Visual Supports

The 21st Century Classroom Part 2

With increasing numbers of K-12 students in special education programs, the need for new, advanced assistive technology in the special education classroom is vital.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of disabled students in the public school system is between 6 and 7 million. These students can benefit from technology in the classroom. In the past, assistive technology included wheelchairs, visual aids, assisted listening devices, Velcro, etc. In today’s digital age, assistive technology is extremely advanced. With many innovative apps and devices, students have a wider array of assistance than ever before.

New Forms of Technology

iOS devices

iOS devices offer a collection of apps like Live Listen, Guided Access, VoiceOver, Safari Reader and Speak Screen to name a few.

  1. Live Listen assists those with hearing impairments to hear better in crowded, noisy environments by linking hearing aids to a microphone in the phone. The phone can be moved closer to the speaker.
  2. Guided Access helps students with autism and sensory challenges to stay on task by restricting apps and limiting touch input on other parts of the screen. This limits distractions and wandering taps.
  3. VoiceOver offers those with visual disabilities many forms of assistance. It can describe anything that is on the screen from battery life, to what app you are touching, to what you are taking a picture of. It also offers a Braille keyboard.
  4. Safari Reader helps declutter the screen. It eliminates visual overstimulation and creates a single focus.
  5. Speak Screen can help many students by reading websites, messages and books aloud. This can increase comprehension. To watch videos on how some of these apps work, visit


According the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 68 children exhibit characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder. ComminicoTool offers non-verbal students a way of communicating. In March of 2017, CommunicoTool had planned to launch a head-tracking tool which will help those with ALS and muscular dystrophy to communicate easier.

Nova Chat

Nova Chat is an assistive option for students with reading disabilities. It allows text to be read aloud and also for speech to be converted to text. The device can be configured to meet the individual needs of a student.


LabQuest2 gives visually impaired students the ability to perform science labs and collect data independently. It uses a wireless system to collect the data and now offers text-to-speech technology.


Texthelp gives assistance to students in reading and writing at any stage of their educational journey, from Kindergarten through higher education and even into the workplace. Struggling readers in younger grades have the opportunity to record their reading and then receive immediate feedback from a teacher. In higher education, Texthelp assists students with reading and independent study, even improving retention of material. It also helps make the workplace more inclusive by helping those with disabilities to increase their productivity.


Finding funding for assistive devices can prove challenging. However, there are options. Some devices are covered by the individual’s insurance plan. School systems have funding set aside to meet needs of individuals. There are government and rehabilitation programs that can provide assistance. Finally, organizations like the ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) provide resource guides for finding funding.

Using assistive technology can benefit students, teachers, school systems and even the workplace, as it prepares students of all ages for an active, successful life.

Read “The 21st Century Classroom Part 1”

Student Comprehension: Creative Ways to Assess What Your Students Really Learn

We all communicate and process information differently. Incorporating only one assessment style is counterintuitive to measuring the accuracy of what a student comprehends. Inspired by the McDonald’s Dollar Menu design, consider incorporating predesigned platforms that allow the student to choose from a menu of assessment options, thereby not overtaxing the educator with hours of extra work and grading.

Ground rules

Students must be trained to use the assessment menu platforms early on in the class. The instructor must model and display instructions both in-class and online for students, parents, and administrators. Developing the assessments should center on Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learning styles (VAK) that utilize technology platforms that will do the “heavy lifting” of grading so that the instructor is not overburdened.

Example Topic – Gravity

Gravity could be used in history classes to discuss the moon landing, in science classes as an experiment, in math classes as the basis for learning formulas, in English classes as the center of writing a nonfiction story, and even in PE to discuss its effects on throwing a baseball. Consider this topic in your subject area and the flexibility of using the following platforms as part of your assessment menu.

