4 Examples Of Technology In The Special Education Classroom

Image attribution flickr user Vancouver Film School.

4 Examples Of Technology In The Special Education Classroom

contributed by University of West Alabama Online

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Every student can benefit from a personalized approach to their education but this is especially true for students who require special education services. Technology is making it easier for teachers to deliver an education that works with each student’s unique needs, whether those are due to learning differences, neurodivergence or lapses in education.

Students with health impairments and mental-health issues increased by around 50 percent over the past decade. That number includes students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, mobility impairments or mental-health issues such as bipolar disorder. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and teens with disabilities.

“What we’re seeing is that about half of that population are kids with pretty severe disabilities, major behavior issues, medical issues; they’re probably some of the most complicated issues that school divisions face,” said John Eisenberg, the assistant superintendent of special education and student services at the Virginia Department of Education and former president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. “The costs associated with educating kids with disabilities has significantly increased.”

Differentiated learning techniques, which often allows for a student with special needs to remain in a mainstream classroom, can help reduce the costs associated with special education. Techniques for differentiated learning in the past have included specialized classrooms and extracurricular tutoring, but advancements in technology have made education for students with special needs more accessible and less expensive over time. The least expensive iPad was $499 when they were first released in 2010. Now, faster models with more functions and better displays are priced around $300.

Being able to teach students with special needs in conjunction with their classmates has more than just monetary advantages. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), integrating students with disabilities into mainstream classes with the use of technology for special education teachers typically has positive outcomes for the students. It reported, “[Technology in classrooms allows] students with special needs to learn without a special curriculum. They can consume — and learn — the same materials as their peers, which helps prepare them for the same assessments.

“Additionally, being on the same timeline and curriculum as their peers can help ensure that students with special needs develop positive self-esteem and the skills they need to succeed after graduation,” the ISTE continued. An Irish study of students with Down Syndrome confirmed what the ISTE reported. The study found those students who were included in mainstream classes had a “distinct advantage” over those who were not. “The research is there to show that children with Down Syndrome in a mainstream class bring a level of calmness to the class and school. Society benefits as well as the child,” the results found.

Technology And Special Education

Text-To-Speech Programs

Many web browsers have text-to-speech capabilities, which is helpful not only for those who are blind or have low vision, but also for a variety of other learners. Students who struggle with decoding, prefer to listen to audio or have learning disabilities like dyslexia benefit from lessons being read aloud. Using the same programs, some nonverbal students can use text-to-speech to communicate. Popular programs include Speak It!, which reads inputted text, and BookShare, an extensive selection of audio books.

Dictation Programs

Dictating programs transcribe speech, which in the context of education, can be either the teacher’s or the student’s. These programs help students with motor skill impairments that prevent the use of a typewriter or pen. Completing assignments becomes possible tasks for students, as well as taking notes, but teachers can use the program to transcribe the lesson as an alternative. Dictation programs include Dragon NaturallySpeaking and WordQ.

Interactive Boards And Touchscreens

Adaptive apps paired with tablets can help students communicate and learn. They’re as portable as a laptop but lighter and less expensive than most models. The ISTE blog explained how a tablet helped a nonverbal third-grade student finally attend classes with other third-graders.

Using an augmentative communication system on a tablet, she was able to create sentences, something she had never done before. There is a wide variety of both Apple and Android tablets on the market, and costs vary with features and size. SMART Technologies pioneered the interactive wall-board more than 25 years ago and remains one of the market leaders.

Virtual Learning

Classrooms are no longer restrained to schools; classrooms are anywhere there is an internet connection. Students with disabilities that cause them to miss school don’t need to fall behind on their schoolwork. Whether it’s as simple as using Skype to call into their class or using dedicated software created for distance learning, students learning from home or a hospital can stay on track.

Education Requirements And Career Outlook

Nationally, the outlook for special education teachers is good. The BLS predicts a national increase of eight percent in special education employment by 2026. The 2017 median pay for special education teachers was $58,980. Requirements for the job vary by state.

The Alabama Department of Education’s Office of Teaching and Leading provides information about the requirements for working as a special educator in Alabama. The ALSDE requires teachers to have completed a bachelor’s degree and a teacher preparation program, which can be done concurrently at select institutions. All degrees and certificates earned must be from accredited institutions. Some subspecialties in special education, such as ones that provide physical therapy in addition to education, require additional training and certification.

Starting Or Continuing Your Education Career

Learn more about the advantages classrooms gain when they combine technology and special education. The fully online teaching degree from the University of West Alabama will help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to change your teaching focus or to start working in this in-demand teaching specialty.

With our program, you’ll learn the latest in technology for special education teachers while studying in a convenient and flexible online format. Degrees offered online include M.A. Teaching, M.Ed. High School Education, M.Ed. Physical Education and M.Ed. Special Education, among others.


The Use Of Advanced Technology To Support Education

Image attribution flickr user tulanepublicrelations

The Use Of Advanced Technology To Support Education

contributed by Anne Davis

The limits of the modern classroom are, in many ways, the limits of technology.

For thousands of years, the easiest method of transferring information from one person to another was via speech. Pack a space with people and the transfer effect becomes exponential. The result has been – in one form or another – a classroom model that has remained relatively unchanged since the dawn of human history.

The development of written language and its role in the preservation and transfer of information is equally demonstrative of the limits of technology. Until the age of computers, no method of transferring knowledge could compete with the printed word. In a sense, the alphabet was and remains the original program code.

These time-tested methods of teaching are relatively unchanged for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t altered by the changes in technology over time. The best educators in the world seize on new technology to augment their existing curricula. While classrooms and textbooks remain an ever-present part of education – especially since becoming available virtually via online classes and digital copies – they are increasingly being improved upon with the incorporation of high-tech into academia.

The impact of advanced technology on education has been most noticeably felt at the collegiate level, particularly in STEM-related fields of study. For example, students enrolled in undergraduate architecture programs are able to grasp the fundamentals and complexities of building design thanks to a number of technologies which weren’t available to them 20 or even 10 years ago. While they’re still being educated in ‘traditional’ classroom and lecture hall settings, their learning experience is strengthened by the addition of advanced technology.

One such advanced technology having an impact on engineering and related fields is 3D printing. A 3D printer can be used to bring computer-generated building designs to life for professors to use as examples and students to use as a way to see their plans visualized to-scale. This is a significant leap from the days of painstaking drawings and model assembly, much of which was reserved for third or fourth-year students. The cost-effective and time-efficient attributes of 3D printing has proven to be a gamechanger in educating the engineers and architects of the future.

Virtual simulators for hands-on training is another way advanced technology is supporting higher education. Students enrolled in dental school are now using virtual reality programs to hone their skills at filling cavities and other procedures. While literal hands-on training is still valued, these simulators allow for a more practical form of practice.

Other Changes In Education Technology

College isn’t the only place where advanced technology is augmenting education. The effect is also being felt in trade schools and training courses worldwide. In places where the traditional requirements for successful learning are logistically difficult to achieve due to supply issues and limited personnel, high-tech resources help to bridge the gap. Aspiring carpenters, plumbers, and other hands-on specialists in developing parts of the world have an opportunity to be trained despite the shortcomings of their environment. This allows them to turn around and quickly put their education to practice in order to improve these communities.

Elementary school-age children, as well as those in middle school and high school, are also experiencing the benefits of tech-infused education.  For example, those under the age of 16 now have the chance to know what it’s like to be behind the wheel of a high-speed moving vehicle without running the risk of getting into an accident. This extends the potential to teach driver’s ed to those as young as 10, giving them six years to learn how to drive versus only one or two today.

Is using advanced technology in the classroom a new phenomenon? Not exactly. It’s a tradition that goes back to antiquity and probably longer. Ever heard of a little thing called a chalkboard? That’s an example of a revolutionary technology in education at the time. There’s another former high-tech device used in the classroom known as the pencil – perhaps you’ve encountered one or two in your life? Overhead projectors and radio broadcast lessons are other examples of former advanced technology utilized for education.

In terms of impact both in the short-term and long-term scope of education, few technologies compare to video courses online. From the Khan Academy to YouTube, the internet is jam-packed with quality educational content for anyone with a device and a connection to view. Men and women around the globe can now access knowledge via video which used to require enrolling in a brick and mortar school to learn. What’s more, they can learn at their own pace.

There’s a reason we’ve counted on books and classrooms as the foundations of education for centuries. Insofar as they are able, they ‘work’ and so will continue to be used in different ways years to come. But, increasingly, they also will continue to be augmented by emerging technologies–and over time, this is how technology changes education.


