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All Together Now – Special Education Classrooms

Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School’s preschool class gives a new meaning to the phrase working together.

Just like in any other preschool classroom, children are taught color and shape identification, math skills, how to hold a pencil and use scissors and basic reasoning skills. What makes this class different than most is that the preschool program includes both typically-developing and special needs students playing and working together. The typical children, who are screened to evaluate their language and social skills, serve as role models for their special-needs peers.

The district is already screening for next year’s students and has the program set up in many elementary schools around the area. This early interaction and exposure to curriculum only benefits the special needs children. There have even been reports of some former students being no longer diagnosed as special needs after graduating from the preschool.

The typical students also benefit from the program as they become more aware and accepting of diversity. They can also give students peer positive reinforcement as they make achievements. Parents have noted positive changes in their special needs children after only a few weeks in the program. Special needs students started to gain communication skills they were lacking before. Typical students developed confidence and social skills that help them in group situations, like speaking in front of a group or talking to new students.

With the fun presentation of educational material and individualized attention that the students get, parents also noted how their children have developed a love for going to school. It is also great for the typical children to interact with the special needs children so they can share adult experiences and learn from them.

By working together with students of all abilities, children can see the various types of people in the world and learn and grow from their experiences.

Photo by: WellspringC

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Technology Tools in a Special Education Classroom

I am very fortunate to have a projector, document camera, and interactive whiteboard in my classroom.  I have become so accustomed to using these tools every day, I could not imagine teaching without them.  Projectors, document cameras, and interactive whiteboards increase student engagement, support a variety of learning styles, and increase learning outcomes.  They can be especially effective in special education classrooms with students with hearing and visual impairments. Since it is the time of year where planning for budgets and grant writing is really picking up, these three tools should be at the top of your ‘must have’ list.

Projectors

Projectors display images from your computer screen onto any flat, light-colored surface.  The image can be projected onto a standard whiteboard, a white wall, a projector screen or an interactive whiteboard.  Projectors can be mounted on the ceiling of a classroom or used from a mobile cart or table.  There are HD, LCD, and DLP projectors, all of which are standard size and formatting.  A more recent projector technology is the portable projector. They are projectors that are small enough to fit into your pocket!  Costs vary depending on size and quality.  Projectors are great for visual learners to be able to see and experience what you are teaching.  In my class, I use my projector to show students presentations for section reviews of the textbook, review games, for step-by-step lessons on how to use the various Microsoft Office products, along with class updates from my website.  Projectors are also great to show movies or video clips that can help to make learning come alive!  To make projectors even more powerful as a tool in the classroom, they can also be used in conjunction with an interactive whiteboard or a document camera.

Document Camera

Document cameras are the 21st century version of an overhead projector.  When used in conjunction with a projector, document cameras can be used to display printed materials, books, worksheets, review answers, or lecture notes.  You can zoom in and zoom out of the documents or freeze what is on the screen.  In a special education classroom, the zoom function of a document camera can be especially useful for students with low vision.  You can also place 3D objects under the camera and see live ‘shots’ of what is under the camera.  Some document cameras also include a microscope attachment.

Interactive Whiteboards

Interactive whiteboards allow teachers and students to interact with the board digitally rather than using chalk or markers.  Your computer screen is projected onto the board with a projector. Then, with digital markers, erasers, and other various selected tools, you and your students can interact with the board.  This tool is great for special education students as it allows them to be more hands-on with their learning.  In my class, I create review games within my presentations that are interactive.  An example would be a matching vocabulary game where the students have to literally select and drag or draw a digital line connecting the term to the definition on the board. I also use my interactive whiteboard by incorporating pictures of the various menus and tools in the Microsoft Applications and then the students have to select and move the correct answers to the labeled area. Pictures, videos, and audio files can also easily be incorporated within a presentation on an interactive board.  These visuals make learning meaningful for students.  Most interactive whiteboards also come with software applications that make using the board as an interactive tool in the classroom easier.  They also supply pre-made templates for games similar to Jeopardy or Millionaire.  There are so many different ways to actively involve students in learning while using an interactive white board.

Projectors, document cameras, and interactive whiteboards are all technology tools that are great resources to have in a special education classroom.  They allow presentations and lectures to become more interactive through hands-on lessons and the ability to visually show students the meaning of what you are teaching.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by Sridqway

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Be Somebody with the NOBODY program- Special Education

Special education students and teachers share how the NOBODY program impacted their students and made a difference in a big way.

The NOBODY program aims at getting everybody involved with this character building project. All students, regardless of their background or learning disabilities gain hope and confidence by using their own actions, interests and abilities. Students involved with the project get the chance to add things to the character, present stories and fill a scrapbook with their experiences with their new friend.

