Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the use of computers in education and offers enormous potential to teachers and pupils. There is a growing number of consistent evidence which shows that ICT can and does improve learning outcomes, particularly in the core subjects of English and Mathematics (Cox et al, 2003). Providing high quality software is matched to the specific needs of the individual, it can act as an effective and powerful tool in learning. While it cannot replace high quality teaching, it can enhance the learning process.
The application of ICT to teaching and learning can provide many benefits such as, facilitating communication, increase access to information, improve motivation, increase problem solving capabilities and enable deeper understanding of complex ideas. ICT can provide pupils with special educational needs improved access to learning and areas of the curriculum which may have been previously inaccessible.
According to Westwood (2003),
“The largest single group of students with special needs comprises those with general and specific learning difficulties that are not related to any disability or impairment. Estimates suggest that this may be close to 20 per cent of the school population. These learning difficulties most frequently manifest themselves as problems in acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills’ which impact adversely on a child’s ability to learn in most subjects across the curriculum.”(Westwood, 2003, P5)
The Audit Commission reports that one in five children in England and Wales has Special Educational Needs (SEN). This includes students with serious physical or learning difficulties but also many students whose reading, writing and numeracy skills develop slowly. Special needs include conditions such as dyslexia, physical disabilities, speech and language disorders, visual impairment, hearing loss, difficulties in communication, and emotional and behavioural difficulties.
In recent years, there has been an increase in evidence that technology can help these children overcome their communication and physical difficulties, so that they can be included in lesson activities and access a wider curriculum, as suggested by the Irish body, the Education of Science Department (ESD) in The Learning-Support Guidelines (2000),
"Interactive computer-based systems allow the possibility of individualising the educational process to accommodate the needs, interests and learning styles of individual pupils. Individualised planning is fundamental to the successful use of ICT in supplementary teaching as it is to other forms of Learning Support. The planning process would include identifying a pupil’s individual learning needs and considering how ICT might be used to meet those needs."(ESD, 2000, P86-87)
Every learner has an entitlement to all the elements of cognitive, literacy and cultural learning. This belief is generally shared by all working with learners who experience any kind of difficulty, for whatever reason. The introduction of the national Curriculum and the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (DfE, 1994), superseded by the new Code of Practice (2002), have given teachers the opportunity to put this clearly into practice because they provide and support a curriculum for all. It is explicit in the National Curriculum that all learners have a right to a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum, which makes it difficult to exclude any learners from this entitlement. Stansfield (2001) believes that incorporating ICT support strategies can be advantageous in making this occur.
“For learners with Special Educational Needs (SEN), the use of ICT can convert this entitlement to reality. The National Curriculum makes clear in each subject document that ICT should be used where appropriate, to support this process.”(Stansfield, 2001, P5)
The National Curriculum (1999) identifies with this and makes clear in each subject document that ICT should be used where appropriate, to support this process.
Appropriate provision should be made for pupils who need to use:
- Means of communication other than speech, including computers, technological aids, signing, symbols or lip-reading;
- Technological aids in practical and written work;
- Aids or adapted equipment to allow access to practical activities with and beyond school
(National Curriculum, 1999)
In Wales, the government have recently put forward their vision for education for Wales in the 21st Century, with a far stronger emphasis on including all learners and the use of ICT to support this. The Learning Country: Vision into Action, (DELLS, 2006) highlights the need for a learner-centred curriculum if standards are to be raised and all learners’ experiences of education improved. The document makes clear that all learners means just that – including pupils with learning difficulties, specific disabilities and motivation problems; those who are gifted and talented, from different ethnic/cultural groups and looked after children.
This vision was further realised and put into place through the National Curriculum for Wales 2008, further emphasising the importance of these key issues that are central to my research. The document Making the Most of Learning (2008a) clarifies this, suggesting that the…
“…development and application of thinking, communication and skills across the curriculum for all learners, schools should choose material that will:
- provide a meaningful, relevant and motivating curriculum
- meet the specific needs of learners and further their all-round development.
So that the revised national curriculum subject orders and frameworks are truly learner-centred,”
(DELLS, 2008a, P4)
Legislation promotes the notion that students with SEN should have access to ICT. ICT is incorporated into the National Curriculum and therefore access should be made to a range of devices to promote inclusion. Access devices, such as switches, keyboard alternatives, key-guards and joy-sticks can help learners with physical difficulties to use a computer, and enable them to access the same curriculum as their peers.
Pupils, who have literacy difficulties or an impaired visual disability, should also have access to enlarged texts or speech devices and equipment in order that it is possible to hear the words and text in the way that children who do not have SEN, can read without encountering any problems. For some students technology may be the only way to ensure they can make their thoughts and needs known. For them, access to appropriate ICT-based solutions possibly provides the only chance of participating in society and realising their full potential.
Given the vital role that ICT can play in helping children with special needs to communicate and be involved in learning, it is disappointing that there is relatively little research published in academic journals regarding the use of ICT to support inclusive practice. Many sources of information include reports from charities and policy organisations with expertise in the area of special needs. Amongst these groups there are a growing number of small-scale case studies being undertaken (BECTA, BDA), showing the difference that ICT can make to individuals both at school and at home. Many of these case studies are powerful evidence of the potential that technology has in making a profound difference for students. Such studies may also provide teachers with examples of the use of different types of ICT in varying circumstances, some of which may be applicable to their own students. Hence even though these case studies may be small-scale, they can be of significant value.
The promise that technology brings to education has yet to be truly implemented across all schools successfully which is perplexing due to the strong evidence that permeates throughout educational research and government policy, even though minimal. There are clearly many obstacles or barriers for schools to progress with the successful application of ICT for supporting their learners, whether this is due to financial support, time, misguidance or even technology overload it is unclear. Therefore I needed to carry out my own research to investigate the potential of ICT supporting pupils with SEN and share my findings with others to support the development of ICT based pedagogy.
1.2 The Research Organisation and Aims
This research will set out to investigate the potential of implementing an ICT intervention strategy to support the learning and development of pupils with special educational needs. This will be carried out by undertaking an extensive literature review of the current research and recommendations within this field. This will then be reflected upon, in order to acquire a clear understanding of the possibilities, features and problems related to such an intervention approach. The information gathered through the literature review will be used to inform a Case Study, focusing on how the implementation of various ICT support techniques could provide an individual pupil, with specific learning needs, improved access to the National Curriculum.
In consultation with the school’s SEN team, it was decided that Pupil A would benefit from the intervention strategies, a child with mild/moderate learning difficulties who was receiving one-to-one support 15 hours a week with a Teaching Assistant. However, shortly after initiating participant training, pupil discussion and implementation of the intervention strategies adopted, an unexpected problem occurred with the whole Case Study. The parent of Pupil A had been offered a new job which meant that the family had to move out of the area and the school – the research site. Therefore, the discussion process got underway once more, in the search for a pupil who would benefit from such an intervention process, while being supportive to the research study.
I finally decided upon inviting Pupil B to take part in my study, due to the similarities in the difficulties experiencing access to the curriculum as with Pupil A. Pupil B has been diagnosed with Dyslexia and is currently receiving 15 hours of support per week and is located in the same class as pupil A, therefore the class teacher could still participate. Coupled with this similarity of circumstance for selection, was a point made within Pupil B’s Occupational Therapy Assessment Report (Appendix 10), specifying the recommendation for an ICT intervention strategy in order to support the recording of his thinking and learning.
“As a Year 5 pupil it is important for ****** ‘s long-term recording needs to be developed to permit speed and endurance in order for him to devote his attention to content of work i.e. sentence construction, punctuation, etc. Development of IT skills and a measured approach to written recording is therefore recommended.”
This proved to be an ideal solution for the research, though more importantly for the pupil’s needs. The Pupil Profile section within Chapter 4 highlights the main issues regarding Pupil B’s learning difficulties and the nature of support he requires due to his dyslexia. Keates (2000) explains that one of the main groups of people with Special Educational Needs who could potentially obtain many benefits from ICT is those with dyslexia.
“Dyslexic pupils face some difficulties in the school including problems in the processing of sound and note-taking. ICT gives access to the curriculum of the subject being taught for dyslexic pupils. Dyslexic pupils often respond positively and quickly to using computer systems, fast realising the support, facilitation and access to a learning environment that ICT affords them.”(Keates, 2000, P4)
These are the main reasons for the focus on Dyslexia within this research and the selection of a pupil for the Case Study who possesses this condition. Therefore, coupled with the time frame available and considering the nature of the research site, this selection was deemed the most feasible, in respect to gauging any effect on standards and ability levels through the inclusion of ICT intervention strategies. In order to measure any improvements a series of pre-test and post-tests will be carried out and comparison made. Through this approach, an analysis of reading, writing and spelling will be undertaken, which are the main concerns highlighted within his Individual Education Plan and SEN statement.
When considering all of these issues two questions were generated in my head which became the Key Research Questions, which act as a guide and focus.
Key Question 1: Why adopt ICT in Learning Support for pupils with Special Educational Needs?
Key Question 2: How can ICT encourage and facilitate teacher’s and peer’s engagement in supportive learning, in a more productive way than might otherwise happen?
These questions are considered throughout the whole research and are reflected on when considering recommendations from literature in the field, examined and discussed within the following Chapter 2. The research methodologies adopted throughout this inquiry are described in detail in Chapter 3. While Chapter 4 provides a detailed report of the Case Study carried out with specific reference to the overriding research questions.
Finally, Chapter 5 contains a presentation and analysis of the findings exposing the successful outcomes and issues arising from the Case Study. Conclusions are related and compared with that of claims made by literature within the field in order to justify inferences. The concluding chapter also offers recommendations for further research and intervention processes for implementing ICT strategies for supporting pupils with SEN.
Although the use of ICT in mainstream education has its origins in the 1970s, it has only been in recent years that the government has identified the importance of and paid special attention to the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Special Educational Needs (SEN). Investment in ICT and the development of policy and practice in meeting SEN requirements have created unprecedented opportunity for the inclusion of all pupils in meaningful learning experiences.
This recent and welcomed emphasis on inclusion, coupled with the ever-advancing technologies, have stimulated much interest in using various ICT applications for both individualised learning and for integrating pupils with disabilities into a mainstream school environment. This chapter provides an overview of some of the issues regarding teaching and learning with technology to support SEN, while exploring the polarized opinions that run through research and literature within this field and the possibilities which these two merging areas within education can provide an individual learner.
Davitt (2005), suggest that even though for many decades educationalists and ICT specialists have advocated the potential benefits of using ICT to support and extend learning opportunities, both in mainstream and special education, it is only in recent years that research in this field is beginning to gain substantial momentum. Underlying this faith in ICT, whether acknowledged or not, are clear assumptions about the way in which children learn and the attributes of ICT. The learning theories that are core to most ICT learning to date are considered by Jones and Mercer to,
“…embody a strongly individualistic conception of learning which has dominated learning theory and educational practice in this field”
(Jones and Mercer, 1993, P19)
Many writers have extolled the benefits of using ICT in a learning environment with SEN, suggesting that technology can act as a great equaliser in overcoming or compensating for differences among learners. See, for example, the Code of Practice on Special Educational Needs (DfEE, 1998a), the Green Paper on Special Educational Needs (DfEE, 1997) and the SEN action programme (DfEE, 1998b) which recommends that;
“There will be more effective and widespread use of Information and Communications Technology to support the education of children with special educational needs, both in mainstream and special schools”
(DfEE, 1998b, P26)
This idea has important implications for learners with disabilities and special educational needs because it suggests that technology can help create the conditions for equal opportunity to learn and equal access to the curriculum for all. The appeal of technology as an equaliser for learners with special educational needs is borne out in the many materials that have been developed to address special educational needs. In particular is the formerly National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) now British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), who provide a range of information to help identify technologies to aid the learning process of pupils with special needs. BECTA are the body advising the government on the use of technology in education and published a compendium of research findings entitled ‘IT works!’ (See Appendix: 1)
The report made as many as 27 assertions with supportive references from research, however, the assertions made here may need to be seen in the context of a government trying to re-affirm and justify a belief in the educational potential of new technologies. Nevertheless, they can offer a useful starting point for a discussion of the potential of ICT to enhance pupils’ learning.
Professional magazines and trade shows also offer a dazzling array of devices and programmes covering all areas of the curriculum and all types of learning difficulties. For example, the official magazine of the UK’s National Association for Special Educational Needs, ‘Special’, contains an ICT guide as a regular feature. This feature explores a range of issues from reviews of programmes to the skills that teaching assistants need to support learners.
It covers all types of learning with technology for all kinds of learners. Many ICT hardware and software developers such as the Semerc group currently provide training for teachers and support workers to develop their professional practice and provision for pupils with SEN requirements who use their product.
2.2 The Information Supermarket Highway
The plethora of available information, software titles and hardware strategies covered under the heading ICT and SEN can be daunting. In the pressurised world of teaching, there is little opportunity to think critically about what is available or how it should be used and would this best match an individual pupil. In a review of the instructional effectiveness of technology for pupils with SEN, Woodward et al. (2001) examined the research on software curriculum, specifically designed for pupils with such needs. They identified a number of design variables thought to affect academic outcomes for pupils with SEN, such as the type of feedback, visual quality, practice, strategy instruction, assessment and motivation. Woodward et al. found that there are no simple answers to the question of effectiveness:
“simply because a program or approach has been validated by research does not necessarily mean it will be used as intended in practice”
(Woodward, et al, 2001, P21)
The rhetoric accompanying new technological devices in education, and particularly special education, seems to have been very influential, confirming new ways of thinking and talking about teaching and learning. However, there still prevails a lack of clarity, understanding and application of technology being used to its full potential throughout the education system.
The culmination of grandiose and radical suggestions prominent in commercial slogan and catchy advertisements that are attractive to the educational eye, maybe responsible for our previous lack in informed purchasing, the appropriate matching of resources and effective teaching with the aid of technological resources to promote and maximise the learning of all pupils.
Many government papers are littered with the evidence of mismatched spending and resources for learning, that has resulted in missed opportunities, depleted tax payers finances, and a waste of genuinely keen practitioners time and efforts to provide improved services to their learners and an increased possibility of teachers becoming switched off from the possibilities of ICT enhancing teaching and learning. The Scottish Government’s paper on Education and Disability (2002) provides a perfect example of this detrimental situation within their plan to improve access to education for pupils with disabilities.
“Through the National Grid for Learning, new computers and networks are being installed in schools across Scotland to allow pupils to benefit from the use of ICT in learning. At the moment, various service providers are being contracted to install the network, but some pupils with disabilities are unable to use these computers for a variety of reasons. Therefore, as part of their accessibility strategies, responsible bodies should make certain that contracts for any future supply of computers or upgrade of existing stock ensure that the computers (and associated furniture) are accessible or can easily be modified to be accessible to pupils with disabilities.