15 Assistive Technology Tools & Resources For Students With Disabilities

assistive-tech-tools-disabilities15 Assistive Technology Tools & Resources For Students With Disabilities

contributed by Brian Neese, Alvernia University

According to the National Education Association (NEA), the number of U.S. students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent over the past 10 years. Additionally, the NEA reports that nearly every general education classroom in the country includes students with disabilities, as three out of every four students with disabilities spend part or all of their school day in a general education classroom.

One tool to help students with disabilities even in the face of a special education teacher shortage is assistive technology. Today, assistive technology can help students with certain disabilities learn more effectively. Ranging in sophistication from ‘low’ technologies such as a graphic organizer worksheet to ‘high’ technologies including cutting-edge software and smartphone apps, assistive technology is a growing and dynamic field. Several areas of assistive technology and sample products may be found in any given classroom, making a difference in how students of all abilities learn.

Background On Assistive Needs & Supporting Technology 

Assistive Technology Module

This isn’t a tech tool but a short kind of ‘course’ that offers an overview of assistive technology (AT) and explores ways to expand students’ access to it in the classroom

Assistive Technology Act (AT Act)

A summary of the Assistive Technology Act and its consequences for educators.

AEM Student Summary Worksheet

A resource that, for example, helps teachers “think about whether the student 1) can gain information from print-based educational materials used across the curriculum by all students, 2) needs materials in a specialized format, or 3) needs modified content or alternative materials.”

Text-To-Speech Assistive Tools

As an assistive technology, text-to-speech (TTS) software is designed to help children who have difficulties reading standard print. Common print disabilities can include blindness, dyslexia or any type of visual impairment, learning disability or other physical condition that impedes the ability to read. However, other students can benefit from TTS technology, such as children that have autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or an intellectual disability.

The technology works by scanning and then reading the words to the student in a synthesized voice, using a large number of speech sounds that make up words in any given context. With the advances in speech synthesis, TTS technology is more accurate and lifelike than ever.

Tech Matrix

Search a database of nearly 400 products using extensive criteria tailored to assistive and educational technologies.

Kurzweil 3000

The Kurzweil 3000 is a leader in TTS software for individuals that struggle with literacy. In addition to a range of TTS features, the full-featured software program integrates abilities that can help students in other areas, potentially appealing to those who may have a non-print disability or those who may not typically consider a TTS program. Some of the features include:

• Multiple TTS voices

• Support for 18 languages and dialects

• Talking spell-checker

• Picture dictionary graphics for more than 40,000 words

• Text magnification

• Tools for test taking, essay writing, note-taking, reference and more

The Kurzweil 3000 strives to provide students with a multi-sensory approach to literacy learning. It is available for Windows and Macintosh.

Graphic organizers can be effective in helping students to organize their thoughts during the writing process. As an assistive technology, graphic organizers can be a strong choice for students with dysgraphia or disorders of written expressions — particularly the conceptual aspects of writing.

Graphic organizers work by helping the student map out a course of action. Depending on the type of writing, the graphic organizer can prompt the writer to describe an object, chart out a course of events or perform some other task that can help in planning the piece. Graphic organizers vary by type and technological sophistication.

Low-Tech Handouts

Graphic organizers do not need to be technologically advanced; in fact, they can exist in simple handout form.

Sample handouts can be found at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Company. The sandwich chart can assist students with paragraph writing. The sequence chart can help with narrative writing and the ordering of events. The sense chart is designed for descriptive writing, where writers are prompted for terms that characterize and express an item. Dozens of other sample charts exist and can help students with virtually any type of writing.


Draft:Builder is a writing tool that integrates outlining, note taking and draft writing functions to break down the writing process into three steps. Using a graphical organizer, the program helps the student visualize the project and insert information into the appropriate place without having to conceptualize the whole process. It then automates the process of creating the paper, where the student can drag and drop what is written in each note to the rough draft.

Other features include a talking spell checker that uses TTS technology, a bibliography tool, a dictionary and the ability for teachers to add locked text into the program for further guidance. Draft:Builder is available for Windows and Macintosh.

Assistive Listening Systems

A variety of assistive listening systems, or hearing assistive technology, can help students who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those with other auditory and learning problems. According to the National Association for the Deaf, assistive listening systems can be used to enhance the reach and effectiveness of hearing aids and cochlear implants, or by children who do not need those tools but still need help hearing. Assistive listening systems use a microphone, a type of transmission technology and a device for capturing and bringing the sound to the ear. The specific transmission technology used in the system is typically what contrasts one type of assistive listening system from another.

FM Systems

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), FM systems are the best choice for children with sensorineural hearing loss. The most common type of hearing loss for all ages, sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the inner ear (cochlea) or nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain are damaged.

FM systems work using radio broadcast technology. With a transmitter microphone and a receiver, the teacher and student can maintain a consistent sound level regardless of distance and background noise. Additionally, ASHA notes that the hearing aid microphone can be turned off, so the student can concentrate on the teacher alone.

Sound-Field Systems

Sound-field systems are a strong choice for classrooms that need to assist listening for all children in the class. ASHA notes that these systems benefit not only children that have hearing loss, but those that have other auditory and learning problems, such as language delays, central auditory processing disorder, articulation disorders and development delays. Additionally, sound-field systems can be used for students who are learning English as a second language.

Sound-field systems use a microphone that projects sound through mounted speakers around the classroom. In classrooms that have good acoustics, sound is able to travel evenly throughout space, eliminating problems of distance between the speaker and each listener.

Sip-and-Puff Systems

Sip-and-puff systems are used by students who have mobility challenges, such as paralysis and fine motor skill disabilities. These systems allow for control of a computer, mobile device or some other technological application by the child moving the device with his or her mouth. Similar to a joystick, the child can move the controller in any direction and click on various navigational tools using either a sip or a puff. An on-screen keyboard allows the child to type using the same movements.

Sip-and-puff systems are a type of switch device, which refers to the technology used to replace a computer keyboard or mouse. Other switch devices include buttons or other objects that a student can touch, push, pull, kick or perform some other simple action that can then control the device.


The Jouse3 is a sip-and-puff system that allows children to control a device using any part of the mouth, cheek, chin or tongue. Due to its accuracy and quick response, home users can use it for drawing or computer games. It can mount to the desktop, a bedframe or any other type of structure; it does not require a headpiece or placement on the body of the user.

The product supports Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Unix based computers, in addition to Android and iOS mobile devices. It can support one or two external switches, and has two types of mouthpieces.

Sip-and-Puff Systems From Origin Instruments

Origin Instruments offers a range of sip-and-puff products that students can use to control an electronic device. Using a head mounted or gooseneck user interface, or available tubing for a custom solution, the child can control a mouse, joystick or keyboard with ease. The primary system is powered using USB technology.

The product supports Windows, Macintosh and Linux based computers. Two pressure switches connect the system to the user interface solution for use on electronic devices.

Proofreading Software

Proofreading software is a branch of assistive technology that goes above and beyond the typical proofreading features found in a word processing system, such as correcting words frequently misspelled by students with dyslexia. A number of other features offered within this category can help students work on his or her English skill set to become a more effective and accurate writer.

Although primarily geared towards individuals with dyslexia, proofreading software can be helpful to those with any type of learning disorder that makes writing and reading challenging.


Ginger offers several features that can help students with dyslexia and other learning disorders with writing. It is also designed for speakers of languages other than English. Some of the features include:

• Grammar checker that analyzes context to determine any errors or misspellings. For instance, Ginger can recognize whether ‘there,’ ‘their’ or ‘they’re’ should be used in a sentence, which is a common mistake in writing.

• Word prediction and sentence rephrasing tools that can be helpful for students learning how to construct sentences properly.

• TTS functionality so students can hear what they’ve written.

• A personal trainer that provides practice sessions based on past mistakes made by the student.

Ginger is available for Windows and Mac, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices.


Ghotit is specifically designed for students with dyslexia and other learning disorders who have difficulties with writing. The name is inspired by the word “Ghoti,” which is a constructed term that illustrates irregularities in the English language. And since many spellings are counterintuitive — especially for those with dyslexia — Ghotit dedicates itself to assisting children and adults who struggle with writing accurately.

It features the ability to learn from the user’s past mistakes, personalizing suggestions for spelling and grammatical errors. Ghotit can predict words, check passages of text contextually, read text aloud using TTS technology and recognize split and merged words. It also includes an integrated dictionary for students to quickly look up a word.

Math Tools

A range of technology and tools can help students that have trouble with math, most commonly found in a learning disability called dyscalculia. Dyscalculia makes it difficult to grasp numbers and it is characterized by a general lack of understanding in the field of math.

