Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back to School Basics: Access for Students that Get Overlooked

Back to school means back to supporting learning for some students that "fall between the cracks." More and more, we see children struggling that don't have a visible or severe enough disability to qualify for special services and an IEP. That doesn't mean they should get lost in the shuffle and not have the tools to accomodate for their learning style and lack of skills.
I was doing a training in a high school with regular classroom teachers that were getting access and support technology training for the kids that were in their classes that also had IEP's and needed either modified or accomodated curriculum and instruction. When we were through with the day training, their summary of the day included the realization that the tools we explored were good for ALL students and that they probably had more "regular" students with print disability needs that were more severe than the IEP students they were preparing for.
The problem is that unless teachers are given the tools to identify and support these students, the focus remains on the students with the IEP and the Special Education Specialist for support.
I find that many special education specialists are bogged down with huge amounts of paperwork and they rely on their assistants to follow through with tasks for students much of the day. The Special Ed teacher has some focus in their day on lessons and remedial support, but they just can't "do it all" even if they wish they could.
So where does that leave the regular classroom teacher with questions about how to support these "regular" students that are barely keeping their head above water? Unfortunately, they are low on the priority list for a special education program in a school or district. That doesn't mean they should be low priority, it just means in the scheme of things, the regular classroom teacher gets left on their own to "do what you are paid for and get those kids to learn."
I shared a post on 10 top free online technology tools for students a while back and it was a popular one. I didn't get any comments - but a lot of readers, and I hope you downloaded some of the tools and gave them a try. Those tools are the tools that we explore for ALL learners in my trainings and they can give kids a great start on their year.
I would suggest sharing these tools with teachers of students that you know need the support now at the beginning of the year. If my son had trouble summarizing content and digesting the material, I would want the social studies teacher to know that ahead of time and find a way to get the text converted to an electronic version so it could be heard as well as read.

Some Support Tools Worth the Money:
Along with free tools, there are some tools that cost, but can be well worth the investment. Premier Literacy has a jump drive (Premier To Go) that has 10 software tools on it and storage space to convert Word docs, scanned in textbook pages and pdf files so that the text to speech tools can read them. The jump drive goes with the student on any computer without having to install software, so it could go from one room to another through the day if necessary, and drag and drop a chapter on the jump drive and take it home to listen to at night. This is not a free tool, but the cost is $299.95. They have the "Key to Access" which is a scaled-up version of the jump drive in an Mp3 player for $349. If you have a child going off to college this fall, instead of an ipod, why not get them one of these that will really support their study and learning skills.
The on-computer software that allows you to scan and read is $149. How about loading that on a computer at home for your student to scan textbook pages and worksheets? As long as the student has the book as well, and the scanned chapters are for their use only and get dumped later, you should be fine in doing this without copyright violation.
The software above is available to school districts for FREE through a grant program Premier Literacy has developed. I have 2 districts exploring that option right now and more to come within my region of support. You have to buy the jump drives and Mp3 player tools, but the software on them comes on CD's to load on desktops and laptops at no charge if the district does the simple grant application. If the district wants to upgrade to new versions as they come out, then they pay a nominal fee based on student population - but if they choose not to upgrade, they still keep the free software. You can check it out on their grant page. Premier at Home extends the software to homes for free to any students in the participating district of the grant program. The student is given a password to log on to the Premier at Home website and download all the tools on a home computer - for 12 months, renewable each year as long as the student is still in the district.
I will continue to share thoughts and ideas that support ALL students that need printed material help. When we can tear down the barriers of who gets assistive technology and see the benefits for everyone, we are moving in the right direction.
Look for more on student support and going back to school in the next couple of weeks.
All the best to you!


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