by Valerie Chernek
From the Editor: This article first appeared on the Learning Ally website in its teaching and education blogs on May 10, 2018. That post can be found at http://www.learningally.org/
Educators/Educator-Blog/PostId/907/tech-tools-and-learning-modalities-level-the-learning-field-for-students-with-vision-impairments. Valerie Chernek is an advocate for teachers and writes about educational best practices using technology to support children with learning disabilities and special needs. Here is what she has to say:
Paige Morra wanted to be an engineer. She thought her career goals were all set until she interned and completed her practicum for Dr. Edward Bell, a professor who directs the Louisiana Tech graduate programs for the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness. Dr. Bell and his wife Mrs. Maria Morais are blind.
Paige says, “I experienced firsthand how people who are blind can lead incredibly “normal” lives. Dr. Bell and Maria opened my eyes to the true definition of what is possible for people with vision impairments. They are accomplished professionals, wonderful parents, and extraordinary role models. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to help more students with visual impairments succeed. I wanted sighted people to understand what real learning potential is for these learners.”
Paige changed her major to family and child studies. She volunteered at summer camps. She learned Braille and the benefits of technologies to equip students with visual and print challenges to succeed academically. She graduated with a master of art in teaching and now works at Plano Independent School District as a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI).
Paige is the first TVI to receive Learning Ally’s Winslow Coyne Reitnouer Excellence in Teaching Award. We loved her remarkable contributions to the field of special education and blindness in support of students (infants to age twenty-two) and her unwavering belief that students with visual impairments can achieve great things with the right tech tools and learning modalities. “I fell in love with the field,” she says, “It was like a door opened and said, ‘You can make a real difference! Learning Ally is a big part of the solution!’”
Many of Paige’s students learn in Braille because they like the tactile form of comprehending curriculum. Other students learn through audiobooks, sometimes referred to as “ear-reading,” because they prefer to listen to text narrated by subject experts. “This modality enhances students’ comprehension and critical-thinking skills,” says Paige. “They get the full context of the story. It’s awesome to see children with headsets on so absorbed in a story or giggling about something they are reading.”
A fourth grader with a degenerative eye condition prefers to follow the printed book in Braille and follow along through headphones with human-narrated audio from Learning Ally. “This resource made a huge difference for students to get their books on time in accessible audio format,” she says. Some students have short attention spans—a challenge for many teachers—but with quality education technology, these students are super-engaged learners.
“Whether they use a Perkins Braillewriter, a Mountbatten, a BrailleNote Apex, or Learning Ally audiobooks, these tools keep students ahead of the curve, on grade level, and socially no different than other students. This is a good thing to feel and look normal, just like everyone else,” said Paige.
She believes that when children with learning differences start early to use technology, they become independent readers. Using an iPad with Learning Ally’s Link app, students can easily enlarge font size to reduce eyestrain, bookmark chapters or sections to take notes for reports, and follow precise page numbers as a printed textbook. “These functions level the learning field for students, especially as they progress to upper grades and prepare for college,” said Paige, who is always thinking about her students’ future.
This tech-savvy teacher uses her smartphone to monitor her student’s progress. She logs into Learning Ally’s Teacher Ally dashboard and downloads performance data to discuss with teachers and parents and to prepare a students’ IEP (individualized education programs). She can quickly assign a required audiobook to a student’s account and take advantage of the ready-made reading engagement programs that Learning Ally offers teachers throughout the year at no cost.
Paige says, “Parents are excited to know that their child can access the digital library even when school is not in session or if there is no internet at home. Parents appreciate the reading independence Learning Ally human-read audiobooks provide. I appreciate knowing that we have equipped more students for success and helped to change the course of their lives, just as Dr. Bell and Maria did for me.”