Assistive technology in math is not just for those with dyscalculia. It can also help students with blindness, fine motor skill disabilities or some other type of disability that makes it difficult to perform math-related work.


MathTalk is a speech recognition software program for math that can help students with a range of disabilities. From prealgebra to Ph.D. level mathematics, students can perform math problems by speaking into a microphone on their computer. The program works with Dragon NaturallySpeaking programs for voice-to-text functionality, making it ideal for students who have fine motor skill disabilities. Students with blindness or vision disabilities can use the integrated braille translator.

In addition to these audiences, MathTalk also appeals to students with dyscalculia. The program functions as an electronic math worksheet, allowing the child to organize, align and work through problems on the screen, making it helpful for students who have difficulties performing math problems on paper.

Math Simulations

Math simulations can help students with dyscalculia visualize math problems and concepts. As a result, students can better understand the application of a particular type of problem, since many students struggle with the conceptual aspects of math.

Examples can be found at the NASA website. From video to animated simulations, teachers and students can visually see how a math concept or problem would work. And with some math simulations, students can work through the problem and then see the result play out in the simulation.


Thanks to the rapid advances in assistive technology, students, parents, and teachers have a seemingly limitless number of tools at their disposal.

As these tools start to appear in the home and in the classroom, parents and teachers can utilize them for students’ academic and personal growth. But technology alone is not enough – to successfully use these tools, it’s critical to develop a plan for their use and have regular check-ins to ensure the student is gaining the most value possible and not becoming overly reliant on these tools.

But while assistive tools have become plentiful, the same cannot be said for special education instructors. As previously mentioned, the vast majority of states in the 2014-15 school year reported a need for teachers in special education. And many general education classrooms instruct children with special needs.

Certification is a faster way for current teachers to qualify to teach this growing population. At Alvernia University Online, teachers can pursue a special education certification for grades PreK-8 or 7-12 to help make a difference for children with special needs. They will also improve their marketability in the process, gaining additional opportunities for their career.

Overall, more teachers are needed in this area. Although the advancement of technology in special education is promising, the same increase is needed for the number of special education instructors. Certification offers one solution to quickly meet this need. Learn more about Alvernia’s program today.

15 Assistive Technology Tools & Resources For Students With Disabilities


12 Of The Best ASMR Videos With No Talking

Does This Help You Relax? 12 Of The Best ASMR Videos With No Talking

by Terry Heick

After years of not being able to focus (or sleep) without background noise of some kind (which led me to create a TeachThought-specific background noise for reading and writing that I use myself on a daily basis), I started to wonder if it might be an indicator of a larger problem for me. (I also suffer from non-restorative sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness, two challenges I’ve faced for nearly ten years now.)

It’s likely true that some people find certain sounds soothing or relaxing, but after listening to background noise for two hours, turning it off is almost painful for me. It’s a difficult sensation to explain, but it’s like having something ‘really good’ ‘let out’ of your consciousness.

In searching for various background noises, at some point, I stumbled on the idea of ASMR, which was eye-opening for me. I couldn’t make it through more than a few seconds of one of the videos, while others I found so relaxing I could almost fall asleep.

So I did some reading.

What is ASMR?

What’s ASMR? Wikipedia says that ASMR is “Autonomous Soothing Meridian Response,’ and it’s apparently a relatively new thing, with some searches showing results

Mashable has an overview of ASMR above, but in brief, ASMR basically means being soothed by sounds and textures not generally considered soothing.

ASMR Triggers

Wikipedia continues:

“ASMR is usually precipitated by stimuli referred to as ‘triggers’. ASMR triggers, which are most commonly auditory and visual, may be encountered through the interpersonal interactions of daily life. Additionally, ASMR is often triggered by exposure to specific audio and video. Such media may be specially made with the specific purpose of triggering ASMR or originally created for other purposes and later discovered to be effective as a trigger of the experience.

Stimuli that can trigger ASMR, as reported by those who experience it, include the following:

  • Listening to a softly spoken or whispering voice.
  • Listening to quiet, repetitive sounds resulting from someone engaging in a mundane task such as turning the pages of a book.
  • Watching somebody attentively execute a mundane task such as preparing food.
  • Loudly chewing, crunching, slurping or biting foods, drinks, or gum.
  • Receiving altruistic tender personal attention.
  • Initiating the stimulus through conscious manipulation without the need for external video or audio triggers.
  • Listening to a person explain a concept, describe an object or system.”

You can read more about ASMR from The Verge and Huffington post, if you’re so inclined. Below, I’ve gathered 12 of the best ASMR videos I could find. Let me know in the comments if you or your students find them useful–or if you have one you enjoy yourself.

1. Tapping & Crinkling Sounds

2. Touch Tapping

3. Soap Carving

4. Aloe Vera Lotion

5. Sponge-on-the-microphone

6. Lotion & Oil Ear Massage

7. ASMR for Sleep

8. Chewing Vegetables

9. Excavation Kit

10. Shaving Cream

11. Cutting Wet Sand

12. ‘Deep Ear Attention’ (has some talking (whispering)

12 Of The Best ASMR Videos With No Talking


I Am More Than My Disability: 5 Things Your ‘ECE Students’ Want You To Know

I Am More Than My Disability: 5 Things Your ‘ECE Students’ Want You To Know

by Dawn J. Mitchell and Nicole Brown

I am greater than my disability.

Many times as educators and as parents, when we realize our children are having difficulty in school and a learning disability is diagnosed, we become inundated with information such as screening results and the identification of a learning disability–the discrepancy between ability and achievement. We learn a lot about what is not working and what the student isn’t doing and why.

We begin working so hard to identify goals and to begin progress monitoring for IEPs and 504s that we can forget that our students with learning disabilities are people with strengths and personalities that go beyond the paperwork. We believe it is helpful to consider what our students with learning disabilities would want us to know about them.  

First, students with learning differences would hate the title of this article because they would not want to be defined by their disability.  They would want you to see them in the same way you see your other students…students with names, known not by what they need or what their IEP demands, but who they are as people, like Austin, who is great at video games and loves banana sandwiches or Eliza, who likes STEM challenges and Clemson Tigers football.

Below are 5 things that your ‘ECE’ students would love for you to know.

I Am More Than My Disability: 5 Things Your ‘ECE Students’ Want You To Know

1. I am greater than my disability.

Our students with special needs are more than their disabilities. They have personalities and specific interests, gifts they already have to give to the world, and gifts they have yet to unpack within them. Labels do not promote growth. Supportive instruction does and, most of all, a supportive teacher who refuses to give up on their success does. All students have unique strengths that can be enhanced and areas of weakness that can show growth. Students with learning disabilities are not defined by them.

We recently read the powerful book, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and were struck by this quote found on page 95.

“And then I think that if someone hung a sign on me that said anything, having that sign there wouldn’t make it so. But people have been calling me “slow” forever. Right in front of me as if I’m too dumb to know what they’re talking about. People act like the words “slow reader” tell them everything that’s inside. Like I’m a can of soup and they can just read the list of ingredients and know everything about me. There’s lots of stuff about the soup inside that can’t be put on the label, like how it smells and tastes makes you feel warm when you eat it. There’s got to be more to me than just a kid who can’t read well.”

“There was a time where I was not popular at all I was just a shy girl in the lunch room who now one wanted to sit by me.” “But all of that changed after one day. I was walking in my classroom when this goofy girl came up to me and said, “Do you want to split my sandwich.Its peanut butter and jelly.” I said “What kind of peanut butter and jelly.” She said”Creamy and grape.” I said ” I love both.” “So we shared the sandwich and are best friends to this day.”

There is so much more to our students than the labels we use to define their disability.

2. I can.

All students, especially students with learning disabilities, need and deserve high expectations.

We never want to lower our expectations for a student just because they learn things differently. If you need to go to the store and your car doesn’t start, you don’t throw up your hands and say, “Oh well!” and go hungry. You find another way to get there! You work to figure out the problem…if it needs gas, you put gas in it. In order for a student to qualify for special services, he/she has to have the cognitive ability to learn.

Your “resource” students are not students with low IQs. They can learn and it is our job to figure how they can learn. Our students with learning disabilities work hard to develop compensatory strategies that help offset their disability. For example, a student with auditory processing may have developed strong reading of visual cues that can help them determine what the next step is, or what to do if they missed some of the oral instructions. Instead of focusing on what the child can’t do, let’s look at what they can.

If the methods we are using to teach a child are not working, it is our job to change our methods. A great resource for parents and educators alike to use for current information as well as strategies to consider is the Learning Disabilities Association of America website.

3. I want to participate.

All students want to participate in the engaging interdisciplinary opportunities you provide outside of direct instruction.

