RATIONALE FOR TABLET USE by Karina D. Barley
Imagine a school, just for one moment… where you walked into the door of the school….and the very first questionnaire would contain the questions: “What do you love to do?” What is your favorite thing in life? What are you good at? What would make you smile? How would life/school be if you could do the things that you love to do?
Imagine a school whose curriculum catered for those kinds of questions…and designed a pedagogical program that is individual to your child, based on the answers to those questions?
Teaching to Children's Strengths
It is then that we could abandon English, Math, Science, etc. in the way that it is taught now, where we just deliver buckets of information that has no relevance to kids. Alternatively, let’s say a child’s interest is cooking; what if we were to inspire them to want to learn for example they will want to learn to read because by reading they can gain more information from recipe books. They will want to learn about measurement because this knowledge will help them to become a better chef. They will want to learn about money because they will want to go shopping to purchase their ingredients. They will want to learn about science in the context of how cooking and science interrelate. They will want to learn to write, because they will want to write their own recipes. Just recently, there's a program called Master Junior Chef and everyone is amazed at how incredible the children are.
The comments I hear are "can you believe those kids?" "Those kids are just brilliant". "I can't believe they can cook like that." The recipe (pardon the pun) really isn't that difficult to understand and while I don't want to take away from those amazing kids (because they really are amazing), but these kids are shining because they LOVE to cook; they LOVE to do what they are doing; and when children LOVE doing something, they WILL learn!!! You don't have to ask them, or cajole them into it, they can't wait to get into the kitchen to cook; and to be a better cook, they will learn to read a recipe, learn the math required to get their recipes right; understand the science behind what makes recipes work, flavors taste better etc; and develop creativity in the way they present their food. As I said above, it really is NOT difficult to comprehend and in my mind, this gives me a "recipe", a foundation, a platform from which educating children should stem from. If we start with what they LOVE to do; the rest comes naturally.
I personally believe that using technology can bridge the gaps for those children who are struggling, but also make learning easier for any child. These kids come to school ‘tech’ ready and digitally aware so it makes sense that we give 21st century children, learn using 21st Century technology.
The last few weeks I've felt my client’s desperation. It’s sometimes difficult for me to walk away without feeling like I need to do more.
Why? A number of my clients have two or more children on the Spectrum and all of the parents I meet are struggling with lack of resources, funding and therapies. Either they can’t find appropriate therapies, or they can’t find the funding to do the therapies once they find them.
Parents struggle enough – No one can even remotely pretend that Autism isn’t a tough gig. While the journey can be infinitely rewarding, joyous and inspiring, walking that road can be tenuous, frustrating and exhausting. It’s not so much that the children cause the frustration, but the major problems can be a system that can be roadblocks and brick walls to families being able to move forward.
Getting a diagnosis alone can take months and sometimes years of attending various the Doctors, therapists and organizations. It costs a significant amount of money to pay for these practitioners. An Autism Pediatrician (in Australia) can cost upwards of $450; Speech Therapists are upwards of $200 per hour; and Occupational Therapists are the same. While I have no problem with therapists needing to charge for their services; surely funding to pay for the diagnosis process should be mandatory.
Then parents have to struggle with finding the most appropriate services for their children. In my role as a consultant I often attend Pediatrician visits and therapy visits and I’m dumbfounded that so-called Autism Specialist services don’t even have Autism friendly waiting rooms.
I’ve attended Pediatrician visits where the Specialist doesn’t even talk to the child, then of course the child misbehaves and the outcome of the visit is negative. I’ve watched Parents try to tell Doctors and Therapists “my child doesn’t normally behave like this” and I see the Therapists/Doctors ignore the parent’s pleas.
I walk away NOT surprised at all, there has been NO connection, so the child with Autism is not going to behave well under these circumstances. They are NOT going to show their ‘best’ to someone they don’t trust and has failed to even notice they exist.
I’ve told Doctors that I’ve witnessed our client doing ‘XYZ’… Only to be told that I must have a biased opinion. Not only is that insult to my professionalism, but to my integrity. In that moment, I feel a little of what parents feel every day.
One of the greatest gifts I can give to parents is to ‘get it’. To understand what they are experiencing, to understand their child; and to see what they see in their child. I see parents faces light up when I recognize their children as more than just autistic. They often resolve to tears when I say “oh your child is bright. He has the ability to achieve; we just have to find what induces his desire to learn.”
