work contribute to the
notion that ADD and ADHD learners can develop negative reactions to acquiring
deficit identities at school that will affect their academic endeavors.
Writing with colleague Herve Varenne, McDermott discusses how cultures
(like a school culture) are developed out of the membership of a particular group,
crafted from the partial and mutually dependent knowledge of each person caught
in the process (McDermott & Varenne, 1995, p. 325). What group members do
together then determines how they will function. If certain members of a group are
not as visible, however, life within a particular culture is a great occasion for
developing disabilities, or at least for having many people think they have
disabilities (Ibid., p. 327). When this happens, chances are that the culture will be
defined by those who are present and recognize those who are not via what makes
them different from the norm. In schools, a culture of disabilities has been
established to meet the needs of learners who stand outside the norm, but while there
was a time when educators looked at students home lives to explain their
differences, now the trend is to look at how more worldly conditions account for
differenceand try to alleviate the suffering (Ibid.).
39


In regards to the use of assistive technology, how educators create least-
restrictive settings determines the ways special needs learners become isolated.
Considering use of VRS in a special education context can determine how this tool
influences students understanding of what (and for whom) it is designed. Mehans
thoughts on stigmatized learners (1991) are valuable to understand the problem of
special needs students development of positive identities in school when faced with
using assistive tools. In order to understand why these tools are often used in
isolation, we must first realize what purposes they serve and how they are acquired.
Types of assistive technology fall into four categories (Weber & Demchak,
1996): (a) Computers and software (including instructional software, simulation
approaches and educational games); (b) Peripheral devices (adapted tools, such as
enlarged keyboards and touch screens); (c) Switches that allow students with
physical limitations to activate computers or other machines by controlled breathing,
muscle tension or voice activation; and (d) Electronic communication devices
(communication boards or speech synthesizers, which also includes voice-
recognition software). All of these tools are primarily purchased with special needs
dollars in school districts that serve learners with physical challenges (like those that
affect gross or fine motor ability) whereas educational tools, that are afforded all
school-age learners, are budgeted at the district level and funds can be earmarked for
new purchases or applied for through in-house mechanisms that divvy out dollars
yearly for different teacher projects and/or interventions. Because voice-recognition
40


technology is considered an assistive tool at present, it is difficult to provide this
resource more globally in classrooms. But rather than get into the cost-effectiveness
of this tool, it is more important to look at how use of VRS can impact learners
whose views of themselves as academic writers might change due to its classroom
use, however helpful.
Using VRS as a Classroom Intervention
When specifically seeking out a new technology to support writing as a
mediated activity, teachers must consider that writing is a process where
alternatives are provided by different.. .members and the selection of the best one is
a matter of detailed deliberations and agreements (Salomon & Perkins, 1998, p. 3)
between participants.
In the former Soviet Union and Russia, the study of learners leading
activities (Elkonin, 1971/1989) has shown that adolescents internalize social norms
and use them for self-analysis which eventually develops their sense of self. If adults
play a role as mediators of teen activity when providing writing instruction, frequent
opportunities for social interaction and communication are needed for the
construction of knowledge and learner development to take place (Gifford &
Enyedy, 1999). The transition to adulthood requires complex interactions to evolve
between same-age peers and adults.
Typically, sustaining the activity of writing in formal settings requires
learners to create multiple drafts of their work and submit it to others for evaluation
41


through the writing process. Thinking of the Tools class as a community of learners,
I explored how the study hall, or resource room, setting served as place where
learners could create final written products in a short period of time using VRS with
adult support. The division of labor between classroom participants allowed students
and teacher to learn from each other, as each operated within his or her ZPD. The
teachers role then became that of mediatorthe participant who asked guiding
questions, adjusted tools and activities and modeled being a writer via the use of
voice recognition software.
Background on DNS9
An early version of DNS9 was named Voice Type by its Dragon Systems,
Inc. manufacturers. In 1996, an article was published in the Journal of Learning
Disabilities describing a study that used Voice Type with three elementary school
LD students9 to complete classroom writing assignments over 10 weeks. Author
Keith Wetzel posited three questions to guide his research: (a) Can elementary
students learn to use Voice Type?; (b) Is the technology powerful enough to support
the kind of tasks students try to perform?; and (c) Does the entire process result in
students improved communication?
Of all the available VRS systems, Voice Type was the most affordable in
1996 and had a large vocabulary system (7,000 words) that recognized discrete
speech when the software user paused briefly between each word dictated into a
9 Two fifth graders (one boy and one girl) and one sixth grader (a boy).
42


word processor via use of a microphone. Training is required to activate this VRS so
a users voice template is recognized and saved to his/her computers hard drive;
new words can be updated as needed. Personal narratives were produced by each
student with Wetzel present for 20-40 minute sessions twice a week. Two prevailing
strategies were taught to participants by the researcher to aid in their oral
composition: oral rehearsal and writing down keywords.
Viewing use of Voice Type as an intervention, Wetzel modeled the
procedures study participants would use during the training sessions and took notes
about each students mastery of Voice Type and how they managed using it to
complete school work. Wetzel features his analysis of the male sixth graders ability
to monitor his dictation and compares his success with the Voice Type to the female
students fluency with the VRS (she required less training than he did overall, but
struggled more with terms that Voice Type did not recognize). The third student
wrote shorter samples than the other two students and was the least fluent of the
three participants. Wetzel concluded that this childs ability to use Voice Type was
impacted by deficits in written composition versus oral fluency. Overall, this tools
effectiveness depended a great deal on the types of tasks the students undertook and
their ability to fluently dictate into the microphone. Repetition of commands and
words is part of the process Wetzel observed being time-consuming. He noted that
for students who have consistent access to trained assistants, the approach may be
worthwhile and workable (1996, pp. 376-377).
43


Another study (Raskind & Higgins, 1995) that focused on 29 college-age
students diagnosed with having learning disabilities also explored the use of VRS in
regards to essay writing. Here, the researchers compared use of speech recognition
software, transcribed work (that had initially been handwritten) and word processed
text that had been produced without the use of spell check. Students were trained to
use VRS over a six-hour period and were able to produce written copy with 75-80%
accuracy for dictated words. Overall, these students quality ratings were higher using
speech-recognition software than word processing, but these holistic ratings were
fairly comparable to that of the transcribed copies. Raskind and Higgins noted that
VRS users had one advantage over writers who did not use this type of technology in
that they could see their work immediately and revise it using voice commands. Still,
these investigators acknowledged that adult participants had to monitor the systems
accuracy when it corrected their work. For some of their student participants, the use
of VRS did not outweigh its disadvantages in regards to having to work through the
training process and revise their work more than once.
The Writing Lives of Special Education Middle Schoolers10
In middle school, many students who use assistive tools are developing
writing skills in resource room settings, isolated from peers who demonstrate
different levels of exposure to good writing. General education classrooms do not
have assistive technological supports readily available for students who are afforded
10 Linda Perlsteins 2002 book Not Much, Just Chillin is the primary source for the title to this
section (I added the writing and special education references, however).
44


