Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Week 4: AT and Assessment

        As a school librarian, I do not attend IEP's or PPT's. I asked one of the Special Ed teachers to fill me in on PPT's at Abbott Tech.

    When reading about PPT meetings, it sounds like a smooth and wonderful process. Teachers with their various strengths and observations collaborate to determine the best interests of a student who has some kind of learning disability. Upon discussing it with Ms. H, the Special Ed teacher with a Masters' in Assistive Technology, with a few human glitches, it really does work that way.

     Time is one of the biggest obstacles to the PPT process. There just isn't enough time during a school day for a case worker who is co-teaching in specific classrooms to monitor the progress of all of her students. Ms. H's example was "Joe," who has a writing disability.  Ms. H is not the co-teacher in Joe's English class, where he does a lot of writing. Follow up must be done with that class' co-teacher who has her own caseload, and with the classroom teacher if the co-teacher did not collect samples. It is also difficult to find time to collaborate with teachers prior to the PPT.  Teachers often do not find the time to fill out the paperwork and must be reminded multiple times to get it in.

      According to Ms. H, the LD issues in our school aren't severe enough, in most cases, to require AT. A handful of students have their shop theory books loaded on a flash drive along with "text-to-speech" software. Many are not motivated enough to use the AT, but for those who are motivated, it makes a big difference.  Ms. H said that teachers here are very good at differentiating, so many of the students with mild learning disabilities have sufficient access to the information. AT is discussed at every PPT, but at this time, only students who come into the school with some kind of technology assistance actually use it.

      Personally, I was impressed with the WATI Assesment in the Bryant and Bryant reading. It looks quick and basic with room to expand responses. The AT specialist from Central Office handles that kind of paperwork.  Our district has 16 Technical High Schools, and one AT person who conducts specific AT testing and training.
      I am interested to read others' ideas for improvements. As I do not have experience, it would be hard to say.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Analysis of Adaptive Tech #1

I looked for a list of school based assistive technology to do this assignment. One of the first products that caught my eye was Dragon dictation. It is on all the iPads at our school. I am doing this review using the free Dragon dictation app downloaded on my iPad.

After learning some simple commands like naming your punctuation, it isn't too difficult to make reasonable sentences and paragraphs. I didn't choose to learn the entire tutorial.

According to the creators Dragon dictation is good for
– Physically challenged people who have lost the use of their hands or people with repetitive stress injuries
– Language-based learning disabilities like dyslexia
– English language learners for notetaking, paraphrasing, and fluency
– It can also be used for all students as a tool for QDL, or universal design for learning

I looked at a number of reviews. A quadriplegic loves it! He was the one who recommended looking at the tutorial when he wrote his review. Overall, though, reviews are mixed. The adults on Amazon and Best Buy were either enthralled or disgusted by the program.
Learning works for kids gave it a high-scoring, but I couldn't access the reviews without a membership.
The University of New Hampshire offers Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a $140 program, as one of their disability services for students.

Pros: although the paid app is much more effective, there is a free version for dictation on iTunes. It is a great dictation tool for people who have physical and language based learning disabilities. With the paid version, you can watch your words comes up as you dictate.

Cons: there is a learning curve. If you don't know how to punctuate, the program cannot help you. The program requires that you speak out loud, which is not always practical in a classroom situation.

I have an admission. I am a paper thinker. I had to write this out, then dictate it. I made some minor corrections, but I needed to stop the recording, check the screen, and fixed what I needed to fix. Did you recognize some of the obstacles I faced in using the program?

QDL should be UDL. I can see how, with practice, this could become a useful tool for someone with clear thoughts and poor writing or typing skills.  I can also see Dragon Dictation as a good tool for people without the use of their hands, or limited use of their hands.
It was hard to remember to, as I was speaking, add the punctuation. period. I looked up capital letters and it left my head when I came up to it!

