Maximising Assistive Technology
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Maximising Assistive Technology by Toby Seriki, CENMAC
I have worked as a Learning Support Assistant, providing 1:1 support for a young person in mainstream education with a physical disability and specific learning difficulties. Part of this role involved working closely with CENMAC to deliver an assistive technology package aimed at improving the young person’s ability to access the curriculum. Assistive technology has the ability to hugely empower and unlock the true potential of young people who may otherwise struggle to access their curriculum. Based on my experience working as an LSA, I believe that there are a number of ways the positive impact of assistive technology can be maximised.
Good communication and working relationship with teachers
In order to adapt or set up work on software, I would request work be sent to me beforehand. I am well aware of the workload faced by teachers, and it was common for them to forget. An email at the beginning of each week reminding them to send lesson plans for that week allowed me to appropriately prepare. In my experience, teachers were more than happy to do this and would generally go out of their way to ensure all needs were met.
Another factor to note is that, in my time working in mainstream education, it was common for teachers to have no prior experience working with disabled students. They would often come to me for advice and to make sure the work they were setting was suitable. Good communication between all parties helped to alleviate these anxieties. Being happy to help and answer questions, and feeling they were happy to help in return, was conducive to good working relationships and helped ensure that things ran smoothly.
‘Timetabling in this time was hugely valuable for a number
of reasons. It allowed for learning to be consolidated and
helped them keep up with their peers.’
Often pieces of work needed to be appropriately adapted or set up on various software. In order to maximise learning time, it was essential that this was done prior to the lesson or homework being sent home. The amount of time needed to do this will vary greatly depending on the individual. In my case, I had one 40-minute period at the end of each day, and could also ask for cover during registration periods if needed.
On top of being key to learning, it is greatly empowering and satisfying for a young person to see a piece of work they completed independently. However, this can be time consuming and due to the time constraints in a school day there may be some scenarios where it is more beneficial to scribe. For example, in maths, it can be better to scribe during the lesson in order to get more questions done, then follow that up with technology assisted independent work in spare periods or for homework. Striking a balance between independent work and scribing was discussed with the SENCO, teachers and the young person and their parents. In my case, the young person had a reduced timetable, so we were able to allocate some of their spare periods to catch up and independent work.
Timetabling in this time was hugely valuable for a number of reasons. It allowed for learning to be consolidated and helped them keep up with their peers. Furthermore, it took some pressure off during lessons if the technology was not running smoothly, if some aspects were not set up in time, or if some of the work was simply too hard. Most importantly in my opinion, it provided the opportunity for the young person to experience the satisfaction of completing their own work, with complete creative control, where this otherwise would not be possible.
Clear goals and guidance
Although it is good to try lots of things out and see what works best for the individual, the parents were keen to settle on a package and did not want to waste too much time experimenting with too many different things. The young person I worked with was already adept at using their technology when I started working with them. I believe that introducing new solutions and having a clear strategy in place early will allow using the technology to become second nature and be invaluable in producing the best possible results in exams coming up in the next few years.
As an LSA, many decisions on a day to day basis were left to my own judgement. For example: when to scribe, how best to adapt a piece of work, and what areas to focus on. This was daunting at first, however I was lucky to have worked under the guidance of excellent SENCO’s, teachers and representatives from outside agencies, including CENMAC. Regular meetings in which goals and strategies were clearly laid out, coupled with an open environment where I felt comfortable going to teachers or to the SENCO for advice and questions gave me confidence in making these judgements.
Through regular meetings and discussion, we were able to keep everyone involved largely on the same page in terms of goals and strategies going forward. I believe this to be an essential aspect of using the assistive technology to deliver focused and consistent education.
Involvement of the young person
We made efforts to make sure that the young person felt their voice was heard and they were involved in terms of control. For example, if they wanted me to scribe certain aspects, felt something wasn’t working, or thought another solution would work better they were listened to.
In addition to feeling in control, feeling included was not just essential to the young person’s education, but also to their emotional wellbeing. We had a number of schemes in place aimed at increasing their inclusion, and it was always lovely to see their peers making sure they felt included.
‘… it is a good idea to suggest a number of young people
who you know will be accommodating be paired during
Regarding assistive technology, a good example of this was in group work or presentations. They would sometimes let their peers use their laptop provided by CENMAC and dictate using dragon. This probably didn’t contribute to the quality of work, however it did not get in the way of learning and it produced some funny moments. I believe small moments like this helped the young person feel they and their technology were contributing positively towards the group. Although teachers often don’t let their students choose their own groups, I think it is a good idea to suggest a number of young people who you know will be accommodating be paired during group activities.
Technology provides young people with disabilities the opportunity to access the curriculum in ways that would have been impossible before. In my experience, this opportunity is maximised when: the young person is involved, there are good relationships between all those supporting them, there are clear goals and strategies in place, and there is appropriate time allocated to implementing them. Although each individual will vary widely, I believe that when assistive technology is implemented in this way it can help provide young people with an education that is the most enriching, fulfilling and positive it can be.
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