By Joan M. Brennan, guest blogger. Joan Brennan is the owner and CEO of Brennan Innovators, LLC, creator of low-tech & digital tools for challenged readers, notably the Reading Focus Cards. She is also the College for Kids Instructor at the St. Louis Community College-Meramec. Contact Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ Educators know that getting and keeping students engaged in a lesson is challenging, but it is also key to learning success. Incorporating different kinds of strategies into a lesson plan will go a long way to ensure a higher level of student engagement, especially when these methods appeal to one or more of the students’ five senses. The more senses involved, the better the engagement, mastery level of the content and the retention thereof. In our world of education today where technology has become an integral part of learning, one might ask, how can I develop “sensory” units of study when so much of what we do in the classroom involves computers and tablets? Here is a list of 13 ways to incorporate low-tech, high-tech and sensory strategies into a unit of study:
- Allow for the recording of oral notes from an online lesson with a micro-cassette recorder or other inexpensive recording device. When a main idea is presented in the digital text, it can then be recorded for future reference. The essential points that support each main idea should also be recorded as they are discovered in the text. Play back the oral notes for a variety of further study activities: to help create more accurate written notes, to facilitate in writing an essay, to review content at test time or to share with a study group. This is a good strategy for auditory learners.
- Arrange for all course and book content to be made available via audiotape or CD. This will be another very helpful strategy for students who learn best by listening.
- Use sensory-appealing tools to help isolate 1 or 2 lines of text for individuals with focusing challenges. These types of tools can help visual as well as tactile learners with their use of color, soft materials and other features. Many students can easily be overwhelmed by too much text on a computer, e-reader or tablet screen. For such an issue, a student might use these physical tools to help focus on each line of text and block out a large amount of surrounding text on a screen. This approach can make reading assignments much more manageable, breaking down the content into chunks or small sections.
- Allow for access to a copy of prepared notes, especially after an online lesson or presentation. This will give students the benefit of knowing which ideas and points are important in a unit of study for an online lesson. This can be most helpful to students with attention and focus issues, writing challenges such as dysgraphia or other difficulties.
- Provide stick-on notes for writing down main ideas from a lesson or study unit. Then allow for them to be placed on a wall at eye level. This is an effective strategy for visual learners and/or individuals with executive function challenges (memory, etc.)
- Allow for the use of colored paper for handwritten and printed materials including worksheets, outlines, notes, etc. Experiment with pastels as well as bright shades. One particular color may produce significant results for each individual reader. White page backgrounds with black text in particular can cause “visual stress” for more than a few readers.
- Along the same lines, consider the use of anti-glare computer screen filters and/or colored screen overlays when reading online content. These can decrease visually-offensive glare often caused by overhead florescent lighting, increase focus, diminish “visual stress” and help lengthen online reading and working periods. It is also recommended that appropriate colored overlays or films for smartboards and dry erase boards also be used for these purposes.
- Allow for some kind of movement when reading online content. Also, permit kneeling or standing at a computer desk (if needed), as long as it does not cause problems or distractions for others. A standing computer desk can be a huge benefit to a kinesthetic learner or to an individual with ADHD. For an even lower-tech idea, consider attaching a “soundless” elastic band or bungee cord across the 2 front legs of a non-rolling computer chair. While seated and reading online, this will allow for feet to move within a small space and can be helpful for children who must “fidget” to focus. Stress balls can provide another option or additional support for some learners.
- Consider adding 1 or more therapy balls as another seating option for students, as they work with computers or other tech devices. These types of balls strengthen core muscles and can be very therapeutic for kids who need to wiggle. These also can help develop proper posture, improved sitting habits and are good for childrenwith sensory needs.
- Permit the use of very low-volume music (instrumental) or environmental sounds (seashore, birds, etc.) while doing independent work online. Be sure to provide headphones in a classroom setting for this strategy, of course.
- Allow students to work cooperatively with others at times as part of a “buddy” system of support. This can be an excellent strategy for interpersonal learning styles. Some students simply need to talk and interact in order to learn and retain information successfully.
- Utilize text-to-speech technology, especially for students with reading challenges and for individuals who are auditory learners. Listening while reading to a text at the same time can greatly increase reading comprehension. This can be a particularly good strategy for students with dyslexia or those with low vision.
- Seek out and implement the use of effective software applications to better enable individuals to focus and read digital media with more success (whether online or offline).
With these tips in mind, you can begin to incorporate and discover the right match between tech tools and a student’s needs. It may take some time and effort, but the appropriate combination of assistive technology tools and tips can be instrumental in helping a student become a much more successful and independent learner. Sources: ReadSpeaker: Use the power of ReadSpeaker text-to-speech to give a voice to your websites, mobile apps, digital books, e-learning materials, documents, and more! Brennan Innovators, LLC: Strategies & Accommodations for Challenged Readers