Learning about Compensatory Support: Adapted Art Tools for poor fine motor control

EDER 679.08 Adaptive Technologies in Education. Toolkit Part A: Compensatory Support Introduction.

Glass, Meyer & Rose (2013) suggest “[…] including arts options, especially informed by UDL practices, can provide a rich range of unique and complex content, processes, and thinking habits for valuing, understanding, and making meaning of the world” (p. 116).

Type of Compensatory Support: Adapted art tools that remove or reduce the barrier caused by poor fine motor control

When to remediate versus compensate?

Dave Edyburn (2002) arguesAt some point in the educational process, we must recognize the need for compensatory approaches” (p. 2). He further asks “How much failure data is needed to trigger a decision to de-emphasize remediation approaches and activate the use of compensatory approaches that enhance a child’s functional performance?” (p. 2). A great question, especially when considering the child’s perspective for how many times must a child attempt to do any task, in a certain method, when the method is clearly failing? Some fine motors skills are developed as a child grows and with practice. Yet, despite remediation, some learners may struggle with the process of forming shapes and with the entire cognitive production of holding a writing tool (Broun, 2009). A person may not be able physically improve with remediation due to a learning disability or a permanent injury for example. Broun (2009) advises “Teachers must exercise caution in trying to elicit a skill that may never reach a level of proficiency sufficient to enable students to demonstrate what they know or think in an efficient and fluid manner” (p. 16).

If we are following the guides of Differentiated Instruction supporting diversity (Tomlinson, & McTighe, 2006), educators should encourage a variety of methods to represent knowledge and understandings. Further, if we are fostering principles for Universal Designs for Learning (CAST, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002) educators should encourage individual ways of expressing understandings and also individual use of materials. Glass, Meyer & Rose (2013) argue “arts educators will have to be more responsive to individual differences by recognizing the variation in difficulties that their students will have and addressing them in productive ways” (p. 104). Thus, by providing improved access to the visual arts through adapted art tools, educators can help support learners with poor fine motor control by embedding adapted art tools within creating. Who we include or do not include in any educational setting, sends a clear message on who is valued within a school and the Fine Arts are no exception.

General Overview of Adapted Art Tools as Compensatory Support

Goal: to support the authentic participation of learners with low fine motor control in an art setting.

Barrier: a Fine Motor or physical disability preventing a person from fully participating in an art activity.

A video showing an example of adapted art tools for fine motor use. BridgeSchooler. (2009, Oct 22). Bridge School News Network 10/22/09 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6HW5CXaoiU

Creating visual art and design projects is a complex process involving the physical mechanics of hand control and the cognitive component of organizing, creating and composing images with color, shapes, lines, textures and other materials. Further, creating is a process which serves different purposes based on the context and the author’s intent and can form as a method of communication between people.

Similar to the concept of writing on paper, creating or forming marks on a surface in art (cutting with scissors, gluing, pencil crayon coloring, painting, sculpting clay etc.) often requires a fine motor control of an art tool such as a pencil, paintbrush, clay carving tool, scissors and other hand held devices. Similar to printing or handwriting, thinking too much about the process of creating combined with the physical aspect of attempting to create intended mark takes the energy away from the purpose or goal (Newton, Dell & Petroff, 2012). Some people simply do not have a physical capability to hold a tool to create art the way they would like. Adapted art tools can provide support for learners with poor fine motor control. There are a few specifically adapted art technologies available on the market designed to assist in a variety of ways and there are many creative adaptive ways to modify current tools for a person with a fine motor disability. Which is the best? This depends on the specific needs of each individual, and the tasks they wish to be able to perform independently.

Who would benefit from an adapted art tool?

  • One with fine motor disabilities (for example hypotonia or apraxia)
  • One with a physical disability preventing fine motor hand use
  • One with developmental coordination disorder
  • One with motor dsygraphia or spatial dysgraphia
  • One developing fine motor skills with/without conjunction with Occupational Therapy
  • One who has lost the ability of fine motor skills as the result of a stroke, brain injury or influencing illness
  • One with poor balance and coordination
  • One with a vision impairment
  • One who may not have identified learning disabilities
  • One with unsteady reaching & holding
  • One who enjoys tactile or “hands on” learning experiences
  • One who enjoys visual learning (representation)
  • One who prefers expressing their learning visually
  • One who wants to try/experiment with different methods of expression
  • One who has poor physical strength due to an injury or illness
  • One with oral challenges

How might an adaptive art tool support learning? 

