Encourage intentional use of educational technology

Scrolling through Pinterest, a teacher finds a list of the “Top Educational Apps for Special Needs Learners” and hits pin. Most of the apps look like they’ll be fun to try out in the classroom next week.

While new apps aren’t a bad thing, make sure staffers are being intentional about their use of educational technology, said Mary Schillinger, consultant and former deputy superintendent, Las Virgenes (Calif.) Unified School District.

“Sometimes, teachers get very excited about educational technology and they find a new tool and use it, but they don’t really know why they’re using it,” Schillinger said during a Nov. 2 EdChat Interactive in the series More than Cool: FETC’s Discussions on EdTech with Leading Educators.

There needs to be a reason for every piece of technology that staff use in the classroom, Schillinger said, and that reason needs to relate to a learner outcome.

Schillinger offered several pointers for how staff can be more intentional about their use of technology and make sure it supports all learners:

• Decide if technology is best way to reinforce concept. Examine why you’re using a new tech tool, Schillinger said. Ask staff to consider if technology reinforces this concept or if another method would be more effective.

“Technology is fabulous, but sometimes hands-on is more effective,” Schillinger said.

Also ask, what’s the purpose of this technology? There are many reasons to use technology in the classroom. It can remove barriers for students with disabilities. It can give students choice in how they demonstrate their learning. It can be a tool to support executive functioning. Identify that purpose, Schillinger said.

• Don’t assume students know how to use new tools. Always explain how to use new technology before using it to teach a new concept, Schillinger said.

“Don’t assume technology is intuitive,” she said.

Students may need to learn new terms to understand how to use a tool, she said. To write a post for a classroom blog, a student might need to know that a “tag” is a word or category that helps people find related content. Pair students up with a tech buddy, Schillinger said. Use a fun activity to let students practice and provide scaffolds for how to use the tool. Take screenshots to show students how to do something step-by-step, she said.

Introduce technology with the goal that students will be able to use it independently, Schillinger said.

“The tools that we choose for students — particularly tools for assistance, the dictionary, thesaurus, text-to-speech — we want students to be able to use these independently,” she said. “These tools can be lifelong tools for them.”

• Use technology throughout four-step teacher framework. When teachers introduce a new concept, consider this framework, Schillinger said:

1. Set clear learning goals and scales. Develop a learning goal and a scale with clear exemplars to show students what achieving the goal will look like, Schillinger said.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to know what it looks like when you get there,” she said.

Consider sending your students the learning goal prior to the lesson or posing it as a question using a Tweet, a Socrative, or TodaysMeet, she said.

“Poll your students and plant the question so they all know what you’re going to be doing,” she said.

Consider using blogs, class websites, or tweets to celebrate students’ successes and showcase their work, she added.

2. Structure and address new learning content. Separate new content into manageable chunks, Schillinger said. “Chunking” new information is particularly critical for learners who have cognitive deficits, she said. It helps reduce the cognitive load. Online bulletin boards such as Pinterest or Padlet can be great tools for pulling “bites” of information from other sources into one central location that can be archived for later use, she said. Using universal design for learning, select technology that maximizes multiple learning styles.

“Design a lesson for the edges, not just the average learner,” she said.

3. Develop fluency, deepen understanding, and practice skills. After chunking new content, deepen students’ understanding, she said. For building skills, consider making mini-tutorials or having students make these with video editing programs like Educreations and TouchCast. Students could also create a mini whiteboard video using a program like Sparkol or ScreenChomp, she said. Or, students could use a Wordle to create a visual representation of key words in a passage, she said. While students are practicing skills, consider supporting struggling learners with an assistive writing program such as Ghotit, which can be useful at catching common spelling and grammar errors that students with dyslexia might make, Schillinger said.

4. Structure how students show what they know. Technology can be a great way to have students represent their learning, Schillinger said. Students could create digital reflection journals using programs such as ReCap or Audacity that allow students to record themselves reflecting on what they’ve learned, she said.

Schillinger will present the workshop How to Strategically Select and Use Technology to Help Special Ed Students Access State Standards at LRP’s National Future of Education Technology Conference, to be held Jan. 24-25, 2017, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504, education technology, and Common Core issues related to special education for LRP Publications.

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