We sat down with Sandy Tucker and Jackie Hay of Nashwaaksis Memorial Elementary School to talk about their ongoing Assistive Technology (new window) (AT) pilot project with Microsoft (new window) using the Surface Pro(new window), and about how having AT in the school has led to some amazing successes in the classroom.
Q: Can you give us a picture of what things were like in the classroom before you had access to AT?
A: Before the students had access to AT, they were a rambunctious, vivacious, group, with a wide variety of learning challenges. The students were becoming frustrated and impatient, and even though the teacher stretched her teaching style to its maximum in order to meet the needs of as many students as possible, some children were just not getting the attention they needed, due to the wide variety of learning differences in the classroom.
Q: What are some examples of disabilities that you deal with in the classroom daily?
A: Of the eighteen students in the class, there are two children who we suspect have a Learning Disability, and are in the process of being assessed; two of the students have cognitive delay functions, and two of the students have autism (new window), one student has a speech impairment, and one student has been diagnosed with ADHD (new window).
Q: How has the use of AT affected the confidence of the children in the classroom?
A: Having AT in the classroom has been great for everyone, even our neurotypical kids (those without diagnosed disabilities) who are already excelling. And for the kids that really, really need it, they no longer feel like they are the oddball out.
We have one little girl in the class whose confidence was really, really, low before having AT in the class. She felt like she couldn’t share anything because she didn’t have anything worthwhile to share, but since having AT in the class, her confidence, and her reading level, has gone way up.
There’s another child who takes a long time to get his ideas down; it used to take weeks for him to complete a task, but using voice and video recordings in OneNote (new window) has been really great for him. He used to be the known as the class wanderer, but now that he has access to AT, he’s been much more engaged, and is able to better express himself in the classroom.
AT has also become incredibly helpful to one of our ESL (English Second Language) students. Before having access to AT, she wouldn’t speak to us, so we had a hard time figuring out how much she was even learning. Since having access to a tablet, she’s been able to express herself, and she’s
Q: Do you feel that having access to AT makes you a better teacher?
A: The other teacher involved in this project and I both agree that having access to AT allows us to stay ahead of the curve, and better anticipate the needs of our students. It allows us to really help them reach their full potential, and help them be prepared for middle school, high school and beyond. Our kids think very differently than we do. These children have been using smartphones, tablets, or computers for most of their lives, so it’s been great to see how they marry together the laptop, touch screen and stylus. When you walk in the class you can see the kids switching between touching and typing, and using the stylus, so they’ve got three different mediums that they can switch between at any time
Q: What would you like to see in the future in terms of AT in the classroom?
A: We’d love to see someone with an AT background in every school, as teachers are generally pressed for time enough as it is, and don’t often have the time to explore all of the best possible options. Teachers don’t have the time to investigate AT; even learning to use the smart board (new window) presents a challenge for some teachers. An AT technician could take the time required to really look through those options, and find the solutions that simultaneously meet the curriculum, and the student’s needs.
Check out the YouTube video here (new window).