(Scottish Executive, 2002, P 17, 47–48, www 12)
What is clear from this financial miscalculation and poor organisation is that the LEA services should be providing schools with the appropriate information for purchasing ICT software and hardware. Schools should make critical assessments on their ICT requirements in terms of what they want it do, who it is for and what are the expected outcomes from the resource. Merely placing a PC in a classroom is not going to improve the learning experience for pupils. Many factors have to be taken into consideration in order for the inclusion of technology to be successfully applied to pedagogy.
2.3 The Technological Pedagogical Debate
In early 1998, the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) responded to the claims made for ICT by publishing a set of criteria to form an integral part of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses stating that:
“ICT is more than a teaching tool. Its potential for improving the quality and standards of pupils’ education is significant. Equally, its potential is considerable for supporting teachers, both in their everyday classroom role, for example by reducing the time occupied by the administration associated with it, and in their continuing training and development”
(DfEE 1998, P17)
This pressure on teachers to assimilate ICT in their work can, therefore, to some extent be seen to be predicated by an acceptance of the claims made in support of the educational potential of ICT. The potential of ICT to liberate users from routine tasks and empower them, for instance, to focus on the creative and cognitive rather than procedural aspects of writing or to make accessible vast amounts of information is to some extent reflected in the National Curriculum Orders for Information Technology, which emphasise the capabilities of communicating and handling information in various forms.
“Schools should provide opportunities, where appropriate, for learners to develop and apply their ICT skills across the curriculum by finding, developing, creating and presenting information and ideas and by using a wide range of equipment and software.”
(DELLS, 2008b, P6)
There are clearly strong claims to be made for ICT, but to view ICT as the solution to the educational challenges we face purely by virtue of its sheer existence, is misguided. The success of ICT use depends on our familiarity with good practice firmly rooted in an understanding of how pupils learn and our reflection on optimal environments of ICT use as bases for pedagogic innovation beyond the assimilation of new technologies into prevailing traditions of classroom practice. In view of the fundamental changes to our concept of knowledge, the learning process, the role of the teacher and human relations more widely brought about by ICT use, we need to go beyond doing the things we have always done, albeit with the help of new technologies.
The core aim of the 1998 DfEE – ITT for ICT was…
“…to equip every qualified teacher with the knowledge, skills and understanding to make sound decisions about when, when not, and how to use ICT effectively in teaching particular subjects”.
(DfEE 1998, p. 17)
In my view this aim requires a basic familiarity or relationship with learning theories and the findings from educational psychology as otherwise there is a real danger that the implementation of the computer activity may too easily encourage a distancing of teacher involvement; or as Crook (1994) suggests,
“…a dislocation from the normally rich context of class-based activity and discussion”.
(Crook , 1994, P18)
Whilst acknowledging the fundamental impact on traditional pedagogical modes, it is important to emphasise how the effectiveness of new technologies in the learning process depends on the ‘centrality’ of the role of the teacher in rendering pupils’ experiences with technology coherent, by embedding them in a context of interpersonal support. The role of the teacher, therefore, remains pivotal, such as in identifying appropriate learning outcomes, choosing appropriate activities and structuring the learning process.
In their analysis of the contribution new technologies can make to teaching and learning, Gregoire et al. (1996) provided the following with respect to student learning:
New technologies can stimulate the development of intellectual skills
New technologies can contribute to the ways of learning knowledge, skills and attitudes, although this is dependent on previously acquired knowledge and the type of learning activity.
- New technologies spur spontaneous interest more than traditional approaches
- Students using new technologies concentrate more than students in traditional settings
- These positive images are, however, balanced by two further observations of genuine significance:
- The benefit to students of using new technologies is greatly dependent, at least for the moment, on the technological skill of the teacher and the teacher’s attitude to the presence of the technology in teaching.
- The skill and this attitude in turn are largely dependent on the training staff have received in this area
(Gregoire et al., 1996, P18, www10)
Despite the over deterministic inference behind some of the statements, Gregoire et al. (1996) are sounding a warning that technology itself is not a panacea, and that without skilled application by the teacher its benefits may soon recede. The crucial element remains the way in which the technology is incorporated into pedagogical patterns and this is in turn dependent upon the impact it has on the personal theories of the teachers deploying the technology in their classrooms.
2.4 Scaffolding Learning Using ICT
Collis et al. (1997) argue that the within a technological approach to pedagogy, the ‘scaffolding’ role of the teacher is crucial, however the potential of ICT is exploited infrequently due to effective implementation of techniques being heavily reliant on the teacher providing the appropriate support for learning. Regardless of the suggested gains from any type of technological tool, it is when the teacher supports and guides learning that these benefits are maximised (Waller, 1999).
The computer does not enhance the learning experience unless teachers incorporate ICT very carefully into the curriculum. The role of the teacher is highly significant in the structure and outcomes of ICT based activities. The teacher guides and directs the pupil’s learning through structured planning, organising the activity, interventions during the learning process and the ways pupils apply their ICT skills within various contexts.
Mercer and Fisher discuss Bruner’s (1997) idea of ‘scaffolding’, where they suggest teachers need to be reflective and mindful of how they structure learning experience that require the use of technology to support pupil learning.
“If we can describe and evaluate the ways that teachers attempt to scaffold children’s learning with computers then we might be able to help teachers understand and perform their role in supporting children’s computer based activities. “
(Mercer and Fisher, 1997, P210)
Bruner (1978) suggests that the ‘Scaffolding’ process involves the adult guiding and supporting pupil learning by building on previous understanding and abilities. In assisting the development of pupils, educators require a clear view of learning objectives and understand that their role is to support learners enabling them to develop more independently. The amount and type of support required will vary depending on the pupil and the nature of the task. Tharp (1993) put forward a range of strategies that can be adopted to support pupil development through an instructional conversation, described as:
- Contingency management
- Cognitive structuring
- Task Structuring
(Tharp, 1993, P272)
According to Tharp, the most productive strategy for support is providing feedback, as this enables pupils to assess their efforts to achieve set objectives, which will be taken into consideration during the planning and participant training phase of this research.
Mercer (1993) suggests that the quality of understanding, of which learners obtain through the application of ICT in the classroom, will not be controlled the quality of the technological tool applied; more accurately, it is determined by the approaches utilised to interact between the teacher, pupil and the ‘interface’. Cook and Finlayson (1999) concur with this idea and describe the application of ICT to support learning as a ‘joint activity’,
“…the way that learners and the learning support mechanisms of teachers, computer program and fellow group members work together so that the highest possible level of performance becomes achievable.”
(Cook and Finlayson, 1999, P100)
In support of this view, Labbo (2000) indicates that relying solely on technology to scaffold learning is not necessarily going to help or maximise the potential of the learner. Applying a model based exclusively on computer aided instruction is far from ‘authentic learning’; despite the fact that certain educationalists and politicians find this model appealing and the way forward.
I believe that before decisions are made to move forward within this field there is a great necessity for further research in order to realise that the combination of technology and how it can support the reciprocal roles of the teacher and child is far more significant than the technology itself. Arguably, it is this strong pupil-teacher relationship that requires attention and what should be central to the teaching and learning process, even when the technological tool is absent from any learning experience.
2.5 The Potential of ICT Supporting SEN
ICT been used to support learners with SEN within mainstream schools for some time, under the terms of assistive or enabling technology, adapting to developments in technology and educational policy changes for learners with different needs. In Blamires (1999) it is put forward that;
“Enabling Technology is about being helped to achieve something that could not have been achieved at all without that aid or without great personal effort. An individual may be enabled to learn something, say something, do something, create something, go somewhere or join in some activity.”
(Blamires, 1999, P1)
In the 1970’s, some learners who could not use a pencil effectively because of physical difficulties were using the keyboards of electric typewriters and early computers. Hitting a key on a typewriter was easier that trying to form a letter with a pencil and paper, and electric typewriters required less strength to produce letters than manual models. Computers had the access benefits of electric typewriters and also had memory capacity. Software programmes were written to improve text output by offering word banks so that the writer could select a word, phrase or related image rather than type in every letter.
Computers could also be adapted for input by a switch. Pupils who did not have the physical strength or control to use a keyboard could make something happen on the screen by pressing a switch. Writing became possible by watching a highlight pass over an array of letters presented on screen.
The writer pressed a switch when the highlight reached the required letter and predictive software helped the process by offering wordlists based on initial letters, grammar and frequency of previous use. Most pupils using this technology attended special schools where the size of the equipment and its lack of portability were not problematic issues.
In mainstream schools, SEN pupils would not often have the help of technology to support their writing. However, due to advance in technology in the 1980’s and 90’s, ICT equipment became smaller and more portable; therefore learners following the integration movement were able to use this resource. Small electronic typewriters and word processors (such as the Alpha-smart) powered by batteries were developed so there was no longer any need for pupils to sit next to mains electricity supply. This provided a positive step forward within inclusion, since SEN pupils could use their equipment in different learning environments and work alongside their peers. However, as Florian and Hegarty (2004) indicates;
“Often pupils with special educational needs were the only ones using technology, and this sometimes created problems for those who did not want to be seen as different or who could not be provided with the technical support they required.”
(Florian and Hegarty, 2004, P36)
Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, modern computers are being brought into all schools to provide Internet access and software resources to support and extend all learners. Technology is transforming education and there is evidence of this in most classrooms, in most schools in the UK (seeTable2: The Pupil: Computer Ratio within UK Schools - Source: BECTA, 2005, and the Department for Education – www1).
Table1: The Pupil: Computer Ratio Within UK Schools.
Potentially, pupils have access to a multimedia computer connected to the internet, delivering a world of unrivalled learning opportunities directly to the classroom. From the ubiquitous interactive whiteboard to the digital photographs that adorn every classroom, the evidence is clear – ICT has changed how we as teachers teach and how our pupils learn.
There are still many challenges ahead for schools and special schools. As teachers, we are encouraged to extend our use of technology in the classroom beyond teaching specific ICT skills and towards embedding the use of technology across the whole school curriculum. Until recently, much of the research on learning with technology to support pupils with SEN requirements has focused on different types of software programmes. This research suggests that the effects are generally positive but that there are different effects for different types of programmes and different groups of learners.
In an extensive review, Lou et al. (2001) found that learner characteristics have an effect on learning with technology. These characteristics include computer experience, gender, ability and age. While teachers may not profess expertise in the technical aspects of ICT, they are expert in teaching and learning and, therefore, in a good position to determine how technology can best be used to help pupils learn and participate in classroom life with the appropriate professional training and advice, as opposed to attractive advertisement claims.
Florian and Hegarty (2004) argues that the application of ICT, must start with the teacher and the kind of learning they want to foster, therefore suggest six broad categories in which ICT and their applications can offer support to learners with special educational needs:
Used to tutor
Used to explore
Applied as tools
Used to communicate
Used for assessment purposes
Used as a management tool
(Florian and Hagarty’s, 2004, P11-18)
Florian and Hagarty’s (2004) attempts at the classification of the ways in which teachers use ICT to support learners with specific learning needs resonates the perceptions and findings found in NCTE (2002), identifying seven categories of software that are suitable for pupils with special educational needs: Drill and Practice Software, Interactive Books, Content-free Software, Exploratory Software, Reference Software, Access Tools/Software and Assessment Software. They, as Florian and Hegarty (2004), also go onto described the possibility of another category described as ‘software for administration/ IEP (Individual Education Plans) writing’, which is used to assist teachers with planning programmes and writing IEPs.
The following section considers a synergy of Florian and Hegarty’s (2004) and NCTE’s (2002) categories for the use of ICT software and hardware resources to support the learning of pupils with SEN within four separate elements.
Element 1 - Using a Facilitating Tutor Programme to Reinforce Learning
Element 2 - Improving Learning Experiences through Exploratory Learning
Element 3 - Accessing Life Long Learning through Communication Tools
Element 4 - Providing Assessment Opportunities
2.6 The Categories of ICT to Support SEN Pupils
2.6.1 ELEMENT 1:
Using a Facilitating Tutor Programme to Reinforce Learning
Tutor and Reinforcement programmes represent a longstanding type of teaching with technology. The earliest programmes were intended to help teachers individualise learning and learners to work at their own pace. Known as Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI), these programmes had a particular appeal to teachers of pupils with SEN because they offered a way of addressing what Woodward and Rieth (1997) called,
‘…one of the field’s most perplexing logistical and pedagogical dilemmas.’
(Woodward and Rieth, 1997, P507)
This ‘dilemma’, as Woodward and Rieth point out on how to individualise teaching to meet the particular needs of pupils who are experiencing difficulties in learning, is after all, what special needs education is all about.
Most early CAI programmes were based on a behavioural theory of learning. Typically, learners worked individually at a computer on tasks that tended to emphasise drill and practice, or the reinforcement of previously taught skills. This resource is thought to support the development of existing skills and to consolidate previously learned concepts and knowledge by providing immediate, consistent and impartial feedback to pupils. However, NCTE (2002) cautions that reinforcement software,
“…often presents skills in isolation and it may be difficult for students to transfer these skills to a meaningful and relevant context.”
(NTCE, 2002, P23)
Many programmes may have been delivered via computer software but, in terms of their design and content, they were no different than conventional materials for drill and practice. In other words, the medium (use of microcomputer as opposed to a workbook) was different but the content (basic skills) and the purpose (drill and practice) were the same as in conventional teaching.
The impracticality of one-to-one work at computer stations, changing views of teaching and learning, and advances in technology led to the development of more sophisticated and complex tutor programmes as well as group approaches to learning with technology. Researchers began to exploit the potential of ICT by incorporating more pedagogical principles into software design, notably in the use of feedback. In an extensive review of the literature on technology research in special education, Woodward and Rieth (1997) reported mixed results for the use of computer programmes to generate feedback to pupils with SEN. They concluded that, on its own, CAI was insufficient for teaching pupils with SEN.
These systems are extremely controversial since research has failed to establish conclusively whether they have any significant effect on children’s ability to read, however the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) strongly advices that,
“ILS could prove a powerful tool for the future classroom teachers…it is important that schools look carefully at the evaluation evidence when making a commitment to this form of learning.”
(DfEE, 1998, P150)
Ever since Skinner (1958) described the idea of a ‘teaching machine’, companies and software developers have been attempting to develop systems that can ‘interactively’ teach pupils. The teaching machine presents a pupil with some curriculum material, assesses their understanding of it and uses their responses to choose he next item. It provides instant feedback so pupils immediately know if they have responded correctly or not.
This corresponded to how Skinner felt people learn, which was based on the idea that if the consequence of behaviour or action is positive, it is likely to occur again. If there is no response or consequence, the behaviour is less likely to occur again. So in Skinner’s Pavlovian-esque model, people learn something by trying it out and being positively rewarded. Modern ILS are derived from this concept and they always consist of three components (curricula, assessment and management), which together come close to Skinner’s notion of the ideal teaching machine.
This ‘ideal’ teaching machine should provide instant feedback, present work that progresses in small, always achievable steps and allow a free choice of answer, however it is the latter requirement that most ILS fail to meet, along with the crucial exploration and explanation of mistakes and misconceptions.
