Anita Bhaskaran, Aarambh
Jayashree Rajanahally, University of Northampton, UK
This project was carried out in two schools – Vydehi School and Vydehi School of Excellence (VSE). Both the schools function in the same building. This project is based on Tarun, a 9-year-old student of VSE attending special education sessions in Vydehi School.
Vydehi School is a school for children with disabilities, which also provides individual special education sessions for children attending mainstream schools, other special schools or early intervention programmes around Whitefield, Bangalore. The morning session (from 9.30am to 1pm) is devoted to the school programme. There are 9 classrooms and 52 students (above the age of 5yrs) in the school. Most classrooms have 5 students with one teacher. Some of the classrooms have 6-8 students. These classrooms have one class teacher and 1 or 2 support teachers, according to the requirement of the group. The afternoon sessions (between 2pm to 4pm) are for the individual sessions. Each teacher takes one-on-one or individual special education sessions allotted to them. The duration for these sessions is around 45 minutes to 1hour depending on the age and needs of the child. The time frame is kept flexible. The students for the individual sessions are referred by the mainstream schools around Whitefield area in Bangalore. The students from the early intervention programme at Vydehi Institute of Rehabilitation also opt for special education sessions. Referrals are made by different department heads or parents also opt into the programme. Around 45 students receive individual special education sessions at least 2 times in a week.
VSE is a mainstream school that has students from the age of 2.6yrs to 13yrs (Play Group to Year 8). The school has total student strength of around 700. Most of the classrooms have 20 to 25 students. The school has additional activities such as dance, art, sports, music etc. Each student is part of the functions organized in the school.
Project Participant Details
Tarun Paul Mathew, the student identified for this study is 9 yrs old (D.O.B – 9/6/2005) was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3yrs. He is predominantly nonverbal but is able to vocalise few sounds.
Presently, Tarun is receiving occupational therapy 3 times a week, physical education twice a week, dance and movement therapy once a week, special education 4 times a week, keyboard (music) once a week, and horse riding once a week. All these sessions last for 45 minutes to one hour.
Tarun is attending 2nd std. (Year 2) at VSE. The class strength is 23. There are two teachers in the classroom – class teacher and support teacher. Tarun had the support teacher (a person assigned to look into the specific requirements of Tarun) in the classroom till last academic year. From June 2015 to January 2016 he did not use this service. Recently, he was provided with a personal teacher for classroom work in school. This teacher changed two times in two months (January to March 2016). He does not use the service of support teacher during the co-curricular activities such as art, music, dance and sports. He attends VSE 5 days a week from 9 am to 2.45pm. He is part of all the classroom and outdoor activities chalked out for the class students.
Tarun was enrolled for the individual special education sessions at Vydehi School from 2010. Initially, he was attending the session once a week which was increased to two sessions per week from the academic session 2013-2014. The sessions are taken on Tuesdays and Thursdays for one hour. Presently, very minimal academic content is taken in these sessions as he is able to comprehend the content taught in the mainstream classroom and complete most of the assessments or class tests. The goals in special education sessions are targeted at using alternative communication system and attaining independent work skills.
Tarun is able to read and answer appropriately by writing when given minimal touch prompt on the hand. The handwriting is fairly legible but he has difficulty in fitting the words into the line as the letter formations are big. The letter formations are good in a word but spacing is not adequate (See Appendix 1 and 2). The writing speed is slow compared to his peers.
Reciprocal communication is present with adults using the written word. He is able to communicate his thoughts, feelings and apprehensions etc by writing. Earlier, initiation was lacking in communication as he would wait for the teacher to ask him a question. To promote initiation, help cards such as – “help”, “toilet”, “I want change in activity” etc – were used initially. He reluctantly agreed to use these cards as he felt it would look awkward in the classroom. But after much persuasion, he agreed to use these cards in the special education sessions. The help cards – especially “help” and “toilet” – were introduced in the mainstream classroom but did not prove to be successful as they were not used appropriately. He started initiating communication with the special educator with these cards. But this system was used by him reluctantly, which he communicated to the special educator during conversation time.
