29 November 2012

Read and Write Gold EQAO pilot teacher spotlight

TDSB Pilot teachers reflect on Read and Write Gold EQAO journey

Grade 3 students at Thorncliffe Park Public School are smiling. The students and their teachers, Susan Sanderson (Grade 3 HSP) and Dina Ashburner (SERT/IT), are energetically following their first in-class session of the Assistive Technology (AT) teams' EQAO Read and Write Gold (RWG) pilot.

Many of the Thorncliffe students, although not new to technology use in school, are new to the assistive technology software Read and Write Gold. “It's fun and remarkable. It helps me learn,” said one grade 3 student. “It's really great. It helps us learn,” another student added. (Many of the students shared about "What Are Germs?", the title of the non-fiction text they had read that morning.)

Thorncliffe Park P.S. teachers Susan Sanderson (left) and
 Dina Ashburner (right) are two of over 30 teachers across the
TDSB who are part of the second year of the AT EQAO RWG pilot.
During the first in-class session, students learn to use specific tools found in the programme Read and Write Gold - text-to-speech, word prediction, and different colours of highlighters – to support them in answering EQAO-type questions such as multiple choice and short answer questions. One of the main goals of the pilot is to have students be able to use AT independently to support their comprehension and to respond to questions using features of Read and Write Gold in their classrooms and specifically during EQAO testing.

“It's good for the students that they get excited,” Ashburner said. “It will take the pressure off them when they do EQAO. It's hard and they feel like they can do (the test) themselves.”

The students learn to select and use the text-to-speech function of RWG as auditory support to their reading comprehension as well as editing support in writing. They use the word prediction, which also has auditory component, to help support their word use and written expression. The itinerant teachers model the use of the highlighters in a number of ways including identifying evidence in the text they are reading as well as in the process of elimination when student respond to multiple choice questions.

A tweet by TDSB Director Chris Spence on October 11 stated, “We have and continue to underestimate our students with special education needs. Exemptions are down and scores are up.”

The RWG EQAO pilot may be a contributing factor to Spence's sentiments. Many elementary special education students who participated in last year’s pilot, used Read and Write Gold to write the assistive technology version of the EQAO test.

“Read and Write Gold will really help them (the student) express themselves.” Sanderson said. “(When writing EQAO) they will feel more comfortable and confident.”

Lianne McCrea, a grade 3 HSP teacher at Williamson Road Public School, who is also participating in the EQAO pilot this year, says the pilot has been helpful so far in helping her become more familiar with the Read and Write Gold software and how she can connect its use in her Special Education classroom. “Preparing HSP kids for EQAO is a daunting task this helps to give me some ideas on how to approach it with them.” McCrea said.

All together over 30 teachers of grade 3 and/or grade 6 students, in HSP and ISP classrooms, are taking part in the Special Education pilot project. During the pilot, set to run from November through early May. Special Education teachers and their students receive three in-class sessions working with an itinerant teacher. Teachers also meet in geographical region assigned Learning Communities between each in-class session, to share strategies, successes and problem solve ways to support students use of Read and Write Gold.

Reflection on AT EQAO pilot year one
Last year Vesna Mavrou, the HSP/SERT/MART at Tom Longboat Jr. P.S. and her students participated in the inaugural year of the EQAO pilot. She says the most useful part for her students was the directed instruction on how to use the Read and Write Gold software and the specific tools and setting a student would need to effectively use the technology.

“Although it may be difficult at first using the technology the great part is that the students and teacher have fun learning together and everyone is at the same starting point,” Mavrou said. “A few things that were helpful were having the students practise logging in with their own student numbers and passwords, bringing up the Read and Write Gold tool bar and having students saving their work and retrieving it. The only part which was time consuming and worrisome is saving the test and creating files on their desktop for students to access. However, there is support if a teacher needs it.”

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