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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Read and Write Gold EQAO pilot teacher spotlight

TDSB Pilot teachers reflect on Read and Write Gold EQAO journey

Grade 3 students at Thorncliffe Park Public School are smiling. The students and their teachers, Susan Sanderson (Grade 3 HSP) and Dina Ashburner (SERT/IT), are energetically following their first in-class session of the Assistive Technology (AT) teams' EQAO Read and Write Gold (RWG) pilot.

Many of the Thorncliffe students, although not new to technology use in school, are new to the assistive technology software Read and Write Gold. “It's fun and remarkable. It helps me learn,” said one grade 3 student. “It's really great. It helps us learn,” another student added. (Many of the students shared about "What Are Germs?", the title of the non-fiction text they had read that morning.)

Thorncliffe Park P.S. teachers Susan Sanderson (left) and
 Dina Ashburner (right) are two of over 30 teachers across the
TDSB who are part of the second year of the AT EQAO RWG pilot.
During the first in-class session, students learn to use specific tools found in the programme Read and Write Gold - text-to-speech, word prediction, and different colours of highlighters – to support them in answering EQAO-type questions such as multiple choice and short answer questions. One of the main goals of the pilot is to have students be able to use AT independently to support their comprehension and to respond to questions using features of Read and Write Gold in their classrooms and specifically during EQAO testing.

“It's good for the students that they get excited,” Ashburner said. “It will take the pressure off them when they do EQAO. It's hard and they feel like they can do (the test) themselves.”

The students learn to select and use the text-to-speech function of RWG as auditory support to their reading comprehension as well as editing support in writing. They use the word prediction, which also has auditory component, to help support their word use and written expression. The itinerant teachers model the use of the highlighters in a number of ways including identifying evidence in the text they are reading as well as in the process of elimination when student respond to multiple choice questions.

A tweet by TDSB Director Chris Spence on October 11 stated, “We have and continue to underestimate our students with special education needs. Exemptions are down and scores are up.”

The RWG EQAO pilot may be a contributing factor to Spence's sentiments. Many elementary special education students who participated in last year’s pilot, used Read and Write Gold to write the assistive technology version of the EQAO test.

“Read and Write Gold will really help them (the student) express themselves.” Sanderson said. “(When writing EQAO) they will feel more comfortable and confident.”

Lianne McCrea, a grade 3 HSP teacher at Williamson Road Public School, who is also participating in the EQAO pilot this year, says the pilot has been helpful so far in helping her become more familiar with the Read and Write Gold software and how she can connect its use in her Special Education classroom. “Preparing HSP kids for EQAO is a daunting task this helps to give me some ideas on how to approach it with them.” McCrea said.

All together over 30 teachers of grade 3 and/or grade 6 students, in HSP and ISP classrooms, are taking part in the Special Education pilot project. During the pilot, set to run from November through early May. Special Education teachers and their students receive three in-class sessions working with an itinerant teacher. Teachers also meet in geographical region assigned Learning Communities between each in-class session, to share strategies, successes and problem solve ways to support students use of Read and Write Gold.

Reflection on AT EQAO pilot year one
Last year Vesna Mavrou, the HSP/SERT/MART at Tom Longboat Jr. P.S. and her students participated in the inaugural year of the EQAO pilot. She says the most useful part for her students was the directed instruction on how to use the Read and Write Gold software and the specific tools and setting a student would need to effectively use the technology.

“Although it may be difficult at first using the technology the great part is that the students and teacher have fun learning together and everyone is at the same starting point,” Mavrou said. “A few things that were helpful were having the students practise logging in with their own student numbers and passwords, bringing up the Read and Write Gold tool bar and having students saving their work and retrieving it. The only part which was time consuming and worrisome is saving the test and creating files on their desktop for students to access. However, there is support if a teacher needs it.”

Friday, 23 November 2012

Read and Write Gold EQAO pilot year two underway

Taking Flight with Read and Write: Using Assistive Technology to Support Students Writing EQAO

Last year, our Department piloted an EQAO and Assistive Technology project that was geared for students in Special Education. The students were trained on the specific features of Read and Write Gold that can be used in conjunction with the EQAO assessment. After analyzing students' EQAO results from last year, it was quite evident that assistive technology was highly successful in helping students find achievement when writing their EQAO tests. We also learned from last year’s pilot, that fewer students were exempted from the Provincial assessment, as more students with special needs are able to demonstrate their understanding by using assistive technology.
This year, we decided to expand on our EQAO and Assistive Technology project by opening up this pilot to more schools in the East and West. Our itinerant resource teachers designed an anchor chart that provides visual prompts for which specific Read and Write Gold tools to use when answering multiple choice, short answer and creative writing pieces.