The technology in this area must develop dramatically if it is to reach the ‘ideal teaching machine’ as Skinner describes. To date ILS developers have quickly, and irresponsibly, put out software using dated and unsatisfactory pedagogy. The ‘fill, test how full, show how un-full’ theory is ineffective, cold and in the ILS case, mechanical. We learn more effectively when the experience is collaborative, supportive, creative, communicative and (last but not least) fun! The inclusion of ICT into the learning process should also echo this; after all surely it’s a tool for learning within a learning experience.
2.6.2 ELEMENT 2:
Improving Learning Experiences through Exploratory Learning
Over time, as technology has become more powerful and accessible, exploratory learning environments have been developed. Whereas tutor programmes are about teaching, exploratory learning environments allow pupils to interact with the material and have more control over their learning. Exploratory environments represent an increasingly popular contemporary use of technology in education.
They emphasize exploration as opposed to drill and practice. They are based on constructivist rather than the behavioural views of learning. The idea is to promote authentic learning with an emphasis on assisting learners to collaboratively construct knowledge (Reed and McNergney 2000). Exploratory learning environments include simulations and virtual environments. Such approaches to the use of technology are touted as tools that enable teachers and pupils to become co-learners who collaboratively construct knowledge.
Exploratory Software allows pupils to explore real life settings in a safe manner and of particular benefit to pupils with emotional and behavioural problems or mild learning difficulties. Pupils with more severe learning difficulties may have fewer opportunities to explore and control their environment, therefore exploratory environments such as simulations and virtual environments can offer opportunities for learning that might otherwise not be available. Pupils are presented with an authentic and challenging task and they control the activity. As Means has observed:
“Given complex tasks, students take a more active part in defining their own learning goals and regulating their own learning. They explore ideas and bodies of knowledge, not in order to repeat back verbal formulations on demand but to understand phenomena and find information they need for their project work. When students work on complex tasks, their work will often cross over the borders of academic disciplines, just as real world problems often demand the application of several kinds of expertise. In this multi-disciplinary context, instruction becomes interactive. The nature of the information and the support provided for students will change as the problems they work on change and evolve over time.”
(Means, 1994, P5)
The use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) can also offer the potential for users to explore social situations and “try out” different behaviour responses for a variety of simulated social interactions (Kerr et al., 2002). It has been suggested that VLE's are particularly useful for people with autism and may provide the ideal method for social skills training. One of the challenges for the VLE developers is how to allow freedom of exploration and flexibility in interactive behaviour, without the risk of users deliberately or inadvertently missing important learning goals.
“Scaffolding” embedded within the VLE software can aid the user's learning in different contexts, such as individual, tutored or group learning situations, using structuring activities by organised materials, clear instructions and a hierarchical system of prompts. Kerr et al. (2002) described two single-user VLE scenarios that were developed within an Asperger's Syndrome interactive project, and presents observation results from initial trials conducted at a user school. The VLEs were developed to promote social skills learning in adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome: the first taking place in a virtual café and the second on a virtual bus. In both scenarios the user's task was to find a seat and sit down.
Cromby et al. (1996), as cited in Standen and Brown (2004, p. 97) named three characteristics for VLEs regarding their application for people with learning difficulties.
“First, VLEs create the opportunity to learn by making mistakes but without suffering the real, humiliating or dangerous consequences. Second, the virtual world can be manipulated in ways the real world cannot be. And finally, in VLEs, rules and abstracts can be conveyed without the use of language or other symbol systems.”
(Cromby et al. 1996 - cited in Standen and Brown, 2004, P 97)
Rose et al. (2002) have undertaken many studies on the use of VLEs for people with cognitive disabilities and brain injuries. Results have shown that the learners are capable of using a virtual environment to aid learning and skills development in various areas with augmented motivation. Pupil exploration within a VLE was found to enhance memory and the ability to transfer virtual tasks to real life tasks with increased performances, suggesting the use of virtual environments can aid learning for real life scenarios.
The Internet offers yet another example of how ICT can be used to explore. The opportunities to do so are limitless, since information can be sent and explored in many mediums - text, pictures, movie, animation or sound. Banes and Walter (2002) offer useful guidelines for using the Internet as an exploratory environment for pupils with SEN in schools. Lessons using the Internet should:
Be incorporated into the total communication policy at the school.
Be rooted in the concrete experiences of pupils.
Promote individual educational aims in cross-curricula areas.
Promote access to English (speaking and listening, writing, reading) within the curriculum.
Support the application of the National Curriculum with pupils in various curriculum areas.
Promote communication with individuals and groups outside school.
(Banes and Walter, 2002, P25)
Paveley (2002) notes that, although the Internet would appear to be an ideal medium for teaching and learning for pupils with SEN, much of it is not accessible. She describes a range of practical ways that pupils with learning difficulties can be supported in accessing the Web. For example, she describes a project using graphics from pupils’ favourite websites to create links to websites on overlay keyboards.
This was developed as an alternative for pupils who were unable to access Bookmarks or a Favourites list. Banes and Walter (2002) also go onto provide detailed information on the use of switches as adaptive devices for pupils who experience difficulties in accessing the Web.
Johnson and Hegarty (2003) also discussed web sites as educational motivators for people with learning disabilities. Based on the results of their study, they argued that web sites can be a valuable and motivating educational asset if quickly accessible, graphics-based and closely matched interests. They believe that these requirements do not mean that special web sites for people with disabilities need to be developed: design-for-all principles, applied to web sites, will in their view, improve accessibility and promote inclusion.
2.6.3 Element 3:
Accessing Life Long Learning through Communication Tools
The third type of learning with ICT is about the skills and, (for some) the adaptations involved in using the tools of technology, such as word-processing programmes, spreadsheets and hand-held computers; in other words, the tools found in non-educational environments such as the home or workplace. Indeed, acquiring technical skills is not only prerequisite to the other types of learning with technology, but is increasingly essential for life beyond school.
The use of hand-held computers provides a good example of how a new technology can affect classroom participation. Bauer and Ulrich (2002) found that the use of hand-held computers helped pupils with SEN to stay organized. Pupils with SEN in their study of the use of hand-held computers in Year 6 said that the computers reduced anxiety about knowing what they needed to do or losing papers. This was attributed to the portability of the technology. Bauer and Ulrich also suggest that hand-held computers offer social support, as pupils can share programmes with each other and send information to friends.
For some learners with special educational needs, skill is not only about the technical aspects of learning how to use hardware and software, but also about using the adaptations that are made to enable the learner to exercise the skill. Many assistive devices are available to overcome the barriers to learning posed by physical and sensory impairments. Access devices range from simple switches and touch screens to specialist keyboards and voice-activated software. But they are not in themselves a panacea: significant skill is needed to operate them successfully.
If children are to use ICT as a tool successfully, a comprehensive assessment of their strengths and needs is vital. Hardy (2000) suggests that such an assessment should include information on the following:
The learner, including ability across the curriculum, current ICT skills and a rationale for why ICT provision would be helpful;
Support available for the pupil;
Information about the school;
An evaluation including the goals set and a date for review; and
(Hardy, 2000, P24)
The use of peripherals may be required when considering the application of ICT to provide learning support for pupils with special needs. Peripherals are essentially computer additions, often literally added-on in a very visible fashion. Common peripherals include scanners, printers, cameras, microphones and speakers.
Less common are the peripherals often classed as special needs peripherals or assistive/adaptive technology. Most of these are additional or alternative hardware devices, but some require complementary software. The list in Appendix 3 offers some example of such peripherals with their function and possible applications to a variety of situations.
Once access to the computer has been established, the next step is to choose appropriate software to run on the computer. Software is available for a whole range of needs – these include very simple programmes for stimulation, to encourage vocalisation and switch and mouse programmes which introduce ‘cause and effect’. More advanced programmes are available for numeracy and literacy, memory and cognition.
The software needs to be stimulating and motivating and able to grab and hold the user’s attention. Colours, pictures, animation, large text, sounds and speech can all help. The software should also have appropriate and attractive rewards for good work and not be discouraging when the wrong answer is given. Appropriate matching of software to pupil should also be taken into account in terms of age or ability levels, as this is sometimes overlooked and can be the main factor in pupil engagement or disengagement.
Content-free Software allows teachers and students to enter their own content, (text, video, animations, images and graphics) manipulate information and are used to enhance learning in many different areas across the curriculum. For special educators, this type of software is a great tool for curriculum enhancement because it allows teachers to develop their own material to meet the individual needs of their students. Students also can use content free software to help them overcome barriers to learning and make certain reading and writing tasks much easier. NCTE (2002) suggests that most of this type of software will fall under one of the following categories:
Word Processing Programmes
Talking Word Processing Programmes
Word Prediction - Software
Word Bank Programmes
Planning and Organising
Desktop Publishing/ Art & Design Applications
Multimedia Authoring Systems
(NCTE, 2002, P2)
Appendix 4 provides a detailed account of these packages. However, another software category the NCTE (2002) suggests are Access Tools. These are used most often by pupils with co-ordination, sensory or specific learning difficulties. They may be used in conjunction with or independently from peripheral accessories and are neither content-based nor subject-specific, but work alongside standard software. Access tools include:
OCR (Optical Character Recognition) Programmes
Screen Magnification Systems
Voice Recognition Software
Switch Access Software
Software that enables the user to produce a wide range of products from basic text documents and newsletters, to calendars and posters, can be especially useful in a special needs context because it provides students with the opportunity to express themselves without being concerned with handwriting or the appearance of their work. Word processing programmes are reported to help pupils with writing difficulties, hearing impairments, emotional and behavioural problems and physical disabilities to develop reading and writing skills.
They de-emphasise the mechanical aspects of the writing process and permit pupils to concentrate on generating ideas. A spell checker or word bank enables more fluent communication and concentration on content, rather than be hampered with concerns over spelling. However, assistance may be required still with the correction of incorrect spellings or with the selection of intended words from the suggestions supplied. A thesaurus provides alternative vocabulary. Clipart is available to enhance presentation. By combining a paired writing experience approach to writing, pupils can discuss existing content and propose improvements. Westwood (2003, 148) states;
‘Word processors can be used most effectively to help students acquire confidence in their own reading material. Creating and printing one’s own stories can enhance a child’s interest in books and at the same time develop skills in composing, editing, proofreading, spelling and design.’
(Westwood, 2003, P 148)
Word processing programmes can relieve many of the pressures that students with learning difficulties face and make the writing process a more enjoyable experience.
It is essential that educators develop an understanding and awareness of the potential of technology for teaching and learning and experienced in the use of the technology for teaching. The role of the teacher within an ICT assisted learning environment must maintain the good practice of guiding and helping students learn in the best way they can, recognising individual needs and supporting pupils to make sound choices about accessing new knowledge.
To ensure that teachers use the technology in appropriate ways, the different roles a computer can play in the classroom need to be considered together with how the teacher develops teaching strategies that support each role. Means (1994) reminds us that the tools and communication devices of technology do not have value in and of themselves. Rather, their;
“…instructional value lies in the educational activity that uses the tools and communication devices, an activity that must be planned by the teacher”.
(Means, 1994, P13)
2.6.4 Element 4:
Providing Assessment Opportunities
Teachers working with pupils who experience difficulties in learning are often called upon to assess the nature of the child’s learning difficulty. The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice (DfES, 2002) stipulates that ongoing observation and assessment should be undertaken in the identification of pupils with SEN. Formative assessment procedures are not required; instead, schools are left to decide what procedures they should adopt for meeting the needs of all children. Although care must be taken to distinguish between statutory assessments, which lead to statements of special educational need, and formative assessments, which assist in pinpointing the specific difficulty a pupil may be experiencing in learning, there has been a great deal of research interest in the use of technology to assist in the diagnosis of learning difficulties. Woodward and Rieth (1997) argue that,
“…technology has come to be seen as a vehicle for orchestrating higher-quality assessment and reducing the amount of time humans manage the assessment process”
(Woodward and Rieth, 1997, P 517)
Computer programmes that offer curriculum-based assessment provide a means for systematic and cost-effective assessment, as they replace the labour-intensive procedures normally undertaken by teaching staff. Assessment software may be used both as screening and as diagnostic tools. It consists of a variety of tests designed to assess pupils’ attainment and to identify their cognitive strengths and weaknesses.
Assessment results may be used both to plan individual programmes and to monitor ongoing progress. These programmes are often, but not exclusively, based on behavioural views of learning, although some applications are based on dynamic assessment techniques, which alert pupils to different types of errors, as well as those that use self-monitoring, which encourages pupils to monitor their own progress.
Although they are seen as teacher-friendly tools that are intended to help teachers work more efficiently, computer-based assessment systems can offer more than a means of recording and summarizing data. As Keates (2002) suggests;
“The ability of the computer to administer, precisely and objectively, testing materials that are sufficiently complex to yield acceptable degrees of accuracy, but in a manner that is efficient for teachers.”
(Keates, 2002, P84)
Recent versions of computer-based assessment systems incorporate expert systems that enable teachers to be provided with suggestions for intervention for specific learning or behavioural difficulties. This is especially important, as teachers often need support in generating new strategies when what they have tried does not work.
2.7 Matching Technology Solutions to SEN
The types of learning and use of Information Communications Technology discussed above are not finite or fixed categories. Indeed, there are other ways of organizing a discussion around the aspects and varieties of ICT. In addition, one could argue that there is some overlap between the categories. The use of Florian and Hegarty’s (2004) types of learning with technology combined with software application from NTCE (2002) was applied simply as an organizational device within which broad issues of ICT and SEN might be considered.
Providing access to technology in schools is not the same as making sure every learner has access. Access might require adaptations to accommodate different learners. In addition, these adaptations might involve one or more of the types of learning with technology discussed above. The challenges include the adaptations that may have to be made for learners to acquire or use the tools of technology. The opportunities lie in the way that technology can then be used to improve the effects of what would otherwise create a barrier to learning or participation.
The overwhelming message is that most pupils and teachers have found the introduction of ICT into the classroom a positive development, motivating pupils and teachers alike and changing radically the learning experiences of both. There has been a shift in the views of teachers, in particular, with initial scepticism and apprehension being gradually replaced by optimism and confidence.
The somewhat rhetoric filled literature maintains that ICT is valuable in improving learning, teaching, motivation and achievement, although the volume and consistency of evidence tends to lead to tentative conclusions rather than firm ones. While the evidence does seem to support the view that there has been an impact on learning and teaching through the application of ICT, it has not yet reached the point where it can be said to have transformed the educational process.
There are some conditions necessary before a school can be said to have achieved institutional maturity with regard to ICT and schools are clearly at different points on that journey. In many instances, the stories told in the literature are about the technology rather than about learning and teaching mediated by the technology. However, for the new technologies to become an integral part of the learning experience, they must become almost invisible in terms of the demands made on the users’ ICT skills and understanding (John and Sutherland, 2005).
