TTAC Topics                                                                                               November 2015
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Free and low cost web tools for reading and writing
Many students who struggle with reading and writing benefit from the use of assistive technology with features such as text to speech, word prediction, editing tools, online dictionaries, and voice recognition. Never before have these types of assistive technologies been so accessible and so inexpensive.
Google Chrome has exploded with built-in tools called extensions. These tools are universally accessible and easily available to students with disabilities who require assistance in the areas of reading and writing. With all of these new tools comes another learning curve for teachers, students and families.  To get you started, below are some questions and answers to help you.
Do I need Google Chrome and the Internet to use these tools?
Yes, you do need the Internet browser, Google Chrome.  Since these tools are all connected to Google Chrome, you must use them while connected to the Internet.  You must also have a Google Mail (Gmail) account.  It's easy to set up one up using online tutorials such as this one: Some people believe you must use a Chromebook in order to access these tools.  This is not true.  These tools can be used on any computer or tablet that uses the Google Chrome browser while logged into your Gmail account.
What are add-ons and extensions and how do I get these tools?
Some of you are already using Google Docs, an online word processor with built in editing tools. Google Docs has add-ons that provide specific word processing features such as spell check, dictionary, and translator.  These add-ons are located under Tools in a Google Doc. 
Chrome extensions are small software programs with features that are applied to a web page or within Google Drive and enhance the functions of the Chrome browser. Extensions are available through the Chrome Web Store.
Which tools should I try first?
Here are 3 simple tools to get you started:
  • Read & Write for Google (Extension) - This is a powerful, high-quality program with features such as word prediction, highlighting, word and picture dictionary, text to speech, and speech recognition. It is available for a 30-day trial.  After the trial expires, a free one-year educational account is needed to continue with the premium features.  School divisions may purchase student access for a minimal fee.
  • Speak It  (Extension) - This extension converts text to speech and reads selected text in Google Docs, email, and on websites.  Download it from the Chrome Web Store.  It's free.
  • Voice Typing (Add-on) - This is a simple voice recognition program located under tools in a Google Doc.   Open a Google Doc, select Voice Typing under tools, click on the microphone, and begin speaking.  It will translate your speech into text and add punctuation when told.  It recognizes multiple languages and voice training is not needed. No special microphone is required either. It's free.
How do I get started?
If you have questions about acquiring Google Chrome and establishing an e-mail account, work with your technology support staff to learn about school restrictions.
Try these tools yourself and then share with your students. Our students are natural technology learners so get them involved in exploring these tools.  They will self-select the tools that are easiest and most effective for them.
Learn about additional tools by contacting an AT specialist at the T/TAC at VCU or view the webinar, Free Technology Tools for Struggling Readers, presented by Jennifer Mitchell, ODU T/TAC, during the 2014 Virtual TechKnowledgy Conference:

Gaining insight and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders is a click away
Most recent data from the Center for Disease Control estimates 1 in 68 children have been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurological disorder that impacts how individuals communicate, interact, behave and learn. The abilities of individuals with ASD vary from individual to individual, requiring different levels of assistance and strategies for success. In an effort to provide information for those who support, instruct, work with, or live with an individual with ASD, the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) has created a website that contains up-to-date news on ASD, as well as other resources. The Autism Center at OCALI is a free clearinghouse of information on research, resources, and trends related to autism challenges.  The website offers an expansive set of 45 online modules that provide high-quality professional development, including modules on the 27 evidence based practices related to ASD. Each of the modules guides the user through case studies, instructional videos, pre and post assessments, a glossary, and more. Upon completion of the modules, printable certificates are provided to verify participation and completion of selected modules.  What a great resource for self selected, self paced professional development!  To access these modules visit:

Planning for the transition to kindergarten
As a Pre-K teacher, do you ask yourself, "Will my students be ready for kindergarten by June?" You may be thinking, "It's only November! I've got plenty of time to prepare the way for the next step in their educational journey. I'll think about that in April or May. I've got too much stuff to do right now."

Fall is the best time to be thinking about transition and putting a process in place for making the transition to kindergarten the smoothest possible. 

The T/TAC at VCU library has plenty of resources available to plan a process for the transition to kindergarten. One book in particular, Tools for Transition in Early Childhood: A Step-by-Step Guide for Agencies, Teachers, and Families, by Beth Rous and Rena Hallam, is an excellent source of information for teachers and families. It emphasizes taking a community-based approach to transition by establishing a transition team; assessing current connections between child-school, family-school, preschool-kindergarten, and community-school; developing strategies to solve common barriers to transition (work plan); and, providing opportunity for follow up and evaluation of current practices. These connections will be crucial in gathering enough information as to what supports will need to be in place. 

Don't wait until it's too late to start the transition process....reading books to preschoolers about kindergarten and sending a flyer home to families about an open house day at their local elementary school is not enough to help our little ones and their families make one of the biggest transitions in their lives.  Check out this book and other resources to support the transition process from our library.

VDOE's Training and Technical Assistance Center at VCU
700 E Franklin Street, Suite 140
P.O. Box 843081
Richmond, VA 23284-3081