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Assistive Technology: Carole Ries

Carole RiesReviewer: Carole Ries, OTR, Assistive Technologist

Wayzata Public School, Plymouth, MN  

Number of Students:
10,000 Students: 7 elementary, 3 middle schools, 1 high school
Product: SOLO 6 by Don Johnston


Our district was interested in evaluating technologies that would support literacy. SOLO 6, developed by Don Johnston, is a suite of four software tools that can be used individually or together to support students’ reading and writing skills. 

Reviewer's Notes: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that the Wayzata Public Schools uses when evaluating technology tools. We are committed to embedding technology solutions into our curriculum from beginning so that these tools are available to all staff and all students.

The components are:  

Write Outloud:  A talking word processor that supports the editing process and increases the amount of written communication.

Co:Writer:  A word completion or word prediction tool that support students who are slow at keyboarding, have difficulty spelling, and narrows the gap between thought and written words.

Draft Builder:  Creates outlines, organizes notes, builds a draft and scaffolds students through the writing process.

Read Outloud:  Is a text to speech program that can read the web, e-text and digital books and helps to collect and analyze relevant ideas and organize notes.  It has many reading comprehension supports embedded into the program, including highlighters, a dictionary and a bibliographer.

Pilot Study:

A pilot study, evaluating Solo 6, was completed by K-12 general and special education teachers in our district. After 8 weeks, each participant completed a feedback survey. The results conclusively revealed that the majority of the teachers strongly agreed that Solo 6 would help their students with writing, reading, organization and research. 

Technology Integration:

Wayzata Public Schools then purchased a district license of Solo 6 and installed the software on all student and staff computers. Additionally, students have take-home rights to the software. Students can download the software from the district website or check out a CD of the program from the media center to install on their home computer. 

AmandaAmanda Leddy, 6th grade Language Arts Teacher at Central Middle School, used Draftbuilder and Write Outloud to complete a history research paper.  Students’ feedback about Draft Builder and Write Outloud was very positive. They stated that it was faster to take notes using Draftbuilder, they could quickly see where more research was needed because of the organization provided by Draftbuilder and they preferred to take keyboarding notes rather than handwritten notes. All the students surveyed felt the program was easy to learn, taking less than 10 minutes to learn how to use the software. Ms. Leddy reported that using the software increased productivity by needing three less class periods to complete the paper. She stated that Write Outloud also increased students’ independence with spelling and proofreading, resulting in more time for her to work with students that needed more one to one support. Finally, Ms. Leddy stated that using the software improved the quality of the final paper.

CarolCarol Dunsmore-Clement, Elementary Special Education Teacher, is using Read Outloud with students with print disabilities.  Her students are reading more, feel less frustrated when reading and are choosing to read in their free time. The students and their parents are happy because the students have increased independence at home when completing their homework. One student proudly stated that he read a book independently at home and when he came to school the next day he received 10 out of 10 on the test! The technology motivated and engaged him.

LoriLori Fildes, Director of Special Education, said, “Solo 6 has been a tool commonly discussed at student Individualized Education Planning (IEP) Meetings.  Parents are thrilled that Wayzata Public Schools is supporting such a powerful technology that will assist their children in becoming independent as possible in their academic learning. That being said, it is clearly not a tool reserved solely as a special education adoption, but is quickly becoming a way of assisting all students and staff in their academics.  It has the capability of enhancing student work and in some cases, helping students to be successful without the need for referring them for further intervention and/or special education services.”

ShellyShelly Nelson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, shared, “Taking the time to complete work well is important. With the use of Solo 6, our Language Arts teachers found that students took better notes, produced better research papers, demonstrated an understanding of the research process and saved several days of class time typically dedicated to a research writing project.”

What's Next?

The implementation of Solo 6 has been a positive initiative to provide a flexible approach to reading and writing so that students can customize the software to meet their individual needs. Our implementation team continues to meet.  Our next goal is to work with publishers during our curriculum review process to build an accessible digital library of all our textbooks and to begin to take data of how SOLO 6 is impacting students’ reading and writing skills and scores in our district.

Classroom Innovation and Creativity: Sarah Butler

SarahReviewer: Sarah Butler

Position Held:  First Grade Teacher

Sarah Butler's Teacher Website 

District/School: Hempfield Area School District, West Point Elementary School, Greensburg, Pennsylvania

Number of Students in District/School: Hempfield Area School District serves 6,100 students in grades K-12 in 11 schools, which include 6 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 1 high school and 1 alternative education school

Products: Mimio Classroom Family of Products, including Mimio Teach, Mimio View, Mimio Capture, Mimio Pad, and Mimio Vote


Last year, Hempfield Area School District invested in the Mimio Classroom Family of Products with the Mimioteachintention of offering teachers innovative ways to expand current curriculum and keep captivating our students in a digital world. The goal was to bring technology into every elementary classroom with interactive ways to view, assess, and complete daily lessons traditionally done via pencil/paper application. Hempfield Area was driven to pursue this new technology with the implementation of new Language Arts and Mathematics curricula. Both programs offered a wide range of interactive resources that teachers could utilize more seamlessly with the latest in educational technology tools, like Mimio.


