While I happen to be in my 12th year of teaching, the world of assistive technologies is one that is largely foreign to me. As a high school humanities teacher, the only piece of assistive technology that I really use is Google Read/Write. At the start of each semester, our school’s LRT comes into my class and does a quick lesson for my students on how to use it. From there, I do what I can to encourage its use when necessary. As an English Language Arts teacher, it is a helpful tool because I can scan entire novels into Read/Write and then students will be able to use it to read the novel back to them in a variety of different voices or speeds. With the novel scanned, students can also highlight any word and use the dictionary feature to discover its meaning (extremely helpful for students that don’t speak English as their first language).
From a Social Studies standpoint, Read/Write has tremendous value when it comes to research thanks to the highlight tool. Students have the ability to highlight any section of text in one of four colours. Once they reach the end of the document that they’re highlighting they can click on the “collect highlights” button and Read/Write will open up a new document complete with all the highlighted material. I’ve even used it for my own personal research and that’s something that I try to stress to students as well in order to encourage its use. Besides highlighting, there are a few additional features that I also like. As stated above, Read/Write has the ability to read text back to students. In addition, students can also read out loud and the program will type out what was said. This is potentially beneficial for those students that struggle with getting their thoughts down on paper. The simplify text feature can also be also quite handy because it can “simplify” websites down to the point where just the basics are present – helpful for students that struggle with reading comprehension.
While Read/Write is an effective tool, it does have some limitations – the biggest one being that it can be a bit buggy. There have been several instances where the Read/Write tab simply doesn’t show up. Also, I’ve found that the “simplify text” feature works approximately half of the time. The highlighting feature also suffers from inconsistent reliability (though not nearly to the extent of the simplify text feature). Sage also highlighted a few limitations of on her blog, mentioning that in order to benefit from Read/Write, you actually require a computer (which aren’t always easy to book especially in schools where there’s limited technology) and that both students and teachers need to know how to use the tool.
Despite its bugs, Read/Write is an effective tool. Something that really struck a chord with me from this week’s presentation was from the first video where it was mentioned that “the great thing about supportive and assistive technology is that they level the playing field for students – they’re critical for some students but they can be used to help all students learn”. I feel like that Read/Write is a textbook example of this. Some students absolutely need to use the various features but all students can benefit from some aspect of it.
Beyond Read/Write, there’s not a lot of assistive technology that I’m particularly familiar with. A few years ago I had a SmartBoard in my room but I rarely used it and haven’t missed it. Perhaps though, the SmartBoard represents a missed opportunity? It’s entirely possible that my students could have benefitted from its use, I just didn’t know how to use it effectively. This brings us to a limitation of all assistive technology and a great quote from Dr. Sider/Dr. March:
While there is compelling long-term evidence that student achievement can be improved through the appropriate use of technology, it is important to note that the multitude of rapidly evolving assistive technology devices and programs can leave teachers feeling unprepared for supporting their use in the inclusive classroom. To address this issue, school systems need to put in place supports to enhance teachers’ ability to effectively use assistive technology tools.
As I continued to struggle with my lack of familiarity surrounding assistive technologies, I sought guidance from the LRTs at my school fearing that I was missing out on something. However, both of them mentioned that Read/Write is really the only piece of assistive technology that they use on a regular basis. One of the LRTs did mention that she has a bit of experience working with FM systems in order to help students with auditory processing disorders but beyond that, Read/Write tends to be the go-to. If we’re looking at “low-tech” assistive technologies, I, like most other humanities teachers make use of graphic organizers on a regular basis to help students organize their thoughts. I also have standing desks and exercise balls available in my classroom for students that don’t like the thought of sitting in a “traditional desk” for 5+hours/day.
That pretty much wraps up my experiences with assistive technology. I’m looking forward to reading other blogs and discovering if other’s have similar experiences or if I’m somewhat unique in my lack of familiarity regarding assistive tech.