Ira Socol’s Toolbelt Theory and My Blog

Apart from my “anniversay post” of a couple of days ago, there has been a hiatus between posts here. That has resulted mainly from time constraints caused by too many things going on in both my personal and professional lives. As the gap between posts has grown, however, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to contemplate getting back into the saddle. I’ve detected within myself a sense of being overwhelmed at the prospect of starting to post again. When I tried to trace the roots of that sense, I realized that there is simply too much that I’d like to write about.

The purpose of my blog has always been to write about free educational resources that are available on the internet. Exceptional new resources are proliferating at what seems an exponential rate, and I keep discovering other great programs and websites that have been around for a long time. So, how and why do I choose the resources that I highlight here?

I think I’ve come up with a guiding principle, if not a definitive answer. More and more, my thinking is shaped by the priority of both universal design for learning (UDL) and universal access. Ive come to equate good “classroom” practice with UDL, the approach to education that consciously attempts to respond to the learning needs of ALL learners. Universal access is one essential key to UDL.

Ira Socol offers a compelling voice in support of UDL on his blog SpeEd Change. In March, Ira wrote a post entitled “A Toolbelt for a Lifetime: Learning How to Learn Assistive Technology“. Ira summarizes his “Toolbelt Theory” as follows:

“Toolbelt Theory is based on the concept that students must learn to assemble their own readily available collection of life solutions. They must learn to choose and use these solutions appropriately, based in the task to be performed, the environment in which they find themselves, their skills and capabilities at that time, and the ever-changing universe of high and low-tech solutions and supports.”

This “theory” is helpful for me as I think about how to focus my blog posts.  As I move forward, I’ll attempt to highlight free resources for “toolbelts”. I want to include tools that provide access to learning–not only access to information, but also varied options that learners can use to represent their learning and express their creativity. I also want to discuss tools and websites that teachers can include in their toolbelts in order to present and share material in an engaging manner. I want to help learners and teachers in choosing tools that will be effective for them.

On Friday of this week, Ira Socol was interviewed by Melinda Pongrey at LD Live. In the interview, Ira discusses not only his toolbelt theory, but a great deal more that I believe should be of considerable interest to anyone involved in any aspect of education. For your convenience, I’ve embedded a player with the interview below.

14 thoughts on “Ira Socol’s Toolbelt Theory and My Blog

  1. Paul, your words resonate my feels. I agree there is so much to explore and more coming on board. I sometimes feel a sense of anxiety in trying to keep up with it all particularly as I am in a transitional state and not sure what area of education I will settle in. Keeping up with it all (reading, exploring) is a daily task that seems to take more and more of my time; I am sure I am not the only one experiencing this! I don’t think there is a solution! Thanks for sharing the toolbelt quote, will reflect on it and apply.

  2. oops! I hate not being able to correct my errors in comments. First sentence should read “feelings”.

  3. The idea of having a “toolbelt” is a great fit for this concept. Having access to the technology is not enough. Helping the students to choose the correct resources and use them effectively is just as important. A toolbelt is only useful if you know how to use the tools in it, and today there are so many tools to choose from!

  4. Pingback: Day 4 Hamilton - Barriers and Flexibility | UDL at CMSCE, Rutgers University

  5. Technology allows us to be more creative. It also allows teachers to use that creativity to reach and assess students in many different ways. I will try not to feel overwhelm just adding one tool a time in my toolbelt. I will use it, master it, and then try another tool, and so on.

  6. Marie, thank you for sharing my thoughts, words and anxieties! When you find a solution, if there is one, I hope you will share.

  7. for my esl/ell students I need dictionary software that will work with their textbook pages after i scan them into a computer. the software would enable them to click on a word and read/listen to it in their language, or, as they progress, they can click on a word and read/listen to a definition using English that a 5 year old native English speaker would understand ie, non-academic English. does this software exist?

  8. This technological age makes it necessary for teachers to keep up with the awareness that the students have available to them. One of our tasks now is finding and exploring the tools necessary to make more flexible presentations in classrooms, as well as flexible student engagement and assessment in the classroom. Barriers to this may be the time to locate and learn new techniques, having the technology in the classroom, and its availability at the time when it is to be accessed in the classroom. Coming to the workshop and getting websites and learning new tools for presentation has been helpful. Sandy

  9. With the overwhelming number of worthwhile resources available, I need to be able to sift through to find tools that work for me, meet my needs, as well as the anticipated needs of my students without becoming overwhelmed. Using a few tools at a time and mastering them in “chunks” seems to be a managable way to go about this task!

    I’d like to find tools that allow me to vary my assessments while managing time constraints and other student distractions. Easy access and use for all students is also a concern.

  10. For Vera:

    Firefox add-ins will do what you need on line via Click-Speak and gTranslate. To do it for free with scanned-in text, drop it into Microsoft Reader loaded with the translation dictionaries which are easily added in. Be sure to install Reader itself, the Text-To-Speech engine, and the “RMR” converter tool for Word documents, plus whatever dictionaries you need.

    - Ira Socol

  11. Thanks for all the comments. Thanks especially to Ira for answering Vera’s question. I wasn’t aware that translation dictionaries are available for Microsoft Reader. There is great power in asking questions online like this because there is often someone “out there” who knows the answer and is willing to share it. –Paul

    PS For an online dictionary option, I most often use the Firefox add-on for Answers.com . That’s a tool that I believe is worth knowing about and that probably would be chosen by many people for their toolbelts. The definitions aren’t necessarily basic English, but the definitions are recursive, and they work well with Click,Speak.

  12. thx to ira for his suggestions. i’m not as computer literate as i need to be to just follow his suggestions. for example, for the granslate, which i was trying to get, i need firefox. i have a mac os x system which has aol and safari. how do i get firefox? this summer i’m going to play around on my mac with all of this software so i’ll be ready in september. my daughter who is 12 is learning how to make videos at an exponential rate by talking to people for hours on the internet (bramblestar52 on youtube for anyone who wants to check out her creative genius). she has made a special video posted to youtube explaining to others how to post their imovie videos on youtube. maybe ira and others who are using all of this cool, free software can post how to videos on how to get it and use it with students on youtube, as well. tag it as UDL, irasocol, etc. assume a very low level of computer literacy in the people who want to follow your advice.

  13. i clicked on your click-speak link and went to ‘installation guide’. that took me step by step to getting firefox for free. bit by bit i’m getting there. it just takes persistence and some uninterrupted time :)

  14. Download and install Firefox.

    Install the Java Embedding Plugin

    Since the clc4tts_freetts_installer.jar installer needs to add the files needed for FreeTTS into your Java home directory, you will have to turn down the security on that directory before running the installer. Otherwise, you will get a permission denied error when you try to run the installer. To turn down the security settings, give full permissions to this directory: “/system/library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework” These full permissions should also be granted to all of this directory’s subdirectories. After the installer has finished, you may restore the original permissions.

    - from the MAC installation instructions for click-speak. where do i type in the /system/library..blah blah thing to give ‘full permissions’? sorry, i am not a software developer :( this is frustrating!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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