Formative/Summative Assessments

Quick response assessments can be as easy as raising of hands but may not accurately reflect the student’s comprehension of the topic. Consider a low tech option, a shower board placed in their hands to demonstrate understanding. Inexpensive and available at your local hardware store, one shower board can be cut into mini dry erase boards that students can use to reply by word, image or both. Digital solutions to gain individual student quick responses can include platforms such as Twitter, Verso and PollEverywhere.

The Formative/Summative Assessment Platform Menu

Traditional Auditory Visual Kinesthetic The Wildcard
Multiple choice, true or false, essay, all can be given on paper or online for students that are comfortable with the traditional method of assessment. Quia is an online platform that grades your exams, provides multiple student accommodations and has a simple and easy to use interface. Assessment through words can be a lifesaver for many students that are willing to use a cellphone or Google Docs Dictation. Provide audio prompts in which the student can express their responses either in audio format or through dictation software. Android (Google), Apple, and MS Word all provide free dictation applications. Visual assessment helps students to display what they know through images such as graphic novels, comic books, animations, and slideshows.

YouTube, Animoto,  
Snapchat, PPT

Assessment through action can provide students the opportunity to express mundane topics into creative masterpieces.

From posters to pottery, even music can be mastered and recorded free online with platforms like Audiotools and Jamstudio.  

Student Choice

This menu section is purposely left blank as an option for future student, parent, and administrative suggestions.


Assessment Design and Student Choice

Designing each menu item for every unit may seem like a daunting task but it really does not have to be. Consider writing a standard test of multiple choice, true and false, essay, short answer, and fill in the blank. The same methodology of thought used for those five separate and distinct assessment options can be translated into the Formative/Summative Assessment Menu items.

Designing each unit may have a different number of questions and levels of rigor per menu item. Consequently, students should be prepared to choose 2, 3, or possibly 4 menu items to show complete mastery. Students are more apt to be engaged, motivated, and try their best when they are given choices based on their learning strengths and preferred styles.

Creating a Positive Experience for Volunteers

Enlisting volunteers in the classroom comes with multifaceted benefits. Research shows volunteers increase the connection between home and school, ease the teacher’s load, help children achieve more, and improve community-school relations. 

Here are basic guidelines that elevate the experience for volunteers, teacher, and students: 

Finding Help

First and foremost, evaluate whom to seek help from to volunteer, given that every student has different needs:

  • Parents, grandparents and care givers. Start with the student’s family. Parents have a variety of skill sets, experiences and careers that can benefit students. Encourage parents to be a part in whatever capacity their life allows.
  • College students. Contact a local college. If the college or university offers an education major, begin there. Speak with the department chair and ask if they would be willing to tell students of the opportunity to volunteer in your classroom.
  • Other options. Get involved in PTA meetings and other events at the school in order to meet others who may be willing to volunteer. Local businesses and seniors are other avenues for finding help.

First Steps

One you find help, it is important to:

  • Get to know your volunteers. Find out their background and experience, what they enjoy and how much time they can commit.
  • Get organized. Being organized is key. Volunteers tend to lose interest when there is down time and their skills are not being appropriately utilized. Remember, their time is valuable and they are offering it as a gift to the classroom. Be respectful of that by having tasks prepared and ready for them when they get there.
  • Think outside of the classroom box. Just because a parent cannot help in the classroom during school hours does not mean that parent cannot volunteer. Create a task list of things parents can do at home. For example, cutting out laminations, cleaning and filling glue bottles, or maintaining a class website or newsletter.

