Author Archive

Accessibility of Instructional Media for Students with Disabilities and English Learners (December 15)

December 12th, 2011 Comments off
Students with laptops, one confusing AIM with AOL Instant Messenger

Illustration by Andrew Greenstone

Many materials used for classroom and online instruction present barriers to learning for students with disabilities and English learners. This is typically inadvertent and can be corrected with basic awareness and skills. This webinar will introduce participants to strategies and resources for selecting and creating media that are accessible, resulting in improved learning opportunities for all students. Topics include accessible instructional materials (AIM), closed captioning and audio description of video, and accessible web sites.

Please join us this Thursday at 3:15 pm or 7:15 pm. For more information about accessing our MLTI webinars and to register, please click on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page.


December 8 webinar: Universal Design for Learning Across the Curriculum

December 6th, 2011 Comments off
A montage of students from different cultural backgrounds

CC BY 2.0 Vox Efx

UDL is an educational framework for developing curriculum, selecting instructional strategies, and designing assessments that work for all learners. Serving as a guide for reducing barriers to learning, UDL supports diverse students’ needs for understanding information, expressing knowledge, and activating engagement. Referenced throughout the National Education Technology Plan 2010, which guides the use of information and communication technologies in transforming American education, UDL is essential to successful technology use in the content areas. This webinar will introduce and provide demonstrations of UDL.

Please join us this Thursday at 3:15 pm or 7:15 pm. For more information about accessing our MLTI webinars or to register, please click on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page.


AIMing for Accessible Curriculum: Notes from the June 8th webinar

June 9th, 2011 2 comments
Student wearing headphones


This webinar offered an introduction to Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM), a complex but necessary component of any curriculum. It is the first in a series of Maine AIM webinars that will continue in the fall. The objectives were that participants will understand the:

  • Barriers presented by standard print materials to some students
  • Definition of AIM
  • Relevant legislation
  • Steps to successful AIM implementation
  • Sources for more information

For the sake of simplicity, the focus of this first webinar was the common inaccessibility of standard print materials to some students. It’s important to recognize, however, that materials in electronic format can also present barriers (e.g., PDFs, podcasts, video, web sites, even word processed documents). Steps to making such media accessible for all learners will be the topic of future webinars in this series.

At the beginning of the webinar, we brainstormed and discussed the abilities needed to learn from standard print materials (this same conversation applies to electronic media). We then transitioned into the reality of copyright restrictions that interfere with our ability to convert many standard print books to other formats, such as digital text or audio. So we delved into the history of copyright exemption to come to the current-day Chafee Amendment, which is the foundation of the right to convert copyrighted material to specialized formats for students with print disabilities, such as specific learning disabilities, blindness or low vision, or physical disabilities. That’s AIM: “Specialized formats of curricular content that can be used by and with learners who are unable to read or use standard print materials.” Specialized formats are defined as:

  • Braille
  • Audio
  • Large print
  • Digital text

AIM is a legal mandate. A provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), it requires schools to provide textbooks and related print materials in specialized formats to students with print disabilities — in a timely manner. In Maine, “timely manner” is defined as “at the same time as their peers.” Read more…

An Introduction to Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) for All Maine Learners (June 8, 2011 at 3:15pm)

June 1st, 2011 Comments off

Image of the Maine AIM project logoThis MLTI – Maine CITE joint webinar will introduce participants to accessible instructional materials (AIM), which enable students with print disabilities to access curricular materials in specialized formats, including digital text, audio, large print, and braille. This is important information for all educators who teach students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and blindness. Topics include barriers presented by standard print materials, relevant legislation, and steps to successful AIM implementation in schools.

Please join us on June 8th at 3:15. To register for this webinar, select the Webcasts tab at the top of the page and select the time to be directed to online registration.

April 27th – Myths, Legends, and Facts About Speech Recognition Software: A Demonstration and Discussion of Dragon Dictate

April 15th, 2011 8 comments

Speech recognition software converts spoken words to text and has been increasingly used in educational settings by students with varied needs and preferences. But what makes speech recognition a good match for a student? What are the situations and conditions under which students experience the most success? Join us as Ryan DeLone of Nuance Communications ( demonstrates, discusses, and answers questions about Dragon Speech Recognition.

Please join us on Wednesday, April 27th, at 3:15 PM. To register, click on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page and navigate to the calendar. This webinar will be recorded and archived.


Going Multimodal: Notes from the March 17 Webinar

March 18th, 2011 Comments off

Concept map of North American trees - ConiferousMany thanks to the good folks who came out for yesterday’s webinar, “Multimodal Strategies for Communication & Expression.” Ann Marie and I appreciated the contributions made, which I’ve incorporated into our notes below.

