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Effective Use of Assistive Technology in Upper-Elementary Classrooms

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “Assistive Technology: Promises Fulfilled” by Kyle Redford in Educational Leadership, February 2019 (Vol. 76, #5, p. 70-74), ; Redford can be reached at
In this Educational Leadership article, California fifth-grade teacher Kyle Redford says many digital games and apps have been “disappointing, distracting, or time-wasters.” But there’s one area of technology that she believes has fulfilled its promise: “Probably more than anything else in my 30 years as a teacher, assistive technology has changed my instruction.” Redford appreciates the way it supports students with disabilities and differences and increases all students’ access to high-level learning that would be impossible without technology. Several key areas:
• Reading – Audio versions of classroom books and digital books that highlight the words being read on the screen are powerful tools (Bookshare is a free service available to anyone with a known print disability). “With decoding support in place, many dyslexic students become leaders in book discussions,” says Redford. “After they discover that reading involves more than sounding out words, many find they are skilled at making connections, drawing inferences, and making predictions.”
• Writing – Dictation apps, available now on all devices including cell phones, convert students’ speech into written text and work wonders on their confidence as writers. “Once they get comfortable with dictating what they want to say into a dictation app and editing the text produced,” says Redford, “students who previously turned in minimalistic, poorly composed written work now regularly surprise me with more volume, detail, and depth of thought.” Dictation apps aren’t for everyone, she says; an alternative is a predictive spelling app that gives lots of support to students who are having difficulty with mechanical skills. “Student output often increases once these students are allowed to focus on their ideas,” says Redford, “instead of being distracted by spelling and handwriting snags.”
• Behavior – When struggling students are engaged and successful, they are much less likely to act out, improving classroom culture and enabling the teacher to focus on instruction rather than discipline.
Why aren’t assistive technologies more widely used? One misconception is that they give unfair advantages to some students, creating divisions in classrooms. The opposite is true, says Redford: “Assistive technologies help offset inequities by providing students who have learning differences with better access to learning opportunities.” Another myth is that technology keeps students from acquiring key skills. Not true, says Redford; assistive tools help students work around their disabilities and become skilled, confident, and included by classmates. A third worry is that students will become dependent on technology. “But one of the most compelling attributes of assistive technology,” says Redford, “is the sense of independent confidence it provides for students with learning disabilities (or differences)… Down the road, they will require much less adult support to keep pace with academic expectations.”

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