Technology has become increasingly valuable for educators and students. When incorporated correctly into the educational setting, our students are able to accomplish set goals more efficiently and productively with the vast array of programs and applications available. Teachers are able to reach all types of learners and meet the needs of special education students by using assistive technology and programs designed for the challenges of today’s special needs population, as well as regular education students. According to Roblyer and Doering (2010), the goal of assistive technology is to “harness the potential of technology in ways that offer an individual with a disability increased opportunities for learning, productivity, and independence –opportunities that otherwise would not be available.” It is important to note that disabilities or special needs include students with physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities. This list also includes students with speech recommendations and gifted and talented learners. I look at every one of my students as special needs, although they may not be classified. I believe every child has a special and unique way of learning, and technology is able to enhance their success if each lesson is tailored to their learning style and needs.
This week I had the opportunity to visit many sites which described specific assistive technology resources. I clicked around on the Assistive Technology Glogster and was amazed at how many of these unique applications had free downloads and ideas for specific learners. The Universal Design for Living (CAST, 2002-2010) was the most useful in advocating technologies that enhance instruction and support the learner in order for them to be successful and independent. This website promotes Planning for All Learners (PAL) which “promotes access, participation, and progress in the general education curriculum for all learners.” There is a toolkit that includes tools, resources, guided lessons, models of instruction, and templates in order to facilitate educators when planning to meet the needs of their diverse classroom population. Teachers must have mentoring and training to keep up with the latest methods of reaching all students, and this website addresses educator’s needs fully. After reviewing all of the resources available, I questioned some of my own teaching methods, as well.
I recently had a visit from a former student who now follows an IEP for his specific learning disability. This student struggles with expressive writing and language, as well as difficulty getting thoughts on paper. The task has always been tedious and frustrating for him, and he was thrilled to tell me that his teacher is allowing him to use the word processor. This seemed like a fabulous idea for this child since I know the potential of his creative imagination. I asked him to show me his work when he was finished. A week later he came to see me, but looked like the same frustrated child I witnessed weeks before. He muttered under his breath that he “can’t write” and I asked to see his work and immediately noticed all the points taken off for grammar and spelling. I was a bit frustrated for him since I knew he had used a word processor. Why were there so many errors? Out of pure curiosity, I asked his special education teacher if I could teach him to use the spell and grammar check on the computer thinking this might help his self-esteem. I respected her answer when she informed me that she didn’t allow that since it would not teach him spelling and grammar. Perhaps using this icon would be a crutch, however, I wished there was a better way to help this child. Consequently, his spelling and grammar did not improve from a poor grade. What next for this child?
After this week’s research, I found a wonderful website that I believe would be beneficial for this student’s needs. I am not a special education teacher; however, I will share this site with our special education team. The program Word Prediction, provides the student with the opportunity to pick from word choices for spelling, and listen to their writing with text to speech ability. The child can then hear if a word is missing or if the work is not making sense. The child must pick from a grammar choice, henceforth, will receive a concrete lesson while working. Unlike spell and grammar check, the program basically tutors the child through the process. I could never fault faculty for not being aware of this program. Schools are not always capable of providing additional professional development when it comes to assistive technology. Due to budgetary constraints there is the usual visit from vendors and the tendency is to concentrate more on physical disabilities. I am optimistic that technology training in this area will become more prevalent in the future.
There are enumerable websites and information available about the latest assistive technologies such as, cameras for wheelchairs, text-to-speech applications, switch operated pc mouse, classroom audio enhancements, magnification of computer screens, iPod Touch applications, etc. We were given a wonderful resource in my graduate course called UDL Toolkit Wikispace. This website provides links to all of the wonderful assistive technology advancements. I suggest visiting this particular site to see if any of these technologies will assist your special learners in order to provide them with an equal educational opportunity as those children in the general education population. Some of these assistive applications will even help advance at-risk students who could benefit from learning through different means and diverse learning styles. Keep your students in mind as you browse through each application and technology. You may be as surprised, as I was, at how you can give each student a new way of learning and opportunity for success. Please share your thoughts or experiences with me through your comments, since I am also new to the world of assistive technology advancement.
CAST . (2002-2010). Supporting educators in learning about and practicing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) . Retrieved April 20, 2010, from CAST Transforming Education through Universal Design for Living: http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/
Roblyer, M.D., & Doering, A. (2010). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc