470 Wrap-Up (!!!)

As the semester comes to a close and teachers each repeat at the start of their final classes that we are now in the “home stretch!” (scary!!!) I would like to take some time to reflect on edu470 as a whole.  Coming into this semester, I had not really thought about technology in the classroom at all.  Of course I have been used to the general kinds of technology that are, and have been, included in classrooms since first grade.  At first, a simple boombox was all we had in class, which some of my more laid-back teachers would use while we did individual work at our desks.  In these rooms, we would also have the TV on wheels which would be rolled in when the teachers wanted to lay videos like Bill Nye or School House Rock (Bill being the favorite, obviously).  Next, TV’s started hanging from ceilings and seemed to work somewhat sporadically, but not usually when the teachers needed them to.  Moving into fifth, sixth, seventh, and eight grade, big flashy devices called Smart Boards started being installed.  It seemed to take the teachers’ much much longer to get the hang of these than it did the students.  Nonetheless, we persevered, put up with a minimum of seven recalibrations throughout the 50 minute lessons, and finally were able to mimic the same actions on the Smart Board that we would have been able to do on the basic whiteboard or chalkboard.  Given all this, the development of technology in the classroom seemed to be more of a hassle to me than a convenience.

However, being in college now and working on platforms such as the one we are blogging on now (WordPress), as well as google docs, and the apps we have discovered that target specific reading, writing, and math skills, I have an entirely new perspective on technology.  I have seen numerous ways in which technology can work (and actually work) to aide students with disabilities.

Overall, I have a redeveloped understanding of assistive technology in the classroom.  I am grateful for being able to enroll in this class, given the amount of discovery it allowed in terms of new and helpful technology.

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Evolution of AT

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, written in 2004, states that Assistive Technology 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 a child with a disability.”  I find this definition of AT to be somewhat ambiguous, as it does not address the technology aspect at all.  The clearest part of this specific definition is that the goal is to cater to students with disabilities.  Because of this lack of specificity in the means through which this can be done, assistive technology can therefore be anything--any item, piece of equipment, or product system–that helps children with disabilities.  When learning more about this, I began to question whether the “item” needed to be technology at all.  In 2017, when we hear the word technology, we tend to think of things like computers, laptops, recording devices, tablets, kindles, and smartphones.

However, before the development of all these types of devices and software programs, assistive technology consisted of more basic items and systems that sought to “increase, maintain, or improve the functional capacities of children with disabilities.”  Our professor, Dr. Zipke, has explained that chalk, when it was first invented, was considered AT in that it helped students in a classroom environment read spoken word.  When brainstorming topics for my final project on phonological awareness, an idea that came to mind was one of my three lessons I did with my case study student this semester where we used home-made magnets that could be cut up and broken apart to show students how inflectional endings could be added to cvc-e words (that they needed to drop the ‘e,’ but keep the long vowel, when adding -ing, -ed, or -es onto the word).  In doing this, we were able to visibly break apart and combine the words with their endings in order to represent the rule we were learning about.  My first thought about this lesson was that it, in a sense, could be considered AT.   In the lesson, I used a “customized” “item” in order to “increase” a student with a specific learning disability’s phonological awareness.  Although I used materials that were not 21st century, computer-based technology, I was able to help a student improve upon his phonological awareness skills through the use of manipulatives.  In a sense, my lesson was in fact AT based.

Digital Photography

The article assigned for our digital photography unit explains two different cases in which digital video cameras have been integrated each of their essay writing processes.  They used three approaches, including oral speech, a visual, and the act of pointing.  Essentially, the article helped demonstrate the way in which research in this area can help student development and learning.  Specifically, the study sought to benefit “technology-oriented students who no longer benefit from single-mode approaches to academic literacy outcomes.”  This is one very narrow subset of assistive technology as a whole, as digital video cameras are being investigated through this research in an effort to cater to specific learner profiles who would benefit from using them.  One way that data from this study can be applied in practice is with ELL students, like Case A.  The article explains, “Case A illustrates bringing together speech, a visual, and the act of pointing to create context and meaning for the small camera and imagined audience he is trying to reach with his writing, thus creating the same broad contextual structure emphasized in Tomasello’s (2003) descriptions of Joint Attentional Scenes.”  In this way, when utilizing the tactics of pointing, visuals, and oral speech, digital video cameras can be a great way for students who do not have an especially strong command of the english language to answer prompts or expand upon topics provided.