At the moment, ICT continues to make significant demands on many teachers who are less familiar with many of the technologies than are their pupils. Both of these developments will take time, strategic planning and the judicious deployment of resources in order to bring about the desired level of e-confidence. There are, however, a number of more specific concerns arising from the literature that need to be addressed.
A key concern is the extent to which teachers fail to appreciate that learning and teaching through technology requires a new approach to pedagogy, to planning and preparation and to how the curriculum is perceived.
The development of ICT use in the classroom is beginning to move from a novel resource which attracts pupils’ attention and engages them, to a new way of presenting information and the content of lessons and, further, to a change in the patterns of interaction between pupils, teacher and technology, accompanied by a change in, or modification of, the role of the teacher from ‘expert’ to facilitator, mediator and guide.
Many teachers have some knowledge of the areas of ICT and/or special needs, but linking the two usefully can be difficult. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as a magic list of software/hardware to suit all needs. Any software/hardware list needs to be approached with extreme caution because it is too easy to use it in an inappropriate fashion, out of educational and curricular context, and without considering the specific needs of the child or the specific style of the teacher. Software/hardware in itself is not the solution; the solution lies in how it is used.
According to Zabala (1996) there are four critical areas to be considered in selecting and using technology to support pupils with specific learning difficulties, which are described as the ‘SETT’ model:
- What are the needs of the student and the purpose of ICT?
- What are the barriers to learning?
- What are the student’s particular special needs?
- Where will the student use ICT?
- How will ICT be provided or accommodated in each setting?
- What tasks is this student expected to complete?
- What activities take place that the ICT could possibly support?
- Which curricular elements can be supported by ICT?
The Tools - After considering who will use the ICT, where it will be used, what it will be used for, then look at available tools
- What hardware, software, on-line resources might meet the needs of the student?
- What teaching/learning strategies will facilitate learning through ICT?
(Zabala, 1996, P129-187, www2)
The SETT Model was designed to aid the process of gathering, organising, and analyzing data to inform collaborative problem solving and decision-making regarding assistive technology and appropriate educational programming for students with disabilities. Using the SETT Framework appropriately requires a collaborative approach to designing intervention strategies, an approach which is welcomed by Zabala (2002).
“An important premise of the use of the framework is that the Learning Team, that is, the classroom teacher, the educational assistant, the special educator, the clinicians, the parents, and the student, are in the best position to determine what the needs of student are that might be met by the use of assistive technology. The Learning Team may then choose to work with resource for Assistive Technology to determine the best solutions to meet the child’s needs. Without the full participation of the Learning Team, the decision-making process is at risk of missing some of the critical components to ensure that appropriate decisions are being made for that student”
(I Can, 2005, www3)
When applying the SETT Framework to organise plans and intentions, a team collects information from a variety of sources in order to understand the strengths, skills, and challenges that the student possesses, the environments in which the student is expected to learn and grow, and the tasks that the student needs to do or learn to do. When this information is collected, appropriate tools can be considered and selected. The information contained within the Case Study Report (Chapter 4) identifies the Student, Environment, Tasks and Tools aspects of the SETT Framework, in relation to this research.
2.8 The SEN Context
The term Special Educational Needs (SEN), was first used in the Warnock Report (1978) and then in the 1981 Education Act in an attempt to focus on the needs of each individual child rather than on categories of disability. It covered an array of problems, from those related to particular impairments to those related to learning and behavioural difficulties experienced by some learners compared with other similar learners.
In 1998 the Government’s Green Paper ‘Excellence for All Children’ recommended greater inclusion of children with special educational needs into mainstream education. While the Association of Teachers and Lecturers agreed in principle with the idea of inclusion, it also cautioned against the wholesale closure of special schools on the grounds that the interests of the child must remain paramount. This was highlighted in the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice for England and Wales, which:
“…does not assume that there are hard and fast categories of special educational need. It recognises as LEAs [local education authorities] will recognise, that each child is unique and that the questions asked by LEAs should reflect the particular circumstances of that child. LEAs should recognise that there is a wide spectrum of special educational needs that are frequently inter-related, although there are also specific needs that usually relate directly to particular types of impairment . . .
The areas of need are:
communication and interaction
cognition and learning
behaviour, emotional and social development
sensory and/or physical”
(DfES, 2001, P85, 7:52)
Although the Code of Practice has raised the profile of SEN and established nationally agreed procedures, it soon became clear to teachers in mainstream education that the Code was a long way short of a solution. The increasing amount of paperwork required to gain support for a child added to the bureaucratic burden, and the time taken to assess a child’s needs varied widely across the country.
Over the years that followed, concerns grew within education authorities, due to budgetary constraints, resulting in numerous support services disappearing and openly admitted that they needed to cut down on formal assessments. In the light of these concerns, particularly by Ofsted and the Audit Commission, a revised version was issued for implementation from 1st January 2002.
The main changes in the (DfES, 2002) Code of Practice were:
The right for children with special educational needs to be educated in a mainstream school is strengthened
LEAs have new duties to provide advice and information for parents and a means of resolving disputes
Schools and nursery education providers have a new duty to inform parents when making special educational needs provision for their child
Schools have the right to request a statutory assessment of a child.
The revised Code of Practice replaced the five stages of provision with a ‘graduated approach’ under the headings ‘Early Years’, ‘Early Years Action Plus’, ‘School Action’, ‘School Action Plus’ and ‘Statement’. Assessment is not to be regarded as a single, time consuming event but as a continuing process. The Code of Practice’s main focus was on teaching, learning and achievement, rather than on bureaucratic procedures, with main emphases highlighted:
Planning and strategic functions of schools and LEAs
Accountability for special educational needs funds
Support for the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator by provision of non-contact time, IT support and clerical assistance
Writing of statements.
Within the new structure an increased weighting was given to:
Child participation and the voice of the child
Partnership with parents
Improved partnership between schools and other agencies (e.g. health and social services)
For many situations, it could be detrimental to the individual learner and the teacher providing the support to totally ignore the categories of specific learning needs altogether and some are still used to describe different kinds of provision. SERC (1993) suggests that children have special educational needs if they experience a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age.
Finding it hard to make use of traditional educational methodologies and resources and may require different approaches to learning and modified learning materials. They identified four broad categories of special needs amongst pupils in schools, similar to DfES (2001), however they offered sub-categories within the four main categories to ensure clarity and more focused support:
Cognition and Learning Difficulties
Pupils in need of Intervention/Corrective Teaching (Learning Support);
Pupils with Specific Learning Disabilities;
Pupils with Specific Speech and Language Disorders.
Physical and Sensory impairments:
Pupils with Physical Handicap (Disability);
Pupils with Hearing Impairment;
Pupils with Visual Impairment.
General Learning Disabilities and Emotional and Behavioural Disorders:
Pupils with Mild Mental Handicap;
Pupils with Moderate Mental Handicap;
Pupils with Severe/Profound Mental Handicap;
Pupils with Emotional and/or Behavioural Disorders;
Pupils with Childhood Autism (Autistic Spectrum Disorder).
Other Special Needs:
Pupils who are Educationally and Socially Disadvantaged;
Children of the Travelling Community;
Pupils who are Exceptionally Able or Talented.
(SERC, 1993, P11)
2.10 Possibility of Meeting the Challenge
According to Westwood (2003),
“The largest single group of students with special needs comprises those with general and specific learning difficulties that are not related to any disability or impairment. Estimates suggest that this may be close to 20 per cent of the school population (Louden 2000). These learning difficulties most frequently manifest themselves as problems in acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills’ which ‘impact adversely on a child’s ability to learn in most subjects across the curriculum.’
(Westwood, 2003, P5)
These are the pupils who receive Learning Support. Mc Phillips (2003) identifies the following common characteristics, which exist on a continuum from mild to severe, amongst pupils attending Learning Support:
Problems with reading, writing, spellings or maths;
A history of late speech development and continuing difficulties with comprehension, expression, pronunciation and/or use;
Problems with visual perception resulting in frequent reversals of letters and numerals;
Problems with auditory perception including difficulties with phonemic and phonological awareness;
Difficulties with visual and/or auditory memory and with recalling words;
Weak lateralisation, orientation difficulties and poor motor co-ordination;
Attention difficulties resulting in an inability to concentrate on an activity or in being constantly distracted;
Organisational difficulties including an inability to manage oneself and one’s belongings, a tendency to adopt an inconsistent approach to work and the use of avoidance strategies to evade work;
Emotional problems including poor social skills and low self esteem; and
Behavioural problems due to learning failure.
Regardless of the cause of a pupil’s difficulty, there is always something the teacher can do to support the learner. The use of ICT in responding to the demands of Special Educational Needs opens new opportunities for participation and inclusion in the culture, curricula and communities of schools. This point is supported in countless Government documentation and policies. However, as stated earlier, it can be difficult to extract sound advice supported with credible evidence amongst the rhetoric that permeates the literature and policy. Though when statements supporting this view are found in documentation such as the highly influential, ‘Teaching Strategies and Approaches for Pupils with Special Educational Needs’ (DfES, 2004) , which is based on rigorous research, rooted in practice and carried out by extremely experienced practitioners within the field, it is difficult to dispute its validity.
“Research suggests the use of intensive interaction and/or ‘sensory’ based approaches are effective for children with communication and interaction difficulties associated with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Research evidence and professional guidance emphasises the importance of the classroom as a whole learning environment, including the distinctive new developments in ICT. The use of technology is considered particularly promising.”
(DfES, 2004, P 4-5)
This statement is very interesting and thought provoking in terms of meeting the demands of Inclusive Education and as Information Technology becomes increasingly more accessible in daily life, we become more aware of its potential for learners who are at risk of being excluded. The aim of my research and this dissertation is to respond to this research and offer clarification to their claims through carrying out a ICT based Intervention Strategy Case Study on a pupil diagnosed with special educational needs.
However, decisions were required to be made on the type of special educational need to consider, the nature of the intervention strategy, the type of technology that would provide the most suitable learning support and, more importantly, the pupil who would possibly benefit from such an intervention strategy. For the successful implementation of an ICT solution, we need more than the right equipment matched to the needs of the individual pupil. At the heart of all debate must be the learners themselves, but the demands of the school and home contexts also need to be considered. For some pupils, a technological solution may be the only way to ensure they can make their needs, opinions and views known or be made clearer. For them, access to appropriate ICT-based solutions is a lifeline to inclusion.
At one end of the continuum of need are those pupils for whom ICT provision is fundamental, giving access to the world of living and learning in a way that no other resource can. At the other are those for whom ICT is a facilitator, giving a level of support that will encourage them to concentrate on the content of learning without being limited by their special needs. Just as there is a continuum of need, so will there be a continuum of provision. The needs of the majority of learners with special educational needs will be achieved by making good use of the equipment available within the classroom setting, matching tasks to abilities.
The scope for selecting the type of special educational need to investigate narrowed considerably when reflecting on the possibility of providing the most appropriate and effective intervention strategies. This was due to the nature of resources available to me and the fact that my research is based in a mainstream school. After careful consideration of the resources available and the relevant literature, I decided to examine the possibility of ICT supporting pupils with Dyslexia, as an example of how the use of technology can aid inclusion and support pupils with special educational needs. This decision is supported by Otto (1997) stating that,
“Computers can be invaluable aids to learning for all pupils but can play an even more significant role in the lives and education of dyslexic pupils. They improve the motivation of the learner and are perceived as fun to use. They are non-judgemental. They can be programmed to go at the student’s own pace. They can be adapted to suit the specific needs of the individual learner.”
(Otto, 1997, P231)
2.11 Focus on Dyslexia
2.11.1 Learning Difficulty or Learning Difference?
There remains much uncertainty and disagreement concerning the identification and educational support of dyslexia. Although it has been observed for over a century there still is not one definition that covers all individuals. As Ott (1997) outlines in the late 19th century it was referred to as ‘word blindness’ and this description is still used in the 21st Century. However, it is far more than ‘word blindness’ or difficulty with words. The British Dyslexia Association’s (BDA, 2007) definition of dyslexia states;
“Dyslexia is a learning difference, a combination of strengths and weaknesses which affects the learning process in reading, spelling, writing and sometimes numeracy. Dyslexic learners may also have accompanying weaknesses in short term memory, sequencing and the speed at which they process information. These are skills that everyone needs to if they are to learn effectively in a busy classroom. They are also key skills for life.”
(BDA, 2007, www 4)
It does not compromise intelligence and thus dyslexic children may have a great deal of potential. However, due to the individual way that dyslexic people learn, traditional teaching methods do not always cater for them appropriately. It may be because of this that a dyslexic child is often seen to struggle at school.
“Some children have outstanding creative skills, others have strong oral skills. Whilst others have no outstanding talents they all have strengths. Dyslexia occurs despite normal intellectual ability and conventional teaching; it is independent of socio-economic or language background. It is, however, more easily detected in those with average or above average intelligence.”
(BDA, 2007, www 4)
IMAGE 1 - Mind Map of Dyslexia Difficulties
(Source: Topiscope - www.topicscape.com/mindmaps/71 )
Source: BDA, www1
Dyslexia is a very complex specific learning difference, as can be seen in Image 1 above, because of the number of characteristics associated with it, such as:
Difficulties encoding words – spelling
Difficulties decoding words – single word identification
Poor sequencing skills
Poor short-term memory
Lack of phonological awareness
Confusion about left and right
Problems with reading comprehension
Difficulties with mathematics
Difficulties with musical notation
Difficulties expressing thoughts orally
It is rare for a dyslexic child to have all of the characteristics of dyslexia. The number, type and severity of the characteristics vary amongst dyslexic individuals. The characteristics listed above are often referred to as the primary characteristics of dyslexia but these can be the cause of further problems. Dyslexia can cause frustration and a lack of self-esteem, which can be manifested in disruptive and/or bad behaviour. Some dyslexic children become very withdrawn and their lack of confidence can cause further social problems.
Research undertaken by the BDA (2007) implies that dyslexia is a learning difficulty usually due to a genetic influence. It can affect pupils from all ability ranges and appears to be more common in boys than girls. Dyslexia can exist alongside many other conditions such as, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autistic Spectrum Disorders. It exists on a continuum, with characteristics varying in occurrence and severity. The BDA have reported that around 10% of the population indicate features of dyslexia, with 4% being more severely affected, approximately 375,000 pupils.
Learning problems arise if dyslexia is not recognised and the teaching does not cater for the dyslexic learner. If the dyslexic learner is viewed as having a learning deficit, essentially because there is something “wrong” with the child, then practice will tend to focus on special educational needs, remediation and teaching. However if the dyslexic learner is views as having a ‘learning difference’, one which conveys a range of strengths and weaknesses in common with all learning styles and preferences, then practice is able to focus on inclusion, differentiation and learning, as put forward by the BDA (2007).
“Viewing dyslexia as a learning difficulty implies that something is “wrong” with the learner. This leads to a focus on identifying weaknesses rather than celebrating strengths. This, in turn, can result in an emphasis on remediation by specialists rather than resolution by knowledgeable class and subject teachers. One inevitable consequence has been to focus on a school’s special needs provision. However, this places responsibility for remediation on the SENCo and diverts attention away from the mainstream classroom which is, after all, the place where dyslexic students spend most of their time.”
