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Teaching & Instruction

The following are questions and answers from Dr. Tracy Gray on this topic.

Where can I find information about software to help my child with Down Syndrome?

Children with Down Syndrome, as with other children, both with and without disabilities, are unique, and there is unlikely to be a 'one-size-fits-all' software solution for your daughter. For example, some students with Down Syndrome may struggle with distractibility and need a quiet place to work, away from possible disruptions. For other students, this may not be an issue.

However, there are likely several supports that will be helpful for your daughter as she learns new skills and moves forward in her education. Modeling, concrete representations of information, and multiple opportunities for practice and reinforcement may all be beneficial for learners with Down Syndrome. Check out Tips for Teaching Students with Down Syndrome for more information. Potentially challenging areas for children with Down Syndrome may include math, reading and writing, speech and language, memory, social interactions, or motor skills.

Your daughter may have difficulties with all of these areas or may only experience significant deficits in a few areas. Determining what her needs are is the first step to finding the appropriate piece or pieces of software for her.

Many children with cognitive impairments learn best from what they see, so videos or modeling may be a good option. Look for tools that break down the skill or skill being learned into smaller, concrete chunks. Educational Software for Children with Down Syndrome can give you a brief overview of the types of software tools available and what areas of need they may address. Other good resources for information on supportive software tools are local and national organizations for individuals with Down Syndrome. Many of these groups have online communities where you can post questions and share information with other parents.

These groups may be able to help you narrow down options to try with your daughter.

How can a student who has a learning disability and no computer skills survive college?

Thanks for going the extra mile to help this young woman. There are actually several underlying issues related to your question: Can this student use any kind of computer technology?; Are there any assistive technologies (AT) that may be effective for her?; What accommodations can the post-secondary institution provide and what are her legal rights in regard to accommodations? An initial step to consider would be an assistive technology assessment, possibly arranged through the local Vocational Rehabilitation Center as an element of her Transition Plan. The next step would be a visit to a local college and discuss options with the Disability Resource Center. Here is some information on these steps:

  1. AT assessments: It may be that computers will work for her with appropriate accommodations, or perhaps some other type of assistive technology will be more appropriate. This student needs to know what she needs before she can request appropriate accommodations. If there are personnel in the school who can do this, seek them out. Otherwise, start with Step 2.
  2. If she is not currently a client of Vocational Rehabilitation Services in her state, she may be eligible to apply for services. Work with the Transition Coordinator at the high school who should have a connection with the VR system. They may be able to help provide an (AT) assessment for her and perhaps even assist with funding.
  3. Plan a visit to a Disability Resource Center at a local college. They can counsel her about expectations and assumptions, inform her of the types of accommodations they are able to provide students, and may have information about other colleges' programs.

The guide, Transition of Students with Disabilities to Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators will provide you information about students' civil rights in regard to post-secondary education. You may also want to check out the questions answered on this site by Matt Cohen regarding special education law. His answers on the legal rights of adults with LD may be particularly helpful.

What treatment is needed for a child with dysgraphia?

This is a sticky question and one that causes a fair bit of disagreement in special education. Many teachers wonder the same thing — they want students to develop legible handwriting to ease their way in the world outside of school, but they also want students to be able to write and express themselves without being hindered by their physical difficulties with writing. And many parents and teachers worry that a student's hard-to-read handwriting will affect their ability to perform basic functions like writing down information on job applications, or filling out forms at the doctor's office. After all, while many things can be done with a computer, much of the world is still dominated by pen and paper tasks.

There isn't an easy answer to any of these questions. As with any technology tool used to assist students with disabilities, there is a concern that an 'assistive" tool may be used as a crutch. If a student always uses a calculator for math tasks, will they ever understand the underlying math? In the case of a dysgraphic student, it might be helpful to look at the tasks your daughter is being asked to do and what the goal is. If the goal is simply for your daughter to be able to write basic information as clearly as she can (her name and address for example), then handwriting instruction may be beneficial. However, if the goal is for your daughter to be able to use writing to express her ideas, demonstrate knowledge, or tell a story, then her difficulties with handwriting are making the writing process unnecessarily difficult. Perhaps a balanced approach will work best for your daughter. Try to find simple ways to eliminate the need for some handwriting tasks. Portable keyboards/laptops like the AlphaSmart can also be a good solution.

Such products are small and light and easy to take from class to class. Other options might include speech-to-text software to allow your daughter to more easily commit her thoughts and ideas to 'paper". Check out the Tech Matrix to search for different speech-to-text programs and possibly word prediction programs, depending on your daughter's needs.

You may want to check out this article on writing with technology by Richard Wanderman about his experiences with dyslexia and dysgraphia and how computers have affected his writing.

