Guest blogger: Heather Pedersen
I am an elementary Student Support teacher with 33 years of experience. I have always used a variety of approaches and resources with my students, and most recently an iPad. I could tell you how valuable this tool is with my struggling students. I could tell you how much my students, through a variety of apps, love to practice decoding long and difficult words that I really didn’t think they were ready to read. I could write several paragraphs, if not pages, about how much I love using the iPad and what a positive effect it is having with these vulnerable students but what I really want to talk about is one particular student at our school.
Susan (not her real name) is a grade 2 student who is a selective mute. She has been with us since kindergarten. There have been significant developments over the past 2 ½ years in that she will whisper to a select number of classmates and allow them to relay the message to the teacher. She also uses limited gestures such as thumbs up/down and a wave but she has yet to speak directly to an adult. With the arrival of an iPad 2 to school, the team felt it was an opportune time to make a big move.
About 4 weeks ago, Susan and 3 of her friends were asked to plan a puppet play with the idea that I would video it using the iPad. The girls were all very excited but our little selective mute told her mom that she wouldn’t have a speaking role because I would be there. It was then decided that her mom would video the puppet show in hopes that she would participate more fully and speak. Our plan worked and to our great pleasure, Susan agreed that her teacher and I could watch the taped show. This was the first time Susan openly allowed an adult in the school to hear her voice. A few days later I introduced the same group of girls to the app Puppet Pals. They were all very excited, including Susan, who quietly giggled as we listened to the way the app distorted their voices. I left the girls to it, and before long there were about 4 different puppet shows taped that Susan fully participated in. They were all very excited for me to watch them. This was a huge step! Determined to capitalize on momentum, we have continued to explore ways to provide opportunities for Susan to speak through a variety of iPad apps. We have been amazed at the successes! Susan has allowed classmates to video her reading a Reader’s Theatre and to share this with various adults in the building. For the first time we are seeing Susan’s true personality, as she is quite the actress! We have also been able to assess Susan by using the app ShowMe to have her tape herself reading a passage and answering comprehension question.
I think the biggest and most significant step yet was taken using the app ITalk. One Friday afternoon, as Susan and her best friend were leaving my classroom, I wished them both a happy weekend and thanked them for working with me. I asked if they would like to wish the same to me, and they agreed. Both girls spoke into the ipad, and then played it back for me. I was thrilled to hear Susan use her words and her voice to communicate weekend wishes to me! Since then, she has used the same app to ask the secretary for chalk and to say good-bye to our principal.
Each step we have taken in the past 4 weeks, leads us to more and more ideas, and there are apps to support all of them. Her parents plan to take the Ipad home in the near future to video Susan’s show and tell. Our hope is that she will share this with her class. I am hoping that in time we will be able to ask Susan questions about her weekend or a lesson being taught and that she will answer into an iPad or perhaps an iPod. The possibilities are endless!
Susan’s parents and the staff at our school are over the moon! And I believe Susan is too. Thanks to the Ipad, for the first time she is able to verbally show us what she knows. She is able to participate in social interactions appropriately. I can see by the smile on her face how proud Susan is and I can only image how liberated she must feel.