Supporting students who are English Language Learners or students with IEPs, or students who fit both descriptions, requires that instruction be flexible in order to accommodate the range of students' accessing, processing, interpreting and demonstrating acquisition of skills, information, and global understanding.

Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is based on neuroscience research that has identified three primary neurological networks that impact learning. These include:

  • A recognition network that deals with incoming stimuli and affects WHAT students learn
  • A strategic network that mediates HOW students process incoming information as well as
  • The student's motivation to engage in specific activities – the WHY of student learning and engagement.

The understanding of these neurological networks yields the 3 principles of UDL:

  1. Multiple means of representation – providing various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
  2. Multiple means of expression – providing alternatives for demonstrating what students know.
  3. Multiple means of engagement – using a variety of ways to tap learners' interests, increase motivation and incorporate challenges.

Technologies
One category of technology that supports learning for many students and reflects the science behind UDL is text-to-voice technologies. Early use of these technologies was targeted to persons with visual challenges (Blind, Visually Impaired). However, with rapid advances in these technologies and with widely increased access to published textbooks, general interest books, topical and specialty publications, this technology can become a regular feature in every classroom. Enhancements to these technologies now include many visual and resource elements such as highlighting, translations, bilingual dictionaries and picture dictionary graphics.
Benefits of the use of this category of technologies are many. Some of these include:
FOR ELLs:

  • Access to both academic and social language through a wide range of books associated with this technology (see Resource list)
  • Translations of words and passages
  • Bilingual dictionaries and picture dictionary graphics
  • Vocabulary study guide
  • Particular products within this technology domain also provide:
    • Links to cultural information
    • Links to prior knowledge & experience
    • Multiple formats for explaining, retaining, annotating and reviewing.

FOR STUDENTS WITH IEPS:

  • Access to text-to-voice for a very wide range of textbooks, topical and special interest books
  • Highlighting and annotating with voice supports
  • Organizing for review and study
  • Picture dictionaries
  • Test-taking accommodations, and many other features!

Student-Centered Learning in a Digital Age
Technologies can engender student-centered learning, providing an active arena for independent pacing and discovery. Blogs, podcasts, and other web technologies provide opportunity for students with IEPs, ELLS, and those who fit both descriptions, to engage in 21st century avenues for reading, writing, and oral communication.

Multimedia project learning is another avenue for students to be exposed to vocabulary and complicated concepts. Both collaborative and hands-on, this type of learning opportunity is highly engaging for many students. Combining video, live broadcasts, digital labs or electronic journals, for example, provides students with rich opportunities to learn and apply new learning. For ELLs, engaging in multimedia activities in both their first language and in English can yield improved vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and social competencies.

Resources in Michigan
Michigan hosts a number of resources for schools and individuals who seek assistive technologies for learning. These resources are dedicated to serving schools in Michigan, and include:

  • Michigan's Integrated Technology Supports (MITS)
  • Michigan Low Incidence Outreach
  • Michigan Alliance for Families
  • Intermediate School District Resources, such as:
    • Michigan Region IV Assistive Technology Consortium
    • The Upper Peninsula Assistive Technology Center
    • And individual ISD or RESA assistive technology staff

These resources can be found on the Resource Guide offered here.

Moving Ahead with Technology in the Classroom
Technology can be a wonderful resource for engaging students in learning, for providing multiple means of expression and representation, and for preparing students for success in the world outside of school. For students who are ELLs or those with IEPs, and those who are both, closing the achievement gap can be supported with appropriate applications of various technologies. Schools should become knowledgeable and proficient in the use of these tools.

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