Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Monthly Archives: February 2012

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Task Management Applications

Over the past couple of months I have went from one extreme to another when it comes to providing assistive technology (AT) consultations.  By far the number one reason I am asked to provide AT consults is to assist in finding appropriate communication systems for students who are non-verbal.  However, recently I have been brought in to help with a number of students who suffer from ADHD or similar disorders.  These students may be performing well (many are straight A students), but struggle with time management, prioritizing, scheduling and other skills that are necessary for success.  Because of this I thought I would use today’s post as an opportunity to list a few task management apps that students who struggle in these areas may benefit from.  Since many of the students I work with have access to a smart phone or other mobile device such as an iPod, most of the listings below are found in App stores, but some have a web based or installable software version as well.


A quick disclaimer… These are just a few of the many options available at the time of this writing. These are not recommendations, just options.  As opposed to listing 10 apps that do the same thing, I tried breaking them into categories.  The one you or your student finds most beneficial will be dependent on individuals needs.


Basic Task Management Apps:

These apps are very basic.  Create a list (grocery list, class assignments, etc…), then add items to that list.  You can also add reminders in case you forget to check.


Reminders App for iPhone – Free: The reminders app comes with iOS 5 and is very basic, but user friendly.  Create lists, then add items to those lists.  Once an item is complete, simply check it off.  Complete items will be sent to a “Completed” list so that you can retrieve later if necessary.


Clear task management appClear – .99 cents at time of writing – Clear is another very basic app.  You can manage multiple lists and prioritize items on those lists unlike the Reminders app.  Somehow this app is just fun to use.  It has a very clever interface and is easy to manipulate.  The standard theme shows items at the top of the list with a red background (these are a higher priority) and gradually changes to a lighter color as you get further down the list.  To move an item, just hold down on the item and move it whichever direction you would like.


Apps better suited for projects:

The basic apps mentioned above are great for basic things.  For example, if there are 6 or 8 things I need to get done today I can list them all on one list, prioritize them in some cases, then check them off as they are completed.  However, many things require multiple steps or collaboration.  For those purposes, these apps can help:


wunderlist task management appWunderlist – Free – Although Wunderlist does’nt allow you to create sub-items it is not short on features.  Wunderslist is free and is available as an app, web based application or installable software on a mac or pc.  Once you setup an account your lists sync to the cloud and are available on any device you use.  In addition to the basics, you can also share lists with other users, which is great for group work.  You can also email items from Wunderlist, or send an email to Wunderlist with items to add.  You can add notes, change the look and much more.  


ToDo Task Management AppToDo by Appigo – $4.99 – ToDo – ToDo is a more robust task management app. In addition to the basics (adding items, reminders, prioritizing, etc…), ToDo allows you to add multiple reminder alerts, create sub-tasks for items, add notes to tasks complete with clickable phone numbers and links, advanced searching and much more.  



Producteev – Producteev is a web site that allows you to create, track and prioritize tasks.  You can add collaborators to your projects (one for free, then upgrade for a fee), which is a nice feature for teams or group work.  You can access producteev from the web, a mobile app for the iPhone or Adroid, or installable software for the mac and PC.


I really like the feature of sharing your to-do list with others that is available on second set of apps listed.   As mentioned, prioritizing is a skill many students have difficulty with.  Some students prioritize a 5 point assignment the same as a 100 point assignment.  The ability to share or collaborate on lists gives students the ability to have a mentor or parent assist them with prioritizing items on their list.


As mentioned, this is only a few of the many apps that are out there.  More comprehensive (and expensive) supports with companion apps such as MyLIfeOrganized and OmniFocus are also available for those needing additional tools and supports.  If anyone reading uses a task management app that they would recommend please add it to the comments section of this post.  

Stages of Learning – Knowing your Learners

If you have ever heard us speak at conferences or workshops, I’m sure you will recognize this quote (and many variations) we often repeat over and over – “Technology without Strategy will lead to poor outcomes”.  Though we will dive into this deeper in a later post, I wanted to share a foundational principle for meeting the needs of ALL learners.  Before you select the technology, you must identify the strategy. Before you select the strategy, you have to know where you learners are in regards to the content/skill you are teaching! Knowing this will allow you to make the best instructional (including when, what, and how with technology) decision for each learner. Haring, et al., 1978 was one of the earliest to dive into these stages and it has moved forward with a few minor changes through the years. Here they are (drumroll please!): Acquisition, Fluency, Maintenance, and Generalization.

Here’s a scenario from when I was in the classroom. I was teaching multiplication facts to middle school students. I taught one of the fact families and gave a quiz. They got them all wrong, and I was frustrated because they were doing them successfully during the week! Where did I go wrong? Well, it was all about generalization.


I taught this

But tested this



My students weren’t able to “generalize” the vertical presentation of the multiplication fact to the horizontal presentation. Read below for more information about each stage of learning along with a couple of examples.


Stage of Learning


Multiplication Facts Example

Communication Example


Student is not able to   engage/complete/do the target skill, but is beginning to

Chris does not know and is now learning   multiplication facts for the number 3 (e.g., 3 X 1, 3 X 2, 3 X 3)

Glenda does not know and is now   learning how to request a restroom break using the communication device


Student is able to engage/complete/do   the target skill, but is not accurate or efficient

Chris now knows the multiplication   facts for the number 3, but works very slowly and makes errors when answering

Glenda can now request a restroom break   using the communication device, but works very slowly and makes many errors   when requesting


Student is able to continue the skill   successfully after teaching/training has been discontinued

Chris still knows the multiplication   facts for the number 3 accurately and quickly after teaching is discontinued

Glenda continues to fluently request a restroom   break using the communication device after the teaching this skill is   discontinued


Student is able to do the skill in new   settings or ways that it is presented

Chris knows the multiplication facts   for the number 3 when it is presented in different forms (e.g., 3 x 3, 3(3),   3·3,   3*3, three times three)

Glenda is able to fluently request a restroom   break using the communication device at home, community, and other new   environments


Realize that your learners can be at different stages with different content and skills (at the acquisition stage with some content/skill and at the maintenance stage with something else). This is not a one-time assessment, but rather a systematic process that needs to be ingrained in your teaching.

