Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let's Re-define Student Use of Computers in Special Education

How many times have you seen special needs students on computers doing busy work or filling time that should be used for instruction? Often it is set up as a "reward" so they get to do pointless games online, full of ads and pop-ups. You might say, "No way! Not in MY room." or you might be saying, "Ouch! I have to work really hard to keep our kids and staff from falling into that routine."
I had a special education teacher recently start training with me on Classroom Suite 4.0 by Intellitools. I showed her the templates for phonemic awareness and math, full of activities that can be designed with pull-down menus prescriptively to meet specific remedial needs of students.
We set up an activity that could match ending sounds. The teacher previewed her new activity and set it up in a student folder she had designed for one of her students to do the new activity this week. I showed her the creativity tools. We did some switch-accessed Early Learning activities that used boardmaker type symbols for up. down, crawl, bounce, etc. The student can learn to recognize these movements and the symbols for them. If you never got to climb or bounce, you might like making a kite or a ball do it for you - complete with sound effects. (OT's would love the reinforcement of movement concepts that this teaches for kids who can't do them.)
I showed her how to enter text and make it talk along with an open book and a switch, so that the student could hit the switch at the start of each new page and get the story to read off of the computer. (it just creates some fun variety in the way to read.) We built a story starter about space where the students could write and put space pictures on the page and animate them. They could record their own voice reading the page and when the book was done, play it for others and print it out to go home.
"Wow, I might get my kids to actually write something!" was the teachers comment. "This might be a way to get the computer to be used for something academic instead of games that waste time."
"If students have motivating activites with a point to them, " I said, "they will get in a routine and do those things instead. The trick is to have activities on the computer in their CS4 folder every week and train them to go look and do what is inside."
You have to make kids do these things. By human nature, they will press to go the easiest route. School is a place to learn, not play video games that have no academic base. We don't need to apologize and let ourselves feel like we are mean because we don't let them play online games during school or do that worn out CD program that has been by the computer forever. There are plenty of software programs and educational sites with academic goals to their games, but I hear teachers and parents say, "My kids find them boring and they don't want anything to do with them. They want to do the fun games."

Well, I'm sorry, but some things need to be re-defined. How we use the computer in special education (if we are lucky enough to have one for kids to use) is one of them. I can't expect to change a kid's computer appetite overnight and send him back to the computer alone to do busywork. Setting up a new routine can be like weaning a calf off its' mama or taking a drug addict off their fix, but when you stick to your guns and spend some one-on-one time guiding them into the routine, the pay-off will show in dividends. Especially when you can prescribe real remedial tools that ARE fun, challenging, boost self accomplishment and self-esteem and bring kids up to the academic standards where they need to be.
Let's try and press in as we are already in February. Let's use every available moment to reach the goals we so want and need to meet with our students. If we are creative, we can still make it fun at the same time.

All the best to you!

I think we need to look at the ISTE standards and adapt them to have our own set for student self-accommodation. Maybe there is a list out there already - if not, we need to think through motivating approaches to teaching life skills on the computer in special ed as well as using it as an academic tool. If you have thoughts on this, or know good links, please share them.
Maybe I have a topic for an AT Blog Carnival in the next few months!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!


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