Most students with moderate to mild cognitive disabilities have the ability to achieve the same academic standards as their peers without disabilities if appropriate modifications are made to the curriculum. This is easier said than done, however, and it takes a creative, out-of-the-box thinker to accomplish it. Most special education teachers are of that ilk and most will go to any length to help their students blend in and participate in whatever is going on in the general-education classroom.
A Swiss Army Knife of Classroom Apps
The three basic components of the teaching process are:
• Content (what is being learned and how it is presented)
• Process (how the content is taught and applied)
• Product (how the learning is observed and evaluated)
As a special-education teacher in a resource room that includes students in grades five through eight, I need to cover a lot of ground, curriculum-wise. Due to our particular setting, there’s a great need to differentiate presentation of content, adjust and change up the process, and evaluate the product with a different lens. News-O-Matic is a perfect companion for meeting the diverse needs of my students.
News-O-Matic is like a Swiss army knife for students with special needs in a classroom setting. The application presents five new stories every day and they cover pertinent and diverse current-events topics as well as “wacky” child-friendly stories. Having the option to hear each article read aloud is an invaluable asset for struggling readers. This one option alone allows students with special needs to work on the same material as their peers in the general-education classroom without being singled out. For any current-events assignment, students can simply plug ear buds into their iPads and find an article that’s just right for them.
I’ve seen students get so excited about learning via News-O-Matic’s aligned video clips — which also aid in the comprehension and appreciation of the articles — that many use it as their go-to resource for nonfiction reading reports.
A recent entrant to our school, who spoke no English, got a kick-start in the language by listening to News-O-Matic articles over and over again. He was immediately drawn to the colorful photographs and the simplicity of the sentence structure. Whenever an event that happened in his homeland was featured, he was all over it, and News-O-Matic was what eventually gave him the confidence to share his cultural background with other students.
Another student, who followed all the stories related to environmental issues, chose to write an assigned persuasive letter to a group of local government officials urging them to ban the use of plastic bags, not only in our village, but throughout the county. The look of delight on his face when one representative wrote back was priceless.
One of my eighth-grade students insists on using News-O-Matic every week for her Thursday “Science in the News” assignment. I’ve tried to add other multimedia news applications to her repertoire of resources to no avail. This application meets her needs so perfectly, and she is so comfortable with the format, that my attempts to persuade her to use alternate sites or media fall on deaf ears.
In addition to day-to-day curriculum use, there’s also true therapeutic value in this application. A colleague, whom I recently turned onto News-O-Matic, works with a speech and language pathologist, in a classroom where instruction is delivered either in small groups or individually. In this setting, the application is used to spur conversation and get kids communicating more effectively.
There, News-O-Matic serves as a springboard to target speech and language goals, including conversational speech, restating, sequencing events, and answering the five “WH” questions: who, what, when, where, and how. It also addresses such pragmatic goals as staying on topic and bridging questions. How many times have you tried to engage in conversation with a student only to get one-word answers? “How was your weekend? – Good.” “Did you do anything special? – No.” News-O-Matic has proved to be an automatic engager that ends the one-word answers when carrying on conversations with students.
For many of my colleague’s students, speaking fluently and intelligibly at the conversation level is one of their speech and language goals. News-O-Matic is often used to initiate the conversation with relevant current events that kids are interested in. Students choose and read an article from The Daily Newspaper Just for Kids and the discussion begins. This has been an incredible way to facilitate conversation that allows the therapist to track students’ articulation success during therapy sessions. Students naturally begin to converse with both peers and adults.
In many cases, the resources provided by general-education teachers are too difficult for students with special needs to read and comprehend without extensive assistance. With News-O-Matic, these students are able to work independently on assignments and share orally with confidence. The app’s straightforward presentation of information delivered in a no-nonsense way with multimedia components really helps children with special needs, including students who struggle with reading or are intimidated by the often more technical and mundane texts found in many classrooms.
Jackie Bryla, founder of a.c.t. – Apps, Consulting and Training, is a licensed speech language pathology assistant (SLPA) in California. Her experience includes working with transitional kindergarten through high school age students as well as students with special needs within the functional skills and autism classrooms. She is highly experienced in technology and creatively uses apps with students. Jackie has extensively beta tested for many app developers including JumpApp, AVAZ, Cupcake Digital, Virtual Speech Center, and I Can Do It Apps. She has presented numerous workshops throughout California on apps to use in the classroom and therapy sessions.
Jayne Clare has taught special education for the past 30 years. She puts the utmost value in motivating students creatively and getting them excited about their own learning. She has always known the importance of integrating technology across all curriculum and content areas. Jayne Clare’s passion is working with struggling readers, and reading readiness is her expertise. Jayne is co-founder of Teachers With Apps, an educational app review site. In addition, she offers her expertise in working with developers achieve appropriate educational content for their apps via Jayne Clare Consulting. Jayne hosts the weekly Educational App Talk, a Facebook forum that discusses hot topics in the app world. She recently won the NSBA 20 to Watch Recognition Award, which identifies emerging leaders within the edtech community. She holds an undergraduate degree in art education from Southampton College, and master’s degrees in special education and educational technology from C.W. Post.