by Joan Rhodes
Throughout my 28 years as an educator, I have worked with students in rural, urban, and suburban environments from preschool to college level. Regardless of the instructional setting or age group, one of the most challenging aspects of teaching has been supporting the learning of students with special needs. Students with learning challenges often arrive at the classroom door with needs that require educators to think carefully about the ways they plan instruction. Teachers must ensure all students have access to rich, engaging content as well as appropriate means for demonstrating their learning. With such great variability among learners, how can the classroom teacher keep up-to-date with the best ways to support student learning?
The Virginia Department of Education Training and Technical Assistance Center (T/TAC) Assistive Technology Blog has just the answer! This blog, which has been active since 2006, offers a plethora of assistive technology information for educators at every level! Assistive Technology (AT) is defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2))” (National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2011). Although designed with students with disabilities in mind, some assistive technology tools can also support the learning of students in the regular education program.
Every weekday, T/TAC staff members post information on the latest tools, methods and technologies available for supporting student learning through assistive technology. The site’s consistent, organized design makes information easy to find. Tool bars allow the reader to search for specific keywords, view material by date posted, or look for entries related to broad categories like AT for Reading. Queries submitted in the search bar produce multiple entries on virtually every keyword one uses. The blog offers an RSS feed to keep readers informed of new entries that can be customized to focus on specific topics of interest. For example, selecting an RSS feed for the term “word study” will allow the reader to receive updated information on that topic whenever it is posted. Additionally, T/TAC encourages readers to email specific questions to the site so answers can be posted for the entire community’s benefit.
Encouraging students of all learning abilities, particularly those with special needs, to engage in instruction can be challenging for any teacher. By visiting the Assistive Technology Blog, educators are guaranteed to find many creative solutions to meeting student’s needs while increasing their own knowledge of the latest assistive technology tools. Using the insight gained from this blog, teachers may be better able to utilize instructional methods and tools that benefit all learners. Reference
National Institute of Standards and Technology. (July, 2011). What is assistive technology? Retrieved from: http://standards.gov/assistivetechnology.cfm
Joan Rhodes is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Reading Program group at Virginia Commonwealth University. This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).