For educators, Back to School means getting to know a new group of students as individuals and learners. Knowing a learner impacts teacher instruction, content, and support to maximize student success. This is no easy task considering each student has a different learning path and have both skills that they have mastered and ones still needed. As a student progresses throughout the grades it becomes more difficult for educators to access differentiated material and textbooks to support the needs of all learners. Consider this, how many textbooks in MS and HS come in multiple accessibility-levels or languages?
For many, the answer is ZERO. That is why it is imperative for all teachers and students to be aware of the tools and resources available to support learning. In the broad sense of the definition, assistive technology is any tool, program, or resource that helps people with disabilities work around challenges they may face so that they may learn, communicate, and function better. All of this while working towards independence. (Understood.org)
And while not all teachers specialize in assistive technology, all educators should be aware of possible resources to use when it comes to providing accessible and inclusive learning environments.
My #1 Recommendation for Back to School Assistive Tech is… Immersive Reader.
Immersive Reader is a free Microsoft Learning Tool that implements proven techniques to improve reading and writing for people, regardless of their age or ability. Think of it as a way to customize reading experiences based on need or preference.
Not only should every educator be aware of Immersive Reader, but should also take time to model it in the classroom so that all students are exposed to this resource. Here are 5 Hidden Gems of Immersive Reader:
- Free and in the cloud – Immersive Reader is FREE. And just like most Microsoft products, it is available in the cloud, meaning, you can use Immersive Reader on any device! A Surface Tablet, Chromebook, Macbook, iPad… you get the point. The device or browser does not matter. You may teach in a school with a Google domain, outfitted with Macbooks, fine, do what’s best for kids, not brands! Make learning and text accessible with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader.
- Bilingual documents and text – How many educators work in an environment with learners who are bilingual? English Learners? A more interesting question to pose may be, How many of us work in a school where there are NO ELLs? All of our students are English – speaking learners? The only language spoken at home or outside of school is English? Classrooms around the country not only have English Learners but these students also have multiple native languages. Immersive Reader provides real-time translation in over 60 languages (additions made frequently) and also has the ability for the user to continuously flip between the original text and the translated version. And why stop at students? Use Immersive reader to support school to home communication as well and provide accessible information to all.
- Picture Dictionary – Along with the ability for real-time translation to create accessible text, Immersive Reader provides users with a Picture Dictionary. Not only are pictures included for words users select, but audio let’s students hear the pronunciation as well. And if the document is translated into a different language, the built-in dictionary includes the picture, audio for pronunciation, and translation in both languages simultaneously!
- Line Focus and Parts of Speech – Immersive Reader includes many options for readers to customize their experience. The best way to learn about these options is to dive in and test it out yourself but two of my favorites are Line Focus and Parts of Speech. Line Focus is perfect for students who have visual or attention difficulties. Choose from single-line view or a 3-line view to highlight the text as you read. Line Focus provides less distraction and more focus. To support language learning and comprehension, another Immersive Reader option is the ability to label parts of speech within the text. Students can now visually see by both color and label if the word is a noun, verb, etc. Knowing the parts of speech helps with comprehension and allows students to learn language independently.
- Integration with apps – In true alignment to the Microsoft Mission: to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Immersive Reader is now available to be added by third-party apps and partners. The first wave of partners include Buncee,Follett, JogNog,Kortext, Mindsets Learning, MyDay,Nearpod, OhBot, Oxford University Press,PowerSchool, SiLAS,Skooler,Squigl, ThingLink, Wakelet, Flipgrid. Inclusion and accessibility integration has provided even more students the ability to use Immersive Reader in more places!
Immersive Reader is my #1 Must-Have Back to School Assistive Technology recommendation for 2019. Immersive Reader is perfect across all disciplines and grade-levels because of the various options to customize one’s reading experience. It not only empowers learners with dyslexia, ADHD, emerging readers, non-native speakers, and people with visual impairments; but helps ALL students.