The Highs and Lows of Classroom Technology

hi-low_classroom_techWhether it’s an advanced reading and writing application, or a portable electronic spell-checker, technology in the classroom has the potential to enrich and enhance academic skills for kids with learning differences.

In many ways, classroom technology hasn’t changed that much in 10 years. Many applications we have today were around back then; they were just slower and less accurate. For example, there was spell check, but now there’s auditory spell check with pop-up definitions and the ability to recognize homonyms. Ten years ago, it was rare to see any assistive technology devices in the regular classroom, unless one was specifi ed as necessary in a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Now you can see kids using laptops, portable word processors, accessible software and palm pilots in many inclusive classrooms.

The Latest and Greatest

Today you have classrooms, both regular and resource, full of technologies to help kids learn. From reading material and lessons on MP3 players to kids carrying USB drives from class to class, technology has gotten much more sophisticated to meet the needs of diverse learners. Following are some of the ways technology is helping kids achieve.

FREE DOWNLOADS

  • ReadPlease.com – Simple text to speech application.
  • NaturalReaders.com – A program that will read out loud any text copied to the computer’s Clipboard.
  • DeafBlindOnline.co.uk/software.html – A free talking word processor with graphics called Edword.
  • PPPst.com/themes.html – Hundreds of free PowerPoint presentations to download by subject and theme.
  • Inspiration.com – 30-day trial of a visual web/ brainstorming/outlining application for writing.
  • Many companies will let you download a 30-day trial of their software for free. So try before you buy!

Interactive whiteboards. A computer projects onto a large whiteboard at the front of the classroom. Students can interact with the program by using either a mouse, stylus or touch. These are like giant computer monitors that the whole class can see at once. For students who have difficulties with fine motor skills, the whiteboard allows them to interact and participate using larger muscles.

Portable USB storage drive. These allow students to store information and work on projects in multiple locations.
Portable software. Some assistive technology companies now put their software on portable USB drives, which means students don’t have to load the software every time they use a different computer.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Large software and hardware companies are making their products with built-in UDL features. This means their products all have standards for accessibility (text-to-speech auditory feedback, scanning capabilities, alternative keyboard accessibility).

Synthesized voices. These sound more like human voices and less like aliens living in your hard drive.
Internet resources. Everything from curriculum supplements to subscription services can be accessed via the Web. See the Free Downloads and Free Online Resources sidebars.

FM systems. Previously used primarily for persons with hearing impairments, FM systems are now being used in classrooms to help students with auditory processing issues attend to what the teacher is saying.
Audio format material. Students who have trouble visually with reading can access text material in audio format through MP3 players. Students can process material that was previously only available in print.

Does my child need assistive technology?

If a child is struggling to complete school work because reading, writing, listening or organizational issues are creating barriers to learning, then a look at a low- or high-tech accommodation might be a good idea. An important first step for parents is recognizing the fine line between remediation and accommodation. In other words, how long do you push a child to improve, for example, his handwriting before you realize it’s not going to improve and you provide the necessary accommodation to move on and get the task done? When a child is not meeting goals using standard classroom tools or remediation techniques, then it’s time for accommodations.

Keep it simple

Many parents seek out the most sophisticated and expensive technology as a first solution. They may feel that the fancier the technology is, the faster it will help their child and/or teacher solve the problem. There is no quick fix to solving a child’s learning difference, even with technology.

FREE ONLINE RESOURCES

  • GreatSchools.net – This site is a great place to begin your research. Includes an extensive parent guide with practical worksheets for choosing the right technology tools for your child, consumer tips and assessment guidance.
  • Ghotit.com – Allows your spell check in Microsoft Office to speak the spelling options and word definitions.
  • MyWebspiration.com – Free version of Inspiration, a visual mapping program.
  • Starfall.com – Online reading practice for pre-K through 2nd grade.
  • AAAmath.com – Online math practice.
  • ClosingTheGap.com – Leading assistive technology organizations with a searchable database of resources.
  • Google.com – Online calendars, documents, spreadsheet and presentations.

Technology can be complicated, take time for student, teacher and parents to learn and, of course, may not work when you want it to. Parents should start with the simplest solution first, i.e., start with low-tech and build to high. For example, if a child is struggling with the fine motor aspects of handwriting, start with a low-tech solution such as adaptive pencil grips, slantboard or raised line paper. If those aren’t helping the student to write, then move higher up the technology chain to something like a portable word processor.

Technology and teaching

Although technology helps children make academic strides, it is not a substitute for good teaching. Since sometimes a learning difficulty is essentially an inability to process the steps of a certain task, an effective teacher will break a goal up into manageable tasks and present information in the child’s particular learning style (visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic, or some combination thereof). Quality teachers know that children are naturally drawn to technology and certain applications can provide the same breakdown of tasks and presentation of material. Whether it’s a $1,500 reading and writing application or a $10 text-to-speech shareware application, the goal is for the student to receive the most appropriate tool for his unique learning needs.

Finding the right fit

To ensure the student receives the maximum benefit from classroom technology and assistive devices, parents and educators need to take into consideration the student’s strengths and weaknesses, the tasks to be performed and the classroom environment where the technology will be used. With the most appropriate technology tools, kids with learning differences can excel and experience their full potential.

Author: Ann Leverette is the owner of ATL3, Inc., an assistive technology and learning company dedicated to finding the right fit. She provides tutoring and training for children and adults, and can be reached at ann@at4learning.com.

This article is published with permission from Kids Enabled, Inc., KidsEnabled.org.

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