writing accommodations to use tools such as voice-recognition software even though
this product is relatively inexpensive. Struggling learners who are mainstreamed into
settings that do not have such tools have been reported as not knowing where to
begin with a given writing prompt, so they may stall with their planning by asking to
getting a drink of water, go to the restroom or break pencils rather than put words to
paper (Furr & Bauman, 2003). Special needs learners exhibit all of these difficulties
and the coping strategies they develop to deal with school challenges.
While it is generally accepted that all learners have a story to tell, completing
a first draft in school is a challenge when struggling readers and writers have trouble
developing enough text quantity to later focus on the quality of their writing
(Tompkins, 2000). Students often have adequate paper-and-pencil scaffolds in place
to complete an assignment independently (graphic organizers, rubrics, checklists are
all provided by teachers), but their writing tasks often do not appear do-able until
they feel they have authority for their work (i.e., they feel they can communicate
what they want to express in writing) (Kirsch, 1988). Out-of-school, their writing
does not have to be organized in academic formats that are rated for evidence of
proficiency; additionally, use of technology to aid in their goal to communicate
welland quicklyout-of-school (via emailing or text messaging) does not have
the stigma associated with assistive tools provided in school settings.
In the past two decades, teenagers have been using words interactively
through various media tools in schools to develop their own literacies that do not
45


involve traditional paper-and-pencil tasks (such as word processing); but out-of-
school, their use of new technologies is more evident across a wider range of tools
and is largely unrecognized (Gee, 2007). In Chapter 1,1 specifically addressed the
work done by Michael Cole and his colleagues that has led to the formation of after-
school programs (Cole, 1996; Griffin & Cole, 1984). Other studies that look at
literacy activities of teens out-of-school range from adolescents use of diaries or
writing for the stage (Camitta, 1993; Finders, 1997; Mahiri, 1998; Schultz, 2002) to
writing via the Internet by surfing or chatting online (Lankshear & Knobel, 1997;
Kolko, Nakamura, & Rodman, 2000). Some researchers argue that schools define
literacy too narrowly (Gee, 1996, 2000; Street, 2001; Street & Street, 1991). Though
these investigations do not focus on special needs populations, the literacy practices
and events they describe address how participants actions and behaviors reflected
the structures they were situated in. Practice, in the way that New Literacy Studies
researchers (namely Brian Street and James Gee) use the term, injects notions of
activity that are more heavily laden with ideology and power. Though this study
primarily took place during school hours and within a formal learning context, use of
the NLS discourse in research enables students to understand their social
positionings in relation to their identity formation and subjectivities (Hull &
Schultz, 2001, p. 588) and thus informs this study with middle school students
situated in a special education resource room where they felt they had no voice.
46


Conclusions
Most secondary school studies do not address whether assistive technologies
can aid in the revision processes of teen writers when they work in resource room
settings like study halls (Graham & Harris, 2000; Vaughn & Klingner, 1998) and
writing activities that teenagers engage in outside of the classroom (using various
technologies) are not considered in the body of evidence that determines whether or
not they are proficient independent of assistive tools. Many teens views of their
progress as writers are, therefore, not compatible with school assessments of their
individual work. Full use of a range of technological choices provided in school is
only accessible if one buys into being recognized based on a perceived disability. In
the case of written language, the symbolism of the assistive label becomes more
prominent when approved categories for technological accommodations become
signs for real entities and relations (Vygotsky, 1978) that define students identities
as academic writers.
Assigning a special education label to the use of assistive technology in
school stigmatizes the learner who uses this tool to write because it separates him
from the experiences same-age peers not afforded this accommodation will engage in
and appears to change what is expected of him to complete school work. As
discussed in Chapter 1, teenagers school experiences are geared towards building
relationships with others their own age as leading activities. Middle schoolers who
use assistive technologies in the classroom, just like all teens, need their individual
47


accomplishments to reflect the positive identities they have assumed in order to fit in
with their peers. Use of assistive technology inevitably conflicts with their
perceptions of themselves if they cannot use these tools alongside other teens
without being stigmatized.
Chapter Summary
This chapter has provided a review of the literature on assistive technology
(with a special look at VRS technology), the ways in which it is used in schools and
how new literacies are being developed in and out of school. Resistance to AT in
light of adolescents leading activities is discussed and conjectures regarding the use
of VRS technology to aid teen writers are also addressed via two specific studies
conducted with college students.
This review shows that there are many different factors involved in technology
integration and adoption of technological innovations in classrooms. While there are
no published studies available applying a sociocultural perspective to ADD/ADHD
students use of VRS, the research on interventions geared to aid students with
diagnosed learning disabilities and the labeling of students have helped explain the
effects use of technology like DNS9 can have as an assistive tool. In regards to
improving special needs learners writing abilities, this literature review has affected
my understanding of ways to provide supportive innovations in the school lives of
special needs students. As my study will show, VRS use serves as a compensatory
strategy to aid struggling learners and bestows teachers with a greater awareness of
48


how instruction that focuses on teens leading activities can encourage middle school
learners with special needs to overcome the labels that unsympathetically highlight
their challenges rather than their strengths.
49


CHAPTER 3
METHOD
Introduction
By examining the participation of eight male middle school students as they
engaged in writing using voice recognition software (VRS), this study investigates
students self-perceptions as writers and whether or not their work improved through
the use of technology. Two research questions are posed:
(a) How do adolescents with special needs view themselves as writers?
(b) How does the use of voice-recognition software (VRS) influence
students participation in the writing process and their writing
production?
Site and Participants
This study was conducted at a high-achieving middle school in the suburbs of
a western city. All eight participants were enrolled in Tools for Success, an
elective class, in the Spring Term of 2007. During this 15-week period, all students
had the opportunity to work with the teacher/researcher using different computer
applications to complete a research-based, poster presentation assignment. They also
kept up with regular school work each week that the study was conducted.
Participants learned how to use voice-recognition software to complete the written
portion of an interdisciplinary assignment during the course of this investigation.
50


The Tools for Success Setting
This investigation was conducted in a study hall classroom in and out of
school. During the school day, the Tools for Success class met during an eighth
grade study hall period. After school, members of this class worked together with
students outside the Tools class to complete the writing assignment. The Tools class
was an elective course developed primarily to provide additional content area
support for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs). I facilitated the Tools
class with the assistance of two paraprofessionals through the fifteen-week period
when this study was conducted. In school, this class met daily for 50 minutes with a
half-hour lunch break that split the class session into two parts. After school, study
participants met in the Tools classroom to work with the Dragon Naturally Speaking
9 (DNS9) software. The use of DNS9 was incorporated into the writing activities all
Tools participants engaged in, to varying degrees, during the course of this study.
Software Selection
Various technological tools were introduced into the Tools classroom prior to
selecting DNS9 for this study. During the 2006-2007 school year, one Tools
classroom intervention involved the use of audio recording equipment (hand held
tape recorders and digital recorders) to support the all-male students ability to
compose fiction pieces more independently by voicing their thoughts. I transcribed
students recordings to make their notes accessible to students as they developed
characters and plot points. In the fall of 2006,1 piloted a second investigation around
51


male adolescents writing using SMART Board technology with the Tools
participants that are featured in my VRS study. A SMART board projects word
processing capabilities and Internet access onto a free-standing touch screen which
allowed Tools students to edit their work with peers. Over the course of two weeks, I
found that students critique and revision of text resulted in the production of
multiple drafts and longer final products. Observing that participants ability to talk
about their writing contributed to their final products, I also noticed that the boys
novice keyboarding skills detracted from their ability to completely edit and revise
their writing in a timely fashion.
By this time, I had received a small grant from the International Reading
Association to address how visual and aural assistive technology could aid eighth
grade boys to further develop their writing. DNS9 was a software package that came
to the attention of Mountain View Middle School special educators at a 2006
conference and had been in use at the school site to aid students with Individual
Literacy Plans (ILPs) prior to the start of this study. I decided to use some of my
grant funding to purchase The Dragon so it would be specifically available to Tools
students for writing purposes. I later read about how the use of DNS9 in studies with
elementary-age and college age students with special needs had shown mixed results
when this tool was used to aid learners with their writing. Intrigued by cases where
work production had improved over time, I decided that investigating DNS9 use in
52


