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6 ways edtech makes learning more accessible

After 40 years as a speech-language pathologist working with students with special needs, I've seen a lot of educational fads come and go. In fact, few tools get me excited anymore. But three years ago I stumbled across an app called TinyTap and it completely changed the way I teach and use technology with my students.

TinyTap is an app you can use to create interactive lessons, quizzes, games, homework or projects for any grade level, content area or instructional standard. How you use it determines how effective it will be.

I’ve seen the most impact on my "tough cases," students who have added challenges that aren't necessarily measured by data or mentioned on report cards, but nonetheless impact their ability to learn.

Here are a few of the ways this app has open up a world of learning for my students:

Communication. A kindergarten student with unintelligible speech needed a way to communicate in the classroom to express his needs and what he knew. I used the app to create a communication board on his classroom iPad so he could participate verbally in group activities, socialize and express his needs. His parents were also able to access it at home to help with homework activities, and I could access it in the speech room.

Retelling a story. A student with ADHD had trouble focusing on a story long enough to answer questions. This app allowed me to create aides, such as a link to the story on video, a preview of new vocabulary, story sequencing activities and questions to identify narrative elements. These interactive lessons keep attention firmly focused on the task and he learned to enjoy stories rather than dreading them. He achieved 100 percent average mastering his goals for narrative skills on his IEP (the only ones he had left to master), and was "graduated" from the speech and language program.

Story creation. A student diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression actually started coming out of his shell and participating. When he began using TinyTap, he started sharing his creations, participating willingly in group projects and started making friends, which he never had before.

Game creation. A fifth grader actually started turning in homework once he was offered a chance to come to TinyTap Club on Fridays. He used the app to create math games so younger kids could practice their multiplication tables. His teacher was ecstatic to be getting homework from him, and our intervention team got several activities that we could use with other students.

Performance data. I created a sight-word game that one of our teachers used for a struggling first-grader. The app provided performance data, which showed the student had made significant progress on learning her sight words in that format. On top of that, the student loved the game, and the teacher devoted only a few minutes of her busy time to implement it as an intervention.

Scheduling. For my autistic students, I've created interactive visual schedules that give them the behavior reminders they need in different settings, as well as communication prompts to help them interact verbally in class.

Reading. I had a student who would go home every day crying because other kids would tease her about her severe reading disability. When a third grader cannot read, it impacts all of her classes, especially during assessments, which are usually written. Using interactive features within TinyTap, she was able to answer questions by tapping on the answer, sliding puzzle pieces, matching and even selecting photos and images to demonstrate a point. She actually began enjoying school when she could demonstrate what she knew and what she could do using this alternatives to writing. Soon the other kids stopped teasing her when they saw the incredible "apps" she could make, and she actually became a bit of a rock star in her class.

Talk about a win-win-win! I could go on and on about the impact this one app has had on my students, not just because you can customize and individualize lessons, but because of the other areas it impacts. The improved social skills, better cooperation in group projects, increased self-esteem and the resulting friendships that have occurred have been priceless.

ISTE Standards
Most of my students are not strong independent readers yet. They do not read to learn but are still learning to read. That seriously limits the ways they can use technology at this point in their development. TinyTap is so easy to use that my first-graders can create projects, games, homework and review quizzes with minimal assistance from an adult. Doing so allows the students to address several of the standards with the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students, such as

  • Knowledge Constructor: Produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
  • Innovative Designer: Use technology in a basic design process to develop, test and refine their creations.
  • Creative Communicator: Express themselves creatively in a variety of styles and formats.
  • Global Collaborator: Use technology to work collaboratively with peer teams.

And that's just the first-graders!

Here are a few features of the app that make it easy for both teachers and students to use.

Format. It has an open format that is so simple to use, even young children can create projects with it. You are not locked into using a specific template.

Sharing. It has a marketplace with more than 70,000 activities created and shared by people from around the world in 30+ languages. You can choose to share your activities to the entire community or a select group.

Playback. You can access it from any tablet or computer. Using the data management system Insights, you can track performance data, see when assignments were completed, view correct/incorrect answers and access comparison charts.

Potential income. You have the option of uploading your creation to sell, and the staff will work with you to put it on the market. Projects that have 500 “plays” will be converted to premium content available to Pro members, and creators will be paid quarterly.

Expressive modality. TinyTap has added the ability for students to demonstrate expressive skills, as opposed to other similar apps that just assess their comprehension. The Talk or Typefeature allows students to give verbal or typed responses to questions, practice foreign language skills, construct sentences and more.

About the author:

Ellen Weber is a certified speech-language pathologist with a specialist degree in educational technology. Recently retired from the public schools of Georgia, she presents at speech pathology and ed tech conferences about using technology for therapy in the school setting. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter @ewslp1 and find her on Facebook.

Find more ways to integrate technology for deeper learning on the EdTekHub.

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