Special education classrooms have incorporated technology to serve kids with a wide range of needs and personalized education plans. Technology provides children with special needs with valuable opportunities to learn and demonstrate skills and knowledge, and can improve the quality of special education classrooms.
The Role of Technology in the Special Ed Classroom
It wasn't until the Individuals with Disabilities Act was amended in 1997 that many students with disabilities were included in general education schools and classrooms. On the heels of these fundamental changes and with vast technological development in the twenty first century, the Universal Design for Learning has taken center stage in the integration of technology in the special education classroom.
Assistive technologies became commonplace in special education classrooms, allowing teachers and aides to reach kids with mild and severe cognitive, physical, and sensory disabilities. The purpose of integrated technology includes:
- Motivating students through engagement
- Presenting information in a variety of media and formats
- Giving students developmentally appropriate ways to show what they have learned
Technology has provided a multitude of learning opportunities for kids with special needs, but can really only improve the quality of special education classrooms with foundational philosophical routines in place.
Create Independence in the Classroom with Routine
With class sizes only increasing and education budgets in a pinch, teachers in general and special education classrooms get spread really thin. Technology in the special education classroom can help teachers and aides to personalize instruction, especially based on the wide variety of Individualized Education Programs that they address on a daily basis.
Students can become more independent through the use of high tech devices, practicing valuable skills that translate to the real world with a few foundational philosophies set into place:
- A strong routine - Use visual and auditory cues to help kids with special needs get used to a stable daily routine. Once a routine is established, kids will feel more secure in time one their own using technology.
- Clear expectations - Take time before leaving kids on their own with technology for any length of time to set students up for success. Set up clear expectations regarding how to treat people and property in the classroom, as well as expected behavior during independent learning times.
- Allow for exploration - Kids enjoy limited time and freedom to explore new technologies. Give them time to get used to the different kinds of technology used in the classroom so that they will be ready for the opportunity to learn.
Choose Technology Carefully
Technology is as diverse as children, and is not a “one size fits all” solution in a high-quality special education classroom. It is essential for teachers to avoid using the "latest and greatest" piece of software or hardware out there, as it might not be the best option for the needs of the students. Whatever technology is integrated into a special education classroom must be carefully considered before implementation.
In order for the technology to improve the quality of a special education classroom, the teachers and aides need to choose software that aligns with curriculum, addresses the needs of the IEP, is developmentally appropriate, and is a program with which identified students will engage. Considering the sheer number of applications and other software programs available, it can be tempting for teachers to try one app after another to see what sticks.
Teach the Teachers First
Part of the problem with teachers trying to choose the right type of technology for each child with special needs is a marked lack of time and training. Teachers in both general and special education arenas need to have regular technology training simply because quality does not magically appear with a new electronic device or piece of software.
Keeping up with the latest technological developments for the special education classroom would be nice, but training in best practices for how to use certain types of technology with different special needs would be better. This can help teachers narrow down their choices and use the provided technology in a way that is best for each child.
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