Answered by DJ Cunningham, CEO of LEARNstyle

I often get asked the question, “what is the best spelling tool?”.  My answer to this is, “when supporting a learning disability, you need to support beyond the spelling, and support the writing”.

So what we really are looking for are great writing tools.  Writing is broken into a few stages, Planning, Composing, Editing, and Adding.  Let’s consider spelling within the editing stage.

The reason we need to look beyond spelling, is that when spelling is looked at in a silo, context gets overlooked. This is to say, when we use spellers and standard spell check, we are addressing the single word in question, and not the greater context of the word within the sentence. This often leads a person to select a correctly spelled word, but absolutely the wrong word in the context of the sentence they are writing.

When you are considering an editing tool you want to ensure it has two components:

  • Contextual spell check, and
  • Text-to-speech.

Contextual Spell Check

Contextual spell check is different from standard spell check.  The difference is that standard spell check focuses solely on the word in question, drawing on as many words that it thinks you are writing based on the few letters you wrote.  Contextual spell check, on the other hand, is looking beyond the letters in the word you wrote; it is looking at the preceding and following words and taking into consideration the entire sentence.  This allows for contextual spell checkers to have much more accuracy.


Text-to-speech allows a user to have their work read out loud to them. This process allows learners to hear many more of their mistakes than when rereading it themselves. When we reread our own writing, whether in our mind or out loud, our brains tend to “fill in the blanks”, or read the word we meant to say, not the one we actually wrote or spelled.

By learning to think about spelling in context, students improve not only their spelling skills, but their understanding of the language as a whole. As students gain confidence with these tools, the overall quality of their written work will also improve.

Photo of DJ CunninghamDJ Cunningham, CEO of LEARNstyle, has a personal connection to learning disabilities; in grade 4 he was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. In school he faced all the issues related to hidden disabilities: feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, concealment, embarrassment, ridicule, teasing, being viewed as lazy or defiant. He used common coping mechanisms such as becoming invisible; acting out; and at times and with growing sophistication, “playing the LD card.” While attending Trent University, he discovered assistive technologies and a door to independence and academic success opened. DJ has been a user of Assistive Technologies for the past 10 years and has trained hundreds of students and led numerous training workshops.