the Tools classroom could contribute to the limited body of literature on voice
recognition software use in school settings.
Participant Selection
I facilitated two informational sessions (one in-school and one after-school)
to determine how many eighth grade students who had to turn in written work for an
interdisciplinary assignment would make use of the available software program in
the Tools classroom. My dissertation advisor and school principal were present at the
in-school session held during the fourth period Tools class just prior to lunch. At this
after-school session, I was joined by a total of 12 eight grade boys (all who were
assigned the same project). Eight of these were Tools students and, upon deciding to
try using The Dragon, all eight signed permission slips to participate in this study
as did their parents.
Study Participants
Seven Tools students (six Caucasian males and one biracial male) all
qualified for special education services as students with physical disabilities (PD) or
learning disabilities (PC); one Tools student (David, who was Latino) was not on an
IEP. All of the boys in this study took advantage of the Tools class as a course
offering to help keep up with class work and homework. Table 1 below provides
some summative information about each Tools student:
53


TABLE 1.
Student Profiles11
Name IEP Status/ Disability VRS H Use11 12 Name IEP Status/ Disability VRS Use
Adam PD/adhd Yes H Jake PC/ADHD No
Dan PC/ADHD No H James pd/add Yes
David No IEP/ADD Yes H Keith PD/adhd Yes
Eddie PD/adhd No Ted PD/adhd Yes
Two of the eight study participants, Dan (the biracial student who had an IEP) and
David, joined the Tools class in the spring trimester whereas the other six had been
Tools students since the start of the school year. David transferred to Mountain View
from an in-state urban school district during the spring term. Seven of the eighth
graders who participated in this study had taken a keyboarding class as seventh
graders at MVMS. These boys had also used word processing tools to complete class
assignments throughout the course of this school year for different content area
assignments. Even so, all eight participants needed ongoing keyboarding practice
and seemed interested in using DNS9 for this reason.
Writing Process Innovation
I was interested in working with eighth grade boys in and out of their project
groups during the Tools class and after school to determine how DNS9 served these
11 All of the boys who participated in this study had turned 14 by its conclusion in May 2007.
12 Adam, Keith and James worked together in one IC group. All of the other Tools students worked
with group peers who were not enrolled in the Tools class and did not use VRS with the group
partners (either in school or after-school). Among all the study participants, Keith was the only
student who had used an earlier version of DNS9at home.
54


learners need to complete a written assignment within a set time frame. As a
facilitator, I guided students in their use of the voice recognition software. Prior to
the spring term, I had supervised six of the study participants varied writing efforts
and collected two previously word processed assignments when The Dragon
software was not yet available to Tools students. These samples suggested that
students written products were consistently shorter than that of same-age peers
outside of the Tools class and often needed additional revising to make each authors
thoughts clear. I felt that use of The Dragon would facilitate students production of
lengthier pieces of writing that reflected their research findings while also giving
them more ample time to revise their work via multiple drafts. By training Tools
study participants in the use of DNS9 well in advance of being assigned the
interdisciplinary project that is featured in this study, I believed the use of this tool
could help this population better develop their writing and perhaps encourage them
to consider investing in this software for themselves. Completion of this study could
also provide feedback to special education teachers interested in providing assistive
tools to students with DEPs by helping them make informed decisions around what
types of resources might best suit adolescent boys diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.
Forming Groups
Each eighth grade student enrolled in the Tools class was part of a
collaborative group which they self-selected in their physical science classes, under
the primary guidance of their science teacher (and, less formally, the history teacher
55


and the researcher). The groups were organized so that students could conduct
research together in the library for two days during science class.13 Three of the boys
who enrolled in the Tools class at the start of the school year were grouped together
with one other science class student to complete the one-week interdisciplinary
assignment (hereafter referred to as the IC assignment, short for the Invention
Convention); the remaining five study participants were all members of different
collaborative groups that were formed in their respective physical science classes to
complete the IC assignment.
The IC Assignment in Context
The IC project was an interdisciplinary assignment devised by the Tools
students history and science teachers to study 19th century inventors and their
inventions over the course of one week in both courses. Students were grouped into
small cohorts of three to four individuals to work together in the science class where
they would construct a model based on simple machines created by 19th century
inventors they were assigned to investigate in history class. The written portion of
the IC assignment (which included creating a tri-fold poster for their presentation)
would make up a good portion of each students history class grade for this joint
endeavor while development and presentation of a compound machine would make
up a large part of the science grade for this assignment.
13 In history class, group members did not work together; they were afforded time to use their research
findings to develop the written pieces that would be part of their poster presentation individually for
two history class sessions.
56


Students were handed a rubric that outlined how they might earn higher
numbers of points for their collaborative efforts as well as their individual research
and final written products. The rubric outlined how students could earn As, Bs or Cs
on their invention and presentation; a point system was developed to grade students
writing based on how well paragraphs were constructed and how much research was
presented in final drafts (see Appendix D). Students work was assessed by teachers
for evidence of higher levels of content and inquiry based on state curriculum
standards developed for each content area such as use of graphic representations to
explain inventions (science) and the amount of Higher, Average or Lower
level thinking was represented in students writing (history).14 How well the tri-fold
poster was organized also earned students points as did having a functioning
invention. While I did not analyze the assignments design, it was apparent to me
that students who completed this project would need to spend time outside of class to
meet with group members. The Tools classroom, therefore, became one place where
some IC groups met after-school to work on this assignment.
Participants Computer/Writing Experiences
During the course of this study, all students stored and shared their final
products with members of their collaborative groups and their teachers; all but one of
the study participants shared his final written product with me. Other computer-
oriented tools had been introduced to study participants (Inspiration, PowerPoint) in
14 Also see Appendix D to review how these areas were accounted in students work.
57


eighth grade and each boy had utilized the Internet for research purposes prior to
testing The Dragon program. One of the boys, David, had less exposure to these
technological tools because he had not been attending MVMS the same amount of
time as his Tools peers. Additionally, in the fall of 2006, all study participants,
except for Dan and David, had used Smart Board as an editing tool in the Tools class
when working on a language arts narrative assignment in pairs. By introducing
voice-recognition software I sought to help all eight participants put their thoughts
on paper, edit for spelling and grammatical errors and revise their written work (with
a focus on paragraph construction and adequate presentation of their research) prior
to presenting it for a grade.
Data Collection and Analysis
In this chapter section, I chart and explain the types of data sources I
collected from each Tools student and how they were utilized to respond to my
research questions. To gather data on students perceptions of themselves I asked
questions regarding their in-school and out-of-school uses of technology and the
ways in which they engage in writing out-of-school. Survey responses helped
address how participants viewed themselves as academic learners in school. My
observations of students working independently and with other Tools peers also
contributed to my findings regarding DNS9 use. Finally, my analysis of students
written drafts and their final products helped me gauge whether or not use of DNS9
58