The NOBODY teaching resource is an innovative way to develop both character and self esteem. When the guidance counselor first introduced NOBODY to the class in this video, the children were very intrigued. They described this “doll” as having no age, interest, gender, etc. They realized that they would need to help give it all of these qualities and more, making it a “somebody.”

The students go on to talk about how they took him home, added things to him and gave it character and interests. One student talks about using NOBODY to help build relationships with his family. He explains how his family has a tradition to play cards and how he added a card to the doll to represent that. Through NOBODY, he realized the importance of his family’s love and support.

Some of the characteristics of many of these special needs students are that they do not show much empathy. Through this program, the teacher noted how caring and nurturing the students were with NOBODY. They took him on field trips and included him into the class as a whole.

This program offered a great way for children to evolve while also builing self esteem.

Visit Whoisnobody.com for more information about this resource.

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iCan. Using iPods for Special Needs Students

iPods. We see students using them everywhere. On the bus. In the home. At the park. Are we ready to see them in the classroom?

The Special School District of Saint Louis County has taken that well-known device and integrated it into the classroom. Since students are already using iPods so much throughout the day, they wanted to offer a more positive and educational use for the device in the classroom.

Vicki Nelson, a special education teacher, is a strong advocate of using technology with students with special needs. Starting with iPods, she sent home training information for the communication devices. She explained how parents can access the iPod and use it for building vocabulary skills and reading comprehension.

By adding video and audio lessons onto the iPods for the students and parents to be able to access at home, she noticed her students were starting to recognize material she hadn’t yet taught in the classroom. She then started using the iPods with children who had to use sign language. She had another teacher interpret stories using the iPod as a video portfolio. They were able to shoot video of themselves and the students performing a specific skill and then send it home to the parents.

The iPods were also serving as a replacement for written communication logs between staff and parents. By recording a simple voice memo, teachers can quickly record messages about each student. These messages can then be downloaded from iPod and saved for future references.

Vicki Nelson noticed that her own students had improved skills and vocabulary knowledge. They had a better ability to comprehend stories, too. Because the students were able to take these videos or audio clips home, they were becoming more familiar with the terms they were using everyday. The students were engaged and involved while using this technology. Parents loved the iPods because they were using compatible signs and could use extra reinforcement at home.

This is just another example of integrating technology into the classroom to help students with special needs. With technology constantly updating, it is important that students of all needs are being involved.

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Text-to-speech Software for the Special Education Classroom

The concept of text-to-speech (TTS) software was first conceived in the 1950’s.  TTS software processes written text into spoken words.  Since the 50’s, this technology has gone through many changes and has developed into an affordable technology tool that is a great asset in special education classrooms. Students who have a limited field of vision, have dyslexia, or may be struggling readers can benefit from TTS software.  This technology can play a vital role in making computers accessible as a tool in the classroom.


One of the most famous individuals who uses TTS software is Stephen Hawking.  Hawking is a famous scientist who has ALS and has relied upon this technology to communicate since 1985.  He is almost completely paralyzed and uses a wand-style device attached to his glasses, activated by his cheek, to enter words and phrases into a computer system.  His system uses a word recognition program.  He enters the first few letters of the desired word and the program narrows down choices based on his use.  All of the words that are entered into the computer system, which is carried in his wheel chair, are then synthesized and spoken through his computer.

Similar software can be used on a home or school PC.  TTS software, that is included with the Microsoft Windows operating systems, is relatively simple to activate.  To activate TTS, all you have to do in Windows XP is select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility, and Narrator.  Read and then follow the directions on the command prompt to setup the computer for TTS navigation for your students.  TTS can also be integrated with Microsoft Office.  In Office 2007, you will first need to install a simple macro (program).  This link provides easy to follow directions for installation.

TTS is also integrated on many websites.  Most government run websites have accessibility sections where articles and important information are available in audio format.  There are also free sites where you can copy and paste text and then have it read aloud to you.  Two examples of sites that offer this free service are AT&T and Google.  Many of my students also use www.dictionary.com to look up their Language Arts vocabulary words.  This site provides audio pronunciation where you can select to hear the word read aloud.

Other popular electronic devices also use TTS as a means for learning and communication.  LeapFrog has developed the Tag (ages 4 to 8) and Tag Jr. (ages 2 to 4) reading systems where the student uses an electronic pen to interact with the many high quality Tag books.  The words and other sounds effects are then read aloud to the students as they swipe the pen over the text.  This is great tool for students to learn to read and as they progress, they become less reliant upon the pen less and begin to read on their own.  LeapFrog has an educational department where schools can purchase a variety of packages as a classroom set.  All of the packages include the computerized pens and sets of books that can be used with the system.  This would be a great addition to the Pre-K-5th grade special education classroom.

