At Long Elementary in Harlingen, TX, where I teach 4th grade, more than 72 percent of our students are considered economically disadvantaged, while nearly 10 percent are English language learners, and 11 percent are special ed. When you have this mix of students, the flexibility afforded by technology to differentiate lessons based on student needs is invaluable. It also helps that many of these tools are visual, which can not only help students with additional needs, but will also help other students grasp concepts more thoroughly, as well.

These are the tools that I use in my classroom to ensure every student’s needs are being met:

1. Bloomz is a free mobile app that includes every feature teachers need to effectively communicate with parents, including conference and volunteer sign-ups, direct messaging, and a translation feature for non-English speaking parents. Teachers can also send home photos and videos from the school day, as well as reminders about upcoming events and additional resources to help with homework assignments.

Why it’s essential:

Parental involvement gives students a greater chance for academic success. For instance, before Bloomz, it was difficult to ensure all students completed their homework, but with Bloomz, the parents always get the homework post before the kids even get home for the day. There have been a couple of instances where kids have tried to “forget” homework at school, but the parents drove them right back up to school to retrieve it.

Often, non-English speaking parents can feel disconnected from the classroom, because they are not able to access information like native English speakers can. Using the translation feature, I am able to reach all parents with a single message.

I can use the app to get parents involved with student learning at home. I recently did a treasure hunt competition with the help of parents. The first 10 students to submit pictures of the three types of angles found at home or in public would receive free homework passes. The kids loved it, and so did the parents.

(Next page: 2 more differentiated learning tech essentials)

2. Kidspiration is a learning software designed for grades K­–5 that uses visual learning to teach math, reading, writing, and thinking skills in a cross-curricular environment. There is a visual mode, a writing mode, and a math mode that helps student understand concepts like place value and geometric thinking.

Why it’s essential:

When you have a diverse classroom full of students with different learning styles and skill levels, it is important to have tools that can be modified based on these factors. Kidspiration activities are highly visual, making it a powerful tool to use with ELL students, as well as any student who may need additional support in a given subject. The cross-curricular nature of these activities also helps root student learning in real-life situations and thinking skills.

3. Popplet is a virtual idea map, available on the iPad and the web, that students can use to form connections between concepts in a visual way.

Why it’s essential:

The web-based format helps students connect their learning from one area to another. Students can input facts, thoughts, and images, making it a very visual way to form these connections. This can be helpful for ELL students, since they can form these connections at their own pace and see a whole idea laid out before their eyes.

These flexible tools can be used to enhance learning for students with different skill levels, learning styles, and native languages, all important factors in our increasingly diverse classrooms.

About the Author:

Camille Cavazos teaches 4th grade at Long Elementary in Harlingen, TX.