Technology provides so many rich experiences for students - virtual field trips, cutting-edge software with personalized activities, interactive models and more! And it also helps level the playing field for students who learn differently.
Meg Hoehn is a Special Education Lead Teacher in our Richfield College Experience Program and has been teaching in RPS since 2008. During her career, she has seen technology make major advancements when it comes to teaching and engaging her students.
“When I first started teaching, the tools I needed did exist, but they were not easy to access,” explained Meg. “If I had a student who needed to type their answers, I had to find and give them an AlphaSmart or pull them into a computer lab, away from their class. If I had a student who needed the audio version of a novel, I had to provide them with a CD player and headphones - and sometimes ended up pulling them into the hallway so they could listen without standing out amongst their peers. If I wanted to give an accommodated version of a worksheet to a student, I would try to hand it off without drawing too much attention, but sometimes it was obvious.”
Thanks to advances in technology, she has been able to seamlessly integrate these accommodations into her teaching. Typing is easy now that students have access to Chromebooks. Books are readily available as audiobooks for download or to check out from the library, and individualized assignments can be discreetly given to students in class through Schoology, the online learning platform that stores all classroom and homework material in the cloud for students to access 24/7.
Tools that are becoming more common today across the web to improve accessibility for sight-impaired or hearing-impaired people are also now available in school. Features like closed-captioning, voice-to-text and the ability to record voice and video are all readily available on all Chromebooks. Teachers and students can leave voice or video messages for each other, and when students do a presentation, it can be recorded, uploaded and reviewed for feedback by the teacher. This allows for richer feedback, given on the teacher’s schedule instead of being limited by the bell schedule.
Last year, during Inclusive Schools Week, Meg taught all the students in the Richfield College Experience Program how to use the accessibility tools that are built into their Chromebooks and Google Suite — tools that will help them access jobs, services and e-commerce sites long after leaving high school.
“These tools are not just for students who need accommodations, they are for everybody,” added Meg. “My daughter uses voice-to-text in her third-grade classroom. I asked her teacher about it, and she explained that it helps students to better express themselves. She has the students start by using voice-to-text to get all their words out. Then they go back and create sentences, add details, correct spelling and fix their grammar.” As a teacher, this made a lot of sense to Meg.
“A lot of students - and people in general - can get caught up on something they can’t do, such as writing an outline or spelling things correctly. This prevents them from effectively expressing themselves. So by talking to get all their ideas out first, then going back to revise, students still learn all the skills needed for writing great, unique content that they otherwise wouldn’t have produced,” she explained. “Tools like voice-to-text help so many people communicate freely, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.”
“I am so thankful for what I can do so easily to make school more welcoming for students with disabilities,” said Meg. “Not only that, but I teach them every day to use tools they'll have easy access to even after they graduate - they won't need to find that AlphaSmart or that book on tape - and that's a great feeling!”
Q & A with Meg Hoehn
How do you feel technology is best used in the classroom?
When done well, technology enhances our instruction. It does not replace a good teacher.
What does it mean to have an accommodation?
I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about accommodations. Some people believe it lowers the bar for students. What it really does is level the playing field so that everyone can access learning. For example, if a student is not a good reader yet, practice is still essential. But they don’t need to be fluent in reading to understand a story or analyze literature. Analyzing is a thinking activity. If a student can listen to an audiobook, and then demonstrate comprehension and analytical skills, isn’t that part of the goal? Technology devices allow students to accomplish higher-level thinking without getting bogged down in skills they are still developing.
What’s an example of how technology really helped one of your students succeed?
During the pandemic, I had one student who ended up working for his family’s construction company. Because we were able to issue Chromebooks to all our students, he took his laptop with him to the construction sites to get schoolwork done during the day. He was so proud of his ability to stay on top of things thanks to mobile technology, that he was sending me selfies with his laptop on the job!
What is your favorite thing about your job (not necessarily technology-related)?
Seeing students grow into who they are and who they are going to be. I have the unique opportunity to have taught some of my current students when they were middle schoolers, and it is so special to see them now as high schoolers — they understand themselves better and are more autonomous. I love that Richfield is small enough for these connections to be maintained!