(Note: Last updated 7/21/08. All updates are posted at the Free UDL Tech Toolkit Wiki. I no longer update this post).
My passion is to remove the obstacles to learning for all students and these free tools offer opportunities for struggling learners that promote academic success. When material is digital or electronic, it is flexible and accessible. It is our responsibility as educators to provide materials that promote success. Please encourage all educators to consider using these free tools.
When Congress reauthorized IDEA in 1997, they added the provision that ALL students on IEPs must now be considered for assistive technology. (As Dave Edyburn pointed out, 4 million more students were now eligible to be considered for AT. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 96% of students with disabilities attend schools within their districts which is the high-incidence population.)
Unfortunately, this was another unfunded mandate.
Unfortunately, this is a provision that is frequently ignored (in my experience).
Many teachers believe that assistive technology has to cost money, typically a lot of money. They tell me they are afraid to bring up AT at team meetings for that reason. Other teachers tell me that particular software or hardware is available but no one knows how to use it so it just sits in a closet, unused. Sometimes, teachers who were trained to use particular tools or devices have left the district and no one else is interested in learning how to integrate the AT. A common complaint is that the software is too complicated or there are technical issues that prevent implementation.
I hear many more issues but none of this helps our struggling learners. It's time for a change and there is no better time than now with the ubiquitous open source and Web 2.0 tools that are readily available. Change is centered upon Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which proproses that multiple methods of :
Change is also centered on FREE tools that are already readily available in the classroom or that are easily accessed by Internet download.
I have assembled a number of free resources that I believe should be on every classroom computer to promote learning for all students based upon principles of UDL. These tools provide improved access and accommodate for learner differences. Additionally, they are fun and engaging!
Free Text-to-Speech (Why? Two reasons - 1. It is essential for struggling readers; when text is digital it is now accessible and 2. it supports the writing process, especially when editing and revising work)
- WordTalk - a free text-to-speech program for the PC that works within WORD and Outlook and highlights each word that is read. Includes a talking spell checker and a talking thesaurus. Watch this teachertube.com video that I created to learn how to use it. It's best to watch it full screen.
- Natural Reader - another free text-to-speech software program which converts any written text to speech (Word, pdf, websites, emails)
- Click,Speak - a free Firefox extension that reads the Internet and highlights phrases and sentences as it reads
- PowerTalk - free text-to-speech for PowerPoint presentations
- Talklets - make any website talk, embed in your website, blog or wiki
- Read The Words - Register first, upload file or choose text or website to read, a recording is generated which you can listen to online or download to an mp3 player, upload to a blog, etc. Very Cool tool worth letting your students explore.
- Spoken Text - online text-to-speech MP3 converter
- YakIToMe! - Listen to important documents, PowerPoint presentations, emails, RSS feeds, blogs and novels. YAKiToMe! is multi-lingual (English, Spanish, French ...) and brings you the world's best text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis technologies. Easily converts to podcasts.
((Word Talk is a MUST have download! There are a number of other programs but these are preferred because they work right within the program AND highlight the text as it is read. No need to open a new window.)
- It is built into Office 2003 for Windows and VISTA. Explore it.
- StarFall - Pre-K - 2nd grade online activities that promote literacy
- GenieBooks - Decodable books in Powerpoint
- Story Line Online - Listen to stories read by Screen Actors Guild members - follow along with the text
- Planet eBooks - Free classic literature to download (middle school and up)
- Cast UDL Book Builder - Check out a previous post to learn about this free online tool for creating digital books with embedded prompts.
- UDL Editions - Leveled support for seven texts geared for ages 10 and up
- Poetry Foundation - free resource to find poetry by category, by name, by title, by author, or by first line. It's digital, attach a voice and it's now accessible!
- Bubbl.us - free brainstorming and organizing tool
- Mindomo - online mind-mapping tool, easily share with others
- Belvedere - designed for k-12 population
- CMAP - concept maps
- Free Mind - mind-mapping tool
- Mindomo - mind-mapping tool
- MindMeister - online collaborative graphic organizing tool
- Exploratree - thinking guides and more (definitely worth exploring)
- Dabbleboard - freehand graphic organizer and visual whiteboard, fun and easy to use
- Ginger Spelling - "Ginger provides an automatic spell checker, through an intelligent automatic context-based correction of spelling mistakes and misused words." Excellent correction, currently in beta, available for download for use within Microsoft Word. Add this to your classroom computers and tell your students about it so they can download it to their home computers.(PC only)
- Ghotit - an online contextual spell checker service, a great spell checker for students with LDs! Tell them to add it to their home computers.
- Wacky Web Tales - an online "madlib" tool
- Writing Fix - Interactive Writing Prompts
- Read/write/think - Interactive digital activities (click the student materials link and then click the interactive links - there are many to choose from)
- Our Story, Mnemograph - collaborative, online Time Line tools
- ToonDoo - Online comic strip creator
- Math Playground - excellent site for Math activities for K - 8, make sure to explore the Mathcasts. Mathcasts allow students to review math when THEY need to.
