Just before Christmas, we ran a competition to win a portable CarryOn™ Charging Station, which charges and secures five iPads or tablets and includes a wall mounting kit so schools can transform any wall into a space for storing devices. The winning school was Hythe House, an independent special school based on the Isle of Sheppey, in an attractive location just opposite the beach. The school provides a safe, nurturing and structured environment for secondary level students; helping them to thrive and preparing them if appropriate for entry to mainstream schools. Class sizes are very small and learning is planned to meet each child’s needs. The school is a registered examination centre, and can cater for pupils with moderate learning, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Hythe House runs a private bus service to collect children from their foster homes to take them to school and back again each day.
Like many other special educational needs schools, Hythe House values the use of digital devices in the classroom. There are indeed so many different ways that devices like iPads can benefit the learner. One huge advantage is that they are portable. Desktop computers can tether a child to the classroom in which it is located. Mobile devices can be moved around the classroom, around the school, and they can go home with the student, encouraging learning to be ‘taken with’ the child, not left behind in the classroom. This encourages independent learning and becoming an independent member of the school and the community.
The intuitive nature of mobile devices is constantly improving and today, they come equipped with the opportunity to download assistive technologies including tools like text-to-speech solutions and vice versa. They are also very inclusive. Whereas teachers can find it difficult to differentiate learning according to each child’s needs, devices and software can help teachers personalise lessons according to each child’s ability. The touch screen control is perfect for children who find it difficult to use a mouse and / or keyboard.
For some, colour is important and children with learning disabilities are often drawn to the colourful nature of computers and other gadgets. Objects move and come to life on screen, which in contrast to a static book, can be very appealing. The built-in cameras, which are often very simple to use, are a wonderful way for SEN children to explore the world, and record and share their interests, thoughts and feelings.
Ensuring devices are charged and always ready to use is perhaps even more important for SEN schools where children can become quickly frustrated with just a pen and paper. By allowing children to collect devices themselves from a storage cart or charging station, and returning them at the end of the day, is a great way to encourage them to take ownership of their learning tools. And for teachers, the most important thing is that it allows them to carry on with their teaching.