  • Encourages actively participating within peer projects which increases a sense of belonging.
  • Fosters a sense of interconnectedness with others. Art is often created for “an audience”. Thus fostering, what Wolf (1998) calls an exchange & response. Art can often open dialogue between peers, community and home which increases a sharing of perspectives (Greene, 2003; Jensen, 2003; Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013).
  • Helps a learner create a “product” representing the conceptual structure of knowledge (Alberta Regional Consortia, 2014; Jensen, 2003) as part of UDL and DI learning strategies.
  • Encourages imagination & exploration of ideas through materials (play & purpose).
  • Fosters cross-curricular integration if a learner has access to multiple means of representing their ideas (CAST, 2014) in any subject and fosters increased understanding in other domains (Fiske, 1999). For example, a learner can create a painting to express their feelings and ideas regarding studying the Holocaust in Social Studies (Wolf, 2008).
  • Promotes learner choice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008; Wolf, 2008). “There are not so many “right” answers as there are multiple, effective, powerful, or stunning ones. Think of all the ways there are to create a portrait […] But to realize a powerful solution or new version means making choices about what to say and how to say it.” (Wolf, 2008, p.7).
  • Inspires a democratic learning environment where students are active participants in personal expression, choice and voice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008).
  • Increases engagement when a learner can fully or more directly participate in an inclusive environment and activities (CAST, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002).
  • Supports self-expression for learners with oral challenges.
  • Fosters self-identity & empowerment (Taylor, 2006).
  • Promotes independence as students can paint/draw/cut/create without always relying solely on another person.
  • Increases the visual detail/intent/communication of a desired expressed art.
  • Encourages the individual style of a learner by removing/limiting a barrier and focusing on the message or intent of the art.
  • Creates an equal learning opportunity for students requiring fine motor support.
  • Supports an inclusive learning environment by promoting a sharing of experiences and perspectives. By truly listening to a child’s voice we can better understand their perspective. Children should be provided ample opportunity and multiple ways to share their identity, thoughts and feelings. The arts lend themselves in partnership and promote individualism and the community group.
  • Builds upon a learner’s current abilities, especially if a learner enjoys visual arts, thus fostering UDL’s principle of engagement increasing motivation, persistence and emotional self-regulation. Intrinsic motivation increases creativity (Jensen, 2003; Pink, 2009).

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Learning Spaces Matter

Where do you choose to do “work” outside of your place of work or school building? I sit feet up on my couch, located beside a gas fireplace, with a warm blanket wrapped around me and usually a coffee nestled beside my laptop. Second choice for locale I would be at a Good Earth Cafe table (preferable a tall table with a stool) and a cup of Cinnamon Dolce Latte beside my laptop. If I’m not comfortable, I find it difficult to focus.

Space matters.

For my fourth toolkit challenge for my “Universal Design for Learning” Grad course, I wanted to better understand the concept of the Physical Learning Space through a Universal Design for Learning lens. The Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) argues we need to provide Multiple Means of Representation, Multiple Means of Expression and Multiple Means of Engagement to better meet the diverse needs of learners. Considering CAST’s guiding principles, I began pondering how location and the physical environment could help foster all three elements? While Universal Design applies to the physicality of an environment design being accessible and flexible for all, I want to specifically consider possibilities of the physical learning space through a UDL lens. I decided to form questions to ask when assessing a learning space.

Traditional School layout

 Would you want to sit in the above room for 8 hours straight?

The Third Teacher – case study by Steelcase. A video illustrating flexibility of learning spaces.

Space & Multiple Means of Representation.

CAST (2014) argues learners differ in the ways they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them. Beyond the concept of “decoration” of a classroom, the idea of multiple means of representation inherently connects with the physical surroundings and availability of tools to provide multiple means of representation. Providing options and accessibility within the physical environment can help aid in providing multiple ways of accessing and understanding.

Is information communicated or presented in multiple ways? SmartBoards or Screens, are they located so anyone in the room can see? Do learners get a chance to use a Smartboard or is it only used for teacher directed lessons? Can you zoom in on the text or images or provide subtitles for ELL? Are schedules posted so learners can see plans for the day? Are learning goals or learner questions visible? Are there speakers to increase clarity or sound levels? Are personal devices encouraged?

Is uniqueness valued, shared and celebrated in representation?