(BDA, 2007, www 4)
Acknowledging a “specific learning difficulty” as a “specific learning difference” places the focus firmly on how all lessons are planned, resourced and taught and also on the way teachers are supported through school policy, practice and ethos. This offers real opportunities for an emphasis on inclusive mainstream strategies which are designed to empower all learners to be the best they can be. This can allow the focus to change from establishing what is “wrong” with children in order to make them “better”, to identifying what is right in the classroom in order to enhance the effectiveness of learning.
Placing the focus on learning in the mainstream classroom also offers the potential to improve the quality and quantity of discrete intervention. This can take the form of in-class support, withdrawal or a needs-based combination. This can lead to opportunities for more, higher quality intervention as additional needs are met in “dyslexia-friendly” mainstream settings.
2.11.3 The Role of ICT in Supporting Dyslexia
There is an increasing amount of valid research that has identified the importance of using ICT to support students who are dyslexic. For example, the results of research carried out by Crivelli (2006) states,
“There is no doubt that technological aids are revolutionising the efficiency of dyslexic people. ICT is recognised as a key tool to help dyslexic learners in the classroom in both learning and teaching experiences, including the accessing and recording of written information. When ICT is used effectively, many of the barriers to and differences in learning can be reduced or overcome.”
(Crivelli, 2006, P22)
The use of ICT is obviously a way of supporting pupils by enabling and empowering them. These are all important aspects in order to give the pupils control over their situation and their own learning. As reading and writing are frequent issues for the dyslexic learner, the print used both in text and on the computer screen is an important issue. There are format options available on all platforms and software packages that can support these difficulties. Background colour, font size, style and colour can all be easily changed to accommodate those with reading difficulties. The font used needs to be uncluttered such as Arial or a Sans Serif font and size Point 12 or above.
A guide to the use of ICT with dyslexic pupils, written by Keates (2000), gives practical advice to teachers and suggests that ICT not only increases the performance of the dyslexic learner but their self-confidence and self-esteem. This stems from the fact that they are able to produce neat written work that does not betray the difficulties they may have with their handwriting. The spell-checker function can also help the pupils to learn spellings and gain confidence in their work. However, if pupils come to rely too heavily on this function, interesting anomalies can emerge: a colleague once received a write-up containing the memorable first line ‘In my excrement, I found …’
The use of computers in helping dyslexic learners has also been investigated by Sands and Buchholz (1997) and great, largely untapped potential has been revealed. They comment on the combination of multisensory tasks and stimuli helps to overcome some of the learning difficulties associated with dyslexia. For example, many CD-ROM and Flash based activities on various websites will read items of text to the user, while others contain animations illustrating complex concepts, visually. Multi-sensory learning offers the best route to the memory and counteracts distractibility. Good intelligence and motivation, together with appropriate self-help strategies are the factors most likely to lead to the realisation of a dyslexic individual’s actual potential.
For schools to become ‘dyslexic friendly’, there is a requirement to consider designing and organising resources that improve access to the curriculum for pupils with literacy difficulties, such as writing frames to support the organisation of written responses and word banks of key words and common errors. The shift in focus from presentation to demonstrating knowledge within recorded work needs to be agreed and accepted practice in order to promote pupil confidence. By reducing the level of error and improving quantity and presentation, ICT can contribute to maintaining motivation and self-esteem. The application of ICT strategies can increase success for the dyslexic learner provided that there is structured planning and scaffolding within a variety of learning situations.
The use of ICT to support learners with dyslexia is well established, as can been seen in Image 2 below. The benefits lie in the fact that it can be tailored to individual needs and the ever-increasing range of available resources ensures that all needs can be catered for. From using software such as word processors to input text and benefiting from the use of the spell checker through to more sophisticated uses such as speech recognition, or using hardware such as dictation machines, Alpha-Smarts and Personal Laptops, there exists ICT to support all learners. Using multimedia is akin to using a multisensory approach, allowing the learner to make use of their most prevalent sense whilst engaging the visual, the auditory and the kinaesthetic at the same time, especially considering the adaptable nature of software programmes that are able to meet the needs of the individual.
IMAGE 2: ICT Supporting Dyslexia
Both technology and learning have undergone trends towards personalisation within recent years, which is advantageous for the dyslexic student. Since the turn of the new millennia, various types of technology have emerged and permeated education in order to support learning for all. Such as:
Traditional technologies (interactive whiteboards, projectors)
Virtual/immersive environments (multi-user environments, simulators, mixed reality systems)
Mobile learning technologies (Wireless laptops, PC tablets, PDAs)
Ambient learning technologies (enabling active, responsive environments that play a part in the learning process)
Infrastructure/communication technologies (wireless networks, peer-to-peer software, Bluetooth)
Effective intervention solutions may draw on several of these new technologies, though more importantly, they remain mindful of successful traditional approaches which aid inclusive strategies. The following Chapter 3 will give details of the nature of my research, the methodologies implemented and the form of the intervention strategies applied in order to support a pupil diagnosed with dyslexia.
Research Design and Methodology
“Research is a most important tool for advancing knowledge, for promoting progress and for enabling man to relate more effectively to his environment, to accomplish his purposes and to resolve his conflicts.”
(Mouly, 1978, cited in Cohen & Mannion (1998, P40)
This chapter strives to present a detailed description of the research design, locate the research within a particular research paradigm as well as to describe the purpose of the research, research questions, methods of data collection and analysis.
3.1 Interpretive Research Paradigm
Research Paradigms are all-encompassing systems of interrelated practice and thinking that define for researchers the nature of their enquiry, defined by Guba and Lincoln (1989) as,
"…a basic set of beliefs, a set of assumptions researchers are willing to make, which serve as touchstones in guiding their activities".
(Guba and Lincoln, 1989, P80)
Blanche and Durrheim (1999) explicate three dimensions of research paradigms: Positivist, Interpretive and Constructionist.
(Blanche and Durrheim, 1999, P4)
Many researchers conduct most of their research within a single paradigm, in the same way that artists typically prefer a certain style. Thus Positivism may suit those who are after what they believe to be objective facts. Interpretive research may be suited for those who care about the meanings people attach to such ‘facts’, and Social Constructivism may suit those who wonder how the social world gets constructed as one which contains ‘facts’ in the first place.
Since the subjective perceptions and experiences of participants are such an important, if not defining, factor in the implementation of ICT intervention strategies to support pupils with SEN, I believe an interpretive approach to be the most appropriate for the objectives of this study. Interpretive research is often described as ‘qualitative’ to distinguish it from the ‘quantitative’ number-crunching character of traditional research (Packer, 2008, www 11).
There is some truth to this, but it can be misleading, in two respects. Firstly, there are ways of using numbers in interpretive research, just as there are ways within traditional research of using non-quantitative data. Secondly, and more importantly, the significant differences between interpretive and traditional research are not in the kind of data they work with, but in their underlying assumptions.
3.2 Research Design – Qualitative Research
In addition to guiding researchers' decisions, research paradigms can determine the research designs, as well as the methodological approach researchers choose to employ in conducting research. The research design involves the most effective strategy for finding the information most appropriate in answering the research question (Goodwin, 1996, P69). The design of this investigation can be described as an interpretive or qualitative design.
Most qualitative research describes and analyzes people‘s individual and collective social actions, beliefs, thoughts and perceptions. Qualitative researchers collect data by interacting with selected persons in their settings (field research) and by obtaining relevant documents. According to McMillan and Schumacher (1997) qualitative research is more concerned with understanding the social phenomenon from the participants’ perspective. Understanding is acquired by analyzing the many contexts of the participants and by narrating participants’ meanings for these situations and events.
Creswell (1994) summarised that there are two major research paradigms, Quantitative and Qualitative. The quantitative paradigm, often been referred to as “traditional” or “scientific,” (Kim, 1989, P1) is based on numbers to interpret any occurrences under study, relying on evidence based on the logic of statistical analysis (Meyer, 1988). The qualitative paradigm attempts to capture the nature of human behaviour and analyze characteristics rather statistical representation, which is supported in Anderson and Meyer (1988),
“Qualitative research methods are distinguished from quantitative methods in that they do not rest their evidence on the logic of mathematics, the principle of numbers, or the methods of statistical analysis.”
(Anderson & Meyer, 1988, P247)
Many quantitative research perspectives hold that there is a single, objective reality that should be observed and understood under statistically based analytical procedures (Merriam, 1988), while qualitative researchers believe that understanding the world and communities of people within it should not be perceived objectively.
Therefore interpretation should be approached subjectively, with respect to the multiple perspectives that intertwine reality, due to the nature of human interaction and individual perceptions. Therefore, researchers can locate their research within the paradigm that is dictated by the questions posed, which can only be investigated and revealed through meaningful description and interpretation.
The quantitative paradigm has been criticized for containing inadequate meaning, direction, interaction between research participants and relationship to contexts. Eisner indicated that no concepts can be formed without internal or external stimulation and that qualitative research needs to be based on the information obtained through rigorous observation and interaction between all involved and concerned.
“The sources of knowledge are at least as diverse as the range of information provided by the senses. Each of the senses provides a unique content that is not replicable by other sense modalities”
(Eisner, 1979, P14)
To explore the benefits that ICT intervention strategies can have for the SEN learner would entail analysis of the perspectives of those involved, wide ranging influential factors, educational/social events in the specific class setting and those outside of the class setting. Qualitative research adopts a naturalistic approach to investigate data, which can support the needs of this research with ICT-based educational pedagogy and psychology, as opposed to quantitative research, which places the emphasis on statistical data, which is endorsed by Stake (1978).
"Truth in the fields of human affairs is better approximated by statements that are rich with the sense of human encounter: to speak not of underlying attributes, objective observables, and universal forces, but of perceptions and understanding that come from immersion in and holistic regard for the phenomena”
(Stake, 1978, P6)
3.3 Research Strategy – Qualitative Case Study
Case studies have been increasingly used in education research over recent years. It is a valuable method of research, with distinctive characteristics that make it ideal for many types of investigations. There are many numbers of definitions of the Case Study. According to Bromley, it is a "Systematic inquiry into an event or a set of related events which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest"
(Bromley, 1990, p. 302)
Case studies typically examine the interplay of all variables in order to provide as complete an understanding of an event or situation as possible. This type of comprehensive understanding is arrived at through a process of detailed observation and in-depth description of the entity being evaluated, the circumstances under which it is used, the characteristics of the people involved in it, and the nature of the community in which it is located, as suggested in Yin (1984),
“The Case Study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used.”
(Yin, 1984, p. 23)
Case studies involve an in-depth, longitudinal examination of a single event. They provide a systematic way of looking at events, collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results. As a result the researcher may gain a sharpened understanding of why the instance happens as it does. Hitchcock and Hughes (1995) support this view and consider that a Case Study has several hallmarks,
It is concerned with a rich and vivid description of events relevant to the case.
It provides a chronological narrative of events relevant to the case.
It blends a description of events with the analysis of them.
It focuses on individual actors or groups of actors, and seeks to understand their perceptions of events.
It highlights specific events that are relevant to the case.
The researcher is integrally involved in the case.
An attempt is made to portray the richness of the case in writing up the report.
(Hitchcock and Hughes, 1995, P 317)
Unlike more statistically-based studies which search for quantifiable data, the goal of a Case Study is to offer new variables and questions for further research. Case study research does extremely well at bringing us to an understanding of a complex issue and can extend experience, or add strength to what is already known through previous research.
Stake (2005) tells us that a Case Study is defined by the; “Interest in the individual case, not by the methods of inquiry used”
(Stake, 2005, P443)
He suggests that the key feature of case study is its ‘boundedness’ and specificity, and in his explanation, he offers the example that, the reasons for child neglect or policies of dealing with neglectful parents are not specific enough to be cases. In a similar way, we are concerned that ‘connectedness’ to friends and schooling may not be specific enough to justify the term ‘case study.’ Therefore, it is important that the researcher is clear on how they perceive the Case Study. Creswell (1994) states that,
“A Qualitative Case Study is an inquiry process of understanding a social or human problem… conducted in a natural setting."
(Creswell, 1994, P1)
This description is extremely fitting with my study conducted at GJ School, where educators and students participate and engage in their daily educational practices. Therefore, the selection of Qualitative Case Study strategy seemed most appropriate, in order to acquire greater understanding of how the use Information Communication Technologies to improve access to learning for children with Special Educational Needs.
Qualitative Case Studies are particularistic because they focus on a specific situation, event, or phenomenon. Guba and Lincoln (1981) advocate the use of this research strategy, due to the descriptive nature, in order to provide greater insight into the phenomenon under study.
“The purpose of a case study is to reveal the properties of the class to which the instance being studied belongs.”
(Guba & Lincoln, 1981, P371)
This is support is mirrored and extended by Merriam (1988) who put forward that,
“One selects a case study approach because of an interest in understanding the phenomenon in a holistic manner.”
(Merriam, 1988, P 153)
Technology to aid and support learning is by no means a new phenomenon within the education arena. Though, as stated within the literature review, true research and depth of understanding of its potential have gone unnoticed for decades, until very recently. Practitioners should be made aware of the potential, understand the nature of the support it can offer and realise the human interaction involved. A case study is suitable for this research for that reason - to explore, expose and extend the benefits technology may have for pupils with SEN and the teachers who provide support for them.
3.4 Criticism of the Case Study
Case Studies have been stereotyped as the weak sibling among social science methods and are often criticized as being too subjective and even pseudo-scientific.
"Investigators who do case studies are often regarded as having deviated from their academic disciplines, and their investigations as having insufficient precision (that is, quantification), objectivity and rigor"
(Yin, 1989, P21).
From the preceding analysis it has become apparent that the Case Study approach is frequently branded with the interpretive tradition of research (seeing the situation through the eyes of participants) rather than the quantitative paradigm, even though this need not be the case. Its sympathy to the interpretive paradigm has rendered the Case Study an object of criticism, treating peculiarities rather than regularities, as suggested in Smith (1998).
“The Case Study method…is the logically weakest method of knowing. The study of individual careers, communities, nations, and so on has become essentially passé. Recurrent patterns are the main product of the enterprise of historic scholarship.”
(Smith, 1998, P375)
This is prejudice and ideology rather than critique, but signifies the problem of respectability and legitimacy the Case Study has to conquer amongst certain academics. Like other research methods, the Case Study has to demonstrate reliability and validity. This can be difficult, for given the uniqueness of situations; they may be, by definition, inconsistent with other Case Studies or unable to demonstrate this positivist view of reliability. Even though Case Studies do not have to demonstrate this form of reliability, nevertheless there are important issues to be taken into consideration when undertaking Case Studies. The most important of these issues is, as stated in Cohen et al (2000),
“…the selection of information.”
