I’m a teacher to my core, so I figured that for this blog post, I would share for your enjoyment our very top tips for AT implementation in the classroom…
… no, really… don’t mention it… it’s our pleasure…
- Does everyone know why Assistive Technology is being used in the classroom?
This might seem like an obvious question, but you would be surprised how often people don’t! It’s most important for those who work directly with a child to fully understand the purpose of a particular device or software. If a teacher, teaching assistant or even the child do not understand why a particular device or piece of software is being used, chances are, funnily enough, its implementation will not be successful. Where possible, discussing, sharing and explaining the new device or software with the other children in the class is also a really good idea, it helps the child feel less self conscious and it’s also an excellent opportunity for celebrating equality and diversity in the classroom. (Ofsted tick boxes at the ready!)
2. Is the child interested in their I.T equipment?
This is probably the biggest deal breaker. If a child isn’t interested or driven to use their tech- they’re probably not going to use it to their best ability. We often spend a great deal of time promoting ‘engagement’ with technology, encouraging our clients to have fun, making sure that they want to use it before we go in with the hard stuff. Often, if we meet a child who’s further along on their AT journey when we start to work with them, we have to go back a few steps and turn up the fun-factor before we stand any chance in helping them to move forward with their AT.
3. Is the child comfy?
Being comfy is important to all of us, and we all do much better when we’re feeling it. We label our first stage of AT intervention with our clients as ‘Access and Engage’ because we argue amongst ourselves about which of the two is most important and frankly, we can’t agree. It’s all well and good being excited about using IT, but if you can’t access it for very long because it makes your arm sore or your neck ache, or you struggle to push a particular button or even access it at all- then we’re not winning when it comes to AT implementation. We work alongside a lot of Occupational Therapists, they are the best in the business at recommending positioning ideas and fiddling about with switches and knobs to ensure they are accessible and ‘optimal’ for the child to use. We don’t always have an OT to work with though, and in these cases, communication is key. Where possible, simple communication with the child to find out if they’re comfy or if any part of their body is tired or sore is the first step. Observation and discussion with support staff is also super important, is there anything they have noticed that might suggest the child is not comfy? Do they have any suggestions? Finally, don’t be scared to experiment with positioning, move switches, tilt screens, try moving the child away from the window etc…- until you find a set up that works. A child is not going to be happy to use their device or software for long if they’re not comfy, it really makes such a difference.
4. Does everyone know what they’re doing?
Obviously the child needs to understand how to use their device or software. Like learning anything new, there’s a process, it takes time, and people learn in different ways. It’s also equally important for the child’s class teacher and learning support to fully understand how to use a device or piece of software too. A class teacher can’t plan or adapt learning opportunities for AT’s use if they don’t understand how to use it, or what it’s capabilities are (I speak from experience!) Similarly, learning support staff can’t promote learning and independence effectively if they are not confident or don’t know how to use equipment and software either. Staff training is vitally important, we find staff training gaps to be the biggest and most common barrier to our clients’ success with AT.
5. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey…
Sometimes, when a child first starts to use a new device or piece of software, it actually slows them down, it’s more cumbersome, they get tired, they get frustrated. This is completely normal. It’s important to acknowledge that this is happening, and make appropriate plans for the use of a device or piece of software. Start off by encouraging the child to use it for a few minutes at a time for example, or one lesson a day, build up their stamina gradually and celebrate successes. Over time, the child will develop a skill set and in turn become quicker, producing results better than they would have done without their tech. Don’t give up.
Quite often , a few AT solutions maybe suggested at the same time. consider introducing them slowly, one at a time where possible, so as not to overwhelm the child you’re working with and to make sure each solution is used to it’s maximum potential.
Also, don’t forget the fun factor, we can’t stress this enough. Sometimes, your start point with a child feels like it’s a million miles away from their end goal, they have to engage with their technology first in order to succeed and they won’t if it’s boring… or they’re not comfy… or you’re going too fast… or even too slow… or you don’t know how to use it… etc…etc…!
6. “Who ya gonna call?”
It’s important that school staff have a contact to go to when things break or for advice and guidance and this can be tricky sometimes. We find pieces of equipment gathering dust in cupboards so often because it stopped working and people were not sure who to ask. When a new piece of IT equipment or software is introduced to a child, make a plan; who should people ask if they have a question? Who should they contact if it breaks? Make sure that everyone working with the child and the child themselves where appropriate, fully understands this and has access to the plan.
7. Peer support
For professionals : The world of assistive technology and its use in the classroom is constantly evolving. Contact and visit other local schools, partner up, share best practices. Developing working groups, policies, teaching strategies and learning programmes with AT at the centre can have nothing but a positive impact on the individual children who use assistive technology in your school.
For children: Find role model AT users for the child to meet or interact with, give the child a buddy, they don’t have to even be using the tech or software themselves they could just be learning about it too or even simply taking an interest. Being the only child in a classroom with a device and or learning support can be isolating. A sense of feeling accepted amongst their peers can make a big difference in a child’s willingness to use their AT, particularly as they get older.
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