Published On: December 3, 2015

Google has transformed blended learning by empowering learners to share and collaborate on a cloud-based platform, but what about learners who need learning, language, and sensory support? We will explore Read&Write and its potential for creating a more inclusive learning environment for all learners in the Boston Public Schools.


Rhianon E. Gutierrez is a Digital Learning Specialist on the Boston Public Schools Digital Learning Team (DLT). The DLT envisions universally accessible learning environments in which students become connected, engaged, and responsible digital citizens. The DLT is committed to preparing 21st-century learners for their futures through supporting educators’ innovation and integration of digital and instructional technologies. Find her on Twitter at @RhianonElan.



Read&Write for Google Chrome™: A Chrome Extension with Inclusive Potential

“It’s not a SPED tool. It’s a 21st century tool.”

It didn’t take long before I nodded in agreement. Since being introduced to Read&Write for Google Chrome™ this fall, I have experienced its value as a 21st century tool for reading and writing. I’ve reflected deeper on my own learning, strengthened my understanding of Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and solidified my belief in the inclusive potential of the tool for all students.

Learner Variability as a Foundation

Research has shown that learners are highly variable and that there is no average learner (Rose and Meyer, 2002, Rose, 2013). Within the Boston Public Schools alone, 1 in 5 students has a disability and more than 40% speak a language other than English (2015). Learners in the margins can and should be the catalyst for championing and designing inclusive and flexible educational tools and learning environments. By designing for those in the margins, we create tools that benefit many. Read&Write for Google Chrome™, a Chrome extension developed by Texthelp, is an outstanding example of this thinking.

The Importance of Read&Write for Google Chrome™

Beginning December 2, 2015, all Boston Public Schools staff and students will have access to the Read&Write for Google Chrome™ extension when logged into the Chrome browser with their BPS Google account. The extension supports Google Docs, PDFs, EPUBs, Kes files, and webpages when using a Chrome browser on a OS X, Windows, or Chrome OS device.

The tool is already used worldwide by millions of people in education. Teachers have reported that students intuitively know how to use the tool and that its features support both independent and collaborative work. A March 2015 article shows how the tool was used by students in special education and general education in the Grand Forks Public Schools in North Dakota. A May 2015 blog post documents how high school students working at their school’s Help Desk in Lynnfield, Massachusetts used the tool and gave feedback to Texthelp to improve the tool.

Using Google Apps for Education (GAFE)

Read&Write for Google Chrome™ leverages the familiarity of the Chrome browser and encourages better use of the browser. Its functional criteria is that you must login to your Chrome browser with your BPS email in order to access the tool. Since we don’t all have the same login behaviors, it’s important to monitor how you login and what email you use. For support with this, consider reviewing the BPS Read&Write setup document.

The tool’s features seamlessly work with almost all Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Students can use the tool to conduct online research, read inaccessible documents, create online presentations, and write papers individually or in collaboration with others. The tool provides just-in-time support for students to use Google Drive, Docs, Slides, Classroom, and more.

A captioned video by Texthelp illustrates the various possibilities of the tool in Google Docs. The tool uses two Google essentials we use everyday: Google Drive and Google Docs. When using the Highlights and Vocabulary List features of the tool, Google Docs are created and stored in Google Drive. For example, one can highlight a webpage, Google Doc, EPUB, or PDF and export these highlights into a Google Doc. By default, this Google Doc of your highlights stores the name of the source URL and your BPS email at the end of the document but it has a generic file title that needs to be renamed. On one hand, the source URL is excellent for citations. On the other hand, it is beneficial to practice file naming and organization in Drive and understand sharing settings to maximize short and long-term productivity and collaboration.

Reflecting On My Own Learning

My interest in Read&Write for Google Chrome is both personal and professional. I began working on training and resources because of my professional experience working with accessible media and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). As a person with a sensory disability, I have already internalized the framework and importance of designing for the margins. I am excited to teach, witness, and document the impact that this tool has on students and staff in the Boston Public Schools in the 2015-16 school year.

To mark the district-wide launch of the tool and support digital learning initiatives in BPS, I created a BPS Read&Write Landing Zone (accessible when logged in with a BPS Google account) that contains various trainings and resources curated by the Digital Learning Team (DLT) in OIIT. The image below is a visual artifact I created from an original documentation of my first in-depth use of Read&Write in October 2015. The links below showcase several key documents that I created and update on an ongoing basis for the BPS community. I invite you to visit the links and explore the tool further:


Rose, D. & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Rose, T. (2013, June 19). The myth of average: Todd Rose at TEDxSonomaCounty. TEDx Talks. Retrieved from

BLOG POST #2: Forging District-wide Relationships With Read&Write

For the past six months, I have been working district-wide with various departments, schools, teachers, and staff to teach them how to use Read&Write for Google Chrome. From the beginning, I have maintained that it is a tool with inclusive potential. That feeling has not changed. I’ve witnessed teachers improve their digital literacies and show excitement as they’ve imagined the possibilities for their students. I’ve also witnessed their technical frustrations with the Chrome browser and the need district-wide to give students access to digital texts that are flexible and accessible.