Tips for Creating a Positive Experience

  • Take time for training. Training takes away guesswork and makes a volunteer’s time more effective. Although many districts offer volunteer training, it is important to set up a time to train a volunteer specifically for their role. Training helps nip potential problems from the beginning and helps things run more smoothly.
  • Match up volunteers with activities that fit their skill set. A volunteer will be more apt to stay if they are 
    engaged and passionate about what they are doing. If cleaning is their gift, then use them to tidy the room, disinfect areas, sort and straighten books, etc. For those volunteers who like more individualized hands on with the students, offer activities like tutoring individuals, helping students with projects, or providing editing help on writing assignments. Taking the extra time in the beginning to match volunteers with tasks that fit their personality will be a greater benefit in the long run. Using tools like Survey Monkey or volunteer skill inventory lists can help in assembling this information.
  • Keep communication lines open and strong. Touch base with the volunteers regularly to see what is working and what is not. Be sure to communicate clearly and concisely. Also discuss timelines, classroom rules and routines, and school policies.
  • Be encouraging and thankful. Remind the volunteer of the difference they are making. No task is menial. In whatever way they choose to help, makes for a more positive environment. Even something simple like easing transition times can increase teaching time. Thank the volunteers for their time and effort each time they help. Showing a volunteer value enriches their lives. Studies show that volunteering reduces depression and stress by making a person feel involved because they are given a sense of purpose.

By engaging volunteers in the classroom, a team system is created that benefits the students, volunteers, teachers, school and community.

The 21st Century Classroom

Children working with technology in the classroomTechnology in the Classroom

With technology becoming an integral part of our world, it can be valuable to teachers and students alike. The ultimate goal of schools, from elementary to higher education, is to produce lifelong learners and successful students who are prepared for the workplace. Technology can help educators meet that goal in a creative and motivating way.

There are 7 key advantages of using technology to improve a student’s classroom experience.

  1. Teachers are facilitators

    Teachers can use technology to facilitate learning instead of lecturing. As a facilitator, a teacher’s focus is to guide the students in their learning. When teachers facilitate learning, students become active participants leading to increased comprehension and application of the material. Students learn at a higher level as they make connections to real life experiences and discover how to become more of an independent learner.

  2. Learning is student focused

    Student focused learning allows students to make decisions about their learning. It gives them a say in planning, goal setting, and assessment. As they become engaged in these processes, it helps the students take ownership of their learning. This type of classroom learning best simulates real world situations as students track their own progress and become more self-reliant.

  3. Learning is active and engaging

    When students are encouraged to take an active role in learning, they are more likely to retain the knowledge they’ve accumulated and build essential skills that will accelerate their learning toward college preparations and career readiness.

  4. Lessons can be enhanced

    Teachers can use technology to supplement the work with activities that can be customized and focused on a student’s problem areas. Technology can also allow a teacher to personalize the work so it more closely matches the student’s learning style. If students want to go further in depth on a subject than the textbook allows, a quick connection to the internet offers a wide variety of information accessible at the click of a button.

  5. Learning is adaptive

    All students are unique. They learn at various paces and also process things differently. Technology encourages learning to be more adaptive in order to help students maximize their unique styles of learning. Technology in the classroom also lets students learn at their own pace. By allowing students to be self-paced, more learning can occur since it is tailored to the student’s level. Adaptive learning is also valuable because it assesses students, gives immediate results and personalizes learning based on the assessment. There are various adaptive learning programs teachers can use in the classroom, like Dreambox, I Ready, and Knewton.

  6. Captures student’s attention

    Students today live in a technology driven generation. Students are intrigued with technology outside of the classroom, so bringing it into the classroom brings with it a sense of familiarity and interest. It helps pique student’s interest and makes learning more fun for them.

  7. Teaches skills for the future

    With technology all around us, many jobs have a digital aspect to them that they didn’t have 30 years ago. Using technology in the classroom in collaborative ways helps build teamwork practices that will aid students in the workplace. It prepares students to manage projects, think critically and problem solve, all of which will help in real life scenarios.

For more ideas of ways to incorporate technology check out for a list of companies.  

Technology is changing the way we live and work. Technology has the ability to enhance a child’s tomorrow. Therefore, as we prepare students for their future, it is important to integrate technology into the learning process.

Learn more about technology in the classroom in “The 21st Century Classroom Part 2” 

Gaming in the Classroom

As technology becomes a more integral part of the classroom, teachers are finding gaming to be a fun way of improving student achievement.