The content of the webinar was based on a 2008 white paper that was commissioned by Cisco and written by the Metiri Group, titled Multimodal Learning through Media: What the Research Says. I liked this report when it was published and decided to resurrect it as the subject of a webinar because, at just 24 pages (including appendices), it’s a bite size synthesis of the research behind multimodal learning and how it can inform the use of multimedia for instruction. The framework of the paper centers on three key aspects of multimodal learning:

  • The physical functioning of the brain (neuroscience)
  • The implications for learning (cognitive science)
  • What the above means for the use of multimedia

So, we set out to define multimodal learning, to summarize the research behind it and, most enjoyably, demonstrate and provide examples of how it can be accomplished through multimedia applications on the MLTI MacBooks. Read more…

March 17 Webinar: Multimodal Strategies for Communication and Expression

March 14th, 2011 Comments off
Cartoon image of left brain-right brain concept

Image by vaXzine, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

Multimodal strategies can be used by teachers and students alike to convey information, ideas, and concepts, as well as to express knowledge and understanding. Because each individual student effectively responds to unique inputs, such as text, audio, and visual (among others), combinations are essential to successful teaching and learning experiences.  In this webinar, we’ll review the research behind the need for multiple modes (multimodal) learning, as well as examine applications on the MLTI MacBooks that support related strategies. Comic Life, Freemind, GarageBand, iPhoto, OmniGraffle, and Photo Booth will be featured.

Please join Cynthia Curry and Ann Marie Quirion Hutton on Thursday, March 17, at 3:15 or 7:15 PM. To register, click on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page and navigate to the calendar of webinars.


Notes from the Dec 2 Webinar: Strategies & Tools for Tier I Instruction

December 6th, 2010 Comments off
Image of Juto

Academic vocabulary through images

We had two informative sessions last Thursday and I’d like to publicly thank my guests, Hillary Brumer and Jamie Jensen of RSU 21, and Robyn Bailey of Lincoln Middle School in Portland.

I’ve been promoting and teaching universal design for learning (UDL) for ten years, and as a former science teacher, I look at UDL through the lens of content area teaching. So when Response to Intervention (RTI) came along, I immediately made a connection with Tier 1, which is general education classroom instruction for all students. Now that schools are planning and implementing RTI, the demand has grown for strategies that work with the widest possible number of students. How to leverage technology with those strategies was what we aimed to deliver in both the afternoon and evening shows.

A Primer on RTI

Although most of us are either aware of or woking within RTI in schools, we introduced the webinar with a brief overview by defining it as a system of tiered interventions. One part of the history of it’s origins is that it was a response to the shortcomings of the existing referral process for special education, which is the discrepancy between a student’s IQ and how far they’ve fallen behind in general education.

The first tier of this system (Tier 1) is general classroom instruction. Tier 1 is made up of universal interventions or strategies that are known to work for most learners. According to RTI’s mandate, 80% of students are expected to respond successfully to Tier I interventions by the general education teacher.

Tier 2 interventions are more targeted than Tier 1 and are provided in the general education classroom, and Tier 3 interventions are the most intense with one-on-one instruction, typically by a specialist.

The most important message that I wanted to send about RTI is that the tiers are fluid. Students who don’t respond to Tier 1 instruction at any given time should be expected to move between or among the tiers, rather than remain in either Tier 2 or Tier 3 for extended periods of time.

For more information about RTI, please visit the Maine Department of Education and the National Center on RTI

Adopt a Capacity Mindset

“Capacity thinking” means that we believe that all students have the capacity to learn. Tapping into that capacity is the first step of Tier 1 instruction. To collect information about students’ capacities, such as their preferred ways of learning, interests, prior knowledge, culture, and content readiness, we introduced a variety of systematic learner profile tools and methods:

Learning style inventories





Home visits

Family conferences

The Tools & Strategies

Because the specific topics of the morning and afternoon sessions differed, we’ll branch off here and review the 3:15 to 4:15 PM show, followed by that for 7:15 to 8:15 PM.

Afternoon show: Strategies & tools for students with diverse learning needs and preferences

This was really a “don’t they all?” hour because the most important message that emerged was that there’s no strategy or tool for all students. As we talked about the featured MLTI applications, we continuously returned to the need to remind ourselves that technology opens up options, and not one of the tools that we demonstrated should be used without considering or combining with the others. All of the applications can be used for both teacher instruction and student learning, leading us to discuss the power of having students understand their own learning preferences and, therefore, to independently apply the strategies that work best for them. To accomplish that, explicitly teaching learning strategies to students needs to be as much a part of Tier 1 as selecting the most appropriate instructional strategies for our content areas.

