Technology Integration Specialist, Lawrence School
Sagamore Hills, Ohio
It is hard to not get caught up with the latest and greatest tech tool. The shiny package, the quickness and ease of PayPal, two-day shipping, etc… Now on top of all those benefits, add being a teenager in the instant gratification generation, and you can see our problem. This year, I have been focused on changing our view of tool driven to task driven. In addition to not wanting to get caught up with the name brand of the latest gadgets, we are also trying to purposefully implement a specific tool and how to use it into our daily lesson. We would never tell children to open their textbooks and then expect them to find the page number and heading of what we were reading. We provide the page number, along with wait time to get to the right page, as well as notes and other supports that they may need. Why do we not practice the same methods when we are using assistive technology with our students?
To be task driven, we are no longer instructing our students to use Read&Write Gold to read their tests. Instead, we are telling our students, “This test is on content that is difficult to decode. Use the screenshot reader tool so that you can listen to the questions and focus on the content.” It’s leaving the actual task of reading with our eyes -which a lot of our students struggle with- and focusing on the academic content. Not only that, our directions enable the student to be able to use the specific tool that they need and learn why they are being encouraged to use it. This can be a very hard concept for our students, especially if our teachers are not consistent with delivering those expectations each day. Assistive Tech doesn’t work if we brush off the keyboard once a month and say we provided keyboarding. Assistive Technology is a skill that is practiced and delivered with the purpose of enhancing the academic content skill that the teacher is wanting to enforce. This teaching strategy is a tool that requires directions, practice, reminders, and meaningful opportunities to use the tool.
Oftentimes, the excitement of a new technological tool causes educators to lose focus on the original goal, which was what the tool was supposed to support. I encourage our teachers and families to make a list of the tasks that the student needs to improve. In those discussions, after reviewing the list of tasks, we often find opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge in other meaningful assessments. We have even learned that some of our students need additional academic support -not necessarily with technology- which leads to how the whole class would benefit from those supports as well. There are still a few students that, after an assistive tech consultation, would benefit from a specific AT tool, but they also need supports a,b,c... I am yet to give an AT recommendation that is solely based on simply learning how to use the tool without a specific academic content goal it is supporting.
What I have learned this year is that we have to continue to have this conversation. We need to demonstrate this way of thinking, discuss it, share and collaborate with others about it as well. The more we can be task focused and not tool focused, the stronger our conversations will be. Ultimately then, more opportunities present themselves so as to have thoughtful, purposeful, and responsible implementation of assistive technology.
Once our society is more task driven, then we can start practicing implementation of technology -not assistive- so that our students are not an afterthought in content driven classes. The more mainstream meaningful technology implementation becomes, the more it benefits everyone in the class.
Take aways from this article:
You would never ask a teacher to build a lesson over a box of crayons - the same is true with technology tools!
Stay task focused and recognize that you may need a variety of tools to support those tasks depending on the students and their environment!