According to Forbes, gaming has been shown to increase metacognitive skills. Metacognition is basically being aware of your thinking. Many games created for the classroom have metacognitive skills built into them. As student’s metacognitive skills improve so does their academic skills. Research has shown that students who played educational games as part of their average school day had a deeper knowledge of the curriculum. Students also become more productive and self-reliant.

Gaming encourages repetition using sight, sound, and touch, which improves memory of a skill as the brain makes connections during the process.

Gaming also motivates students to want to learn. It makes learning more fun and engaging and improves collaboration skills. It is not just for younger students, gaming is revolutionizing the higher education classroom as well.

Elementary Gaming

  • Diffission. Diffission is a math game aligned with Common Core. Students earn the title of ‘Diffusionist’ by dissolving and slicing through blocks as they learn about fractions. It records student’s progression so teachers can note student’s problem areas. Teachers can assess students as they progress through the game. The company, Filament Learning, who created this game, will also design games customized specifically to the needs of your school or district.
  • Timez Attack. Timez Attack is an engaging game that teaches students to master multiplication. It has built-in assessment and fluency skills to make sure students quickly recognize the answer to problems. Imagine Learning, owner of Timez Attack, offers many other viable gaming options for the classroom.

Middle School Gaming

  • Classcraft. Classcraft is a fantasy themed classroom management tool. Its main goal is to encourage teamwork and collaboration through role playing. Classcraft is set up by the teacher and is meant to be used the entire year. All characters have different strengths and weaknesses so that the only way students can be successful at this game is to work together. Teachers can set up the game to fit their classroom style and needs. Students can earn or lose points based on behavior in the classroom. For example, a teacher may make coming late to class worth a 10 point deduction or answering a question in class worth a 30 point addition. Teachers can also build quizzes and review for tests as part of the game in the form of Boss Battles. Classcraft is designed for students from grades 4-12.
  • Citizen Science. Citizen Science is a free, online game that encourages problem solving and critical thinking in science. Students have to figure out how to save a lake that is being polluted, encouraging the growth of algae. Students have to apply their knowledge of ecology to solve real world issues. The game is based off of a lake in Wisconsin.

High School Gaming

  • iCivics. iCivics offers free, online games to teach students to be civic minded. Former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics to create students who were better informed civically. The goal is for students to become active citizens who participate in the democratic process. Besides the online gaming, iCivics provides teachers with creative and free resources to use as curriculum along with the games.

Higher Ed Gaming

  • Foldit. Foldit was created by the University of Washington so anyone could have input in their research on protein folding. With over 200,000 players online, gamers are not just about having fun, but are actually making advances in biochemistry. People can compete individually or on teams. Players get the opportunity to create new proteins which could prevent or treat diseases.
  • Toolwire. Toolwire has writing games which prepare students for career success. Colleges like Broward College in Miami have been successful using this simulation in their English Composition classes. The programs have the students take on the role of a junior staff writer. As people work to develop content for the virtual broadcast, they learn paragraph construction, grammar, revision, and citation skills. The success of the virtual newscast is dependent on the person’s performance, which is assessed by the game.

Games can be a fun way to learn simple or complex skills. They can provide students with problems to solve and goals to achieve. They can be created to assess students using specific and measureable objectives. Gaming brings technology to a new level in the classroom and makes learning more active and engaging.

Tennis Ball Chair Improves Sensory Regulation

The tennis ball chair, just one of many support aids and strategies, improves student’s alertness and sensory regulation.

Support Aid Spotlight: Tennis Ball Chair

Finding new and unique ways to engage children diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, etc. can be a challenge. But with a little creativity, research, and patience, educators and parents can work together to improve the lives of children.

An elementary Speech and Language teacher created chairs that have tennis balls sliced in half and stuck to the seat and backrest. Her invention gives student with sensory disorders an alternative texture to improve sensory processing.

They may look uncomfortable to sit in, but for a child with a sensory disorder, the tennis ball chair can give the stimulation they need.

