Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Monthly Archives: March 2012

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Creating Effective AT Guidelines

A couple of weeks ago I made a post on the top barriers to implementing assistive technology.  In it I discussed the top 10 barriers we found when surveying school districts.  I then put the barriers into categories.  The largest category was guideline and procedure barriers.   This is no surprise because effective implementation of assistive technology usually starts with having solid guidelines in place.  In fact, one of the most requested workshops I do is working with teams to develop guidelines.  I’ve included some of the things I cover in these workshops in this post.  I hope that you find them beneficial and will add any additional resources you find to the comments section below.

Work through the QIAT Matrices

The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) website contains a wealth of information.  If I were to only use one resource during a workshop on developing AT guidelines it would be this site.  On day one of a 2 day workshop on developing guidelines I will have participants work through the self evaluation matrices available on the site.  This basically takes you through all 8 indicators and provides descriptions of what poor through excellent implementation of each indicator looks like.  Teams rate themselves to see how well (or poorly) they feel they are doing in each area.  This is a great place to start because not only does it get groups thinking, but it also gives me a framework for facilitating the remainder of the workshop.

Do a Google Search on AT Guidelines

It’s tough to start from scratch when developing AT guidelines for a district.  Therefore I always have teams search for Guidelines other districts or states use to get an idea of how they would like the “layout” of their guidelines to appear.  A simple search of “AT Guidelines” will produce results from Michigan to Minnesota, Hawaii, New Zealand and more.

Develop a Flow Chart

Rarely is the expectation that a fully developed set of guidelines accepted by everyone in a district be complete in two days.  However, requiring two days to work on these things better produce something.  At a minimum I like to have a flow chart of what the process will look like in a district.  I like this flow chart to be complete with names.  For example, the top of the chart may be an event (IEP meeting for a student for example).  During this meeting AT must be considered (I use the BEEC AT consideration guide to help with this).  There are typically three possible outcomes from this question: 1.) No AT needed, 2.) AT Needed, Document in IEP 3.) AT may be needed, request consult or evaluation.  Options 1 and 2 are pretty straight forward.  Option 3 requires some work however.  Developing a flow chart will help to know where to go from this point.  For example, a team in a district will likely change depending on the school a student is in, the area of AT needed (communication, writing supports, etc…), and the availability of staff.  Developing a flow chart that shows who is responsible in various situations will be a tremendous asset.  I recommend developing the flowchart in Google Docs or another format that allows everyone to have access.

Disseminate the Information

AT Guidelines will be a living document.  Staff will come and go, modifications to documents will need to be made and up to date information will always need to be available.  Creating a document, then printing and disseminating to all staff will stay to up to date for a few months, however creating your guidelines as a wiki will allow folks to always have the most up to date information at their fingertips.  This is great from a district perspective as well because once a change is made the entire district will have access to it without having to wait for version 1.1 to be printed and released.

This post could go on forever, but I think I’ve already exceeded the length that most of our attention spans can handle in one setting.  The take away is that successful AT Implementation is dependent upon having solid guidelines in place.  Having 3 people in a district develop some bullet points isn’t enough.  You need buy in from everyone.  Using some of the ideas above in combination with staff meeting discussions and plenty of revisions will eventually get you to that point.  Just remember that we’ve only scratched the surface in this post.  Reviewing all of the indicators on the QIAT website will show all of the areas that must be considered when putting guidelines in place.

Using Time Trials Effectively

If you remember from our post about Stages of Learning, one of the stages is fluency. The goal in this stage is to increase the ability of the learner to complete a task or skill with greater speed and accuracy. This is important to teach to our learners as many people don’t get credit or acknowledgment for skill or ability because they aren’t able to perform quick enough. Personally, I think this is why many schools see student performance on statewide assessments not measuring up. The problem is not that the learners don’t know the material, but it could be that the learner is unable to perform the skill with speed and accuracy.

