ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN THE STANDARD CURRICULUM
By Cynthia Warger
technology (AT) is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or product,
whether acquired commercially, off the shelf, modified, or customized,
that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities
of individuals with disabilities. (P.L. 101-407, The Technology
Related Assistance Act of 1988). The 1997 reauthorization of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) emphasizes the
importance of technology and the need to share cutting-edge information
about advances in the field. The law requires that assistive technology
devices and services be considered for all children identified as
having an exceptional education need. These amendments mark a significant
shift in how educators view assistive technology - which previously
had been viewed almost exclusively within a rehabilitative or remediative
context. Now, within the context of planning individualized education
plans (IEP), technology is being considered as a viable tool for
expanding access to the general education curriculum. However, there
is still much work to be done to ensure that IEP teams consider
the maximum benefits of technology use.
Assistive Technology in the IEP
The new requirements in IDEA '97 to consider assistive technology
devices and services for all students with disabilities create a
massive task for school districts. Already, special educators across
the country are reporting an increased number of referrals for children
with mild disabilities in which the issue is access to the curriculum
and productivity once in the curriculum. School-based professionals
are finding that the "fix-it" approach taken with traditional assistive
technology applications is not appropriate for these new types of
technology referrals. More often than not, instructional issues
are at the heart of these referrals--they require educators to start
with the curriculum and then ask how tools might assist students
in achieving the outcomes. Thus, school districts are searching
for tools that they can use to ensure that IEP teams meet the intent
and the spirit of the law. To assist school districts with this
goal, Gayl Bowser and Penny Reed have developed the Education TECH
Point system, which educators can use as a tool to develop effective
assistive technology delivery systems. The TECH Point system offers
educators a strategy for identifying specific points in the planning
process where AT should be considered. The TECH Points are:
Extended assessment questions
Plan development questions
Periodic review questions
At each point, questions are posed which reflect issues that must
be addressed. The TECH Point structure provides a way to effectively
organize and monitor AT utilization while enabling programs to tailor
activities to match each student's needs.
Level Support for AT
States can support local education agencies in meeting these new
requirements to consider assistive technology in each child's IEP.
To ensure that technology benefits children with disabilities, states
need to implement policies and practices that support its effective
use. Louis Danielson, Director of the Division of Research to Practice
at OSEP, suggests that state directors of special education put
into place a clear policy on assistive technology that includes:
statement of desired AT outcomes
Policies for delivering AT services
Staff development and technical assistance policies
that the technology plan includes research-based practices
for interdisciplinary involvement
for purchasing, using, and managing equipment
for obtaining adequate funding
for communicating these policies
Access to the Curriculum: Promising Practices
As a result of the new law, technology is increasingly being recommended
to help students with cognitive disabilities achieve in a challenging
curriculum. Technology that supports students in accessing the curriculum
does not need to be expensive or complicated to make a difference
in learning. Both low tech and high tech applications have been
used successfully to ensure students' success in the general education
curriculum. What do we know about the positive benefits of using
technology in academic subject areas to help children with disabilities
achieve to high standards? The following research-based applications
have been selected to show how technology is being integrated into
curriculum and instruction to support a wide range of student abilities.
Michigan State University researcher Carol Sue Englert has developed
a web-based curriculum for elementary students with mild disabilities
that enhances literacy learning, particularly writing. The web site
called TELE-Web (which stands for Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments
on the Web) serves as a literacy development environment. The web
site provides tools that help students develop performance abilities
in reading and writing, in addition to independent learning skills.
is set up in the classroom as four central environments--writing
room, reading room, library, and publishing room. In each environment,
students are able to receive cognitive and social support. The following
example shows how TELE-Web was integrated into a fourth grade unit
TELE-Writing Room. A KWL (what I know, want to know, have learned
about) activity on castles; retelling stories in one's own words;
creating cognitive webs; play writing; story writing.
TELE-Reading Room. Castle spelling words; castle chat.
TELE-Library. Internet search on castles; castle word-sort;
email to people knowledgeable about castles in Poland and Scotland.
TELE-Publishing Room. Stories for editing and comments; journal
of castle life contrasts.
research suggests that with TELE-Web children are more motivated
to write and that they are writing longer and more descriptive stories.
Access to the Science Curriculum
Judy Zorfass at the Education Development Center, Inc., in Massachusetts
is finding that technology tools can be integrated into challenging
science curriculum and instruction to ensure access for students
with disabilities. Zorfass' Project ASSIST (All Students in Supported
Inquiry-Based Science with Technology) brings together teachers,
science specialists, special educators, and technology specialists
on a regular basis to plan, act, and reflect upon student learning
in science, in inclusive classrooms, supported by technology.
activities. During the planning phase the classroom teacher
and the specialists develop a lesson containing clear science
learning goals. The lesson is related to the science standards,
includes modifications for students with disabilities, and is
supported by technology where appropriate.
instruction. The teacher implements the lesson, however, some
of the team members also participate. Their role is to closely
observe and gather data on children's responses to the lesson,
as well as assist with instruction when appropriate.
on progress. The reflection phase occurs soon after the lesson.
Each team member shares the data he or she has gathered regarding
student learning. The teacher and the specialists describe,
interpret, and reflect on the students' work as it relates to
the criteria that have been set.
more information about Project ASSIST, check out Zorfass's web site
Concept Development in Mathematics
John Woodward of the University of Puget Sound in Washington has
been studying how technology can be integrated into mathematical
problem-solving activities to provide access to students with cognitive
traditional math story problem lessons where students read a problem
in text and are expected to calculate answers, Woodward uses computer-based
spreadsheet programs in conjunction with real-life problems. Spreadsheets
are an excellent tool because they model or provide visual representations
of the problem, crunch the calculations--which is a tedious turn-off
for many youngsters, but especially true for students with disabilities--and
thereby focus the students' attention on understanding the mathematical
operations in a real-life context. Spreadsheets free students, who
heretofore had difficulty with math, to keep asking questions, to
continue analyzing the visual representations of the data, and eventually
to use their higher level thinking skills to formulate conclusions.
Woodward has successfully field tested numerous lessons using his
research-based approach. For a look at selected lessons, check out
his web site at
Elements to Consider in Implementing Technology·
Locate equipment where instruction and learning are taking place.
Technology needs to be in the classroom and accessible to the
low tech applications whenever possible.
the use of technology into lessons in a purposeful and meaningful
Have the same equipment used in the classroom available in the
child's home to promote continuity of learning, if possible.
training and technical support to classroom teachers initially.
When the technology is available in the home, provide training
to family members.
the initial fiscal and human resources as an investment that
the child will continue to benefit from in subsequent years.
Don't reinvent the wheel each year--when possible use the technology
that is already in place.
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mathematical literacy in secondary classrooms. TEACHING Exceptional
J., & Baxter, J. (1997). The effects of an innovative approach to
mathematics on academically low achieving students in inclusive
settings. Exceptional Children, 63(3), 373-388.
Zorfass, J. (1998). Successful Science for Every Student: How Technology
Helps (video-based professional development package). Newton, MA:
Education Development Center, Inc.
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