4 excellent special-needs learning tools

21st century tools that should be used daily with the goal of increasing spoken and written expression for special-needs students

special-needs-toolsWriting is a challenge for many students. This is especially true for students of diverse backgrounds and students with identified disabilities who are increasingly accessing college. If students are to become successful writers by the time they enter college, then all faculty who teach diverse students need to begin infusing writing into their courses in manageable, student-centered ways.

By using Web 2.0 technologies, apps, and web-based support tools, we look to increase students’ written expression both in volume and skill. Here are 21st century tools that should be used daily with the goal of increasing spoken and written expression for diverse students.

Tip 1: Use Twitter as a response device.

Twitter is an open source, free, social network tool through which even the most reluctant writers can take a chance on submitting 140 characters a day on any topic that you are looking to shape. For writing longer papers, Twitter can provide students with ways to concisely organize their thoughts into 140 character blocks of text. The combination of many strings of Tweets on a specific topic can easily serve as an outline, initial writing exercise, or even the “meat” of the body of a paper that you construct overtime.

Tip 2: Use Pic Lits to get started.

Pic Lits is open source and can allow any student to write a description on top of any photograph. The benefit of this tool is that it supports students with Parts of Speech while providing suggested word choices.

Tip 3: Use YouTube as an alternate way to represent new material.

YouTube is open access, free, and gives students a varied way to express their thoughts. If students are encouraged to “talk it out,” they may begin expressing learning through writing at a greater rate, especially if you suggest students learn to dictate their thoughts for later writing use.

Having students speak out what they have learned is a great way to get them invested. Your videos do not need to be long or perfect to get your point across. With technological advances such as the smartphone, access to video technology continues to get easier for the majority of students in all K-12 classes to publish with the press of one button.

Tip 4: Using Voice Thread to create group products.

Voice Thread is a $79 K-12 individual teacher license for up to 50 students. It enables you to have a conversation centered on digital media. Students are able to respond to a question or create a product within a group setting using video clips, sound bites, and images to enhance what the students are trying to say. This is a more engaging way to ask students to produce a group project with the embedded goals of overall articulation of ideas in the form of writing and speaking with mixed multimedia.

These tools offer support for defeating writers’ block, which is often a product of students being overwhelmed during the writing process and that affects students who lack strategic processing skills. Students who struggle with processing typically do not complete their written work. Keep in mind that there is an app or web tool for any goal in expression that will engage and support all writers. Struggling students will be able to creating quality products with the deployment of these 4 basic tips.

Kelly Grillo, PhD, serves as the Vice President on the board of the Florida Council for Exceptional Children and is the Director of Government and Education Solutions at TBD Partners.

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