4 tips for tapping into technology for SEN students

Rebecca Bright

Rebecca is an experienced speech and language therapist who works with adult clients with neurological communication impairments. Rebecca became interested in finding a more mainstream “cool” AAC device. As an off-shoot to her successful therapy resource website Therapy Box, Rebecca has formed www.tboxapps.com and with the feedback from fellow clinicians and AAC users has developed two applications for the iPad/iPhone, ‘Predictable’ and ‘Scene & Heard’, available from iTunes.

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A student with learning difficulties has to get through a lot of hard work each time, so it’s important that their teacher is properly equipped to guide and encourage their progress. Therapy Box director Rebecca Bright, herself a speech & language therapist, gives her advice on the best SEN tech available.

We’re often asked, when we run workshops and training sessions for speech therapists, how they can utilise iPads and Android tablets in the classroom alongside students with learning disabilities. Of course, the answer is as broad as the range of students – with a plethora of tools and apps which can be considered by speech therapists and teachers.

Let’s take a look at some of the areas that you might wish to consider.

1. Tools to help with organisational skills

The obvious place to start on iOS (iPads and iPhones) are the standard Calendar and Reminders apps that come with these devices. The Calendar app allows you to add events that can be one-off (an appointment with a learning support officer) or recurring (a horticulture class). Alerts can be set to occur at the time of the event or ahead of time.

The Reminders app allows students to create lists which can be colour coded. Again, you can implement reminders – but this time you can set reminders to not just appear at a specified time, but at a particular location (e.g. for your list of homework tasks to appear when you get home). Options for prioritising and showing completed tasks also aid in working on organizational skills.

However, sometimes an app which is more visual may be required. There are a huge number of apps on the AppStore if you type in “to do” or “get things done”. Examples include Top 3 (free), which allows you to just list the three tasks which need to be done with a very simple interface. Plan It, Do It, Check It (£1.99) allows you to make “books” with each task which you can review one by one.

2. Apps to help with keeping track of time

The iOS devices come with a built in timer app (within the clock app) and you can set the duration of a task and the countdown occurs on the screen with the option to pause and restart as needed.

For counting down to events (half term or when an assignment is due) an app like Countdown+ (free) provides a visual way of counting down the days and hours until an event, which may be beneficial for students who have trouble keeping longer term plans in perspective or for students who find major events distracting or frequently need to check when something is happening.

For keeping students on task there are more visual representations, such as apps which show time elapsing as part of a circle such as Childrens Countdown (free) or Easy Visual Timer (£0.69).

3. Apps to promote turn taking skills

Some students may benefit from apps which promote valuable turn taking skills. Popular games such as 4 In A Row (free) can either be played by one student (taking turns with the “computer”) or with another student. Sharing Timer (£0.69) allows you to show each student playing a game with a photo for each student and also to represent the task (e.g. playing with the ball). Each student can then see whose turn it is now, how much time is remaining and who’s up next. A pop up suggests when to swap to the next student.

4. Apps for authoring social stories

One of the great things about using a mobile device or tablet in the classroom is the speed at which students, teachers and therapists can put together resources, particularly those using the camera and photos on the device. Typing “social stories” into the AppStore search feature will bring up over 100 results for apps related to social stories. Apps range from being free to over £20. iBook Creator (available on Macs) is a great way for teachers to create iBook social stories, as it taps into the accessibility features inherent on the iDevices.

Consider how you can utilise the mobile technology you have available in the classroom or on the student’s own device. It may be that you can use the inbuilt apps available to aid productivity, to support students with additional learning needs. Reminders, alerts and visual information are very much integrated with all mobile devices of today. Designed for a mainstream audience, they can often be used by students with learning disabilities with a little tweaking.

Image Credit: Flickr

What methods do you use for working with SEN pupils? Share your experiences below.

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