As a technology teacher and facilitator, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with thoughtful students and adults who are eager to see improvement in students’ academic skills. Teachers, more than ever, are under the microscope from outside eyes.
Community leaders and civic experts cry for the need for United States students to stay on a pace to learn at a rate above their peers in other countries.
With the push for more teacher accountability and student metrics, the pressure for students to achieve has never been higher. With that, educators still need to be mindful and celebrate the many different ethnic demographics that make up our country and student population. The ability to differentiate education so that all students have the opportunity to achieve in an environment that suits their learning styles is a pivotal component in helping students achieve their goals. While I see the importance of objectives that measure student growth, an important piece that needs not be overlooked is being able to offer academic tasks that help students transfer learning from one scenario to another.
One way to help differentiate learning for students is through the use of appropriate, assistive technology tools. The term “assistive” is often misunderstood as doing the job for the person. This is not the case. A basketball player that throws the ball to the person closer to the basket to make a shot is not the individual that scores the points.
That does not diminish the role, but the work or score in this example is done by the person using the assist to make a basket. Much in the same way assistive technology tools do not do the work for the students. When used effectively, they offer the opportunity to help the students become more independent and successful with their academic tasks. An assistive technology tool can be something as simple as using a word processor to make the text and spacing bigger for a test.
Today, schools will benefit from a district-wide assistive technology plan for all students. Often, only learning disabled students are the target population for this endeavour. This is a good place to start. However, many assistive technology applications used in the proper setting will help many students with a variety of learning styles. A good place to start is to focus on the following applications to help differentiate instruction and integrate technology effectively into core content areas.
Thousands of K-12 districts already employ Google Apps for Education (Apps for Education, 2014). The service is free to schools for those that have not already used the service. While Google Apps features for presentations and text documents offer the ability to differentiate learning. Google Docs collaborative writing and presentation-building files offer students the ability to learn with one another. For example, students can brainstorm ideas and take notes together. Pairing strong note-takers with those that may be weaker at this skill can help students visualize proper methods for summarizing information. Presentation tools offer students the ability to complete group assignments in and out of school with one another.
There are some extensions and apps from the Chrome Store that you can get that work extremely well to differentiate instruction even further Read and Write for Google is an extension that comes in both a free and paid version. The free version offers an additional toolbar within Google Docs and will read text from within a document. The paid version allows additional features, including highlighting, extracting notes and vocabulary words.
Kurzweil from Cambium Technology is an application that is used with students with reading and writing disabilities and those with English as a second language. The newest, web version of Kurzweil can be purchased by districts to help those with and without reading disabilities. A pivotal piece in this component is the ability to highlight text from reading documents and then to extract them into column notes. Here, teachers can view if students are understanding the main ideas within a variety of reading passages.
Kurzweil offers students the ability to hear what they are typing after each word and sentence. This often helps students self-correct and ensure what they are writing will be understood by others.
In addition to Kurzweil, Webspiration is another excellent tool that can be used by all students. This collaborative, graphic organizing tool can be used creatively by teachers for a variety of tasks. It offers an excellent method for pre-writing ideas for those that learn better visually and the outline can then be easily transferred to a Google or Word document for essay completion. Beyond that, templates in Webspiration make visual learning opportunities come alive for students. For example, a template can be made that has a background of the solar system. When students open this template, they then have to place the planets in their proper location. In addition, other benefits to this program are completing visual organizer to compare and contrast items. This can be another way to create a study guide for a student to learn material.
There are many other excellent assistive technology tools to help differentiate instruction. Creating a strong learning environment with assistive technologies is possible when a district can get teachers to help spur the movement (Dirksen, 2012). The support from administration must be unwavering, even when naysayers may try to dismantle the use of these tools due to misconceptions. Innovative ideas are often met with resistance in organizations (Rogers, 2003). Stills, an effective assistive technology plan to help further differentiated instruction can be achieved with proper planning, follow through and patience.
Author: James Puglia