Two sessions at the Blue Ribbon Conference in Reading, MA that taught me about tools that I will immediately implement in my classroom were Ten Terrific Tips and Tools to Reach Struggling Readers and Ten Terrific Tips and Tools to Reach Struggling Writers. Both were presented by Karen Janowski, an assistive technology consultant and former Reading educator. Karen’s wiki is chock full of great resources http://udltechtoolkit.wikispaces.com/
One site Karen presented that I found easy and applicable to many subjects was padlet.com. It allows the teacher to pose a question to students, and they can answer anonymously or sign their name. For struggling writers, this anonymity is a great feature. They could answer in school by using the laptops or ipads, or it could be done at home as a fun homework assignment. My students have been blogging all year, so they are used to writing online and will love this. Padlet is a good way to get my next year’s fifth graders comfortable writing online in a quick, unintimidating way.
The other tool from these sessions that I got excited about is google docs. It sounds simple, but I had an “aha” moment when I saw the amazing spell check it offers, as well as text to speech options. The spell check is so much better than Microsoft Word. It attends to the context of the sentence and finds those homophone errors that Word does not. The text-to-speech option reads the students’ writing out loud, so that they can hear any mistakes that they didn’t realize were there. If students already have a google account, they can use these tools at home or at school and won’t have to worry about a flash drive anymore. For struggling students, I will recommend it to parents. Google docs also have a great archive system that will show multiple drafts of students’ work.
Google Chrome also has a feature for reading any article from any site out loud. This is a tremendous accommodation for students who are researching, but are unable to read at higher reading levels. Many research articles are written at middle or high school level. With this tool, they can access the information and take notes successfully. The good news is that all these great tools are free to teachers and families.