There is NO ‘one size fits all’ solution to the problem that is Autism. I think we need to spend less time on trying to finding a ‘cure’ and invest more energy spent into understanding the condition. There is a saying that “if you know one child who has Autism, you know one child who has Autism”. So this tells us NO child is the same, therefore NO one therapy or intervention will work for every child.
One thing I believe Autism teaches us is the nature of individualism and uniqueness. We just can’t put children in an “age” box, irrespective of whether they have Autism OR if they are neurotypical.
All children learn differently[KB1] . All children have different skills and abilities. All children have different interests. Being seven years old shouldn’t mean that the child goes straight into a typical curriculum for a seven year old. Some children will learn visually, some by doing, some verbally and some emotionally. Some children love Math and don’t like English; some love Science but don’t like Sport. Doesn’t it make sense to create a differentiated curriculum to suite each child?
Does this idea make the job of the teacher harder? Initially there will be more work and preparation to do, but ultimately if the child loves what they are learning, then behavior problems will diminish, motivation will increase, concentration will improve and children will WANT to attend school.
The principle is the same for children on the Spectrum. I won’t even consider a program for my clients until I’ve observed them at least once. We need to understand how these kids learn, what motivates them and what their sensory issues are. Any program needs to be uniquely and individually tailored to that child.
So I’ve veered off the topic a little, but the truth is this is a huge, varied, and complicated topic. There are so many issues to consider, but I want to return to my original purpose for writing this blog.
Parents with children on the Spectrum need our support. They need our understanding and they need our awareness. We owe children this! Not only because of the benefits to them individually, but we owe it to them because as a community, we will be better off when we understand the uniqueness that is Autism.
I view Autism through the eyes of potential and when I communicate that to parents I give them hope. Let’s make the path easier by supporting faster diagnosis methods, funding for support and therapies, and funding for community, education and professional awareness programs. In ten years we need these children to be shining with potential and productive, thriving members of society. Then people like Temple Grandin and Carly Fleischmann won’t be so unique. They’ll be a part of every community inspiring us all.
I offer a specialized consultancy where my role as coach and teacher is to suggest strategies and innovative ideas about how parents, teachers and care givers of children with Autism can make life more manageable for their child and family.
This “gift to give” is looking at the Autism Spectrum with a quantum perspective! I am convinced the future of Autism is evolving and on the verge of huge positive and initializing change.
I believe passionately and wholeheartedly that when we look at Autism with a different perspective; one where we are not looking at this condition with pity, sadness and misunderstanding, but where we are looking at Autism as an opportunity for huge potential and change for all humankind, then we will be truly seeing Autism as Potential!
The unique individuals who are on the Autistic Spectrum vibrate on a totally different frequency; they orientate within their environment in a very unique way to us; their senses are heightened in a variety of ways which makes the world a profound sensory minefield for them; and most importantly they are misunderstood by society where they are expected to “fit” into the mainstream way of being.
Whether you are a parent, teacher or caregiver of a child of autism, you have been chosen as a shepherd for these amazing, extraordinary human beings, where you can champion their cause.
So, it is tantamount that you are aware of how we can bridge the divide between our world and theirs.
This can be achieved by:
1. Tuning into the frequency that is uniquely theirs and in doing so connect online to the Autism “world”
2. Take ourselves to their world, instead of trying to drag them into ours. How incredibly transforming it will be when we open ourselves up to the possibility that is Autism!
Contrary to popular belief children with Autism are hanging out to connect, communicate and relate, so it is through my consultancy that I can make this possible. I want to help parents to see that they must be incredible, extraordinary human beings to have been given the gift of caretaker of these children.
I’d like to assist parents to eliminate guilt and shame or whatever else attaches them to some negative around this – as they didn’t cause this to happen and parents are NOT responsible for their child being Autistic! Children are autistic because they are here to change the world and challenge the way we do things. They are here to teach us about ourselves and to help us to learn how to tune in to the vibration of the human race in a much more profound way. We need to embrace what they are bringing to the table and then find ways to help them to orientate within this world in a much more effective way. I also think we need to deal with this situation in a holistic way, in that we are working with the entire family, not just the child who has Autism.
I came across this AMAZING group on Facebook and I encourage you to check them out. Not only do they raise awareness in a fun way (creating beautiful jewelry), but in doing so they are supporting children with Autism and helping them reach their potential with the gift of giving.
