George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

5 Free Assistive Technology Aids to Use With Struggling Students

Handy computer- and phone-accessible tools that students can use to stay organized and better connect with course content.

March 8, 2017 Updated March 31, 2017

Many teachers use their own money to buy items needed for their classrooms. In the past, most assistive technology aids were too expensive for teachers to purchase and very costly for school districts. The recent availability of a variety of high-quality free programs that can be used in the classroom is incredibly helpful to teachers, especially those who teach students with learning differences and English language learners who may need innovative ways to access the general education curriculum.

5 Free High-Quality Assistive Technology Tools

Google Docs Voice Typing: If you have a device with a microphone, students can use a feature in Google Docs to turn their voice into text, no typing required. In a Google Doc, select “voice typing” in the Tools dropdown menu. This opens up a button with a microphone that you can click to speak and turn your speech to text.

I’ve taught many students who can come up with great ideas when talking out loud but have trouble getting their thoughts down due to writing-based learning disabilities or dysgraphia. I have found this tool to be very useful to these students.

Google Keep: Google Keep is perfect for disorganized students who never seem to have their planner or record their assignments, but always have their phone. It allows students to make to-do lists or lists of assignments in different colors and keep up with them because they’re stored online. Students can filter by color to find what they need quickly and add reminders to the notes so they don’t miss deadlines or due dates.

Teachers can make notes and share them with students, or students can share their notes with others if they’re working on a group project. Teachers can also use the mobile app to record a note for students. This is a great way to provide feedback to students who may have difficulty reading comments written on their work. Recording a note also allows students to quickly input assignments or information they may need to remember.

The mobile app allows the student to sketch a drawing or take pictures of text, and notes from Google Keep can be sent to Google Docs if the student needs to use them to make a more formal report or essay.

Google Drive: I’ve taught many students who had trouble keeping up with all the necessary papers for their classes. I would open their book bags and lockers to find balls of crumpled papers under stacked textbooks. They never seemed to have what they needed once they got home.

Google Drive offers a solution to this problem. Students can use the app on their phone to scan papers and store them in folders by class. This way, they always have the papers that they need and can print out another paper copy if required.

Read and Write Extension for Google Chrome: The Read and Write Extension for Google Chrome is free and available through the Chrome Web Store. It can be used on Google Docs, Slides, PDFs, ePubs, and Kurzweil files, and on the web using the Chrome browser. The basic version of this extension is free for everyone, and the premium version is free for teachers.

The basic version reads text aloud, turning text into speech. It also translates documents and has a practice reading aloud feature. The premium version has many additional features, including word prediction and a picture and talking dictionary. I find that the feature that allows students to highlight text and have it read aloud is incredibly helpful for students with reading-based learning disabilities in accessing the general education curriculum and other materials that may be above the reading level they’re able to decode on their own.

Quizlet: Students can use Quizlet online or download the free app for their phone or device. This site allows students to create their own study sets or flashcards and then study them with interactive games, learning tools, and practice tests. Students can also search the study sets that others have created.

For studying, I think this tool is invaluable for any student, especially those who tend to misplace paper flashcards or never have them at the right time. I’ve found it to be especially useful for my students who have difficulty with reading and English language learners who are trying to pick up new vocabulary. The student can put a list of words in Quizlet, and the app can read the words aloud to them. This allows the student to practice reading and spelling words they’re having trouble recognizing on their own, without the help of the teacher.

I hope you find, as I have, that these tools make students more engaged, give them control over their own learning, and provide a way for them to be successful independently.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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