Special accommodations for students in the classroom setting are critical in achieving their maximum potential and in supporting their continuous growth and development. Students must benefit from these accommodations and teachers must adapt effectively to their needs by utilizing tools and devices as part of the classroom experience. If teachers do not use these tools wisely, students and the system will suffer, thereby jeopardizing the potential for improved academic success. A variety of assistive technologies are available to students to accomplish the intended objectives and to support individual needs which involve varying degrees of technological capacity, and these reflect the importance of enabling students to achieve the necessary goals and objectives with support from these technologies. The following discussion will address the role of assistive technologies in greater detail and will emphasize how students might benefit from these tools as part of the classroom routine.
Assistive Technology Tools
A variety of assistive tools are available to guide students through the learning process and include some tools which are classified as low tech, including white boards to develop motor and reading skills; a bar magnifier to improve reading focus and potential; highlighter tape to emphasize important words within different texts; and the Master Fraction to support mathematics and fractions learning (Eichleay & DuBuske). In addition, some mid technology-based items require batteries to operate and include the Speaking Homework Wiz to improve reading and independence; the Neo keyboard to improve word processing skills; and the Talking Photo Album to improve creativity (Eichleay & DuBuske). Finally, some options that require a higher level use of technology include the Touch Window to enable touch screening; Loc Dots to identify keys on the keyboard; and Big Keys to expand the size of the letters on the keyboard so that they are easier to read (Eichleay & DuBuske). These and other assistive technologies are available to support students’ academic potential and growth and provides opportunities for teachers to provide effective guidance in the classroom setting on a consistent basis.

Principles of Universal Design

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A successful classroom experience supports an environment in which all students maximize their learning potential with a diverse curriculum that will promote expanded opportunities for learning in the classroom setting (CAST, Inc., 2012). In this context, there is a high degree of flexibility associated with learning that supports learning across many different areas that is based upon individual progression and does not follow the same pattern or schedule for all students (CAST, Inc., 2012).  This is important because not all students perform at the same level and some lack the skills required to manage their classroom activities in the same manner as other students; therefore, they often require specialized attention and focus to ensure that they will learn with the resources and timeframe that are appropriate in meeting their needs (CAST, Inc., 2012).

The concept of universal design learning is supported by three key components: recognition networks, which determines the acquisition and categorization of knowledge and allows educators to present information in a variety of ways; strategic networks, which determines how individuals achieve task formation and allows for students to express their learning in different ways; and affective networks, which supports student engagement and motivation throughout the learning process (CAST, Inc. 2012). These factors support a greater understanding of the need for learning methods that are flexible and which provide all students with opportunities to learn at their own pace and with additional assistive tools as needed so they reach their full potential and can achieve effective academic outcomes in the classroom setting and beyond.

Universal design learning also supports an understanding and acceptance of diversity among students and their level of learning within the classroom as part of the normal learning routine and supports the use of instructional materials and tools that provide a high level of flexibility to students at a variety of levels (The University of Vermont, 2016).This provides teachers with the ability to better manage their students’ learning potential and to specifically tailor the curriculum to meet student needs effectively (The University of Vermont, 2016). This approach also provides a more cost-effective approach to learning and student engagement and demonstrates the importance of maximizing the number of users for the curriculum (The University of Vermont, 2016). This reflects the importance of developing a curriculum that is cohesive, comprehensive, and supportive of the flexibility and diversity among today’s classrooms, and provides students with the best possible means of recognizing their optimal learning potential (The University of Vermont, 2016).

Conclusion

Assistive technologies provide a high level support system for students with special learning needs and demonstrate the importance of expanding the tools that are available to support students who have specific needs. These tools also enable teachers to recognize the need to provide students with tools that will meet these needs accordingly and which will engage them in the learning process over time. Furthermore, a universal design approach to learning is essential to the discovery of students’ diversity and how to achieve their maximum potential with a flexible approach to learning to promote greater growth and cost effectiveness as part of the curricular process. This requires a collaborative effort from teachers and students to promote greater engagement and enthusiasm in the classroom setting, along with the development of factors which will encourage positive learning outcomes for students with different degrees of learning potential.

    References
  • CAST, Inc. (2012). What is UDL? Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl
  • Eichleay, K., & DuBuske, S. Assistive technology continuum of low to high tech tools. Retrieved from http://assistedtechnology.weebly.com/uploads/3/4/1/9/3419723/at_continuum_generic10_06.pdf
  • The University of Vermont (2016). Universal design for learning. Retrieved from
    https://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/universaldesign/?Page=about-udl/guidelines-principles.php&SM=about-udl/submenu.html