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Volume 18, Number 1
January/February 2002

Curriculum Access in the Digital Age

New technology-based strategies offer hope that students of all abilities will have the opportunity to thrive in school


In a school north of Boston, a dozen 7th graders are enjoying a novel experience. They are reading a book from the district’s required reading list, the same book that their peers have been assigned. Hatchet, written by Newbery–award winner Gary Paulsen, is an adventure story about a young man’s two-month survival in the Canadian wilderness following a plane crash. Most of the students have learning disabilities, so they relate well to Brian, the protagonist, because they too have felt lost in the woods—when trying to read books written for kids their age.

They sit at computers, each wearing headphones, and read a digital text of Hatchet using a program called Thinking Reader. For some, the computer simultaneously highlights each word on the screen and reads it aloud. Students who don’t understand a particular word can get a definition with a click of the mouse.

Occasionally, a cartoon genie appears on screen and prompts them to stop and think more deeply about the text. It may ask them to summarize what they’ve read, predict what happens next, formulate the kinds of questions teachers might ask, and seek to clarify confusing passages. If they forget what those strategies entail, the genie offers hints. The students type their responses into a box at the bottom of the screen—a journal that will later help them and their teacher assess their progress. The teacher moves among the children, answering questions the genie can’t and prompting them further—to be more specific in their responses, perhaps, or to consider another point of view. The class will eventually gather off-line to discuss the book with their teacher; they do this about once every two weeks.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), 39 Cross St., Peabody, MA 01960; 978-531-8555;

R.P. Dolan and T.E. Hall. “Universal Design for Learning: Implications for Large-Scale Assessment.” IDA Perspectives 27, no. 4 (2001): 22–25.

K. Kelly. “New Independence for Special Needs Kids,” in The Digital Classroom, ed. D.T. Gordon. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2000.

A. Meyer and D. Rose. Learning to Read in the Computer Age. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books, 1998.

A. Meyer and D.H. Rose. “Universal Design for Individual Differences.” Educational Leadership 58, no. 3 (November 2000): 39–43.

L.M. O’Neill. “Thinking Readers: Helping Students Take Charge of Their Learning.” The Exceptional Parent 31, no. 6 (June 2001): 32–33.

R. Orkwis. “Curriculum Access and Universal Design for Learning.” Special Report of ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Reston, VA: Council on Exceptional Children, 1999.

Reading Online
is a peer-reviewed journal of the International Reading Association dealing with K–12 literacy research and practice.

D. Rose. “Universal Design for Learning: Deriving Guiding Principles from Networks that Learn.” Journal of Special Education Technology 16, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 66–67.