By now, saying that “the iPad is a great tool for customizing the classroom” wouldn’t exactly be breaking news. But while this holds true for every student, each of whom learns in their own way, iPads are truly a lifeline for students with learning disabilities and the people who work hand-in-hand with them. For these students, iPads act as a translation, communication, and individualization tool with unrivaled effectiveness. In so doing, these devices reduce frustration, build confidence, and, well, just work in teaching students the skills they need to learn to thrive.
Let’s take a look at a few more ways iPads are altering the classroom landscape for students with learning disabilities.
Unlike many other devices and previous technologies, touch technology is intuitive to use. This means that iPads just make sense for students whose disabilities cause them to struggle with visuospatial awareness, as apps are easily organized and even more natural to navigate.
Likewise, for students with motor impairments, touchscreen technology is much more in sync with how their bodies move. They are, for example, more likely to be able to tap and swipe than point and click. It is also easier to keep their eyes attuned to one spot (the screen) than it is to visually shift between the screen and the keyboard.
As such, the iPad can actually make an effective bridge technology in developing these motor skills, as we can see in the case study of Vincent, a student with Down syndrome, detailed in this Mashable article. In sticking just to the screen and writing with his finger, Vincent developed the same fine motor skills he would need to a hold pencil. In this way, the iPad is not only easier for students with motor impairments to use, but it is also an effective way to improve motor skills.
All students have their learning strengths and weaknesses; it’s just that they’re pronounced in students with learning disabilities. As such, what might seem like a simple task to one student might be overwhelming to another. This is overwhelming to students with learning disabilities, and can lead to both frustration and inefficiency.
iPads help to mitigate this problem through a diversity of apps that address just about every kind of skill out there. So, if a student struggles with one skill that’s required to complete a bigger assignment, they can review and develop that skill in an app before tackling the bigger task.
Another aspect to this focusing is that iPads are multisensory, meaning that students can take the learning approach that makes the most sense for them. This, too, keeps students from getting distracted by approaches that aren’t crucial to the learning at hand, and instead are just meant to be a route to it. If that particular route doesn’t speak to them, they don’t need to attend to it, and can concentrate on what’s really important.
iPads aren’t just effective for customization during solo-work; they’re great during class, too, as a way of translating the teacher’s processing style into one that students intuitively understand. A student who process the world in an aural manner, for example, can record lectures and convert them to notes later so that they can pay the most attention in class, rather than scrambling to write everything down when doing so will only prove distracting. For visual thinkers like students with autism, teachers might provide a photo-heavy version for their lecture for the student to peruse as they teach. And of course, the iPad can be used to augment any student’s class experience, as they can look up any information or definition they don’t understand in medias res.
For more nonverbal students, there are many touch-to-speak apps (technologies that used to be prohibitively expensive) to help them communicate, including Proloquo2Go, Assistive Express, and Yes|No. Respectively, these apps give students a voice through touch, predict sentence completion, or simply let students answer “yes” or “no” quickly to questions. Apps like these not only ensure students with learning disabilities are heard, but they also take the pressure off of them to say something “right,” in turn helping them be more expressive overall.
iPads aren’t just about navigating and translating the classroom for students with learning disabilities. They also provide access to apps that learning specialists can use to work concertedly on building up very specific skills. In fact, iTunes has a section devoted specifically to special education apps that teach everything from sign language to life skills.
Technology is often viewed as a significant source of social disconnect. But for students who need help building their social skills in a more intellectual manner, iPads are a fantastic tool. Meetings on FaceTime, for instance, may help students focus specifically on reading facial cues. This can be further developed through apps in the aforementioned special education section of the iTunes store that are focused on emotional development. These apps provide much needed teaching and practice.
Of course, it’s important to track the behavior of all students, so that you know who is following through on their homework and where weaknesses lie. However, it is even more pressing for students with learning disabilities not only for tracking their very specific improvements, but also in pinpointing exactly where their difficulties lie. This is helpful first in achieving a diagnosis, and then in honing it. After all, many students with learning disabilites don’t fall neatly into one category, and the more precise the data we have on how they learn, the easier it will be to really pinpoint what’s going on.
Many students with learning disabilities struggle with organization (though not all for the same reasons). With an iPad, students won’t lose their homework, worksheets, books, and forms, as it will all be centralized. Imagine how many hours you’ll get back when you’re not sitting there waiting for your student to dig through the piles of pages in his or her backpack!
Students with learning disabilities already feel like they’re on the margins of the class’ social sphere, and interventions that are entirely different from methods the rest of the class is using only accentuate that feeling. However, unlike previous techniques and devices, iPads are entirely “normal” and even cool. If a student with a learning disability is one of the few in the classroom with an iPad, other students may even be jealous. Alternatively, if the whole class has iPads, your student with a learning disability will fit right in — and who has to know that they’re doing anything different from the rest of the class?
Last but not least, teachers and learning specialists can add soothing music to their student’s iPad, to help them calm down during emotional moments or plugin and tune everything else out when they need to concentrate.
iPads and iPad apps can radically alter an student with a learning disability’s experience in the classroom for the better. How have you seen them best put to use? Let us know in the comments below!