(Cohen, et al, 2000, P185)
Qualitative researchers are interested in examining how or what questions, to explore a topic, to develop a detailed view, to take advantage of access to information, to write in expressive and persuasive language, to spend time in the field, and to reach audiences receptive to qualitative approaches. Using qualitative research methods will assist the researcher in gaining an in-depth, holistic view into a topic. Denzin and Lincoln (1994) state that,
“Qualitative researchers employ a variety of strategies and methods to collect and analyse a variety of empirical materials”.
(Denzin and Lincoln, 1994, P4)
According to Coffey and Atkinson (1996) qualitative data can occur in a variety of forms, as there isn’t one single type. They further state that,
“Data can take the forms of field notes, interview transcripts, transcribed recordings of naturally occurring interaction, documents, pictures, and other graphic representations.”
(Coffey and Atkinson, 1996, P4)
These are just a few of the many tools that can be used to gather data and, according to Tesch, (1999), there are no less than 26 analytic strategies and of these, all 26 can be applied to qualitative data.
Coffey and Atkinson (1996) also explain that qualitative research,
“…cannot be done in a spirit of careless rapture, with no principled or discipline thought whatsoever.”
(Coffey and Atkinson, 1996, P5)
One needs to have a goal or a focus in order to have some direction in one’s research. There needs to be a link, a common thread that gets weaved through the entire research as a whole.
3.5 Methods of Data Collection
In order to investigate if ICT intervention strategies can offer support for pupils with specific learning difficulties, a qualitative case study methodology with both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques were adopted. The five data collection techniques included were the use of a thorough document analysis, an extensive literature review comparison, participant observations, in-depth semi-structured interviews, personally designed questionnaires and a commercially produced assessment tools used for pre-test and post-tests for intervention analysis.
3.5.1 Document Analysis
Mason (2002) explains that Document analysis…
“…involves mediation between the frame of reference of the researcher and those who produced the text. The aim of this dialogue is to move within the “hermeneutic circle” in which we comprehend a text by understanding that frame of reference from which it was produced, and appreciate that frame of reference by understanding the text.”
(Mason, 2002, P110)
Documents are a useful source of data in qualitative research as stated above, however Mason (2002) warns that they have to be treated with great caution, since documents are…
“…constructed in particular contexts, by particular people, with particular purposes, and with consequences – intended and unintended.”,
(Mason, 2002, P110)
The most widely used are Official Documents and Personal Documents, which may give useful information, however researchers should remain mindful that they do not all provide an objective truth. They have to be contextualised within the circumstances of their construction. The task for the researcher is not to take such documents at face value, but to find out how they were constructed, and how they are used and interpreted. They can thus be a useful way in to observation and interview. Some documentation is more objective than others.
Prior to the selection of any intervention strategies, observations and training for participants, there was a great necessity to carry out a detailed Document Analysis of both Official and Personal Documentation, relating to the pupil involved within the Case Study. The list below shows the documents that were taken into consideration, analysed, validated and used to seek commonalities/anomalies, all of which are available on request due to their sensitive nature.
Documents Analysed Pre-Intervention:
Pupil Individual Education Plans (IEP) over the past 3 years.
Pupil Individual Behaviour Plans (IBP) over the past 3 years.
Pupil’s work books samples.
Historic diagnostic test results (Aston Index and NARA II)
Parent Interview notes
LEA Speech and Language Reports
LEA Educational Psychologist Reports
LEA Paediatric Therapy Report
LEA Occupational Therapist Report
School SEN files
These documents listed above had already been created and in place before my research began. Therefore, they are part of the natural situation, and can tell the researcher a great deal about pupil and the current situation before intervention. This provides an ideal baseline for pre-testing. However, for this base to be seen as accurate and valid, all relevant people involved with the pupil concerned were asked to confirm the authenticity of all documents analysed for the Case Study, as clarified in Atkinson and Coffey (2004).
“It is important to realize that documentary reality does not consist of descriptions of the social world that can be used directly as evidence about it. One certainly cannot assume that documentary accounts are “accurate” portrayals in that sense”.
(Atkinson and Coffey, 2004, P73)
During, and towards the end of the intervention strategies utilised throughout the Case Study, the documents listed above were at hand to be cross referenced with new documentation created from the intervention process.
Documents Analysed During and Post-Intervention:
Pupil work files on the computer
Intervention Software data
Teacher Participant Questionnaire (Appendix 5)
Teaching Assistant Participant Questionnaire (Appendix 6)
Teacher Participant Feedback Form (Appendix 7)
Teaching Assistant Participant Feedback Form (Appendix 8)
All Pre-Intervention Documents stated above
Updated School SEN files
Pupil’s work books samples
Class teacher planning
The results from this comparison strategy can be found in the following chapter.
3.5.2 Literature Review
The literature review in Chapter two played an integral part throughout the study and presented a framework for comparing the results of this investigation with those of similar studies (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994, P150). Without the extensive research during the Literature Review the designing of intervention strategies and an understanding of the range of technological devices available to supporting pupils with special educational needs could not have occurred. Intervention strategies and technological devices used during the study to support the pupil involved within the research are outlined in the following chapter.
Collection, analysis and interpretation of data were accomplished according to the guidelines provided in the literature study and final judgments and conclusions from the research where generated from comparisons made with the literature within the field.
3.5.3 Participant Observations
Observation is a useful technique in collecting direct and first-hand useable data, as Nickola (2001) maintains.
"Observation serves as bedrock of human knowledge."
(Nickola, 2001, P41)
Observational techniques play an integral part in various investigations, where researchers are interested in describing and understanding the social and the natural world around them. In addition to the interview, I employed both simple observation and participant observation for collecting data. Bless and Higson-Smith (1995) describe simple observation as,
"…the recording of events as observed by an outsider"
(Bless and Higson-Smith, 1995, P105)
Observations were designed for me to make notes and gather information on how the intervention strategies where bearing to the main aim of supporting our pupil with special educational needs, with additional focus on how the class teacher and support teacher used the strategies provided. Throughout the Case Study, my role mainly featured as the main provider of support, ideas and training for all participants, therefore during the observation exercises I did not want to loose that sense of inclusion. I felt that operating as an outsider would have lost that group ethos, common approach and equality status that was strong throughout the initial stages of the Case Study.
This participative approach is supported in Babbie et al. (2001), who describe participant observation as an observation where,
"…the researchers are both the members of the group they are studying and the researchers who study that group."
(Babbie et al., 2001, P290)
This is also acknowledged in Bless & Higson-Smith (1995), who emphasise that during participant observation, the participants accept the researcher as one of them.
“Such acceptance eliminates uneasiness among the respondents, and keeps them calm and true to themselves throughout the process.”
(Bless & Higson-Smith, 1995:105)
As a participant observer, I was able to note a number of factors that were related to the way the class teacher and support teacher utilised the intervention strategies in order to improve support to the pupil involved in the Case Study. Through these observations, I was also able to make assessments on which strategies proved to be more successful than others and provide further suggestions to all involved.
These activities were carried out without ruling out ethical issues that guide qualitative research, so as to keep this research as authentic as possible (Bless & Higson-Smith, 1995, P105). All participants had the opportunity to view any notes that were taken during any observation activities. Time was offered to all participants to ask any questions about the notes and I explained their right of control over any annotations.
3.5.4 Informal and Semi-Structured Interviews
Throughout the Case Study at GJ School, numerous informal interviews were conducted to explore the impact of the intervention strategies adopted within the class setting. These were carried out for a dual purpose; firstly, in order to gauge participant (class teacher and support teacher) confidences in these new approaches, highlight any successful issues and any areas that needed refining; secondly, to receive class teacher judgements and assessments on pupil confidence and any marked development in aspects focused on. This communication transfer between the interviewer and interviewee is seen as a powerful tool for evidence gathering during qualitative research, as supported in Merriam (1991)
“This communication is with a purpose, as the interviewer is keen to discover what the interviewee/s think/s about a specific subject.”
(Merriam, 1991, P24)
The informal interviews provided exactly what the participants thought about the introduction of the intervention strategies used, along with their assessments and appraisals. Probes were used to expand responses and to generate spontaneity during the interaction. All the participants involved in the interviews responded to this form of questioning and offered further detail as they elaborated, sharing their experiences and feelings, most of which revealed marked similarities.
Towards the end of the six month Case Study period, I organised and carried out two semi-structured interviews; one with the class teacher, and the other with the pupil’s support teacher. The interviews were planned as follows:
The settings for the interviews were at the school where the participants work.
Before the interviews were actually conducted, informed consent was obtained (Appendix 9).
During the interviews I reiterated the aim of my investigation.
I assured them that confidentiality would be maintained and that no information would be attached to them personally or used against them in any way.
I used pseudonyms to protect their identity.
The semi-structured interviews were audio recorded for transcription and analysis purposes (Appendix 10).
“Transcribing involves translating from an oral language, with its own set of rules, to a written language with another set of rules.”
(Kvale, 1996, P165)
The interviews were transcribed from an audio recording device within a few days of the interview and then reviewed by the researcher. Difficulties in transcription include reliability, as it is not possible to have a completely objective ‘correct’ transcription of a verbal report; however, a clear and careful transcription should meet the requirements of the study. Word for word transcriptions were made, but records of intonation and pauses were not considered necessary for this study (Kvale, 1996).
A focused semi-structured interview was chosen as it was planned to take place after the analysis of some questionnaires and:
“..in response to a known situation which was analysed by the interviewer prior to the interview”
(Cohen, et al, 2000, P273)
Open-ended questions were planned for the opening session to ease both interviewer and interviewee naturally into the interview.
Bless and Higson-Smith (1995) state that,
“The questionnaire is a complex instrument of data gathering.”
(Bless and Higson-Smith, 1995, P115)
Questionnaires are not among the most prominent methods in qualitative research, because they commonly require subjects to respond to a stimulus, therefore they are not acting naturally. However, they are very useful, especially as a means of collecting information from a wider sample than can be reached by personal interview. Questionnaires may be used in the first instance, followed by other techniques to provide an opportunity to check information from a variety of sources. Interaction among techniques in this way is typical of qualitative research, being extremely beneficial in the convergence of data, a process described as triangulation of data (Krefting, 1991, P219). Within a qualitative Case Study approach such as this research, more open-ended and word-based questionnaires are preferred, as supported in Cohen et al (2000).
“If a site-specific Case Study is required, then qualitative, less structured, word-based and open-ended questionnaires may be more appropriate, as they can capture the specificity of a particular situation. Where measurement is sought then a quantitative approach is required; where rich and personal data are sought, then a word-based qualitative approach might be more suitable.”
(Cohen et al, 2000, P247-8)
Within the selected GJ School I compiled a questionnaire (Appenix 5 and 7) which was designed to hold both closed questions, for more controlled comparisons with other data collection strategies used, and open-ended questions, giving the respondents the opportunity to explain their answers and opinions in greater detail. This enabled me to collect and select qualitative information from key participants involved in my study.
The class teacher and support teacher involved within the Case Study received the questionnaires two weeks before the semi-structured interview session commenced. They were asked to answer the questions as honestly as possible and to return the questionnaires a week later. LeCompte and Preissle (1993) define key informants as “...individuals who have special knowledge, status or communication skills and who are keen to share these with the investigator.”
(LeCompte and Preissle, 1993, P166)
The questionnaire will always be an intrusion into the life of the respondent, therefore careful consideration of the ethical issue related to asking participants within any research to undertake such activities must be considered. Cohen, et al (2000) lists how questionnaires could potentially be an inconvenience to others,
“…be it in terms of time taken to complete the questionnaire, the level of threat or sensitivity of the questions, or the possible invasion of privacy.”
Cohen, et al (2000, P245)
This approach was used in order to gather perceptions and evaluations of the intervention strategies and processes from two viewpoints and to triangulate information collected from Observations, Semi-Structured Interviews and Document Analysis under the ethical conventions that underpin qualitative research.
3.5.6 Pre-test and Post-test Method
In order to demonstrate any developments made by the pupil involved in the Case Study, I decided to include a Pre-test and Post-test method within my research design. This would provide an ideal measurement or gauge for any value added to the pupil’s development under the inclusion of these intervention strategies. Therefore it is essential that these Pre-tests and Post-tests are the same test in order to claim fairness in the test results. There are a numerous tests in the public domain which cover a vast range of topics and which can be used for evaluative purposes. Cohen et al (2000) describe the main attractions for researchers in adopting these published tests for data collection and comparison.
They are objective;
They have been piloted and refined;
They declare how reliable and valid they are;
They tend to be parametric tests, hence enabling sophisticated statistics to be calculated;
Researchers are spared the task of having to devise, pilot and refine their own tests.
(Cohen, et al, 2000, P319-320)
Published tests by definition are not tailored to institutional or local contexts or needs. The researcher wishing to use published tests must be certain that the purposes, objectives and content of such tests correspond with the purposes, objective and content of the investigation. This warning of fitness for purpose is clarified in Cohen, et al (2001),
“The golden rule for deciding to use published tests is that it must demonstrate fitness for purpose. If it fails to demonstrate this, then tests will have to be devised by the researcher. Not only might it be time consuming to devise, pilot, refine and then administer the test but, because much of it will probably be non-parametric, there will be a more limited range of statistics which may be applied to the data than in the case of published parametric tests.”
(Cohen, et al, 2000, P320)
Working closely with the school Support Teacher and Special Educational Needs Coordinator, it was decided that the following two published test could be more beneficial to the nature of this research and the pupil within the Case Study. As the primary researcher within the Case Study I felt the need to investigate these two published tests to decide which was more suitable. The following information was obtained from Surgisales Teaching Aids (STA – www9)
Ø The Aston Index
The Aston Index offers a really thorough understanding of the needs and difficulties of individual children, containing 16 tests which enable the measurement of an individual pupil’s general underlying ability and attainment with reference to the child’s mental age. The index identifies:
Children with special educational needs;
Children with language difficulties Children with auditory and visual perception difficulties;
Children with graphic difficulties;
Specific difficulties in reading, writing and spelling fluency.
Ø The Neale Analysis of Reading Ability
The Neale Analysis of Reading Ability (NARA II) is an individual test of reading, accuracy and comprehension in children from the age of six. NARA II is both an attainment and a diagnostic test that can be used to monitor progress and identify particular needs. It provides standardised scores and reading ages for comparisons. The tests aim to:
Match reading materials to children’s abilities
Check specific skills have been acquired
Gauge children’s interest in reading
Establish a good working relationship with an individual or small group at the start of tutoring.
(STA – www9)
After much consideration I decided to use NARA II, for gauging any development made over the period of the Case Study, in terms of the pupil involved. This decision, supported by all involved, was arrived at due to the following points:
The test matches the specific purpose and content of the investigation in question;
The pupil involved has carried out this test previously, since the SEN department prefer NARA II for accuracy and reliability against all other published tests based on the same content;
The school has previous data using the same test dating back three years which, if required, could be called on for further analysis.
Finally, the school involved within this study were willing for resources: financial, human and time related; to be allocated to these activities.