Clickers as a Classroom Method of Formative Assessment

Technology-based formative assessment in the classroom can take many forms.  One that is common in college, as I have noticed, is “clickers,” or more formally known as Classroom Response Systems (CRS).  In assessing for myself whether these devices, as the article questions, are “tools or toys,” I came to the conclusion that they serve more as a helpful way to indicate to both the professor AND student where the student is in his or her level of understanding of the topic at hand.  I don’t see them as a distraction, but rather a more interesting way to indicate student understanding than a half sheet of paper mini-quiz, or something similar that can be used as a method of formative assessment.  Used either anonymously or with names assigned to answers, clickers allow students to actively reveal to the teacher their knowledge on the question in the form of a quick snapshot.  It is more quantitative than qualitative, as students are limited to sneering in the form of multiple choice questions, but it can show the teacher at that moment in time how many of the students know the answer to the question, as well as how many don’t.

Vanderbilt University has published information on using a CRS in the classroom, showing the ways in which it can be used.  Most helpful in their list of uses, I think, is the “confidence level questions,” which follow up a content question with a question that asks students to rate, on a scale of high, medium, or low, how confident in their answer of the first question they are.  This gives professors more of a qualitative understanding of student knowledge, and can help indicate where they need to spend more time reinforcing concepts.  The website additionally explains that CRS can be directly used for formative assessments in the following ways: “Some instructors assign participation grades to these kinds of formative assessments to encourage students to participate. Other instructors assign points for correct answers to encourage students to take these questions more seriously. Other instructors do a mix of both, assigning partial credit for wrong answers.”

https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/clickers/

Assistive Technology

The term assistive technology encapsulates a large variety of things, all of which help “increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”  One subset of assistive technology that I had seen before, but had not been in direct contact with, is a personal FM listening system.  This is a device where the listener has a receiver (earphone) that picks up the noises the speaker makes (via microphone).  This can help the listener focus on what the speaker is saying.  Growing up in school, as well as being in the classroom through my practicum experiences, I have noticed teachers wearing these wireless microphone devices around their necks, but it had not been obvious exactly what their purpose was.  Knowing now that it actually transmits the speaker’s voice directly into the user’s ear, I am very impressed by how discrete this device actually is.  This example of assistive technology is extremely advantageous for students whom it may benefit, like those whom are hearing impaired or need direct and clear prompting to stay focused during instruction, all while not attracting much attention, so as to distract other students or single the listeners out.

https://www.atia.org/at-resources/what-is-at/

http://www.readingrockets.org/article/assistive-technology-kids-learning-disabilities-overview

Audiobooks

I have had great experiences with audiobooks in my many years as a student, despite my teachers rarely, if ever, incorporating them into our lessons.  While I did have one english teacher in sixth grade let us listen to a book during class, I discovered them on my own much later on in my life, as a junior in high school.  Taking an honors english class and finding myself entirely overwhelmed with the amount and pace at which we were expected to read heavy and complex novels, I turned to audiobooks to help guide me through it.  I have learned through my years as a student that I am much more successful in retaining information through text if I am able to hear it at the same time.  Along with this, I generally find my mind wandering while reading passages and even the shortest of directions.  Knowing this, I like to whisper text quietly to myself as I read as a way to keep myself focused and engaged in the content.  Listening to my novels though audiobooks was the perfect solution to this learner factor, as I was able to follow along with the text as someone else provided the spoken version of the words for me.  While I was an older student just learning to utilize this form of assistive technology, I believe it would be beneficial to students of all ages who have similar learner factors as those I have described in myself.

In preparation for presenting on this topic, my partner and I also found that audiobooks are very helpful in a lesson for improving reading with fluency.  They can model for students how to read with speed, accuracy, and prosody, all while keeping students engaged with an exciting scene of a book.  This lesson can be extended to having students record their own audiobooks of text a teacher assigns, or even having the students write their own stories, then record them using these fluency skills.  This lesson would thus incorporate both reading and writing, and could work well as a final project by having students supplement their books with pictures they draw or find online.

SMART boards not too smart

As we all have experienced growing up in classrooms where SMART boards were the newest and coolest technology to have, they’re pretty hip (or they used to be maybe 10 years ago).  However, in terms of being especially helpful in instruction, their benefits do not reach much farther than being a glorified projector of a computer screen.  Don’t get me wrong, students do get very excited about the opportunity to write on the board, but, in my experience, this becomes a hassle, as the screen seems to always need orienting and the words or numbers written become skewed.  In this situation, which I basically associate with every SMART board encounter I had as an telemetry school student, what should be a minute long activity of sharing an answer with the class turns into a five minute process of writing, erasing, and recalibrating the board.  In my opinion, it detracts much more from the instruction than it could ever have the potential to add.

With this said (and perhaps rather harshly), I would like to accredit the SMART board with peaking the interest of students.  One positive encounter I have had with this piece of technology was when I substituted as an aide in my local middle school at home.  In this reading special education classroom, the teacher allowed students who finished their assessment early to work on an activity of matching root words with their meanings through Quizlet.  The game was a race, where each student had about a minute to match as many words as they could.  In this way, the SMART board allowed students to practice content they had already learned, with the motivation of competition backing their engagement.