I am a strong advocate of iPads for Autism as I have seen first hand how this technology can allow children, of all abilities, to reach their potential and advance their learning skills in a way they never have before. AND their jewelry is SUPER fun and made with love.
This is the description from their Facebook page:
It is the mission of The Puzzling Piece to raise Autism awareness, as well as help families that have been touched by Autism feel loved and supported through the gift of technology. The Puzzling Piece also honors those who help the children and families touched by Autism by making donations to Autism based non-profit organizations with each sale that is made. Through awareness and the efforts to place iPads in the hands of children, teachers and therapists the Puzzling Piece strives to enhance the lives of children and families touched by Autism.
Check out their website and Facebook Page with one small click of a button!
I have recently come across some amazing organizations who are working towards making the world a more accepting one. Check out their Facebook Pages!!!
Check out my new Slideshare for Autism Awareness Month - Learning styles of Individuals with Autism.
A presentation celebrating unique and awesome individuals who have Autism, raising awareness on their abilities and potential.
For Teachers, Parents, Carers, people with the privileged of knowing someone with Autism, or people wanting to know more about Autism.
Project Autism will be celebrating Autism Awareness Month with the launch of THREE new Autism Courses.
Stay tuned to this website, and Digital Learning Tree for further information!
My website is now currently updated and reflecting the way my work has evolved over the last few years. As you all know I have been creating a lot of online courses available through Digital Learning Tree, University of North Dakota, and available for university credits through University of the Pacific.
I have also partnered with Teacher Training Australia, creating a number of Professional Development courses available to teachers/educators in Australia.
The courses I have written are iPads to teach K-12 Common Core Standards, guiding teachers to successfully implement and integrate this new technology into the curriculum and classroom, then that evolved into a course for using Androids to teach K-12 Common Core Standards. Must have Apps for the Classroom came next, as did my work on Autism Awareness, and iPads for Autism.
You can get a preview of these online courses from the Digital Learning Tree, or from my website "Further Reading and Resources", which will take you my Powerpoint Presentations on Slideshare.
I hope to aid teachers to successfully use these tools in the classroom as an educational tool, furthering their professional development, and in turn skyrocketing their students access to unique, engaging and creative ways of learning.
I’d like to use today, Martin Luther King Day as a day to declare a ‘dream’ that I have. In 1994 in Salamanca Spain, a statement was made in a UNESCO World Conference on Special Needs Education: Access and Quality. The Statement was a Framework for action on Special Needs Education.
There were 300 participants representing 92 governments around the world and 23 world organizations and then after the conference the Salamanca Statement was born. We are now 20 years on from when that Statement was made and I want to use this document as a preface to my ‘dream’. Statement 1 declares that: T H E S A L A M A N C A S T A T E M E N T - We, the delegates of the World Conference on Special Needs Education representing ninety-two governments and twenty – five international organizations, assembled here in Salamanca, Spain, from 7-10 June 1994, here by reaffirm our commitment to Education for All, recognizing the necessity and urgency of providing education for children, youth and adults with special educational needs within the regular education system, and further here-by endorse the Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, that governments and organizations may be guided by the spirit of its provisions and recommendations (UNESCO, 1994, p. viii).
One of the principal declarations in this document is ‘recognizing the necessity and urgency’ for equal and quality education for all students with special needs and here we are 20 years on and I am unsure that urgency has been expedited. In my work as a consultant and trainer, I meet many parents and teachers of children (whom I prefer to term ‘difabled’ - that is, they are differently abled). The common denominator I hear from both parties are the frustrations around lack or resources, funding and understanding from governments and departments who are in charge of education. I have been completely shocked, flabbergasted and dismayed when teachers around the world tell me of classrooms that are oversized and have little support and that they would love to employ strategies based on my research, but don’t know how, given the environment and conditions of their work.
We can’t ignore this as a problem anymore. The statistics on Autism alone are going up yearly and the recent statistics in the USA is that one in 55 children in America are born on the Autism Spectrum (Pomerance, M. (2014) Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/50-american-kids-autism-latest-figures-article-1.1302872). This is going to be a significant problem to social welfare, employment and the parents of these children 20 years from now if we do not cater for this now.