Please be mindful of this with your schedule.  We know as public school educators the realities of a tight schedule and the changing mandates about what the law requires when students are receiving pull out services for ELA or Math. When possible, support an inclusion model. This helps remove the stigma behind “resource” and provides students with the opportunity to learn alongside their peers in the general education classroom.

Consider the possibilities suggested by the Inclusive Schools Climate Initiative discussed in this Edutopia article by Maurice Elias if you are interested in this model. If inclusion is not a possibility for you, consider flipping the schedule at times so that our students who are in pull-out don’t always miss the STEAM opportunities, the author’s tea parties, the project-based learning opportunities, the collaborative group time, etc. These are all valuable learning opportunities that help build 21st-century learning skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. Many times these are areas that our students with learning disabilities need opportunities to grow in as well.

4. You, me–we’re all different.

All students, especially students with learning differences, will need you to think outside of the way you learn. This may require you to go beyond all the modalities that you were taught in college.  A regular education classroom set up for whole group instruction may only be effective for a handful of students.

To find out what classrooms are like for students with learning disabilities and some ideas for effective differentiation check out this article posted on Reading Rockets by Kate Garnett Learn about your student’s specific areas of weakness. It may help you understand why the child is having difficulties. earn about your student’s specific strengths. Ask yourself, “If this were presented in a different way, would the student understand it?” There are tons of resources out there that can tell you the best ways to teach students with specific learning disabilities. Be wary of lumping all students as “resource” and think they can all be served and taught the same way.

Learn about your student’s specific strengths. Ask yourself, “If this were presented in a different way, would the student understand it?” There are countless resources out there that can tell you the best ways to teach students with specific learning disabilities.

Be wary of lumping all students as “resource” and think they can all be served and taught the same way. A student with a visual processing disorder will learn differently than one with an auditory processing disorder, and certainly differently if he/she has deficiencies in both areas.

5. I want empathy, not sympathy.

All students, especially students with learning disabilities, benefit from encouragement. They have often struggled and failed more times than anyone should have to. They do not need pity or sympathy, which can become a crutch or enable students to only see their struggles. They need empathy and understanding for their experiences as a learner.

In her book, Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom, Judy Willis reminds us that, “As educators, we won’t know what gifts are hidden in our students until we unwrap their packages.” They need you to know they have gifts to offer.  They need you to look for them and then celebrate when you find them.  They need you to respect who they are and how they learn.  In this op-ed for Education Week Teacher, Thomas Armstrong provides us with 7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special Needs Students that can help encourage and motivate our learners.

Our students with learning disabilities need you to teach that being different is okay and then act on those beliefs in ways that empower all learners.  They want you to know that when you believe in THEM, they believe in YOU.  As Lynda Mullaly Hunt says in Fish in a Tree, “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Dawn J. Mitchell works in instructional services in Spartanburg (S.C.) School District Six. She specializes in literacy professional development and leads the district’s induction course to provide relevant strategies and support to first-year teachers. Mitchell also serves as the partnership coordinator and an adjunct instructor for the Spartanburg Writing Project and as an adjunct instructor at Furman University, where she supervises and mentors preservice and induction teachers through the Teacher to Teacher program. She is currently a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015. Connect with Mitchell on Twitter @dawnjmitchell

Nicole Brown works as a literacy coach at Anderson Mill Elementary School in Spartanburg (S.C.) School District Six. She has taught elementary school for 21 years and began her endeavor as a literacy coach last school year. Nicole received her undergraduate degree in elementary education from Clemson University, her master’s degree in leadership and administration from Converse College, and is National Board certified. Nicole is currently a member of SCASCD’s Emerging Leader Class of 2016.  Contact Nicole at and follow her on Twitter @nikkismithbrown


Be Human When Providing Accommodations For Your Students

Be Human When Providing Accommodations For Your Students 

by Dan Henderson, That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching

Accommodations are usually tied to identified children with an IEP or 504 plan.

Many students need the accommodations or they will not be able to prove mastery of a skill. Yet we see roadblocks for some children being able to access the curriculum according to the rigid nature of our laws. Have we thoroughly questioned why we are restricting accommodations?  It could be the missing piece for students to show mastery.

Our biases against accommodations make us believe that in order to be fair in a classroom of students everyone has to be given the same set of tools. Yet if we took away the individualistic mandates to measure success and instead looked at the class as a society working towards a common goal, do accommodations seem unfair? Do you really care the individuals in a company made your car, sofa, or TV.  You rarely think about how someone mastered the art of the products you purchase. Did someone on the assembly line have one arm? Did someone use a calculator while someone else did not?

If a student can find a way to access knowledge does it really matter how as long as they can ultimately produce results?

When we see some of our students struggle we should not despair. The first action should be to create accommodations we think the student could benefit from. They may not be able to use these accommodations on a standardized tests. However, you can compare your class assessments with accommodations to the standardized tests without accommodations. Then you will know if the accommodations made a significant difference and could fight for those accommodations down the road.

Teachers usually have a running list of students who could benefit from accommodations. There are no rules against giving accommodations in your classroom for the end of module assessments or on a day-to-day basis. My argument is that you should informally use accommodations in your classroom to see if it improves student performance.  The student will understand how they learn best and what is the harm in that knowledge? If the accommodations do not improve student growth it could be an early indicate of a learning deficit or a flaw in your lessons.

How can you test if accommodations are making a difference?

  1. Start with a baseline assessment. Use data from a baseline exit ticket or unit test to have as a reference point.
  2. Use the same assessment a week or two later with your new accommodations. The accommodations could be math problems read aloud to students or extended time on the test. The important part is the accommodations give the students chance to access their knowledge of how to master a problem.
  3. Compare the data and, if necessary, build for a future case to warrant testing for a disability.

Why Accommodations Matter: A Story

Why do accommodations matter? Here is a story from my classroom.

The ultimate goal of an accommodation is for the student to build up measures of self-sufficiency. Creating the courage to say, ” I can master this concept, I just need this accommodation to show you I can be successful.” Later on in life, a student will be evaluated by whether or not they can complete a task. If we focus on purely how they achieve their goals, we are putting an emphasis on fairness instead of an end product–which is why I had one student become very vocal about his needs. Without instituting accommodations, he would still be failing.

Ben was a struggling reader who was always a year or more behind in his reading level. Always on the border of special education he was given extra support by his teachers, but continued to make errors. I was scared his apathy would be a driving force. Math was his biggest area of concern. Ben could manipulate numbers, but had trouble understanding the comprehension of the problems if they were not read to him out loud. I decided to use two accommodations for Ben. First, I would read all the math problems out loud. Second, I gave him a problem solving checklist so that he could reference how to set up his math problems. I gave him a test without the the accommodations before I had this idea and this was the response.

“I will never be good in math.” He threw his pencil on his desk and folded his hands tightly burying his head deep in his cotton sleeves.  Ben was distraught. He would not complete his test. He sensed failure. I gave him a stress ball to calm down, but he threw the ball deep in his desk. As much as I wanted to push back in conversation, I told him to go see the counselor. After returning looking somber the clock stroked three and the end of the day was approaching. I instructed everyone to complete page fourth-three through fourth-five in their workbook for homework.  Ben hastily shoved his journal in his book bag and went home cross.

The next day we started our mathematics rotation by checking our homework.  Everyone got out their homework journal except Ben.

“Ben where is your workbook?” I inquired.

“I don’t know,” he said, looking at the floor try desperately to not make eye contact.

“Well Ben, you know the rules. We will have to print you off a copy to complete your homework during your lunch.”

Ben shrugged and I thought he would have learned his lesson. Then the next morning I saw Ben’s mother dragging him by the arm. In his other hand? The workbook. As she marched him closer I noticed the book seemed dirty, almost if it was caked in brown mud.

With angry eyes, mom shouted in my direction still dragging Ben.

“Do you have a good reason my son would bury his math book in the backyard?”

I dropped my jaw and started to shake my head towards Ben. I was not going to take the blame for this calculated risk. Many puns intended. Was the hole he shoveled diligently up to HOA standards?  I had to think fast or I would hear would hear excuses from my students that they actually buried their homework.

“Ben, when I sent you to the counselor the other day to talk about your frustration in math. Did you talk about solutions to your math frustrations with the counselor.”

“Yes,” he said worryingly.

“Did any of those involve burying your homework in the backyard.” A rhetorical question, but powerful nonetheless.

Mom wastes no time. “Well did he tell you to bury your workbook in the back yard?”

“No,” Ben said in a whisper.

