Special ed teacher Melissa Mann shares six of her favorite edtech tools for the special education classroom. From collecting data to parent communications to taking care of yourself, Melissa has something for every classroom (as well as a pretty cool pep talk!)
Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
Six Tech Treasures for Special Ed Teachers (K-6)
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Vicki: Today we're talking with K-6 Special Ed Teacher Melissa Mann @mnmann, and we're going to have some Tech Treasures for special ed teachers.
So, Melissa, where do we start?
Melissa: Well, the tech tools I've pulled out right now are a mixture of tech tools that teachers can use for data collection and also for students.
Special Ed Treasure #1: Google Keep
So we'll just start with one for the teachers. My new favorite right now is Google Keep.
- See my video tutorial: Researching a Topic with Google Keep
- Listen to: How to Use Google Keep in the Classroom episode #72 with Crystal Koenig
I'm still learning some of what Google Keep can do, but a lot of times teachers were in and out of other teachers' classrooms. Nobody really wants to carry the Chromebook or a laptop with you. Google Keep is an app that works off of a phone. For your Google account, you can take pictures of maybe a work sample of something you need to store for a student.
You can add To-Do Lists; maybe you notice something behavior issue that maybe you need to share with somebody, and keep data collection on with that and keep everything organized into one.
It's also one to show the students as they start to organize researching. Maybe our students that can't write down a website that they found something at, but they can go and add it to their Google Keep if you're a Google school, and start building their research that they can go back and look at later. So it's also an organization tool for the older students that may need some organizational help that they can use.
Vicki: Fantastic. We did a whole Ed Tech Tool Tuesday some time ago, so I will include that in the Shownotes.
OK, what's your next one, Melissa?
Special Ed Treasure #2: Remind
Melissa: The next one I have is Remind. When Remind first came out, it was just about sending out things to parents, using for like an announcement type thing.
- Note: I use Bloomz and they have the same function. I’ve written about Bloomz before.
But then about three years ago, they added a chat option. What I like about the chat option is that teachers don't want to give out a cell phone number to parents or anything, but you can build a Remind group, and parents will have access to text you to have a conversation. It works really good for reminding parents about meetings that we have.
You know, a lot of times a kid with an exceptionality has a lot of, “I had a bad morning,” and the teacher needs to know about it. Well, the general ed teacher may not have a chance to check an e-mail or that kind of thing, but the parent can send something to the collaborative teacher, the special ed educator, through the Remind on the chat option, and we can go check on that student right then.
Vicki: Love that.
Melissa: You know, it's a good way to keep in contact, especially about doctor's appointments that they may have, things like that. It's a record of the conversation. So I like that for the data.
Vicki: I love that, too. I use one called Bloomz, which does something very similar, so having that private way to chat but not use the cell phone is just a lifesaver, isn't it?
Melissa: Yes, it is. These parents are with their kids for seven or eight hours of a day at least. We have them more awake than they do. This is a way for them to know that they can get a hold of us if they need to. I've just found a lot of times that it eases the minds of the special ed parent… because you know they know their child better than we do. When you have that open line of communication, it just opens up that way. There's that trust that's building.
Special Ed Treasure #3: Google Voice Typing
Vicki: Yeah. So important. OK, what's our third?
Melissa: Google Docs has added a voice typing in there now. It's something that any student can pull up. It's up in the toolbar.
I have found a lot of times some of our kids have trouble with typing, or it may take them a while. It's that processing thing, and they can't sit there. They know what they want to say, but trying to get it out on paper is difficult. If you have mic capability or a headset, they can be able to write their paper using the voice typing option.
A lot of our students with physical handicaps – CP or something like that – may have trouble with the typing. But they can speak and tell you what they want to say. So this is an option for them to still be able to participate in the general ed curriculum and not feel like they're not getting to have full access to everything.
Special Ed Treasure #4: Seesaw
Vicki: It's so empowering when you teach kids how to voice type. OK, what's our fourth?
Melissa: Seesaw is another one I've learned about over the last year or so, and it's an online portfolio.
That's for like our self-contained teachers that deal with the more sever exceptionalities. They have to deal with a lot of times portfolio things. They may have to take videos or look at snapshots and things like that.
The great thing about Seesaw is that it works on multiple devices for the student to add to it. So your paraprofessional could be working on a skill. Say the child makes it and does accuracy, she can add stuff into the Seesaw. It's a good way to keep up with the data, the videos of things all in one location and have multiple people adding to it.
Vicki: Such collaboration happens when you're focusing. It just makes life easier.
Special Ed Treasure #5: Read and Write for Google Chrome
Vicki: OK, what's our next?
Melissa: Read and Write for Google Chrome. That's one that I feel like that's one that some teachers know about, but they don't realize that teachers get it for free.