Presently, Tarun is able to complete the math assessment or class test in the mainstream school with the support teacher sitting with him during the assessment and verbally prompting him to complete the task. The other tests – Language and Science — are completed in Vydehi School with the special educator. The objective questions — match the following, fill in the blanks, true/false — are done independently. Physical prompt (touch on the hand) is required to write long answers.
In VSE, some of his classwork is completed by two students in the classroom and his mother completes the remaining work. The homework is done by Tarun with his mother at home.
As mentioned earlier, Tarun needs minimal physical support in writing. Additionally, the handwriting is large and the spacing between words not appropriate. Due to these reasons, it was felt that he could be trained to use the computer. He was exposed to laptop and iPad few months ago. For introducing assistive device in the classroom, it was felt that iPad mini was appropriate as it was lighter to carry and easy to operate.
I work at Vydehi School as the Principal or Head Teacher. The programme for each student is planned by the special educator after discussion with me and the parent. The plan of introducing computer-based education in the classroom was felt after the parent-teacher meeting. The parent and teacher felt that Tarun was using minimal skills in the classroom. He was a passive listener – taking in the information imparted by the teacher. He was spending free time in the classroom when other students were completing their classwork. He was also not expected to attempt such tasks by the class teacher. To change the perception of teachers and students about Tarun’s abilities and also intensify his role as a student, it was felt that an assistive device that would provide Tarun a platform for becoming an active participant in the classroom would be appropriate.
After this discussion, I spoke to the Principal of VSE about introducing the assistive device / iPad into the classroom environment. The reasons provided to the school were — typing would give him an opportunity to work independently; attain speed in completion of written content; and also provide clear and neat reading material to the teachers in the school. This idea was given a go ahead.
I have also given a description of the plan to Tarun’s support teacher. The description of her work would be to provide minimal verbal prompt to Tarun to initiate work on the iPad in the classroom. Provide opportunities for success as this would lead to acceptance from him. Thus the prompts are important at this stage because Tarun is not accustomed to performing tasks in the classroom.
Aim of the Study
- Inclusion of the child into all the classroom activities
- Transfer the present level iPad usage skill from individual setting to group setting
- Initiate typing with verbal prompt from the support teacher in the mainstream classroom.
- Learn independent navigation on the system.
- Initiate typing classwork on an iPad that is intended to give him equal opportunities in attempting all the tasks that a student is expected to do in the classroom.
- Long Term goal – Tarun will be able to use iPad for note taking in the classroom during school working hours when instruction is given in the classroom to take the iPad and open the appropriate OneNote section.
Review of Literature
The history of education in each nation around the world has changed with constant innovations being implemented to the system with the aim of upgrading the content and the delivery system (Hermans, et.al 2008). Most of the teachers try to use the learnt techniques to provide learning experiences to the students and some think beyond the present and try providing long-term solutions to the students.
The current study is focused on introducing iPad for attaining independence in writing classwork. In the study on addressing the academic needs of adolescents diagnosed with autism, the writing difficulties were attributed to the mechanics of writing or content related issues in writing (Fluery, et.al 2014). Due to poor fine motor skills and visuo-motor speed, children with autism mostly find writing cumbersome or have illegible handwriting. Sometimes the fine motor, processing and executive functioning can affect writing (Fluery, et.al 2014).
Most of the present literature supports the use of technology in the classroom to maximize the inclusion of students with disability and provide a platform for experiencing success with peers. On the other hand, the article published by Doris Bergan (2012) states that limited literature is available on the positive impact of technology on infants and toddlers. The article further states that although the companies developing software claim benefits but there is inadequate research that focused on the cognitive, social, emotional, or physical effects on infants and toddlers (Bergan, 2012).