Practical Support Strategies

Using supportive aids, like the tennis ball chair, along with some practical strategies can improve the learning environment for each student.

Educate yourself.

Learn all there is to know about sensory processing disorders. Research sites such as, and These sites each give different researched, refined and proven viewpoints and methods.

If you are more of a people person than an online researcher, consider talking with local professionals outside of your school setting such as occupational therapists trained in sensory processing. Discussing options with school psychologists, licensed social workers, speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists can also be very helpful.

Create sensory breaks.

Taking short breaks that let students move will help increase their focus. During transition time, incorporate some ideas that require large motor skills, like doing five jumping jacks before getting in line or marching like silent soldiers to the next class.

Erasing the board, stacking chairs, and squeezing stress balls are all options that can be individualized and fun for children. These simple ideas can make a big difference in student’s ability to learn.

Community communication.

Parents, educators, caregivers, and support teams must all be willing to share in the child’s growth and struggles. Building bridges requires advocating for the child’s best interest and supporting one another.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, parents and teachers who build bridges increase a student’s success rate. Parent Power: Build the Bridge to Success is just one of many books that provides key strategies to help parents and teachers connect.  

Visual schedule.

Often something as simple as having a schedule for the day posted on the wall can help. Create a simple schedule that can be posted daily. This is an easy but effective tool that can help the child, parent, and educator work together. PBIS World, Child-Autism-Parent Café, and Autism Classroom Resources provide samples that can be implemented immediately.

Understanding Sensory Disorders

As we experience things through our senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing), our brain takes in this information and then reacts to that information. For example, when we pick up a ball, our skin sends information to our brain about the shape, size, and texture of the ball.

Our brain should recognize that the item in our hand is a ball and then tell our muscles to move the bones in our hand to grab the ball. Remember, while your senses are telling your brain all these things, your body is still doing other things like moving blood through it, breathing, and hearing things in the world around you and smelling things in the air.

For children with sensory disorders, it is like all these things coming at the brain causes a major traffic jam. This causes a child who has a sensory disorder to struggle with motor skills and daily duties. These struggles can lead to other issues like doing poorly in school, depression, and behavioral problems like meltdowns.

Educators and parents must remember to look at each student as a unique individual with unique needs and unique learning styles. By agreeing to use support aids and strategies, communication increases and sensory regulation begins to improve. To learn other ways to be effective, take a look at the resources in the parent support section of this site.

Special Education Career Profile: Teacher of the Deaf

Teaching in the field of special education can give you a variety of career options. You can choose age/grade level, type of disability, or even the type of program you teach in. Being a teacher of the deaf can be a very rewarding, yet challenging, career choice.

What Does A Teacher of the Deaf Do?

The role of the teacher of the deaf can vary depending on the setting. According to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Council on Education of the Deaf (CED), the teacher’s role is to:

  • Establish a classroom or other learning environment to meet the physical, cognitive, cultural, linguistic, and communicative needs of the child;
  • Plan and utilize strategies, appropriate materials, and resources for implementing educational experiences that support the development of communicative competence;
  • Provide consistent comprehensible language(s) appropriate to the needs of the child regardless of the modality or form;
  • Apply first and second language teaching strategies to teaching English (e.g., through ASL appropriate to the needs of the child and consistent with the program philosophy);
  • Facilitate and support communication among deaf and hard of hearing children and adults, hearing children and adults, including family/caregivers;
  • Monitor and evaluate the child’s communicative competence on a regular basis in academic and nonacademic contexts including the child’s use of signs, cues, speech, and/or assistive technologies;
  • Provide instruction and/or support for effective use of communication supports such as interpreting, transliteration, note-taking, real-time captioning, telecommunications, and computing.

Teacher of the Deaf Responsibilities, Knowledge and Skills

As a teacher of the deaf, you should have a working knowledge of hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM equipment, as well as understand and be able to interpret audiograms. You may have to share this information with school staff members or families. You may also have to and supervise paraprofessionals and sign language interpreters.