3.6 Methods of Data Analysis
The analytic phase of qualitative research is characterised by the important role the qualitative researcher plays in the production and interpretation of data. Merriam (1998) concurs that data analysis refers to data that is…
"…compressed and linked together in a narrative that conveys the meaning that the investigator has derived from studying the phenomenon.”
(Merriam, 1998, P178)
Data analysis is a procedure of organising data into more manageable categories, as described in De Vos (1998).
“Data analysis is a reasoning strategy with the objective of taking a complex whole and resolving it into its manageable parts.”
(De Vos, 1998, P336)
Data gathering and data analysis were integrated, so as to use what I had deduced in the interview. Data was analysed sequentially: as it was collected, I refined ideas, questioned points, trying to see underlying reasons and causes. After that, I read through all the collected information to get a sense of the overall data (Creswell, 1998, P140). I reviewed and highlighted important pieces of information and wrote notes of main ideas about the information gathered through observational notes and interview transcriptions (Miles & Hurberman, 1994, P33).
According to Krefting (1991), truth-value is the foundation of credibility.
“The goal of credibility is to describe accurately the experience of the phenomenon under study. Credibility serves to establish confidence in the truth of the findings for the subjects or informants and the context of the investigation.”
(Krefting, 1991, P215)
It reveals the confidence the investigator has with the truth of the findings based on the research design, informants and context. The use of multiple sources and multiple methods within this study enhances credibility and trustworthiness of the information gathered including validity and reliability of the findings.
“Trustworthiness of the study becomes evident if the researcher provides authentic information that displays reliability and validity.”
3.6.2 Reliability and Validity
Two terms which are of paramount importance to research are reliability and validity. Reliability refers to the degree of consistency with which instances are assigned to the same category by different observers. Validity is related to the extent to which a piece of research actually investigates what the researcher purports to investigate and is usually posed in terms of what constitutes a credible claim to truth (Silverman, 2000).
Nunan (1992) suggest two words for guarding against threats to reliability- care and explicitness.
“If one is careful in the collection and analysis of one’s data, and if one is explicit about the way the data were collected and analysed, then one can reasonably claim reliability for one’s investigation.”
(Nunan, 1992, P62)
However, LeCompte and Preissle (1993) suggest that,
“The cannons of reliability for quantitative research may be simply unworkable for qualitative research.”
(LeCompte and Preissle, 1993, P332)
Quantitative research relies on replication; if the same methods are used with same sample then the results should be the same, therefore requiring high levels of control throughout the research design and consequently obtaining a distorted view of the natural environment. The premises of qualitative studies include the uniqueness and idiosyncrasy of situations, therefore impossible to replicate exactly – possibly a quality that is a strength as opposed to a weakness. Qualitative research strives to record the multiple interpretations and meanings given to natural situations and events, therefore the notion of reliability is then construed as dependability (Merriam, 1998, P206).
Unfortunately there are a number of issues involved within this Case Study which are threatening its reliability. Numerous people have been involved in the development and support of the pupil involved in the research, given the nature of the specific learning needs which carries support. In addition, the supportive nature of the family background which has given the opportunity for further support outside of school hours, there is an extensive list of scaffolding activities organised by the school and through speech and language support from the LEA. Many stakeholders were involved before, during and after the research project. Therefore having historic data from previous testing and assessment strategies to gauge progression during the period of my research and intervention seemed the only way of demonstrating any progress made. The fact that published tests and analysis tools were used for data comparison can be seen as a safeguard against such threats to reliability since these tend to be high in reliability (Slavin, 1992).
In order that the research project meets credible standards, I adopted various strategies within the data collection process and data analysis for validity. The selected strategies described below were applied to ensure credibility of the findings and are identified in Cohen et al (2000) as
“…safeguards against the charge levelled against qualitative researchers, in that they respond only to the loudest bangs or the brightest lights.”
(Cohen et al, 2000, P120)
188.8.131.52 Member Checking
In an attempt for authenticity the use of member checking was adopted throughout the research. Guba and Lincoln (1989) define member checking as a continual checking of the research material with the participants, so as to eliminate chances of misinterpretation of data. The research material was revealed to the informants, so that they could review the data and react to the results, in order to ensure accurate translation of the participants' viewpoints into data
During the interview, member checking consisted of the researcher reiterating, paraphrasing and finally summarising information obtained, therefore ensuring the accuracy of facts. Following data collection, member checking consists of reporting back preliminary findings to respondents or participants, asking for critical commentary on the findings, and potentially incorporating these critiques into the findings. It is hoped that these forms of member checking may add accuracy and richness to a final report.
184.108.40.206 Collaboration /Collegiality
It was necessary for me, as a practitioner, to inform the participants of the context of the study and my position in the investigation, so as to ensure reliability. All participants were involved heavily throughout all stages of the research ensuring a sense of collegiality and ownership over the research project. This approach heightened a sense collective leadership and responsibility over the success and failure of the intervention strategies. This resulted in all participants having an awareness of the necessity for professionalism when carrying out any activity, therefore increasing levels of dependability in data.
220.127.116.11 Reflexive Notes
Krefting (1991, P218) maintains that the qualitative approach is reflexive in the sense that the investigator is part of the research process. As the participant in the inquiry, I needed to evaluate myself in the context of the investigation, so as to be aware of my biases and preconceived assumptions. Throughout the study I wrote down the thoughts, feelings and ideas that were generated by my contact with the participants. This enabled me to collect, analyse, interpret data and to come to conclusions, without tainting the study with prejudices, but maintaining authentic information which displayed credibility, reliability and validity.
18.104.22.168 Long Term Observation
Persistent observation of the participants under their natural setting, administering the intervention strategies and during the interviewing process the reframing, repeating and expanding on questions on different occasions, has increased the reliability and validity of this inquiry. This form of investigation established confidence and increased the production of Reliable outcomes.
22.214.171.124 Triangulating Data
Data are facts that assist researchers to draw reliable conclusions (Hornby & Cowie, 1974, P217). Researchers identify and accumulate data to formulate answers to their queries. The inclusion of various methods of data collection in the practitioner's inquiry enhances the reliability of the findings, described in Nickola (2001) as triangulation which is the,
“…practice of using multiple methods of data gathering.”
(Nickola, 2001, P38)
Silverman (2000, P98) regards this triangulation of data to be one of the important general guiding principles of data collection. This approach was used throughout the data analysis stage of my research to further strengthen credibility of the findings. Triangulated data sources and methods were assessed against one another to crosscheck data and to interpret the findings (Krefting, 1991, P219). One of my responsibilities as a practitioner was to represent the multiple realities revealed by informants as accurately as possible, to ensure strong credibility.
126.96.36.199 Dual Data Approach
Having said earlier, that qualitative and quantitative research are on opposites ends of the research continuum, there are those who believe that both are,
“…inextricably intertwined, not only at the level of specific data sets but also at the levels of study design and analysis.”
(Miles & Huberman, 1994, P41)
Some researchers believe that qualitative and quantitative forms of data should be linked for many beneficial reasons. Miles & Huberman (1994) suggest three broad reasons for the linking of qualitative and quantitative data.
1. Enable confirmation or corroboration of each other via triangulation.
2. To elaborate or develop analysis, providing richer detail.
3. To initiate new lines of thinking through attention to surprises or paradoxes, turning ideas around and providing fresh insight.
(Miles & Huberman, 1994:41)
Cohen, et al.(2000) gave an excellent example of this duality in approach to data collection when explaining that the qualitative data from an interview together with the quantitative data acquired from respondents of a questionnaire would enhance the validity of any study. They refer to this triangulation of data as,
“…a powerful way of demonstrating concurrent validity, particularly in qualitative research”
(Cohen, et al, 2000, P112)
3.7 Ethical Issues
As stated in almost every guide book about educational research, attention has to be paid to ethical issues when doing research. Many authors suggest points concerning consent, balance between gains/costs and the importance confidentiality in terms of identities of the participant and the organisations/situation in which they are involved.
In this study, the identities of all participants were kept confidential since no names were used; each participant was represented by their role. Not only were the direct participants’ names kept confidential, the name of the school and other members of staff involved on the peripheral of the Case Study remained anonymous.
It is imperative that informed consent is obtained from all participants within any study. Collecting information without the respondent knowing, without their willingness and expressed consent, the researcher may be seen as being unethical.
“Informed consent: implies that subjects are made adequately aware of the type of information you want from them, why the information is being sort, what purpose it will be put to, how they are expected to participate in the study, and how it will directly or indirectly affect them.”
(Kenmar, 1999, P192)
Informed consent from those participating in the research was obtained before any observation or interview activities were actually conducted. The parent of the pupil involved within the Case Study was given a cover letter, along with a consent form (Appendix 9) which stated the conditions for participation in the research. The parent was asked to read, sign and return the consent form back to the researcher, only if they wanted to be part of the study. The conditions for participation were that:
The interviews may be recorded for transcription;
Participants may withdraw from the study at any time without having to furnish reasons for such a withdrawal;
Participants will be allocated a pseudonym in the research process to conceal their identity, unless they indicate otherwise in writing;
Participants will not incur any form of detriment by taking part in this inquiry;
Participants will have the opportunity to comment on the findings from interviews and observations;
Audio of interviews will be stored in a safe and secure place;
All intervention evidence (notes, data, transcripts and audio) considered to be confidential;
Interviewees assured of their right to check the notes which are taken either during or after the interview, provided the interviewee with the opportunity to consider whether the notes are fair, relevant and accurate.
The participant’s decision to undertake the study needs to be a voluntary decision - one that was made without any form of pressure. The participant also needs to be made aware that they have the right and freedom to choose not to assist you in the study as well as choosing to pull out of the study at any time if so wishes. All the participants were aware that they were subjects of a research and what the researcher’s interests were. The research offered good opportunities for participants to take control of their learning and development. It cost their time and effort; however they gained subject knowledge, new ICT skills and greater breadth in their teaching and learning in return. The need for this research to be a positive activity for the participants is essential, in this way we can promote the possibility of greater enthusiasm, enjoyment and reliability. Therefore, there is great necessity to make sure that no harm or risk comes to the participants within any study. This could come in the form of,
“…blows to self-esteem or ‘looking bad’ to others, threats to one’s interest, position, or advancement.”
(Miles & Huberman, 1994, P292)
To conclude contact details were provided so that if the participant wished to ask questions, comment, make recommendations or need further clarification they would be able to. Trust and honesty are crucial in any study. The importance of clarity in the details required for all participants is paramount; making sure the whole truth is depicted, without leaving out any valuable information. The following chapter will outline the details of the Case Study and discuss the findings of this inquiry.
The Case Study Report
4.1 The Case Study Context
The Literature Review highlights the range of difficulties, conditions and disabilities that can hinder a pupil to access to a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum, without inclusive strategies implemented. In order to carry out my research within the time frame, and the realms of reality, it would be impossible to investigate each SEN situation that could possibly exist within the education system. The best scenario would be to locate participants who are willing to become involved within my research, ensuring that all ethical issues outlined in the previous chapter were met.
I had decided to select the school in which I work for the research setting, in order to be easily accessible, provide support whenever required and answer any questions that the participants may have about the research. Only when all participants are familiar with the research intentions, investigations can take place into the best possible intervention strategy to adopt and implement this to support the pupils. This notion of clarity, openness and transparency in approach to research work is crucial for a successful Qualitative Case Study approach, as outlined in the previous chapter.
Through consultation with the school’s SEN team it was decided that Pupil B would greatly benefit from being involved in this research due to his dyslexic condition, familiarity with ICT, parental support and recommendations from his Occupational Therapy Assessment Report (Appendix 10), specifying the recommendation for an ICT intervention strategy in order to support the recording of his thinking and learning.
This proved to be an ideal solution for the research, though more importantly for the pupil’s needs. The parent of Pupil B was contacted in order to clarify the study intentions and gain consent to take part in this Case Study (Appendix 9), in accordance with ethical issues and considerations laid out in the previous chapter.
4.2 The Pupil Profile
Through detailed document analysis of Pupil B’s SEN folder, samples of work, LEA correspondence and SEN related reports, I was able to build up a picture of his difficulties, strengths and requirements. This provided me with the knowledge to inform my selection of intervention strategies in order to improve Pupil B’s access to the curriculum and support development. The documentation includes reports, summaries, correspondence and recommendations from the Parent, Headteacher, School SEN Co-ordinator, Educational Psychologist, Paediatric Occupational Therapist, Speech and Language Therapist, Specialist Teacher, Behaviour Specialist Teacher and Community Paediatrician. The names of individuals, schools and departments remain anonymous to uphold the ethics of research as stated in the previous chapter.
The documentation suggests that Pupil B has many strengths and qualities. He is a bright, articulate and knowledgeable person possessing an inquiring mind. He is an endearing character with a sense of humour and strong potential as a learner, who enjoys Physical Education, Mathematics and Science. However, he prefers to work alone in his own space and can become frustrated when asked to work with others. Pupil B possesses excellent problem solving skills but finds great difficulty in cooperating with others; he becomes dysfunctional within a group situation, where he experiences high degrees of frustration which leads to some physical aggression. Frustration also seems to be caused by his difficulty in recording ideas. There is a clear discrepancy between Pupil B’s cognitive ability and his Literacy skills.
It is considered, according to the documentation available, that Pupil B’s difficulties have led to Special Educational Needs in the following areas:
Social Skills – relating to peers.
Pupil B has undergone numerous assessments and referrals over recent years. The Paediatrician Consultant diagnosed Pupil B with the following conditions:
Uneven cognitive profile with evidence of Specific Learning Difficulty - Dyslexia.
Developmental Co-ordination Disorder – DCD (or Development Dyspraxia)
Attention Deficit Disorder – ADD.
Social Learning Disorder – suggestive of a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
In order to meet the needs specified above Pupil B has received Individual Education Plans and programmes (IEP) along with 15 hours per week of one-to-one teaching assistant support within class. Pupil B also receives regular support from a speech and language specialist teacher. In general, programmes are structures and finely graded to provide plenty of practice at each step to ensure mastery of any skill being taught, allowing Pupil B to experience success. The planning of most learning programmes for Pupil B have taken place collaboratively between Pupil B’s teacher, teaching assistant, parent and SEN co-ordinator. The following aim would need to be considered for all worked planned, as set out in Pupil B’s SEN statement, made by the Community Paediatric Occupational Therapy Department.
To promote ****** posture at a desk and grasp of pencil
To promote ****** handwriting skills (letter formation skills)
To recommend a measured approach to written recording for ****** with use of alternative means of recording and development of IT skills to assist ****** communicating his learning for his long term needs.
This information provided me with an answer to the main overriding research question:
Key Question 1: Why adopt ICT in Learning Support for pupils (Pupil B) with Special Educational Needs?
4.3 The Class Teacher and Teaching Assistant
Throughout the literature, there are many warnings that technology itself should not be seen as a panacea, and that without skilled application by the teacher its benefits may soon recede. The crucial element remains the way in which the technology is incorporated into pedagogical patterns and this is in turn dependent upon the impact it has on the epistemologies and personal theories of the teachers deploying the technology in their classrooms.
