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

How can I track down appropriate software for my daughter with multiple disabilities?

Finding the right software program, or programs, can be challenging, especially for students who have multiple disabilities or are struggling academically in a number of different areas. Some of the process of finding something that works well for your daughter might be trial and error, as you find the tools that work best for her; but a few resources can help get you started.

LD OnLine is a great source of information for parents. Checking out some of the many articles on teaching strategies for students may give you a better idea of what types of support your daughter would benefit most from. There are several resources that might help you figure out what technologies might work best for a student with an auditory processing disorder.

Though audio books may not be the best solution for your daughter, she may still benefit from hearing text read aloud, using a text-to-speech program and following along with text on the computer. Many reading programs that do this can highlight each word or each sentence as it is spoken, giving your daughter two ways to get the information. The highlighting can also help her focus on the information being read to her. Try looking for reading and writing programs that have text-to-speech, dynamic highlighting and allow your daughter to control the speed of the reading. She might also benefit from software programs that focus on early reading skills. Our article on Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials has some good suggestions.

Can you recommend any computer games that can help my daughter understand math concepts?

There are a lot of good computer math games. The challenge is to select the ones that best meet the needs of the student. There are numerous online math games that are absolutely free, Learning Mathematics with Virtual Manipulatives provides background information on virtual math manipulatives and links to several really great math sites appropriate for various grade levels. You can also search for age appropriate math software products and resources on the TechMatrix, an online database which can help you match up your daughter with appropriate technology tools. As you know, having fun while practicing and reinforcing concepts and facts is important.

I encourage you to look for software and online sites that offer scenarios that will hook into your daughter's interest and can make the concepts come alive rather than drilling only on equations and facts.

What online resources are available for a student in a rural area without access to special education services?

Finding help for your child can be difficult if you live in remote or rural areas without access to specialists. However, with the number of resources available online, people who live in such areas can now access a wide variety of tools, specialized information, and helpful hints for working with their struggling child. For example, to begin with, you might check out ReadWriteThink, a website that provides "resources in reading and language arts instruction through free, Internet-based content." Here you can find a wealth of information on the best ways to teach reading and writing, as well as helpful tools and resources. One of these online tools, a comic strip creator, may appeal to your son as a fan of comic books and superheroes. If he enjoys the simple creation of a comic strip, you may also want to introduce him to Kerpoof, which allows children to create their own stories, animations, videos, and comics. Using these tools, your son can create stories of his own, perhaps with some help from you for some of the writing. It is possible that the high interest of creating his own comic strip may encourage him to try writing more. Such activities take advantage of your son's interests and help him engage in telling and writing stories; studies have shown that storytelling is the first step in learning to read and write, so encouraging your son to use technology tools and artwork to tell stories may help him build up his reading and writing skills.

It is also important that your son get plenty of practice in the basics of reading. A fun way to do this is through the use of online games that teach reading skills. PBS Kids has a number of activities that your son may find engaging. Check out the Raising Readers project for free games and suggested resources for parents. Check out the many beautiful children's books online at the International Children's Digital Library. Finally, you might consider purchasing audio books so your son can hear books read aloud while following along with the text. Audio books can also expose him to 'reading' books above his current reading level.

Check out this article for more suggestions about using technology to teach reading: Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials

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

What technologies can help my third grade daughter organize her writing?

Your daughter's challenges echo those of many struggling writers, and while there are no quick and easy fixes, there are technology resources that can help. Tools known as "graphic organizers" may be particularly useful to your daughter as she works to get her ideas on paper in a coherent manner. These tools help students generate and organize their ideas through building visual relationships among them.

Graphic organizers can be as low tech as an arrangement of sticky notes on a sheet of paper or as high tech as online, interactive tools like bubbl.us, a free website which allows you to create and share colorful mind maps, and ReadWriteThink's Essay Map, a free step-by-step guide to organizing essay content. View this list of graphic organizers from our sister site, AdLit, for more free options.

More complex software solutions, like Draft:Builder or Inspiration, have features that help students arrange their ideas, create an outline, and transition from an outline or concept map into a draft. This customized matrix from the www.TechMatrix.org shows many software solutions that use graphic organizers to support writing. Compare products' features, and click on a product's name in the column header to see a full review of its capabilities and purchasing information.

What web resources could help a third grader who needs to learn science and social studies?

The Internet has some great resources for helping students to learn science and social studies. See the article Using Multimedia Tools to Help Students Learn Science for a rich collection of web-based sites. The article is divided into three sections: Modeling Tools and Multiple Representations, Tools that Facilitate Collaboration and Discourse, and Simulations and Virtual Labs. Each section has a list of tools that you can implement in your classroom. Grade levels vary, but there are several tools that would be just right for third grade. Take a look at the tools, and hopefully, you will find some that will be engaging to your student.

In terms of social studies, see the articles Teaching History to Support Diverse Learners which describes ways to engage students with critical thinking and history learning. The article Learning History with Multimedia Materials is another great resource. Unfortunately, many of the tools mentioned in this article are for middle and high school grades. However, the Jean Fritz History Series is made for students in grades 3-7. The series explores different social studies themes and introduces students to key historical figures. CITEd's article Multimedia Geography Instruction also provides links to some really engaging online tools. Many of the tools mentioned in this article are aimed toward elementary students. Landscapes game, for example, includes activities for using relative location to construct maps. This program allows students to use map construction tools in a digital environment instead of using traditional materials such as pencils, crayons, construction paper, and clay.

We hope these resources will engage and instruct your student and be helpful to your classroom management.

What technology helps students take notes in lectures?

It can be challenging for many students with disabilities to take notes while listening to teacher lectures or instruction. A couple of different options may be helpful for your son, depending on the resources available at your school and his teacher's instructional style. If your son's teacher regularly uses overheads or slide presentations, it may be helpful for your son to have access to the slides during the lecture. He can view the slides on a laptop and add his notes to them as the teacher presents information.

Another option if your son's teacher doesn't use slide presentations during lectures would be to ask the teacher to create electronic note-taking tools or graphic organizers for the lecture material. Depending on the specific content being covered, these could include partially completed outlines, concept maps, or story analysis webs. Your son could have these available on a laptop and fill them in as the teacher presents material. This article on Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities offers some suggestions for students that may be helpful.

There are also several software options available for creating concept maps or online note taking. Inspiration and MindManager are both tools that allow users to create visual representations of information. These tools could be beneficial for writing activities or connecting concepts.

Online note taking software such as EverNote would allow your son to create searchable notes and diagrams using digital images, handwritten text from a tablet PC, text from websites or text from Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. If a laptop is unavailable for your son to use in the classroom, a portable note-taker might be a good solution. AlphaSmart and Fusion makes portable note-taking devices that are popular in schools; other options can be found on the TechMatrix website.

Can you recommend any computer programs to help my son, who is dyslexic, with his writing?

An expanding array of technological devices provides new options for minimizing the writing difficulties experienced by students with learning disabilities. Programs and devices, such as talking word processors, word prediction programs, child-friendly voice recognition, and portable note-taking devices may assist your son with his writing.

Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities: Infusion into Inclusive Classrooms will provide you with detailed information on each of these options.

Using Assistive Technology to Support Writing is another valuable resource that can assist you in selecting the best technologies to meet the needs of your son and may be worth sharing with his teachers to ensure that he has the support he needs in the classroom.

Also check out the Tech Matrix, which is a free online resource for writing products, reviewed for accessibility and instructional features. Related research on the use of technology for students with special needs will also be included with this tool to inform your decision on the best programs to provide support to meet your son’s needs.

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