Today’s post was written by Rachel Pinter, Steve Sarangay and Joey Libolt, special education teachers at Sammamish High School.
When a school or district invests in a 1:1 technology program, the decision yields hundreds of questions. What device would best serve students? What grades should have access to YouTube or other helpful (but potentially distracting) resources? Do we teach keyboarding to our students? If so, who does that? (Does anyone want to do that?) And then there’s the big question: how do we connect this massive investment to our greater district purposes of academic success, college and career readiness, and a positive and productive life?
At the heart of the issue, we want our students to be successful. Our belief is that investing in technology increases that likelihood because we are providing them with better tools and experiences. If we do better, they’ll do better. But some groups of students have educational needs that can be overlooked—or even inadvertently dismissed—throughout this process. And this inattention runs contrary to the reality that they are our students who often need the most attention, consideration and additional instruction in education: English Language Learners (ELL) and students with disabilities.
ELL and students with disabilities face many barriers inside and outside of the classroom. Not only are they attempting to learn a new language or work on various “deficits” in goal areas, but technology in the classroom can become another barrier if students are not appropriately taught how to use it. After a year and a half of being a 1:1 school, we have definitely identified some exceptional strategies for teaching those skills.
Picture it: you’re new to the American education system and, perhaps more importantly, to the English language. Before first period, an adult hands you a laptop. He or she explains (or at least that seems to be what he or she is doing; some of the words are pretty unfamiliar) that all of the classwork and homework is done on something called “OneNote.” Next, you travel from class to class, each as confusing as the last. No one knows your language, so it feels like you’re mostly warming a chair. It’s not until 6th period that you connect to another person who speaks your language. Finally, you access your email account, find the “OneNote” links everyone has been talking about all day and begin the process of navigating unfamiliar technology.
As educators, there’s nothing likable about the above scenario. It depicts a student who may believe that learning is, at least in that moment, inaccessible to him or her. But the beauty of the inclusion of technology is that, when used intentionally, it makes learning more accessible than ever.
ELL strategy #1—technology induction lessons
One way to improve your use of technology is the inclusion of a thoughtful, well-designed induction lesson. Handing off a laptop to anyone—sink or swim, if you will—is not a strong approach for any learner, let alone those who are navigating additional barriers. Therefore, having teachers (and potentially students!) get together to design instruction about how to use the laptops is a critical piece for success for these tools.
ELL strategy #2—re-teach!
Not only having an induction lesson, but devoting future lesson time to practicing technology skills, is another way to reinforce that learning. You need to reteach those skills from time to time; these students are consistently having new and different things thrown at them. It’s not hard to imagine that every once in a while they forget the easier way to copy and paste or how to make a new row in a table. Plus, the beauty is that these skills are still innately intertwined with learning the English language.
The example below demonstrates how one ELL teacher tracks his students’ progress. He doesn’t just focus on their ability to do the skills with support, either. He ensures that they are working toward independence, just as they may be expected to do in general education classes. He also looks at ensuring that the students are able to connect teacher feedback to their own performance, thus ensuring academic success.
ELL strategy #3—utilizing adaptive software
One incredible benefit of technology immersion is the increased access to adaptive language software. Students no longer have to carry translating dictionaries or constantly be translating on a mobile device.
ELL strategy #4—integration of technology skills into assignments
While it is important to pre-teach and re-teach, you can even incorporate technology skills into your daily lessons. Joey Libolt, an ELL teacher at Sammamish, devised a lesson surrounding the use of technology while incorporating language skills. Students engaged in language-based learning—interviewing a person, transcribing the interview and writing up a summary—while utilizing the technology to do so. Upon completion, students then presented the “results” of their interviews, furthering their language learning.
Now imagine another scenario: school has always been a struggle due to your ADHD. You can never focus, sitting still is painful and keeping track of impending assignments borders on impossible. When your teachers announce that laptops will now be available, it seems better. At least there’s no paper to lose, right? And then, suddenly each class does everything a little differently, even though it is the same tool. Some teachers seem to have some organizational system in their OneNote, but no one has the same one and each is a bit of a mystery to figure out. There are sections versus section groups, tabs versus pages, and only half of your teachers are using color or numbers to tell you what order everything goes in.
It’s not hard to picture the student above experiencing frustration. But there are ways around these complications that can provide more access to our students with disabilities, thus making learning more readily available.
Special education strategy #1—organization across courses
OneNote is an integral and necessary part of the students’ learning at Sammamish now. For the students with IEPs, OneNote helps in several different areas. For instance, OneNote assists students with organizational goals help organize their work, reducing the likelihood of lost papers. However, while this is a great tool for work production, teachers must be intentional and consistent with their OneNote setup. Take time to consider your organizational setup at the beginning of the year—or even work with your department to determine similar styles. Deliberate on aspects such as a color-coding system or numbering pages to help students understand the order. Other ideas include limiting the number of sections and using explicit, consistent vocabulary for how to navigate through your class OneNote. Overall, your goal is to make your OneNote simple to understand and access—just like your curriculum!
Special education strategy #2—paraprofessional use of OneNote
While this is a great tool for students, paraprofessionals have a great use for OneNote as well. First and foremost, if part of a paraprofessional’s duties is taking notes for students, they are to post the notes into the Collaboration Space, enabling students to copy them at their own pace as needed. Another great use for paraprofessionals is access to curriculum content in general. With OneNote Class Notebooks, paraprofessionals can do things such retrieve current content when students are not able to be in class, locate prior worksheets to help a student make up work, and even learn on the fly to assist a student with a less familiar content area. Lastly, paraprofessionals, much like teachers, can give instant feedback to students on assignments.
Special education strategy #3—support tools
OneNote also has many different tools that support students with disabilities. For instance, OneNote Learning Tools with immersive reader and dictation offer stronger access to general education curriculum, as these can provide alternative methods to traditional educational tasks such as writing and reading. It should be noted, however, that while having these tools is advantageous to students, time is needed to properly train them. Students need to learn and practice their use in order to boost their understanding and confidence in such tools.
Special education strategy #4—differentiation
One of the most valuable aspects of OneNote for students with disabilities is the increased ease with which teachers can differentiate in both general and special education classroom settings. With add-on tools such as the new Class Notebook add-in, teachers are able to distribute pages to students’ OneNote Class Notebooks. This includes the ability to provide specially designed assignments based on particular students’ needs. One example of this might be a scaffolded assignment with sentence stems versus one that does not provide any. With OneNote, the distribution of these “different” assignments is far more confidential than traditional worksheets; students are much less apt to notice that another student has an assignment different than theirs. While this may seem like a simple thing, the reality is that it may result in more inclusion for students with disabilities, as less attention is being called to their alternate need.
Overall, 1:1 technology is like any other change in education. While it may have its difficulties, we as a district have decided that those challenges outweigh the innumerable benefits that such tools can provide our students. Because in the end, we want to our students to leave school with the knowledge, skills and experiences that will bring them all the success they deserve in the future.
—Rachel Pinter, Steve Sarangay and Joey Libolt