Over the past 10 years, the number of U.S. students enrolled in special education programs rose 30 percent.
In fact, the National Education Association found nearly every general classroom across the country includes at least one student with a disability. As the number of these students continues to grow, teachers and educators are increasingly turning to assistive technologies to help students across all ranges of ability learn more effectively and reach their full potential.
Assistive technologies can meet the needs of students at all grade and skill levels. Teachers can use the following six categories to determine how to best make a difference in their students’ lives, in and out of the classroom.
1. Reminder/Time Management Apps Keep Students on Track
Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be easily distracted, making it hard for them to finish homework and other tasks. Teachers can use a time management app to help students create tasks, specify the time they need to complete them and trigger a countdown of the minutes or hours left for getting it done.
This can help motivate learners to complete assignments, better focus on tasks and avoid procrastinating. A vibrating watch that reminds students to refocus on an assignment is also a great tool for prompting them to get back on task without having a teacher step in.
2. Text-to-Speech E-Books and Audiobooks Make Reading Easier
Text-to-speech assistive technology is designed to help children with visual impairment or other disabilities that impact their ability to read. With a simple click of a button or touch of a finger, TTS can take words on a computer or other digital device and convert them to audio. For sighted students, this technology promotes comprehension and enhances overall literacy by allowing them to concentrate on the meaning of words instead of focusing their brain power on trying to sound out the words.
Some e-book reading apps also offer dyslexia-friendly fonts that can help readers differentiate between letters and prevent words from jumbling together.
Audiobooks are another resource teachers can use to make reading more accessible for students who struggle to make sense of words on a page. Audiobooks allow students to hear sounds of letters and letter patterns that form words, which can increase vocabulary and reading comprehension. Teachers can use audiobook apps to provide access to school and public library digital collections anytime, anywhere. Audiobooks are useful tools for students with learning disabilities, beginning readers, and students for whom English is a second language.
3. FM Systems Help Students Stay Engaged
Students with hearing loss have difficulty understanding and processing all of the sounds that surround them in the classroom. FM systems use radio broadcast technology to connect the teacher and student through audio. Teachers talk into a microphone, transmitting their voice directly to a child's hearing aid.
This allows the student to hear the teacher more clearly without interference from classmates or other background noises. It also reduces reverberation, sound distortion and listening fatigue, improving voice clarity and understanding.
4. Gamification Offers an Alternative Approach to Learning
With the popularity of video games, teachers and educators are beginning to embrace tools that can introduce new and innovative educational games into their curriculum.
Many students have grown up playing video games that involve tasks, levels, challenges and immediate feedback, so this is a natural way to engage them. Teachers can tap into the enjoyment children get from these games by using education technology tools that turn learning into play to make it easier for students to grasp concepts and help them become more active learners.
Gamification makes learning exciting for students, delivering interactivity in a variety of subjects and providing a sense of progress with rewards or points for completing tasks. Such tools include reading apps that offer interactive elements and video game–inspired achievements, including badges for students who finish their reading homework and rewards for looking up words and taking notes.
5. Graphic Organizers Presents Information More Effectively
Graphic organizers are a great tool for helping students organize their thinking. Taking the form of web, concept or mind maps, these tools combine text and visuals to show the connections between ideas. This will make large amounts of information easier for every student to understand. It can be applied across curricula to help guide students’ thinking and enhance learning and understanding of the subject matter. As a result, students will retain what they have learned for longer periods of time by organizing information visually in a way they can understand.
6. Experiential Learning Helps Students Retain Content
Experiential learning, or learning by doing, is a practical and engaging way to motivate easily distracted students. Research has shown that we remember 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, and up to 90 percent of what we do or simulate.
Experiential learning projects allow teachers to shift lessons from abstract concepts to practical experiences that can help students better understand and retain information.
While experiential learning is not a new teaching method, educators are beginning to use innovative VR and AR technologies to enhance it. These technologies provide unlimited immersive learning opportunities, removing the constraints of time and geography, bringing students into contact with environments they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
VR and AR technologies can also help students develop communication skills and critical thinking abilities, absorb information faster and foster creativity and collaboration.
Using these assistive educational technologies, educators can ensure students have the academic skills, social development and motivation to achieve academic success.