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Making Technology Part of your Back-to-School Planning

Assistive Technology for Students-Assistive Technology for Children For many families, the back-to-school season means shopping for school supplies and new clothes. As it gets closer to the first day of school, for a young child it means watching the mailbox for a letter from his new teacher, or for older students it means going to school to register and pick up their schedule. With all the excitement of the annual back-to-school rituals, technology is often overlooked. However, thinking about technology tools and supports can facilitate the back-to-school transition for students with learning disabilities. In addition, spending some time learning new technologies before school starts means that more time will be available to focus on using the technology to complete assignments once school begins.

To help parents, students, teachers, and administrators complete their back-to-school planning, some suggestions are provided below. Following the suggestions are some important conversations that should be held at the beginning of the school year.

Preparing For The School Year: Technology

Ideas for Parents

  1. If you have a computer at home, talk with your child about the programs that she or he knows how to use. Does she or he know how to use the word processor? Can your child make a graph in a spreadsheet and copy it into a report in a word processor? Can your child make a slide show presentation using PowerPoint?

  2. Homework can be challenging for students and their parents. Get a head start on planning for homework by downloading a free copy of an excellent booklet, "25 Tips for Handling Homework."

  3. Does your child need assistive technology to be successful in school? For an introduction to assistive technology consideration rights and responsibilities, read "Assistive Technology for Kids with Learning Disabilities - An Overview."

Ideas for Students

  1. Many schools consider the basic technology toolkit to include a word processor, email, presentation software, and a web browser. How skilled are you with each of these tools? Compare your skills to these National Standards. What other tools could you add to your toolkit?

  2. Begin planning for the homework you will receive this new school year. Locate a few web sites that will help you with your homework and save them as bookmarks or favorites. To start your explorations, consider: KidsClick, Yahooligans, and Cybersleuth.

  3. Bored during the final days of summer? Just for fun, check out the following Web sites: sparktop.org, 4kids.org, How Stuff Works.

Ideas for Teachers

  1. Increased pressure to help all students achieve high academic standards has caused some rigidity in educators' willingness to make instructional accommodations and modifications. Read this article about three meanings of fairness. Consider having all of your colleagues read and discuss what this article means for students with learning disabilities and other struggling students.

  2. Universal design for learning (UDL) is a relatively new philosophy for using technology to enhance learning for all students. Read more about UDL by accessing the free online publication, Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning. Consider how the principles of UDL might apply to your classroom this year as you design learning activities.

  3. Learn more about assistive technology by reading this online article, "Assistive Technology: What You Need to Know." Use this information to advocate for students with disabilities. To explore specific assistive technology solutions, visit the Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technology page on the Tools for Life Web site.

Ideas for Administrators

  1. How prepared are your teachers to fulfill their responsibilities associated with the consideration and use of assistive technology for students with learning and other disabilities? Learn more about the policy and practical issues of these IDEA mandated responsibilities in Enhancing System Change and Academic Success through Assistive Technologies for K-12 Students With Special Needs.

  2. Learn more about assistive technology by downloading the free booklet, "A Resource Guide for Teachers and Administrators about Assistive Technology."

  3. What is your plan for dealing with the digital divide? One suggestion is to provide portable keyboards like AlphaSmart or Laser PCs or laptop computers for students to checkout and take home to complete writing assignments.

Essential Conversations

To make this new school year as successful as possible, parents, teachers, and administrators need to commit to working together and keeping the lines of communication open. At the beginning of the school year, teachers and parents should have a number of conversations that outline expectations for the school year, how to deal with frustration, reasonable timelines for completing learning activities, reasonable accommodations and modifications, etc.

As schools are under more pressure to demonstrate that each student in making adequate yearly progress (AYP), we may forget that the ultimate outcome of schooling is to produce citizens engaged in lifelong learning. As a result, there is a clear need to understand the role of technology for enhancing academic performance. Unfortunately, assistive technology for students with learning disabilities is increasingly viewed by some as equivalent to cheating. The statement, "We have high standards," is being used as a shield for curriculum, instruction, and assessment that takes the form of one-size-fits-all. Obviously, much more work remains to be done to help everyone understand the role of assistive technology for students with learning disabilities.


Dave L. Edyburn, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Exceptional Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He earned his Ph.D. in special education from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. He has classroom teaching experience in both learning disabilities and behavior disorders at the middle school and secondary levels.

Dr. Edyburn's teaching and research interests focus on the use of technology to enhance teaching, learning, and performance. He has authored over 100 articles and book chapters on assistive and instructional technology. He is past editor of Learning Disabilities Quarterly. He is co-editor of the new book, Handbook of Special Education Technology Research and Practice and editor of Special Education Technology Practice.