The only way we can do that is by recognizing our education system is not working. It does not work for neurotypical children nor difabled children. We can no longer rely upon an antiquated 20th Century model and must look towards a productive, progressive model that focuses upon creative, differentiated learning, where children learn how to learn.
If I refer to my opening statement and think about Martin Luther King Jnr (King, 1963, retrieved from, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm) and look at his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, much of what he says can apply to our many difabled students. These kids are “crippled by the manacles of segregation and chains of discrimination”; they struggle to find acceptance in a world of judgment and find it even more difficult to be integrated into everyday life and activities because of lack of understanding and awareness.
These kids live on “a lonely island of poverty and ….find themselves in exile in their own land”. I met a delightful young man who is now 20 in Ohio. He is on the Autism Spectrum, but after five minutes conversing with him, I could sense his wit, intellect and organized thinking. Yet he was struggling to find anyone who would hire him, he is isolated living with his parents and has very little friends and has taken to living in the cyber world of gaming. All he needs is ONE employer to give him a chance and help him to function in the job with awareness, tolerance and understanding.
Mr King declares that “when the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir”. He continued to state that this was for every human being irrespective of color and I would like to add that this also refers to ability, disability, difference, education, able or difabled; that these people also “would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’”.
Adding to the sentiments of Mr King, I don’t believe we are bankrupt of feeling or understanding. The one thing I am certain is that are many, many people in the USA, Australia, Britain, Canada, India; in fact countries all over the world who are doing amazing, extraordinary work to bring equality, justice and humanity to the individuals in this world who are ‘difabled’.
Mr King stated in 1963, “we have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now” and I’d like to do the same. “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children”; kids with different abilities do not need your pity, sadness or dismay. They do not need you to feel grief for them, ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist. They don’t need you to do the ‘work’ for them…they just need you to pave the way for them to have dignity and the right to co-exist equally and independently and then do the ‘work’ for themselves. These individuals and their families “cannot walk alone” and it is up to us a society to recognize how imperative this is to the development and evolution of our society. It is NO longer acceptable to be racist, as we can value and learn from the culture of others; it is NO longer acceptable to be ignorant to the needs of our difabled neighbors; for as a society we will learn and evolve as a community when we embrace who they are and learn from their differences.
So again, to quote the great Martin Luther King, “I have a dream”. I have a dream that education will be based on how children learn; focus upon the skills and not deficits; and teach children to be independent learners.
I have a dream that education will embrace differences and integrate all into the one classroom; so that all children will then learn from each other and value what each individual has to offer.
I have a dream that we will no longer see people through lack, disability and looks and instead we will see truly what that person has to offer.
I have a dream that we will teach our children to value each and every person, irrespective of how they look, what they can do, what they wear, how they speak, or how they act.
I have a dream that we will live in a society, culture, country and world where we recognize that all “are created equal”.
I have a dream that governments and those in charge or ‘education’ will provide an equal, integrated and inclusive education system. We should not forget the Salamanca Statement’s intent and we should certain heed the words of Mr King….where we were once focused on race and culture, we need to also recognize that those with differences are afforded the same dignity and respect.
King, M.L., (1963), American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches. Retrieved: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm 20/1/14.
Pomerance, R. (2014), Daily News: One in 50 American kids has autism: What the latest figures tell us. Retrieved: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/50-american-kids-autism-latest-figures-article-1.1302872#ixzz2qyH84aX3 20/1/14.
UNESCO, (1994), The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education, retrieved, http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/SALAMA_E.PDF 20/1/14.
As we move into the next year, I'm always compelled to think about what has gone before. I've spent an extremely busy year traveling back and forth from Australia to the USA and it's been an interesting personal experience comparing and sharing cultures. I apologise for the lack of 'blogs' on this forum, but traveling doesn't always lend itself to sitting at the computer for long lengths of time.
I've met teachers from all over the United States (as well as in Australia of course) and the one thing that I know with certainty is that teachers everywhere are working tirelessly to do their best for their students. Sure, like any profession there might be a few 'bad eggs'...but essentially the profession is full of passionate, dedicated people who start off teaching with a desire to make a difference. Let's face it, they are NOT doing it for the money....a teacher's salary is pitiful compared to most 'professional' salaries, yet I would defy anyone to argue that they have one of the most influential jobs in the world. Why then, are teachers struggling against lack of resources and funding? Why is bureaucracy more important than education? I feel so desperate for teachers when I speak to them at conferences and training when they say "we want to do what you are suggesting, but we can't because we don't have the resources". Why would any administration think it is ok to put 15 special needs children in one classroom with one teacher and minimal aide support? Yet I hear these stories every day.