Although many assistive technology devices are available in the market, the research in this area is still at its nascent stage. The research article on “Using iPads With Students with Disabilities: Lessons Learned from Students, Teachers, and Parents” (Rodríguez, et.al 2013) states that there is a positive impact of technology on skill learning and academic growth among students with disabilities. The learnt skill also expands the conceptions of literacy (Chandler-Olcott, 2009). This gives the teacher a wide spectrum to start the instructional material. The study by Rodríguez, et.al (2013) goes on to emphasise that iPad applications were more successful than traditional instructions in increasing the participation of the students. The study states that the use of iPad increases the engagement of the student with the activity compared to number of prompts required to keep the student on task (Rodríguez, et.al 2013).
Many schools, in India and other countries, including VSE, use technology such as Smart Board to access curriculum. The programmes on the Smart Board run the curriculum with visual and auditory input. The interactive worksheets make learning an easier task as it caters to students of all learning styles.
The research studies from different countries around the world (Lim, et.al 2006) show a rise in the use of technology in the classroom. The schools are open to changing the way the curriculum is delivered with the use of or accommodating technology within the classroom setting (Rodríguez, et.al 2013). It is observed that small and big schools in India have integrated computer literacy in their curriculum. Similarly, technology is being used in VSE by the teaching staff and students. But the inclusion of technology as an assistive device has not been attempted in the school. Students do have computer sessions in the school but they are conducted in a separate room (lab) to learn basic usage of computer.
According to Merbler, et.al (1999, pp. 113) any device or equipment that “increases, maintains or improves the capacity of the person is an assistive device”. In this study the iPad is the assistive device that is being introduced with the intension of making Tarun an active member in the classroom. This supported by many studies which state that devices that can be easily operated and carried are recommended as they can be individualized according to the needs of the person. Some other reasons are that most people own these devices and are familiar with its functioning (Rodríguez, et.al 2013). This view is supported by Merbler, et.al (1999) who additionally claims that the assistive device is beneficial to the student as well as the teacher. The direct benefits being – students complete engagement in the classroom; increase in productivity; and student’s work can be measured and evaluated by the teacher (Merbler, et.al, 1999). These were precisely some of the reasons for introducing iPad in the classroom as part of the school-based project reported in this assignment. Bauer and Ulrich (2002) support this idea and state that this would not only meet the needs of the classroom but also empower the student.
All the literature I read supports inclusion of technology in classroom. But the challenge lies in both the special education session and mainstream education in working towards maintaining a learnt skill, generalize them in different settings and attain independent performance (Hume, et.al 2012).
Initially, when Tarun’s work was shared by the special education teacher with the mainstream teacher, it was looked and understood with a sense of disbelief. Similar views were expressed by Lim, et.al (2006) in the article where the barriers – first order and second order – to inclusion of technology were discussed. The strongest clash in inclusion of technology is the personal belief system ingrained in the mindset of the teacher and those who are neither fascinated towards gaining knowledge nor motivated to improve their capacities. This becomes the primary or the first order barrier. The onus of successful implementation fell in the purview of the teacher in all the studies, which is observed in Tarun’s case too.
The positive aspect of inclusion is that the teachers are engaged as investigators (Chandler-Olcott, 2009). The teacher, on most occasions, understands the differences that are present in the classroom. Differentiation in content delivery is natural in a classroom setting as homogeneity is impossible in any group. All classrooms are heterogeneous by default and thus disability or differences do not live inside the individual. It is observable when the interactions take place between the individual and the environment (Broderick et al, 2010). Differentiation in instruction means a change in the content, process and product according the student’s needs. The various concepts and skill fall under the content. Students with disability often need a modified system to access the content, which are consistent with their preferences and needs. Thus adaptive technology devices and, if necessary, the provision of a facilitator to support a student’s access makes the student an active participant in the classroom (Broderick et al, 2010).
Ido Kedar (2015) writes in his bolog – Ido in Autismland – most people are tuned into thinking that most of the autistic minds have difficulty in deciphering language. He states that the exposure to iPad and the discovery to communicate made him a regular education student. (http://idoinautismland.com/?p=306#comment-78221). Similar results were presented in a study by Rodríguez, et.al (2013), which stated that most teachers found the outcomes of iPad usage in classroom encouraging in the areas of acquiring knowledge for academic purposes, interest and engagement exhibited during the classroom session. The article on “Promoting Task Accuracy and Independence in students with Autism”, states that providing appropriate adaptive device over a period of time brings in a significant increase in accuracy, decrease in adult prompting and improvement in generalization (Hume, et.al 2012).
