Assistive Technology in the Classroom

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My board and union combined to offer a terrific workshop on assistive technology, and I wanted to share :)

Smart Ideas

Ah, the power of the mindmap.
Smart Ideas
Smart Ideas is a digital mindmapping tool. Customize by colour, shape, alignment, design. Add sub-levels within sub-levels to add complexity. Tack on “sticky notes” or weblinks to incorporate research. This tool even turns your pictorial mindmap into a point-by-point text outline which can be exported into Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. The connections of ideas are literalized (with fancy arrows) which promotes critical thinking skills.

Honestly, this program is terrific for any student (or teacher) who needs or enjoys visual organization. A great tool for creating (and submitting) essay outlines without adding extra paper. My board has installed this program on its entire network. I’ve seen junior students (especially grade 4-6) pop this tool open automatically to help with paragraph and journal writing, while high schoolers use it for projects and essays. Bonus: the creative aspects make it fun for students.

And I’ll say it again: AMAZING for essay outlining.


WordQ reads aloud any highlighted text, whether a document file or a webpage (including Facebook, email, IM, etc.). Just highlight the text and click “Read.” This is a terrific tool for the struggling reader, allowing them to follow along with the text read aloud. This application includes lots of room for customization: change the voice, the speed, the number of options presented.

This is also a topnotch proofreading tool (spelling mistakes sound awfully funny out loud!). It also helps students start to hear grammar constructions, as well as reflect on their ideas.

WordQ is a predictive reader. This means that students can type the first few letters of a word and WordQ will make multiple suggestions, allowing them to leverage their full vocabulary. It also doubles as a thesaurus and includes some translation options.


Kurzweil is a read-aloud tool. With options to control speech rate and voice, textbooks, novels and other documents can be read aloud to students.
This program has a voice recording feature. You can even paste in vocal sticky notes (either yours or your students’ – or hey, why not have a vocal Q&A homework assignment? Talk about reader engagement!). Also a great way for struggling writers to take a break on short answer or essay assignments. Just talk into the mic, and Kurzweil records your thoughts.

You can also use the Study Tools in the green menu. Use sticky notes or multicoloured highlighted to take notes. The program will even sort your highlighted text into tables below to separate the main ideas. Just hit “Extract to Column Notes” (which can then be saved or printed separately).

Any document on your computer can be integrated into Kurzweil, including web content. Just hit “Print” in your chosen document, and set Kesi Virtual as your printer. Ta da! A great way to create fillable handouts or templates.

Kurzweil is also super easy to use. It includes a series of short “how-to” videos right in its help section.

My mind is already popping with creative applications for these programs. Anybody had a good experience with these or have a great idea for creative twists?

P.S. Any DDSB teachers, you’ve got some great videos and resources about these in our Portal. Go into “Special Education” –> “Assistive Technology.” ;)