Where can I find multilingual text-to-speech solutions?

Most text-to-speech programs feature multiple language options, however they may not always feature Asian languages. For these programs, you can generally purchase add-ons for other languages. For the Mac, you can try programs such as VisioVoice and GhostReader, or TextAloud for the PC, all of which feature a wide variety of languages (including Czech, Polish, Turkish, etc.). Asian languages can be more difficult to find, but they are available.

You might also consider using a program like Kurzweil 3000 if you need a more feature-rich program that would combine a speech synthesizer with the ability to create documents and tables, creating talking reminders, read websites, and work with a variety of file formats. Kurzweil 3000 is also available in a variety of languages.

Depending on your population of students, it may make sense to purchase a text-to-speech program that is compatible with add-ons, and purchase additional voices in other languages as needed from a third party.

How can I prepare parents for our new online curriculum?

If the parents in your school district are not familiar with online learning, and the platform you will be using, it might be helpful to start out with a discussion of why you chose to use technology to teach mathematics, and how the tool you're using might benefit your students. It's possible that parents will be skeptical about using online technology tools such as virtual manipulatives or math games, so highlight benefits for students, particularly those with disabilities or who are non-English speakers. In particular, parents should hear about how technology usage can help teachers differentiate instruction and meet the needs of a variety of learners.

An excellent way of preparing parents and helping them to understand the online system you are using is to make the workshop engaging and interactive. If teachers will be using interactive whiteboards during classroom instruction, ask parents to come up and manipulate objects on screen, or solve word problems. Parents should also have an opportunity to experiment with the various features of the online system and should be given access to the same things their students will see. If there is a parent section of your online program, be sure that parents understand how to use it. Be sure to also provide resources for parents to engage in mathematics activities at home with their children. If students will be using the online system outside of school, parents can participate in completion of activities or modules. You may also opt to provide parents with suggestions for math games they can play with their children to help solidify skills.

Possible sites to include on a parent resource list:

FunBrain

Math Playground

PBS Kids Play

Funschool

BBC Numeracy Games

How can I find information about creating readings for blind or dyslexic students?

Providing accessible text to students with disabilities has received a lot of attention in recent years as both technology tools and publisher standards have modernized. The increasing availability of digitized texts from a variety of sources make it easier than ever before to find most materials available in multiple formats. For harder to find texts, software and hardware options are available to help you convert texts into formats more readily accessible by individuals with print disabilities.

If you are trying to find electronic text and audio books, there are several free options available for students with documented print disabilities: Bookshare and Learning Ally are both popular options for finding texts for students, and may be a good place to start if looking for academic texts and grade-level literature. Project Gutenberg is another option for free eBooks, and Librivox has free audio books available for download. Both websites offer books in the public domain, so they may not always have everything you are looking for.

If you can't find the texts or the materials you need, or if you prefer to create your own alternate formats for student readings, a number of software programs and scanning options are available; see this customized Tech Matrix for digital text. For students who are blind, you may be interested in purchasing a Braille printer or refreshable Braille displays; check out the customized Tech Matrix on Braille for suggestions.

How can our school make our arts programs (music, art class, etc.) more inclusive for all students?

The arts, whether as part of a separate program or integrated into your content area lessons, can offer a variety of benefits for diverse learners. Research has shown both academic and social benefits for students with disabilities and students who are at risk; integrating the arts and technology into your teaching can help differentiate instruction and provide more individualized learning for students with diverse learning needs.

You may want to check out two organizations that focus on students with disabilities and the arts: VSA Arts offers a curriculum for early-grades arts instruction called Start with the Arts, as well as other educational resources that may be helpful. Art Partners offers sample lesson plans and units on their website.

Technology tools can also play an important role in making your arts programs more accessible. Many art museums feature virtual field trips, allowing your students to view important exhibits from around the world. Software programs that allow students to draw and paint, animate, manipulate images, and create music are becoming more readily available and can provide a way for students with a variety of learning needs to interact with content and express knowledge.

What virtual worlds are appropriate for kids?

Many schools and teachers are beginning to think about how to harness their students' innate interest in gaming for educational purposes. With the popularity of virtual worlds like Second Life, many companies (including the makers of Second Life) have set about to create similar platforms appropriate for a younger audience. Virtual worlds and simulations for kids represent a continuum of educational benefits. Some are clearly designed for educators, or with educational purposes in mind. Others are designed more for entertainment value than educational merit, and still others fall somewhere between the two.

If this is your first foray into using these types of technologies in your classroom, you may want to stick to strictly educational sites such as Whyville or Secret Builders. Generally, such sites will have pages dedicated to teachers and may even include lesson plan ideas or activities for your classroom.

