Technology can free special education students from worksheets, writes Anya Kamenetz in The promise of iPads for special ed on the Hechinger Report.
When Neil Virani walked into his middle school special education classroom at Mulholland Middle School, part of the LA Unified School district, three years ago, he encountered a roomful of students with a range of cognitive, emotional and physical challenges. But the most toxic problem they had to combat was the low expectations from the school system they’d been in since kindergarten. “All they had was coloring books and watercolors. They were not working on any academic aspects of the curriculum,” he says. “When I saw a [previous] teacher had written of a student, “they don’t require ELA writing instruction because they’re never going to manipulate a writing device,’ I said, before I met him, this kid is going to write.”
Today, not only are most of his students reading and discussing stories, producing sophisticated written essays, and scoring proficient in math, they are drawing mind maps to organize their thoughts, building catapults in class to demonstrate physics principles learned from the game Angry Birds, and shooting and editing video documentaries of their experiences, which they storyboard in advance with cartoons.
The iPad and its wide range of apps has enabled students to meet the “highest possible realistic expectations,” the teacher says.
A student who has control over only one finger was unable to write with a $15,000 assistive technology chair. One involuntary movement would erase what he’d typed. After an hour with a $500 iPad, he wrote his name for the first time.
The iPad has changed his students’ thinking, says Virani. “They believe in themselves; they can do what anyone else can do.”