Don Johnston's "Building Wings"
Don Johnston Communities
Dyslexia & Dysgraphia
Universal Design for Learning
Learning is For Life
Colquitt County School District
Educators from various academic backgrounds within the Colquitt County, GA school district are working together in 13 schools, a pre-K center, an alternative school, a Gifted Center, and a Pathways Program to support hundreds of students with disabilities. How is this district making systemic change to improve academic achievement? These educators collaborate across all departments to ensure curriculum is delivered effectively for students through the use of information (IT) and assistive technologies (AT). Etta Faggioni, Special Education Director, spearheads the Program for Exceptional Children. Her assistive technology team, known as the ATeam, work with educators in the various departments to enhance the teaching and learning environment. ATeam members include specialists in speech and language, reading, technology, intervention, and occupational therapy. The ATeam empowers, trains and troubleshoots for general and special education teachers, students, and parents. They equip teachers with the knowledge, resources and technologies to serve a broad range of students’ needs in self-contained and general education classes.
Diane Barfield, AT Coordinator and Regional Chairperson of the SW Georgia AT Consortium, has a background in general education and instructional technology. She works side-by-side with teachers to match up teaching strategies with curriculum and state guidelines through the use of low tech devices, assistive technologies and training. Her team is focused on bringing the district’s instructional technology (IT) and assistive technology (AT) worlds together. “Educators work hard to meet student needs, but they often work in isolation,” said Mrs. Barfield. “Some teachers don’t know what to ask for and are not aware of how assistive technology can help them deliver individualized learning.” In 2010, the ATeam expanded their role to include materials, training and support and to manage several initiatives, including assessment accommodations, SMART Board training, and identification of underutilized hardware and software. They understand the importance of ongoing training and motivation throughout the installation and implementation process to: As part of the implementation process, they developed a one-stop website for teachers to learn about assistive technologies and make requests. The Georgia Project for Assistive Technology recognized this website as a valuable resource for all Georgia school systems. Teachers can use the AT Process Form online to make quick requests and the tiered visual diagram to learn which assistive technologies or hardware devices may be useful for student intervention. Sharon Davidson designed the tiered diagram and works with the ATeam to gather resources across the district. “By organizing and publishing the inventory, it’s easier for teachers to get access to the tools and resources they need to implement,” said Ms. Davidson.
One teacher of an elementary student who has learning disabilities and could not spell, tried different writing strategies to help her student. This teacher was unsuccessful to help Zach overcome his lack of writing mechanics. Errors made his work unreadable and, eventually, he shut down and would not keyboard or use a pencil for fear of making mistakes. Within ten minutes of using Co:Writer, Zach typed a beautiful story about his father who had given him a horse. He didn’t worry about spelling or lack of vocabulary. He found the words he wanted to write and his story was displayed for other teachers as one that met the standard of ‘writing an engaging introduction’. Co:Writer had given Zach the freedom to write. Emily Nichols, the Director of Instruction and Information Technology, initiates regular discussions with the ATeam, school leaders and teachers to keep the mission moving forward. She says that in many schools, curriculum, special education, IT and AT do not communicate and miss out on sharing valuable information. “Together, we help everyone integrate curriculum with standards, pacing guides, teaching strategies and supportive technologies and devices.”
Today, the ATeam is investigating how to provide accessible instruction materials to students which is required by IDEA law. They have developed a district initiative called ‘Textbook Technology’ and want to facilitate learning for students who struggle to read required texts. “Helping teachers know what tools are available can make a world of difference”, emphasized Mrs. Barfield. “Our website contains a list of every tool that comes with a textbook and we update the list when they are adopted.” Next year, Colquitt intends to integrate Don Johnston’s Start-to-Finish computer books into their curriculum to support beginning readers and students who are reading several grades below grade level. This implementation will further their mission for systemic change and to marry more curriculum with technology to improve students’ reading outcomes.
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