However, despite the woes and cries of lack of support and lack of funding, we still must move forward into what I call the new educational paradigm. We can't stay in an antiquated system because it is easier, or expected. It's no longer feasible to be able to teach our students all that there is to learn because the world seems so much bigger now with the overflow of technological advancement, the internet age, and the influx of media. When I went to school, the curriculum was english, math, science, history, geography, art, health and a splash of physical education and we were limited to what was held in the Encyclopedia Britannica (or something similar).
Now, I believe it is impossible to stick to the above as curriculum. First, there is just too much information to impart to students in even one of those curriculum areas and second not everyone is meant to be 'well rounded' educationally any more (even if they could be). It makes so much more sense to me to work out what our student's specialties are; what they are good at and what they love to do and then build curriculum around their interests. You can still integrate all of the curriculum areas above, but you're doing it in a much more confined arena.
The other benefit is that students can basically be the designers and drivers of their own curriculum. It's kinda like a 'Pandora's' (www.pandora.com) approach to education in that students can select their areas of expertise.
I've talked about this before and I know there are many of you as educators jumping up and down saying "but how am I meant to manage all of that?" I believe passionately that when children are learning what they love to learn then behaviour issues diminish; attendance increases; and interest and engagement grows giving the teacher more time to manage the classroom and curriculum.
This is not some Utopian idea I have, because I tried this when I introduced technology into my classroom of 10 students with autism. They were all on differing levels of the spectrum both from an autism and learning viewpoint. I had to differentiate the curriculum anyway, so I focused on interests and technology and the success was phenomenal.
What I noticed was that my students gained confidence as they achieved success. As they gained confidence, they were willing to accept greater challenges educationally, and the whole thing became a cyclical process. The more confidence a student feels, they more success they will have. Why? Because they are learning in an area that they enjoy and this makes them WANT to learn! To me it just makes common sense.
I could spend a month of Sundays discussing this as an issue, but the point I really want to make is that the year of 2014 for me will be one where I am an ambassador for what I believe is true 21st Century Learning. This approach is about differentiated, creative, out of the box education and one that is very much student driven with the teacher as mentor. The paradigm shift is well overdue and we can longer deny the urgency for it's implementation.
I wanted to share briefly my thoughts on sensory issues. I'm not sure how many people are completely aware of how much of a problem this issue is for many kids who are on the spectrum. Many of the 'negative behaviours' exhibited I believe can be hugely linked to sensory based issues. We have to remember that ALL BEHAVIOUR TELLS US SOMETHING. So if a child is screaming with their hands over their ears, that's a big wake up call that they are experiencing pain because the noise is too loud around them. We can't just assume that if a child appears to be behaving badly that they are being so called 'naughty'.....look at the behaviour and figure out why they are doing what they are doing. It could also be that they desperately want to tell us something and no-one is listening.
If we think that 100 years ago, the world was a much quieter place and now we are bombarded by sound, colour, technology etc. The kids who struggle
sensorily can't cope... with this...even one small laptop will make a humming noise that most people don't even notice, but for the child with autism, it might sound like a tractor in their ears. Very rarely do we find a time to be quiet any more......and I think we all suffer. We have to be mindful and try to make our world a little more autism friendly by toning down the noise of sound, colour and smells. When we talk about attacking the senses, that is exactly what happens for these kids..... when we're mindful then we are more likely to take notice and help these kids function in a world that can be foreign and frightening. Part of my ongoing research and study is to work out a way that can help tone down the sensory pervasiveness - I think some of the clues of the past help us; it would hurt any of us to be still & quiet occasionally, turn all technology off, and rest from the noise of the world. Secondly, I believe pressure therapy of some sort definitely helps. It's how we can achieve this and still allowing children dignity and inclusiveness that is the trick.
Anyway, just wanted to share my thoughts as I am 1/ preparing for our fun day and 2/ as I prepare to go away to continue research and to share my research and work.
