September 2005 Issue  Volume 6  Number 5

Trainer's Corner

Tools of the Trade: Tips That Can Make You a Better Trainer Right Now

So you are ready to go out and start training end users in how to use assistive technology (AT). Of course, you know AT backward and forward. It should be easy to impart that knowledge, right?

Maybe. There is a big difference between showing a person how to do something and teaching him or her how to do something. When you show someone, you take him or her through the steps that are needed to accomplish the task, and then you are done. When you teach someone, you introduce the idea, take the person through the steps, assess whether the person has understood the information, and adjust your training depending on the results of the assessment.

Unfortunately, when it comes to technology training, most of us show, rather than teach. So how do you bring your training skills up to the level of teaching?

Lesson Plans

First, have a plan. Whether you teach one student or a group, you need to have a well-thought-out plan. In the field of education, this is called a lesson plan. A lesson plan helps guide you throughout the lesson, keeps you from going off on a tangent, provides a framework for you, reminds you of materials that you need to bring, and provides a framework for assessing your students' work.

Second, test your student's knowledge. This is often the most overlooked step in training AT users, but it is one of the most important. Testing a student's knowledge provides several important benefits:

  1. It lets the teacher know if the student has understood and actually learned what was taught.
  2. It helps the student retain more information. When students are tested on skills, they remember more than if they are not tested.
  3. It provides the teacher with an objective measure of what the student has accomplished.
  4. It is easy to document what the student has learned and how well the student has learned it.

Third, repeat yourself. Behavioral and educational researchers have confirmed that repetition is necessary for retention. Even though the student seems to remember the skill the moment you teach it, without repetition, the skill will not move from the student's short-term memory to the student's long-term memory.

How to Write a Lesson Plan

There are five elements in a good lesson plan: objectives, materials, procedure, assessment, and review.


In this section of the lesson plan, you clearly state what the objective of the lesson is. For example, if you want to teach a student how to save and print in this lesson, the objective may be, "Upon completion of this lesson, the student should be able to save a file to the My Documents folder and print the contents on a printer."

Share the objectives with the student before you begin to teach. Good teaching means that students know what they are attempting to achieve and what is expected of them in the class. By providing the objectives to a student in advance, you give the student a framework of expectation that helps him or her learn and retain information better.


It is always a good idea to include a list of materials with every lesson plan. This list can serve as a quick guide to help you remember to bring important materials and sample files. The materials may include a vocabulary list, a hot-key list, sample files, software, and hardware.

Always try to have at least one handout for your students to work with. People learn best when they receive the information in more than one way. A good lesson includes oral instruction, hands-on experimentation, and documentation for the student to read.


The procedure should be a plan for what, exactly, you want the student to do to learn the stated objectives. It should outline what steps the student will need to take. For example, you should provide sample files for the student to use, so that the student does not have to waste a great deal of time typing just to learn to cut and paste. Try to have your lessons incorporate skills that the student learned in previous lessons as a way to reinforce these skills.

You also need to be on the lookout as you write your procedure for any new terms that you will be introducing and any keystrokes that are important for the lesson. You should review these terms and keystrokes with the student before you start the lesson. Doing so helps the student understand the "language" of computers, so when you start talking, it will not all sound like gibberish.


In an assessment, you test both the student's knowledge and your ability to teach. The assessment should be a planned activity that the student performs on his or her own using his or her notes. Make sure that the activity does not require skills that you have not covered yet. You should plan how you are going to grade the assessment. I find that it is easiest to use a scale of 0-4. Zero means that the student could not do the activity at all and could not even remember having learned it; 1 means that the student can do it with a lot of help from the instructor; 2 means that the student can do it with a little help from the instructor; 3 means that the student can do it by referring to notes; and 4 means the student has totally mastered the skill.

During the assessment, you will also get the opportunity to see what part of your lesson plan works and what part does not. If your students consistently do not score well on the assessment, this is a clue that you need to review the procedure you are using. If only one or two students seem to have a problem, you may want to look for an alternative way to teach the skill to them.

The results of the assessment should be written down, so you can refer to them later, if necessary. Keeping a record of the results also helps if, for some reason, another instructor is asked to work with the same student. With a record, the other instructor will know exactly what the student learned and where to pick up the training session.


Once a lesson is complete, you are not finished teaching the skill. In each additional session, always go back and review the previous session with the student. This review will help the student retain the information over the long term. Spend at least 10 minutes at the beginning of each session going over what you covered the last time you met. It also helps to incorporate skills that were learned in the previous lesson into the current lesson to reinforce these skills. For example, if last week the student worked on printing and saving and this week he or she will work on formatting, ask the student to print and save the newly formatted document.

Getting It All Together

You may think that you simply do not have time to create a lesson plan for every skill that you teach. The easy way to implement the use of lesson plans is to do it gradually and to share the task with other trainers whom you know and trust.

If you just commit to putting one lesson per week on paper as a lesson plan, you will have 52 lessons completed by the end of the year. Work together with a partner, and that number will double to 104 lessons.

Save your lessons and materials in a large loose-leaf binder or create a folder of lessons on your notetaker or computer. Eventually, you will have a selection of lessons to choose from, and your students will thank you for it.

Related Articles

Shaping the Future of Assistive Technology Training by Amy Waldman
A Virtual Virtuoso: CathyAnne Murtha by Deborah Kendrick

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