Autodraw: Word Prediction for Drawing

autodraw iconGoogle has recently released the Autodraw AI for some fun and games for the casual artist. This tool, however, can serve as power assistive technology for students with disabilities who struggle with drawing and expressing, themselves especially in the early pre-writing days. For those who haven’t tried it out, Autodraw lets the user start to draw some basic shapes or lines and the AI will attempt to guess what the user is trying to draw providing options of icons. The user can then tap on the desired icon to insert it into their drawing.

For young learners, especially those with visual- motor, perceptual or motor planning difficulties drawing can be quite a frustrating challenge. Most early grade writing standards have some requirement of drawing and labeling the drawing based on a classroom topic or reading. The Autodraw tool can be a great support. Just check out the results:

drawing attempt of a banana
Original drawing
icon drawing of a banana
Icon selection based on the drawing.

Your Library Card = Goldmine!

library-cardAn often over looked resource is your local library. Be sure to check out your local library’s resources page for subscriptions to online databases that often charge a subscription fee. Entrance to these sites is through your local library’s website using your library card credentials.

The following is a list of student related resources available through the Brooklyn Public Library Website (a complete list of available resources can be found HERE):


  • BookFlix– (Requires card)- Video based books for young readers with read along text. Site uses Flash for content and may not be accessible on iOS devices unless using Flash friendly browser apps.
  • Flipster– (Requires card)- Provides access to popular magazines either through a web browser, Android, Kindle and iOS apps. Kids resources include Ask (teacher companion), Ranger Rick Jr, Discovery Girls, and Highlights.
  • Tumblebooks– (Requires card)- Early readers video based books with a variety of topics. Books are also available in multiple languages with human narration and sentence highlighting.

History & Culture

  • American History– (Requires Card)- Comprehensive resource library and research tools related to American history broken up by periods. Detailed summaries are available for each period with text to speech and translation support.
  • CultureGrams– (Requires Card)- Learn about the culture and day to day life of people across the word. There are US states, the world, and kids editions available. Content is readily broken down by category (places, history, people, cultural notes, and fun facts).  Text to speech enabled.
  • FreedomFlix– (Requires card)- Video and text companion on topics related to US history and civics. The available text has human narration with word highlighting as it reads and two available speeds.
  • Global Voices– Curates and translates current events news from around the world.
  • Mango Languages– (Requires card)- Learn a new language with video and activity cards.
  • Opposing Viewpoints– Collection of articles, media, images, and statistics based on topic. Text to speech and translation supports available.


General Research

  • Encyclopedia Britannica Online for Kids– (Requires card)
  • Kids InfoBits– (Requires card)- Easy to navigate picture based research for early grades. Text to speech and translation support.
  • Scholastic Go
  • SIRS Discover– (Requires card)- Materials have text to speech and translation supports. Content can also be filtered by Lexile reading level.
  • TrueFlix– (Requires card)- Video and accompanying text around a variety of topics (picture based category search). The text has human narration with word highlighting supports.

Instructional Resources

It’s Time to Open Source EdTech

This week another email in my inbox has popped up of yet another edtech company being bought out by another. Zaption, an online video annotation service was bought by Workday. As a supporter of special education students, Zaption held great promise in providing students the opportunities to view instructional videos which are embedded with additional content and comprehension checks. Workday, however, appears to be in the market of providing HR and financial support to businesses. Another favorite tool of mine which recently closed shop due to an unsustainable business model was Curriculet. This site provided fiction and non- fiction text with multimedia annotations as well as comprehension checks along the way.

Edtech companies have every right to a profitable business model but educators have a right to innovation, consistency, and reliability. Some of these platforms depend on educators to create content and grow its product base only to have the service become inaccessible. Hours of work by the educator are lost and the search for a replacement ensues. Having to learn a new platform, reconnect students to a new system, and provide instruction again, on how to use this new tool. This, in the long run, is inefficient for educators and may ultimately continue being a barrier to integrating technology in the classroom.

Open source software has the potential to help support educators in their needs and developers for this community are actively needed. Open source software has the potential of providing educators with stable and accessible tools which can be built to meet the direct needs of educators. The potential for an organic community consisting of educator and developers can have ultimate benefits to students without the barrier of traditional business models and profit generating. Make and keep the tools educators need! Open source has come a long way in terms of usability. My first experience a few years ago involved an installation of a vector drawing tool and having to access my computers terminal commands, install X11 and other somewhat confusing directions. This same tool is now a similar install process as any other software which a lay person can easily access.

