Embracing the iPad: Technology in Mentoring and Why You Need to Get Over Your Fear of This Deeply Engaging and Massively Useful Tool, Part 1

“The children!” “They’re addicted to these devices!” 

So the old-schoolers (and a bunch of the new homeschoolers) lament. They’re absolutely right, of course. We do get addicted to devices. Like heroin, alcohol, tobacco, porn, and any other practice or substance that provides instant gratification for our desires, electronics that feed our craving for affirmation and feedback can become a platform for destruction.

I am totally on board with the concerned adults who think of The Island and Brave New World when we see kids just consuming—glutting themselves, really—on devices. 

BUT! Plot twist!

My tune started to change dramatically when I realized what a powerful accommodation these tools are for people with learning differences. 

So, this is not a how-to for deaddicting your kids from electronics, nor will I seek to justify parents and teachers who allow totally unstructured and unsupervised tech time. Where you fall on that issue is your own affair and others have treated the subject more eloquently than I ever could. This talk by Elder Ridd is an excellent guidebook for how to maintain balance with technology in young lives.

What I would like to talk about is the specific good that technology can do for children (or anyone who wants to learn). In later posts I will also address overcoming the obstacles of cost and safety (nobody likes a cracked, dog-eared iPad).

This is a post about how much I love the iPad and personal, portable devices, and what they can do. I hope it gives you comfort and helps you incorporate technology into your mentoring in healthy ways.

Let’s jump in.


The first time my husband really became aware of punctuation, and how it operates in language (in spite of 12 years in school) was when using the microphone button in a text. He started talking into his phone and saw words appearing on the screen. Then, he came to the end of a thought and paused. Referring to the pause, he asked, “Hey, is this a comma”? It was like a lightbulb switching on. 

Suddenly, freed from the burden of processing the sounds into letters by typing, his attention could absorb how a comma works. He could notice, for the first time, that his lungs stopped pushing out air, and his vocal chords ceased vibrating, and boom! That’s a comma.

When our lips are rounded, and tongue/palate muscles tense, and the vocal chords vibrate, we call that the letter u. 

He’d never had a good name for, or other sensory schema or iteration of the concept of a comma until he was free, in that moment, to form one. 

Previously, his attention was so taken up with finding the right letters, trying to hold in memory the idea he was communicating, while manipulating a pen or pencil, that punctuation fell by the wayside. He had to make energy choices, because the amount he could devote to language processing is limited. Whew! It’s a tall order, when you think about it, for our brains to do all that at once. Add to it that the dyslexic brain is not hard wired for automatic word-processing, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. 

Sometimes, I tutor students whose verbal linguistic skills, especially as they relate to reading and writing, are profoundly impaired.

They’re totally brilliant.

But, the privileged medium of writing inhibits their ability to demonstrate their brilliance. Hand that kid an iPad though, with the Pages app and speech-to-text enabled, and prepare to be amazed. I’ve heard a kid just like that: profoundly dysgraphic, couldn’t spell to save his life, compose a salient and insightful essay on playground rules and etiquette. There were facts and details, anecdotes, quotes, the works. It was funny and entertaining, too. If the goal of writing is to be persuasive, that kid hit the student-outcome nail squarely on its proverbial head.

If you’re working with a child or young adult who struggles to express him or herself through writing, I highly recommend and support the use of a speech-to-text-enabled device.

If what we want to teach is how to be a persuasive (witty, entertaining, accurate, well-researched) communicator, then forcing a child with learning differences, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, to slog it out in traditional handwriting or typing is tantamount to throwing a wet blanket over a kindling fire.

I used to think you just had to slog it out in order to become a good writer. Then, I learned that Agatha Christie’s manuscripts were almost illegible, she was so dysgraphic. I get the feeling she would’ve jumped all over the idea of a tool that would allow her to privately dictate her novels. 

What’s worse, I used to think speech-to-text and other ‘shortcuts’ were laziness if not cheating. Oh, how harmful toward those with learning differences this attitude is. Having witnessed the real and intense struggle to read and write by many gifted and hard-working people, I’m sure I’ve earned more than a few stripes. 

In fact, I think everyone should be able to use speech-to-text if they want to, especially as we grow through the young adult years. Once A rudimentary grasp of manual reading and handwriting is obtained, I see no reason that speech to text capability should be withheld from students. As I said before, I will address the obstacles of cost and safety in later posts. For now, I will simply tell you that I have seen children as young as seven years old have sole responsibility for an iPad without ever breaking them or abusing their use of them.

I know what some of you are thinking. They’ll never learn handwriting, that sacred art of calligraphy. The wonder of the handwritten note or letter will quietly pass away.

Folks have been saying this since the first computers became available decades ago, and yet if you troll the trendy websites of the blogosphere and communications/marketing realm, you will see that typography, hand lettering and beautiful script have never been more popular or highly-in-demand.

What’s more, these beautiful configurations of our written language are so florid as to be completely accessible to the dyslexic mind. It’s lettering as art, an area dyslexics tend to excel at.

So, if you are a mentor, tutor, teacher, or parent, and you fear that speech-to-text will bar your child from the world of artful letters, take heart. This is a myth. What the child with learning differences does with letters is to turn them into art. They do this intuitively. They notice the unified harmonious design of things, even letters. It’s just in trying to assign those letters to spoken sounds of the trouble arises. Free them from the burden of making those assignments, with speech to text, so that they will actually have time to be creative. 

Stay tuned for more on ways technology can help you in your mentoring. I’ll go over FaceTime and Skype, video-making, and other cool stuff. In forthcoming posts I’ll also compare and contrast different protective cases and even share a video tutorial on how to make your own (almost) kid proof case on the cheap!


2 thoughts on “Embracing the iPad: Technology in Mentoring and Why You Need to Get Over Your Fear of This Deeply Engaging and Massively Useful Tool, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Part Four of The iPad in Mentoring: FaceTime | the transient tutor

  2. Pingback: Why Crosswords May Be the Most Useless Comprehension/Vocabulary Building Activity You’re Giving Your Students (And What To Give Them Instead) | the transient tutor

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