“Don’t get me wrong Mr. Henderson, I am mad at my son burying his problems and not coming to us for support. However, I wonder if you could be doing something more to support my child. I will leave it in your hands to make a change.”

With that mom stormed off to work and left Ben sulking on the bench outside of school before the day started. As teachers, we can always improve and always do more. Some teachers give to the point of burnout. Some get angry and others give up. Then the teacher looks inwards to be humble and focus on finding solutions. Maybe this conflict was good. I knew Ben needed more to be successful, but he made a literal hole a cry for help. I needed to make Ben a priority.  The bureaucracy of school failed Ben, and I needed to help him.

The next week I told Ben we were going to alter how he took his tests. During his tests, I would read the questions in his math problems aloud. Being an English language learner he had trouble with the decoding some of the words. By reading them out loud I gave him an opportunity to access his knowledge and just focus on the processes involving math. Additionally, I gave him a problem-solving checklist to review how to set up his operations. Ben could at least start a problem with less frustration.

After the test with the new accommodations, Ben had a grin and was sitting upright in his chair. I showed Ben his old math test and compared it with his new math test. Ben had improved by 25% and his grin turned into rows of purely whites. I started to wonder why we do not give more accommodations to all children and why we think it is unfair. These broad questions could not all be answered during my math block so I turned my attention back on Ben.

“Do you feel more confident in your math today?”

“Confident enough to not bury my homework,” he responded. Students around me paused to see my reaction, and when I laughed the whole room laughed.

If you enjoyed this story, check out Dan’s new book, That’s Special A Survival Guide To Teaching

Be Human When Providing Accommodations For Your Students 


Ep. 11: Redefining Intelligence To Unlock The Possibility In Our Students



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Ep 11: Redefining Intelligence to unlock the possibility in our students.

by Drew Perkins, Director of TeachThought Professional Development

This is episode 11 of the TeachThought Podcast!

In this episode Drew Perkins (Director of Professional Development at TeachThought) and Scott Barry Kaufman discuss why and how he thinks intelligence should be redefined using his Theory of Personal Intelligence. He also shares his compelling story of how he broke out of being a special education student and went on to reach stunning academic heights.

Interested in growing your school with TeachThought Professional Development? Email us at

Links & Resources Mentioned In This Episode

This is episode 11 of the TeachThought Podcast!


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Thank You For Listening!

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Ep 11: Redefining Intelligence to unlock the possibility in our students.


What Not To Do When Planning For Response For Intervention


What Not To Do When Planning For Response For Intervention

by Dan Henderson

Ed note: You can read more in Dan’s new book, That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching

Special education teachers are often tasked with teaching small groups of four to six students.

Response to intervention (RTI) is the terminology used for supporting struggling learners, and special education teachers are being asked to teach these groups in addition to their regular student caseload. This poses a problem when the special needs children don’t get the individualized instruction that the IEP is trying to address. The other problem is the students in these groups are often the bad apples, the slackers, and the students who conceal bringing large black sharpies to your table.

I was teaching three special needs students at my table when I was told by the RTI coordinator that I would have Eric and Ryan join our group. Eric and Ryan had reputations of mischief. School supplies went missing. Bugs mysteriously materialized in desks. On the playground playful fighting and dares were the lay of the land. The P.E. teacher had Eric’s and Ryan’s parents on speed dial. Sometimes the playful fighting got out of hand.

Ms. Sumpter, Eric and Ryan teacher, had thrown in the towel. “We can’t teach these ones; send them to Henderson. They are driving me nuts,” Ms. Sumpter complains. Eric and Ryan have frequently called out statements to derive a laugh during class such as “This lesson brought you by spray on hair because you’re that ugly.” The whole class erupts in laughter leaving the students disinterested in Ms. Sumpter’s lesson and her own will to control the class seriously demoralized.

Ms. Sumpter needs to provide evidence that Eric and Ryan should join an RTI group, she has to show they were behind academically. Ms. Sumpter willingly provides data to prove these students are behind in the grade level standards. I believe the lack of behavior management was reason these students were behind, and in terms of intelligence prior grades showed no warning signs. No matter the reason, if a student is behind academically, they are put into a RTI group. Today that intervention group is with Mr. Henderson and in dimly light hallway next to the stairwell.

I go to Ms. Sumpter to investigate the interventions that have taken place and discover behavior management is the issue. I offer strategies, but the response is many shaking hands to signify your strategies won’t work Mr. Henderson. Ms. Sumpter debated gloriously with the RTI coordinator knowing if she could provide evidence of their failing grades she would gain a 30 minute of reprieve from Eric and Ryan each day.

I make one last ditch effort to recommend an intervention strategy, loaning my collection of Rocky movies. I envision Ms. Sumpter rewinding the scene where Rocky has just won the match and yells “Adrian!” and instead she yells, “Lesson Plan!” Diligently she types up her lessons on Sunday, spitting in a bucket next to her desk while her husband Mickey makes her some raw eggs. Alive and enthusiastic Rocky has inspired her to try new strategies to teach Eric and Ryan next Monday. Alas, my DVD collection idea was rejected and for collaboration, well that would have to wait.

I gather my herd of second grade students from their respective classroom. Ms. Sumpter smiles when I come as if I were removing a hand nail or eliminating a pesky bug for at least a moment. Thankful for the 30 minute relief, Eric and Ryan were always lined up ready to leave promptly at 1:30. I would march my group including Eric and Ryan to the hallway. We would huddle around a small kidney shaped table outside the hallway tucked away from the noise of wandering students. Our isolation which usually proves to be an advantage to eliminate distractions would prove to not always be valuable.

Eric’s and Ryan’s RTI group was a guided reading lesson on a reading level that closely matched all students at the table. My other three students know my routine and immediately get out a whiteboard and marker behind their chairs. Two days of teaching goes by, and I can see Eric and Ryan kicking the table and staring at the ceiling. I separate Eric and Ryan at opposite ends of the table. Little did I know about the black sharpies in their pockets.

I ask the group, “Write the word smart on your boards and then show me that it is correct.” Eric turns his board around and has written smart ass on his board. Ryan falls out of his chair laughing and grabbing his stomach to control himself.

“Eric, that is inappropriate, and if I see words like that again on your board, you will miss some of your computer time.” When the snickering stops, I escort them back to their classroom and I tell the teacher of the incident. The teacher does not act surprised and also gives me a worried look that says what are you teaching these kids. 

The next day I escort my learners to our table of knowledge. Eric and Ryan are already laughing as we come down the stairs. Teachers pass us and shake their heads in disapproval of Eric, Ryan, and possibly me. Our group settles down at the table. After we cover vocabulary and a brief introduction each student begins reading. I hear a scream down the stairwell and then a female voice yells, “help, help” in a very panicked voice. I quickly scan the halls, but no one is around. I hesitate. Can I leave these kids alone for two minutes? I hear the voice again, “help, help” and quickly rise accidentally knocking over my chair.

I point at Ryan and Eric sternly to command, “Stay in your seats and do not go anywhere. I need to go see what is going on. If you finish the book, read it again. I will be back in two minutes.”

I run down the hall to the stairwell to find my co-worker Penny sprawled on the floor grabbing her shoulder. Penny was in her forties and had a slender build. Penny was an avid runner. If she was in pain, it was serious.

“Penny, what happened!” I yell from the top of the steps.

“I think I dislocated my shoulder. It hurts. I can’t even move,” she moans as she lays on her other shoulder trying to gain comfort.

“Just stay still; I will get some help.” I rush to the security guard by the front of the school.

“Out of my way.” Students part nervously as they see me barrel through the halls to run to the front of the school.

Winded, I told the security guard of the situation. I ran back up the flight of stairs. I could not have been gone for more than five minutes. I turn the corner, and I see Eric and Ryan rolling on the floor in a congealed ball. They both have sharpies. They are writing obscenities all over their faces and whatever they can etch. It’s a sharpie war! I pull Eric off of Ryan, and his face is completely covered in black sharpie marks. My other three students were unaffected, but clearly Ryan had won the battle.

“Eric…. Ryan are you crazy? I go to help Ms. Penny because she dislocated her shoulder and I come back to find you writing curse words on your faces!” I yell still gasping for breath after my recent sprint.

“We were just playing.” Ryan said earnestly handing me the sharpie as remorse.

“Your computer time is gone today and for the rest of the week.” They sulk, and the excuses cease.

I take the whole group back to class and tell Eric and Ryan to wash the sharpie battle marks from their faces and arms. I take Eric and Ryan back to their teacher to inform her that I will have to call their parents. However, before I can explain the story, I get a worried look from Ms. Sumpter. As she reads the obscenities that have only slightly faded after they washed their face she states, “Right, I think it might be a good time for us to collaborate so I can tell you what works best for Eric and Ryan.”

