SEN and the gift of technology

Carol Allen

Carol Allen is an Advisory Teacher for ICT and SEN, having taught since 1980 in both mainstream schools – primary and high - and schools for students with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties. Recognising, as an English specialist, that communication lies at the heart of all effective teaching, the majority of her work has centred on creative and engaging use of technology to support communication in its widest sense.

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Recounting her experience of teaching special educational needs SEN pupils overseas, Carol Allen explains how technology can provide life-changing benefits for pupils with disabilities, and why we should never neglect the resources available to us in Britain.

As featured in the March edition of our magazine.

Over the past few years, I have worked at many educational establishments in the United Kingdom and abroad. My area is communication and access to learning for all - from those with profound and multiple learning difficulties to those who are academic and able but have a specific or transitory learning barrier. Unsurprisingly, my work in other countries has brought me into contact with some strikingly different approaches and attitudes to special educational needs (SEN).

In Albania I came across a slow start to the provision of education for some children with disabilities. Historically, in this country, such children were put through the same system whatever their disability. This had been the case for a blind man whom I met. Intelligent, articulate and a wonderful singer, he carried his few possessions - a cassette tape player with two cassettes and his cigarettes - with him at all times, having no safe place to store them.

We set up a computer with tactile access using an Intellikeys keyboard and linked this to some of his favourite songs from his youth. We then recorded his own singing on the computer and gave him tactile access to play it back and sing-along.

He was so moved by being able to do this for the first time in his life that all present were in danger of emotional collapse. Within one session, he understood the tactile symbols and was working independently.

With sponsorship from the extremely supportive Inclusive Technology we went further, training two teachers in using basic technology to help pupils with autism, cerebral palsy, visual impairments and learning disabilities.

The teachers questioned us incessantly, tried things eagerly, extended and developed our ideas as we watched, and then returned with more queries. We worked, answered, adapted and shared for every moment that we had. It was the very best continuous professional development experience ever!

One thing it highlighted was the power of technology to help people with disabilities. Returning to the UK, we were reflecting on the role of fate: how our birthplace can determine our educational opportunities, our life chances, our life expectancy.

At work the following week, I had an inbox brimming with items such as: “This child needs more teaching assistant time”; “This child needs a laptop”; “Can you come and deliver another CPD session?”; “It’s not possible to include so-and-so as he won’t sit sensibly in class”.

These emails made me realise that though our country has excellent SEN resources, an element of chance exists for pupils here too. Though some schools and teachers have a can-do attitude to SEN and seek solutions to difficulties, others are less proactive and look for reasons why certain pupils cause difficulties to established routines and practices. Both attitudes can exist within one school: a particular teacher may go out of her way to understand a child and his learning needs and preferences, whereas another might leave this to teaching assistants or avoid addressing the situation.

We have ready access to some superb technology. Free downloads such as WordTalk enable text to speech and the conversion to MP3, so that struggling readers can, for example, access revision notes in their preferred format. Google Translate can help EAL (English as an Additional Language) pupils in those difficult first weeks when they are struggling with a new life, a new school and a new language. High visibility mouse pointers can be downloaded free-of-charge for those who have difficulty seeing the standard one.

Yet I visit schools where not even the basic accessibility features of Windows or Mac OS are being used. I see pupils with dyslexia using coloured overlays to help with their reading, but then working on computers with no accessibility features enabled to give the same support.

There are so many ideas to be shared. Twitter is a great starting point: it constitutes a worldwide community of experts eager to share their ideas! Facebook offers pages of ideas and tools, some focusing on a particular area, others broader in scope.

Next time you have that “end of a tough day” feeling, think of those in areas of the world which don’t have the buildings, the specialist training, the technology, the money or - most importantly - the political and strategic support that are available to us. Then determine to make a difference!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now
Login

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"