The effective integration of ICT into the classroom has become the ambition of teachers, educators and practitioners across the curriculum, including within SEN.
However, installing hardware and ICT to do traditional tasks in different ways will not in itself lead pupils and teachers to take full advantage of the knowledge society. Schools and teachers have to learn to change the ways of studying if the potential of ICT is to be realised (Information Technology in SEN, 2001).
According to Department of Education statistics, it is estimated that 2.8 per cent of students in England have identified SEN and a further 17 per cent have unidentified learning impairments. ICT has a pivotal role to play in meeting the needs of SEN students, allowing greater access to learning resources and engaging them in higher level learning.
In my school, we use a variety of technological tools, both static and mobile, hardware and software, to engage our SEN students in deeper thinking and increasing engagement within the classroom.
The tools themselves, however, do not guarantee greater quality of learning, it is how the pedagogy changes to reflect new technology where the real difference is seen.
Interactive whiteboards (IWB) are standard in the classroom, as they can be an ideal resource for supporting whole-class teaching; their different functions allowing every student to participate. Research has shown that teachers who have used IWBs with students, especially in smaller groups, as an instrumental part of their numeracy and literacy classroom activities for more than two years, have made exceptional progress in attainment tests (Lewin, C., Somekh B., Steadman S., 2008).
In SEN learning, young children with limited writing skills and older children with learning difficulties are highly motivated by the tapping and dragging motions on the interactive displays as they are able to demonstrate skills and share their knowledge with the whole class. IWBs are a key communication channel not just between teacher and students but also between pupils.
For SEN pupils, it is this greater ability to participate in the class that allows them to experience a richer learning environment.
Desktops and software
Desktops and software still play a crucial role in special needs education as there is a range of programmes to assist students who need learning support.
RazKids and Lexia are both software packages which can be of considerable help to students requiring guidance in reading and language. RazKids, a set of interactive animated e-books, has differentiated reading levels allowing SEN students to read books with pronunciation and vocabulary help. The programme slowly builds the students’ confidence at their own pace.
Similarly, Lexia is designed for students with reading impairments and allows them to work independently, at school or at home, developing their foundation reading skills. Teachers are provided with feedback of the student’s progress and the specific areas where they need further assistance. The software is able to create an individual learning plan for each student.
For numeracy skills, Mathletics instructs students through problems with animated guides breaking down the solutions into easy steps. Student engagement is increased with the real-time challenges as pupils are actively encouraged to compete against each other in “Live Mathletics” across the globe.
In the past two years or so, the SEN world, like the rest of education, has been attracted to the potential that mobile devices offer; software like RazKids and Lexia, are both now developing versions which can run on mobile technology.
Technology used in the SEN setting needs to be versatile, meeting the needs of the users and to some extent the curriculum, and mobile technology can often accommodate the many different requirements of SEN students.
My school has recently rolled out its one-to-one iPad programme where every student aged eight to 17 has access to a mobile device both at home and at school. Through the pilot period, teachers reported easier lesson facilitation while student participation increased resulting in deeper pupil engagement.
For students who find it difficult to read, the tablets are able to cut out “noise” on websites via the reader function, drawing the student’s attention to the key points.
Other accessibility functions, such as the assistive touch, can guide poor-sighted children around the iPad and particular gestures can also be recorded for students with restricted movement.
The tablets allow SEN students to interact with their education materials in a similar capacity to their fellow students, normalising learning difficulties. For instance, a student can simply enlarge text on screen without physically having to sit in front of a large print textbook.
As we enter the next phase of our IT strategy, Apple TV is also being introduced – a device that wirelessly streams content from the internet to a television or interactive whiteboard.
Paired with the AirPlay app, Apple TV can show in real time what the mobile device is displaying. SEN students can easily contribute to activities and share their own work with the whole classroom through their iPads and Apple TV.
Richard Harrold is lower school assistant principal at ACS Cobham International School. ACS International Schools have three schools in the UK.