Mild Learning Disability
ICT has a potentially big role to play in supporting students’ learning, especially for students with special needs. This section focuses on the use of ICT with students a Mild Learning Disability.
- ICT can provide a non-threatening environment in which the level and pace for learning can be geared to suit individual needs.
- Software can provide additional feedback in the forms of graphics, sound etc. and offers the student with MLD the opportunity to practise particular skills with which he/she may have difficulty.
- Computers are non-judgmental and treat everyone in the same way which may prove less confrontational for some students than having the teacher highlight their mistakes.
- Software programs can provide exciting and stimulating repetition that is often required for students to master skills.
- ICT can offer graphics, sound effects and immediate rewards to help encourage the learner.
- ICT may provide the needed support to effectively accomplish tasks in a variety of contexts and settings that the student may otherwise find difficult and stressful.
- This technology can provide a means for students with learning problems to accomplish tasks independently and therefore not have to rely continually upon others.
ICT is a powerful tool to help people cope with their disabilities. It offers an approach to meeting the needs of individuals with mild learning difficulties by enabling them to compensate for specific deficits. It is not in itself a solution to all the problems they will encounter. ICT itself has to be managed carefully in order that the learner gains full benefit.
- Ensure that the software and peripherals meet the needs and abilities of the student.
- Choose software on the basis of specific educational value, preferably a program which will supplement other methods of teaching and learning. The teacher is often the target of strong proactive marketing. Develop a relationship with a local supplier whereby goods can be purchased on trial basis. After a time, your supplier will be able to identify particular programs suitable to you. Liaise with colleagues and exchange ideas on the benefits of particular software.
- Check to ensure that your students have the pre-requisite skills to use the technology.
- Provide for skill training so that they can become independent and effective users.
- Many programs come with supplementary resource material to achieve maximum effectiveness; utilise these resources fully.
- Get the best printer available to you. It can be disappointing for the student to have a poor copy of what is seen on the screen.
- Don't expect ICT to solve a student's problems; a computer should not replace the teacher.
There is a multitude of software programs available to assist teachers in presenting the curriculum in new and exciting ways which can not only help the MLD student cope with their learning difficulties but encourage them to want to learn. This is often the greatest challenge to the teacher of student with MLD. After years of failure and frustration, students with MLD often have a lack of confidence and a general "switch off" to education. The software listed below can help students with a mild learning disability compensate for their difficulties while at the same time building on their strengths and special abilities.
(Examples include Spin Out Stories, Oxford Reading Tree, Wellington Square,)
With literacy being a major problem for pupils with MLD, interactive books are a valuable resource for the teacher. Most of these interactive books follow a similar format where the user can either passively watch and listen as a story is read to them or they can choose the interactive mode where they can click and explore. This category of software is especially good for pre- and beginning readers because it allows them to see the word as it is being read aloud which links the written word with the spoken word and consequently strengthens word recognition. Many of these programs provide additional work in the form of games, grammar, punctuation and phonetic exercises to reinforce class work.
There are many software programs available to help develop literacy skills and reinforce concepts through repetition and practice. Programs are available that target the following areas:
- Early literacy skills ( examples include Teddy Games, Making Tracks to Literacy, Leaps and Bounds)
- Sight word recognition (examples include All My Words, Speaking for Myself, Flashcard)
- Phonological skills (examples include Lexia, Rhyme and Analogy, Sounds Great, Wordwork)
- Reading Comprehension (examples include Reading for Literacy, Twisted Tales, Selladore Tales)
Content Free Software
Content free software can be used to create tailor made resources using symbols, pictures, sound and photos that can be used to support literacy. Software that utilises pictures, symbols and photos can be used to produce digital projects or personalised books for students. A digital camera can be used to record outings or events and the photos can then be used to make a class book or project using a multimedia authoring tool such as Clicker 4, SwitchIt Maker or PowerPoint. Student drawings, photos of family members or holidays can also be scanned into the computer to make personalised resources.
Word Processors / Talking Word Processors
(Examples include Clicker 4, Write Outloud, Inclusive Writer)
Word processors have been with us for some time now and most students are familiar with them. A word processor can provide the students with the opportunity to express themselves without being concerned with handwriting. For the weak speller, a spellchecker or word bank permits the student to concentrate on content rather than be hampered with concerns over spelling and therefore a much more fluid writing is available.
A talking word processor includes an in-built speech synthesiser that will read back text to the pupil. They can be set up to read back every letter, word, line, sentence, paragraph or whole screen. Talking word processors use a multi-sensory approach which allows the student to hear as well as see what has been written. They also accommodate students with learning difficulties by allowing them to monitor their own work and therefore to be more independent. The auditory feedback provided by talking word processors can assist students with correcting their spelling, grammar, meaning, etc.
Once written, stories can be restyled and printed out in a multitude of fonts and formats. Clipart is readily available to cover many topics and enhance the look of the document .The professional result these packages offer can give the student a great sense of achievement and help the student gain confidence in their work.
