Keyboard as assistive technology

Assistive Technology to Support Writing

Author: Samantha Goldman;

Bringing Assistive Technology (AT) to K-12

Technology for writing is embedded in just about every aspect of our lives. Students with disabilities can and should have access to Assistive Technology (AT) tools so that they can have the opportunity to express themselves in writing, share what they learned in an essay, and create their own storybooks. Moreover, since the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures, the number of classrooms that have one-to-one devices has skyrocketed, making it easier to put these helpful writing tools in the hands of the students that need them. As we prepare pre-service teachers, we need to make sure they understand and implement AT tools to support writing for students with disabilities. In this blog post, we will explore three major types of AT tools for writing.

Must Teach Tools: Technology-Based Graphic Organizers

The benefit of technology-based graphic organizers is that they offer students added layers of support like picture dictionaries, speech recognition, and audio recording. This type of technology also supports students in their ideas through features like drag-and-drop. We Go RIITE  is a tool created by researchers from George Mason University that provides pre-service teachers with step-by-step directions on how to navigate technology-based graphic organizers. Check out this user manual for specific guidance. Another great resource to expose pre-service teachers to is Read Write Think, from which they can choose a diverse array of interactive organizers. Moreover, interested readers can check out Corgi, a project created by CAST that combines the features of interactive graphic organizers and the principles of Universal Design for Learning to support diverse learning needs of all students.

Must Teach Tools: Drafting and Composing

The two main technologies to support drafting and composing are predictive text and speech-to-text, both of which are readily available on a variety of devices. Speech-to-text, where students can dictate to the computer and it will transcribe for them, is found within the “tools” menu of Google Docs under voice typing. Smart Compose, from Google Docs, and text predictions from Microsoft Word, offer word prediction.

Must Teach Tools: Editing and Revising

Technologies to support editing and revising include grammar supports, like Grammarly and Writer, which is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) writing assistant. It is also important that we prepare our pre-service teachers to explicitly teach students how to use the embedded grammar and spelling checkers within word processing programs. One suggestion to do this is through the use of video modeling and task analysis. Screen readers, like Google’s and Apple’s, allow students to hear what they wrote, which can help them revise their writing for clarity.

Bringing AT to Pre-Service Teachers

In order for students with disabilities to learn about and gain effective access to these writing  tools in the classroom, Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) need to integrate technology into teacher preparation programs. Pre-service teachers and related service providers need to be 1) made aware these tools exist, 2) taught how to use them effectively including when they should and should not be used, and 3) seeking funding for these tools and/or free options. Research showed that these tools benefit students with disabilities; however, if we do not explicitly teach all pre-service teachers and related service providers about what they are, how to use them, and how to access them, students will not be exposed to those tools.

Let’s Talk about It

One way to leverage these tools and help pre-service teachers embed them in their classrooms is by modeling effective use on an everyday basis. Reflect on your typical day and think about how many times you use an AT to support your ability to get your ideas down in writing. Share about your favorite tools and learn about the tools others are using in our community!