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Written by Cindy Perras, M.Ed., OCT, Educational Consultant, LDAO

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What are Google Docs, Apps and Add-ons and why should my students with LDs use them? Let’s start with a review of both differentiated instruction (DI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to answer that question.

Differentiated instruction is a flexible approach to teaching in which a teacher plans and carries out varied approaches to address content, learning processes, learning style, practical procedures, presentation strategies, and assessment tools (Perras, 2014a). For students with LDs, teachers can differentiate content, process and product, according to the student’s readiness, interests and learning profile, to increase growth, motivation and efficiency:

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Figure from the article, Differentiated Instruction, Perras (2014a)

Universal Design for Learning and Technology

According to CAST (the Center for Applied Special Technology), UDL is a research-based framework for designing curricula - that is, educational goals, methods, materials, and assessments - that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. Students with LDs may require a variety of accommodations to access the curriculum, including technology. In the student’s IEP, accommodations may include voice-to-text software, text-to-speech software, touch screen technology, an interactive whiteboard, etc. As UDL is strongly linked to technology, educators can use the framework of UDL in the classroom, not just for students with learning disabilities, but for all students (Perras, 2014b).

UDL supports the acquisition and demonstrate of knowledge by emphasizing:

  • Multiple means of presentation to provide various ways of acquiring information and knowledge, e.g. buddy activities, use of concrete manipulatives, video, computer technology, audio texts
  • Multiple means of expression to provide students with alternatives for representing learning beyond written work, e.g. video, teaching a peer, information booth, presentation drawing, sculpture and drama
  • Multiple means of engagement to tap into students’ learning styles and personal attributes while still focusing on the required learning outcomes

UDL actually helps teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of students with LDs by providing options for:

  • Presenting information and content in different ways (the "what" of learning)
  • Differentiating the ways that students can express what they know (the "how" of learning)
  • Stimulating interest and motivation for learning (the "why" of learning)

Google Docs

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Google Docs is a free, word processing resource for creating, editing and sharing written content online, either individually or collaboratively. Students are able to create and edit text documents right in a browser on their laptop, computer or tablet; dedicated software is not required. Google Docs enables students to work collaboratively on a document, commenting, chatting and editing in real time. Students can import their documents for editing, including Word and PDF files; students can also export their work in a variety of formats, including docx, .pdf, .odt, .rtf, .txt or .html. Essentially, Google Docs provides students with multiple means of presentation, expression and engagement and allows educators to differentiate instruction.

Other Google Apps

For educators working with students at the intermediate and secondary levels, Google has also created Google Sheets, a spreadsheet program, and Google Slides, a presentation program. All three apps are available as web applications, as Chrome apps that work offline, and as mobile apps for Android and iOS. Information on other educational products offered by Google, such as Google Apps for Education, a suite of free productivity tools for classroom collaboration, is listed in the next section of this article.

Add-ons to Google Docs and Google Sheets

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Google Docs Add-ons are free tools created by developers to add capabilities to documents and spreadsheets. Add-ons are particularly helpful for students with learning disabilities that impact reading, writing and spelling; add-ons include dictation, annotation, and graphic organizing tools, as well as an advanced spell checker and a citation creator for research reports. Google Docs Add-ons also provide students with multiple means of presentation, expression and engagement. Once inside a document or spreadsheet, students can access add-on tools by clicking from the “Add-ons” drop-down menu in the toolbar and clicking “Get add-ons”. There are a wide range of add-ons available through google; the following are especially useful for students with LDs:

  • Speech Recognition – dictation technology
  • TextHelp Study Skills – virtual highlighting tools
  • MindMeister – converts linear outlines to graphic organizers
  • VeritySpell - checks for confusable words, correct spacing and punctuation, and correct grammar
  • EasyBib Bibliography Creator – citation creator

Read&Write for Google

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Read&Write for Google makes the web, Google Docs and files more accessible for students; features include speech-to-text (dictation), text-to-speech (reading aloud), dictionaries, picture dictionaries, translators, highlights, vocabulary list builder, and a fact finder.

Read&Write for Google Chrome offers a range of powerful support tools that assist students with reading, writing, studying and research; students can:

  • Hear words, passages, or whole documents read aloud with dual color highlighting
  • See the meaning of words explained with text and picture dictionaries
  • Hear text translated into other languages
  • Highlight text in documents or the web and collect for use in other documents
  • Create and listen to voice notes directly inside of Google Docs
  • Simplify and summarize text on web pages

What makes Read&Write for Google Chrome particularly interesting to educators is its versatility: it is a user-friendly chrome extension for use with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks, it works with web pages and all common file types.

Relevant Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the LD@school webinar, "Lead with Pedagogy, follow with Technology", presented by DJ Cunningham.

Click here to access the resource, "Supporting Students with Learning Disabilities Through a Universal Design for Learning Approach to Technology", developed by the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

Click here to access the Ask the Expert question and answer, written by DJ Cunningham, "How can technology be used to help students with spelling difficulties to edit their writing?"

Click here to access the practice-informed summary, written by Cindy Perras, "Interactive Whiteboards: An Assistive Technology Tool for Students with LDs".

Click here to access a practice-informed summary, written by Cindy Perras, "Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities: Information, Tools and Resources for Teachers".

Click here to access the article, "Mobile Assistive Technology – Activities, Strategies and Tools for all Learners", written by Michael Kerr.

Google Resources for Educators

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Click here to access information on Google Apps for Education.

Click here to access information on Google Classroom.

Click here to access the Google Docs blog.

Click here to access information on UDL and accessible web browsing in Google Chrome.

Click here to access information on Read&Write for Google Chrome.

Click here to access information on Google Chrome extensions for students with LDs.

References

Perras, C. (2014a). Differentiated Instruction. Retrieved from http://www.ldatschool.ca

Perras, C. (2014b). Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.ldatschool.ca

Click here to visit the CAST website.
horizontal line tealPhoto of Cindy PerrasCindy Perras is the English Educational Consultant with the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, working as a member of the LD@school Team and LD@school/TA@l’école Advisory Committee. Cindy is an educator with 35 years of experience in special education, as a teacher, Consultant, Co-ordinator, and parent. Her professional qualifications include a Masters of Education degree from Brock University, a Bachelor of Education degree from the Ontario Teachers’ Education College, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Windsor, and a Specialist in Special Education; additionally, Cindy has completed the Ph.D. coursework at OISE/UT. Cindy enjoys researching and writing articles for LD@school, connecting with Ontario school district administrators and educators, and assisting with planning for the Educators’ Institute.