The recent reforms to SEN will no doubt curtail well-documented abuses of the system by both students and teachers. However, despite the necessity of these amends, by placing an increased focus on severe SEN cases we run the risk of alienating those with mild or moderate conditions, which may be no less genuine.
It is important that we remain conscious of these less severe cases and the incorporation of appropriate assistive technology can be one of the most successful approaches when it comes to helping these students.
It is estimated that four per cent of the UK is living with severe dyslexia, but a further six per cent has mild to moderate problems. Despite accounting for approximately one in 10 children – that is two to three students in an average UK classroom – sufferers could be left behind by these new reforms. With this in mind, it is essential that teachers begin to adopt proactive measures that support these particular students.
Although it has no impact on intelligence, common features of dyslexia concern reading, writing and spelling – and as such, even students with mild symptoms are likely to encounter problems during the course of their education. Of course, individual cases vary greatly and some students may be affected in some areas more than others, but with this in mind, there are many technology solutions available that span the entire spectrum of individual needs.
When combined with effective teaching methods, technology can go a long way to removing some of the most challenging and frustrating learning barriers that SEN students face.
Indeed, while some students may struggle with the revision process or reading their notes, others may have difficulties organising their work or engaging in certain subjects. This means that where some students may benefit from incorporating a certain device into their everyday learning environment, another may find the same solution does not work for them in the same manner, or even at all.
Finding the right approach for an individual student is fundamental when incorporating technology into education and this is a task more achievable than ever with today’s assistive technology options.
Beyond the calculator
The use of technology within education has advanced dramatically since the first pocket-sized calculators of the 1970s. Just looking at the evolution from the very first personal computers to today’s ultra sleek tablet devices and hyper-books can show you how the use of technology in the education environment has changed, as well as the possibilities it holds for the future.
However, despite this obvious progression, the principles behind these devices have seldom changed. All technological teaching aids have been designed with the purpose of making education more accessible, exciting or engaging – and ultimately developing a deeper, more valuable, learning experience, regardless of their format.
Teachers are no longer bound by single purpose devices and educational programs when incorporating technology into their lesson plans. The connected society in which we now live and the prominence of the internet means that educational platforms and applications can be found almost anywhere, often online or in the palm of your hand.
Today’s extensive use of mobile devices has unsurprisingly had a major effect on the education sector, and despite well-documented reservations towards this trend, educators must also recognise the significant opportunities presented.
The increased interoperability of SmartPhones and the popularity of cloud-based applications has meant that the learning environment doesn’t have to end when the school day finishes. As students are able to access the same applications, devices and software whether on-site or at home, their learning hours are much more flexible and self-determined.
Such advances are of particular benefit to dyslexic students who may require extra time to finish their work, or for those struggling in a specific subject area.
In the same way that a dyslexic student will often get additional time at the end of an exam, now they will have the benefit of being able to complete certain school tasks outside of school.
This will reduce the stress levels arising from students being too rushed to complete their work to the best of their ability, and ensures they do not miss important elements of the curriculum because of classes progressing at a speed that is too quick for them.
Best practice is practice
Asking a technophobe to record a TV programme is a clichéd example of people and technology not working in unity. Although this stereotype often depicts the person in question to be an out of touch or elderly relative, the simple truth is universal – the more familiar we are with technology, the better we become at using it.
This begs the question, why do educators dip in and out of using technology, especially in areas where its use has proven effective?
SEN teaching, for example, is an area where assistive technology has been able to remove some of the most challenging and frustrating barriers to learning and the more students incorporate technology into their education, the more valuable doing so becomes.
As students increasingly incorporate technology into their everyday lives, many are able to seamlessly introduce this into their education, without much input from teachers or IT staff. For dyslexic students, using simple devices like e-readers or digital highlighters can offer considerable support, helping to develop reading, writing and comprehension skills. Furthermore, as they become familiar with using the device, using it can become like second nature and this means incorporating it into every subject is easier and more effective than ever.
Indeed, even relatively straightforward solutions can have a profound effect on a student’s capacity for learning – for instance, giving a student the option of using a laptop in class can make a real difference. Using a laptop or tablet means students do not have to worry about organising lots of notebooks, allowing SEN students to focus solely on their work.
Furthermore, note-taking is made easier on these portable devices, and easy to download (and often free) software features can help students with spelling and reading – again allowing them to focus on the lesson itself, rather than becoming distracted.
In an ideal world, the adoption of technology within education would be a straightforward process – one encouraged by government policy and good practice guidelines, with teachers given all the support and training they need to do so successfully.
Unfortunately this is not always possible and the onus is often on individual teachers or schools to take the lead when it comes to developing an EdTech strategy.
As a result, educators may feel anxious at the thought of increasing their use of technology within teaching, but for those who find themselves in this position it could be well worth following their tech-savvy students’ lead rather than waiting for an organisational green light.
Incorporating technology into education and staying up-to-date with the latest trends isn’t about likeability or being “the cool teacher”, it’s about offering your students the right support, assisting them in the areas where they need help and communicating with them in a way they understand.
Assistive technology can level the playing field for SEN students and given the number of options available today, adopting even the smallest measures within lesson plans is something all teachers should be looking to do, regardless of their relationship with IT.
Peter Johansson is CEO at C Technologies which provides assistive technology solutions within the education sector, specialising in the development of digital study aids and devices for students SEN.