Tuesday, February 19, 2013

AT Tools for Everyone's Toolbox, Part One:

In December I wrote a post, "Self -Accomodation Should be a Standard of Daily Life". In it we looked at the ways we accommodate the tasks we do day to day. We looked at how students need to have tools that are accessible to them and help them accommodate their learning. It is also important that all the tools be available to all learners with equal access.

Assistive Technology
The definition of Assistive Technology according to IDEA is:

“Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.”

Assistive Technology has lived behind the special education boundary lines for a long time, but trends are pushing us forward and prodding us with the idea that assistive technology and universal design principles aren’t just for our special needs population, but should be integrated into learning for everyone. Students spend 7 -8 hours a day in the process of learning new things and experiencing challenges to succeed. They certainly deserve as much of a level-playing field as we can give them.Think about the words “increase, maintain or improve”. There are greater demands on educators for accountability to demonstrate that all our students are increasing and improving test scores and mastery of common core goals. We want to see our student’s knowledge and abilities increase and improve, but students with degenerative disabilities may struggle just to maintain, so we need to make sure we include them in this too. If I feel that I have to work harder sometimes to maintain, just think about how our students feel! Put yourself in your student’s shoes and you will realize accommodations need to be there for everyone.
What are the tools to help them on this “Road to Success”?
There are low-tech, mid-tech and high-tech tools for student accommodation. Below is an overview of the low tech tools that should be available. In future posts we will cover mid and high tech tools as well as links to specific free software and video tutorials.

Low Tech Tools:
Low-tech tools are things like special pens and pencils, highlighters, scissors with special grips, pencil grips, embossed line paper, slant boards, transparent color overlays to lay over text for reading, text-framing strips, highlighter tape, colored keyboard labels, number lines and counting boards, enlarged worksheets, page magnifiers, fidget toys to help with concentration and sensory issues, highlighters, tabs, color-coded folders and visual schedules for organization. Having these things available in an organizer for class access would be one low-cost way to expand tools for accommodations.
Guide your students in understanding how they learn and show them how and when to use tools that make it easier for them. You might sit down with your students in a conference format and work with them to fill out a “Personal Learning Styles and Tools Profile” that helps them think through and check the things they know would help them succeed. Adjust and adapt it throughout the term or school year and help them define and focus-in on the tools that work the best for them in different situations.
Taking the time to set up the foundations for accommodation can reap huge benefits for all your students and establish life-long patterns for success.

To check out an online comprehensive toolbox go to: http://udltechtoolkit.wikispaces.com/
A great place to see many low tech tools in one spot is http://www.onionmountaintech.com View their LoTTIE (Low Tech Tools for Inclusive Education) kits.

All the best to you!

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