Assistive Technology at Home and in the Classroom

Note: This article is a bit on the lengthy side! If you are interested in assistive technology,
but don't feel like reading it all, hop on over to podcast 14 and take a listen!

Wow! We are already well into the second month of February for 2020! AND into Week 3 of Term 1! Crazy!

With any new beginning of the school year, many students go through a whole range of emotions regarding school, assessments, homework and the silent struggles that many hide in the classroom environment.

With the rise of technology, so too, has the rise in assistive technology begun. And it's about time, that students of all backgrounds were given the tools to assist them in their success.

The most exciting aspect of assistive technology is that it enables individuals to perform tasks that they would otherwise be unable to do, or which increases the ease at which tasks are performed (World Health Organisation, 2004).

The problem is, that we know so much about technology and how we can use it for the "everyday" tasks, but, when it comes to assistive technology, and the use of apps, factory installations and paid software to help EVERYONE access opportunities, we often don't know where to start!

The first thing that I want to say, is that, assistive technology SHOULD NOT take over the tasks we can actually do ourselves. It is to aide us, but not do the task for us.

What do I mean by that? Well if your child is using, say, talk to text in a word document for school, and they don't re-read their work..... Well... sometimes, the result is not the desired outcome. You see, as great as technology now is..... We know that it is still not perfect. It has come a very long way, but we still need to encourage our children to check their work, rather than putting blind faith in the technology they are using! After all, how many times, have you yelled into the phone when calling a company that uses the recorded robots to direct your call to the correct department?!

The other quick thing to remember about assistive technology, is that, we should encourage our children to try a whole range of things to make tasks easier for them.

So let's start with the one I recommend A LOT to many students....... Using voice recording.

Voice Recording

Obviously in many schools, voice recording a lesson is NOT accepted, and as with video, students should make sure they have permission if they are going to record something in class.

The type of recording I am talking about, is the students own thoughts and opinions, or answers to questions they may encounter for extended responses. Why? I find a lot of students at Breakaway Tuition are coming through with similar issues. They know what they want to say, but can't put it on the paper. You don't even need a "special" app to record your voice ... just a phone. A lot of our students, I find, are reluctant to put things on the page for several reasons. Sometimes, it is because they don't think that their ideas are correct, sometimes they are too scared to put their ideas down, or perhaps, they just struggle to put thoughts onto the page.

I find that if we encourage our kids to record their ideas, so essentially, speak their ideas, and then listen to them later to transcribe them..... The students that struggle to put things on the page, actually do have thoughts and ideas, and by recording and listening to their ideas, it can help them to then put ideas on the page.

Voice to Text

Voice typing, can be used in Google Docs, or Word, and is also an easy tool to use. It is the voice to text, where students can speak their ideas and it will type them onto a screen for them. It can be super useful in removing barriers that many students face with writing, but it comes with a caution. As I mentioned above, make sure that you are encouraging your kids to re-read their work, once they are finished. Otherwise, they may find that their writing just doesn't make sense!

As far as technology has come, sometimes using voice to text makes everything.... Not make sense. It is also a bit hit and miss regarding punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling as well:

"Voice to text Does always work or is it causing no problems in down children's writing"


As you can see above, it is missing the punctuation from the sentence .... And "down" instead of "our" is written as well. If we aren't teaching our kids to re-read their work, if they are making use of this technology, it is possible,that entire slabs of work..... Now have a variety of errors in them.

Screen Adjustments

I really like the fact that we can now adjust the screen setting to suit our particular visual needs. This is a great tool to remind our kids of, particularly if they require a bit more assistance on a screen. We can now choose to invert colours and have black as our dominant colour. On word documents, we can adjust the background colour to make the white, another colour, which is particularly useful for individuals with Irlen. We can do Screen films and filters to also help with the colour issue, both on phones and computer to make the white, a little less white. Students can use it to make their writing bigger and with most things, we can now ask for a program to read text to us too.

These screen adjustments are super simple, and easy to do. And are great at removing a variety of issues students may encounter when needing to access technology.

Speak Selection

As mentioned above, most websites, online books and resources, now have options available to have selections of texts, read aloud to individuals. The exciting thing about this, is that the technology is now available in NAPLAN testing, and other computer testing as well; provided students have access to their own headphones. This technology is removing barriers for students that struggle with reading difficulties, and allows them to hear a text AND any questions that are accompanying the text and select the best answer, using their KNOWLEDGE of a topic, rather than their ABILITY to read.