For much younger students, check out PBS Kids Island. It isn't a 'virtual world' in the technical sense, but it does introduce students to the concept of another world where they can complete activities, challenges, and earn 'tickets' to use towards prizes. Just because a virtual world isn't necessarily designed for education doesn't mean it can't be used in your classroom, but it may mean you need to use it creatively.

Second Life didn't initially start out for classroom use, but many educators have found ways to build it into their teaching. For older kids, check out Teen Second Life or Free Realms. Other popular entertainment-based websites, like Club Penguin or Tootsville, may be places your students already spend a lot of time. Though they are generally for 'fun' you can certainly find ways to incorporate some of the activities into your lessons. For example, players must generally earn in-world money by playing games or completing activities, and these can be good ways to teach students early skills for adding, budgeting, and planning.

Additionally, these sites allow chatting with online friends and have a clearly outlined code of online conduct, so they can be a good way to begin teaching young kids about online safety and etiquette. These sites may also be good recommendations for parents to explore at home with their children.

What options are available for audio versions of textbooks?

Scanning and converting a text to audio can be time consuming and expensive, depending on the software you use. If you only need one textbook (and all of his other textbooks are available in audio format), it may not be worth it to purchase software for yourself. Start with Learning Ally or Bookshare.org; they often have textbooks available when you may not be able to find them elsewhere. If your son has a documented disability, he can access any books from Learning Ally or Bookshare.org.

If you cannot find his textbook through a source such as Learning Ally or Bookshare.org, or you think you'll need to scan and convert texts on a more regular basis, you may want to consider purchasing a scanner and accompanying text-to-speech software. What you end up purchasing will depend on your needs and how much you want to spend. Solutions for having text read aloud range from the incredibly simple — scanning in text and using built-in voices to read — to the more complex — scanning in text and using human sounding narration and converting to an mp3.

For example, Adobe Acrobat Reader and Microsoft Word both have very simple text-to-speech capabilities. If your son just needs to have the text read aloud to him while sitting at the computer, and doesn't mind synthesized speech, this could be a very basic solution. However, if you'd prefer something with more natural-sounding narration, you might need something with more features. Find a variety of solutions for scanning and text-to-speech in this customized search on the TechMatrix.

How can I use the SMART Board in my math classroom more interactively to meet the needs of all my students?

One of the great features of interactive whiteboards (such as the SMART Board) is that you can use them to allow students to manipulate objects on screen, add text and diagrams to math problems, and save work. These features can have several benefits for your students, particularly those who are struggling. Because you can save the lessons and activities you present on the interactive whiteboard, you can upload your lessons to a classroom website for student review at a later date. This can be helpful for students with disabilities who may benefit from repetition. It also allows any student to revisit the lesson from home to refresh their memory about how to solve a problem.

The interactivity of the whiteboard is also a benefit for kids with LD, as well as students with a variety of learning styles. Because students can come up to the board to add diagrams, highlighting, arrows, text and move objects on screen, it addresses the needs of students who are more tactile and kinesthetic learners. Providing a colorful visual representation of math problems can also be helpful for visual learners.

You might consider using interactive applications for math that will enable students to participate more during lessons. Virtual manipulatives and applets are a good choice. Check out some of these resources for ideas:

You might also check out some teacher-created websites on the use of interactive whiteboards, they can be a great way to share lesson plans and ideas.

What strategies are there to help kids with LD in gym class, sports, etc.?

Students with learning disabilities and ADHD can often struggle with motor control, movement, rhythm and directionality (i.e., telling right from left), which can make certain physical activities in gym class or team sports challenging. Motor challenges can also affect academic performance as they can hinder writing and other activities. Additionally, recent research has led some researchers to conclude that there is a link between poor sense of rhythm and dyslexia.

Given the links between learning disorders and motor coordination, it is an excellent idea to think about how to address these issues within gym class or as part of a team sport. It might be a good idea to check out information about adaptive PE (or speak to an adaptive PE teacher if your school or district has one) for some ideas on activities.

Another option is one that has been discussed by parents and caregivers on our forums — using video games as rhythm, sensory integration and directionality training. A number of individuals with ADHD and learning disabilities have some success using Interactive Metronome (IM, a computer-based training program used by therapists to help improve coordination, timing and attention.

Some parents and therapists have found that children who do well with IM also seem to do well with video games like Dance Dance Revolution and the interactive sports games on the Wii Fit. While the use of these types of games with kids with LD and ADHD is fairly new, anecdotally it seems to be helpful for some students. As many schools are starting to purchase the Wii Fit for use with their students, it might be an idea to try.

Video games are often inherently motivating for young people, and may encourage them to try different activities. Each of these games tells players how to move using a combination of visual and auditory cues in addition to watching movement on screen. These cues may help students who struggle with movement and directionality.

