Last class, Megan, Jenny, Leigh, and Kalyn did a fabulous job on presenting about Assistive Technololgy. Who knew there were so many tools to use to help us achieve a goal? And, as they showed, these tools have changed the lives of so many. It was extremely powerful to watch and made me wonder, am I doing my best in ensuring my students have what they need to accomplish the tasks set out before them? Is there an easier way for me to be reaching goals? What is actually even considered AT?
As Judy Heumann states, “For most of us technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability it makes things possible.”
Assistive Technology is any device, software, or equipment that helps people work around their challenges.
I actually had a hard time thinking about what I use for assistive technology in my own home. As I reflected this week on assistive technology, I became more aware of things I use that help me or could help me achieve any day to day goal. Right now our school is overflowing so we have no space for our preps so we have to go to the staff room. Next time I have a prep, I am definitely grabbing a pair of noise cancelling headphones so I can concentrate without outside noise of staff coming and going. Plus, people will realize I need to tend to the task at hand. As well, I have really been focusing on the gym right now and I actually just purchased a pair of lifting straps which enable me to lift much heavier weights when performing actions such as deadlifts. They support my wrists so that I am able to add more weight to my sets. I also use a training belt to support my core so on heavier leg or back exercises. Both of these AT devices help me increase my strengths in my sets. So assistive technology is seen everywhere.
Some of the Assistive Technolology devices I have experienced in my classrooms range from low-cost all the way to high cost. I have used Visual Cues, Wiggle Cushions, Hoki Stools, Pencil Grips, FM systems, noise cancelling headphones, all sorts of sensory tools ranging from weighted vests and blankets, fidget toys, thinking putty and chewable charms. I also have had students use board approved Ipads and computers. With one student who was not yet approved, I allowed him to use my own phone to complete certain tasks such as writing out his Spelling list to his mom via text message or taking a picture of the agenda board instead of writing it as he struggled with writing tasks. I even once had Snapchat approved so I could accomplish the goal of getting a student to come in for recess. Her EA would Snapchat me a picture of them outside and add one filter. When they came in the classroom, she was allowed to come to me and see the picture they sent. It was very successful as she liked technology and otherwise it was a struggle to get her in for recess (not too sure they falls under AT or bribery, but it was a strategy that worked for all of us).
The positives I have seen with AT in the classroom is a task being able to be achieved without the struggle that may normally accompany it, due to the use of the AT, and the pride the child feels after being able to achieve that goal or task. Another positive is seeing some worry allieviated from parents when they start seeing their child succeed. The challenge is that usually an expert just recommends using some AT without letting the showing the student, teacher or parent explicitly how/when/why it should be used, especially if it is a high end tool. It usually is a “here, use this” case scenario, so the AT isn’t utilized how it should be used and no one benefits in the end.
In watching the video about the structure of UDL Guidelines Structure, the part that resonated with me was the concept of outside-inside. What students use externally to help them process information internally will vary from student to student. The goal is to be able to process that information in a way that makes sense to them.
The aim of the UDL framework is to create inclusive and accessible learning experiences for all students. Assistive technology can be considered a tool in order to provide these experiences. We need to make sure that everyone can perceive the world they are learning in and be skillful in things like communication (both written and spoken), so we need to give them the skills they need to get there successfully.
Some of the real positive highlights of assistive technology always included an expert who worked with either the child(ren) and/or myself until we became successful in the AT tool. One particular instance was when I was at a school where we used our data to move kids up levels in both Reading and Writing. After testing students, we were able to see their levels. Students were tiered into groups of green, yellow or red according to the results. Red meaning well below grade level. Yellow meaning just below grade level and green meaning at grade level. From there, the LRT would group students. She would take a very small group (typically around 4) for an extended period of time (if I recall it was an hour and a half a day for six to eight full weeks) from the yellow group so they could move up to green and so on. After the time frame, they were tested again to see the improvement. The LRT followed a very scripted regime. One of the things she went over with them explicitly was Google Read and Write. When these students came back they were the experts on Google Read and Write. After that, the students were so proud of what they could do and this was their time to shine. They always felt so much pride in their work and what they could accomplish there. And to top it off, they had a skill that the other students didn’t. I would always ask them to do a Show What You Know to the other students, teaching them the other students Google Read and Write. Then all students had the option of using Google Read and Write. I know that these students would not nearly have been as successful if they didn’t have an expert beside them, teaching them explicitly for an extended period of time. They became masters of it and so it was easy for them. It was so easy they also transfered it to home so that their parents could see and they could utilize it at home. This would not have happened if someone just told me that they should use Google Read and Write. That is the downfall or challenge of Assistive Technology. Teachers don’t have the skills, knowledge or time to be able to build these AT skills successfully into the classroom as they should be. It seems like with most things in education, we need more money and PD. More funding needs to be put into educating students and teachers thoroughly in AT so it is used in a way that will most impact the life of the child. I liked the idea mentioned in the video that there needs to be an Assistive Technology Professional hired to specifically work with students and their teachers so that the tools are being utilized to their maximum potential.
Another example, was when I got an ESL student from South Africa and I had the EAL consultant come in to observe and give me ideas for her for writing. She was so helpful. The student was able to use speechtexter in her native language and then use Google Translate to translate it. If she knew some of the English words, she was encouraged to put them in. The consultant also told me where to place her in class physically, what native tongue she may be thinking in (which means I need to give her brain time to process) and just different managerial techniques to use both at school and for parents at home. She made me think a lot more critically when it comes to ALL students.
Lots of times, I think back to the times where I got to see a child succeed in something he/she may have given up on, or become Masters of a new skill no one else knows; or I reflect on the Snapchat girl racing in from recess, with her red cheeks, to see the picture she sent me and those feelings of pride warm my heart. All a student may need is one small device to make their world change for the better, and isn’t that what this is all about?