Best in Tech: Special Needs
Our education experts show what tools they use for special needs students.
Looking for ways to meet the needs of exceptional students and state and district inclusion directives? Our expert educators share ways to help create the least-restrictive special needs environments. You may find what works for special education can work for general population students as well.
Reviewer: Cindy Bania, assistant superintendent of exceptional student education and student services, Pinellas County Schools, Florida
Program We Chose: Kurzweil 3000 educational program
How Schools Use It: Kurzweil 3000 is used for students with substantial impairments and students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities. At home or at school, the program helps students understand passages of text by allowing them to hear and read the words at their own speed.
Goals: We wanted to make sure all students could access our curriculum. We chose Kurzweil 3000 because it allowed us to make accommodations for many students, regardless of need, with features such as text-to-speech, and the ability to manipulate, cut out, highlight, and enlarge text.
Response: It helps build student confidence. Our district is very happy with Kurzweil 3000.
Learning Curve: Kurzweil 3000 is user-friendly and easy to learn. The icons are large and easy for a student to locate and navigate independently. Once the text, document, or test is scanned and edited, all students really need to know is how to click on the section of the page they want to have read to them-then press Play.
What's Ahead: We will continue to expand our use of Kurzweil 3000. We want to support learning for students who aren't fluent in reading. Our next implementation will be in other schools that have a large number of struggling students.
Reviewer: Laura Ryan, administrator, interventions, Napa Valley Unified School District, California
Program We Chose: System 44
How Schools Use It: We use System 44 for third-grade students as prevention, targeting kids who are basic and above. Student in grades 4-10 use the program, but we focus most on fifth and eighth grades, so that they can finish System 44 before moving to the next level.
Goals: We decided on System 44 to support students with reading because we believe it allows them to accelerate their learning.
Response: There is a lot of heavy lifting in the first four to eight topics. After that, the kids seem to start fast-
tracking and having fun. Special ed referrals are down overall. Teachers are eager to be trained in System 44, and see that their students are different learners because of the program.
Learning Curve: Professional development is important, and includes start-up, follow-up, cadre training, and coaching for both teachers and administrators. I believe there needs to be a district coach, and it would be helpful to have that person attend the summer institute. In addition, there need to be district champions who support all stakeholders and review teachers, sites, and district data.
What's Ahead: Next year, we will add three more schools. We are thinking of adding System 44 and Read 180 licenses in our adult school to support parents who are English learners.
Reviewer: Jane Cordero, coordinator of autism services, School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Program We Chose: VizZle visual learning solutions
How Schools Use It: VizZle is used for students with autism spectrum disorders. The Web-based program lets teachers work on material at school or at home. They can search keywords and get hundreds of lessons, games, and material resources. Many teachers use it as a way to involve parents, assigning activities to be done at home on family computers.
Goals: We wanted to save our teachers preparation time. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time preparing materials to meet the visual needs of autism spectrum disorder students. Whether it is preparing a visual schedule, choice board, or picture motivator, it has to be done outside of the actual teaching time.
Response: Teachers say that it makes their life easier, and that the kids love it, too.
Learning Curve: It takes a little work up front to get familiar with the site- but once accustomed, the sky is the limit. All I needed to do was identify the personnel who would be using the program, and the rest was done by the VizZle team. I continue to coordinate with VizZle advisors to provide continuing professional development.
What's Ahead: I'd like to get more teachers using the program to its capacity. We'd like to create more lessons that relate directly to our district's curriculum.
Reviewer: Maureen Joy, assistive technology facilitator, Community Unit School District 303, St. Charles, Illinois
Program We Chose: TextHelp's Read&Write Gold
How Schools Use It: A toolbar floats atop any application and provides text-to-speech, word prediction, and other writing options. We use it with middle and high school students who would benefit from software support in their literacy development. Read&Write Gold Mobile is available for student home use to meet IEP goals.
Goals: Special ed students were reticent to use any assistive tools that made them stand out. We needed an invisible tool that students could access in any school environment. Read&Write Gold offered an affordable solution for every computer.
Response: Administrators are very supportive of Read&Write Gold, not only for students with special education needs, but for any student who learns better with support. Teachers like that it really helps students become more independent. Students find the tools easy to use, and parents appreciate the support it provides.
Learning Curve: Because Read&Write Gold is a toolbar of simple icons that are used to turn on tools, students can work in familiar software, such as Microsoft Word, yet have the supports to access materials and literacy skills. It has video tutorials that support students, teachers, and paraprofessionals.
What's Ahead: We will upgrade to the latest version of Read&Write Gold, which has new tools.
Reviewer: Gracie Whitley, special education coordinator, Garland ISD, Texas
Program We Chose: Review360
How Schools Use It: Review360 allows staff to easily document via wireless device the effectiveness of interventions, to track student progress on behavioral and academic objectives, and to get data that supports the recommendations made to the IEP committee. It also provides Web-based staff development modules, where teachers can receive training they can use to address behavioral challenges.
Goals: We needed to improve outcomes for students in behavioral and academic areas. Along with that, we wanted to improve the quality of data collected and promote the use of better interventions and strategies.
Response: Easy-to-read data reports and charts help parents see their child's progress on objectives and why specific recommendations are being made. We are able to monitor overall effectiveness of interventions and students' progress toward mastery of IEP objectives.
Learning Curve: Teachers report that it is easy to use. They can quickly see student progress toward mastery of objectives on the data charts. The Web-based data is easy to analyze and interpret, and it keeps track of data needed for IEP committee meetings. Customer support from PSS assists with implementation in school and at home.
What's Ahead: We plan to expand its use to other schools.
Reviewer: Jane H. Ford, program specialist for Speech and Language Impaired Program, Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Florida
Program We Chose: Livescribe Smartpen
How Schools Use It: In order to assess a student's oral narrative skills, the speech and language pathologist reads a selected book to the student. The student retells the story, and an analysis is made of the student's retell. The retell is recorded using the Smartpen, so that the speech and language pathologist can go back and listen multiple times if needed.
Goals: We needed technology to record and replay student samples that was easy to use and high quality. After researching several options, the speech and language program chose to purchase the Livescribe Smartpen.
Response: After three months of using the Livescribe Smartpen in our narrative-progress monitoring project, 87 percent of the speech and language pathologists found the Smartpen to be an easy-to-use, fun asset.
Learning Curve: Our speech and language pathologists were encouraged to complete the Livescribe online tutorial. They began using the Smartpen almost immediately as part of the narrative-progress monitoring project.
What's Ahead: We plan to continue using the Smartpen as part of our progress monitoring of oral narrative skills. In addition, some of our speech and language pathologists have shared that they are using the Smartpen in therapy with students.