Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Integrating iOS Apps with Standards Based Instruction for All Students

I’m a “special ed.” teacher.  I prefer to say that I teach kids with special needs.  I actually prefer to think that I just have some tricks to help ALL kids learn and that’s what makes me qualified to work with kids who are “exceptional.”  Whatever you call them, kids are kids.  And the new “Common Core State Standards Initiatives” is for ALL kids, no matter their exceptionalities. 

The CCSS webpage says that “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”  To be clear, I do not understand how these standards achieve these goals where the “old standards” or the “Ohio Academic Content Standards” didn’t.  In reviewing the CCSS (for grades K-3) in the past several months, I see some holes.  I see some questionable areas.  I see that some of the Math Standards appear to be more developmentally appropriate while some of the English Language Arts Standards do not.  The more I keep reading about the CCSS (there’s also a Free App called Common Core Standards), they are actually quite controversial and a bit of a conversation piece.  No matter what my stance on the acceptance of these standards, one thing we can agree on, we need to keep standards high and consistent so that all kids can learn.

With the implementation of the CCSS, I have had to reexamine some lessons, redesign some practice activities, and rethink some of our strategies.  In doing so, I keep going back to one concept, all kids can learn.  And although I found the “Application to Students with Disabilities,” I feel that I can make the connections myself.  This document lacks something for me when connecting CCSS to my students.  My students have autism. They have cognitive disabilities.  My students have genetic disorders and speech and language disorders and hearing impairments.  My students are individuals and the generic modifications and accommodations become more meaningful when I think of them in context of my own students.

Here’s an example.  Student A is going to first grade.  He uses words, but only in 1-3 word phrases and typically only when he wants or needs something.  He is not conversational and although he enjoys listening to books read aloud, he prefers to listen to an animated, automated voice read the text rather than my teacher voice.  I believe he does this so that he can repeatedly return to his favorite pages and hear the same text time after time.  He has started to read this year, now expressively reading 10 sight words and attempting to sound out short a words like hat, cat, can, man and ant.  His typically developing peers are now reading over 30 sight words and have learned to read all short vowel words using a, e, i, o, and u.  They can read decodable text on their own and expressively tell what the story is about.  Student A can point to pictures and use one word utterances to label them.  Typically developing students can label objects in writing and have started to write complete sentences.  Although Student A is at a very different developmental level than his peers, grade level standards can he applied to both Student A and his same grade peers.

One of Student A’s IEP objectives is to choose the beginning sound of a word given four letter choices visually.  This ties directly to Phonemic Awareness Objectives like “Isolate and pronounce initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in spoken single-syllable words.”  While Student A may be working on beginning sounds with visual choices as an accommodation, a typically developing peer may be working on medial or final sounds in short or long vowel words.

So, how can we use iOS Apps to support objectives such as these?  Well, think of the App Word Magic.  Word Magic ($.99) gives four letter choices as the beginning, medial, or ending sound of a word that is represented with a visual picture cue.  You can customize for 3 letter words or long words, as well as long or short vowel words. You might even get to work on letter blends and digraphs.  It even takes data to show those responses correct on the first try and those incorrect, but allows the user to continue “guessing” until he/she chooses the correct letter for errorless learning.

How about ABC Magnetic Alphabet ($1.99)? It provides picture cues as “magnets” then allows letters as “magnets” so that objects can be labeled in writing using manipulative letters.

How about using the Educreations Interactive Whiteboard (free) where we could produce a whole lesson, record it, and play it back for later review?  Perhaps review at home?  Or preview at home?  Have we just “flipped” the resource room?

There are thousands of Apps that can assist in any classroom, including inclusion classrooms and resource rooms.  Check out this great resource page called “APPvice: Using iOS Devices to Support Students with Special Needs” in which pages are provided for specific areas of concern, as well as recommendations for Apps and demonstrations of Apps.  Melanie Broxterman (a “special ed.” teacher from the greater Cincinnati area) and I created this page for a state presentation and have since shared it and used it in countless situations.

Another resource that I am currently working on that is applicable to ALL kids is titled “Connecting the Common Core to iOS Apps K-3.”  This is currently a work in progress and I am hoping to have it completed before the first day of school (Aug. 29th, 2012).  Please check in there, and, if you have suggestions, please email me ASAP.

While teaching students with special needs is both challenging and rewarding, we need to keep in mind that ALL kids deserve high expectations, quality instruction, appropriate support, AND grade level standards.