“Pencils?” I muse and get a smile from the teacher. I take Eric and Ryan to the principal’s office and prepare myself for the phone call home. I stopped to think how I could have collaborated better with Ms. Sumpter to uncover prior interventions that would work.

Over the years I have followed these tips.

3 Tips For Collaboration In RTI Setting

Both teachers need to collaborate on what they will be teaching every week. Although my first year of teaching ended with me learning these lessons the hard way, these tips will help your students have coordinate practice which will bring fluency in an subject.

Uncover prior interventions: What has worked in the past, and what hasn’t? It’s encouraging to know the interventions that have worked, and why should you re-invent the wheel? Talk with the students prior year teacher and create a checklist of successful strategies.

Use scientifically based methods: Use the PRIM ( Pre-Referral Intervention Manuel ) or any scientifically proven resource at your disposal with your co-workers. Teachers have a responsibility to use scientifically tested methods that work instead of winging it.

Use the same interventions: What we are wanting to build in a learner is fluency. By using the same templates, comprehension strategies, or steps, both teachers are allowing the students more time to practice. Some students just need RTI or special education services because they need more practice to build fluency.

The real key in collaboration with your RTI group is using the same strategies. Don’t believe me that collaboration makes a difference, check out how teachers in developed nations outside the U.S. with less instructional time get better results through collaboration.

If you enjoyed this story check out Dan’s new book That’s Special or check out more free stores at; What Not To Do When Planning For Response For Intervention


4 Tips For Smarter Collaboration With Resource Teachers

collaborating-with-resource-teachers4 Tips For Smarter Collaboration With Resource Teachers

by Dan Henderson, Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching

It was an arranged work marriage spurred on by the ceremonial job fair.

Two principals were swapping teachers as casually as goats in a dowry. This was the last job fair before the school year, and these teachers were either inexperienced or lemons. The lemon dance squeezed out Paul to our elementary school. Eliza, an experienced teacher, was weary of this arranged marriage when Paul’s first question to ignite their foray was “When is lunch?”

Eliza stares at her countdown till summer calendar in her classroom. The dismal number 163 taunts her in blood red ink. Eliza witnesses her first graders dare each other to lick their names on the table.  The first grader laughed as Todd’s lips open making a smacking sound. The tip of his tongue makes first contact with the table. Mumbling and laughing simultaneously he writes, Todd on the table. Eliza asks Todd to repent, but the saliva has already melted through the first two floors of the school. Carefully crafted ham and cheese sandwiches from loving moms are garnished with Todd’s saliva.

This was not the condiment of choice.

Collaborating With Resource Teachers Isn’t Rocket Science

This gross dare has one positive outcome. Eliza recently bought stock in Clorox wipes. Eliza’s post teaching career was to be a spokesperson for Clorox. Buy Clorox wipes, because no one ever told you that being a mom involves cleaning saliva off your furniture.

Eliza looks at the clock, 1:30pm. “Where is my inclusion teacher? Where is Paul?” Eliza thought.

Eliza hears Paul running up the stairwell. He bursts open the door disturbing all the busy bees working hard at their desks.

“Am I late?” Paul asks sheepishly. Looking at the clock, Paul starts to blush. Eliza got the short end of the dowry.

“Late, Late, it’s 1:30! You were suppose to be hear at 1pm. Not only did you miss the center with your students but don’t you have to get to your next class?” Eliza pauses hoping this newbie understands the importance of timeliness.

Paul looks down at the ground in shame.

“Well, why were you so late?” Eliza demands.

“The deli six blocks away has really good pastrami sandwiches.”

Eliza realizes that falling test scores in the U.S. are not because of lack of funding or adequate education but because of the power of the pastrami on rye.

4 Tips For Collaboration With Resource Teachers

1. Use A Schedule

And try to stick to it.

Yes, resource teachers have meetings and paperwork through the yin yang, but the students come first. Actually, by law, the hours agreed upon per week or month are a legal binding document. Special education teachers who habitually miss hours of instruction can only make up so much time in the week. This sacred instructional time needs to be honored, and all efforts must be made to protect the special education instructional time with their students.

You also may need to make up time. The special education teacher will be late. They may be dealing with a student in crisis or just be out sick. When setting up the schedule, plan for extra hours in the week in case you have to make up hours. If the special education teacher does not need them, they can use them for extra planning time.

The give and take of your arranged marriage has to work for you. Respecting each others time is the cornerstone. If the principal can throw in a llama to the dowry, then your inclusion marriage will be that much sweeter.

2. Clarify The IEP Items & Goals

The special education teacher should provide an IEP to the general education teacher (among other staff). The program should list goals and rubrics for how each of the goals is to be measured. The general education teacher and the special education teacher need to work together to accomplish the student’s IEP goals. But how?

3. Actually Collaborate

Collaboration is not a pointless meeting. Many times students with learning disabilities need the material presented in a different way. A simplification of the steps and the appropriate re-arrangement of the curriculum can only be done though collaboration. How can you adapt a lesson on long division if the special education teacher has not seen the lesson plans?

4. Focus on the student’s strengths

Far too often, the special education student’s strengths are not being used.

Self-esteem is as foundational to teaching as food and water. I always start a lesson off with a topic or problem the student will be guaranteed to get correct.  Motivating the students by positive re-direction of what they can do builds up momentum for them to tackle difficult problems ahead. Instead of seeing the child as a concern, talk to your students about their strengths. Find the positive attributes in your students instead of labeling them a problem. To sum it up…

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Anonymous 

You can find more about the book That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching on facebook ; 4 Tips For Collaboration With Resource Teachers; 4 Tips For Smarter Collaboration With Resource Teachers


LearnPad vs iPad & The Crowded Education Table

learnpadvsipadLearnPad vs iPad & The Crowded Education Table

by Maggie O’Neill and Justin Boyle

Tablet computers have asserted themselves as powerful new media devices over the last several years, bringing with them a suite of robust and user-friendly features for creativity, productivity, entertainment, education and other fields formerly dominated by desktop and laptop computers. Educators in particular, for whom technological advancements are moving into the spotlight, can use tablet computers to energize the classroom experience for today’s tech-savvy learners.

Although standard tablets — and, to a similar extent, those large-screen smartphone handsets known as “phablets” — have plenty of pull when it comes to classroom apps and edtech integration, a number of teachers and administrators recognize the potential benefits of a tablet that’s designed and built specifically for education. If you’re one of them, take heart: A purpose-built education tablet called LearnPad has already made landfall in some schools and districts worldwide.

Whether or not it can compete in the long run with iPads, or Chromebooks and Nexus devices from Google, remains to be seen. For now, a look at what makes the brave little tablet tick.

The Idea Behind The LearnPad

Since its debut in 2011, LearnPad has touted itself as the only education-focused tablet on the market, and the tale of the tape seems to corroborate that claim. For one thing, LearnPad developers went out of their way to ensure that the tablet supports a healthy chunk of existing eLearning content and applications. Each LearnPad also comes with an array of pre-installed apps and lessons from educational publishers like eChalk, Sherston, Birchfield, Yellow Door and

What’s more, the tablet’s creators have worked to align the LearnPad’s capabilities ever closer to the infrastructural specifics of school and district networks. A school’s entire supply of LearnPads can be monitored and managed from a central, web-based interface, allowing administrators and network managers to swiftly and inconspicuously ensure that the needs of the curriculum are being met in each LearnPad-equipped classroom.

One public school technology officer offered a testimonial to Educational Resources, the company that distributes LearnPads in the U.S., regarding a feature that can serve as a real benefit to schools. LearnPad comes packed with functionality that allows a school’s tech manager to scan and assign units to individual locations on campus, which can make managing a school-wide tablet solution a much less complex endeavor than it would be with general-purpose tablets.

“If you surveyed 100% of the teachers out there, 90% would say iPad because of the brand,” she says about teachers seeking tablet solutions, “[but] the management piece is difficult. It hit me hard because we’re all looking for a solution that is made for schools.” With the scannable, assignable LearnPads, she says, “I can walk into any classroom anywhere and scan to immediately see the lessons loaded for that moment.”

LearnPad vs. iPad

Many educators who have had a chance to try LearnPads in their classrooms recognize that its purpose-built interface, in terms of both hardware and software, offers some occupational benefits that the iPad and other iOS devices do not. Foremost among these, according to teachers and administrators alike, is the native support for Adobe Flash. Around 95 percent of existing digital curriculum material is written in Flash, and iOS devices require special browser software or other workarounds to make use of Flash content.