Across the district, the response to this technology has been more positive than anyone could have imagined or hoped for. With anything new and different, the adjustment has been challenging, but rewarding.  As a classroom teacher, I have made it my personal mission to embrace this new technology in my classroom for the benefit of my students. Despite the challenges of learning all new technology (as well as simultaneously implementing new curriculum!), I have found a new passion for what I do- molding young minds with amazing technology to assist! The students have been the true indicators of success.  Mimio has completely changed the “magic” of learning for my students.  Any Mimio lesson I present, any Mimio Vote assessment I complete, and anything I present through my Mimio View instantly draws their attention. I have seen increased classroom participation and on-task time consistently.  I have also seen exponential growth when comparing student understanding based on “old” teaching practices (i.e. lecture, pencil/paper drill and practice), compared to interactive, hands-on, often student-led Mimio lessons.  Perhaps, most helpful to me, Mimio acts as a teacher assistant, of sorts, to allow me more freedom to oversee my students’ progress.

Learning Curve: 

MimiovoteThe possibilities are endless with Mimio technology, and truly can seem overwhelming.  District implementation has centered on hours of Staff Development, and even more hours spent out of school, on my own time, honing my skills.  From a hardware aspect, Mimio is very simple to operate.  Inherent in the design is the ability for all the Mimio equipment to work with minimal techno-savvy abilities.  To put it as simply as the equipment is to operate, essentially you plug things in and it just works!!  A major highlight is the technology is as simple or sophisticated as you want it to be when it comes to creating.  Lessons can be designed for simplicity, or created utilizing the extensive bells and whistles the technology does offer (but, again, does not require). Mimio, and its parent company Dymo, offer their own support systems and online resources.  These supports are truly phenomenal.  For those that aren’t ready to create, there is also a Mimio Connect website that offers a forum for teacher sharing of lessons. This component has allowed for me to use my prep and planning time most efficiently.  Mimio Connect offers a forum to find pre-made, adaptable templates, games, lessons, and even allows for peer feedback on lessons I create and share. Between the resources offered by Mimio, and the in-district teamwork atmosphere, it has been a challenging, yet very rewarding journey that continues to lead Hempfield Area into a realm of limitless educational excellence.

How We Use It: 

Hempfield Area School District has embraced the role of technology in the classroom and taken the Mimioviewapproach to utilize our Mimio resources to enhance what we already do every day- strive to offer all our students the best educational experiences possible. Mimio is a classroom tool we use to supplement our current curriculum.  Mimio lessons are designed to target the hands-on approach already engrained in our daily learning goals. Using the Mimio Classroom Family of Products, every elementary classroom is equipped with a Mimio Teach, which makes any whiteboard interactive when used in conjunction with a projector, computer, and Mimio software.  Every elementary classroom also utilizes the Mimio View, which is a document camera.  The Mimio Pad allows the teacher to move freely around the room and operate the whiteboard from remote locations without wires.  The Mimio Capture is an ink recording system that works with standard dry erase markers.  It allows for notes to be saved, in many formats, for later editing, printing or other use.  The Mimio Vote (my personal favorite.) allows for instant assessment/feedback.  You can also gather scores and download results into spreadsheets by assigning the handheld devices individually for testing.  The game-like handset maximizes participation, and are you ready for this, put excitement into assessment for children.

What’s Ahead:  

MimiopadI educate children that are more technologically savvy at age 6, than I will ever be in my lifetime. But, I am committed to being a life-long learner and doing my best to make my classroom as relevant and educationally rich as possible. My teaching now embraces, and is part of, the visually stimulating world my students are growing up in. I have the ability to offer my students hands on, motivating lessons that engage their brains in ways most interesting to them. Often, the lessons I create offer components for all learning styles and modalities. It’s definitely provided an avenue to balance the best of technology with the best of traditional education strategies.  Anyone that has spent time in a classroom can tell you, it’s not an easy job.  But, when you love what you do, it makes it easy to find the highlights and triumphs as the glowing parts that outweigh the challenges. There is no greater reward than seeing that proverbial “light bulb” come on for a student.  I see success daily, exponentially, in fact, when including Mimio technology as part of my standard teaching repertoire.  With all of these “light bulbs”, the future is truly bright for my first graders.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Best in Tech Today are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.