The significant aspect of prompt dependence comes to the forefront in Tarun’s case too as he needs physical prompt for the writing task in the classroom. Ido Kedar elaborates that people “have significant doubt if anyone receives tactile support. They feel that the communication is “fake” (http://idoinautismland.com/?p=306#comment-78221). Ido had to struggle to get education due to limitation in communication skill.. This view is expressed in an interesting study by Hume, et.al (2012), which states the dependence on prompts demonstrates reduced independence in participation and increases passivity, which may lead to learnt helplessness. The study further elaborates that persons with autism may continue to rely on the adult to complete the task.
An important aspect is stated by Bauer and Ulrich (2002), which matches my viewpoint, is the skill that children with autism exhibit when exposed technology. This would suggest an instant interest and / or regular use. In my experience with my son and other students with autism, there exists a definite fascination for technology among most of them. This could be due to many reasons. But one of the primary reasons could be the clarity in the instructions given and predictability of expected behavior. This aspect would be difficult to find in human interactions. It is observed that persons diagnosed with autism sometimes have specific strengths and they benefit from “well-implemented instructional strategies” (Hume, et.al 2012, p. 2096), which can improve or enhance their task accuracy. The strong areas are – visual-spatial processing, visual/cognitive details, rote memory and special liking to routine (Hume, et.al 2012). These strengths can be used in classroom, especially inclusive classrooms as they help everyone in the environment – students and teachers alike – because the planning of instruction is done in such a manner that it focuses on consequence rather than actions or doings (Chandler-Olcott, 2009).
The study by Rodríguez, et.al (2013) concluded that iPads provided opportunities for independent functioning and positive effect on the behaviour. The survey conducted among the teachers found similar results especially in the areas of knowledge, assessment and engagement. Another important skill that persons with autism need to learn or have difficulty is in the transition of learnt skill from one location to another and completing tasks in the specific location (Mechling and Savidge, 2011). Considering the increased usage of mobile devices in the society this could be an important learning tool for children with disability. As an assistive device or tool it would be greatly beneficial to the children with disability. The transition of the learnt skill from school to general environment can also be targeted (Rodríguez, et.al 2013). The same study elaborates that introduction or learning of technology should be an addition to the educational experience and not accidentally or unintentionally deduct from it. The iPad applications have been found to increase skill and participation of children with disability (Rodríguez, et.al 2013).
A successful plan ensures participation of the teachers and parent. The school should incorporate teacher training in usage of device and active collaboration with the family (Rodríguez, et.al 2013). Both the aspects are dealt in the present study with Tarun.
The present study primarily deals with the issue of transition of a learnt skill from one location to another and the independent usage of the iPad in classroom setting. The long-term specific behavioural objective is independent functioning with the iPad in school premises for completing classroom notes.
Method and Implementation
Tarun’s speed in writing is good when he is communicating with an adult. But when he has to copy from the blackboard or notebook, the speed is moderate and he requires minimal physical prompt to initiate and continue the task.
When the laptop was introduced in December 2014 in special education session and Tarun was able to type with minimal physical prompt. Later he gained confidence and started typing with verbal prompt on some occasions. With the introduction of iPad, Tarun started showing interest in games and using other applications too. Since the interface was similar, he also learnt to operate touch-screen mobile phones.
iPad mini with keypad, specifically purchased for Tarun’s personal work, was introduced in the month of mid-February, 2015. Tarun learnt to attempt typing applications on the iPad mini. Presently the internet option is not made available in the iPad mini as Tarun is interested in exploring the web, which could pose to be a distraction in the classroom for him and others.