One tech coordinator from a school in central New York revealed to Educational Resources her primary concerns in choosing tablets for her classrooms: “application management and Flash support,” she says. “The LearnPad operating system has all the controls we need for managing and delivering applications and instructional materials easily.”

Focusing the design of the LearnPad on its use as a classroom tool also allowed developers to build in certain features that aren’t entirely necessary for users of general purpose tablets. Hardware-wise, the LearnPad module features ports for USB thumb drives, SD cards and HDMI output cables. Website filtering functionality is built in also, allowing for compliance to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) without the need for specialized hardware or software filters.

Schools that use LearnPad also get access to hundreds of pre-built, LearnPad-optimized activities available for download. Many activities cost just a few dollars, and teachers of practically any subject can find something to suit the needs of their curriculum.

A Real-Time Management Portal

The real test of the LearnPad could be its usefulness to teachers — otherwise, what’s the purpose? But, beyond the actual tablets themselves, which Educational Resources promote as “out-of-the-box ready,” teachers could be drawn to the entire LearnPad system, which includes two additional components: the content store and the teacher management portal.

This real-time management portal, in fact, has been dubbed LearnPadConnect, and Educational Resources just released a supplemental messaging tool to it to enhance teacher communication. This new tool, called Classview, made its debut in the U.S. in July 2013 and can allow teachers to directly send messages to students to pop up on the screen of their tablets — for example, stop poking the kid next to them, pay attention, or get the heck back to the classroom.

Teachers may find the entire LearnPad management system useful for any number of reasons, but the tablets in combination with the teacher management portal LearnPadConnect can allow them to:

  1. Manage pads and group tablets. For example, a teacher with a mixed third-grade/fourth-grade classroom can create two user groups and send different learning content and profiles to each of these groups.

  2. Help with instruction. Teachers can send saved content profiles to a student’s laptop, allowing them to access web learning, eBooks and other materials the teacher has set up.

  3. Save artifacts of student learning. A teacher can save any materials and documents on a student screen into a networked file or hard drive.

  4. Help specific students know what to do next. A teacher can access a student’s device and launch them into the next program or application should they be confused about what they should be doing next.

  5. Hold classroom discussions. The classroom instructor can launch any student’s screen or his or her own onto a large whiteboard to discuss projects or next learning steps.

  6. Manage the classroom. A teacher can instantly pause all tablets or even put them in lock down, requiring a code to be entered to gain access back. (A teacher could give this code to individual students as they begin to settle down.)

  7. Access content. Teachers can purchase content for the LearnPad that is specifically grouped by topic and for particular age. They may even be able to find free content packs and applications in the store.

A Commitment to Learning

The LearnPad’s selling point may be the diverse ways it allows teachers to interact with students through its LearnPadConnect. However, Educational Resources may also be committed in continually making sure teacher needs are being met. For example, in July of 2013, Educational Resources pushed out its Instructional Standards feature that allows teachers using LearnPad’s management portal to align their instruction and content with the widely-adopted Common Core Standards. (FYI, these English-language arts and math standards have now been adopted by 45 states nationwide as the new instructional goals for teachers.)

The company has also shown commitment to teacher success in other ways. For example, it has several instructional videos on its website that can be useful to teachers just beginning to implement LearnPad systems in their classrooms. But like with any new technology, adoption can be slow or it can come quickly. It will be interesting to see how LearnPad fares in the classroom in the next year or so and whether it does obtain that teacher’s pet status and move toward the top of the class, or wilts in the face of heated competition from Google and Apple.

Maggie O’Neill writes about education and related topics. She contributes to several websites, including; Justin Boyle is a writer, editor and designer who works in media production for an ecology non-profit; LearnPad vs iPad & The Crowded Education Table


Autism Awareness Month: 6 Strategies For Teaching Students With Autism

servephotographyAutism, unfortunately, is on the rise.

The Center for Disease Control states that 1:88 children are diagnosed with some type of disorder on the autism-spectrum. Before, many of these students were placed in special settings. This is no longer the case. Today, these students are in mainstream classes with an Individualized Education Plan.

Teachers without special education specialization often teach these students in mixed setting. I was talking with a special needs student in my class recently about this subject. She said she really loved being in the classroom with her peers–that it was good for her because she made so many friends, and she knows that when she goes to college or work, there won’t be an IEP, but that it was also good for all the other students to work with “different types of people.” It’s great when we can really have these conversations–when the students get a voice.

Sometimes inspiring an inclusion classroom–one that has special needs students alongside all other students can be challenging. Students on the autism spectrum are so unique in their needs–there is no “one-size fits all” teaching method. This can be frustrating for classroom teachers who have to balance the needs of every student in the class, and many not fully understand the manifestations of autism. Students with autism struggle to communicate, to recognize emotion, and to interact appropriately, because they cannot recognize social-emotional cues. Often, they must be told, “I am happy,” or “I am angry,” or shown how to interact in certain social situations. They miss nuances. Despite this, they are academically solid. Often, they have areas of interest where they’ll soar above all other students. They are unique–a true joy to teach.

It’s Autism Awareness Month. Here are a few tips to help the average classroom teacher benefit students with autism.

1. Create a classroom routine

Students with autism appreciate routine.  Non-autistic students appreciate routine, too, so this is helpful to the class at large. If you are setting up classroom systems geared toward students with autism, chances are all students will benefit.

Try this: establish a pattern which includes a classroom greeting, a special starter activity, then similar transition cues and wrap-ups. Close the activity or day the same way, setting up structure, clear expectations, and routine. If you change the routine, be sure to use plenty of advance-notice verbal cues.

2. Use preparatory commands and commands of execution to cue transitions

Students with autism often struggle with transitions. Using preparatory commands–commands that cue in on the forthcoming action words–help these transitions.  Again, this structure is helpful for all students. Using the preparatory command, “When I say move we will…” followed by command of execution, “move,” sets up clear expectations. “In five minutes we will finish that paper and discuss it.” “Okay, now let’s switch papers and discuss answer two.”

3. Give fewer choices

Students with autism can get overwhelmed when given list-style selections.  Try using just two choices. This helps declutter the landscape and yet still allows students to make a decision.

4. Find “their thing” but be aware of aversions.  I have had many autistic students. One was a debate master, another a political expert, a computer person and a music lover. If I can find some way to tie my lesson into their area of expertise, it’s going to be a good lesson. However, students with autism often have specific aversions–these can range from environmental, to touch, to texture–it’s important to be aware if these exist. I don’t always take them away completely–noise is one example–but I introduce appropriate aversions in a controlled manner. Introducing these things when appropriate–in a safe environment–helps students prepare for work or college when people don’t always think about these things, and students have to express their needs for themselves.

5. Use appropriate technology

There is so much helpful technology for students with autism. One study showed that off-the-shelf video games can actually have therapeutic value for children with autism.

6. Treat them like any other kid as much as possible

Sure, students with autism have specific needs, but so does every kid. Make sure students with autism get the “kid” experience, not the “autistic kid” experience, or the “special needs” treatment. This makes a difference. One day, I was telling jokes in class. My autistic kid laughed–a big laugh. It took me a minute to realize, “Wow… he…laughed!” If you are a parent of a child with autism, you know what that means. That means he understood humor and body language–both very big achievements. I called his mom. These victories are huge–milestones. One parent told me, “He never went to a birthday party before, now he has friends.” That is priceless for a parent and a student.

Never underestimate the impact you can have on your students with autism. When you take the time to learn some autism-specific strategies and dispel the myths, it makes a critical difference. When you notice students with autism opening up, it’s a gift. The fact that these strategies are often helpful to all students–it just doesn’t get any better than that.

As we travel through Autism awareness month, let us share stories. I encourage you to visit some of the resources in this article, which are links to Learnist boards giving strategies and information for working with students with autism. If you are experienced, please consider adding strategies and comments to these boards, so that together, we can improve education not only for students with autism, but for all the students in the classroom.

Image attribution flickr user servephotography


50 Popular iPad Apps For Struggling Readers & Writers

50 Popular iPad Apps For Struggling Readers & Writers

by TeachThought Staff

Whether you’re the parent of a child with a reading disability or an educator that works with learning disabled students on a daily basis, you’re undoubtedly always looking for new tools to help these bright young kids meet their potential and work through their disability. While there are numerous technologies out there that can help, perhaps one of the richest is the iPad, which offers dozens of applications designed to meet the needs of learning disabled kids and beginning readers alike.

Here, we highlight just a few of the amazing apps out there that can help students with a reading disability improve their skills not only in reading, writing, and spelling, but also get a boost in confidence and learn to see school as a fun, engaging activity, not a struggle.

