Google ChromeVox

When my friends tell me “Google is taking over the world,” I usually just shrug. Recently, I’ve been starting to think, “Wow, maybe Google really is taking over the world one function at a time.” This shift in my thinking came after reading about ChromeVox, an app developed for Google users with visual impairments. Then I began checking into the other apps for accessibility, including ChromeShades and ChromeVis, and quite a few others in the Chrome Web Store (make sure to search for accessibility.)

Google is taking accessibility seriously and that is what we need around here! We are behind in providing accessibility for all of our children in schools, but it is good to know that Google cares. They are attending the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. According to Google’s blog, they are not just attending the conference to discuss their own progress, but also to “discuss improvements for the future.” Thank you! There are some wonderful things happening in the world of assistive technology and augmentative communication, but more is needed, so lets be sure that when we discuss progress, we do it with a desire to continue innovating new technologies that support accessibility for all.

If you have ideas for how to improve accessibility through development of new products or improvement of existing products, submit them here. I just submitted multiple ideas for supporting kids with LD and those who struggle with reading, including one idea to develop  a tool to support struggling readers to navigate the internet for research purposes. Will someone write back? I’m not sure, but if you have an idea about how to support accessibility, it’s worth submitting for the small chance that Google may find your idea intriguing.

Thank you Google, for taking all learners and users of your technology seriously…and for giving us a voice.

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Clicker 5 by Cricksoft for Writing

Clicker 5 is a software program by Cricksoft that supports language and literacy in a variety of different ways. My direct experience with Clicker 5 lies primarily in writing, but I have also used it to improve reading fluency and sight-word recognition. This program has a ton of capabilities but today’s post will focus on how it can be used in the classroom and at home to support writing.

Who Can Benefit? Students who:

  • Are working on expanding their writing
  • Have limited vocabulary
  • Struggle with sequencing
  • Are English Language Learners
  • Struggle with ideas at the sentence and/or paragraph level
How Does Clicker 5 Work? A common, low-tech modification I make for writers is to offer a word bank. A word bank is a box of words that students can choose from to make their writing flow and to make it more exciting. This strategy improves word choice, vocabulary, sequence and spelling. For example, if the writing prompt is: Write about a moment when you helped someone else, I might use a word bank like this:
With Clicker 5, a teacher or parent can create an appropriate word bank for a child. You can even tie a word to a picture symbol or an audio file so that the child has multiple ways of accessing the vocabulary. Depending on the child’s level of independence, you can use Clicker 5 to support writing on a sentence or paragraph level. At first, a child can string together whole words from his/her word bank. Later, a student can use an on-screen keyboard to work on generating and spelling the word independently. When a student has completed a sentence, he/she can have the sentence read aloud. As a voice reads the text aloud, the text is highlighted, adding a visual component. This helps particularly with editing and revision because many writers can hear errors that they might not notice if they are reading the text in their mind.
Watch this video to see Clicker 5 in action.
What I Love About Clicker 5: I love that it offers students structure, yet makes them feel independent as writers. I also love that the tool bar resembles Microsoft Word, which prepares students for later use of other words processing programs.

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Reading Pens

Today’s post is about a cool gadget called the reading pen. Reading pens are appropriate for children of all ages and even adults! This particular video is of a reading pen that was developed for younger children but if you scroll down you will see versions of this technology with a design appropriate for older students and adults…so keep reading!

I’m not sure how familiar you are with the book “Walter the Farting Dog” but it’s pretty hilarious and always sure to be a crowd pleaser with the little folks. This video cracks me up and is a great “Reading Pens 101” tutorial…

What is a Reading Pen? A reading pen is a portable device that can scan text and read it aloud. Many reading pens also have a dictionary function where new or unknown words can be defined. A reading pen can connect to a computer so that the reader may upload the words they read after each use. Challenging words can then be stored for future use.

Who Can Benefit From a Reading Pen? Reading pens are often marketed specifically for English Language Learners, students with learning disabilities, students with dyslexia or individuals who struggle with reading. All of the above would benefit from the use of a reading pen but I also propose that this tool could be used as enrichment. If your child is reading at a high level and loves a great challenge, or reading the newspaper, he/she may benefit from use of a reading pen to support vocabulary development.

For all of the teachers reading this post, imagine if the students in your class had access to a reading pen! If your class had a shared reading pen, it could go in the reference section of your library and act as another reference tool for students. If you are at a school with greater access to resources, you might be able to order one for each table so students could share while they read. Imagine the possibilities with a tool that assists learners with both pronunciation and definitions for new words.

Today, a wide variety of reading pens are available. One particular company, Wizcom makes many different styles and models. Some of them even have translation functions, which may come in very handy for families and/or students who are learning English.

 Here are three reading pens designed for younger students:

VTechKids Bugsby Reading Pen[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001T2ZWLU[/amazon-product] LeapFrog Tag[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B003JQV9LG[/amazon-product] Franklin Anybook Reader[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B004C0839Y[/amazon-product]

 Here are three reading pens designed for older students and/or adults:

Wizcom Portable Reading Tutor[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B002HJ28EI[/amazon-product] Wizcom Quicktionary Pen Scanner[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B004F56IR0[/amazon-product] IRIS Pen Scanner[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B000SQNVTI[/amazon-product]

Special Note: It is important to ensure that the reading pen does not become a crutch. A student should always try tackling a tricky word themselves before asking for adult assistance or using a device like the reading pen. This gadget should be used as a support system but not a crutch.

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Gadgets for EdGeeks: Introducing the Livescribe!

