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Teachers using technology to aid special needs learning

Devices, apps help students achieve

Dec. 10, 2013

Menomonee Falls — Teachers from Shady Lane Elementary on Monday highlighted both simple and advanced technology they are using to assist students in the classroom.

The special education team at Shady Lane is using many tools to help students better access curriculum. From a simple grip tool on a pencil to an iPad app, the team at Shady Lane is continuously finding new ways to help their students achieve.

Shady Lane student Evan Abrahamson uses a word prediction software that is installed in district laptops and computers to help develop his language skills. When a student is typing a word, the program will display a list of words it thinks the student is trying to spell. The student can then scroll over each word and the computer will speak the word out loud. This program helps students learn how to pronounce words.

During writers' workshops, Evan uses a portable keyboard that is customizable to meet individual student needs, such as adjusting the lettering size or color. This is also helpful to engage students who may have a hard time gripping writing tools. A new iPad app children are using to write stories displays specific words on the keyboard that students are learning.

"All kids are accessing whatever tools they need to be successful," occupational therapist Jacqueline Driebel said. "(Evan's) doing a great job."

Shady Lane Principal Brad Hoffman said the iPad is giving children access to curriculum they never would have been able to access without that technology because it matches students' strengths with their needs.

Though iPads and computers have been strong tools used in special education classrooms, some educators have found simple lesson structures help students achieve. During speech therapy sessions with Shady Lane student Ian Kartheiser, speech language pathologist Karen Lepak came up with activities that have helped his speech progress. Lepak put together "a book of Ian" where they cut out pictures of his face and stuck them on pictures in a book that show the character doing some sort of action, such as eating.

"He had to tell me 'I eat,'" Lepak explained. "He's extremely proud of this and his language is really wonderful."

When he finishes his book, Ian will eventually read it to his class.

To reinforce these lessons, Lepak videotapes some of their therapy sessions so Ian can watch them later.

"It's a really powerful strategy for kids because if they can see themselves performing the task, they learn it much quicker," she said.

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