by Kindy Segovia, OTR
Assistive Technology Coordinator, Kent Intermediate School District
Traditionally, writing has been a primary form of assessment and demonstration of student knowledge. And, while educators are increasingly offering students innovative ways to “show what they know”, writing remains an essential component.
Writing is a complex process involving both motor components and cognitive elements such as creating, organizing and composing written material. For many students who struggle with certain components of writing, there is a gap between their understanding and their ability to express ideas in a way that is meaningful. A growing range of supports can help students bridge this gap. However, as with all supports, identification of the specific difficulty or problem is key. Is the difficulty with the motor or physical aspect of writing, spelling and mechanics, legibility, written output, composition of ideas, note taking, organization, or another area? Once the focus of support has been determined, then a strategy can be implemented. Below are 10 free or low cost, low-tech to high-tech writing supports that have proven effective with many students.
Inexpensive pencil grips and weights can assist with fine motor difficulties and improve legibility. Highlighter tape and carbon notebooks are inexpensive supports for those with legibility or organizational obstacles.
A growing array of options from large, color-coded Big Keys keyboards, small handheld, wireless thumb keyboards to trackballs and head-tracking mice are cost-effective and can significantly increase digital access for those with motor concerns. Camera Mouse is a free website option for head tracking mouse accessibility.
Word processing is no longer accessible only on computers. Tablets and phones now offer a terrific mobile solution for those who benefit from a keyboard. Even simpler options, such as a portable word processing device, for example The Fusion portable word processor, or a simple label maker can offer an immediate, legible output.
Software, browser-based extensions, and apps can provide spelling and grammar aids. Ghotit and Ginger are tools that work across devices. Dictionary apps, extensions and websites are available to all users, at no cost, across all types of devices as well.
Keyboarding websites and apps are now available in a variety of formats. Game-based programs, lesson-based programs, sites targeted at young students, and others appropriate for older students are now free online or in the app store. The Google Chrome Webstore has several free typing apps, including Nitrotype, Typing Club, and TypeScout are just a few.
Graphic organizers are a common classroom tool used by educators to assist students with written expression. Digital options, such as bubbl.us, and Gliffy, available for free, bring dynamic options to students at all levels. Digital graphic organizers can now be embedded into a Google Doc or Microsoft Word document, to supplement word processing tools students are already using.
Traditional writing is only one means to express understanding or ideas. Digital access has opened up many alternative forms of “storytelling” or expression of ideas. Digital posters (Glogster), timelines (Dipity), comic books (ToonDoo), photo stories, and videos (Animoto) allow free private or public sharing of a student’s understanding of material or creation of content.
As voice dictation becomes an increasingly common feature within the world of technology, free, high quality options have made their way into our classrooms. Dictation on phones and tablets, built in accessibility on both Windows and Mac computers, and browser-based voice dictation offer opportunities for students with a voice to convert their knowledge and understanding to a written format. Google’s newest voice dictation option – Voice Typing in Google Docs – is not only free, but easy and extremely accurate.
Several solutions are now available for writing on documents, worksheets, assessments and other previously inaccessible formats. Apps to access PDF files, such as Type on PDF or PDF Forms, or features within existing free software, such as Adobe Reader, in addition to camera-based tools such as SnapType allow students to type or write on the same worksheet or assessment as their peers.
Note taking can be a challenge for many students. The Livescribe Smartpen, a stand-alone note taking pen – with a built in digital recorder – allows students with limited writing or poor organization to take notes independently. The pen’s audio recorder captures the class lecture or discussion for review later, as needed to support learning.
As you look for solutions to support your struggling writers, consider some of the above free or low cost options to keep those students productive and engaged!
Kindy Segovia, OTR, is currently the Assistive Technology Coordinator at Kent Intermediate School District, Grand Rapids, Mich. She has worked as an occupational therapist in both schools and pediatric rehabilitation for over 25 years. She has provided educational training for teachers, parents and administrators over the past 15 years with a focus on adapting curriculum, classroom accommodations, and integrating technology into instruction. She is also an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University.