had an effect on their writing. Table 2 breaks down how these data sources apply to
each student involved in this study:
TABLE 2.
Data Sources
Name Interview Survey15 Individual Observation Group Interaction Writing Drafts Final Report
Adam X X X X X
Dan X X X X
David X X X X X X
Eddie X X X
Jake X X X X X
James X X X X X X
Keith X X X X X X
Ted X X X X X
To respond to my first research question, How do adolescents with special needs
view themselves as writers? I used interview responses and augmented these with
additional questions based on survey responses when I had clarifying questions about
student responses and/or writing choices. Handwritten records of classroom
conversations with Tools students also helped me respond to this research question.
Interviews and Questionnaires
Six participants were surveyed and interviewed after school during the course
of this study. Two of the Tools students (Adam and Dan) did not participate in after-
school interviews; information about their writing interests was gleaned solely from
their weekly-self evaluation responses. Data from self-evaluations were collected
15 Questionnaires and self-evaluations.
59


from all eight participants through the course of this study. I followed a 32-question
protocol(Appendix A) and digitally recorded all interviews, taking notes during these
sessions.
Questions I posed to the six interviewees addressed their beliefs about what
skills and knowledge writers needed to write well, their perceptions of themselves as
writers and whether or not they felt that being a good writer is important. Process
questions about revising and editing written work (including questions about the use
of multiple drafts to aid in improving final copies) and imagining the intended
audience that a piece of writing is directed towards were also addressed during the
interview sessions. I also informally asked study participants about the tasks they
engaged in when using VRS and how they felt this tool aided them in completing the
IC assignment. Topics such as spelling and grammar arose in some interviews with
Tools students, but were not the focus of these sessions; instead, questions about the
links between reading and writing, teachers instructional strategies and students
activities with writing outside of school as well as students personal writing habits
(such as the production of multiple drafts) were addressed.
I created individual profiles on each Tools student and identified themes
across all eighth in terms of how each boy saw himself as a writer based on interview
transcripts. Transcripts of interviews were also analyzed to understanding how
participants viewed VRS use in comparison to more traditional writing tools and/or
writing methods. Questionnaires (Appendix B) added to student profiles regarding
60


the boys out-of-school writing preferences and interests. These were compiled as
certain themes emerged regarding common in- and out-of-school literacy practices.
To answer my second research question, How does the use of voice-
recognition software (VRS) influence students participation in the writing process
and their writing production? I observed participating students as they trained and
used the VRS together in the Tools class and after school to analyze what they
valued and what defined their understanding of a completed written product. I also
audio taped participants as they interacted with each other after school when using
the VRS and transcribed their conversations to determine how students decided they
would divide up their work and whether or not they took turns playing different roles
when completing writing tasks.
Field Notes
By taking field notes during each stage of the participants use of the voice-
recognition software, I examined their interactions, the kinds of roles they undertook
and how they determined when they completed their work in and out of school.
Students were observed working one at a time and/or in the company of others. Little
guidance was given to participants about the writing process during these sessions,
but I helped Tools students navigate through their early interactions with The Dragon
and took notes regarding the types of voice command errors they encountered and
what would occur if they could not solely revise their written work via voice
61


commands. Analysis of my notes aided in cross-referencing transcripts of audio
taped sessions that took place between participants when they used DNS9.
Audio Taped Transcripts
Audio tape recordings were collected daily and transcribed for analysis each
weekend so I had hard copies of conversations between students as I started each
new week of note-taking and audio taping. In-depth analysis of these transcripts was
conducted at the close of the school year (through the summer of 2007), but the
reflective portion of my field notes guided any analytical questions I posed to myself
through the data collection process. Sessions with three study hall students in and out
of school were coded to analyze the interactions between students (Dale, 1994) as
they engaged in use of DNS9 to complete their written assignments. I chose to use
the audio taped interactions of two of these three students because they worked
together in the same IC project group and helped each other out with the written
portions of this assignment using The Dragon.
To respond to the written product component of Question 2, each draft of
individual students work that was produced with The Dragon software was coded
using Strauss & Corbins (1998) open coding procedures as a process through which
concepts are identified and their properties and dimensions are discovered in the
data (Strauss & Corbin, Ibid., p. 101). Table 3 below is a template I developed to
62


