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Using Technology to Support Diverse Learners

31 Jan

photo © 2005 Curtis Palmer | more info (via: Wylio)

For this EPSB workshop that I was able to partake in (I’m from a school division on the outskirts of this larger one) listening to the sage advice from Dave Edyburn who gave us four items to think about:

1) How the use of technology can enhance learning, teaching and performance.

2) How UDL and DI can support teachers in meeting the needs of diverse learners.

3) How ATL can be part of the RTI process.

4) Connecting Setting the Direction to all of the above.

Last week, participants were sent two short articles to read in preparation of this PD session. I must admit that I had not heard of Dave Edyburn before this time, yet his work is so important to where Alberta is working towards that I relished in this opportunity to soak in everything he was to say and has said.

The first article was from JSET 2009 Volume 24, Number 1 entitled Hindsight, Understanding What We Got Wrong, and Changing Directions. It’s a brief article outlining 10 assistive technology thoughts that Dave revisits and recritiques. Overall I enjoyed this read since I am able to gauge Dave’s process of redefining his work with Assistive Technologies in the education world.

The second article is from Learning & Leading with Technology, September 2006, provactively titled ‘Failure is not an Option’. Once again, Dave speaks to the inadequate use of technology tools and cognitive supports for students in schools. The profession as a whole, Dave says, must design authentic learning activities (and in our school division’s AISI case – critical thinking activities) to ensure successful and deeper learning.

Dave’s a jovial guy and presented us with a variety of information, graphs, and topics. You can check out my full set of notes HERE if you wish to read further! A question he posed on the onset of his talk was that “if we are aware of learner differences, what will it take to ensure that diverse learners have the supports they need to be successful?” (Actually this sounds like a great #edchat conversation! And I focused my thoughts during this day on this overarching question.)
– Our students are all at different levels of reading abilities, handwriting legibility (keyboarding skills), attention spans, persistence, numeracy skills.
– One-size-fits-all teacher lesson plan books do not thoughtfully and deliberately respond to the needs of diverse learners.
– Looking at the performance level of a student (graph was shown), how much failure data do we need before he/she knows they cannot do it and when should a teacher intervene. (Discussion ensued and research abounds that there should be no more than 3 days of ‘failure’ for an intervention to take place or a re-direction in learning to occur. (Refer to Failure is not an Option article mentioned above.)
– In order to achieve high academic outcomes for ALL, we must understand AND RESPOND to the needs of EACH.

Several theories provide inspiration and insight on design tactics that provide access, choice, challenge, and engagement for diverse learners.

– Some initiatives explained were: RTI, AT, IT, UDL.
– Pedagogical intervations were: Goldilocks/Sone of Proximal Development, Tiered Instruction and Assessment, DI, Tomlinson’s Sliders.
– Instructional Design – some good practices for teachers looking to plan for diversity:
o TIC TAC TOE – populate the grid with products that you will accept to demonstrate the learning outcome. Assists teachers in thinking as an “instructional designer” rather than a lecturer or sage on the stage – good examples for various subject areas.
o 42 Explore – accessibility for all levels on various topics
o UDL Toolkit – an online resource for teachers interested in e-tools and online resources that can give flexibility and accessibility for all learners.
o Internet4Classrooms – has an updated website filled with subject area weblinks.
o KidsClick is a web search site vetted by librarians. Very neat.
o Wikipedia – did you know that on the left sidebar you can select SIMPLE English to make Wikipedia a little easier to read for struggling readers? Cool! As well, students themselves can populate the Simple English pages. Why not have them look up a topic on Wikipedia and see if there is a Simple English category already written up for it. If there isn’t, why couldn’t this be a written assignment for them? Talk about authentic learning!!
o Readibility is a great toolbar bookmarklet that allows students to customize their web reading experience. I wrote about this on our SLItech blog earlier last year so it’s nice to see that Dave and others like this too!
o TextCompactor is a cool instantaneous summarization tool that I definitely will recommend to teachers. It allows students to paste text into a box and the students slide between 0% – 100% as to the amount of text they want to read.
o VozMe was shown as a Text to Speech tool but I wasn’t impressed with its limited functionality and ‘ugly’ voice overs. We use Read and Write Gold as well as Natural Reader which sound more human-like.
o Google has a number of options like Google Docs for collaborating with others, Google Scribe which a very interesting tool that offers suggestions as you type (and you can use it as a bookmarklet to use anywhere there are text boxes.
o Hot Paper Topics was of interest to me where students (and teachers) can look at targeting their position or persuasive essays and research reports. Well worth the look!
o The Assignment Calculator is a really neat tool to keep you organized. Everything is laid in step by step fashion. Try it out!

A commitment to diverse learners results in the provision of tools that scaffold and support academic performance of diverse learners.

Fairness means that each student receives the supports they need to be successful.

How will you evaluate and report on the impact of new instructional design interventions?

I also appreciated the after lunch panel with school admin, teachers and students sharing their stories of learning with technology and customized instructional strategies.

As well, once I have a moment I also plan on viewing Dave’s recent webinar on UDL.

Overall, this PD day gave some good food for thought, some more reflection on how my school division can further intervene and invest a strategic effort into creating a learning environment conducive to all learners. More to come!

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