Here are the tools and associated strategies:


Readability converts a “distraction-full” web page into a “distraction-free” and customizable display that clearly presents the content of the page, allowing kids (and grownups) to free themselves of the temptation to pursue an advertisement or conduct any other other off-task task.  It’s easy to set up in 2 steps at the web site of Readability

Text to Speech

Your MacBook has built-in speech, meaning that any digital text that appears on your screen can be read aloud by your computer. The history of speech synthesis might lead you to assume that all system voices are mechanical and without inflection, but recent research has contributed to great strides. Apple introduced “Alex” in Leopard and this voice continues to be a favorite among speech synthesis users. With inexpensive earphones or earbuds that many kids carry with them, the possibilities are endless:

Support for students with specific learning disabilities who benefit from both seeing the text and hearing it read aloud (with the independence to stop/start/rewind as needed)

Focus for students with ADHD

Scaffold for English learners

Proofreader for writers

For instructions, see my QuickTip at iTunes U

Additional voices, including world languages, are available for download from commercial vendors, such as


AssistiveWare Infovox iVox

Add (text selection) to iTunes as a Spoken Track

Another option is for students to convert digital text to a separate audio file spoken by Alex, which can be transferred to an MP3 player or iPod. This can be an appealing option for students who are strong auditory processors and for whom seeing the text is actually a distraction. Being “digital natives,” many students might simply prefer to listen to the audio file because it’s an opportunity to use the technology they more typically use outside of school. (But don’t forget to do checks for understanding to make sure this method is actually working for them.) Here’s how to create a spoken track of digital text, which will work in any application that is native or built for Mac OS X, including but not limited to Safari, TextEdit, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Mail, and NoteShare:

  1. Highlight the text that you want to convert to an audio file
  2. Go to the application’s menu (e.g., if you’re in Safari, go to the Safari menu in the upper left corner of the window)
  3. Choose “Services”
  4. Choose “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track” (If you don’t see this, choose “Services Preferences…” at the bottom of the same menu. This will open System Preferences. In the scrolling area on the right side, find the Text section, and then choose the box for “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track”)
  5. The file will open in iTunes.

If you’re unfamiliar with iTunes or otherwise need help beyond this step, don’t hesitate to contact me or any MLTI Integration Mentor.

Speech Recognition

We discussed both the successes and the pitfalls of speech recognition, which is a technology that allows users to control their computers by speaking. It is commonly suggested as a potential solution for students who have difficulty with writing because the spoken words appear on screen. It’s true that speech recognition has been shown to work for this purpose, but only when the software has been purposefully matched with the needs, preferences, and strengths of the student for whom it is being suggested. You can learn more about speech recognition for the Mac at the web site of Nuance.


Jamie, who is now the K-12 Technology Integrator for RSU 21, is a former high school math teacher. He gave a demonstration of how he used GeoGebra to help students interactively visualize and graph algebraic equations. GeoGebra is pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks.

Voice Recording

For some students, speaking what they know is the most effective way for us to measure the extent to which they are making progress toward meeting unit objectives. And, as teachers, conveying information in both text and voice can mean the difference between some and most students’ understanding of our message. This can be accomplished using QuickTime Player on your MLTI MacBook. Here are the steps:

  1. Open QuickTime Player
  2. Go to File > New Audio Recording (note that this version of QuickTime also supports movie and screen recordings)
  3. Press the red record button on the Audio Recording floating window
  4. Make your recording
  5. Press stop button
  6. Play your recording back to confirm your satisfaction
  7. Save the file to your computer and share it via email, web site, blog, wiki, pen drive, etc


Hillary shared with us a screenshot of a student’s iCal calendar. It’s color-coded by subject area. Beyond due dates, it includes projects that the student is working on to make sure they are completed by the due date, as well as activities outside of school. iCal can also be shared across computers, enabling parents and others to support students’ organization and schedules. iCal is pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks.

Concept Mapping

We concluded with the process of concept mapping, which is a meaning-making strategy. Sometimes called mind mapping, visual mapping, or webbing, among other terms, this has shown to be effective at helping learners make connections among ideas, facts, and concepts. When used as formative assessment, it’s a way to identify learning misconceptions. MLTI MacBooks have two concept mapping applications that we discussed and demonstrated: OmniGraffle and Freemind.

Resources that were shared during the afternoon show:

CITEd TechMatrix

UDL Toolkit

EdTech Solutions

LD OnLine

WestEd’s Using Technology to Support Diverse Learners

Evening show: Strategies & tools for English learners

We began the evening show by discussing the unique needs and preferences of English learners. Robyn provided us with a description of teaching science to English learners. We chose to focus on strategies associated with academic vocabulary because, although a unique process for English learners, it is a need for all students across the content areas. Robyn introduced us to Juto, whose picture appears on this blog post, a student whose first language is Japanese and was the mini case study of our webinar.