analyze each students work (Columns 1-4 are organized according to the history
teachers writing rubric for the IC assignment, but Column 5 is my addition16):
TABLE 3.
Text Analysis Guide
Higher order Presentation Use of Grammar Product
thinking of factual transitions errors Length
(I, V,WC) information (0) and topic sentences (F) (C) (beg/end word count)
Early categories I developed to analyze the Tools students multiple drafts of the
written portion of the IC assignment were closely aligned with the Six Traits (6T)
categories. The boys Mountain View language arts teacher had used 6T to assess
eighth grade students writing in the fall term and those categories are broadly
reflected in table I have presented above: Ideas (I), Organization (O), Voice (V),
Word Choice (WC), Sentence Fluency (F) and Conventions (C). These concepts
were convenient in that all of my study participants were familiar with the terms
because they have been used in both 7th and 8th grade core classes. Each 6T concept
had more than one definable property (or characteristic) that could be interpreted
according to the emerging attributes, or meanings, given to these terms by study
16 Each column in this template abbreviates the 6T traits that apply to each category developed by the
Tools boys history teacher. In Chapter Four, Table 10 provides evidence of 6T use and their final
draft word counts.
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participants. Strauss & Corbins open coding process (1998) helped me further
devise categories and subcategories about students written work.
Written Drafts and Final Products
I analyzed students drafts for their use of writing conventions, but primarily
focused on the flow of ideas and how content was expressed across multiple drafts of
students writing. Individual students written text were broken down into discrete
parts (such as students examples of parts of speech), closely examined and
compared across the participants various drafts for similarities and differences.
These are linked to Columns 3 and 4 in Table 3 (look back at page 62). Items that
were found to be conceptually similar or related were then grouped under categories
and subcategories. Later steps in the analytical process allowed me to reassemble
data through statements about the nature of the relationships between the categories
and subcategories. This made it possible to form new explanations about the nature
of the phenomena observed in the transcribed texts.
To discover what influenced Tools students written work production, I
collected final assignment products and used the writing rubric to analyze whether or
not VRS use affected composition length, sentence fluency and content presentation.
The entire IC assignment was divided into two parts, totaling a possible 100 points
(50 points per each content subject area). Only the history component involved an
evaluation of the final written products.
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Chapter Summary
This chapter outlined the manner in which I selected my study site and
planned to conduct my investigation of voice-recognition software with eight grade
male students. Here I described the site, study participants, and the ways I collected
data and analyzed my various data sets to answer the two research questions that are
presented. I also briefly describe how one in-school writing assignment became the
focus of my study and break down how its design supported my use of after-school
hours to help students complete this task. In the next chapter, I describe my findings
on how the interdisciplinary assignment was completed by most Tools students via
the use of VRS technology.
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CHAPTER 4
FINDINGS
Introduction
This chapter presents the findings of my study. It is organized into three
sections, structured by the two research questions that guide this study. The first
section provides portraits of the boys who participated in this study and addresses my
first research question: How do adolescents with special needs view themselves as
writers? The next chapter section presented here attends to the process of writing and
addresses my second research question: How does the use of voice recognition
software (VRS) influence students participation in the writing process?
In the third section of this chapter, I examine the written drafts students
produced while using VRS to complete the IC assignment, and address the second
part to Question 2 regarding students writing production. Finally, following this
presentation of my findings, I conclude this chapter with my thoughts on how the
Tools students self-perceptions changed through the course of this study and briefly
introduce Chapter 5 where I interpret and synthesize my thoughts on what effect
using Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 (DNS9)The Dragonhad on the Tools
boys overall.
A Quick Glimpse into the Fishbowl
On software training day, chairs were crowded around the conference table in
the center of the classroom, but all eight Tools class participants were on their feet,
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restless and waiting to be engaged in something. Located in the center of the building
on the first floor, the Tools classroom had some unique features. Unlike some of the
Tools boys core and elective classrooms, this room had a split-level design. Bean
bag chairs and narrow, carrel-type seating were arranged on the top level while the
conference room table was located below. Dark green blinds above the large,
second-level windows were pulled back today and the Tools boys could see other
students walking to their respective fourth period classes. These passersby, likewise,
could look in.
This morning I decided James, Keith and Adam (all pseudonyms) should be
the first to meet The Dragon. These boys were all in the same collaborative team that
had been grouped to work together on the IC assignment. I took attendance and the
Tools boys were settling down to start working on assignments of their choice. This
gave me time to help the above threesome arrange themselves around our three Dell
computers and hand out headsets. Each boy ripped open the plastic bag encasing his
headset and was wearing it before our teacher-trainer (another special needs teacher)
arrived. All three quickly logged into their word processing accounts (provided to
students building-wide) and then the finger-tapping, headset cord-winding and
microphone-adjusting ensued.
With the window blinds drawn back, you couldnt see this threesome because
they were seated at the classrooms lower level. Students who were not working with
DNS9 at the moment, however, were seated around the conference room table and in
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areas above the boys who were using the Dell computers. Viewing the Tools room
from a birds-eye perspective, chairs and counter spaces were arranged as seen in
Figure l:17
These shapes depict where classroom computers were located in
the Tools class.
Figure 1.
17 Besides the unique seating configuration around a conference table, this diagram features the large
windows that surround three-quarters of the Tools room.
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Once the training session began, Keith seemed puzzled by the directions he heard
through his headset, but Adam hardly appeared to be listening to the instructions he
was receiving through the headset. Of the three boys, he appeared to be advancing
through the training protocols rather quickly. James was silent between instructions
on voice commands that were provided to guide him. He asked for help from our
DNS9 trainer most often.
Lunchtime arrived and I dismissed the entire class, knowing that this trio
would have to return to The Dragon to finish their session. The other Tools
studentsEddie, Jake, Dan, David, and Tedhad been listening in and looking up
occasionally when funny-sounding commands and phrases were recited by the
members of the trio. Mixed looks of curiosity and/or trepidation quickly spread
across their faces. Before lunch, some giggles and smirking laughs were exchanged
within the group of three and echoed by those who listened from afar; after lunch,
some of the boys doing their own work asked me when they would have a chance to
test The Dragon. Each student seems to have an idea about what DNS9 could do by
then, and wanted to find out if he was right.
Tools Students Perceptions of Themselves as Writers
The first research question guiding this study was: How do adolescents with
special needs view themselves as writers? First, I must note that four of the Tools
studentsEddie, Adam, James, and Tedhad been in a Mountain View special
needs study hall setting for five trimesters prior to the start of this study (three while
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in seventh grade and two as eighth graders). Working with others in the Tools
classroom-as-fishbowl was not unfamiliar to many of these students (those who had
had been in a Tools class since seventh grade). This information, coupled with the
data collected in Table 4 below, again directs the readers attention to some of the
information provided in Chapter 3 regarding the Tools boys special education
status. Data collected via interviews and classroom discussions during the course of
this study provided me with several opportunities to gauge how Tools class learners
perceived themselves as academic and day-to-day writers:
TABLE 4.
Tools Students School Records and Survey Data
Name IEP Services18 Personal Technology Use VRS Use Self-descriptions (in and out of school)
Adam PD/ADD Limited e- mailing Yes Musician/Wrestler
Dan PC/ADD Listening to I-Pod No Biographer/Musician
David No IEP/ADD Listening to I-Pod Yes Athlete/Sports Writer
Eddie PD/ADHD Texting, Blogging No Novelist
Jake PC/ADHD TV, radio, Internet surfing No Sci-fi Writer/Essayist
James PD/ADD Internet surfing, PC Yes Outdoorsman/Historian
Keith PD/ADHD PC, TV, radio Yes Poet/Fantasy Writer
Ted PD/ADHD I-Pod, sound equipment Yes Music Video-Movie Director/Producer
18 These are the categories that qualified each boy for special needs services via an Individual
Education Plan, or IEP.
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Six of these Tools students (see names in bold in Table 4 above) revealed that
they had different strengths and weaknesses as writers. David felt he was a good
storyteller and could write a paragraph in six minutes or seven minutes, but he also
shared that he had difficulty with spelling, grammar and some difficulty with
organizing his work. Eddie felt that he worked best when he could fix something
out loud (i.e., edit), but also admitted: I need to work on my voice a lot. In
addition, he felt that his writing could be more organized. Jake most liked developing
the imagery in his writing, but shared that grammar rules were difficult to follow;
when it came to organizing his ideas, he felt he had improved his ability to write
essay conclusions. James felt his ability to come up with good ideas was a writing
strength, but developing them into lengthier pieces of writing (making paragraphs
eight to 10 sentences long) was a challenge. Keith considered himself to be a
creative writer who had to check his work for spelling and organization. Finally, Ted
felt he had a good feel for words and a strong narrative voice, but needed help
organizing his writing.
While all of the boys preferred different types of writing, academic forms
were generally not high on their lists. Transcripts of our conversations suggest that
these students assumptions about their competence as academic writers were
primarily based on whether or not they were competent editors (as distinguished
from good revisers) when checking their work for grammatical errors. In order to
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tease out this assertion, I looked for student input on what distinguished school
writing from personal writing.
School Writing Versus Informal Writing
All six boys who were interviewed after school consistently connected school
writing to use of Six Traits: Ideas/Content, Organization, Voice, Word Choice,
Sentence Fluency, Conventions. MVMS focused on having students develop their
writing via use of the Six Traits (6T) writing program because is has been adopted
district-wide. Tools boys felt they were weaker at recognizing errors in their use of
conventions (i.e., spelling, capitalization, punctuation, or penmanship, and parts of
speech) when conveying a message to readers. Four of my interviewees linked
writings importance to adult responsibilities and future work-related endeavors, but
only one (David, who was not on an IEP) stated he liked writing for school projects.
The remaining boys claimed to like academic writing if it specifically connected to
topics of personal interest (weaponry, mystery, sports, adventure, fantasy, coarse
humor), but Ted also said that writing was not fun because of time limits imposed by
other classes and activities as well as assignment deadlines.
By contrast, personal writing or free writingallowed my interviewees
opportunities to generate their own ideas, write narratives that interested them, and
provided occasions to not care about who their readers might be. Jake and Eddie
specifically stated that they wrote when they were bored. During the course of the
after-school interviews, Jake shared that he had developed his own version of the
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comic book series Doom that was based on a video game and a 2005 movie. Jake
also dabbled in writing poetry during his eighth grade year. David had written a short
story in elementary school that had been staged at a school-wide production. Ted
mentioned that he wrote songs and performed with his brother and sister in a garage
band. Keith had been recognized for a poem he had written about angels that had a
great impact on him. Adam and Dan both were taking guitar class and writing their
own music; Adam had also invited Dan to join him in a community-based electric
guitar academy after school. Eddie often got ideas from police stories on TV for his
crime-based plots. James, on the other hand, followed the current political climate
for some of his themes and kept up with conservative issues (like gun control).
Though all had been trained to use the Six Traits (6T) writing program, none
of these students felt they could produce materials that encompassed all 6T qualities
and sometimes professed their need for assistance to develop topics or ideas. In
Table 5 below, I break down the IEP students writing objectives in relation to 6T
categories, listing content area teacher accommodations noted in their IEPs and state-
reported writing scores in the final two columns:
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TABLE 5.
Individual Education Plan (EEP) Data
Organization Word Choice Content (Ideas) IEP Minutes Overall Writing19
Adam 1 objective 1 objective 150-250 Partially Proficient
Dan 1 objective 1 objective 250 Partially Proficient
Eddie 1 objective 130-280 Proficient
Jake 1 objective 1 objective 100-250 Partially Proficient
James 1 objective 350-500 Partially Proficient
Keith 1 objective 330 Partially Proficient
Ted 2 objectives 50-250 Proficient
With the exception of Keith, all of the Tools students with IEPs struggled
with organizing their writing, and only two of the seven IEP students in the Tools
class were deemed proficient writers (according to state writing assessments). Ted
was one of these two students. Despite knowing that his language arts teacher
enjoyed reading his work and that he had produced proficient fiction pieces, Ted felt
he wasnt meeting the mark across all 6T areas. His EEP focused primarily on
organization because formal essay writing was more complex, but Ted was aware
that it often took him longer than his classmates to complete an assignment and felt
that challenge set him apart from his peers. Having to rewrite his work was
exhausting. In our after-school interview, he said:
It takes me a while to think. I try to... read the
sentences [I write] and ... place them where theyre
19 These levels are based on compiled points assessing mastery of two state standards for writing and
four skill subcategories (paragraph writing, extended writing, grammar/usage, and mechanics).
74


