Last week Haiming, Kelsey and I presented about assistive technology. I truly enjoyed exploring this topic. As a teacher, I find that it is always productive to dig deeper into these topics so you can begin to do an inventory of what you are already doing in your classroom as well as what areas can you continue to work on improving in your teaching practice.
My understanding of assistive technology before researching this topic was that technology that was assistive was ‘high tech assistive technology’. I was surprised when doing my research that there is actually a very large range of assistive technology ranging from ‘no tech all the way up to high tech’. This helped me realize that I was, in fact, using more assistive technology than I ever imagined.
For most of my career, I have spent my time teaching in an early elementary setting so many of the no-tech and low tech assistive technologies are ones that I was familiar with. I have used many of them for different students for a variety of reasons, without knowing that these are actually known as assistive technologies. I feel that these are adaptations that many teachers use often without fully realizing that they are using them as assistive technologies. I feel that most teachers are constantly working to create a Universal Design Learning Environment which is an environment that is aimed to allow each student to successfully navigate their learning physical environment as well as the curriculum. As teachers, we generally naturally make these adaptations without consciously thinking how this would fall under the use of assistive technology.
This year I have a student in my classroom who is non-verbal and has been working on increasing his language as well as his communication. It has been a great experience to work with him and learn alongside his Educational Assistant on how to use appropriate assistive technology in order to communicate and support his language. I have been able to see the progression that a young student works through in order to build towards using a high tech communication assistive technology. Currently, my student primarily uses a low tech velcro picture communication board. This board allows teachers as well as the student to move pictures around to create simple communicative phrases. We have been using this to demonstrate what the student is to be doing now as well as what he will be doing next. This allows him to understand what the expectations are currently and moving forward.
Another low tech assistive technology that we have been using to assist this student is the use of social stories. Social stories are:
stories are used to teach communal skills through the use of precise and sequential information about everyday events that your child may find difficult or confusing, thus preventing further anxiety on the part of your child
These stories are written with a specific purpose of teaching a child a specific behavior pattern. Using photographs and descriptive language allows these children to see the expectations of what the appropriate behavior is. This allows them to visually see what is expected of them as well as what is going to happen when they are in a new or unknown situation. This has proven to be a beneficial assistive technology as it helps students confidently step into a new situation with confidence. These stories aid to Universal Design for Learning as it allows them to be included and a part of new situations that they may not have been able to participate in without this understanding.
As students get older and more experience with no tech communication boards the next step is for them to begin to learn how to use and navigate a high tech communication assistive technology options. My student is beginning to learn how to use a program on his Ipad to help with his communication. The program that my student is currently learning to use is called ‘Go Talk’. Programs such as go talk are great for students as it allows them to verbalize their needs and wants. Moving forward we are going to build in time throughout our day where he is able to use ‘Go Talk’ to participate in our classroom discussions and activities. This will allow him to be an active participant and will also allow him to communicate with his peers. The following video shows how the program ‘Go Talk’ assist students in the classroom.
This year has been a great learning experience for me in the area of assistive technology. I have realized that these decisions are not primarily a teachers decision and that the school team and parents along with the teacher work together to decide what assistive technology the student would benefit. It takes the commitment of everyone to ensure that the technology is used consistently so the student can see the benefits of this technology. As teachers, we have to be open to all ideas around assistive technology to ensure that we are meeting the needs of each and every one of our students.