I recently had the very good fortune to meet a lovely family. This family comprises of three children; the mother is a stay at home Mum and Dad works as an engineer. The two elder children have some learning issues and it has been a huge struggle for the parents to get some 'real' help to assist with their children. The middle girl, is 7 and she has had numerous assessments by psychologists, ST & OTs and while they all elude to a possible 'Autism' diagnosis, none will commit to this diagnosis. This poor Mum is at her wit's end. She also had an IQ assessment (WISC IV) and was given quite a low score and the psychologist basically told Mum to go home and 'just love' this girl as she probably will not be able to achieve alot. Honestly, when I heard this I just wanted to cry. Is this what we tell parents ... really?
First of all, a WISC IV assessment is one assessment, done on one day when the child may have had a bad day; felt ill; couldn't be bothered; or felt bored and possibly insulted by the whole process....we just don't know and second, if this child does have autism (which all the other tests suggest), an IQ test can hardly be accurate for this student. Yet, interestingly the psychologist had more faith in her IQ test, than providing an autism diagnosis? Why is that?
I'm frustrated and saddened, so I can only try to imagine what it is like for parents. The latest from the psychologist is that while &%$# may have autism, we need to wait two more years as girls tend to show more symptoms by then. So what are the parents supposed to do in the mean time? It's a crying shame and to me a most untenable situation. Surely it is better that we work with the facts we have - not to label this child - but to give the parents some foundation to work with....instead parents are sent away with nothing but despair and fear.
I believe we need a complete overhaul of the medical process of getting a diagnosis for these kids; would we sit and wait to see if we had a 'cancer' diagnosis? I know cancer is potentially life threatening, but honestly undiagnosed 'autism' is soul destroying; relationship endangering; and in many ways neglectful to the children. If we think about the sensory issues alone; it is imperative that we know what the student's sensory issues are so that we can provide the appropriate sensory diet and preventions.
Parents need time to prepare; they need time to adjust; they need time to move forward so that the family can live in the most positive way possible. As professionals, we need to help parents to achieve this. Also, we should no longer give parents a 'no hope' diagnosis.....every situation has hope; every child has potential; every single child has the right for us to give them a recipe for success measured by their own potential and ability.
It is my long term goal in life to eliminate ridiculous single testing as a way to assess so called ability and intelligence, as this kind of testing does NOT look at the child from a holistic perspective. And it is from a holistic perspective we MUST assess each and every child; we need to look at tests, behaviour, talents, specific achievements, creativity, language, memory etc. Then we find what each child is GOOD at; what their specific TALENT is, this becomes the platform from which we teach them. The deficit model of teaching is no longer relevant in the 21st century when we have so much technology to assist in learning and education. Some people baulk at technology stunting children's learning, when I am convinced technology is a true gift, especially to kids who have differing abilities.
We wouldn't turn our back on the latest machinery to wash our clothes, or wash our dishes; instead insisting that we wash everything by hand. So, we shouldn't turn our back on anything that can improve all children's education.
So, what of the lovely family I met? All I can do is offer this family hope and belief that we work with the facts at hand, look at the children individually and uniquely and provide strategies and ideas to assist the entire family to achieve success. This is the most valuable gift we can offer families in a tenuous situation. Hope is the thing we can cling onto when everything else seems so dark. Hope shines a light for the future.
I am aware I've blogged previously about the use of Ipads in my classroom, but I wanted to expand on this conversation and discuss this issue further. Also, I was privileged this week to present at the Victorian Dept of Education's Innovation in Technology Showcase, so I wanted to give you a snapshot of my presentation.
How do children with disabilities learn? What are they good at? What are their specialities? What are their gifts? If we ask these questions we come to understand that these children are not disabled at all but are different abled! From my observations in a classroom with different abled students they have many different abilities: they may have a great memory; or excellent observation skills; some are brilliant artists; others have amazing construction skills;...however, one commonality emerges...the majority of these kids are very competent using technology; they connect with technology, and where they have problems in the mainstream arena, they don't seem to have the same difficulties utilising technology.