supposed to go in my head and sometimes that takes
up the class period which makes it harder for me to
finish it.
By and large, Ted found that when he was finally ready to put his thoughts down on
paper he couldnt present his ideas in a logical way: sometimes I have trouble
trying to place everything. Looking back through some Tools boys notes from their
language arts teacher on earlier work, many of her comments suggested that they
continue to work on organization. In Table 6,1 focus on how the five Tools students
with IEPs responded to interview questions posed to them about in-school writing:
TABLE 6.
Student Interview Data on Assessing Writing
QUESTIONS David Eddie Jake James Ted
What do you do when you seem stuck? (Q6) Change theme Call best friend Ask teacher Ask teacher/ parents Read my work and organize it in my head
Do you ever imagine your reader and how they will react? (Q13) Reader = Error Checker Could quite care less. Dont care. Reader = Teacher Teacher/parents who give feedback
How do you think teachers decide whether a piece of writing is good? (Q22) Work comparisons Rubric; work comparison Attend to imagery, and grammar/org. Attend to grammar Based on Six Traits
Have your teachers done anything that has really helped you with your writing? (Q24) Grammar, organization Voice, organization Not really Organization (moving sentences around) Six Traits- for consistency
How has your writing changed this year so far? (Q29) More description. Way better. A lot better ... more organization. Better examples. Gotten better.
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In all, it appeared that these Tools students viewed themselves as learners
who could communicate via writing, and were recognized for their efforts (through
adult recognition and/or peer feedback). Their inability or unwillingness to proofread
their own school work, as noted above by their reliance on other readers (Questions
13 and 22), could suggest that most Tools students based their opinions of
themselves as writers primarily through school accomplishments. That all of these
boys recognized that their written work had improved and three could describe their
progress in specific areas may speak well of classroom instruction (and IEP
accommodations made for these learners) as opposed to personal initiative, but Keith
and Adam each split on what they did when they got stuck (Question 6): Keith
mentioned that he would ask for adult help, but Adam shared that he would often
pause and read [over his] work independently. Adam had no comment about how
he addressed his audience when writing, but when Keith and I spoke, he shared that
he occasionally thought about his reader, but then quickly added, Not really.
Even though he had signed on to be part of this study, Dan was the most
reluctant to use DNS9 in the Tools class; in the end, he finished a fifth draft using
The Dragon and received direct feedback from me that day, but never handed in a
revised version of his final work with DNS9 because he liked the version he had at
home (which had been word processed) better. All told, Dan received the second-
highest grade among Tools students for his written piece, but most of these points
were awarded due to organization versus content. Based on this observation, I next
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look more closely at how VRS contributed to or detracted from Tools students
overall writing process and how it impacted content development versus use of
conventions by the time they were graded for their work.
The Process of Writing with Voice Recognition Software
My second research question guiding this study was: How does the use of
voice-recognition software (VRS) influence students participation in the writing
process and work production? At the start of my study, I imagined that Tools
students who effectively used VRS to compose original text would take less time
than they would in drafting text by hand or using more conventional word
processing software. I hypothesized that the length of their individually-written
pieces would increase. In the end, I realized that some of the Tools students were
quite adept at achieving similar work on their own and could produce lengthier
pieces of writing in a timely fashion, but were not producing multiple drafts of
their work along the way. To develop quality pieces of written work for the IC
assignment, use of The Dragon required Tool students to take the revision process
more seriously than they had for previous eighth grade assignments. In Table 7,1
look at some data from the boys about their revising habits as writers; the last two
columns of this table list whether or not these students used The Dragon to
complete their assignments from start to finish (their names are noted in bold) and
the number of drafts they developed to complete this assignment (that data is based
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on my observations of students in the Tools classroom and the collection of the
drafts they produced during the course of this investigation):20
TABLE 7.
Student Interview Data on Editing and Revising
Name What does it mean to edit your work? (Q10) How do you improve your writing? (012) Do you draft regularly? (Q30) VRS Use21 # of IC Assignment Drafts22
David Free-read then if you dont like the way it sounds, you make something new. Write longer and more specific... use complete sentences. I usually just write a front-and-back draft and then if it dont work out... I write a different draft. Yes Three
Eddie Go over and fix your mistakes. Tell a friend and he says fix it I do finals instead of drafts because theyre pointless. No None
Jake Re-read to see if words make sense; check punctuation Use of conventions Yes, in most classes. Yes Four
James Fix convention mistakes Write one draft. One rough draft. Yes Four
Keith Change sentences; ask for help with spelling. Plan; outline. You have to turn in your rough draft to have a better final copy. Yes Three
Ted Rewrite and put better words. More research; ask questions; get feedback I want to do the draft and one final copy. Yes Three
All of the Tools students who used DNS9 from beginning to end to develop their
work produced at least three rough drafts. Five of these six boys (whose names are
20 Along with Jake, Dan did not use DNS9 from start to finish; he is not, however, included in Table 7
because he did not participate in an after-school interview. He, like Jake, was aware that his final draft
did not meet all of the history teachers expectations because he did not revise the copy he turned in to
check for his use of conventions.
21 Data listed in this table was collected from these participants via informal conversations during the
Tools class and written self-assessments. Eddie came in for an interview, but did not do anything with
DNS9 following his training session.
22 Eddie did not produce any drafts using DNS9, but he did complete and turn in a handwritten
assignment to his teacher (his one and only draft).
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noted above in bold) admitted that this was not common practice when working on
school assignments. Jake was one of two Tools students who did not revise his final
draft with DNS9 and turned it in aware that, in terms of organization and sentence
structure, his final product did not exactly meet the history teachers expectations.
The rest (James, Keith and Adam) were very conscious of discrepancies that made
their work appear below par compared to their non-Tools peers and repeatedly
rewrote their assignments despite the frustrations they experienced using the voice-
recognition software.
Like most of the Tools students, James felt editing written work primarily
meant fixing errors made when using writing conventions to make meaning. He
admitted that having more than one draft generally helped him finish his work, but
he usually did not produce more than one piece before submitting a final copy. James
also mentioned that he only showed his written work to the teacher who is grading
him before surrendering it for a final grade. Whereas Eddies habit was to hold the
writing process at bay altogether, James seemed to be negotiating the ways in which
he could meet a teachers approval and still produce the least amount of work
possible. Instead of fighting the system altogether though, James seemed to be
working through different influences that had the potential for creating a space for
authoring that did not have to pit him against adults and peers who were available
resources.
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Across the board, Tools students felt that writing up the IC assignment had
been challenging in regards to collecting research on simple tools. Several of the
Tools students reported that their groups did not present their information well
during the poster session. I observed the presentation put together by Adam, James
and Keith and noted that these students felt pretty good about their ability to share
what they had learned when we talked about the event the following week (despite
the fact that their invention did not work during the poster session). In Table 8,1 look