Note: See also 15 Of The Best Educational Apps For Improved Reading Comprehension & 20 iPad Apps To Teach Elementary Reading

Helpful Tools

These tools are useful for both educators and students with reading disabilities alike, aiding in everything from looking up a correct spelling to reading text out loud.

  1. Speak It!Speak It! is a great text-to-speech solution that can allow students with reading disabilities to get a little help with reading when they need it.
  2. Talk to MeTalk to Me is another text to speech application. It can be used to read words out loud as they are typed, which can help students to better correlate the letters and words with how they’re pronounced.
  3. Dragon DictationDragon Dictation works in reverse of the two apps we just listed. Instead of reading text out loud, the application writes down spoken text. For students who struggle with writing, it can be a great way for them to jot down ideas or get help learning.
  4. Dyslexic Like MeExplaining dyslexia to a child can be hard, but this application can make it a little easier. It’s an interactive children’s book that helps students to understand dyslexia and become empowered to overcome their learning disability.
  5. Merriam-Webster DictionaryIf spelling is a problem, it’s always a good idea to have a really great dictionary on hand. This app from Merriam-Webster can provide that.
  6. Ditionary.comIf is your go-to place for definitions and spelling help, this app can be a great way to bring that functionality to your iPad or iPhone.
  7. PrizmoWith Prizmo, users can scan in any kind of text document and have the program read it out loud, which can be a big help to those who struggle with reading.
  8. Flashcards for iPadThis app makes it easy to study words, spelling, and other things that young and LD readers might need help with.
  9. SoundnoteUsing Soundnote, you can record drawings, notes, and audio all at once, balancing reading-based skills with those that are auditory and visual.


These apps help teach the fundamentals of reading, writing, and spelling to any young learner, but can be especially helpful for those who are struggling.

  1. Alphabet ZooAlphabet Zoo is a great tool for helping young readers to recognize letter sounds. Using text and pictures of animals, kids can build their reading skills while having fun.
  2. Find the Letters HDA favorite of special education teachers and psychologists, this app asks learners to find letters and numbers in a coloring grid. It helps build skills in spatial positioning, depth orientation, form discrimination, and concentration and attention.
  3. First Words SamplerPreschoolers with a reading disability can get a head start on improving their skills with this app that teaches them about letters and words using fun graphics and sounds.
  4. Montessori CrosswordsEmbrace the Montessori method by using this app to help youngsters improve their spelling and reading skills through engaging phonics-based exercises.
  5. Read & Write :Students can practice reading and writing letters using this application. Users can trace letters, learn letter sounds, and get illustrations to go along with each part of the alphabet.
  6. Sound LiteracyWith a portion of the proceeds from this app going to the Dyslexia Association, there’s no reason not to sign on. Even better, the app is incredibly useful, employing the Orton-Gillingham method to help students recognize the spellings of English phonemes.
  7. weesay ABCUsing pictures, words, and sounds, this application makes it easy for young students to practice and learn their ABCs.
  8. abc PocketPhonicsThis app is a great tool for teaching reading disabled students the fundamentals of letter sounds and shapes.
  9. The Writing MachineBy correlating pictures and words, reading text, sounding out letters, this tool helps students develop early literacy abilities with greater ease.
  10. WordSortOne of the top educational apps out there, this game helps kids to learn how to identify parts of speech, like nouns, adverbs, and verbs, as well as emphasizing grammar skills.
  11. ABC Phonics Word Families: Using analogy phonics (or word families) this application teaches young learners to see and hear the patterns of commonality in a set of words. With flashcards, spelling words, scrambled words, and games, this app is a must-have for helping students.


These excellent iPad apps can be a big help to reading disabled students who need a little extra support when trying to read.

  1. BlioBlio offers all the same features of any basic e-reader, and also a few things that make it unique. Through synchronized highlighting and a serial presentation view, the app helps those with reading disabilities make sense of the text, something many other similar apps don’t offer.
  2. Read 2 MeFor those who have difficulty reading, apps like Read 2 Me can be a godsend. The app comes complete with an entire library of texts, all of which can be read out loud.
  3. Read2GoIf you use DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) books in your classroom, Read2Go is one of the best and most accessible ways to read those books on iOS.
  4. AppWriterDesigned with reading and writing disabilities in mind, this text editor for iPad integrates numerous accessibility features into standard text editing functionality.
  5. AudiobooksSometimes students with reading disabilities might just want a break from reading books the old fashioned way. That’s why this amazing collection of free audiobooks can come in handy, offering access to classics like Romeo and Juliet and Treasure Island.
  6. Bob’s BooksBob’s Books uses phonics-based interactive games to help kids learn how to read. Activities will help young learners to sound out words, spell, and make connections between letters and sounds.
  7. iStoryTimeThere are numerous titles to choose from in the iStoryTime series, all of which allow kids to have the book read to them or to get help reading it themselves.
  8. MeeGenius! Kids’ BooksMeeGenius is another series that’s perfect for practicing reading skills. Those with trouble reading can use illustrations and helpful word highlighting to get help, or just have the book read to them until they’re confident enough to do it on their own.
  9. Reading TrainerWhile this app is designed to help average readers boost their reading speed and ability, it can be useful to those who struggle as well, as many of the skills taught can help just about anyone become a more confident reader.
  10. See Read SayThis application will help to ensure that young learners are familiar with all of the Dolch sight words (the most common words), using games, activities, and tons of practice.
  11. Stories2LearnWhy use existing stories to help troubled readers when you can build your own? This application lets you develop your own text and audio stories, including messages, topics, and other things that can help keep kids interested.
  12. eReading seriesThe eReading series from Brain Integration LLC, helps young readers at all levels of proficiency learn about topics like Greek Mythology and Gulliver’s Travels. Users can have the book read to them, or practice reading without the help, too.


For those with reading disabilities, sometimes writing can also be a trying task. Here are some apps that can help teach, assist, and make writing more fun.

  1. iWrite WordsNamed by The Washington Post as one of the best apps for special needs kids, this game-based program helps youngsters learn to write their letters through a fun and engaging setup that uses illustrations and animations to keep things interesting.
  2. AlphaWriterUsing Montessori-based learning methods, this application helps kids to learn how to read, write, and spell phonetically. It also teaches lessons on consonants and vowels, letter sounds, writing stories, and much more.
  3. Sentence BuilderThrough this application, elementary school children will learn how to build grammatically correct sentences, with a special focus on using connector words.
  4. Story BuilderAfter kids are done learning how to build sentences, they can move onto this app which combines those sentences into one coherent story, complete with illustrations.
  5. Writing PromptsHaving trouble thinking of things for students to write about? This app removes that roadblock and offers up numerous ideas for short writing assignments.
  6. Idea SketchThis mind-mapping app can help learning disabled students make sense of their ideas and organize them in ways that they can easily translate into written work.
  7. StoryrobeTeachers and students can build and share their own unique stories through this application. Integration with YouTube and email makes it easy to share and revise, too.


These applications can be excellent tools for improving spelling skills.

  1. American WordspellerLooking up a word in a dictionary isn’t that simple if you have no idea how to spell it. This app removes that problem and employs a method that lets you much more easily pinpoint how to spell just about any word.
  2. Word MagicCreated by the parents of a five-year-old, this app for young learners help kids learn words and how to spell them correctly. It uses lots of positive reinforcement, rewards, and fun pictures to keep things interesting to learners.
  3. Typ-OPoor spellers can rejoice over this great application that help you spell words correctly in any typing-related program on your iPhone or iPad.
  4. A1 Spelling AppThis application is a great way to help poor spellers begin to learn the correct spelling of common words, increasing difficulty as kids master words.
  5. iSpell WordiSpell Word is designed to help kids learn the spellings of simple English words. It uses games to teach, with each level of the game employing more difficult words so kids are always challenged.
  6. JumblineIf you’re looking to make reading, writing, and spelling into a game, this app can help. It’s full of word games that ask players to use speed, smarts, pattern recognition, and spelling skills to win.
  7. Spelling Bee ChallengeKids can have fun taking part in a mock spelling bee using this application that boosts both spelling and vocab skills.
  8. Word FallIn this educational game, words fall from the sky and players must collect letters to form basic words.
  9. WordLadderThis highly challenging word game will get older readers thinking about how words are spelled and how they can be connected and changed to form new words.
  10. ACT SpellDeveloped especially for learners with disabilities and special needs, this tool helps develop motor control, word recognition, spelling, and reading skills.
  11. Word WizardLauded by The New York Times, this word-focused app lets kids hear the sounds of letters and words through a movable alphabet while also engaging them in spelling practice and games.

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