Many free and inexpensive TTS software tools can make computers learning accessible to many special education students.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by eirikso

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Blogging about Technology & Special Education

I have been challenged to blog about technology and its integration with special education students.  As a 7th grade Technology instructor with experience working with mainstreamed ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students, I thought this would be easy.   There are so many great technology tools, both hardware and software, that I use every day with all of my students that it would be simple to write posts upon posts explaining a variety of technologies for infusion in core and elective classes in inclusion, pull-out, small setting, or even 1:1 classrooms for special educations students. Then, I started to delve more into the topic.

Special Education and Technology as individual topics are very broad.  I started to wonder, what disabilities, disorders, or health impairments should I cover? Hearing impairments, sight impairments, ADD/ADHD, autism, down-syndrome, or other physical, mental, or emotional health impairments?  What type of technologies should I focus on; adaptive technology, assistive technology, technology for teachers to integrate, or technology for the students to use?  I determined any type of technology that I can blog about to help you make learning more accessible to your students would be the solution!  I also plan to add interviews with teachers and administrators that work with special education students along with special education students themselves focusing on what technology works!

While I was processing the various ideas for my first post, I reflected on my own teaching and blogging experiences in and outside of the classroom. Blogging, as an educational tool, can be easily incorporated into special education classroom.  Blogging is gaining mainstream media attention in the news and is even being depicted in television shows.  For example, during the last two episodes of Ugly Betty, Betty created her own blog.  The episodes portray her through her triumphs and tribulations with blogging. Blogging is also being accepted as an innovative way for students to write for an authentic audience.

How do you start blogging with your students?  The first thing that you will need to do is determine how you want to integrate blogging in your classroom.  Do you want to create a blog that students will comment to?  Or do you want them to create their own blogs?  I have incorporated blogs both ways and find them equally rewarding and an innovative approach to include writing into the curriculum.  Since blogging is an open-ended assignment, teacher expectations and levels of assistance may need to be modified for special education students. Students at all levels can share thoughts, ideas, and information through well-developed assignments.

Creating a blog that students comment to is easier to setup, maintain, and grade.  I post a question that I want the students to answer and then they respond with comments.  I use that as an activity that students complete when they enter my classroom at the beginning of the period.  One advantage to this method is that students do not need to have their own accounts to comment.  I use this form of blogging to find out their knowledge on a subject before I teach it or to reinforce ideas that we have learned.  This can also easily be completed as a center activity or as part of a rotation during the week.  You may interact with the students online by commenting back the students’ comments, in essence, creating an online conversation.  My students have also really enjoyed reading other students comments. Since they know that they are being read by their peers, they are more attentive to their grammar skills.

Another way to incorporate blogging is to have your students maintain their own blog.  This would require students to create and setup their own accounts.  It is harder to assess as you will have to visit each individual blog. It is also more of a challenge to incorporate cross-communication between students.  I would suggest this as option for middle or high school students and share the different links online via the web. I had my students create their own blog for a six week project on South Florida oceans and beaches and Web 2.0 Technology.  The students had to create and setup their own accounts and maintain their blog with two posts a week.  One post was a formal question assigned to reflect on what they were learning and one was a ‘free post’ where they could write about anything that they learned during the week. This concept can also be easily incorporated in a literature class.  The students can use their blog to reflect and write about a novel they are reading.  This will incorporate both reading and writing into the curriculum and the students will be more motivated to learn than if they were filling out “drill-and-kill” worksheets.

When I first introduce blogging to my students, I explain that blog is short for ‘web log’ and that it can be like an online diary or a way to share written information online.  I show the students some examples of different types of blogs; professional blogs, teacher blogs, and peer blogs.  I let them know that blogging is intended to be a public way to express your thoughts and ideas online.  However, blogs can also be set to private and only shared with a few select viewers that are determined by the owner of the blog.  In my introduction to blogging I also go over student blogging guidelines.  Here is a great example that you can adapt your guidelines from, http://www.techlearning.com/article/Blogs/23336.

Once you have determined the ‘style’ of blogging that is appropriate for your classroom and you have explained your expectations, let your students experience the fun and educational value of blogging.

My classroom blog can be viewed at:  http://aceseagles.blogspot.com/.

For more information on incorporating blogging in your classroom, please visit http://sites.google.com/site/fetc2010/blogger.

Great FREE programs to get started blogging with your special education students

www.blogspot.com (Google)

www.edublogger.org

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by Jose Kevo

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