more closely at interview responses in regards to IC project outcomes and how
students felt about the type of assistance they have received from eighth grade
teachers to improve their writing:
TABLE 8.
Student Evaluation of the IC Assignment as a School Activity
QUESTION David Eddie James Jake Ted
Why dont you tell me what it was like doing theIC project? [Using DNS9] was pretty cool cause Id never used it before. ...our invention wasnt working too well. I think we got a 20 out of 30. [the research] ... it was sort of hard I guess I did [write more drafts because] of the science part. ...the only problem is.. we procrastinated till the night before it was due.
My question about the IC project was not pre-planned and is, therefore, not listed on
the interview protocol (Appendix A) yet knowing more about students perceptions
of the writing assignment and their presentation was important to understanding my
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findings Each of the boys who responded to the above IC question23 spoke about
their collaborative work in completely different ways, ranging from a focus on their
group presentations (and group preparationor lack thereof) to DNS9 use. During
his interview, David appeared to make distinctions regarding his use of The Dragon
as a technical support and what his teachers provided (look back at Question 24 in
Table 6); in Table 8, his IC response is not connected to the teacher help question,
but when we spoke further about what it means to revise your work (one thing that
DNS9 is supposed to make easier for students) he said, Revising [your work] is like
having somebody else do it for you. On one hand, this may imply that a writer is
taking advantage of another person to improve a piece of writing, but David also
seemed to think that writing what one has to say the first time doesnt merit revision.
Later in our conversation, this Tools student noted that he would often quit a piece of
writing if it wasnt working out from the start and just write another story.
Eddies responses, like Davids, arent specifically related to the IC writing
assignment in Table 8, but later in our interview he appeared to think working on any
piece of writing more than once takes away from his intent. After participating in the
VRS training session, Eddie reported that he didnt like using DNS9 because It
didnt listen to my voice so it kept asking for me to repeat myself. As a teen who
already knew he was working on developing his voice as a writer with his teachers
(see his response to Question 24 in Table 6), this secondary statement is telling. In
23 Only five of the boys who participated in interviews responded to this question. (Keith did not share
what he thought about the assignment as a whole.)
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addition, it is possible that Eddie focused his response to the IC question on his
groups unsuccessful invention (and lower grade) because it was a collaborative
piece that all group members were accountable forsince being with peers is a
leading activity in Eddies life, taking a grade hit would be a logical consequence
that he would feel comfortable divulging to an adult. By contrast, talking about his
IC writing assignment was, he felt, an activity that only he could impactor answer
to, if his writing was not up to teacher expectations. When it came to producing
academic writing, both before and after this study, Eddie steadfastly believed he only
needed to make one attempt to put his thoughts on paper and the availability of an
assistive tool would not change this. (I address Eddies resolve further in the next
section of this chapter.)
Eddie, James and Jake all joined this study thinking that their school work
should be able to be completed in one sitting and all three still believed this at the
end even though two of these three boys work had increased DNS9 in length and
improved in areas they felt they regularly needed help on from teachers. Each of
these students interview responses revealed that they felt it was appropriate to work
with their teachers to get help just as their peers did and be accommodated (by
having the length of their assignments be modified, for example) should their work
not meet specific standards. When faced with writing on a report that had a minimum
length requirement this did not change, but Jake did admit that he had developed
more drafts of his writing (though somewhat reluctantly) through the course of
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completing the IC assignment. Of the five students who responded to both
interdisciplinary project and teacher support questions, only Ted directly tackled the
possibility that working in a group detracted from the experience, but of all the Tools
boys he was perhaps most aware of the areas that he needed to work on in order to
complete adequate school work on time.
My first impression upon interviewing Eddie was that he was more
concerned about the class presentation and less so with his own contribution to the
final written product. After asking him some questions based on his survey and self-
assessment responses, however, I came to see that Eddie had a vested interest in
producing a quality product for the IC assignment. He did not, however, feel the
need to use DNS9 to improve his writing output even though he knew that he might
turn something in on time if he tried it. Considering himself to be an adept learner,
Eddie mentioned that he usually did not complete more than one written draft before
submitting a final copy. This was the general consensus of the Tools boys who
engaged in using DNS9 through the course of this study. Nevertheless, all seven
boys who faced The Dragon submitted their revised writing to their IC group
partners on time and received credit for meeting most of the length requirements of
the written assignment. Next, I focus on the ways the Tools boys felt voice-
recognition software held up the writing process by replacing their efforts to edit and
obliging them to take a look at their pieces content, not just the presentation of the
printed characters.
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Technical Issues
At the start of this study, Tools students spent more time editing their work
than revising it. Use of VRS technology often frustrated their efforts to do so,
however, and joint efforts between the Tools boys were soon focused on correcting
voice-recognition errors that did not allow them to get their meaning across. Once
Tools students had encoded text with DNS9 into MS Word documents (stored in their
school word processing accounts) they could begin the editing process in school, but
had to set aside additional time to revise their work on their own in order to produce
their final copies. Editing, according to the Tools boys, involved correcting spelling
errors and other mechanical problems in their writing; revising, on the other hand,
involved reworking their texts to coherently express and support their ideas.
Several types of voice recognition errors came up when students started
revising their work. Some of these occurred when student rushed while delivering
commands through the headsets microphone, but others required students to
undergo the training process a second time in order to be able to complete their
work. Oftentimes, Tools students reported having difficulty using the commands
without having command terms encode as part of their text. In Table 9,1 sum up the
most common difficulties each boy reported experiencing:
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TABLE 9.
Student Reports on Use of DNS9 Voice Commands
Delete Highlight Scratch That Select All Go To Sleep TOTAL ERROR TYPES
Adam X X X X 4
Dan24 X 1
David X X X 3
Eddie25 X X X 3
Jake X X X 3
James X X 2
Keith X X X X 5
Ted X X 2
Most frustrating was using edit commands that would allow students to revise their
thoughts on paper. The Highlight command, for example, allowed students to start
the cut-and-paste procedure they were used to doing in Microsoft Word; at times this
command would be encoded when students used the word like (a common teen
phrase since the Valley Girl trend started in the 1980s) as part of their text. Other
times commands such as Go To Sleep (which logged off a student from the DNS9
program) would not work if the user emphasized one part of this phrase more than
the others. I sometimes wondered if Tools boys who wore braces (Dan, James and
Jake all got them as seventh graders) had more difficulty enunciating DNS9
241 noticed Dans use of this command more than any other when he was revising his work in-school.
25 Though Eddie did not use DNS9 beyond the training phase, these were the commands he had the
most trouble with at that time (as reported to me during our interview).
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commands, but was not able to check this possibility as most of my observations
were conducted after school and only James attended open sessions with The Dragon
regularly outside of Tools class. Some of the phrases that were used often, however,
just sounded funny so students would repeat these in Tools classand even other