Open sourced software may ultimately become THE accessible option for users with disabilities. Building tools in collaboration with a community can lead to a conversation about who is using it and what they need. Take, for example, the story of Julius Sweetland who built OptiKey, an open source eye gaze communication system. My personal wishes? High-quality text to speech technology baked in for any text, high-quality word prediction for writing tasks, keyboard navigation, and robust visual supports. Many of these two tools are often used by students with disabilities. So much so that they have become part of mobile operating systems.

Now the challenge to educators and developers/ programmers to connect and make a change!

Chrome as Assistive Tech Infographic

The variety of web apps and Chrome extensions has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Many of these tools are available to students either for free or offer lower cost alternatives to what traditionally was considered cost prohibitive support. I complied a Coggle infographic to organize  some of the apps, extensions, and add-ons I use most frequently to support my students. Know of a good tool that’s not on the list? Be sure to comment.

As a side bar… most of these tools require a working internet connection. This on its own is prohibitive for many families. Everyone On (  is an organization that works in low income communities and schools to provide a router and affordable internet connection for household that qualify.

Using Table of Content Add-ons to Support Executive Skills in Google Docs

More schools are beginning to integrate the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) tools into their curriculum and instruction which is a great step forward for students who use assistive technology. No longer are these students the only ones keyboarding in class, having to modify classroom materials to meet their learning needs. While this is tremendously helpful, some of these students continue to struggle with organization and executive skills. Having a Drive full of random documents is slightly better than a backpack full of misfiled papers. Much the way that students are unable to put away physical papers into correct folders the same begins to happen in digital form.

Microsoft’s OneNote platform is able to provide students with a binder equivalent of file managment. The student only needs to open one file (Notebook) and all the subjects for that semester are laid out in tabs and pages. This is a tremendously helpful system for students who struggle with organization by giving them one central location for most of their writing. This organizational support however is lacking (hopefully only for now) for students on the GAFE platform.

Binder layout with subjects and pages
OneNote Binder Layout

There is however a workaround using Google Doc’s Table of Contents structure and available add-ons which place the organization structure in the tools tab on the righthand side of the document. Currently, there are two add-on available Table of Contents and Document Navigator. If students are able to use the heading structures effectively in Google Docs, these tools provide easy navigation across one document for multiple subjects. Here is a starter doc where the classroom subject holds the ‘Heading 1’ formatting and each classroom task holds the ‘Heading 2’ formatting. Subsequent dated entries can hold the ‘Heading 3’ formatting and so on. Color coding can also be applied by subject.

Google doc with color coded heading and organized outline in tools
Google Doc with Table of Contents Add-on

Good luck!

Educational Technology Models and Application for Assistive Technology

The field of educational technology is growing at a steady clip with new tools, apps, and services cropping up. Many of these tools are used to enhance learning and engagement in the classroom. Some facilitate project based learning or encourage easy data tracking for the teacher. As teachers are becoming more familiar with integrating technology into their classroom a window to incorporating assistive technology opens.

Currently, assistive technology is generally IEP driven and is meant to accommodate for an identified disability. These supports can range from magnifiers for visual disabilities, augmentative communication devices for the non-verbal, or text to speech for those struggling with learning disabilities. Very often however, teachers are faced with students in their classroom who for multiple reasons do not end up being identified for support nor receive the needed help. Additionally, abandonment of equipment is a significant concern within the assistive technology community. Finding the correct fit between the student, the teacher, and demands in the classroom become great hurdles to overcome despite the vested interest of all parties.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is a model evolving from the field of architecture, universal design. The most often referenced analogy is one of the ramp. Buildings originally designed with ramps not only allow access to a building for those in wheelchairs but also assist parents with strollers and delivery personnel. UDL aims to encourage curriculum planning and environmental design to create content that can be accessible to all students in the classroom. This may include having text to speech books available for all students or creating a classroom color coded organization system for notebooks and folders. Students are able to select the tools that best help them meet their learning goals. UDL is most powerful when implemented at the planning stages versus having to retrofit pre-existing curriculum. There are three main components to UDL which will be briefly reviewed given that this model is familiar to professionals in the assistive technology field. For further details be sure to visit

  • Multiple Means of Representation- Known as the recognition network, this area explores the “what” aspect of learning. It encourages providing a variety of modalities when explaining concepts.
  • Multiple Means of Expression- Known as the strategic network it represents the “how” of learning. This principle encourages a variety in how a learner can express their knowledge base.
  • Multiple Means of Engagement- Known as the affective network it represents the “why” of learning. This principle encourages looking at the learner’s motivation and desires for learning.