The professional learning that I have provided around the tool has fallen into two categories: PD requested by schools and instructional teams or PD that was driven by leaders and staff from the Central Office. My PD sessions have ranged from a couple of 20 minute talks to many hands-on blended learning workshops between 90-120 minutes. I actively work to keep the groups small so that each teacher or staff member can set up the tool by the end of the session. For the longer PDs with groups of 20 or less, the first half hour introduces the tool, namely its functional criteria. The remaining time focuses on activities using Google Docs, PDFs, and EPUBs (digital books). This PD is often delivered via Google Classroom and is intended to not only show how to use the tool but to also see how it can be used in a blended, flexible, and personalized context that uses Google Apps and websites. Before each PD session, I send out custom pre-assessment surveys to gauge teacher and staff familiarity with Read&Write and various Google Apps. This helps me ensure that my PD is both accessible and UDL and provides teachers and staff with what they need to use the tool in their instructional and professional practice.

gutierrez4Read&Write has helped me forge impactful relationships across the district. It has provided me with the opportunity to connect with Dr. Frances Esparza in OELL and co-design her presentation at the LearnLaunch conference at the Harvard Business School, work with SPED and SLIFE teachers through Google Classroom, collaborate with Mary Shannon Marcella and her Related Services team for the Technology Expo for Diverse Learners, and present at the Boston Teachers Union conference in January. I’ve also connected with and received support from staff of Texthelp, who developed the tool. I am grateful for the continued support from leaders in the district and appreciate every opportunity to connect with teachers and staff face-to-face.


At present, I am curating teacher and learner-created resources for the BPS Read&Write website so that teachers and staff can see strategies across K-12 and content areas. These resources can be screencasts that make learning visible with the tool, a collaborative Google Doc, graphic organizers, or an essay or research paper, to name a few. If you use Google Classroom, Newsela, Expeditionary Learning curriculum, Bookshare, and/or EPUB files, I’d love to add your resources to the BPS Read&Write website, with full credit to you.


I will continue to provide support for teachers and schools in the form of trainings and updated online resources. My goal is to create a robust and universally designed website that showcases the impact of the tool in the Boston Public Schools and provides teachers and staff with timely and essential resources that will make their curriculum more accessible to the widest range of learners.




  • BTU PD Day
  • Webinars/Tutorials
  • Blended model – Google Classroom, Time for Kids, Newsela
  • EPUBs – the challenge and need to use them
  • ELL, SLIFE, inclusion specialists, curriculum, schools and subject areas
  • Updating resources with most relevant info for teachers
  • Sharing new resources created by teachers
  • Asking for resources from teachers, and why it is important
  • Trainings with Texthelp – focused on strategies
  • Working with departments to curate the best resources to help teachers do what they do best and set students up for success
  • GAFE Summit interest

BLOG POST #3: What I’ve Learned in Teaching About Read&Write

Since October 2015, I’ve had the opportunity to observe teachers as they have learned how to use and implement Read&Write. Teachers and administrators have asked me to lead or co-lead trainings and give advice on doing their own trainings. I want to share some of what I have found to be successful in professional learning around Read&Write.

  1. Do a pre-assessment survey. Your assessment should inquire about familiarity and use of Read&Write, Google Apps, and ebooks. Use this data to help inform how you structure your training and offer choice in activities. If some of your participants need more Google Apps support, share some tutorials or one-pagers with them in advance. If a large number of them need support, embed it into your planned Read&Write training, or do a training on select Google Apps prior to Read&Write. The OIIT Digital Learning Team also offers trainings in person or online for a variety of Google skill levels.
  2. Choose a location with reliable Internet connection. Read&Write requires the use of a reliable Internet connection, so all training locations should have reliable wifi, if possible. If not, try using your cell phone as a personal hotspot!
  3. Have a designated online landing zone where all materials can be accessed. I have used Google Sites for a Read&Write website, Google Classroom for interactive and individual activities, Google Docs for an interactive agenda, and Google Slides for presentations. These have allowed my participants to follow with me and independently navigate to sections where needed. All my materials are archived there so participants can always refer to them at a later date, or attend trainings remotely.
  4. Make sure all your materials are accessible. I cannot emphasize this enough. As an inclusive tool, Read&Write should be presented with multimedia that is accessible such as captioned videos, strong images that support text, unlocked PDFs, hyperlinks that state their destination (not “Click here!”), and clearly defined headers and paragraphs. As more information is created, shared, and curated online, it is essential to create a clear pathway for any learner, at any age! Visit WebAIM for more information about web accessibility principles.
  5. Give yourself and participants time to play around and ask questions. While I have given successful 20 to 45 minute talks on the tool with little to no hands-on time, it is so important that participants are able to have their own computers (or a loaner) to do hands-on learning. This allows for them to make mistakes and troubleshoot in a supportive environment with their colleagues. Read&Write truly is a personalized tool that works across multiple platforms. As a Google district, we should be practicing using Google Apps during all Read&Write trainings. However, we also should be experimenting with how it works with different online programs. Try playing with Read&Write using one of the web-based apps in the Digital Backpack, like Newsela, Khan Academy, and CueThink. If you work with students with disabilities, try using Read&Write with a DAISY file that you download from Bookshare or a PDF or EPUB from Google Play.
  6. Have an exit ticket, reflect, and apply changes. I’ve used Google Forms to collect feedback after all of my trainings and have used that feedback to refine future trainings and materials and provide follow-up. This feedback has helped me become a better teacher and proactive planner; I’ve set clear goals that are both practical and look at the big picture.

One of the goals that I have set for myself is to work with teachers and specialists to document and curate models on how Read&Write can be used within Google Classroom with Expeditionary Learning modules, digital curriculum, and open educational resources (OERs). I also hope to learn more about how Read&Write has or can be used to support student reading and writing across grade levels. Overall, I believe that Read&Write should become a vital part of teacher professional learning around Google Apps and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and am determined to carry out that vision.

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