Who we include or do not include on our walls matters and sends out a message on who is truly valued within the building. Are resources from a variety of cultures and backgrounds being used? Are images and perspectives from of a variety of cultures illustrating a mosaic of human differences prominently used? Is diversity shared on the walls? In the hallways? Online? Are learners with special needs also included in visible learning or only displayed within a resource room?

Digital Connection

An element to support learner individual pace is providing access to learning at any time, anyplace and any pace. By providing an online digital access point for learning, we open up the possibilities for learners to learn at their own pace, integrate personalized technology and provide them with multiple representations.

Space & Multiple Means of Action & Expression

CAST (2014) states “it is important to provide alternative media for expression”. Further “such alternatives reduce media-specific barriers to expression among learners with a variety of special needs, but also increases the opportunities for all learners to develop a wider range of expression in a media-rich world.”

Is there a variety of “stuff” & “things” to create with? I have been blessed to teach Humanities out of an Art Classroom and therefore had a great supply of paper, clay tools, paints, rulers, glue, scissors and recycled items readily available at any moment. Because I taught Art Metal I also had saws, a drill press, pliers etc. Essentially, a mini-maker space at my learners finger tips. The ability to locate tools quickly or “on the fly” helps with differentiation.

Flexibility of Space

Considering space…how quickly can you move furniture around to create alternative learning space? Is there an area to bring an entire group together? Is there a quiet area to record? How do the teachers collaborate to help create experiences as needed based on learners needs? Is the school itself flexible? Is an Art Room open to those who need to make a mess? Is the shop room open for someone to use a spray booth? With the shift from Libraries to Learning Commons this will help learners gain better access to a myriad of tools.

This video shows how simply changing the design of a chair can provide multiple means of expression & action

Space & Multiple Means of Engagement

CAST argues “there is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.” One of the most important things a teacher can do is to create a safe space for learners. By focusing on how the physical environment can engage learners, as Carol Ann Tomlinson (2003) states “the classroom environment includes both physical and affective attributes that individually and cumulatively establish the tone or atmosphere in which teaching and learning will take place.” Suggesting the classroom will often be the first messenger of how learning will be in this place.

In fostering learner engagement an educator needs to consider learners’ interests. Does the learning space have a warm ambiance? Do learners have choices to collaborate or work independently? Thus fostering autonomy in learner choice. Are there visible schedules or plans so a learner who needs structure feels secure? Are there areas for quiet concentration and also areas for social interaction? Do the learners have a say in their classroom design?

What does an educator do if limited by physical space design?

Create. Money is always a resource we wish we had more of…so instead of giving up one has to be creative with what one has. I’ve taught in a windowless room for years so we painted our own windows on the walls. This extended into painting cupboards and tables to add learner identity of the space. I brought in a lamp and some cloth to soften the room.

Bargain and ask the community. I went to a local furniture store and bargained for a couch. I explained it was for educational purposes in a school and wanted to help out. Why not ask parents if they have any items willing to donate?

Reach out to peers! I was told my cool green shag carpet was a fire hazard, so I asked a Phy.Ed teacher if I could borrow some gym mats when they weren’t in use. Done! I had comfy mats for kids to lay on or sit and the mats were easy to move around the room as needed.

Partner with Colleagues. As teachers, collaborating to share space is key. Learners should be able to flow from room to room in a building when needed, not always at scheduled bell times. If a learner needs to perhaps drill a hole in a piece of wood for a project would it not be fantastic if the Shop teacher was open to supervising this child, essentially opening up the space to everyone? Agreeing that there are no “territorial” spaces but an entire school learning environment? 


In summary, a major key of UDL is the concept of flexibility, of being able to manipulate variables to achieve high performance for all learners. Which is why Universal Design for Learning extends into the physical environment and deserves thoughtful implementation. In a recent study of physical space impact upon academic results, Christopher Brooks (2010) found “holding all factors excepting the learning spaces constant, students taking the course in a technologically enhanced environment conducive to active learning techniques outperformed their peers who were taking the same course in a more traditional classroom setting.”

Does the learning environment imply a teacher centred focus…or hopefully a learner centred space? Can you walk in and tell exactly where the teacher “runs the show”, or do you walk in and find it is impossible to tell who is teaching and who is learning?

Check out these Resources on Learning Spaces

Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. (July 2012).The Third Teacher: Designing the Learning Environment for Mathematics and Literacy, K to 8. Capacity Building Series.Special Edition #27. Ontario, Canada : Student Achievement Division.