(Examples include Co-Writer 4000 and Predict IT)
Word Prediction software is normally used alongside a word processor and suggests words as text is entered into the computer. Based on the letters entered, a list of suggested words are offered. A typical word prediction package will give a range of options, which can be tailored to suit the individual. Word Prediction software assists students with learning difficulties by allowing them to choose from suggested words therefore enabling them to concentrate on the context of their words rather than become embroiled in spelling issues.
(Examples include Wordbar, Clicker 4* and Granada Writer*)
Students with learning difficulties often have trouble with word retrieval. A word bank program can alleviate these difficulties by allowing the teacher to input words that individual students have difficulty with such as topic words, lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, sentence starters, etc. The program reads aloud the words in the word bank when the user points to the word with the mouse. The student then can easily input the word into a document by clicking on the word with the mouse. Some of these programs can be bought stand alone and used alongside an application of your choice. However, many child-friendly talking word processors already have a word bank facility inbuilt.
*Word processors that include word banks
(Examples include Starspell 2001, Superspell, SpellTime)
Spelling is a source of immense frustration for many students. Having succeeded in producing a written assignment, they can be devastated to have it returned with spelling errors highlighted. Spell checkers can alleviate this problem by leaving the pupil free to concentrate on content. Most word processors have a spellchecking feature that works by comparing each word on the screen with the words contained in its dictionary. Unknown words are highlighted. By clicking onto a box, a list of alternatives suggestion is offered. These suggestions are based on words, which look similar to the example.
On their own, spelling exercises can be dull and repetitive. But, with the inclusion of sound, graphics and game-based activities, most learners enjoy this type of software. Most spelling programs provide immediate response and reward for correct answers. Programs can be geared to the student's own level, and can indicate areas of difficulty while providing a record of progress.
(Examples include Maths Workshop, Megamaths Tables, Millie's Math House, Talking Tables, Carmen Sandiego Math's Detective )
Mathematics is more attractive for learners with the advent of ICT. Rote exercises can be offered in a multitude of colourful and interactive packages. Graded exercises can be interesting and challenging. Tasks can be provided which reflect real life situations. Adventure programs may involve mathematical assignments and puzzles. A variety of such software is readily available. However, advice from colleagues or others who have used a package is the best indicator of suitability. For those who are new to the market software, a good supplier can often provide a demonstration version.
(Examples include Growing Up Together 1&2, , Out and About, Money Talks)
Life skills cross all subject boundaries and help to enrich the lifelong learning process. Simulations of actual situations which students are likely to face can provide a secure environment in which to experiment with a variety of responses. Students can modify their approach in the light of experience. Many types of exploratory software programs can be used which allow the student to become aware of another person's point of view or feelings and how their actions and reactions will affect others. The control offered by these types of programs prevents difficulties that can arise due to inappropriate responses. Other programs can be used to reinforce skills that are needed for every day, real-life situations such as money handling, telling time, and using public transportation.
(Examples include Power Publisher, Publisher, Creative Writer 2, Printmaster Gold)
Desktop publishing in its basic form is the making of greeting cards, invitations, leaflets, posters or even a school magazine. Students find the production of these items, in a meaningful and attractive manner, most rewarding. For the weaker student, the design and greeting on a birthday card can aid self-expression. Students can go on to produce school news sheets which require collaborative work through planning, design and content.
(Examples include Painter, TinyArt, Story Maker)
Drawing is an area that many derive great pleasure from and is considered an essential part of the maturation process. It offers a simple direct means of self-expression. A student with perceptual and hand eye co-ordination problems can find drawing to be a difficult and frustrating experience. The computer can allow the learner to play and explore patterns and colours and produce pleasing pictures. There are many art/graphic/photo packages available. These packages include facilities to alter images, draw lines at various angles, add shapes, and fill objects with colours and patterns. Pictures can be rotated, reduced, enlarged copied, modified and manipulated. Most packages will allow a mixture of text and pictures to be added.
The following pieces of hardware are often referred to as peripherals and can be used to develop personalised student resources. Using pictures of students, their families, their friends and their local environment can be highly motivating, especially for students with special needs.
- Digital camera
- A good quality printer
In addition, a data projector can allow your class to view the computer screen from their desks. You can instruct the entire class from your keyboard on the use of a new piece of software, view the Internet live, or give instructions on how to change font on their word processor.
Some students may need to have access to technology both at home and at school. Portable devices should be considered. Some of these devices include:
- Laptop Computers with Appropriate Software - A laptop is a portable computer and as such is much more than a portable writing device. However, it is often used as just that – a portable writing device. It runs the same operating system and software applications as the larger desktop computer but is considerably smaller in size and lighter in weight. Furthermore, a laptop contains a battery, which allows it to be used away from a power supply for a limited time. It can be connected to the Internet. It is rather fragile and can be quite heavy to carry. Laptops are increasingly being used as dedicated devices for individual students with special needs. This raises lots of issues about classroom management of resources, both in terms of the pedagogy and in terms of practical technical issues.
