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Teaching with Success in Mind – Not Just Special Needs

by Neil Finney

I recently attended a school board workshop on using Assistive Technology in the Classroom. I am deliberately omitting the rest of the phrase, which usually goes “to support students with special needs.” I believe that these software programs and technological innovations support ALL students (and teachers) with learning.

Under the premise of “Universal Design for Learning,” by incorporating aspects of these assistive technologies that are part of a student’s IEP accommodations, we are also supporting other students who can benefit from their use. For example, by using WordQ software to predict words for students that struggle with written expression, we are able to provide the tools necessary to enhance their chance of success – as well as all other students who could thrive from this tool.

The traditional example of the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) concept is to picture a ramp being installed at the entrance to a school. At first glance, it could be to provide wheelchair accessibility for students in wheelchairs. However, it is also beneficial for parents with small children in strollers, elderly community members and volunteers who have accessibility issues and staff and students using crutches, or who are impacted by physical injuries.

We have an obligation to incorporate aspects of a student’s IEP into informed teaching practice. By using the technological and instructional strategies contained in this legal document as a springboard for grounding tech and practice; we can address student need with current, effective solutions. Scaffolding for student learning is nothing new, but it can absolutely benefit more than simply “identified” students with its potential to improve student learning and enhance student engagement. Assistive technologies can be the “bridge” that students need to make the journey to their own personal success.

Some Helpful Tips

*When using Wikipedia, choose the “Simple English” option (if it’s offered). This provides a more summative and “to the point” explanation.

*To improve student typing skills, do a web search for “typing games” and navigate through some of the existing options that are out there.


What assistive technology programs and devices do you use with your students? What tools do all of your students use to make learning easier?

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During Neilʼs 9 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and now junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.

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  • Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)

    I really enjoyed this post! I am a big fan of using assistive technology to help all students, not just students on IEP’s. Just the other day, I bought the WordQ app for my iPads. It’s been great — well worth the $25. Not only are my students on IEPs using this app, but some of my struggling writers are as well. They really like how the app will read back their sentences to them. It’s helping a lot of students figure out if they have run-on sentences. Spelling is also improving, and I’m seeing the carry-over into the times when the students are not using the app as well.

    I also really like the Premier Software (and toolbar). I’ve installed it on all of my classroom computers because of our Board license. Students that have difficulty reading can listen and read along to texts thanks to Read Outloud. This even helps the students that may just be slightly below grade level but can now access information at a much higher grade level.

    Assistive technology really does benefit ALL students!