The other exciting thing about this is that the individual can also choose the speed, language and voice that it is read at, allowing the student's needs to be met.

For apple users, and those with an iPad, "speak selection" is already inbuilt into the software on the devices. For Microsoft users, "microsoft learning tools" is free, and is used for many features including: text to speech, adjustable display of text and colour, picture dictionary, line focus and highlighting certain word features - - all available through the use of one note! Cool hey!

Web Browsers and Accessability

Web browser settings can now also be used to make changes, and essentially make the web browsing experience a whole lot easier. Safari reader for apple, is an accessibility tool that can help to declutter webpages, and provide a clear, personalised reading experience for students.

Screen Share

There are lots of these also out there. Adobe connect, has a screen sharing feature that allows a student with vision impairment the ability to view what is displayed on a smartboard, or another laptop, on their own device. This can then be adjusted to suit their needs--- which I think will be a wonderful game changer in the classroom environment.

The C-Pen

The C-pen from https://cpen.com, is an amazing education product that I've been looking at for a while. They are designed to help individuals read independently, and allows them to understand and learn the texts more effectively. Essentially it does several things: reads out a text to hear it; allows us to define words we are unsure of; or to translate words for us as well. The best part is that it just works directly from the paper!

The original version of the C-Pen was for the use of a dictionary, and now, they have expanded their software offerings to extend to exam reading C-Pen's and the Readerpen as well.

The pens also come with a headphone jack, so it can be used in busy places as well!

As much as we are using technology more and more, we still decode so many texts on paper and computers in everyday contexts, and these pens help with the decoding, and the aspects of reading that some individuals find tricky.

The most exciting thing, I believe, about the exam reader version, is that instead of employing and needing human exam readers, it allows individuals to complete the exam in the same room as everyone else. It will read individual words, sentences, paragraphs and re-read the questions if it is required.

As fantastic as the C-Pen is though, it comes at a cost. A classroom set (of 10 of one version, including case, headphones and usb cables) will set a school back upwards of $4600. With single pens being sold by Spectronics Australia at a cost of $430 or $350 + p/h from Speld.

Other bits and pieces

The list of adaptive technology can be long, and exhausting!

A few more things you might try include:

Phonetic spelling software can help students in converting typing, into the words they wanted to write. We know that many students are now spelling how the words sound they are written, rather than following the conventions of the English Language. For example: forwerd instead of forward; or fotografic rather than photographic. And let's be honest, the English language is confusing! Naturally when students are spelling phonetically, they either get a whole bunch of red wiggle lines in their writing, and when they are searching for the correct spelling, either can't find a match, or they pick a word, that is definitely not what they intended. One example that is on the market is ghotit.com. It looks like it will assist in a variety of other difficulties that struggling readers and writers of all ages struggle with.

The last technology that I am really excited about is audible, and other audiobook programs. How exciting is it, that we can now get lost in a book, and we can listen to it, rather than needing to read it ourselves. Students who listen to, interact and read more, have greater creativity and a stronger appreciation and knowledge of the world that surrounds them. Students who read, and listen to texts also have improved vocabulary, and in turn can use this in their own writing. Obviously, students who struggle with reading, in turn hate and dislike reading..... And audiobooks have the ability to turn this around.

So what does this mean for parents, and how do we use it at home? Simple! Find the audio book version of books that your child may be reading in class. Get them to listen to the book/text, rather than read it, and watch their comprehension increase. Yes, pulling apart texts (as we do in High School English) is still challenging, but hopefully, the more accessible reading becomes for students, the more enjoyment they will gain from the stories we can immerse ourselves in.

The above adaptive technologies will more than likely be dated by the time this is uploaded onto the breakaway site! Technology is changing, and super quickly at that. This list of suggestions is lengthy, but it hopefully gives you more of an understanding of what we now have access to, and the possibilities that these technologies open for "all learners" of "all abilities".

Written by Alysha Griffiths, owner of Breakaway Tuition, Mittagong and Wilton.

Who is Alysha Griffiths?

Alysha Griffiths is a passionate educator, owner of Breakaway Tuition and a mum to baby June. With over 10 years teaching experience in schools, Alysha's passion lies in education and helping kids and parents to connect the puzzle pieces of education! With a Masters in Teaching (Secondary) and a Bachelor of Arts (History, English) Alysha continually works to gain more insight and knowledge across many areas of education.

References:

https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/disability-learning-and-support/resources/assistive-technology
https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/math-tools/
https://www.audible.com.au
https://www.ghotit.com
https://cpen.com