classesad nauseum (a favorite command among the Tools boys whose names are
in bold in Table 9 was Scratch That, a command designed to let the user delete the
last word spoken), whether working with DNS9 or not. Due to these difficulties, if an
entire section of text was undecipherable, use of commands that would aid in
removing several sentences or an entire paragraph was rarely attempted by speaking
into the microphone; David was one such student:
S: ... sometimes I know [the other] kids were trying to highlight [the text],
you know, using voice commands, but that wasnt working too well.
Did you ever try and do that?
D: Yeah I tried to highlight it.
S: Using the voice [commands]?
D: But it didnt work.
S: Right.
D: Like [saying] Highlight or something... .It didnt work so I just used the
mouse.
Figure 2.
Though perhaps obvious, by tapping into his own knowledge of basic keyboarding
options, David was not flustered by the software programs limits and managed to
get his work done in a timely manner, spending only two in-school sessions and one
after-school session using The Dragon. Working alone and early in the week also
seemed to work in Davids favor. This was not the case for Keith and Adam.
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The Wednesday before their assignment was due, Keith and Adam came in
after school to face The Dragon together. At first, Keith logged into his account and
Adam started advising him on how to revise some errors with DNS9 commands, but
then they switched places in front of the Dell unit where both boys were registered as
VRS users:
A (speaking into headset): Welcome to Burger King drive-thru. How may I help
you?
(Removes shared headset.)
S (to K): Okay, so all that stuff that you didnt want that you just read to me,
highlight it so that we can get rid of it.
K (picking up headset): Hey Adam, this is the part.
A: Woh it said ... (reading from computer screen) Welcome to Burger King drive-
thru (Takes headset from Keiths hand.)
S: All right.
A (Pause): Scratch That.
K (whispering to AF): You can say Select All.
S: Okay.
A: Select All. (Pause.) Soh-lect all. (Pause.) Go to sleep.
S: No, youre not going to sleep yet.
K: No.
S: Okay.
A: Select All. Scratch That.___________________________________________________
Figure 3.
On the occasions that students interjected humor into their experiences using The
Dragon, as in the Figure 3 episode, I often found myself attempting to redirect their
attention back to the work task at hand. During the above event, I had no idea my
interjection could be interpreted as a pun until much later, but in retrospect I also
recall empathizing with both Tools boys as they puzzled through deleting a sentence
that had been picked up by the DNS9 microphone. Adam seemed genuinely
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impressed that The Dragon was able to record an impromptu uttering so quickly.
When he immediately wanted to be rid of this phrase, however, I got the impression
that neither he nor Keith wanted their assignment to reflect personal sentiments in
any way, as if too much of themselves might be revealed. Of course, it is also
possible that neither boy wanted to get into trouble for being off task. More than any
of the others Tools boys, Keith appeared to have a good sense of how powerful
DNS9 could be as a writing aid (Im not a very fast typer so its kinda just useful).
Adam had more to say about the difficulties DNS9 presented:
The hard part is like if youre trying to talk to
somebody else and explain what youre doing, like
trying to help them... it [the microphone] picks that up
so then you have to turn the microphone off and then
delete it.
For the first time that school year, I saw evidence that Adam was willing to
put time into working on a specific writing topic for an assignment, but only if he
could simultaneously socialize with members of his IC group. If use of The Dragon
offered the opportunity to be social, Adam was all for it, especially if it gave him the
opportunity to be in charge. Adam had no immediate academic use for DNS9 as a
tool unless it got him what he wanteda few minutes of fame based on his ability to
solve technical problems. Throughout the above after-school session, Adam pitched
ideas to Keith about how to revise his work; The Dragon may not have been his tool
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of choice, but it was entertaining to provide some comic relief to a friend who was
earnestly attempting to negotiate a way to use voice-recognition software to
complete his assignment. This example also suggests that the Tools boys would band
together when faced with adversity, even if this wasnt something they would
normally do outside of their fishbowl-shaped study hall.
Though many Tools boys described producing a written piece with DNS9 as
a frustrating process, they seemed to enjoy pinpointing shortcuts or alternate
solutions together to overcome technical quirks and get their thoughts across on
paper. Attempting to circumvent some voice commands and rethink ways to perform
editing and revision tasks quickly and efficiently became a big part of the DNS9
experience in the Tools classroom. In school, Adam had the least exposure to using
The Dragon directly with his own writing, but he took on the role of DNS9 expert to
help other Tools students turn what they knew about word processing into useful
information to successfully use voice commands they learned during DNS9 training.
By drawing on their knowledge of video games and word processing, Tools boys
who faced The Dragon were soon able to carry out multiple tasks and reflect on
whether or not this tool was useful in the long run. Below I look specifically at how
Tools students characterized their editing and revising experiences using DNS9 and
whether or not using this tool actually helped them complete the IC assignment in a
timely manner.
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VRS Use and Work Completion
During our interview, Keith said he felt he could use The Dragon for help
with editing, but also thought it might be useful when initiating the writing process.
As the only Tools student with an IEP who had difficulty generating ideas (see Table
5), expressing this concern as an obstacle to completing written work on time shed
some light on how Keith viewed DNS9 as a useful tool. Through the course of this
study, Keith found it easier to kick-start a new piece of writing by voicing his
thoughts and reviewing them later for content. As Keith liked to work by himself,
having a way to record his thoughts was helpful, but not being able to record ideas
exactly as he intended was a huge disadvantage. Keith felt the voice recognition
capability of The Dragon was faulty and it was frustrating having to use a variety of
commands to revise errors that were not of his making.
Overall, Tools students provided a mixed bag of opinions on whether or not
they found DNS9 engaging as they completed their IC assignment. Several of the
participants in this study reported that they probably would not have completed their
written pieces using DNS9 without the collaborative component of this project.
Tools boys spoke in a variety of ways about how their interactions with peers aided
in their completion of the IC assignment through the course of their interviews with
me. The comments that stood out most related to the writing process becoming a
problem-solving endeavor due to the difficulties they encountered when facing The
Dragon. Next, I look more closely at the Tools students final products and consider
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how each boys writing improved through the use of DNS9 software. As I analyze
the boys writing, I focus on how access to a new tool facilitated composition for
some students, but not for others.
The Impact ofVRS on Students Written Products
To review, the IC assignment involved groups of students in the development
of a poster presentation focused on an invention they had created and their research
about an inventor who had used a simple machine (of which there are four varieties)
as the basis of their creation. DNS9 was made available to Tools students to help
them complete the written portion of their separate presentations with fellow Tools
peers and/or general education students in their IC groups. It initially appeared that
the Tools students envisioned The Dragon making their revision process easier. By
the end of the study, however, the additional work involved in producing multiple
drafts did not sit well with IEP Tools students who used DNS9 from beginning to
end.26
The latter part of my second research question therefore focuses on students
writing products. Using a list of guiding questions for evidence of Six Traits
categories (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency and
Conventions), I tallied point totals associated with each of these categories (see
Appendix C) and rated students final copies of their first drafts, then compared these
findings to the history teachers IC rubric (see Appendix D) in terms of what was
26 Adam, James, Keith and Ted.
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