- Portable Word Processors -Though technically not a laptop computer, a portable word processor is sometimes used for simple word processing. It is an easy-to-use, lightweight, computer companion that enables users to type, edit and electronically store text, which then can be transferred to a computer for formatting. Portable word processors are operated by batteries or by plugging into a power supply. It is simple technology that does not require any loading or saving. Once the user has completed their work, simply attach the portable word processor to a standard computer for formatting and other more advanced functions, or attach directly to the printer for printing. Examples include Alphasmart 3000 (Alphasmart), Dreamwriter I.T. (NTS Computer Systems)
- Handheld spellcheckers, dictionaries and other electronic devices - These devices range from small handheld items the size of a large pen or marker, which perform one or two simple functions, to portable items the size of a large calculator or PDA, which perform several functions. One such device is a handheld scanner which will scan a word, display it in large type and then speak the word together with a dictionary definition of the word. It can be useful for getting a definition of occasional words within a text, but is not suitable for full sentences or pages of text. Other electronic devices include portable spellcheckers, grammar checkers, thesaurus', dictionaries and organisers. Examples include Franklin portable devices and the Quicktionary ReadingPen.
- For any teacher, regardless of the type of student they are working with, the computer can become a source of classroom tension and disorder if it is not well managed. This is particularly evident if one machine is shared between large groups. If the use of the computer is fully integrated into the class with a timetable assigned, it is less likely to cause tension.
- Regular short sessions are usually the most effective.
- A protected system, which can control student access, can prevent pupils from removing or damaging software on the hard disk. Lost or damaged programmes or assignment can be a major loss. It is therefore important to regularly back up important files.
- Where menus are for teacher only, they should be hidden.
- A major problem for all teachers of ICT is the PRINTER. Masses of expensive, unwanted colour images can be produced at the press of a key. Set down firm guidelines well in advance.
- Systematic training is required for students to make them independent and effective.
- Once the basic skills for the various programs are mastered, avoid being over supportive. Let the students work and learn at their own pace.
- As students with learning difficulties can be easily distracted, attention must be paid to the type of graphics and sound and the overall design of the software. Distracting graphics and speech should not be added simply because the technology provides for it. Simple clear, programs are often more effective.
- To reduce loss of peripherals, use a Ziplock bag taped to the side of the monitor. Students can store headphones in the bags or on a hook on the desk.
Students with learning difficulties often have trouble with organisational skills. Teach them strategies to help them organise their own work (e.g., taping work to computer when typing, use of Post-It notes or a coloured ruler to help them keep their place when typing).
Ciaran is a 10 year old with mild learning difficulties integrated into a mainstream class. He has poor literacy and numeracy skills and is not very motivated to learn. As Ciaran enjoys using the computer, his teacher felt that ICT could be used to help him participate more fully in an inclusive environment, motivate him to become an active learner and improve his self-esteem.
To address Ciaran’s literacy skills, ICT was used to promote word recognition, improve word attack skills and to focus on effective reading strategies. Reinforcement software that utilised word banks such as the programme, All My Words, was used to build his own personal word bank which focussed on words that are essential for functional literacy. Other reinforcement software such as Flashcard and Lexia was also used to assist Ciaran in recognising common sight words automatically and to develop his word attack skills. Interactive books such as Spinout Stories and Living Books were used to provide Ciaran with the opportunity to practice effective reading strategies. In addition, the teacher used a language experience approach to create a personalised talking book for Ciaran using a multimedia authoring tool such as Clicker 4.
To assist Ciaran with his writing, a talking word processor and word bank program was used. Ciaran liked using the talking word processor as it read back whatever he had written thereby allowing him to monitor his own work. He was also able to produce a legible, professional-looking piece of work which helped to raise his self-esteem. The teacher inputted list of words that Ciaran had difficulty with into a word bank program which ran in conjunction with the talking word processor.
To address Ciaran’s numeracy skills, reinforcement software was used to provide practice in telling time and handling money. Exploratory software was used to enhance Ciaran’s level of functional literacy and numeracy and to provide alternative practice with essential everyday signs and symbols.
David is a student with a learning disability. He is studying for Foundation Certificate English at Junior Certificate. He has difficulty reading some of the required text independently. His teacher was able to provide tapes of his class novel and set poems. While these were essential to his learning, David was restricted to the tapes themselves. He was given a reading pen, which is a miniature scanner about the size of a mobile phone. Printed words are scanned, displayed, and then enlarged on a screen. They can then be read aloud via an inbuilt speaker or earphones and a dictionary definition is available. The result of this is that he no longer has to ask his parents or the teacher to identify every word that he does not recognise. David's teacher now gives him his homework assignments typed which allows David to study more independently as he does not require his parents to be constantly available. For David, it has greatly enhanced his confidence and he has gained much more in the way of independence.