K-12 Blueprint

Bill, David. Example of a Redesigned Classroom. 8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom. Edutopia.

Doorley, Scott & Witthoft, Scott. Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration.

Persaud, Ramona. (2014). Why Learning Space Matters. Edutopia.

Brown, Malcolm B., Lippincott, Joan K. (2003). Learning Spaces: More than Meets the Eye. Educause Quarterly.


CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA.

CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression.Wakefield, MA.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. (2003). Teacher Response to Student Needs: Rationale to Practice. Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Image of Classroom from freeimages.com

Learning with Augmented Reality

For my third Toolkit challenge, for my “Universal Designs for Learning” grad class, I wanted to discuss a relatively new technology tool for use in the classroom called Augmented Reality. Please also see my previous Toolkit blog posts on Living a Responsive Curriculum & Learning to “Leave” the Classroom: Differentiating Programming. This tool has many potential benefits for removing barriers for learners when utilized within the pedagogical framework of UDL. The Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) argues we need to provide Multiple Means of Representation, Multiple Means of Expression and Multiple Means of Engagement to better meet the diverse needs of the learners.

What is Augmented Reality?

In basic terms, AR layers computer information over real life perception. Mashable (2014) defines Augmented reality as “a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. One particular free AR app, called Aurasma, works by using the camera on mobile devices to capture an image that is “triggered” and shares interactive content. For example, a learner draws a picture on paper. He or she then takes a photo of the drawing on a device to create a “trigger”. Then a video, audio recording, graphic, GPS location etc. is linked to the “trigger”. Later, when the drawing is scanned, the device or another device if shared on a channel, recognizes the “trigger” and then plays the connected song, video, graphic etc.

Augmented Reality- Explained by Common Craft (Illustrated youtube video).

Matt Mills: Image recognition augmented reality. Ted Talk on AR.


Providing Multiple Means of Representation

CAST (2011) states “learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them.” Also, David Rose & Bridget Dalton (2009) argue we should “present text in individualized ways to reduce the barriers that might interfere with learning to comprehend”(p.80). Therefore, Educators need to help provide an array of options for accessing information such as videos, audio stories, images, songs etc. Augmented Reality can assist in providing multiple means of representation. No longer must knowledge be accessed by printed text alone. Here are a few examples:

1) Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) Sign Language: Using AR, flashcards of vocabulary words can contain a video overlay that explains a word/concept/task in Sign Language (representation).

2) Offers auditory alternatives. Learners can access videos, sound clips, and other information connected to a “trigger”. An example: an image on the wall plays a recording of a pronunciation of a word or a video explanation. A piece of paper can explain a mini-lesson. An educator does not always have to be around to help a learner for any surface potentially can speak to a learner. Words of encouragement can be embedded also.

3) English Language Learners: AR can provide overlays over word walls or images which speak or show images of words to learners in their familiar language. Thus, increasing personal understanding  by removing language barriers.

4) Learners own Pace. If one were to use a flipped classroom or pre-recorded teacher/learner instructions for a lesson, a learner could complete challenges or tasks at their own pace. Instead of every learner sitting and watching a lecture at the same time, a lecture could be pre-recorded and then when/if needed scanned by a learner. They could fast forward, pause or start again or skip if they already know the content/task. For example, for a science lab, directions could be scanned on labels to remind learners of concepts or purposes of a tool. If a learner needs more time to complete a lab they can take their time. Thus, fostering learning at your own pace environments.

5) Customizes displays of information. Learners can zoom in on images, view a math equation in 3D, pause a track/video, listen to audio, share a link, increase font size….

6) Experiential: Connect to the community and world. Viewing art images in a book is never the same as walking the halls of an art gallery of watching an artist create in action. And often, taking an entire class to another country or another city may simply be unfeasible. Check out this video on teacher Andrew Vanden Heuvel who explores parts of the world teaching physics online and takes learners on virtual field trips around the world. (Although Google Glass is being pulled from the shelves temporarily, this form of AR technology may provide more uses for removing barriers for people unable to physically attend a location in the world).

7) Provide access to information/communication for people with physical disabilities. See this video about Alex Blaszczuk, a young girl who can not use her hands and Google Glass helps her take pictures, find information and connect with others through voice activation.

8) Visually Imparied. One system being developed, called NAVIG (Navigation Assisted by artificial Vision and GNSS), is a wearable device to help ease navigation in the community. The device, much like a smart phone AR app, can recognize and locate objects as a person walks around. Providing help with navigation and connecting people to the surroundings using auditory communication. (Please see article “NAVIG: augmented reality guidance system for the visually impaired“, Virtual RealityPublished by Springer-Verlag London: 2012.)

