Five ways to create a more inclusive classroom using technology
With Global Accessibility Awareness Day on the 21st May, the T4L team asked Joe Allen, the Assistive Technology Advisor for the Disability, Learning and Support team in the NSW Department of Education, to be our guest blogger for the week. He developed five key things you can do today to create a more inclusive classroom. Take it away, Joe!
In 2020, our classrooms are more diverse than ever before.
In our NSW Public Schools, more than 125,000 students receive personalised learning and support and more than 80% of these students are in our mainstream classrooms.
As teachers, we know we must provide reasonable adjustments, under the Disability Standards for Education (2005), to provide students with a rigorous, meaningful and dignified education on the same basis as their peers.
However, at times this can be overwhelming and the challenges to meet all student’s needs can feel insurmountable. Luckily, we have incredible support within the Department and amazing teachers that are dedicated and up for the challenge.
1. Consider Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Universal Design for Learning is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. This approach offers flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with it and show what they know.
Some students require adjustments to the lesson content, to the learning environment or to the way they receive and process the information but often when these adjustments are put in place for the whole class, it can benefit all.
What is essential for some can be useful for all!
A simple example is providing lesson materials in a digital and accessible format. Many students engage better with digital materials as they can personalise how they use their technology to suit them but for students with disability, this can enable access to this content using assistive technology that they may have not had access to before.
A great example of UDL in action can be seen in this video of Bowraville Central School and how they made a literacy tool available to all students in a year 7 class to ensure all students have the support they need.
2. Create accessible content
Just because you have made your lesson digital does not mean it is accessible to all of your students. Creating accessible lesson content for your students does not have to be rocket science and there are some simple tips to think about:
• Use simple fonts, use headings, line spacing and Plain English to make your content more readable.
Technology has the immense power to enhance the support and engagement of students but the wide range of options available can be overwhelming.
It is easy to be blinded by the bright lights of the new and fancy tech that is on the market but is it the most appropriate tech for your students’ needs?
One way to identify if you are on the right track is by using the SETT Framework. Created by Joy Zabala, SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks and Tools. The idea is that you consider the needs of the student, the learning environments that they are in and the tasks that they are required to complete BEFORE you consider what are the best tools and technology to match.
When introducing technology, where possible, do so with the whole class. For example, if you think a student would benefit from a literacy support tool like the Immersive Reader, why not show it to the whole class?
Even Minecraft, which has become an incredible learning tool for the classroom, can be used to start discussions in your class about accessibility. Check out the latest Minecraft challenges two of which are based around creating an accessible solution!
5. Start small but with purpose
What is clear is that we are all on a spectrum of understanding when it comes to accessibility and inclusive design but regardless of your level of understanding, there are always new things to learn!
You also don’t need to implement everything at once. Start with the student first and focus on what they need and go from there.
So, today I challenge you to ask yourself the question “what can I start doing today that will better support all students in my classroom?”
Joe Allen is the Assistive Technology Advisor for the Disability, Learning and Support team in the NSW Department of Education. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org