Board to cheers: Tech helps kids learn

Student Devon Lemon uses a Smartboard at Birchland elementary school in Coquitlam, which pioneered use of the learning device with positive results.  - TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
Student Devon Lemon uses a Smartboard at Birchland elementary school in Coquitlam, which pioneered use of the learning device with positive results.
— image credit: TRI-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Students with learning disabilities are learning to read two to three times faster when they are allowed to stay in their classrooms and learn with their peers using laptop computers, special software and Smartboards, the board of education was told Tuesday.

Principals Lisa Salloum of Birchland elementary and Anita Strang of Panorama Heights elementary told School District 43 trustees that reading levels for learning disabled students doubled the first year after a Universal Designs for Learning project was introduced in 2007/’08 and tripled the following year.

Similar improvements have been found in writing skills and all students seem to be benefiting from the technology, the two told the board.

“The data was coming back saying, ‘You know what? This is working,’” Salloum said.

The program was introduced four years ago as a project of SET BC (Special Education Technology), an organization that assists districts in supporting students with special needs. Strang, who worked on the program as a teacher, said the goal was to find ways to meet students’ diverse learning needs.

“When you build learning experiences wide enough, from students with autism to gifted, you meet the needs for all those learners,” Strang said.

SET initially provided Smartboards, which are interactive with the internet, and laptops so students could practise reading and writing with their peers using special software. Teachers started noticing improvements and soon every classroom was outfitted with Smartboards and laptops, with the support of the parent advisory council.

In the second year of the program, the school replaced the traditional model of pull-out programs for learning disabled students with in-class support and the reading gains became dramatic — and were substantiated by standardized tests.

Instead of waiting for their special time with a “magic teacher” down the hall, the students were expected to learn all the time, Salloum said, noting, “They were able to see themselves as learners from start to finish.”

Teachers also started to collaborate more and new learning styles were introduced in which students got to work on projects they were interested in. Strang called it her “aha” moment when she saw students directing their own learning instead of being “tricked” into learning with rewards and incentives.

“I’m seeing kids who are going in the direction they want to go and they’re excited,” she said.

The school got a licensing agreement for a program called Solo6, which is in every classroom and can be downloaded at home to help students write with a talking word processor, a word predictor, graphic organizer and text reader. Last spring, the school found 95% of students were meeting standards in the area of writing with the help of Solo6, and learning disabled students reported increased interest in writing.

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