Tech & Learning: Turning Tears Into Joy

Turning Tears Into Joy

by Jackie Moreno and Ashley Painter

How can a teacher help a third grader go from crying daily during writing time in September to happily publishing more than her peers in January? Simply by giving her access to the instructional technology she needs.

This particular student has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) focusing on the behaviors and emotional characteristics of autism, and her teachers found that providing her with a tablet and keyboard removed the anxiety that writing by hand caused her. While access to the tablet was the first step, it didn’t end there. Her teachers also designed lessons that integrated the technology purposefully. As a result, she was not only able but eager to share her work with her classmates.

Had this technology not been available, her teachers, her family, and the child herself might never have known her true abilities as a writer. Technology has the power to help unleash the academic and social potential of students enrolled in special education programs, and this holds true for children with a variety of disabilities.

Students with special needs don’t need remedial school experiences; rather, they need instruction that is accessible and purposeful. Technology can enable students to work through parts of the learning process that are particularly challenging for them. The right tools can also help make content more accessible by allowing them to learn through their strengths. These students have many gifts to share with their classroom community, but many of them don’t have a way to contribute in a format that utilizes their strengths. Technology gives students with IEPs multiple paths to reach a goal, as opposed to just one. In addition, students often exhibit increased agency and confidence as a result of using these tools because they need less assistance from a teacher.

For educators new to integrating technology to serve the needs of students with IEPs, here are some simple yet powerful ways to maximize student learning:

These instructional and assistive technologies are often underutilized, and their impact on students cannot be underestimated. Also, since these examples of technologies that can be helpful are not difficult to learn or intimidating, they provide a good jumping-off point for educators new to technology integration.

When teachers and students share how they’re using various devices and programs as tools for transformative learning, they help members of the education community and beyond to see what is possible. If you want to make a case to the administration in your school or district or share with your colleagues about the powerful ways effective technology integration can support the academic success of students with IEPs, here are some talking points:

? Technology can promote student agency.

? When used purposefully, technology integration helps students to learn how to problem-solve.

? Technology enables teachers to provide more interactive, graphic, and sensory supports.

? Project-based learning helps students to cultivate creativity.

Ultimately, the academic success of students with special needs can be realized on a whole new level when effective technology integration becomes part of the story.

Ashley Painter is a teacher at Sandburg Elementary in Madison (WI) and a collaborative instructional technology leader in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Jackie Moreno is a bilingual instructional coach and library media technology specialist at Sandburg Elementary in Madison (WI).?