As a classroom teacher you will have students who are significantly below grade level struggling to understand textbooks that are often written above the actual grade level you are teaching. As a Para Educator who works in Resource/Special Ed. I am using this forum to encourage all of us in our roles as content area teachers to use tools that are available to you and to advocate for equipment that is not.
Bookshare.org is a service available to students with reading and processing disabilities. The organization uploads textbooks, magazines, novels, etc. making these available to students who qualify. The students can download text to use with text to speech programs, tablets & mp3 players. Students with IEPs qualify and possibly students with 504s. Someone at your school serves as the administrator; often this is the librarian or a Special Education teacher
Kurzweil.edu is a program that converts downloaded text ( downloads through Bookshare or by in house scans) to speech. It provides controls for speed & voice used when it reads aloud on a computer. It also offers note taking, high lighting , graphic organizers and other organizational tools. Students can also use it to write with features that assist the student by reading aloud their work & word prediction.
www.nuance.com know as Dragon is a speech to text program which is useful for those who do not write well or possibly at all. It is amazing how much student can take in and demonstrate knowledge of if they are allowed to say it instead of write it. Additional advantages of Dragon over scribing include greater independence of students and the ability for them to demonstrate understanding of writing conventions.
wordle.net is a program you may have seen used to create word frequency cards, but it also can help you examine written material to identify important vocabulary.
http://rewordify.com/ is intriguing. It identifies grade level of text you entered and can convert it to a lower reading level, identifying and explaining vocabulary. Vocabulary lists can be developed in this way and differentiated for different reading abilities. It is useful as a teacher to realize how much of our material is actually above grade level.
Inspiration.com offers a visual organizing tool that uses text or pictures to visually depict brainstorming and outline development. Through this method, especially by using pictures, students can develop and demonstrate a clearer understanding on content material and concepts. The outline function gives students a template with which to organize their writing,
Net books are a lower cost option for getting computers into classrooms and can use the programs described above. They can be strategically placed in classes with high writing need. Because they are a computer and therefor cool, they are a tool that does not tend to stigmatize students.