Digital Classroom Instruction Tools that Prepare Your Students for the STAAR Online

You’ve determined that STAAR Online will best match the accommodations your student receives in class that have been successful- in particular, Content and Language Supports. You’ve provided your student time to take the STAAR tutorials and practice tests and even helped personalize settings as part of using the STAAR Online Features & Supports Checklist.

Now you’re wondering how the in-class supports you’re providing, traditionally without technology, will transfer into an online environment. How can we accomplish and duplicate these by using technology in class to improve the odds that students will use the online supports come test day?

1. Transfer paper supports into digital formats

Content and Language Supports can, according to TEA, “provide clarifying information for a graphic organizer, political cartoon, or map,” and/or “provide a visual representation in the selection, question, answer choices, or in the writing prompt by adding graphics, photographs, or animations.” (Note: it helps to see the pictures shown in the Educator Guide for STAAR Accessibility or better yet, to log in to the STAAR practice tests to see how these supports work so that you can more easily figure out how to mimic them.)

By transferring paper supports into a digital format, inserting a hyperlink to a map, graphic organizer, cartoon, picture, video, etc. , you can give your students practice using supports similar to what they’ll find on STAAR Online.

The more practice your students get using these digital supports during instruction, the more comfortable they’ll be during state assessment.

2. Practice bookmarking key selections

Another helpful Content and Language Support online feature involves “isolating specific text or information in a selection that is referenced in the question or answer choices.” Educators can mimic this by bookmarking and then linking text in passages to the corresponding questions for students to use during instruction or class exams.

3. Use online apps to reword, reorganize, and simplify challenging text

Additionally, online Content and Language Supports “reword complex questions or answer choices to condense/simplify text,” “define or clarify construct-irrelevant words, phrases, and sentences using plain language, synonyms, definitions, examples, and consistent language,” and “reorganize and simplify historical excerpts, respecting the TEKS-based academic vocabulary” through the use of pop-ups and roll-overs.

Educators should know about websites like Rewordify that simplify difficult text with settings that look and act like roll-overs.

Educators can also explicitly teach students to use the built-in “synonym” tool within MSWord,  a thesaurus add-on in Google Docs, or a thesaurus Chrome extension by selecting the word, right-clicking and choosing “find synonym” to help students routinely define and clarify language during instruction.

Other websites like Newsela or CommonLit, automatically level text, have built-in text-to-speech and other STAAR-like features, while addressing grade-level standards and exposing students to academic vocabulary.

4. Practice text-to-speech whenever you can

Text-to-speech, a digital support that replaces the traditional accommodation of oral administration, is another online Content and Language Support.

Many tools you already have/use offer built-in text-to-speech, including online textbooks, TextQuest’s database, ebooks, native “speak selected text” on Ipads, Chromebooks, and in Microsoft Word, or even plugins for your browser of choice. You may also work in a district that has site licenses for commercial literacy software (e.g. Snap&Read or Read&Write for Google) with text-to-speech- ask around.

Text-to-speech can’t work on paper worksheets. Get your worksheets into digital formats to ensure students are routinely, effectively, and independently using this accommodation during instruction. During this time they can figure out how to adjust read-aloud speed to best fit their needs during STAAR Online.

Using these tools routinely will help build stamina, familiarity, and good habits with online content and supports.

Nichole Kertis is a special education specialist working at the Education Service Center Region 13.

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