So what now?  There are many different strategies to implement. Here is one practical strategy – Time trials.  Time trials involve a small set of problems that must be completed in a set amount of time. From my personal experience, I have found this to be a great bell ringer activity to get the class started. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep them short (an effective time trial shouldn’t take 2 hours)
  • If you want to give a grade, provide a grade for effort not accuracy.
  • Check the work immediately and track progress
  • Use goal setting and graphing to encourage better performance
  • Reinforce when a goal is met
A great article that demonstrates a math fluency intervention using many of the above strategies is Figarola et al (2008). Here’s a link to the article. All of these suggestions will help your learners perform faster and with more accuracy.
If you have any examples of targeting skill fluency outside of math, post them in the comments section of this post so we can hear about the great things you are doing!

Top Barriers to Implementing Assistive Technology

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to survey several school districts to learn more about barriers they come across when trying to implement assistive technology (AT).  Instead of just letting folks list anything, I worked with a group of AT professionals to come up with 20 possible barriers, then worked with doc students at a nearby university to put an appropriate survey together.  The goal was to have participants list the top 10 barriers.  Some choices were typical, while others were more of a surprise.  To simplify things, I’ve grouped the top 10 barriers into 3 categories and listed them below:

  • Category 1 – Implementation Barriers
    • Incorporating AT into instruction across settings (number 1 barrier overall)
    • Integrating AT into specific settings
    • Number of people available to support AT
  • Category 2 – Guideline and Procedure Barriers
    • Properly evaluating students for AT
    • Understanding the AT process in your district
    • Understanding how to fund devices
    • Maintenance of products/devices
  • Category 3 – Product Awareness
    • Knowledge of what already exists in the district (number 2 barrier overall)
    • Knowledge of product and devices
    • Knowledge of where to find products and devices (outside of the district)

Some of these barriers, such as maintenance of products and devices, could probably go under product awareness (being aware of how to change the batteries), or guidelines (who is responsible for it).   The goal was to list each barrier only once however.  The number one barrier (incorporating AT across settings) is no big surprise, but I found that knowing what already exists in the district being the number 2 overall barrier interesting.

What are your thoughts?  Does this match up with what you see in your setting?  In future posts I will go into detail about possible solutions to some of these barriers.  For example, for knowing what is already in the district you could use Google docs to list items, or a more comprehensive system such as the new web based AT Inventory System we created.

Using Response Cards in the Classroom

Response cards are must have tools for any learning environment. This easy to implement learning strategy will make an immediate impact with your students.  Remember that the research demonstrates learning increases as correct responding increases. That is why stand and deliver lecture only (which most educators over-rely on) is such a bad idea. Think about it for a second. How many questions does your typical “lecture based” teacher ask during a lesson? Many times there are relatively few, and the ones asked are directed toward: a) the students who know the answer or b) the students the teacher is trying to get back on task. Not the most effective use of questioning. Recall from your university coursework that the basic unit of learning:

Instructional prompt – Student response – Teacher feedback.

Ensuring that an adequate number of instructional prompts (e.g., verbal, written) are delivered and efficient feedback provided based upon student responding is critical. Response cards help this process be efficient.


Here’s how response cards work:

1. During instruction, the educator delivers a question to the entire class or small group (instructional prompt). This can be a verbal question, written on the board, or even displayed through PowerPoint.

2. Students respond via one of the 3 different types of response cards

– write on response card (a small piece of dry erase board, a sheet protector with a piece of blank paper in the sleeve)

– printed response card (see attached below)

– digital response system (a individual remote that allows students to individually respond and their response displays on the screen)

3. Teacher provides feedback on student responding. Be immediate, specific, and consistent.


Now what? Practically, I use the 80/20 rule. If 80% or more of the learners respond correctly, I move forward and will catch up those who didn’t during small group work time. If less than 80% get it right, then I do whole group reteaching. This allows us to be instructionally efficient – moving forward when the students are ready and camping out when they are not. Remember, student performance is what should drive out instruction. It is critical that we know our learners. Using this strategy will help you get some time back in your schedule.


Want to know more? Here are two literature reviews that have uncovered the effectiveness of response cards.

Horn, C. K. (2010). Response cards: An effective intervention for students with disabilities. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 45(1), 116-123.

Randolph, J. J. (2007). Meta-analysis of the research on response cards: Effects on test achievement, quiz achievement, participation, and off-task behavior. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 9, 113–128.


Want to give it a shot? I’ve attached a .pdf of the Response Card I’ve used in learning Environments. Just print it off and fold it in half. Your ready to go!