At the first of three in-class sessions, the itinerant resource teachers have been working with teachers and their students to help them set-up their Read and Write Gold toolbars so that they only include the specific features that are permitted for EQAO (e.g., word prediction, highlighters, play back features). The students have also been practicing setting up dual screen mode so that they can see the text on the left of their screen and have a working document on the right-hand side to respond to the questions. Students have also been practicing reading and responding to EQAO-type literacy questions to help prepare them for their EQAO assessment in the Spring.

The classroom teachers have also been grouped together into learning communities, by region, so that they are able share classroom successes and challenges they have experienced using Read and Write Gold with their students. These learning communities also provide an opportunity for the participating teachers to share how they have been using Read and Write Gold, in addition to our in-class sessions, to support their students for the EQAO assessment.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Assitive Tech TDSB: Curriculum PD session spotlight

Professional Development Sessions
This week we launched a new series of PD sessions; ‘Using IWB to support students in DD ISP classrooms’ and ‘Using IWB to support students with ASD’. Both these sessions were available on Key to Learn for registration.
The first session provided participants with strategies and suggestions for using the SMART and Promethean Board to support students with developmental disabilities. Through demonstration and hands on experience, participants explored how to use the IWB to support readiness, reasoning, fine motor skills, language and mathematical skills among their students.

Embedded sound file (right of page) allows for student independence as instructions
are read out loud so students can play file as many times as required. 

Tools like a digital pen and eraser (bottom left of page) can be embedded on the page
to allow for easy student access to tool selection.

The second session provided participants with strategies and suggestions for using the Interactive White Board to support students with Autism. Participants explored how to use the interactive white board to support communication, attention, social skills and participation among their students.

Keep an eye open on Key to Learn for additional sessions throughout the year!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Spotlight: ASD Interactive Whiteboard Learning Communities

Spotlight: ASD Learning Communities

The Assistive Technology team is committed to providing exceptionality-specific professional development within our SEA interactive whiteboard learning communities. Exceptionality-specific groupings enable teachers to network and learn with/from other teachers who may be working with a similar population of learners. The goal of our learning communities is to build capacity among teachers within a culture of collaboration where the expertise and skills of our teachers are honoured and used as a platform for professional learning.

Currently, the team is supporting all teachers of Autism Intensive Support Programs who have received a SEA IWB through two learning community groups – one in the east and the other in the west. Our first sessions were recently held and focused on visual literacy and the use of visual supports for both academic and hidden curriculum areas of learning/development of students with an ASD. Some of the areas discussed included; motor development, visual tracking, anxiety, sequencing discrete tasks and the promotion of social/academic independence through the use of the IWB.

Customizable sample choice board template page that can be used for students to select preferred activities, assignment choices, regulation strategies, etc. 

Sample sequencing page for personal organization at the end of the school day – can include images, various shades/intensity of colour to represent progression towards ‘home time’ and imbedded sound in order to reduce direct adult support/prompting.

Creating lesson activities
Together teachers explored sample lessons/activities, de-constructed the tools and features used to create the lessons and made meaningful connections between the assistive technology, their current professional practice and the teaching/learning needs of their students.

During our imbedded planning time, teachers used the IWB tools and features to create and save visual literacy lesson/activities to be used in classrooms – the very next day!

The first session of the SEA IWB LCs were completed this week. The next session will focus on more curriculum based integration of the IWB in teaching and learning with a particular focus on media and the use of the ActiView document camera.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Learning Communities session 1: Low Incidence (Elementary) spotlight

Low Incidence (Elementary) Learning Community Celebration

Five Core Areas of Learning
Our Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) Learning Communities (LC) are well underway. Several of our LCs focus on the learning needs of students in Low Incidence classes. Our Low Incidence LC sessions follow the 5 Core Areas of Learning as the overall guiding principle. The 5 Core Areas of Learning are: Physical Development (Motor Skills), Communication & Language, Functional Academics (Literacy and Numeracy), Daily Living, and Social & Emotional.

Demonstration of how a “Communication Book” can be used and created on an IWB.
Communication and Language - Functional Academics
Our first LC focused on Communication and Language and the Literacy portion of Functional Academics. During this LC session suggestions of ways to use the IWB to facilitate these concepts were shown to the teachers. Aspects of functional literacy and various ways to communicate through the IWB were demonstrated from the concrete to the more abstract. Teachers had an opportunity to explore various ways to access the IWB, while wearing both a student and a teacher hat. Another powerful aspect to these sessions was their eagerness to share experiences from their classes and how the IWB engaged and motivated their students. Several teachers commented on how valuable the LC session was and how they appreciated that the LC session focused on the exceptionality needs of their classroom by providing examples and suggestions that were relevant to the learning needs of their students.

Two Learning Community teachers collaborating to create an activity on the IWB.