Apps for Students With Special Needs—As School Buildings Shutter
During the current coronavirus pandemic, K–12 education is increasingly being conducted online, which presents a number of difficult challenges for special education. It can be challenging enough to deliver differentiated content in a classroom that is well-equipped on a good day. However, now that the majority of schools have closed or are in the process of closing, educators who work with children who have special needs must, in many ways, completely reinvent their approach to teaching.
Keeping students on track to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in their individualised education programmes (IEPs), which are designed specifically for each individual student, is one of the primary concerns shared by both teachers and parents. Additionally, teachers need to collaborate much more closely with parents and other caregivers in order to support students’ learning while they are at home. Students may become accustomed to having aides present in the classroom alongside their regular teachers in certain circumstances. Caregivers are tasked with shouldering a significant amount of responsibility; however, some of the digital tools that are now at their disposal can prove to be of great assistance in this endeavour.
I reached out to my colleagues in special education through a Facebook Group that is called Education App Talk (E.A.T. ), and I asked them about their favourite digital tools. I have included some of their recommendations in the following, but this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is available. It’s important to keep in mind that, just like any other tool, what works wonders for some students will only frustrate others. Because personalization is essential in any app, adults and educators should be ready to invest some time in learning how to use the apps themselves or how to make adjustments to the configuration settings. There are a lot of apps that come with great materials made specifically for teachers; look for video tutorials, lesson plans, and activities that extend learning.
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My PlayHome is a free app that provides children with a digital doll family consisting of up to 15 people of varying skin tones with whom they can explore, play, and share stories with other people. My PlayHome also allows children to interact with other people through the app. Students’ verbalizations improve as a result of these shared stories, which also serve as a venue for students’ social and emotional development and the instruction of necessary early language skills.
The augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app called SoundingBoard is available for free on mobile devices and is designed to help children who are unable to speak (or who have limited speech) communicate with others. The app includes preloaded boards that make use of symbols and come with recorded messages in order to cater to the requirements of this particular population. The images on the board can be selected and pressed by the students, which will then prompt a verbal message.
By directing children to tap, touch, and trace colourful animations, LetterSchool encourages early literacy and numeracy skills development in children. Children are taught how to form letters, as well as their sounds and names, as well as other preschool and primary skills such as counting and spelling. In addition to doing an excellent job of developing fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination, this app, which comes with a free trial, offers a trial period.
Students who have trouble reading can improve their listening skills while receiving assistance from the Tales2Go audiobook service, which offers a free trial period of one month. This app contains a vast library of tales and books suitable for readers of all ages, and it features dozens of exceptional narrators who bring tales from a wide variety of categories to vivid life.
The digital library known as Epic! is an excellent resource for encouraging hesitant or struggling readers. It gives users access to more than 20,000 children’s books and educational videos of a high standard, and it features a variety of works of fiction as well as nonfiction books published by well-known publishing houses. During this time period, Epic is providing free access to educational institutions.
Busy Shapes, developed by Edoki Academy and based on the research that Jean Piaget conducted on cognitive development, begins with a game of cause-and-effect that then progresses into a challenge in problem-solving and the use of various tools. Through solving a series of puzzles in an environment that encourages exploration and progression, the game can also assist children in developing their fine motor skills.
Edoki Academy also provides a collection of math apps that take a methodical, step-by-step approach to teaching. With these apps, students learn Montessori mathematics by interacting with a variety of on-screen objects. In addition to this, it assists in the development of motor skills.
Students typically enjoy using the Math Drills app, which is a skill-based math drills app, because it allows them to compete against themselves to improve their speed and accuracy in their calculations. It includes fundamental mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and it also features advanced options in the settings so that both instructors and students can create personalised learning environments, as well as track scores and test histories.
@jatinp1974 / Twenty20 A young girl working on some code on her laptop.
Phonics Genius makes it easy for children to learn how to read, write, and pronounce words by teaching them how letter sounds combine to form words. In addition to the entertaining games that can be used for skill practise, the application features a vocabulary of over 6,000 words organised into phonetic categories.
SentenceBuilder is a conversation simulator that was developed to assist children of elementary school age in learning how to have conversations with their peers in a variety of social settings. This is something that can be a particularly difficult task for students with special needs. ConversationBuilderTeen, which is geared toward older students, is designed to teach young people when it is appropriate to change the subject of a conversation, ask questions, or introduce themselves in a conversation with another person. Additionally, sarcasm is discussed, and the app offers advice on how children should react to bullies.
The talking alphabet in Word Wizard gives children the opportunity to practise phonemic awareness and construct words in a fun environment. Children are taught in a way that does not feel threatening to them thanks to the verbal feedback, which reads any words that the child creates and allows the child to self-correct. In addition to supporting letter recognition, phonological awareness, and spelling, the application also includes 184 pre-built word lists, some of which include the 1,000 sight words that are used most frequently. It even keeps a close eye on how well children are doing by monitoring their progress in great detail and comes with an extensive activity guide for teachers.
My personal favourite reference material of all time is a book series called The Anti-Coloring Book App, which is now available as an app. This collection of digital books asks the child a question at the bottom of each page, and the child illustrates their response using the space provided. These are open-ended questions, which means there is no right or wrong answer, and they encourage a child’s critical thinking skills, creativity, risk-taking, and problem-solving.
Aside from apps, the use of digital modifications is an essential component of online home learning for students with special needs. Text to speech, also known as TTS, is a form of assistive technology that reads digital text out loud and is compatible with almost all digital devices, including computers, smartphones, and tablets. TTS software allows for the conversion of a wide variety of text files as well as the majority of web pages into audio.
Accessibility can be adjusted in Settings on a Mac or iPad.
Windows — in the Control Panel, go to the Ease of Access section.
Text-to-speech output can be enabled on Android by going to Settings > Accessibility.
Chromebook: access the Accessibility section of Settings.
Students are able to express themselves freely by simply talking thanks to a useful tool called speech recognition (dictation), which is available on most digital devices. This frees them from the need to worry about typing, spelling, and grammar when expressing themselves. Students can improve their writing abilities and reach new levels of success by using dictation software, which is available in the settings menu of most electronic devices. Take note that Windows does not have a speech recognition system that can compete with Apple’s.
Learning outside of school is difficult during the coronavirus pandemic, but it is especially difficult for students with special needs, who already face challenges in the classroom. When dealing with students with special needs who are attempting to adjust to the new environment, exercise caution as well as patience. Change, in and of itself, can be very upsetting for many children, and in order for them to thrive in their new environment, they will need some time to adjust. It is important to remember that regress in social and emotional behaviours is normal. At this point in time, it is absolutely necessary to implement even seemingly insignificant strategies like breathing exercises, establishing structure, and assisting students in working methodically through problems.