Word prediction in the classroom.
What do teachers need to know?

Word prediction is based on spelling, syntax, and the principle of frequency, as well as how recently a word has been used. Words are predicted on a number of criteria. Firstly, the word needs to be in the dictionary being used. If a word has been used recently, it will appear further up the list. If used frequently, it will appear at the top or high in the list. Depending upon the program being used, word prediction should become more and more accurate over time as the student uses it with more words.

Word prediction does not correct grammar, sort out punctuation, or provide content. It supports the user in determining and choosing the intended word, often with built-in dictionary and/or homophone support.

Benefits

Word prediction can:

  • increase writing fluency, allowing students to generate more writing
  • provide auditory support to confirm word selection
  • lessen the gap between potential and achievement as demonstrated through written expression
  • allow students to develop their written expression skills by freeing up cognitive energy previously devoted to spelling or fine motor efforts
  • reduce frustration with writing
  • support vocabulary development and increase variety and complexity of words used in writing
  • reduce the number of keystrokes needed and reduce writing fatigue
  • provide spelling assistance
  • improve legibility of written products
  • improve overall quantity and quality of written work including sentence structure and grammatical accuracy of text
  • support reading (of words on screen) as an integral component of the writing and revising process (when the text-to-speech function is used)
  • increase independence in producing written work
  • build writer confidence and increase engagement through the ability to produce written output with less energy and frustration.

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Types of learning tasks supported

Word prediction supports any task where students are asked to communicate their thinking in a written format such as:

  • planning for and drafting a writing task
  • brainstorming, completing or creating graphic organizers
  • revising and editing
  • collaborative writing using Google docs, email or social media.

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Learning contexts

Word prediction can be used:

  • individually to support independent writing
  • with a partner or in a small group, collaborating on a written task
  • in learning centres or workstations
  • for writing at home.

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Students who would particulary benefit

Word prediction would benefit students:

  • with limited spelling skills (phonetic or inventive spellers)
  • with word finding difficulties 
  • who only use the words they know they can spell correctly and who are reluctant to take risks using more complex or interesting vocabulary that they may spell incorrectly
  • who have fine motor challenges that impact their ability to keyboard
  • who have difficulty translating thoughts into writing
  • with illegible handwriting
  • who are learning English as another language.

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Factors for consideration

Factors to consider when using word prediction:

  • To maximize student success, word prediction must be combined and aligned with effective instruction to support the writing process.
  • The list of words that appear onscreen may initially be a distraction for some students and interrupt their thinking and flow; with time most will get used to this different way of writing.
  • Students who keyboard quickly may find that word prediction interferes with their keyboarding speed. With most programs the prediction feature can be turned off and students can turn it on only for those words they require help with.
  • Many students would also benefit from being taught how to effectively use the spell check feature in the word processing program they are writing with. 
  • It takes time, patience, and practice to learn how to use word prediction effectively.

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Benefits of making word prediction available to all students

Having word prediction available to all students:

  • allows all students to experiment with the technology
  • provides a tool for students who may not have an identified disability but may benefit from additional support
  • supports students who may only require word prediction for challenging words
  • removes the stigma for individual students who might otherwise deny themselves the support, especially at the junior and senior high school level.

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Personalizing for individual student needs

Personalizing options vary from software to software but typically there are options for:

  • adding words specific to the needs and interests of individual students
  • creating topic-specific vocabulary sets or content dictionaries
  • customizing how students “input” the word into their writing (e.g., mouse click, number)
  • modifying the visual display (e.g., prediction window follows the cursor and written text or stays in place)
  • using speech feedback
  • choosing the number of words in the prediction list
  • supporting phonetic or inventive spelling (program recognizes that ‘brthdy’ means ‘birthday’)
  • expanding abbreviations (e.g., NAHS can be expanded to Northern Alberta High School).

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Choosing the right tool

Choosing an appropriate technology solution involves gathering information about your students, identifying needs and potential technologies, and investigating the effectiveness of different technologies with different students.

Currently, there are few, if any, free word prediction programs available. Word prediction works on the principle of frequency and how recently a word has been used, and becomes more and more accurate as it is used by the student. In order to keep track of the words used, the program would have to allow for the creation of user profiles. Freeware is not likely to do this.

If word prediction is identified as necessary for student success, it is important that the word prediction program chosen allows for the creation and saving of individual student profile information. 

Word prediction available in the cloud or as an application for mobile devices and tablets may or may not retain individual user data or allow for personalization of vocabulary. The power of word prediction, for some students, is the advantage of having customized word lists that align with the students’ needs and interests. Individual student profiles can also provide teachers with information about students’ use of specific words.

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Conditions for success

Conditions for success include:

  • easy access to devices (e.g., laptop, tablet, desktop computer) with the software 
  • headphones for auditory support
  • familiarity with word processing
  • keyboarding skills
  • basic computer skills.