SAMR Model

SAMR is a model that has been developed to create a hierarchy of how technology is being integrated in the classroom. It starts with the most simplistic use of technology and graduates to more complex encouraging deep learning skills. Jonathan Brubaker had created this infographic illustrating the various SAMR levels comparing them to Starbucks offerings.

Assistive technology providers often focus on finding technology that can either serve in the Substitution or Augmentation portions of this model. If a student cannot write using pencil and paper, perhaps a portable word processor can substitute? A student is unable to read? Provide her with text to speech for reading materials. AT providers may however be in a unique position to encourage teachers to branch their pedagogy to the Modification and Redefinition segments of this model. Asking a teacher about the learning goals and outcomes of a unit or lesson may prove a more powerful question than what tasks need to be completed by the student daily. After all, successful completion of the tasks does not automatically result in learning. Supporting a teacher in redefining, might result in a scenario in which one group of students produce a video while another group produces a written report.


Reproduced by permission of the publisher

Another model currently being implemented in educational technology integration is the Technology- Pedagogy- Content model. The illustration below provides an overview of the three main segments a teacher needs to consider as well as overlapping domains. Classroom teachers need to establish competence in not only the technical use of available hardware and software but also how this technology can meet content requirements. Analysis of how pedagogically sound a technology is another pivotal role a classroom teacher takes on. When examining this model, the teacher’s level of competence in each of these areas can effect the successful integration of assistive technology for a student. A teacher who does not posses comfort in using technology nor have the skills to problem solve may be more reluctant to integrate AT tools. Likewise, if a teacher does not perceive that an AT tool meets pedagogical standard, its implementation may also falter. Supporting teachers in each of these three areas and their overlapping domains may ultimately help students with mandated assistive technology integrate this support and decrease abandonment.

Understanding the various educational pedagogy currently being applied in educational technology can help assistive technology providers in successfully supporting their students and beyond. Providers must also play a key role in demanding that many of the tools being used for the disabled population become readily available within the technology being developed for the classroom. Text to speech, word prediction (flexible spelling), speech to text, and writing with auditory feedback should not be fringe add-ons to a program. These tools often recommended should be integrated as a given. Assistive technology professionals are also uniquely qualified in understand where the gaps in learning exist for a particular learner and may better understand how content should be modified. Involvement in the development of educational tools are key especially in the area of adaptive learning technology. Many learning platforms are being developed to provide customization for learners. Although in its infancy, this adaptive technology mostly consists of moving a student up or down a hierarchy of difficulty given their response to a question. Providing better insight into how content can be modified to meet the needs of struggling learners can help improve this technology.

Speech to Text and Word Bank Writing: Google Doc Add-Ons

Add- ons are a great feature of Google Doc. They provide additional functionality through a side bar beside the document. To find and install add ons, navigate to the Add- ons dropdown menu and select Get add ons… On a recent look around I ran into two new add- ons to help support writing.

Speech Recognition

After installing the add-ons be sure to provide permissions to the microphone and press start. You can select which language to dictate in. Speech recognition works similarly to other dictation supports in accepting voice commands for periods, commas, etc. Giving it a test run, I must say I was impressed by the accuracy of the dictation. I also gave it a try in Spanish with some good results.
Check it out in action:


This add on allows a teacher to create a word bank with definitions which can be viewed to the side of the document. Using word clouds or word banks are a great way to guide reluctant writers and provide visual and memory supports for what should be included in the document.
Here is a short demo video of how Keyword works:

Two Great Timeline Web Apps

Timelines are a great and easy way to visually represent information in bite size chunks. As an example, timelines can help support struggling readers in understanding the sequence of events in a book.

Ginko App is a note taking app that uses markup for writing but can also be used to construct timelines and off shoots to the timeline. Its clean user interface makes it easy to understand and navigate through cards. As an example, here is a gingko I had started to scroll and navigate through the Common Core State Standards for ELA elementary schools.

Gingko layout for ELA CCSS

Gingko’s can either be private or public. There is a limit to how many you create for free with additional files created with a monthly membership fee (currently $4.99/ month).