If you go through the tech tips… A lot of times I'll Google “Read and Write for Google Chrome for Teachers,” and there's a way for teachers to register for that extension for free. So they full access, they get the full toolbar when they're in their Google account.
- So that gives you a voice typing option in there.
- There's the playback fluency option, so the student can be recording themselves reading and then send you the recording.
- There's highlighting options.
- There's a vocabulary builder that's included in that. The vocabulary builder will also pull things from a document you've created, and it will add the picture to go with it as well as a study note. I like that for those students who may not be at the point where they can just do the abstract with just the words, and they still need a concrete picture or visual of what it is that you are asking them to do. So it gives a lot of different options for that.
Vicki: Melissa, I totally agree with you on that one. That's actually one of my Top 15 Google Chrome Extensions, and I'll include a link to that. That is such an incredible tool to help with all students. Oh, but especially with those with special needs.
Special Ed Treasure #6: Twitter and #spedEDchat
OK, do you have any others for us?
Melissa: Twitter's one that I really use. It's not something that I'm looking into as a student tool. But a lot of times, even though special ed teachers collaborate all day, we talk to the general ed teachers… we are the only ones that really know what we do.
And there's an incredible Tuesday Nights #spedEDchat that takes place. Just connecting with other special ed teachers across the country kind of gives you that sense of – especially during paperwork season when you've got everything coming down on top of you – just knowing that somebody else feels that way too, sometimes, outside of your own building, kinds of helps you go, “OK. We can do this. We can get through this again.” And so just reaching out and having that PLN, having those connections that you can do.
Maybe you need a tech tool for something, and you haven't been able to find it yet. Putting that out on Twitter so that somebody else that may know about it, they can go, “Hey, try this.” And that's a kind of way to get just another resource as well.
Selecting Apps Depends on Your Student’s Needs
Vicki: So, Melissa, you've given us lots of tools. Do you think that there's just one that just shines out above all of the rest? Like it completely transformed everything for you?
Melissa: You have to know the students. You have to see their abilities to exactly know what the tech tool is that you need to do.
That's why it makes it such a treasure box of things because what works for this student may not work for this student. This app may be what unlocks the thing that this student needs, and then you've got to find another app that this student can use.
And there are so many tools out there. There are so many different things. And my LiveBinder that I have to all of my… some Symbaloos I've created and things that I've done when I do webinars for Simple K-12… where we've looked at different interactive resources, more of like just websites and links and things. So that's an option to check out too, because I didn't just want to give websites out today.
Vicki: So we have certainly gotten a treasure box from Melissa today. We have gotten these tech treasures for special ed teachers.
Encouragement for Special Education Teachers
Melissa, could you give us a 30-second pep talk for special ed teachers and how technology can help them?
Melissa: Technology's going to make your life easier because of the paperwork load that we have to do, but one thing …. It's also going to help you with aself-caree technique. From reaching out to you. From Twitter, from staying organized, from communicating with parents.
It's also something that's going to help empower you as a teacher. The biggest thing to keep in mind, of just as a pep talk in general, to special ed teachers are… You are that voice for that student. Even though they may not tell the general ed teacher what's going on, you're the one that can read their face. You're the one that knows what's going on.
As Angela Maiers always says, “You're the one reminding them that they matter, that they have something to contribute.” So every student is in that school for a reason. Every student has a piece to the puzzle.
Technology is wonderful. It's great. But you, the special ed teacher, are the greatest resource for those kids. As one of my favorite TED Talks from Rita Pierson says, “Every child deserves a champion.” So use what you have and be that champion for the students.
And then connect with others to find the resources that you need, through the podcasts like you're listening to today, or Twitter chats, or just reaching out, you know connecting within your own school or your own school system. Just knowing that you're making a difference.
Vicki: Teachers, you are so important.
There is a precious special needs boy at my church. I went up to him. He doesn't really have good eye contact, but I went up to him the other night and I patted him on the back.
He didn't look at me, but he called my name.
And I cried.
Because you are that voice. You are so important.
And when you make that connection, that is truly priceless. And I'm just so proud of all of you for listening and trying to improve.
You know, that's who teachers are. That's who we are.
This has been such a great topic, and I hope that you'll take some of these tools and take it to heart and really be the voice for those kids.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Melissa Mann is a special education teacher with the Madison County School System. She has taught both self-contained and collaborative students in grades Kindergarten through 6th grade. Melissa is dual certified in Elementary Education and Special Education. She also has a Master's in School Counseling and is a certified school counselor.
Melissa presented at ISTE in 2015, and she has presented for the past eight years at Alabama's state technology conference and at various local conferences. Melissa is also a trainer with Simple K-12. Her portfolio can be found at : www.bit.ly/TechTreasures
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