Note from LD OnLine: Visit Dr. Silver’s Accommodations and Modifications section to see a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist’s response to the same question.

Where can I find research about technology as an appropriate intervention tool?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with disabilities be evaluated for assistive technology, so if your child has a technology evaluation, the assistive technology coordinator for your school or district should be able to help you with convincing teachers of the possible benefits of using technology. They will have access to research and accepted best practices for students with disabilities.

It can also be helpful to do your own research. LD Online has a wonderful collection of articles and resources on the various uses of technology for individuals with learning disabilities. You might start with the section for parents, but also check out articles in the section on technology. Here you can find specific articles about the benefits of calculators for students with LD, the use of tech tools to teach history and science, and the need for alternatives to print, along with many other articles that might be useful to share with your child's teachers.

Great Schools now features the information on assistive technology for students with learning disabilities that was produced for Schwab Learning (no longer a live site). Search the learning difficulties content for “assistive technology” and find short pieces on tools for reading, writing, math and others. They may be helpful in discussing options with teachers and staff.

How does NIMAS affect local school districts when purchasing new texts?

Local school districts (as well as State Education Agencies) are expected to play an important role in obligating publishers to submit essential source materials to the NIMAC (the National Instructional Materials Access Center). Districts and States who have indicated that they will coordinate with the NIMAC must include appropriate language in contracts and purchase orders that require publishers to submit NIMAS-conformant files to the NIMAC, or to provide assurances that they have already done so, for a specific title and version that is to be purchased. A sample statement that could be included in a contract or purchase order follows:



Sample Language for Adoption Contracts and LEA Purchase Orders

By agreeing to deliver the materials marked with "NIMAS" on this contract or purchase order, the publisher agrees to prepare and submit, on or before ___/___/_____ a NIMAS fileset to the NIMAC that complies with the terms and procedures set forth by the NIMAC. Should the vendor be a distributor of the materials and not the publisher, the distributor agrees to immediately notify the publisher of its obligation to submit NIMAS file sets of the purchased products to the NIMAC. The files will be used for the production of alternate formats as permitted under the law for students with print disabilities.

This is page __ of __ of this contract or purchase order.



For additional information about NIMAS, please refer to http://nimas.cast.org. And, for additional information about the NIMAC, please refer to http://nimac.us. For information about locating and purchasing accessible texts, An Educator's Guide to Making Textbooks Accessible and Useable for Students with Learning Disabilities is a good place to start.

What tools would help a teacher decide if a child needed technology?

Choosing the right assistive technology (AT) tool for a student can be challenging. Fortunately, there are a variety of excellent tools and frameworks to help you make the best decision for your student. Regardless of which framework you choose, the most important factor in any assistive technology assessment is the student. Before even beginning to look at technology tools, you must first review the student's needs, abilities, and goals. This information will help you determine what type of tool will be the most beneficial for your student.

The SETT (Student, Environment, Task, Tool) Framework is one example of a tool for assessing assistive technology needs. Using this tool, teachers working with the student examine student needs, the environment in which the technology will be used (at home, at school, etc.), and the specific tasks the technology would help the student accomplish (reading a passage independently, interacting with peers, participating in classroom discussions, etc.). Only once these areas have been covered do they move forward and look at specific AT devices.

Another source of assistive technology assessment tools is the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI). Like the SETT Framework, the materials provided by WATI focus first on student needs and learning goals before looking at types of technology tools that might be helpful. WATI also offers handouts to help schools with an Extended Assessment Plan; students try several different technology tools for a set amount of time to determine which tool best meets the student's identified needs.

Once you have a completed an AT assessment for you student and determined what types of technology might be helpful, you might visit the Tech Matrix or your local Assistive Technology Center or loan library to find suggestions for specific technology tools. Find your state's contact at the national registery.

Can you provide recommendations of things to consider when developing a university program for students with learning disabilities?

It is wonderful to hear about AUST working with parents to develop a program for students with disabilities. No doubt, collaboration between the two entities will enhance the process. There are many issues that need to be considered in such an endeavor in addition to those that you have mentioned.

I think a good place to start may be with the HEATH Resource Center Clearinghouse, which provides information for students with disabilities on educational disability support services, policies, procedures, adaptations and access, as well as links to many other valuable resources.

Also, explore the web site for the Association on Higher Education and Disability — AHEAD, which is the premiere professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education.

In addition, I recommend that you contact the directors of various university programs for students with disabilities. These professionals should be able to provide you with information about the development and implementation of their own programs, as well as practical advice from their lessons learned.

Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities, a directory maintained by the American Educational Guidance Center, can provide you with links to dozens of universities that have registered programs.

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