Hstry is a great free tool that allows teachers to create interactive timelines. They have a user friendly tutorial that guides teachers through adding content. Timelines created are public and can be shared with others. A teacher can embed images, videos, and audio throughout the timeline. Interactive features include quizzes and feedback. Teacher accounts can create classes and add students as well as assign timelines for students.

In short, check out these tools in helping support student understanding of complex topics using a visual and interactive perspective.

iOS Add-on Keyboard with Word Prediction AND Auditory Feedback

I just ran into this new add-on keyboard and am very excited to share. Add-on keyboards are a new feature available when updating your iOS to 8. The general process of getting a keyboard involves purchasing it through the App Store. Once downloaded, you can customize settings within the app and then a user needs to activate the keyboard in the iOS system preferences (General>Keyboard). Almost all the keyboard apps I’ve seen provide very detailed information on how to go about doing this. Once everything is set up, no matter what app you are on you can call on the keyboard of your choice by tapping, holding and selecting your desired keyboard.

Now, onto the keyboard… this one is made by AssistiveWare who has been making some great accessibility software for Mac for quite some time. Their keyboard, Keeble is a pricy $14.99 as far as apps go but in my opinion is well worth it. This keyboard allows students to have the support of word prediction and auditory feedback (letter, word, and sentence) across all apps. They no longer need to stay tied to one app for writing which is huge!

In addition, to these writing supports for struggling writers, Keeble also offers a variety of touch modification options for those with fine motor delays that have a difficult time with on-screen keyboards. Options such as customizing hold duration, backspace repeat rates and select on release.

Visual supports, allow for extensive customization of colors and provides some basic keyboard layouts for the young learner. Vowels are also highlighted to help support literacy.

So far, it has been a great asset in allowing my students to produce writing on their iPads on Google Docs with the needed supports. The only con I have ran into so far is that their predictive spelling engine is not as robust as other providers of word prediction supports but does a pretty good job for most.

Co:Writer Now Supports Writing in the Cloud

As more schools are turning to cloud and subscription based solutions, another assistive technology company has developed their text prediction software to meet this model. Quotes are available for school site licenses and are an extremely affordable option to provide all students not just those with IEP’s or 504’s technology supports. This is a great tool to add to a school’s Universal Design for Learning toolbox.

Don Johnston recently released Co:Writer Universal and it offers some lovely features. When a school signs up for a site license students and teachers can create individual accounts. This account can then be used to log into the Co:Writer Universal web app , download the Chrome extension, download a PC or Mac version of Co:Writer and just announced today use Co:Writer as an iOS device.

Web App

The web app also opens as a separate window in a browser and has a very similar interface to the iOS app. Previous documents are autosaved in the home menu and can be further edited. Functions such as inserting images, text formatting, customizing the word list, and speech feedback setting are available. Another helpful feature is the topic dictionary support. If the writing is related to a book for example, you can search for a topic dictionary related to the book title and the word prediction will start including character names and other book related vocabulary. Written work can then be sent to Google Drive or Dropbox accounts.

Chrome Extension

Co:Writer extension in a Google Doc

An added benefit to this tool is that it can also be downloaded as a Chrome extension and work
directly within Google Docs or websites with text boxes to complete. I had tried using it within Slides but the performance in this app was varied. This is a great feature that is not available on other cloud based programs (see previous post here).

PC/Mac Application

Co:Writer universal can also be downloaded as a stand alone program on a Mac or PC. Many of the features discussed above are available in the program with the addition of the word cloud window. A word cloud is also available to help guide writers with recommended words to include in their writing. The words appear in a separate window but coordinate with the word prediction to have words listed.

iOS App

Just announced today, Co:Writer is also available as a free download from the app store. There is a stand alone version of Co:Writer for $20 however this does not link to the Universal account. It is important to download the Universal version of the app which works in tandem with the student’s account.

What is and why use word prediction and auditory feedback anyway?

Word prediction is often used for students who struggle with spelling and may be reluctant writers because of this difficulty. There are varying qualities of word prediction algorithms and use of “flexible spelling”. If the student types “tdy”, can the program predict “today”?

Auditory feedback can be used for students who struggle with grammar and produce writing sampled devoid of punctuation marks or omit words without noticing even if attempting to edit your work. Hearing back one’s writing helps students catch these errors. Some option for this feedback include hearing each letter typed (emergent writers), each word typed (assisting with sustained attention), or each sentenced typed. These are personal choices that a teacher and student can make to see what best benefits the writing.