Adaptive & Assistive Technologies

How can we differentiate and scaffold for all learners?

Why should we adapt our teaching, and how might technology help?

In the last twenty years, education has shifted frequently. While some argue that we are the same that we were back in the 60s, others know that our classrooms have become hubs of data collection, skill-based instruction, web 2.0 tools, and learning styles. However, some things don't change - our population and our goals. As at the beginning, teachers want to educate all students and make a difference in their abilities. For students in Special Education, the world of technology provides a myriad of new assistances for both the teacher and learner, enabling us (for maybe the first time) to truly bring the content and skills to the level the learner needs. Organizations like CAST, with their Universal Design for Learning guidelines, point out that these students need 1) multiple means of representation, 2) multiple means of action and expression, and 3) multiple means of engagement. Below, educators will find a list of various technologies sorted by student need (based on ability).


Cognitive Difficulties

Cognitive Difficulties

As pointed out by Robyler (407) in Integrating Education Technology into Teaching, students with mild cognitive disabilities are the most common in the classroom and often times benefit from resources used with low-level readers and writers. They need practice with sight reading, vocabulary decoding, text-to-speech products, and word prediction software and talking word processors. Such applications aid students at their level, with basic and focused activities.


Physical Difficulties

Physical Difficulties

Students with physical disabilities in the English classroom may need assistance in reading and writing still, cognitively, but what may be most difficult is the actual initial step of reading and writing. The best resources would be text to speech software, audio and video of lesson plans/activities, and virtual or software-based assistance for typing/creating/reading. In addition to those listed above, eye-tracking software could also be useful for students as they read and perhaps question the text but who cannot perhaps move their heads or turn the page.

Sensory Difficulties

Sensory Difficulties

Often students with sensory disabilities may not have issues with content and comprehension, so instead, these assistive technologies aid students in accessing the text at the same level of everyone else. Many times, these technologies are rather expensive and may not be content-specific but instead are disability-specific for use in every class. Most school districts will provide such technologies and access as the student disability requires, but if not, some of the above technologies are more than affordable and useful for student assistance.


At Risk Students

At-Risk Students

Many times at-risk students may come to the classroom with even more baggage than the average student, might not have the home support others have for being successful in school, and might suffer from below level comprehension from years of such issues. As a result, at-risk students tend to need assistance in organizing, time management, and maybe even reading comprehension and practice. With the inexpensive games and apps, teachers can help these students become more independent in their own learning and feel successful, adding to some much-needed self-confidence.


Gifted and Talented Students

Gifted and Talented Students

Creativity-based and independence-promoting activities and technologies benefit gifted and talented students regardless of content area. With creative presentation platforms, students can research content with virtual museums and deeply discuss literature with professors or authors on Twitter and then present their findings with a collaborative presentation platform. Not only will it contribute to deep thinking, but gifted and talented students can also practice their communication and social skills with such programs.