Four letters "S," "E," "T," and "T" indicating the SETT framework for AT

Preparing Pre-Service Educators to Make AT Decisions

Author: Michelle S. Patterson; Ling Zhang; info@ciddl.org

In our first blog post, we introduced the definition and legal requirements for assistive technology (AT). While this provides a foundation, pre-service educators need to develop their skills in AT decision making as part of the Individual Education Program (IEP) team. The first step for preparation programs is to develop the capacities of their pre-service educators to use a model that provides the depth of information needed to make informed decisions. Joy Zabala’s SETT framework provides a structure for making AT decisions based on information around the student, their environment, required tasks, and potential tools. Let’s take a closer look at each area.

Know Your Student

Preparation programs can assist pre-service educators by making connections between student data and required AT. If writing presents a concern, pre-service educators need to review data to identify the specific area of challenges (e.g., legibility, idea organization, conventions) to ensure the tools selected later are the best fit. Likewise, if reading grade-level text presents a challenge, pre-service educators should review data on how the student performs with accessible formats (e.g., audio, video). 

Assess the Environment

Utilizing existing technology supports inclusive practices. As part of the SETT framework, educators need to assess the environment in which the student uses technology tools. Universal Design for Learning, which is a design framework for guiding the design of inclusive instructional practices and learning environments, can be used to assess learning environments. The UDL framework provides insights into learner variability in terms of how differently students engage in learning, how they learn, and how they can demonstrate learning. With specific guidelines and checkpoints (e.g., offer alternatives for auditory information), UDL can guide educators through the process of assessing whether the learning environment is designed to support the student’s needs. Pre-service educators should look for resources in place to meet students’ diverse learning needs. For example, classrooms may have reading and writing supports embedded in Immersive Reader or have accessibility features built into their learning management systems (LMS).  

Define the Tasks

When someone in an IEP meeting asks, “What about an iPad?”, preservice educators need to know how to address “tasks before tools”.  This begins with understanding the range of tasks and expectations required to make progress in the curriculum across a student’s classes. A student’s English/Language Arts class may have extended independent writing assignments while the Social Studies class focuses on annotating source documents. Each of these tasks requires different features which may or may not be found in one tool.  In a preparation program, preservice educators may align a list of tasks to tools to provide a resource that will carry over to their classroom.

Review the Range of Tools

Selecting the right tools becomes much easier having thoughtfully collected information about the student, environment, and tasks. Preparation programs should provide pre-service educators information on the range of tools as well as how to conduct effectiveness trials. Capacity building includes planning which tool will be used for tasks, how it will be taught to the student, and how data will be collected. With the right AT in place, preservice educators can ensure every student has access to the curriculum.

Continue the Conversation

How are you preparing your preservice educators to make AT decisions? What has worked for you? What challenges have you faced? We’d love to have you share out in the CIDDL community. Be sure to watch for the next blog in our series on Assistive Technology on collecting data for AT decision-making.  

CIDDL remembers Joy Zabala (1946-2021) and the impact she had for learners with disabilities.