Dragon Dictation app address:
There is also a link from the free app to the company website for more information on the paid programs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Adaptive Technology Week 3

When I was in early high school, my neighbor's third child, Anthony, was diagnosed as autistic. He seemed "normal" until just before his second birthday. As his symptoms increased, he became difficult to babysit. Although he followed simple directions, Anthony was in his own world.

When I watched the documentary, I observed that the first camera shot of Facilitated Communication showed a woman holding the shirt sleeve of her pupil as he typed. As the documentary progressed, the next generation of facilitators seemed to almost guide their charges' pointed fingers to the keyboard. Even before the "big reveal" that FC was not what it seemed, I thougth it strange that kids who weren't even looking at a keyboard could type so accurately with one finger.

The New Hampshire pharmacist, Mr. Gherardi, who was accused of abusing his son observed, "If a new drug had just been discovered, it wouldn't be something that would be just thrown out into the market." (PBS) He questioned why Facilitative Communication, which almost destroyed his life, was allowed to be implemented without blind testing.

According to Bryant and Bryant, students, teachers, and families should all be involved in the use of a child's Assistive Technology. In the video, only one person per student was trained to work with a child. The adaptation could not be used in all environments. AT devices should also promote independence. Even if Facilitated Communication works as the originators believe it does, the autistic child is wholly dependent on a single facilitator in order to do school work. The PBS documentary showed a well-intentioned but poorly implemented type of AT.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

History of Assistive Technology

Historically, AT was developed for the overtly physically handicapped. Aside from blindness and deafness, injuries sustained during the world wars were a huge catalyst for technology. As we increase our knowledge as a society of more and more subtle forms of disability, our definition and purpose of Assistive Technology changes.

Before the "Empowerment Period" of Assistive Technology (Bryant, 19), for people with disabilities, discrimination was common. Federal statutes were enacted and legal action more clearly defined these statutes.  Parents, who were already concerned about their children's education, got services to which they believed their children were entitled. From 1974, when FAPE (Free Access to Public Education) began to now, students with disabilities who were once discouraged from attending public school or who were confined to a "special" classroom are not included through differentiated instruction or Assistive Technology.

"For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible." (Bryant, 2)  Computer applications make our everyday lives simpler. Because technology is so common in every aspect of our lives, it is becoming less expensive. Because we all feel we "need" technology, there is no (or little) stigma about any technology use by students in our classrooms. The professionals' challenge is acquiring the most appropriate and least restrictive technology for students who truly need it. 

I see parent advocacy and the ease of acquiring cost effective technology as two factors that have strongly contributed to AT evolution.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Assistive Technology

Sally Markiewicz
Library Media Specialist
Henry Abbott Technical High School
Danbury CT

I have been the librarian at Abbott Tech for twelve years. Prior to that, I was a Children's Librarian at a public library. At the public library, we were circulated a CRIS radio. We also offered a wide variety of audiobooks.
Our school is part of the CT Technical High School System. There is a consultant who researches and orders Assistive Technology (AT). At Abbott, I circulate software that students can download on their home computers, "Read Out Loud" and "Snap and Read." Students take it out at the urging of their Special Ed teachers. The library offers a variety of Audiobooks including Playaways which are self-contained MP3 players. 
AT software was once available on the library computers. I looked for it the other day, and didn't find it. I do not know much about it. One program will read passages aloud to students, and there is a graphic organizer program, which our staff had PD on years ago. A couple of students have school-owned iPads that are distributed through SPED. There are "Alphasmart" keyboards stored in my back closet. They do not circulate. Other than housing and circulating the materials, I do not have much exposure to AT.Our school-wide AT seems to focus on struggling readers and students who need better organization skills.

I know of a student at our school who has given her teachers a microphone that works directly with something she wears. I heard a staff member mention it in the staff room.

For students who use it, the technology is beneficial. My greatest challenge is awareness/exposure. Most of us are not trained or don't even think about offering it to students. Classroom teachers leave it to SPED. I look forward to learning more about it this semester.