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“They Enjoy It”: Using Tablets with SEN Students

There’s no doubt that mobile devices provide incredible benefits for SEN students. Greater engagement; An increased ability to keep up with other students. Here are just a few ways that SEN teaching is being revolutionised with 1:1 devices.

It’s beyond doubt that tablets have many benefits for SEN students. From greater engagement through to an increased ability to keep up with other students. Here are just a few ways that teachers around the world are revolutionising traditional SEN teaching by using 1:1 tablets.

Why Tablets Are a Great Assistive Technology Tool

Assistive technologies have long been part of the SEN student experience. Audio books for visually impaired students have been around for a very long time. What is now called “blended learning” (combining devices such as tablets with traditional instruction) is the norm for SEN students. They are true “early adopters” when it comes to technology in the classroom.

Now, SEN teachers are increasingly relying on tablets as an essential assistive technology tool – a particularly favoured AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device. Why tablets? For many of the same reasons that tablets are uniquely placed to revolutionise education and learning students in general. They are portable, and definitely more engaging and user-friendly. Teacher Jessica Indelicato believes that the individualised learning offered by tablets is the reason that her fourth-grade SEN class is more engaged: “It targets whatever special skills they need help with… they’re motivated. They enjoy it.”

Third grade SEN teacher Christina Panichi is similarly excited about a live lecture from the science centre. Teachers type observations that allow the instructor to adapt to students (more than 10% of whom have special needs): “For some reason when technology is involved…it engages them.”

However, 1:1 tablets also have qualities that are tailor-made for SEN learning. One important quality (and one backed up by our research is that SEN students do not feel singled out since everyone is using the same device. Tablets also provide instant feedback (particularly important for autistic SEN students). Also, Andy Shih, a VP at Autism Speaks, has pointed out that technology such as tablets simplify interaction: “Interaction with an app is always going to be the same. The expectation is always going to be consistent.”

Instant Rewards: The Raz-Kids App

Raz-Kids is a perfect example of a “leveled” book app – featuring developmentally appropriate books at a variety of reading levels. Perhaps most importantly for SEN kids, there is an integrated reward system for instant feedback and recognition (no need for separate stickers and wallcharts). One mother reports how her son with Asperger’s, upon using a tablet with Raz-Kids, moved from being in the back of the room “to wanting to be an example.”

Overcoming Autism: Proloquo2Go

One popular communication app is Proloquo2Go. Designed for the iPad, it has proven to be life-changing for kids who have difficulty speaking, or who cannot speak at all. It can be used for students with autism, cerebral palsy, apraxia and other developmental disabilities. In answer to a question, the student simply touches the screen.

One teacher describes using Proloquo2Go successfully with a young student with autism – he ended up answering questions more quickly when using the device. Melissa Cantwell, who teaches autistic children, compares it with older, more laborious, methods of communicating with autistic kids such as sticking pictures to a board: “We spent a lot of time laminating and Velcroing.”

Creative SEN Teaching: An Electronic Tablet Orchestra

One of the most appealing aspects of tablets for SEN students is their ability to bring SEN kids closer to their classmates. One teacher recently found a creative way of doing just this. Hanan Elattar, a music teacher in the United Arab Emirates, created an orchestra that includes SEN kids by replacing instruments with iPads. The orchestra included students with down’s syndrome, autism and physical disabilities. Elatter says that iPads were “easier to use, faster and more easily available than instruments”. One eight-year-old, who is partially deaf, plays drums with his iPad and became “more confident” after he joined the orchestra.

Do you use tablets with your SEN students? Share your experiences!

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