I’m sure you are asking yourself what’s next after knowing where the learner is with a content/skill? In my multiplication fact teaching example, I should of “sampled the range” during the instructional process. We’ll be posting some strategies in the coming weeks for each stage. Until then, if you have any strategies that you have used and can connect it to a specific stage of learning, feel free to share in the comments section of this post.



Highlight Supports

I had the opportunity to present a session on merging AT and Literacy supports at the ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) conference a couple weeks ago in Orlando.  The feedback was great so I thought it would be a good idea to share a piece of that session here.

The primary focus of the session was to help folks understand that technology alone (assistive or otherwise) rarely increases student achievement.  You must include strategies, or at a minimum explicit instruction on how to properly use the technology to see success.  One great example of this is the use of highlighting tools.

I separate highlighting tools into three categories (I actually do this with most supports): 1.) Low Tech, 2.) Web Based and 3.) Downloadable Software.  A discussion of each is below:

Low Tech
Low tech highlights are pretty simple to grasp… They are the common sharpie or other brand highlighters that you purchase at the office supply store.  I’ve seen these used in a variety of ways.  For example, guided notes are an evidence based practice that work with almost all grade levels and content areas.  They work great for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they ensure students have the important information.  It’s easy for many students to fill in the blanks on a guided notes handout.  However, some students with disabilities (physical or other) struggle with the act of filling in multiple blank spaces with written text.  In these scenarios I’ve seen teachers provide a version of the guided notes that are already completed, then have the students highlight words instead of write them.  I think this is great.  All students have the same handout regardless of ability, they just may access it differently.

Web Based
Web based highlighting tools are a newer feature that I use frequently.  Install an extension into your web browser (Diigo is a great one to use) and you instantly have access to highlighting tools that you can use on any website.  Once highlighted, those highlights will either stay, or be copied to your account so that you can review them later.  Many of these supports even create and save a citation, which makes creating a bibliography much more manageable.

Downloadable Software
In addition to the web-based tools, there are similar features beginning to show up in a variety of software products that may be installed on classroom computers.  For example, Read&Write Gold from Texthelp has a toolbar dedicated to what they call “study skills.”  This includes different color highlights that can be used with Word, Internet Explorer and more.  Once highlighted, there is an option to collect highlights so that they will be dumped into a separate file by color, date or whatever your preference may be.  There is also a bibliography tool built in to help cite your sources.

The Strategies
What we know is that use of a variety of strategies can improve student performance (Pressley, 2002).  Explicitly teaching students how to highlight and annotate text is a very good example of one of these strategies.  Literacy consultants around the globe will tell you that students need to be “engaged” in their text.  This is difficult to do by just listening to a story, or reading a chapter.  However, having students highlight sections they feel are important in one color and words or sentences they do not understand in another is a great way to get students thinking and engaging with their text.  This of course is just one of many ideas.  How you choose to have students use these supports may be different.

New Article and Handouts Available

Just an FYI that our most recent article has been published in Closing the Gap Solutions and is available on the Closing the Gap website.  The article is titled Separating Fact from Fiction in Assistive Technology Implementation.   If you are not a subscriber now is a great time to try the free 14 day trial –

Also, handouts from ATIA Orlando sessions are now available in the downloads section of our website (

Ups and Downs of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

One of the most well known methods for working with students who are non-verbal is the Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS.  According to the PECS website, “PECS was developed in 1985 as a unique augmentative/alternative communication intervention package for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and related developmental disabilities.”  As the name suggest, PECS begins by having students exchange pictures to request a desired item from a communication partner.

Recently a meta-analysis was conducted by Flippin, Reszka and Watson (see full citation below) to examine the effectiveness of PECS for students with autism spectrum disorders.  Overall they found that ” Results indicated that PECS is a promising but not yet established evidence-based intervention for facilitating communication in children with ASD ages 1–11 years.”  Specifically, here are a few things I took away from the article:

  • The publication mentions several reports that suggest that PECS has increased functional communication in students with ASD in a relatively short time period.  While this is good to note, the article makes the point that while positive, these reports lack evidence.
  • There are enough articles mentioned throughout the publication that will keep any researcher busy for some time, but the most common outcome from referenced studies was the success in increasing students’ ability to request items.  While this is far from what one would  consider to be proficient communication skills, it is never the less a positive result that data clearly indicates is capable with PECS.
  • Some studies referenced did demonstrate an increase in communication.  Some of these were said to have treatment fidelity (meaning that it was clearly demonstrated that PECS was implemented correctly) while others did not.
  • Data is limited for the maintenance phase (ability to continue effectively using PECS after training) and the generalization phase (using PECS effectively in other settings).

Anyone using PECS or working with students with ASD and communication delays should read this article.  It is titled “Effectiveness of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) on Communication and Speech for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Meta-Analysis” by Flippin, Reszka and Watson in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, May 2010.

It is important that classroom teachers as well as AT specialists and other related service providers are familiar with what the research says.  While this article demonstrates the effectiveness of PECS for requesting items, it gives concern for having expectations past this, or for assuming that a student will maintain progress once training stops.