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by Mary Pembleton and Gayl Bowser
If your school district only offers Snap&Read and Co:Writer to students with identified disabilities, it may be time to try a different way.
Snap&Read and Co:Writer are reading and writing tools that support students with disabilities. But they can help students who don’t have identified disabilities too.
These kinds of tools give struggling readers ways to work independently and keep up with grade-level curriculum.
Snap&Read’s text leveling tool changes difficult text into simpler language so students can understand what they’re reading.
Snap&Read’s text-to-speech reads text aloud across platforms. Snap&Read gives students reading below grade level a way to understand grade-level work independently.
Co:Writer’s specialized word prediction can be set to specific topics to help struggling writers get ideas onto paper.
ELL students can use Snap&Read’s translation tool to read in their native language.
Snap&Read’s study tools help students who struggle with executive function take notes, keep track of sources, and organize essays.
When students can work independently, educators can spend more time teaching.
“The number of kids who benefit from using features like speech to text and word prediction has grown exponentially as we’ve provided 1-1 technology to more and more kids,” says Gayl Bower, independent assistive technology consultant and author of Leading the Way to Excellence in AT Services.
Many school districts have made accessible technology available to all of their students with district licenses.
These districts are giving Snap&Read and Co:Writer to all of their students.
But changing any kind of system can be tough. Even if it frees up time in the long run, when you’re short on time, initiating change can feel impossible.
Gayl works with many districts to help them reach more students with accessible technology support.
We recently caught up with her to talk about growing accessible technology use in a school or district.
These are her top five tips.
Who do you want to serve with Snap&Read and Co:Writer?
When your district provides learning and access options, more learners will make progress and develop independence.
Kids who are at risk for failing in school often make the most gains when they have a variety of strategies for learning and for showing what they have learned.
Gayl says that Assistive Technology (AT) teams should decide who they’d like to reach.
Though it should be noted that when Snap&Read and Co:Writer are used by children without disabilities, they’re no longer considered assistive technology.
See why in this article about assistive technology.
Teams also need to answer questions like: What will the team’s role in assessment be? Is the AT team the only group that teaches accessibility features of Snap&Read and Co:Writer?
The free student screener below can help teams decide which students need assistive technology.
It’s called the Protocol for Accommodations in Reading (PAR). PAR gives data showing if a reading accommodation will benefit an individual student.
Once you decide who you want to serve, Gayl says it’s time for AT Teams to look at what’s currently working and what’s not. Which accessible technology resources do you have already?
If your district has one-to-one technology, could you ask your IT team to turn on free accessibility tools for all students? See how in this article about Google’s free accessibility resources.
Do you have limited licenses of reading and writing tools like Snap&Read and Co:Writer? Could a district license better serve your students?
For example, Portland Public Schools provides reading and writing support to all students. It’s helping their English Language Learners, students who are behind in reading, and students with learning disabilities.
Is a district license to support all students with reading and writing tools in your budget? Find out below.
Involving administrators in the process from the beginning is very important to any program’s success.
When administrators help to set a vision for accessible technology use, they can share that vision with teachers and families throughout your schools.
If they are unable to attend team meetings, Gayl suggests scheduling regular check-ins with your administrators about your plans and progress.
She recommends approaching administrators with a proposal like the one below:
We have a great idea about how we could get teachers to try a few accessible technology options before they give us a referral. We’d like to ask teachers to try two things they already have in their classroom with a student who needs additional supports. If they still need help, they would tell us what they tried in the referral, with notes about how those two things worked.
Once you have presented an idea like this for infusing technology use into instruction, ask administrators how well they think this approach would work. Offer opportunities to talk about possible problems.
“Technology integration efforts have to be supported by administrators, but administrators also have to understand the new vision of helping more kids with accessible technology or they can’t help the team,” Gayl said.
But how do you know what the new model of distributing accessible technology will look like?
…which brings us to number four:
Teachers have so many important responsibilities. Sometimes asking them to include something new in their teaching can feel like adding one more thing to their list.
Collaborating with curriculum specialists can help work around that.
If accessibility features are already embedded into the curriculum, specialists can demonstrate how students can use them and when they might be most helpful.
When accessibility features are presented as a part of learning about curriculum, the features don’t feel like “one more thing” to teachers. This is especially true if the features are available to every student instead of just a few.
Alternatively, accessibility features can be taught to entire classes. When this approach is taken, students gain independence and take more responsibility for understanding how they learn best.
Read more about how to do this in this article from inclusion expert Kathy White.
Gayl’s book, co-authored by Penny Reed and published by CAST, is full of excellent tips for implementing AT.
From the CAST publishing website:
AT experts Gayl Bowser and Penny R. Reed examine four aspects of school administration—leadership, program management, supervision, and advocacy and program improvement—and their relationship to AT. The result is an authoritative and useful guide that explains the legal, ethical, and practical reasons for providing high-quality AT to every student who needs it.
These are some Gayl’s favorite suggestions for increasing accessible technology use.
For a deeper understanding, buy Gayl and Penny’s book or watch Gayl’s free webinar with co-presenter Stacy Springer, One Student at a Time to Universal Design.