The possible barriers for this project implementation were identified before the introduction of technology. Some of the barriers were — Teachers in the school were either showering attention on Tarun or they ignored his presence in the classroom; he was treated as a special child with limited understanding and capabilities; he was helped in basic tasks such as feeding, carrying his bag etc. These issues were dealt over time in VSE. As the teacher’s expectation from Tarun increased, accordingly his performance in the classroom improved.
Tarun achieved typing skill with minimal effort and was interested in typing his answers when questions were asked during conversation in the special education session. Once the interest was established in this medium, we planned on introducing the attained skill for academic work to make Tarun an equal and participating member in the classroom.
In the special education sessions, copying and typing from the board was introduced. This was practiced at home too. With continuous practice, he was able to attain the skill of copying and typing from the book with minimal verbal prompts. When copying from the blackboard there were more errors. On some occasions, he needed physical prompt of touch on the hand. Independent functioning is observed when using the electronic devices than paper-and-pencil task.
Before the introduction of the assistive device in the classroom, the plan of introducing iPad in the classroom was shared with Tarun. He expressed his concerns – anxiety and confidence issues. He stated that he was “anxious” to take up this work and lacked the “confidence” to make this a success. The special educator spoke to him and tried motivating him. For a brief period, couple of days, Tarun was giving many reasons for discontinuing the action plan. After much discussion, he was willing to attempt the transition to his classroom.
Tarun’s support teacher was briefed on the expected behavior in the classroom. The teacher was provided with a brief guideline. She was provided with the current skill of Tarun in using the iPad mini. She was asked to verbally prompt him to take the iPad out of his bag and place it on the desk appropriately. Presently, the teacher is supposed to operate the bluetooth connecting the iPad with the keypad. Tarun is using the OneNote application for typing classroom notes. The icons created for each subject will be opened by Tarun with verbal prompt or physical prompt if there is a delay observed by the teacher. He is asked to copy a minimum of one line from the board independently.
Discussion and Findings
The purpose of this study was to transition the learnt skill of using iPad from the special education setting to inclusive classroom setting. This initiative was also to make him an equal and active participant in the classroom. As mentioned earlier, Tarun was a passive listener in the classroom till last academic year. He was able to grasp the curriculum content mostly due to the presence of Smart Board in the classroom. The special educators in Vydehi School worked on alternative communication system and making him independent in attempting tasks which are part of being a student – writing, copying, attempting tests etc — than on his academic needs. Major change observed in this academic year is the attempt of some tests or assessments in the mainstream classroom.
Introduction of iPad in the inclusive classroom
Fluery, et.al (2014) touch upon the aspect of speed being an impediment to success in writing tasks given in the classroom and this aspect is observed in Tarun too. He has some difficulty in fine motor skill and his writing is observed to be large. According to the last report given by the occupational therapist, Tarun has difficulty in spatial relation. To provide an opportunity for success, iPad was selected as assistive device in this project.
The iPad was introduced in the classroom, on the 10th of March for the English lesson. On the first day, Tarun was dictated the content on the board by the support teacher to make it easier for him. He was able to type 5 lines when the content was dictated. The support teacher also gave some math and colouring activity when other students were completing their tasks. This was done by Tarun independently. On the subsequent days, Tarun was given the task of copying from the board and he was able to attempt few lines with mistakes observed in spacing between letters but mostly between words. The number of lines attempted on each day has increased. He has been able to copy a maximum of 6 lines from the board. It is observed that Tarun sits in the last row and thus the distance between his table and the board is large. A suggestion was made regarding a change in Tarun’s seating. This request was taken into consideration and he was placed in the middle row. The change has helped as there was an increase in the number of lines typed. But this aspect has to be observed further.
Presently the iPad is not kept with Tarun during the complete school session. It is used for half an hour every day during the English lesson. There is no specific reason for using iPad in this session.
Typing using keypad
In the special education session, Tarun is able to type when conversing independently. While copying from the board, he needs verbal prompt to continue or carry on with the task. He is able to sustain on the activity for 15 to 20 minutes.