Learners can create! Multiple Means of Action & Expression

Creating in the hands of learners. A learner can create a video or voice recording of their learnings, questions or comments and attach these clips to other items. For example, a child paints a mural. He/she then creates a “trigger” so when another classmate or an educator scans the created mural, their trigger plays perhaps a self reflection or a video sharing their creative process. This could potentially be used in countless ways when allowing student choice.

Risk Free Experimenting & Prototyping. With Google sketch up, a learner can design an idea to make in shop class, for example, a chair. They can then sketch their prototype and view the sketch in life size 3D, using AR to critique, alter and edit their idea before actually hand building the real thing in wood. This may help some learners visualize their ideas before fruition and also help with confidence by allowing students to be creative, take risks, and make mistakes without consequences (Thornton & Ernst, & Clarke, pg.20).

Learning can take place anywhere & Incorporate physical movement. AR does not mean sitting at a desk being complacent. Scavenger hunts are one idea. Create, or better yet have your learners create, scavenger hunts around your school and playgrounds locating and solving “triggers” or “QR” codes. Learners can run or walk around figuring out the hunt, solving questions, finding information for any subject. What a great way for learners to create interactive demonstrations of learnings for their peers. Further, students could use their mobile phones for learning while exploring their own communities, essentially learning can take place anywhere, and not always within the confines of school walls.

Multiple Means of Engagement

Reflection/Meta-Cogntition. With today’s technology, there is no excuse to not allow a learner the opportunity to reflect, assess, and provide feedback on their own learning. I had a student create a beautiful diorama which she put so much effort into where she then created a “trigger” on a 3D clay character. The trigger opened a video of her explaining her choices in representing images, where she felt she was successful and areas she felt she could improve upon. If a learner is strong verbally…let them voice record! If a learner is strong in drawing…let them illustrate their ideas! The possibilities are endless if we focus on learner strengths and provide choice. Further, by connecting subjects in a cross-curricular manner we can help foster more meaningful connections to the learner.

What if aliens crash landed at your school!? Rebecca Mitchell and Dennis DeBay (2012) created a game called “Alien Contact”, focused on collaboration, problem-solving and AR. “After conducting 17 implementations, mostly at urban public middle schools in or around Boston, Massachusetts, USA, during the 2007–08 school year, [they] determined that AR increases academic engagement by tapping students’ interest in mobile devices, differentiates instruction by personalizing information or tasks for students, and creates situated learning experiences”. Mitchell & DeBay also argue AR simulations “engage students who are typically disengaged in mathematics classrooms, encourage collaboration, allow for differentiation of instruction, and stimulate authentic learning.” (pg.21).

The Possibilities are of integrating AR within educational pedagogy are truly endless. If any surface can essentially become a screen linking you to sounds, images, videos and information than an entire school environment can become interactive in so many layers. Yet most importantly, when used in partnership with UDL principles, Augmented Reality can foster new opportunities by removing potential barriers for learners to access information, share their understandings and increase and foster engagement in learning.

Now, “how” can I use AR within learning environments? Truly, the possibilities are ever expanding and being tested out in education around the world…so here are some sites if you are interested in exploring this technology in your own practice.

Aurasma   –  Layar    –   Two Guys and Some iPads   –   20 Examples from TeachThought   –   Kleinsperation


CAST. (2011). “Universal Design for Learning Guidelines – Version 2.0: Principle I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation. Wakefield, MA. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle1

Martinez, Sylvia Libow & Stager, Gary. (2013). “Chapter 9: Shaping the Learning Environment. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance, California: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

Mitchell, Rebecca & DeBay, Dennis. (Sept/Oct, 2012). Get Real: Augmented Reality for the Classroom. Learning & Leading with Technology. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). pg.16-21.

Rose, David & Dalton, Bridget. (2009). “Learning to Read in the Digital Age. International Mind, Brain, and Education Society. Blackwell Publishing, Inc. Vol.3, No.2.

Thornton, Timothy, Ernst, Heremy V. & Clark,Aaron C. (2012, May/June). “Augmented Reality as a Visual and Spatial Learning Tool in Technology Education. Technology and Engineering Teacher. 18-21.

Wikipedia. “Augmented Reality”. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augmented_reality