As with any special education teacher, you will have to develop and maintain compliant IEP‘s as well as assess students in the areas of academics, language, and communication.

Where Teachers of the Deaf Work

Young elementary school student signing the letter I for the class.There are a few educational options to where a teacher of the deaf can teach. All fifty states have schools for the deaf, as well as District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Students with hearing loss may also attend public schools. In areas where there is a high population of deaf students, there may be center schools for the deaf. Students are bussed in from several areas to one specific school.

A teacher of the deaf may either provide instruction and support in a separate class or as a resource teacher in a general education or special education classroom.

Deaf students may also attend their neighborhood school. If this is the case, the student may be the only deaf student at the school. Here, an itinerant teacher may be utilized. Itinerant teachers generally cover several schools in an area and provide one on one support to the student as well as collaborate with the classroom teacher.

Classroom or resource teachers serve students in a specific age range, where itinerant teachers tend to cover students pre-k through 12th grade.

Salary, Education and Certification

Certification for a teacher of the deaf varies from state to state. There are several colleges that offer bachelor and master degrees in education of the deaf. While you don’t have to have a degree in deaf education, you must be able to pass the state certification test. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary is $53,220.

If you are looking for a career where you can support students’ communication needs, as well as their academic, social, and independent functioning needs, work with parents and professionals on understanding hearing loss, and have a variety of classroom settings to work in, then you should consider becoming a teacher of the deaf.

Parent Communication

Many times, teachers want parents to be involved and want to communicate with them.  But then get stuck.  What do needs to be said?  When do is there time to reach out to parents?

Understanding and Acting on The Importance of Parent Communication

We always hear how important parent communication is, and it is true.  Most parents want to be involved in their child’s education.  They want to know what is happening in the classroom, how their child is progressing in the curriculum and with the standards, how their child is getting along with others in the class, and what they can do at home to help them. 

Setting The Tone

Contacting parents before school starts or just as school is starting sets the tone for positive communication and establishes the importance of communication.  Relationships are built through communication.  

When the initial communication between teachers and parents is positive, parents tend to be supportive and have a positive outlook.  Later during the year, if there is a problem with a student’s behavior or an academic concern, parents who had an initial positive experience are more likely to continue to be supportive. 

It may seem daunting if you have 25 families to reach out to, but this initial contact may be brief.  It may be a phone call, an email, or even a postcard in the mail to introduce yourself to the new families. Students also benefit from this early communication as it sends a message the teacher is excited to have them in their class.

Benefits to Parents

There are benefits to parents who have frequent feedback and communication from the classroom teacher.  Parents gain a better understanding of the school curriculum and communicate better with their children.  When there is a partnership between parents and the school, parents feel they are valuable to their children’s education.  In turn, this can set higher expectations for their child.

Benefits to Teachers

Teachers gain more insight about their students when communicating with families.  Parents know their child best and can share vital information.  This allows the teacher to meet the student’s needs academically, socially, and emotionally in the classroom.

Benefits to the Students

Studies show there are many benefits to students when there is communication between parents and teachers.  Some of the benefits include increased motivation for learning, regular attendance, improved behavior, and an overall positive attitude towards school and learning.

So what now?

  • Teachers have to find ways to make communication with parents effective. Find out what types of communication families prefer.  Do they prefer paper, phone calls, or electronic communication? 
  • Inform parents of how you want them to communicate: phone, email, or notes. Let them know times of availability for calls or to return emails
  • Make sure to communicate everything, not just the “bad”. A quick phone call to parents when their child did something fantastic, had a gain in learning, or met an IEP goal is a phone call that will be well received by parents.

Teachers can become so overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done day in and day out. Scheduling communication may be helpful.  Set your calendar with which families are due to hear from you.  Keep in mind how each family prefers to communicate. Remembering the benefits to all involved should help keep communication as a priority.