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Every day hundreds of Apps are created for the iPad and Android tablets, and every day I have teachers, specialists and parents asking me which apps SPELD SA recommends for students with learning difficulties.
My answer is not straightforward as there are many considerations to take into account if the educational needs of students with learning difficulties are going to be strengthened by assistive technologies, software programs or apps.
My first question focuses on the technology already available to the student e.g., tablet, iPad, laptop or computer.
1. If they haven’t bought anything yet, I tend to explore whether a laptop, notepad or a notebook would serve the student better than apps on a tablet. Below are some of my reasons:
NOTE: It takes around 300 to 400 hours of practice to master a skill and 10,000 hours to become an expert. Students with specific learning difficulties tend to need even more time, and activities with lots of repetition, to master new skills. Therefore, if we want students to have skills that will help them succeed in further education and later get a job, it is best that we provide them with one program that will work over everything they are likely to use.
2. If the answer is that the school has given every student an iPad, or there is an expectation that they will get one, or you have already purchased one, don’t despair, I am not saying that iPads don’t have a place.
The rest of this article will look at some of the assistive features that people may not be aware of on their iPad, supply a rubric you can use when choosing the right app, and point out a few websites you can use to guide you to goal-specific apps for students with special needs.
For those using the latest iOS5 (or above) operating system for iPhones, iPads and iPods, try the Speak Selection tool in the accessibility area. The pathway is Settings/General/Accessibility/Speak Selection. Once this feature is turned on, the iPad can speak text on most applications that allow you to copy text e.g. information within web pages and in iBooks. Make sure you slow down the speed of the text-to-speech, as it speaks very quickly. To do this slide the turtle to the left.
Once speech selection is turned on
While you are in the accessibility area of the general settings tab, you can explore the other accessibility options available. I never use the voice over feature as it changes the way a student navigates the iPad and can be tricky to turn off.
K9 web protection browser is a free app that you can use to block all inappropriate materials that may show up in other browsers. Once you have downloaded and installed K9 you will see directions of what to do next as you open the app. You will need to go to Settings/General/Restrictions/Enable Restrictions/ apply a 4 digit password/ turn off Safari and then explore the other options in the restricted area. Teach students which app has now become their web browser as they will no longer be able to see Safari.
While this may seem daunting, the KISS principle provides a good rule of thumb. Less is more, and less is definitely more manageable if a student is going to get the most benefit from the introduction of any app. For some, the following two features, Text-to-speech and K9 web protection browser, combined with a few other apps may be all you need at the start.
Teaching the use of four apps is a good way to start. Later, you can extend your rule to four as the maximum for any subject, and save those apps in subject folders.
To move apps into folders:
Before purchasing an app, it is important to decide the learning outcome. You can have a million apps that only half teach something, and it only takes 10 x 99-cent apps to lose $10 that would have been better spent on something else.
Applying a rubric like the one below to apps you think might be suitable, will help you determine if they meet the needs of the student/s and school.
This is a draft rubric for reviewing apps for the iPad. Adapted from http://edudemic.com/2011/11/app-review-rubric/ Not all items will apply to all learning areas.
Overview of the App
Link to App Store:
Is it relevant to the Australian National Standards framework?
What is the expected learning outcome?
Is the response helpful to the learner?
physical, aural, visual, ESL
online resources, booklet, lesson plans, student worksheets
With 750,000+ apps in the iTunes store and most of us time poor, it is wise to ask someone who works daily with students, who have special needs, for some input. However, we are often biased to our favourites. Below are some sources of reliable information.
In conclusion, remember that it is not the app that will help a student succeed. A well made app can provide a sequential development of skills, but it is the explicit teaching provided by a supportive parent or teacher that will enable a student to transfer the skills learnt into school and everyday life.
SPELD SA would like to acknowledge the support of the Douglas Whiting Trust in the development of this website.
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