I have had the opportunity to work with students with disabilities in an inclusion classroom for about ten years, and for nearly all of those years I have been in a school where every student has a laptop.
With technology at their fingertips, a priority for me became trying to find ways to use that technology to reach my students with disabilities. I have learned a lot over the years thanks to some amazing students and co-teachers. Here are eight of my favorite tech tips for differentiating in an inclusion classroom.
1. Use Technology to Make Classwork More Engaging
In this day and age, our students come to school expecting interaction and technology because most of them have it in other areas of their life. Being the “sage on the stage” that many of us had in school is just not as effective for the students of today. Through technology, we can offer our students endless opportunities to manipulate, interact with and engage in every area of their learning.
For example, on the free site Storybird, students can build a book using simple tools and ready-made illustrations, rather than just writing their story on paper. For science, Discovery Ed has a multitude of activities in all areas where students can watch movie clips and then build, model, test and discover new information. For math, technology can offer a game or interactive site for any skill you would ever want to teach, which will beat a worksheet in student interest any day.
In the end, finding resources to engage students may be the most powerful tech tip for struggling learners, because the more exciting and interactive an activity is, the more likely the students are to want to do it.
2. Use Technology to Make Your Targeted Groups Smaller
A computer does not replace the teacher in a classroom, but instead can help you be in two places at once. A great resource for this is Educreation. This site will let you make videos explaining a skill so you can “teach anything to anyone, anywhere.” I have found this to be invaluable for my students that need repetition. This is particularly useful while explaining directions to a game or a project, but my favorite way to use this tip is to re-teach a skill.
For example, when my students are learning how to multiply and divide large numbers, they can watch the video of me explaining it step-by-step, which is really useful while working in small groups as it allows me the time to support one-on-one without other students having to wait for support. They can watch and pause the video as needed as they work through their problem.
This is also an awesome resource to share with parents to explain and explore the concepts and methods that are being taught in class, helping bridge the home/school gap. You can see an example of one of my videos here.
3. Use Technology Tools to Close the Gap with Reluctant Readers and Writers
We have students that come to us several grade levels behind in reading, which is heartbreaking. But there are some simple tips that can make a huge difference.
One is to make video files to share with students when they need to read grade level material in other subjects. Listening to a teacher read the assignment helps level the playing field for a struggling student. Before I did this, I often saw students give up and guess when the reading was too difficult. I do not think a student should be punished in all subjects because of a deficit in one.
This is also super helpful for students who receive the read aloud accommodation for the math test. They can listen to a question, pause the video, then work at their own pace to solve the problem. A tip to use with reluctant writers is the voice typing tool in Google docs. This can be a complete game changer for a student who needs the dictation to scribe accommodation.
4. Use Technology to Put Students on Different Learning Paths
Because many of our students struggle with learning, they often come to us with low self-esteem, feeling like they are just not good at reading or math. The last thing we want to do is add to any negative feelings they have about school or learning by making them feeling different.
One way technology helps with this is the ability to sort leveled assignments based on student need in folders that all look the same. We do this in BlackBoard, our learning management system, but if you don’t have BlackBoard you can also do this in Google Classroom for free. Another way this can be done is through some other programs your school has purchased, but if this is not an option then Edcite, NewsEla and Readworks are all sites that have a free option that lets you differentiate material and assignments. Setting individual expectations for scores and lessons can help a student feel success.
5. Use Technology to Help Students Track Data and Work on Weak Skills
I have seen tremendous growth with my inclusion students by using data tracking and personalized learning plans in my classroom. If a student knows what target they are trying to hit, they are more likely to hit it. For example, if they know what specific skill they are weak in and there is a plan of action, they are more motivated to take responsibility for their learning.
I do this by having them record their own data on a “data tracker” using Google Sheets. I use “conditional formatting” which will automatically fill in the cell with the appropriate color (green, yellow or red) to match the proficiency of the student’s score. (Click here if you want to see more about how the formatting works.)
Once my students have had the opportunity to see their personal color coded data, I think it is vital for them to have an opportunity to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. One way I have done this is by having them write a “post” including one area they were proud of and one skill they knew they needed to work on to put on our classroom “Seesaw” wall. This was also a place where their classmates and I can encourage them on their goals. This took only a few minutes, but it helped students set a meaningful target for themselves.
It was also a place where students could celebrate growth as they had a visual of their improvement on a skill. I have found this to be especially helpful with struggling students. For example, a 60 can feel like a failure until you realize that you improved 30 points. Taking time to acknowledge the growth in a student can transform defeat into success.
Now that students have had an opportunity to reflect and see which skills need the most work, they can work through activities on the same page that will help re-teach their weak skill. All of these things are linked to one document so that students can easily access everything they may need for their personal review. This is one of my favorite strategies, so I am linking a video here if you want to hear more about it.
6. Use Technology to Quickly Assess Students
One of the best things about technology is there are so many websites for students to receive immediate feedback. The possibilities are endless, but you can find a great list of math sites to try here. No more waiting until Friday folders come out to see what they did wrong!
These quick assessments also allow us to see which students that need more intensive intervention on that skill. Students can be directed to a link that will assess in minutes, so my co-teacher and I can split the group based on their score.
7. Use Technology to Help Students Remediate After an Assessment
In an inclusion class (or any class for that matter), time is of the essence and you do not want to waste it. If students do not do well on an assessment, it is a priority for me to go over their missed problems as I want them to see what they did wrong. This can be overwhelming as teachers are usually very outnumbered.
One tech tip to help with this is making a Google Form that directs the path of the student according to their answer on an assessment. I do this by creating each question in a different section, then I format that section to another one based on their choice.
For example, if they get the question right, it moves them to the next question. If they get the question wrong, it will link them to a video explaining the problem they missed. This is a great targeted review, as students only listen to the explanations of the questions they missed. You can see how it works here (just make sure to get one wrong so you can see it in action).
8. Use Technology to Help You Make Targeted Learning Groups
I want technology to support deeper learning for my students, but also to make my life in the classroom easier and more efficient. One way I do this is by using it to help me place students for small group instruction. My groups change day to day–they are fluid so that students get what they need.
There are several quick assessment sites that collect beautiful, color-coded data and as a bonus, they are pretty fun! Using games like Quizziz and Kahoot are great options and I also love the way Edpuzzle, a video site that embeds questions, sorts the scores to make grouping students a piece of cake.
Ultimately, technology offers an amazing opportunity for student engagement, which in turn will have a positive effect on learning in our classrooms. It is a tool we can use to help level the playing field for students with disabilities and help give them what they need to be successful.
Although teaching students with exceptional needs has its challenges, I cannot imagine a more rewarding position.
For more, see: