Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Using Instructional Technology to Provide Modifications and Extra Support

As we know, reading and writing are often huge content barriers to special ed students, ELLs, and others.  If you have access to technology, there are some easy tricks to help differentiate, and break down that barrier with your students.

Some students who are supposed to have content material read, or other things read, dictionary available, or have trouble writing and typing, there are a few very simple tools to help.  There are likely more, but here are three of my favorites to start with if students have access to a Chromebook, laptop, or other technology.

1) Google Drive Voice Typing.  Some students (such as my son), have great ideas, but really struggle with getting those ideas down on paper.  He has a hard time with writing, and is working on typing, but he's only in 4th grade and this is coming along slowly.  When he has to work on a written assignment at home there is always much crying and upset.  Then I let him do it this way, and it was AMAZING! He could get his ideas down painlessly. He still had to go back and edit some punctuation, but it was SUCH  difference.

This is also a great tool for students who may have an injury and have a hard time writing.

In google drive (such as a google doc file), under tools is 'voice typing.'  Just hit voice typing, and, as long as you have a microphone, you can speak what you want to type.  Even without a built in microphone, there are many cheap cell phone earbuds with microphones.

These extensions both allow text on a page to be read aloud. 

Speak it reads aloud any text, but only a few sentences or a paragraph at a time.  That's all it does. You install it as a chrome extension, highlight the text you want to read, and it reads it.

Google Read and Write is similar, but has a few more options.  These may or may not be something you want.  For example, if you are having a quiz read, or a graded assignment, you may simply want it read.  Google Read and Write allows words to be highlighted and defined, hear text translated, create voice notes as you read, get suggestions as you type, Some of these features are paid after 30 days, and some remain free. However, teachers can get a free premium account subscription by registering as a teacher.  The free and paid versions of Google Read and Write are compared here.

If some students are listening to text being read with headphones it is invisible to other students, and a great way to differentiate. 

I hope these tips are helpful, and I'd love to hear what other extensions or hacks do you know that can be used to help support students and differentiate for ELL's, special ed students, or anyone else. 

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Favorite posts of 2015

Just a quick link as we start the year to my top 3 blog posts of the past year. 

3. Using Google Forms in the classroom 

2. My second most popular post is tips for setting up your classroom. If you are doing semester classes, this could be very useful now.

And....my top blog post of the year one of my all time favorite labs. Leaf stomata lab! Such simple household materials, and so cool to see! 

Hope you enjoy! 

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Online Courses - What Can We Learn?

This year I have taken a different position in my district, and I'm learning a lot.  I am working for the IT department, and am traveling to different schools, working with students who are one extreme or the other.  Either they are taking AP Courses, or they are taking credit recovery courses (courses they have already failed, and they are behind on credits).  What they all have in common is that they are working on those courses online.  The district has purchased some mostly pre-packaged courses, on the brainhoney platform, and the students are scheduled into a computer lab to work on their courses. They are scheduled into a lab together, regardless of what subject course they are working on.  Subject teachers rotate through the lab on a daily basis doing a combination of helping students, and managing the lab.  Students will have face-to-face contact with their subject area teacher once a week, and we are available by phone and email in the meantime.

For me personally, this is a much less stressful position, and I am greatly enjoying the new balance in my life.  Educationally, however, I think there are a lot of pros/cons, and I would love to share them with you, and see if anyone has had similar feedback.


  • Students can move at their own pace. The entire course is designed before they start.  If they want to move faster, they are welcome to do so.  When they complete the course with a passing grade, they earn the credit.  If they are moving slower, that's also on them.
  • Since most of the coursework is designed to be independent, it really allows me to spend my time one-on-one, or in small groups with students who are having trouble, or need extra support.
  • Again, since the basic course is already existing, I can spend much of my time and energy working on scaffolding materials, parent phone calls, and improvements.
  • Since its online, I spend very minimal time at the copier.
  • Online discussions and interactions allow everyone an equal chance to participate, even though who may be quiet in class.
  • Students who are absent automatically can login and pick up where they left off, no more keeping track of what students are missing. 
  • Since its pre-existing, I can't directly modify the content, for example to allow different reading levels.  The same course content gets sent out to all students.  I can make additional guided notes, videos, etc to assist, but the basic content stands.  For some students, the reading level is really a difficulty.
  • From a science standpoint, the idea of teaching a science class, in a computer lab is very strange. The labs are either computer simulations, or labs that can be performed independently with 'basic household materials.'  I have given students the option to do the hands-on labs with me, and some have, but generally I am not doing labs with students.
  • I'm not sure that online classes build community, social interaction, and communication skills like a regular classroom.
  • As much as the class is self-paced, this is very difficult for many students as they need the more immediate incentive of something being collected at the end of the class period.
Most colleges are now requiring students to take at least one online course, and it is most often the course which students fail.  Like it or not, education seems to be going more towards online coursework.  What lessons can we take from this to help our students and ourselves in the regular classroom? 

If you have similar thoughts or experiences/reactions, please comment below
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Friday, December 11, 2015

Day 5 of Science Teacher Gifts

Day 5:  HUGE BUNDLE giveaway from many science teachers at TpT.  This link will be good through the weekend! 

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Day 3 of Holiday Cheer

Day 3: 20% discount on my entire store, today only.  Click here to go to my store

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Day 2 of Holiday Cheer

Day 2: 25% off Bundles today only!! 

Click here to get to the bundles in my store. 

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