Bearing this in mind I went to the research and was surprised and also elated to find that there is significant research linking technology with significant improvements in students with disabilities and particularly autism's learning outcomes. I wondered about a classroom that utilised technology 80% of the time.... I visualised how that might look....how could the classroom physically be designed to cater for this? The problem with pcs and laptops to a degree is that they need to be hooked up to a power point all the time and some of the time with laptops (as even on a good day the most you can get out a laptop is about an hour). The other problem with the laptop was that you had to look over the screen to see what the children were doing, as well as look at their faces. Then along came the iPad.... I owned an itouch and was convinced that if the iPad was similar, but was physically bigger, then this could have extraordinary implications and quite possibly could be the answer to my question. They were small enough to sit on the desk; with a case they could be tilted; as a teacher I could sit anywhere and observe how the student was working; the interface, with the touch screen meant almost any child could use this equipment unaided; visually the graphics are fantastic; and the device is multi-sensory in that the children can physically touch the screen, look at the graphics, listen to the sounds and in many cases use their voices...the only thing it is missing is smell and one day who knows, someday, someone may come up with the idea as to how we might get smell from the screen.
I've been incredibly lucky as last year one parent purchased an iPad for use in the classroom for her child with autism.... The results with this one student was remarkable - he sat for up to 40 mins in front of the iPad, was enthusiastic to use the technology, was motivated and asked to 'do his words' or 'do counting' on the iPad. There were other benefits as well...he starting writing independently in the classroom, starting writing at home, used more language, and showed significant improvements in behaviour. Simultaneously, I started to think about his learning and how kids with autism learn, as well as, how best can these different abled children reach their potential? I thought about asking my student about his learning? So I asked him...."Do you like reading and writing on paper or the iPad"? His answer was emphatic...."the iPad"! Next question. Why? "Writing on the paper and the shapes hurts my eyes". Hmmmm.....note to self, if you don't know the answer ask your student.
My understanding about autism is that these children are sensorially different; their visual world looks different, sounds more heightened, and they are more sensitive to touch, colours, smells etc. So my student's answer is one I need to heed. It is incredibly important to ask our students about their learning.....their answers will surprise you! A 9 year old boy I teach flaps his hands to the side of his eyes. Many schools try to prevent this so-called 'abnormal' behaviour and set about 'training' these kids from doing what comes naturally to them. I asked my student "why do you do that"? His answer, "because it helps my brain to think". Why would I ever want to stop that behaviour just because it doesn't look normal to me?
Back to Ipads. The experience of using one IPad with one student gave me some impetus and I could easily envisage a classroom with an IPad for each student...again I was incredibly lucky to have a school whose leadership understood my vision, or on some level trusted it and purchased 10 iPads - technology sorted, now for the implementation. I spent the summer break researching applications and which applications might fit into the daily curriculum. I looked at the three areas of literacy: writing, reading and speaking and listening. I found applications that I thought might work. Similarly in numeracy, I focused on counting, number recognition, one to one correspondence, simple operations etc. There are a lot of stand alone applications that may address counting only or number recognition....I wanted to find apps that were more adaptable, could be tailored to the individual student's learning needs, and that incorporated more than one concept. This is an evolving process because as more apps are developed and as the year continues, I discover what our classroom needs, or what each child needs or asks for. For example I have a student interested in dinosaurs, so I found books, apps, and encyclopaedias relating to dinosaurs. Another, loves toy story, so I found stories and apps on Toy Story. The brilliance, is that I can set up each IPad to the individual student's needs. My recommendation is that where possible, try to have one iPad per child. I personally don't think group sets will work as well.
The key and salient point to this entire exercise is potential! What is each child's potential? How can I as an educator ensure all of my students are provided with the best case scenario that enables them to achieve success?...for when success is achieved the desire for more success rises....success begets success. I feel satisfied that using the iPads in my classroom as the student's primary education tool, that I can provide them with a means by which they can achieve their full potential.
There is an adage that insanity is when you continue to do the same thing over and over without results....then why do we continue to do the same thing in education? Change the environment, introduce technology, let go of outmoded ways of thinking....step outside the box, be innovative! Develop your own new paradigm and in doing so the students and especially those different abled students also develop a new paradigm: they can achieve, they can have success, they can learn, they can be included in society, they can have full, productive, potentialised lives! Do we not owe them that?
So back to my classroom....I have no definitive data yet, but the classroom speaks for itself.... The kids are responsible for their iPads and they are very protective of them, they know what is expected of them and they can't wait to use their iPad, they are incredibly excited and motivated each day to work. They've become more student directed and I've become the facilitator. Each day is an adventure!
I'm not saying the iPad is necessarily the panacea, however I think the attitude is; the philosophy is; the innovation is; and ultimately the new paradigm is! When we stop thinking about children with differences as disabled, we start thinking about how we can help them to learn and in doing so become the best that they can be.