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B0053UEMHO[/amazon-product]  [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B0050AFFWI[/amazon-product]  [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B003RAE19Q[/amazon-product]

Tech Tool: Livescribe

Description: At a recent educational conference I was able to test drive the Livescribe. In a nutshell, this device is a computer inside of a pen. You can use this tool to record audio and to transfer your written notes straight to your computer. The pen has a USB cable, which makes connecting to your computer simple! The Livescribe is available in 2GB, 4GB and 8GB models, which ranges from 200-800 hours of recorded audio. This tech toy makes it easier than ever to save notes in an organized fashion and share notes with friends, teachers, students, etc.

How it Works: The Livescribe is used in conjunction with a special notebook. The notebook is filled with “Dot Paper,” which has three icons at the bottom of each sheet: “Play, Record, Stop.” You just tap each icon when appropriate and take notes with your pen as if it were a regular old ballpoint. Later when you are near your beloved computer, you can connect your Livescribe to playback audio and to view your notes using the Livescribe Desktop Software. This software has functions that allow you to organize your notes in a variety of different ways.

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B001AAN4PW[/amazon-product] [amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B003YKW9E8[/amazon-product]

As if That’s Not Enough… You can download apps for your Livescribe! For example:

  • Language Translation (ie: Spanish Dictionary)
  • Stopwatch
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Study and Organization
  • Games

Application in the classroom: There are countless ways to apply the Livescribe to learning in the classroom. Below, check out just a small list of ways I could imagine using this tool with some of my past students:

  • To model while teaching lessons that explicitly teach note-taking skills
  • During a writing unit that teaches the skill of “Interviewing” (often, children struggle to write quickly enough to capture all of their subject’s words)
  • To teach and study new vocabulary, especially in the content areas
  • While taking notes on math strategies (particularly so a student may play back the teacher’s voice to maximize independence)

Application at home: Depending on the age of your child you can use the Livescribe in a variety of ways. The greatest strength of this tool is that it allows you to hear the teacher’s instruction. If your child constantly comes home saying “I don’t understand my homework” or “My teacher didn’t really explain it,” you can check in with the Livescribe and support your child by helping them recall what the teacher said in school.

  • Have your child use the Livescribe to copy homework each day so your child can have an audio reminder of what the teacher said
  • If your child uses the Livescribe in school, he/she can listen to the audio at a later time to recall a strategy, instruction or sample problem.
  • Use the notes your child took using the Livescribe to create flashcards for vocabulary or a specific unit of study

Appropriate Grade Levels: Grade 2-Forever

Support or Enrichment? This tech tool can be used for both support and enrichment. I would promote it almost as an organizational assistance tool. This tool may also be useful in supporting students with learning disabilities depending on the child’s areas of strength and room for growth. Finally, I see great use for this tool in High School and College. Get your children ready for their future by supporting them in their note-taking, organizational and technological skills all at once!

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Gadgets for EdGeeks: Microsoft Word AutoSummarize Function

Tech Tool: Microsoft Word AutoSummarize Function 

Description: This function of Microsoft Word is applicable to readers of all ages (yes adults, that includes you!) This feature can and will change your life.

Application in the classroom: As a special education teacher I was constantly using this tool to modify texts in the classroom and for homework. This tool allowed me to differentiate texts to meet the needs of all of my readers including support and enrichment.

Concrete Examples of In-Classroom Use:

  • Type a text and modify to different levels for in class readings
  • Download an article online and modify to different levels for in class or home reading
  • Differentiate homework by creating different levels of reading assignments
  • Allow students the opportunity to read articles from adult newspapers by modifying the text to an appropriate reading level

Application at home: Many families ask the question “How can I support my child at home if they do not understand their homework?” You can use the AutoSummarize tool at home to support your children with their homework! Use this tool to make a reading assignment more accessible for your child. Middle and High-School students can use this function independently. This is a great help with non-fiction readings that students will encounter in college-level courses so it might be helpful to learn to navigate the tool now!

 Concrete Examples of At-Home Use:

  • Help your child understand their reading homework by using the AutoSummarize tool
  • Is your child working on a research project?  Support them by finding articles online and using the AutoSummarize tool to make them more accessible 
  • Help your child develop an understanding of what is happening in the world by modifying adult news articles

Appropriate Grade Levels: Grade 2-Forever

Support or Enrichment? At first glance, this tech tool seems like it is primarily helpful for supporting struggling readers but I disagree. This tech tool has given me many opportunities to offer enrichment to my highest-achieving students by finding texts that are well above grade level and making them accessible and appropriate.

Concrete Example: I used this tool to create packets of information for a class research project. I was able to create 8 different levels of research material so that all of my students had something they could understand. This took little time compared to other methods I had used in the past because I could use one article to create multiple levels. This tool made our class research project possible and all of my students benefitted!

How it works: (Instructions below are based on Microsoft Word 2008)

Step 1: Type your own text or copy and paste a text from another source into your Microsoft Word Document.
Step 2: Click Tools then scroll down to AutoSummarize
Step 3: The AutoSummarize tool will then automatically read your text and identify the key sentences
Step 4: Next, a window pops up and you must choose a format from the following choices:

  • Highlight key points in the text
  • Create an abstract at the top of the text
  • Create a new document and put the summary there (Marisa’s recommendation)
  • Hide everything but the summary without leaving the document
Step 5: Choose the percentage of original information that you would like to maintain 

Example: A text taken from National Geographic for Kids being modified in two different ways

(Click on a picture to enlarge)


Don’t have Microsoft Word? Click on the picture below to learn more or to buy it at Amazon. Remember this is the 2008 version, which my instructions are for but there is also an updated 2011 version available.

[amazon-product image=”″ type=”image”]B000X86ZAS[/amazon-product]

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