A couple of Special Services teachers in my district (Jen Shamberger, Speech and Language Pathologist and Katie Weingarden, Social Worker) wrote a proposal to pilot the use of an iPad with the students they work with. They spent a considerable amount of time researching apps and figuring out specific ways to use an iPad with their students. They have been using it for a month or so, so I wanted to find out how it was going. I visited Oakley Park Elementary School this morning and was able to observe Jen work with three students, and then afterwards we were able to spend some time chatting about the pilot.
Jen shared an example of an experience that has stuck in her mind that shows the positive impact of using the iPad with small groups of students. She recalled a day when she was working with young ASD children using First Phrases, an app that helps young learners develop sentence structure by hearing, seeing, and then saying combinations of nouns and verbs. One of the situational examples was of eggs breaking and making a big mess, which was very funny to her students. They giggled and laughed and engaged with the learning activity, and with her, in ways that she had not experienced before. Jen explained that often ASD children tend to engage with a toy or an activity, and tune everything else out. She felt that this activity, made possible with images and sound on the iPad, prompted the students to engage in the learning activity as a shared experience. Jen’s eyes lit up as she told this story; it was obvious to me that she connected with her students that day and that it was professionally gratifying.
A few other apps that she feels are effective for the development of speech and language skills include:
- Conversation Builder, an app that helps children learn to have multi-exchange conversations with their peers in a variety of social settings. Being able to converse with others helps in developing relationships. Students are presented with a situation, and they need to decide if they will introduce themselves, ask a question, make observations, or change the subject. The app records the conversation for play back.
- Articulation Station, an app to help users learn to pronounce sounds more clearly. Images represent target words to be practiced in fun-filled activities.
Collecting data to record the progress of specific skills for each student is important. Some of the apps have built-in data collection features, which is convenient; others require coming up with a concrete plan to assess and collect information. Jen and Katie are collecting a variety of data and are working on figuring out the best way to collect information to show growth and share with others.
Jen recognizes that the iPad may not work for all students at all times. For example, one of her students is unable to use the iPad without stimming on it (basically, hitting all the buttons repetitively). Others do better with more traditional materials. She also recognizes that “it’s all about the app,” that some are high-quality and others are not. She loves the ease of creating learning activities according to individual needs of students, and was pleasantly surprised that planning and creating lessons is not as time consuming as she thought it would be. Jen is able to take her own pictures and quickly import them into learning activities.
After just a short time, it’s apparent that the iPad pilot is going well, and I look forward to examining the data and the pros/cons in a few more months!