Robyn walked us through the steps of a strategy that she commonly uses when introducing a new unit. We broke the steps down into individual strategies and accompanying tools.

The first strategy we call “multiple means of accessing text” by using Open Education Resources (OERs) in digital text format that can be accessed via text to speech, conversion to audio file, text enlargement, or Braille.

The second is “differentiation of text types and complexity” by providing tiered instructional materials at her Portaportal page (Lexile level, use of images, amount of text vs white space, etc).

The third strategy we identified is “supporting legibility and readability of text” by utilizing Readability.

The fourth is “student identification and recording of unknown words,” for which Stickies, pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks, was chosen.

And, finally, “analysis of words and building of vocabulary” was demonstrated through the use of a digital Frayer Model.

Resources shared during the evening webinar included

MARVEL (Maine’s Virtual Library is host to numerous databases and can be searched by Lexile levels)

IRIS Center’s Cultural and Linguistic Differences:  What Teachers Should Know

IRIS Center’s Anchoring Math Instruction to Cultural Relevance

IRIS Center’s RTI and Cultural Considerations

English Language Learner Instruction in Middle and High School

Pre-reading Activities for ELLs

NCCRESt Practitioner Briefs

Across both the afternoon and evening webinars, we concluded that

  • Tier 1 universal interventions are based on what we know about how most students learn;
  • We need knowledge of our students in order to select the most appropriate strategies, and therefore the right tools;
  • Technology opens up means and modalities by which students can meet the same high expectations.

December 2nd Webinar: Strategies & Tools for Tier I Instruction

November 29th, 2010 2 comments
Image of construction scaffolding

Scaffolding by Brett Weinstein used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

Tier I instruction refers to Response to Intervention (RTI), which is a method of supporting student achievement and preventing failure. Through a school’s RTI plan, instruction and interventions are matched to student need, and are adjusted in relation to student response as measured by assessment of learning. Tier I instructional strategies and interventions are those selected and used by general education teachers, and applications on the MLTI laptops can support teachers in implementing effective practices for content area learning.

During the 3:15 to 4:15 PM delivery of this webinar, Hillary Brumer, Assistive Technology Specialist, and Jamie Jensen, K-12 Technology Integrator, both of RSU 21, are our guests. We will discuss and demonstrate targeted strategies for supporting students with diverse learning needs.

Between 7:15 and 8:15 PM, Robyn Bailey, science teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Portland, will be our guest. We’ll discuss and demonstrate targeted strategies for supporting students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Both sessions will be delivered on Thursday, December 2nd. For information and to register, please choose the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

Accessible Media for Everyone: A Matter of Digital Citizenship

July 21st, 2010 1 comment
Closed caption example

Image by Henrique used under a GNU Free Documentation license, version 1.2

I’m preparing for a session at next week’s MLTI Summer Institute in Castine. So I’m doing some thought processing and figured I’d take advantage of our blogging platform to make that public, and hopefully fine tune my message in the process.

Access to information is a civil right. It has it’s roots in legislative mandates, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, amended in 2008 (ADA). Section 508, a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology, including websites and software, accessible to people with disabilities, which has broader and direct implications for organizations that receive Federal funds. Most recently and relevant to education was the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, which has provisions for universal design for learning (UDL). The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 has a provision for UDL, as well. (As an aside, you might be interested in reading the recent “Dear Colleague” letter that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education jointly wrote to the presidents of all U.S. colleges and universities, advising them to not use ereaders that are inaccessible to students with blindness.)

With today’s tools, including those readily available to 1:1 MLTI schools, consistently meeting the legal mandates and – more importantly – doing the right thing has never been closer to conceivable. With awareness, knowledge, and skills (typically in that order), both teachers and students can become self-organizers of practices that model, promote, and foster accessibility for all individuals. I argue that this is an integral component of digital citizenship.

Here’s a classic example: Teachers and students are increasingly creating video to convey information in engaging and innovative ways. Indeed, video is a multimodal technology that can be effective for both teaching and learning. To be a model of UDL, however, even video needs to be scrutinized for accessibility for a wide range of learner needs and preferences. What are the abilities necessary to acquire information from a video? Consider students who are deaf or hard of hearing and learners for whom English is not their first language. Add closed captioning to the video and its content becomes inherently accessible to more students, and even embeds a literacy strategy for all learners.

With some training, coordination, and support from an administrator, teachers and students can accomplish closed captioning of their videos with a product like QuickTime, and begin modeling accessibility and digital citizenship for a wide audience.

A similar “barrier to learning” analysis can be conducted for all of the electronic information and digital instructional materials that we and our students create. And if we collaborate with students in this process, we’ll model and ultimately instill a disposition for doing the right thing.