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Instructional planning considerations

Instructional planning considerations include:

  • ensuring the student has access to word prediction software 
  • creating customized topic dictionaries prior to specific writing tasks
  • using word prediction throughout the writing process from planning and composition to revision to achieve best results.

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Introducing to students

To familiarize students with word prediction software, identify critical functions and systemically introduce through:

  • whole group, small group or individual instruction that includes modelling and guided practice
  • peer training and support
  • video tutorials online.

If using software that provides a suite of tools, initially limit the function to only word prediction and gradually expand to include the other tools on an as-needed basis.

When introducing word prediction to a group, model the construction of a sentence, talking through how to select words from the prediction window. Problem solve what to do when a word does not appear in the prediction window. Model listening to the completed sentence to ensure that it makes sense.

When introducing word prediction individually to students, have students first orally compose a sentence. As they begin to type the sentence, the adult would cue them to look for target words within the prediction window. 

Guided practice

Introduce word prediction with an engaging task (e.g., writing something that is meaningful and in an area of interest) and allow the student to become comfortable and confident with using word prediction before extending to more challenging academic tasks.

Identify a specific task the student would be expected to complete using word prediction (e.g., daily journal, responding to short answer questions) and indicators that demonstrate that the technology is making a difference in the student’s ability to complete the task.

Sample indicators of success might include:

  • increased use of more sophisticated language, sentence structure and vocabulary
  • increased demonstration of understanding of learning through written expression
  • improved quality of written work
  • improved spelling accuracy
  • increased speed and volume of written output
  • increased completion of writing tasks
  • independent completion of writing tasks
  • increased student engagement and participation in writing activities
  • increased independence and feelings of self-efficacy
  • self-initiated writing for own purposes.

Observe the student using word prediction. Is the student able to locate letters on the keyboard? Is the student able to successfully identify initial letter sounds for words? Are the needed words coming up in the selection box? Is the student using the audio support when necessary to select words?

Determine what explicit instruction students may require and any supports that may be needed to help them make progress prior to assigning a writing task. Word prediction may be one of those supports. 

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Monitoring and assessing effectiveness

Collect baseline writing samples of students’ current written work (without the use of word prediction). Then after learning how to use word prediction and developing a comfort level, compare baseline data to writing tasks completed using word prediction and assess evidence of improvement.

Collect and analyze data on a regular basis by compiling writing samples and comparing to indicators of success such as changes in spelling accuracy or use of more sophisticated language.

Note how often students use word prediction over the course of a school day, how long they use it at one time, and what impact it has on their writing success. For example, are the students completing writing tasks? How long did it take? Are they able to independently use word prediction or are they still learning how to use it effectively?

If expected success is not achieved, it might indicate a need for a change in how word prediction is being implemented (e.g., student is being asked to use word prediction with too many tasks or in too many subject areas). The student may require more time to become comfortable with the software, or perhaps a different software or approach may need to be considered.

If results indicate that word prediction software is not benefiting an individual student who is struggling with written output, consult with an assistive technology consultant to explore other options. 

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Differentiated instruction

The strategic use of technology can engage learners at varying levels of readiness and in multiple ways, supporting the differentiation of instruction to help meet the diverse learning needs of students.

Word prediction can:

  • support and scaffold written output when students are provided with access to a device with word prediction capability
  • allow students to work on the same curriculum expectations in various ways with common criteria for success
  • provide choice and access to a wider variety of expression options for all students when devices with word prediction are available
  • help create a learning environment responsive to the learning preferences, interests and readiness of the individual learner.

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Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

A Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach recognizes that barriers to learning can exist within the environment and aims to maximize learning for all students by creating flexible learning environments that reduce or eliminate potential barriers. For some students, written output using paper and pencil is a barrier and interferes with their ability to demonstrate understanding.

UDL also emphasizes the need to clearly identify the purpose of the learning activity in order to allow students multiple options for how they can successfully accomplish the goal or purpose of the activity.

For example, if students are required to compose a short story, the purpose of the learning task will determine the scaffolds and supports that might be appropriate. Is the purpose to:

  • develop spelling strategies
  • learn strategies to plan and organize ideas
  • understand purpose/voice when writing
  • learn strategies to develop sentence structure and vocabulary
  • learn strategies to revise and edit written work?

If the purpose of the writing assignment is to create an effective writing plan and compose accurate, fluent text with varied sentence structure and vocabulary, word prediction could support the writing process. As well, the ability to produce written output with less energy and frustration could increase engagement.

However, if the goal of the learning activity is to provide students with practice in spelling or to produce legible handwritten text, then allowing those same supports may not be appropriate. In this instance, the use of word prediction would interfere with the students’ ability to practise spelling and to generate handwritten text.

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Response to Intervention

Typically, Response to Intervention is the practice of providing evidence-based instruction and intervention matched to student need. The RtI model offers tiered interventions for students who are not benefitting from universal instructional strategies and therefore require additional or more intensive interventions.

Word prediction could be considered a solution for students with fine motor and/or spelling difficulties or for students learning English as another language.

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