Assistive & Adaptive Tech

This week for class, we had a number of readings (and discussion); because I am traveling on Wednesday, I started the readings at the end of last week so that I could get my work done and enjoy my long weekend away. The topic is one of interest to me, assistive and adaptive technology. While I’ve never been a certified special education teacher, I have worked with students with exceptionalities the duration of my career. When I started teaching in DC, I was assigned two learning clusters for mainstream: ED and MR. I was told this was because my class was calm and I was patient; honestly, it seemed like a reward for hiding my anxiety and how overwhelmed I was by being a shy person by nature. Hoorah.

In all seriousness, it was a great learning experience and as a result, I worked with the head of the ED cluster who’d push into my class to work with some of our more challenging students. It was a win-win for all of us and I really appreciated being pushed to better my practice day in and day out. (I have such fond memories of some of these students and their successes.) If you’ve read previous posts, you’ll remember that I didn’t have books and for a time, I didn’t have a classroom. I did have four desktop computers along the back wall; only one worked and the only person who ever got it to work was not a student of mine but just one who would wander in, fire it up, and look at pornography: A real treat of an experience those redirections were for a green, 25 year old teacher (we actually had a plan where a student would go and get his case manager and we’d continue on — this seemed to cause the least amount of stress for all parties).

One of my assigned readings this week was the article: When the Classroom Feels Hostile: I found this article interesting because ninth grade most definitely is a sweet spot for holding onto or losing students to their learning struggles. In my years in DCPS, I taught ninth and tenth grade English. I worked with students who read typically on a fourth grade reading level and spent countless hours scaffolding my lessons to meet the needs of a very diversely-skilled student body. I caught some students and built upon their skills while others verbalized their ‘waiting it out’ plan (this plan was to quit school when they reached 18; I had several ninth grade students on the cusp of becoming legal adults). This disparity is all too common for students whose educational needs go unmet. After years of teaching in DCPS, I accepted a department chair position in a neighboring district.

When I left DCPS, I worked in an alternative school; we had a robotics program but little technology otherwise. Our school was really small; there was no formal library or computer lab. I had a computer for work and a SmartBoard that wasn’t connected to anything. Our principal held meetings where we passed a talking stick around so I think that tech just wasn’t a priority of his, honestly. His method worked for building relationships with students, but it definitely lacked in preparing them for future tech advancements. After two years teaching in NoVA, I moved to Boston and that’s where things really opened up for me: I worked in a special education school where access to all sorts of technology was atop my administrator’s priority list.

Dragon Speak and Kurzweil were what I utilized most as an English teacher. I feel strongly that students who struggle with reading and writing, learning disability or otherwise, deserve the opportunity to succeed and these programs really offer students a chance to process information in their own ways and output thoughts with ease. In one of the links provided by my professor, I read that only 5% of middle school students with learning disabilities are proficient in writing and only 33% of teachers feel prepared to teach writing (Cast 2019). As educators, we HAVE to do better than this.

In thinking of how I will be able to better utilize technology to meet my future students’ needs in the library classroom, I read the article Assistive Technology: 10 Things to Know by Janet Hopkins (2006) and found it helpful. It is a lot less intimidating to chunk technology into three sections: Low Tech (highlighter tape, graphic organizers, large print), Mid-Tech (tape recorders, headphones), and High Tech (computer-based, text-to-speech, concept mapping). Because low and mid-level tech are most easily available, it’s easy enough to figure out ways to implement and offer supports to both students and colleagues on how best to utilize across the board. The higher tech AT require a bit more planning, as they are more costly and likely require licensing and training. Thus, I feel it’s important to devise a plan on how to properly choose and implement these technologies for the benefits of all students.

Janet Hopkins published another article I read this weekend, School Library Accessibility: The Role of Assistive Technology (2004). In it, she suggested forming a focus group to devise a plan for AT and also using PD time to explore ways to improve upon the library. This has me thinking of PLCs to try and be a part of within the school community to forge connections and better understand the barriers to learning within the classrooms so that I could adequately compare them with those in the library. Hopkins also suggested publicizing AT initiatives and having a plan to speak to administrative staff; to me, these go hand-in-hand and allow for some concrete plans to move forward. Because I recognize that I can be intense at times, I feel like this is something I’d need to really plan and implement slowly to ensure my enthusiasm doesn’t come across in an overly assertive way and that I’m able to move the conversation positively to secure funding and adequate resources.

In her 2006 article, Hopkins addresses ways to secure funding for AT by reaching out to Parent Advisory Committees (PAC) or even writing grants to finance the more expensive educational technology. Otherwise, she suggests using low- or no-cost alternatives. Through looking into all of the shared articles and links for my course, I came across these social narrative apps through the QIAT site: I love the idea of using the app My Story e-Book Maker to allow students a chance to share their stories without an intimidation factor around getting their story out. Project Enable is another option for librarian to look into — they offer training and resources that you can handily select specific learning disabilities/impairments to find books, articles, databases, and websites specifically designed to meet the learning needs of those students. The Cast UDL Studio was another resource I appreciated; here, you are able to design resources specifically to meet the needs of your students.

Personally, I like the idea of the library classroom offering access to assistive and adaptive technologies for students. It seems like one of the more reasonable places within the confines of a school to house accessible technologies and would somewhat force the hand of collaboration between the librarian, special education staff, and content area teachers. As I gear up to work in a school library, this is one area of interest I need to keep in mind for discussions with future school leaders and potential employers.

 

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