It warms my heart and brings me joy to see that glowing joy on a Special Education teachers’ face exclaiming, “We can DO that?”, “I didn’t know that was even A THING”, “I never even THOUGHT of it”, “NO WAY!!!”… and the unforgettable, “This is like a miracle!”
This new phenomena is spurred by some mandatory PD that all of our teachers in grades 3-5 needed to attend this month. I was teaching them the wonders of Microsoft’s OneNote Class Notebook. That in itself was an extraordinary mind-blowing tool for teachers who JUST entered the world of teaching in a 1:1 environment. For now, I’m thrilled to report on an unexpected byproduct of those PD sessions.
The Special Education teachers (and many Basic Skills and even general education teachers) were blown away by the Learning Tools that are embedded in Microsoft’s OneNote and Class Notebook. In the Learning Tools, there is a remarkable ribbon tool called “Immersive Reader”. I am both a former Special Ed teacher and a crazy-avid EdTech junkie, so I thought it was maybe just me who was awestruck by the way these tools make text accessible to all students. The text-to-speech alone can bring tears to my eyes when I see it being used independently by a struggling reader. The other options – font size, spacing, and color readability options can also be set by the learner to meet his/her own learning needs. I ADORE that students may choose to speed up the reading voice or slow it down if processing is difficult! I marvel when a student who has difficulty decoding can turn on the syllabication option and just read syllable-by-syllable. Most of all – and I exclaim this with joyous fervor in my PD sessions – this is not something that a teacher has to “push out” to students or that draws any attention to that student! The students who need it can just “turn it on” themselves – determining for themselves when they need those accommodations – and they don’t look any different than anyone else in the class! Students can go to the same OneNote page as everyone else, and then discreetly slip in a pair of earbuds, click on the Learning Tools tab, and make the learning accessible without ever leaving the page (or the group, or the classroom!)
I also showed our teachers that their students will also soon have the Dictation feature available (speech to text) as soon as our district upgrades us to Windows 10. I think a few of the teachers may or may not have fallen out of their chairs. I know that I heard audible gasps. One teacher threw her hand over her mouth and mumbled, “Oh, all those years we wasted money and time on that OTHER speech to text program, and now all of our kids will have it RIGHT HERE, RIGHT in their own OneNote notebooks and not having to go out to another program.” Another teacher exclaimed, “This is like a miracle!” I LOVE that these teachers get as emotional about this as I do. That’s exactly how I feel!
Speaking of miracle, this is where something pretty magical began to happen! Special Ed teachers – and some other speciality teachers, and Child Study Team members – started asking for more sessions just for them that dealt specifically with Adaptive Technology! They wanted more time with the Learning Tools and to explore samples and brainstorm ways that these could be used. Nothing – NOTHING – warms the cockles of my heart like teachers who are craving personalized PD that will help them help their students…so I created this to start:
These teachers are especially fascinated with Microsoft’s Audio Recorder, which is a standard part of ALL OneNote notebooks and Class Notebooks…sitting right there in the middle of the Insert Ribbon! I showed them about 10 ways just that one little microphone tool could be used by both teachers AND students to make learning accessible, productive, and fun! They played and came up with much better ideas than I had. We researched and Googled and Pinterest-ed even more practical ideas…and the time flew!
We started with 1/2 day PD, and I’m thrilled to say that it wasn’t enough. I never even got to demo all the the items on my very short list above – and I had about a dozen others on backup reserve in case we had more time! As the teachers learned and shared and brainstormed, it gave ME even more ideas about things I want to show them…to teach them…to learn with them! Going forward, those teachers have inspired a much longer list – I’ve begun compiling a list of apps, websites (like Buncee…see photo caption above), and simple general computer user features that I’ll be offering and sharing at all my schools…and beyond. I have a bunch of creative “PD Delivery Options” – newsletters, online resources, screencasts, virtual meetings with screensharing, Tech Playdates, Morning Munchies & Lunch Bunch mini-sessions, etc. – so that all of my in-district teachers have diverse options for accessibility, too!
We are all SO very lucky to be at such a great and powerful time in regard to educational technology. Technology isn’t an answer or a cure-all, and it needs to be planned well and done right, but OH, the possibilities! Our teachers are lucky – there is so much that is FREE to us these days, and there are so many helpful tools embedded right in the sites and apps we use every day. Our students are lucky – to be learning how to learn with technology that assists them when they need it. As for me, I’m quite sure that I am the luckiest of all – to have Special Education teachers with real heart and sincere ambition, who crave and ask for professional development for adaptive technologies to make life the best it can be for their exceptional learners!
As always, I really love to hear your thoughts. I need YOUR help to grow my list with great ideas to share with teachers! What simple adaptive technology tools to you use and love? What are some of your favorite general computer use tricks (my teachers even loved just learning to zoom in on the screen and how to increase/decrease brightness…those little things matter)? What do you wish you knew about Adaptive Technology? How do you get/find PD that works for you? And my favorite question of all is…what’s your coolest AT tip or trick?
Reach out to me at @kerszi on Twitter, drop a note right here in my blog comments, or follow my Facebook page “Integration Innovation” and share your thoughts & ideas there! I’m also kerszi on Voxer if you’d rather strike up a more private or conversational chat. Thanks so much!