- Thinking Blocks - a creative, interactive math resource to help students understand how to solve word problems. Watch the video here to learn how to use it.
- GraphCalc - Online Graphing Calculator
- National Library of Virtual Manipulatives - a library of uniquely interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials, mostly in the form of Java applets, for mathematics instruction (K-12 emphasis)
Study Skills Tools
- CueCard - an electronic flashcard program download with multiple features including ability to import audio and graphics. Keeps track of correct responses and can be printed out.
- Study Stack - create interactive web-based flashcards or use ones that are already created; if you use stacks that are already created, check them first as there are errors in several of the created stacks.
- Flash Card Machine - allows the user to create interactive web-based study flash cards.
- Flash Card Friends - online, interactive flash cards
- Quizlet - described as an online tool for learning vocabulary
- Awesome Highlighter - tool that highlights text on a web page; save the URL or email it
- Create note taking templates in Word
- Use "Power of Color" within Word (background color, highlighting color and font color tools) to reinforce concepts, to determine salient points and for review
- Use the "Organizational Chart" in the Diagram Gallery that is part of the Drawing Toolbar in Word to reinforce concepts and relationships which promotes learning.
- In Word, press the Alt tab + mouse click within a word to access the Research pane. When you are online, you will instantly get a definition of the word.
Free Collaboration Tools (these are accessible anywhere!)
- Google Docs and Spreadsheets - allows students to collaborate on work from any computer including while at home
- Zoho - full suite of online, collaboration tools - word processor, presentation, notetaking (can insert audio), spreadsheets, planner. Worth exploring!
- Go 2 Web 2.0 - here you will find every Web 2.0 application imaginable. There are tools for everything. Constantly updated!
- Web 2.0 Tools - (These tools especially benefit the learner with reading, organizational or attentional issues as the material can be easily retrieved, read or listened to online)
- Wikis - provide group collaboration opportunities and study guides
- Blogs - provide opportunities for written expression without time constraints and can use text-to-speech, spell check, grammar check etc. before posting. Blogs are great for students who are less vocal IN class, for a variety of reasons, but still want a chance to participate in discussions
- Web-based social bookmarking tools such as Delicious or Portaportal - create class favorites that your students can retrieve anywhere to help them study
- Multimedia and Digital Storytelling Tools
- Voice Thread - capture audio for online digital storytelling. THIS IS A MUST HAVE! The pro version is free to K-12 educators.
- Photo Story 3 for Windows - you will be amazed at how quickly you can create slide shows or movies from your class photos. Upload your photos in seconds, easily add music and you have a year end presentation of your class activities. MANY other uses.
- ScrapBlog - Create online multimedia scrapbooks from your text, video, audio and photos
- Flip Books - Create online multimedia scrapbooks from your text and photos
- Animoto - create fully customized videos of user-selected images and music almost instantaneously. The web appliciaiotn does all the work once you select your images and audio. This one is so cool!
- Building Wings: How I Made it Through School - A free "Readers Theater Implementation Toolkit" accompanies this autobiography by Don Johnston "which helps learners take charge of their learning potential!" Learned about this from Valerie who left a comment.
- Project Spectrum - Google Sketchup Tutorial for use with students on the Autism Spectrum
- ZacBrowser - Web Browser designed by a grandfather for his grandson who is on the Autism Spectrum. Appropriate for young children or those with developmental disabilities
- Do to Learn - Free Feelings and Emotions Games, excellent for social skills instruction, also check out the Fire Safety and Street Safety songs for students with cognitive disabilities
- Yackpack - audio email or free live conferencing
- Eyejot - "Video messaging in a blink," video email tool
- Better Fonts - Dafonts - free fonts
- PDF Creator or Cute pdf - free PDF conversion tools
- Diigo - a powerful social annotation research tool, with highlighting features
- Cast UDL Lesson Builder - provides educators with models and tools to create and adapt lessons that increase access and participation in the general education curriculum for all students.
- Checklists - linear alternative to rubrics, easily create guides for students' projects.
- Visual Schedules - best for younger students.
- Note Star - helps organize notes and bibliographies for essays and research papers.
- Imagine Symbols - 4000 free realistic symbols. Import these into your clip art folder for easy access.
- Audacity - Free, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds
- Jott - Use a cell phone to send emails or voice messages, great for students to send themselves reminders, homework assignments, to-do lists, summaries of class instruction ,etc. This can be an effective strategy for students with executive function, organization or written output issues. Check out additional ideas here in this blog post.
- Click N Type Virtual On Screen Keyboard
- Pics4Learning - copyright friendly image library for teachers and students
- Create customized lined paper using the Line tool within the Drawing Toolbar within Word. Give students the choice of lined paper within your classrooms including mid-lined paper.
- Customize the toolbar in Word; remove extraneous icons on the Standard and Formatting Toolbars and add the "Insert Sound Object" icon so that it is readily available for student or teacher use. (There are numerous options for this "Power of Voice" feature - this is a very powerful tool!)
- Enlarge the icons on your customized toolbar in Word
- Embed verbal prompts in your documents for student support.