Billy Krakower and Sharon LePage Plante’s book Using Technology to Engage Students with Learning Disabilities discusses the ways in which educators can use technology to best support and enhance learning for special needs students. The authors state, “Today’s technologies make providing accessibility to those with learning disabilities so much easier.” The authors also point out that teachers are often unsure of how best to use these tools to support students’ learning. So the importance lies not merely in the acquisition of the technologies, but in the correct application to individual students.
This book is a good guide to some of the technologies that are available to special needs students. I appreciate that the book focuses on technology that truly changes the learning experience for these children. For example, when looking at children with dyslexia or dysgraphia, technology can be used to change the reading and writing experience for these students. Altering the text on the screen, using text-to-speech or speech-to-text apps, and adjusting the speed of the text are all ways to support these students. This is something that could not be done without the use of technology. Likewise, students with dyscalculia can benefit from the many mathematical apps that help with math fluency, an important skill for special needs students to achieve.
One point that the book makes is how technology can help students with learning disabilities move toward more independence with their learning. Often paraprofessionals are used to support students, and one accommodation that is frequently suggested is having students use a scribe for their work. The authors use the example of a child who was very dependent on his paraprofessional to scribe for him and how the use of assistive technology helped this student use an audio recording tool which could be used independently.
The book goes beyond math and literacy to address the importance of assisting students in science and social studies as well. One area of concern for many special needs students is their need to find graphic organizers that work for them. The ability to organize one’s thoughts and assignments is an important skill for students to learn. Technology can help students by allowing them to create a graphic organizer that works for their specific needs and learning style.
Another important consideration is the output of students’ learning or the ways in which they can share what they know. The authors highlight the fact that traditional means of assessment, such as exams and papers, are not ideal for many students with learning disabilities. Therefore, using technology to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding is a huge benefit to these students. Many platforms allow students to create multi-model examples of their work where they can combine text, drawings, pictures, video, and voice into their final products.
There is a stigma that special needs students face in school, but the use of technology can help with that as well. As mentioned, technology can lessen their dependency on paraprofessionals, allowing students to feel more confident and in control of their learning. As devices become smaller, the technology support can also become more discreet. A student using a small device in her backpack does not draw attention to the fact that she is using technology to help her as most students have devices for personal use. Therefore, the student can access help without feeling embarrassed.
Another aspect of technology that the book addresses is how technology can help families of students as well. Considering that learning disabilities are often inherited, the technology accommodations that help students can filter into their home lives and help their parents as well. In addition, technology can create a home-school connection for the parents of special needs students so they can know how best to help them. Since many applications can be applied to any device or be accessed from computers at home, families can continue to use these supports at home. This is not something that would be possible without the use of technology.
As we have explored the use of technology, we have seen that it is not the tech that is important, but rather how it is used with students that matters. When discussing the Universal Design for Learning, the authors remind us that “individuals learn in different ways through multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression.” This is certainly true of all students, which is why educators need to approach instruction with flexible teaching that supports the needs of each student. Technology allows educators to provide assistance to students’ learning and to differentiate their instruction to fit the learning styles and needs of all students. The authors state that their book does not contain one-size-fits-all answers to be applied to all learners, but rather shows us the possibilities that exist for educators, students, and their families. That technology can help assist and differentiate instruction for all special needs students is the goal that we are hoping to achieve.