Josh and Jordan, a set of 7 year old twins from the Okanagan, demonstrate how determination, the right technology, and great support from their school team helps them complete writing activities in their grade 2 classroom. The twins have Apert Syndrome and this has affected the development of their hands making paper and pencil tasks illegible and handling classroom materials challenging.
This didn’t stop their team from finding ways to include these little ‘mighty moes’! Before introducing computers, their team used an interesting “low tech” solution for writing in the classroom – a standard labeler was used for printing words and numbers and then for writing sentences. This was surprisingly effective, but somewhat limiting because of its overall capacity.
With Michelle Kaupp, a skilled learning resource teacher and very experienced implementer of assistive technology at the helm, the boys were introduced to “high tech”, initially using school desktop computers. She knew the school district’s screening committee’s philosophy of “try before you buy” so she carefully planned the boys’ introduction to assistive technology using her extensive AT experience.
Michelle initially identified and tried Clicker 5, Clicker Paint, and Kurzweil 3000 with Josh and Jordan. A major stumbling block in using these programs was that they were installed on a school desktop computer that was located outside of the classroom. This segregated the boys from their peers during the day. In addition, access using a standard mouse was challenging, so the team consulted with a SunnyHill Outreach Occupational Therapist who tried various alternative access solutions. The best solution for the boys has proven to be an optical trackball – the Kensington Expert Mouse. Although bigger than a standard mouse, their hands roll more easily on the trackball and clicking is easier with the bigger buttons.
In their grade 1 year, the team requested one small lightweight laptop which the boys shared. The laptop needed to be small in order to ease the boys’ access to the keyboard and to fit on a primary desk located, for minimal distraction, at the front of the class. Clicker 5 was used to provide parallel activities for a variety of tasks including calendar, writing and math, Balanced Literacy was used to assist in the development of literacy skills, and Kurzweil 3000 was used to scan, read and type directly into worksheets. Although this latter program is typically used for students with more developed literacy skills, it allows the boys to do the same worksheets as their peers with increased independence.
With the guidance and support of Michelle Kaupp, the classroom teacher, Michelle MacPherson, learned to incorporate the new technology into the classroom setting. SmartBoard software was loaded on the laptop so the work the boys produced could be easily shared and curriculum activities within their specialized software could be projected for the benefit of the entire class.
By the fall of their grade 2 year, with the boys in Michelle’s grade 1/2 split for the second year, it became apparent that each of the boys needed their own laptop in order to participate fully in classroom activities. A second laptop was requested from SET-BC and put in place that school year.
Technology has made a huge difference in what Josh and Jordan are able to do in the classroom. Their school team and parents are thrilled with their progress. Their work is legible and they are capable of demonstrating their learning independently. They are now more confident and happy to share their work with their peers. The team feels most fortunate to have had access to technology early in the twins’ school careers. This has limited the boys’ frustration, maximized their success and developed their skills and independence with technology – all of which will have lifelong benefits.
When asked why technology has been a successful solution for Josh and Jordan, Michelle reflected that she had gained useful knowledge and experience participating in the SET-BC Universal Design for Learning project in previous years. She offers these strategies to teams for successful AT implementation:
- Establish a common team vision and goals for using technology with students (written into the IEP). Each team member must agree with the decision to pursue AT, including the parents.
- Provide training for the educational assistant at a pace that is comfortable to him/her. Consultant training sessions are best supplemented by website tutorials which can be visited and revisited as needed. Training needs to include: all the features of the software they will be using; practice with ancillary technology and resources (for example, the use of the photocopier to scan, email and open files in pdf file formats in K3000; how to search for and download resources in ARC-BC, Accessible Books and CurriculumSET; use of a USB flash disk; taking digital photos, importing and editing to use in Clicker; importing images from the internet); and strategies on how to coach the student in the use of AT.
- Provide direct training for the student. This needs to be done on an ongoing basis, encouraging as much independence with the technology as possible.
- Work with the teacher and CEA to create a schedule in which e-text (alternate format) materials and curriculum resources can be prepared in advance.
- Identify someone to quickly respond to ‘glitches’, otherwise, the AT gets shelved. This person also has to work collaboratively with the school’s technology department. It is well worth the time to develop good working relationships with school and district IT staff.
- Identify a team member to actively find and provide the team with the necessary adapted or modified material that matches the classroom curriculum.