In the inclusive classroom, typing is encouraged for different types of activities—copying from the board, taking notes narrated by the teacher or some activities modified by the teacher to accommodate the iPad – such as colouring a picture, matching related pictures or words etc. The support teacher sits next to him and gives verbal and minimal physical prompt to attempt and complete the task. The physical prompt is given on the elbow or sometimes on the hand. The iPad is with Tarun for half-an-hour every day.
Additional benefit of typing — He has started using the mobile phone to send messages to some of his cousins.
Tarun is able to open the iPad mini and fix the keypad appropriately. He is able to on the Bluetooth switch in the iPad but needs help in switching on the button of the keypad for connecting to the Bluetooth. He is able to go the OneNote application independently. He is able to touch the required icon to open the specific notebook in OneNote application (See Appendix 3).
Another aspect of navigation — after the introduction to technology, Tarun has displayed his interest in exploring the internet to find websites which interest him.
In special education session, Tarun is able to type independently. He needs verbal prompt to continue with the task. This is yet to be achieved in the inclusive classroom setting. But when compared to prompts required for writing, minimal prompt are required for typing. The near independent work has bought credibility to the work done by Tarun,
Rapport building with the support teacher
As mentioned earlier, two support teachers were changed for Tarun between January and March 2015. During this period, running in the classroom and making sounds were observed. With the present support teacher, similar behaviours were observed for few days but reduced after the introduction of iPad in the classroom, one of the reasons could be iPad as it keeps him busy with typing activity when other students are taking down notes. As the support teacher was given information on Tarun’s abilities and requirements before actively working with him, the teacher was providing support when it was felt that he was not able to complete the task. Achieving success with the support teacher has made Tarun attempt new tasks in the classroom with ease.
The positive responses from Tarun, support teacher and VSE make me look forward to continuing the project. The next goal would be continuing with the transition phase and extending the iPad usage time in the school. This would be undertaken in the next academic year, which starts from June 2015. At the same time, independent functioning in the classroom will also be targeted as a long term goal. With the observable involvement and results, VSE has taken many students with difficulties in the age group – 3yrs to 9yrs in the inclusion programme. We, Vydehi School, would be working towards a remedial programme for these students after school hours. This will not be a pull-out programme that runs during the school hours. The programme would aim at increasing the student’s potential, imparting skill to the class teacher and sensitizing the staff.
Another important learning from this project — When Tarun’s learning style, generalizing skill and the need for maintaining the learnt skills were shared by special education team with the team working in the mainstream classroom, it was met with apprehension. Very few people understood Tarun’s learning potential. The presence of the prompts put doubt in the minds of people (Hume, et.al 2012). After watching Tarun’s work, explanations were needed to be given to each teacher who came into contact with Tarun. To understand and accommodate this aspect was found to be difficult for many. This thought is expressed by Ido Kedar in his blog when he says that people fail to understand the nature of neurological instability and anxiety in autism (http://idoinautismland.com/?p=306#comment-78221). To have an unbiased opinion with doubt in mind is difficult. Since Tarun needed physical prompt for writing tasks and typing work required minimal touch or sometimes only verbal prompt, it became easier to convince people about Tarun’s ability. The lesser the prompts, the more people were willing to consider it as his independent work. This project gets supports from various academic articles by Chandler-Olcott, (2009) and Rodríguez, et.al (2013) which states technology as being an important aspect in the development of independent task engagement among children with disabilities. It also states that there is a positive impact of technology on skill learning, behaviour and academic growth among students with disabilities.
The limitation of this project is the lack of time given to the transition phase. This has affected the recording of the work done in the mainstream classroom. The transition period was observed for a period of 15 working days. The initial plan was to observe and make suitable changes over a period of one month. But this could not be done as Tarun was sick initially and had taken leave from school. This caused delay in the introduction to the transition phase. Generally, schools in India close for summer vacation by first week of April. The annual event in VSE was in the first week of April and practice sessions started by mid-March. This reduced the time further for the project implementation and observation. Thus the transition phase would continue in the month of June 2015, when the school reopens for the next academic year.
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