With more schools across the country infusing technology into the classroom, policymakers in Washington are starting to pay attention. Over the last few weeks, there have been several briefings on Capitol Hill with researchers and school leaders sharing how technology can help teachers to personalize learning and improve outcomes for all students. In this blog, we’ll highlight how these innovations can affect students with learning and attention issues.
1. Competency-Based Education
Earlier this month, researchers, educators, and U.S. Representative John Yarmuth (R-KY) came together to discuss how competency-based education is changing the way some schools prepare students for school, work, and life. In a traditional math class, the teacher may spend a week on fractions even though some students may only need a day and others may need two weeks. In competency-based education, the learning outcomes – what students need to be able to know and do – are clearly defined ahead of time and students are able to master each competency at an appropriate, individualized pace. For example, the teacher can record an instructional video ahead of time that students can watch as many times as needed before practicing the math themselves, leaving the teacher with more time in class to provide individualized intervention to students.
A recent briefing sponsored by the Smarter Schools Project brought teachers and principals from rural Arkansas, suburban Massachusetts, and the urban Washington, D.C. area to the Capitol. Although their schools are different, they all have one thing in common – each school is using technology in innovative ways. In Kerry Gallagher’s history classroom, students created a tourism commercial promoting a particular colony. At the point where most students would get a grade and toss their quiz in the trash, Ms. Gallagher’s students write reflective blogs and have the opportunity to publish their work. In this classroom, technology allows students to pursue projects based on their interests and strengths using a wealth of online resources to create digital products that can be shared with their teachers, parents, and experts around the world. Not only has Ms. Gallagher’s use of technology motivated students, it’s actually helped them to learn, with her students excelling on the state’s annual assessments.
3. Students with Learning and Attention Issues
NCLD is working to ensure that learning and attention issues are central to the conversation when it comes to technology. At a recent briefing, NCLD’s Associate Director for Federal Relations, Kim Hymes, spoke alongside a panel of educators, researchers, and the former Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Research shows that teachers, particularly special educators, are increasingly using technology to motivate and engage children. But for students with disabilities, technology isn’t just a motivator, it is an essential tool that allows students to access the curriculum. Kim explained what many parents already know: “technology allows us to focus on what kids with disabilities CAN do rather than on what they can’t do.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Many universal technologies, like the telephone, were innovations borne from the disability community. But effectively incorporating technology into schools takes work. School leaders and policymakers will have to ensure that students have access to technology and to educators who are trained on how to use it. Despite the challenges, some schools are doing it well. Here are a few of the strategies they have been using:
- Many schools – even in low-income districts – found that most kids have a device at home, and have allowed them to bring their device to school for educational purposes.
- Often, students with an IEP/504 already use technology as part of their accommodation plan, so they have become the tech-expert in their classrooms, helping their non-disabled peers – a great way to play to students’ strengths!
- Some schools have helped teachers incorporate technology into their classrooms by providing professional development sessions led by their students.
- One school in Maryland that serves students with learning and attention issues found that technology helps kids to stay organized and keep track of their work, but before they can use their device, students have to take a digital citizenship course.
- Technology provides teachers with an easy way to communicate and share student work with parents. One school even holds regular sessions with parents to make sure they understand how to access their child’s schoolwork and regulate their child’s device.
Technology is not new but its use in classrooms (and at home) is growing as devices become more affordable and universal. How does your child use technology in their school? Join the conversation @LD_Advocate and stay tuned for more updates from Capitol Hill!