In assisting Pupil B’s development, the participating teacher and teaching assistant require focused learning goals, supportive strategies, instructional dialogue and to recognise that their main role is to promote independent learning. These support mechanisms used and implemented include, modelling, contingency management, instructing, questioning, cognitive structuring, task structuring and feedback, which reflect the strategies proposed in Tharp (1993) as discussed within the literature review.
During planning meetings and informal discussions with the teacher and teaching assistant participants, I was able to offer pedagogical support and advice on these strategies and approaches to teaching and learning. Discussions were very useful for clarity and openness during the initial stages of the research project. Reflecting on these strategies throughout the research project was also very helpful, in order to promote their use and remind participants of their value. The most important and inspiring message I gave to the teaching participants was the fact that using ICT to support Pupil B was not going to be the solution to his learning difficulties, it is the way in which the key people involved in supporting his learning applies the ICT strategies. To put it in another way, the human resource is the key resource when supporting learning with or without the use of technology.
Providing the teacher and teaching assistant participants with this information and approach to supporting learning proved to be extremely useful, however there needed to be clarity in the forms of activities to be used to support Pupil B. In the selection process for the types of intervention strategies it was important to reflect on the conclusions made within the literature review in Chapter 2. Only then could my research Key Question 2 be answered.
Key Question 2: How can ICT encourage and facilitate teacher's and peer's engagement in supportive learning, in a more productive way than might otherwise happen?
4.4 The Intervention Strategies
In assessing the intervention process, the teaching participants and I needed to collate the data related to the strengths, skills, and challenges that the student possesses, the environment in which the student is expected to learn and the tasks that the student needs to do, in order to make informed decisions about the sort of strategies to adopt for supporting Pupil B’s learning.
Using the SETT Framework (Zabala, 1996) to support the organisation and design of the intervention process, as discussed within the literature review, required collaboration, collegiality and logical thinking by all team members. The result of such a process generated an effective consensus-building tool. As information was organised and prioritised, and tasks and tools explored, the links between support and intervention became strong and clear. In addition to developing a system of tools valuable to Pupil B, contribution to the development of the SETT framework increased ownership for all participants. This increased the relevancy of the technology and made participants more active and persistent in encouraging and supporting the student's achievement through its use.
The following information presents the description and purpose of the tools and tasks selected to support Pupil B reading and writing, which were the main areas for concern mentioned within the SEN statement and Educational Support reports. Each were explored and discussed in great detail, in order to clarify the relevance and benefit in promoting the development of Pupil B’s reading and writing. The support tools and tasks were organised into three categories; Writing Tools, Visual/Auditory Tools and Development Tasks.
The summary and support sheets of the tools, which were handed out to participating teachers, can be seen in Appendix 12. These were derived from the information gathered during the literature research (Chapter 2) relating to the synergy of Florian and Hegarty’s (2004) and NCTE’s (2002) categories for the use of ICT software and hardware resources to support the learning of pupils with SEN. The strategies highlighted in the BDA Dyslexia Pack (2007) were also taken into consideration here. The following information utilises these ideas in relation to the ICT intervention techniques used to support Pupil B‘s learning and development in the areas specified within his SEN documentation.
4.4.1 The Writing Tools
Due to Pupil B’s dyslexia and poor fine motor skills, he experiences problems with the mechanics of writing, resulting in slow and reluctant writing. The effort required will often distract him from thinking about the content of the work and final checking will be harder if his writing is hard to read. For these reasons we agreed to use a word processing package to support his writing development. The following qualities of word possessing packages were the factors considered when making this decision to include this strategy within the intervention process.
§ When using a keyboard and screen Pupil B can devote more attention to the content and spelling of his writing. Resulting in a much easier and less depressing approach to reading and correcting his work on the screen. The fact that a writer can edit, replace and delete mistakes can be liberating and develop confidence in writing.
§ Even with poor fine motor skills Pupil B can present work of equivalent quality to his peers, as word processors make letter formation easier through the keyboard rather than a pencil.
§ On screen, Pupil B can work with larger font sizes or use talking word processors yet still use the same material and do the same work.
§ Pupil B can plan and organise work visually using text, symbols and images, from the school’s resource drive, to draft and organise work
Pupil B is a slow and reluctant writer; therefore the inclusion or word banks as a strategy to develop this area was extremely attractive, since they can improve pace during the writing process, reduce typing and support spelling.
§ Pupil B can use and apply a wide range of vocabulary in a variety of subjects and styles to express true understanding and ability, as opposed to spelling ability. In Pupil B’s case this is extremely beneficial, since his vocabulary understanding is enormous compared to his ability to write the words he understands.
§ Words and sentences can be heard before selected, enabling Pupil B to make a more informed choice.
§ By selecting whole-word, whole-phrase or even whole-sentence insertion, Pupil B can concentrate on the content for longer periods of time – and increasingly.
Supportive word processing with spell-checkers and speech feedback can support the development of Pupil B’s spelling and writing, though support from the teaching assistant is required in order to minimise false corrections.
§ Activities designed to reinforce spelling and reading work are valuable if the exercises are chosen to link in with current class work.
Electronic Writing Frames
Word processing ideas directly into electronic writing frames and templates created reduces time and effort, enabling Pupil B to expand his ideas, using copy and paste to organise draft writing.
§ Many writing frames have been prepared for Pupil B to use in various activities related to subjects across the curriculum.
4.4.2 The Visual and Auditory Tools
Interactive Whiteboard Teacher Techniques and Skills
The application of Interactive Whiteboards within the Intervention Process was seen as useful to support Pupil B’s reading and writing development since they enable better visual clarity for text, images and diagrams. The following qualities of this resource were contributing factors to its selection.
§ Inclusive practice throughout the whole class, not just with Pupil B.
§ The use of tools such as reveal, magnifier or spotlight improves tracking of text and discussion points.
§ Activities can be delivered in a more multi sensory approach.
§ Pupils and teachers can model spellings, sentence construction, writing content, idea planning and demonstrate tasks.
§ Spelling words can be displayed alongside images related to the words for improved meaning, context and recall.
§ Inclusion of multi-media content enables greater engagement and enthusiasm to write.
Multimedia technology can provide pupils, especially in the case of Pupil B, with access to information in a more immediate and visual form than otherwise possible, creating opportunities for learning which are not dependent on the written word. Dyslexic learners enjoy using alternative forms of recording and often use visual stimulus and methods in their learning. This can be supported and developed through using technology such as the use of digital images, clip art, multimedia presentations, video and animations. The opportunity to create multimedia presentations can enable Pupil B to experiment with different methods of combining audio and vision.
§ This strategy is beneficial to the development of Pupil B’s writing because sounds can become more meaningful when heard in conjunction with moving images and text on screen.
§ Pupil B’s writing can be supported and stimulated by the use of digital images, animations, video and clip art accessed from the school’s resource network drive.
§ Similar to the use of word processing package, Pupil B can present work of equivalent quality to his peers, although with the inclusion of multi-media resources, work can begin to be even more impressive, adding to the possibility of experiencing success and satisfaction in producing quality work related to his understanding.
Natural Reader - Text To Speech Tool
Text to speech facilities are essential strategies for support within literacy activities such as reading, spelling and writing. Word processing packages can sound words and sentences back to the writer, however specific text-to-speech software can do far more, and be of greater advantage to Pupil B. Words can be heard in places were otherwise cannot be sounded out. The software can even record any text selected in any window on the computer as an audio file to be saved and listened to at a later date. These features are extremely beneficial to Pupil B for many reasons.
§ Auditory repetition of text can support poor memory skills and develop independent learning.
§ Supportive feedback made within interactive games and can promote confidence and self-esteem.
§ Enables Pupil B to simultaneously receive visual and auditory access to all text on screen, even as it is typed.
§ Allows Pupil B to become increasingly more independent and confident in an easily accessible and non-threatening approach.
§ Speech options can be used in all subject areas across the curriculum, enabling improved access to curriculum content, learning and tasks
Mind Mapping Software
Many widely accepted characteristics of dyslexia can be helped by the use of mind-mapping software, for example: poor memory; things taking longer to understand and produce; misinterpretation or misunderstanding of a topic; working out exactly what’s required from any task; and, of particular value, help with focussing, planning and organisation. Many dyslexic learners experience low self esteem as a result of these obstacles, however, having such a helpful tool can allow t their thought processes to flow.
§ Typing ideas directly into planning maps reduces time and effort, enabling Pupil B to expand and organise his ideas.
§ This strategy enables Pupil B to organise and prepare work visually using text, symbols and images.
§ Mind Mapping programs provide the facility to add additional notes to visual plans before using the program to convert the map into prose within a word processor or desktop publisher, reducing time and effort for Pupil B in copying / typing out plans. This improves the link between planning and the final writing task.
Supporting the visual difficulties experienced by Pupil B, relieves discomfort, reduces glare and provides improved clarity for reading and recording dense text. Personalising screens to specific preferences can be extremely supportive and promote engagement with writing activities.
§ Altering format options within programmes, on monitors or interactive whiteboards - e.g. colours, font formats, zoom features, text orientation and spacing.
4.4.3 The Development Tasks
Interactive Spelling Activities
Software focusing on spelling, which provide utilities such as pupil progress tracking, can support and encourage pupils, through providing information on how well they are doing and which areas they need to improve. This information can increase self-esteem for pupils and help teachers measuring achievement and set targets.
§ The computer is an excellent way of providing word finding and spelling activities. With the use of pictures and the addition of high quality speech, Pupil B is provided with a multi-sensory approach.
§ The programs chosen, Wordshark and Literacy Builder, have all been carefully designed for the teacher to select specific key words, spelling patterns for development or subject related words.
Interactive Reading Activities
The use of interactive audio books can support Pupil B’s reading development in many ways, since they are far more engaging and multisensory than standard paper books. Using these resources frequently offers the teacher or teaching assistant an understanding of Pupil B’s reading development.
§ Interactive books accessed through the school’s network resource drive are more stimulating because text can be accompanied by high resolution images to support vocabulary understanding and context.
§ Text can be heard through inbuilt narrative audio files, supporting Pupil B’s understanding of the text as he follows.
§ Key words can be highlight by Pupil B or teaching assistant to discuss or clarify meaning.
§ Many of the audio books are interactive so that Pupil B, with support, can amend and improve stories or create new stories related to relevant curriculum work undertaken in class.
Typing Tools and Software
Since ICT is seen as a key tool in supporting Pupil B, it is essential that he has a good understanding of the keyboard and develop his touch typing skills so that entering text does not obstruct or interfere with the recording of ideas. Ideally, the ability to type should be as fast as, or even faster than, writing speed. Where appropriate typing may be the regular mode of recording and used for most writing and recording activities. Pupil B prefers to use lowercase letters; therefore using yellow stickers to place over the keys for letters to be clearly seen is more beneficial.
The software 2Type was used to develop this strategy, which introduces typing skills in very child friendly and stimulating way as described below.
§ The software allows pupils to learn the basics, where to put their hands, teaches the finger names and improves keyboard familiarity.
§ By developing keyboard familiarity and correct finger positions using a colour-coded interface can increase typing speed and improve spelling
§ The software allows the pupil to differentiate between upper and lower case letters and explores letter sounds and blends
§ The games inbuilt are engaging and colourful, with differentiated tasks, allowing room for support and challenge.
§ The games are highly interactive and editable therefore the teacher and teaching assistant can add more relevant words and paragraphs to practice typing.
§ The programme has a very sophisticated assessment and reporting tool so that Pupil B's progress can be monitored.
§ There is also a print facility, which includes the ability to print development scores on a certificate, in order to promote the feeling of success and achievement.
§ 2Type also demonstrates how to sit correctly and explains the importance of knowing when to take breaks.
§ The software has excellent video tutorials to demonstrate how to do everything within the package, from the pupil or teacher perspective.
4.4 Securing Intervention Success
In order to secure maximum success in the application of the intervention techniques, tools and tasks, all participants required regular training in all aspects of their application. Informal training sessions were held during assembly times, the occasional lunchtime and non-contact days which were organised by the school. In order to comply with ethical issues highlighted in the previous chapter, this potentially intrusion of time and extra workload had to be discussed with the Headteacher, Class Teacher, Teaching Assistant, Pupil B and Pupil B’s Parent.
All participants agreed to these meetings and training sessions as they were seen as developmental and interesting activities for all, with many wider applications and benefits. To ensure sustainability of these activities I made regular checks to see if any assistance, training or help was required, this made participants feel secure and confidant in the fact that they were not alone within this process and that I was accessible at anytime.
4.5 The Results from the Case Study
This section now deals with the triangulation of information gained through the findings of my interpretation of the intervention process, the participant perceptions of how the intervention activities succeeded in meeting the aims of the research and an evaluation of the comparison between pre-test and post-test data.
4.5.1 Intervention Summary
Predominantly, the intervention strategies proved to be an extremely positive experience for all. Even if no marked improvement in Pupil B’s reading and writing could be measured over the six month duration, many positives can be taken from the project. Within the initial stages of the research, all participants were eager and stimulated to undertake the intervention tasks, seeing them as new and exciting ways of teaching and learning. Through discussion with Pupil B it was evident that he was extremely positive about the prospect of working with a computer and new programmes to develop his reading and writing, this was a milestone – motivation and enthusiasm for learning.
Most of the writing and visual/auditory tasks and tools were successfully built into the class teachers weekly planning of lessons and daily practice. Constructive discussions were held between the class teacher, teaching assistant and I, on how to apply these intervention strategies to particular areas of learning and curriculum subjects to encourage Pupil B’s development in these areas.
Literacy sessions incorporated the use of prepared writing frames and templates, word banks and multimedia resources to support and develop Pupil B’s writing, especially extended writing tasks. Mind mapping software was applied to the planning of all extended writing, including activities relating to all areas of the curriculum. Natural reader was applied when required to support Pupil B’s reading and understanding of text on the screen, whether this was an electronic information/stimulus sheet, activity, worksheet or research text (supplied text, CD-Rom or a directed website).
The use of an Interactive Whiteboard to offer visual support for Pupil B was very beneficial for many reasons, mainly because good practice is being accessed by all learners in the classroom. Most pupils enjoyed being able to work at the whiteboard and were keen to participate in the activities used to support Pupil B, therefore increasing Pupil B’s involvement within class learning, culture and mores. This is not a desire for conformity, rather an appreciation of inclusion. Through the use of the Interactive Whiteboard, Pupil B developed a very clear association between the image and the words represented. Pupil B was surprisingly less self-conscious about writing answers on the whiteboard even though he is characteristically apprehensive to write on paper and that the board is situated at the front of the classroom.
The use of the typing programme was implemented daily, however the timing during the day varied due to the organisational nature of the school day. These activities usually occurred during one-to-one time allocated to pupil B within the morning session, one assembly time within the week (already in place before the research project) and two reading sessions within the week. Throughout the week pupil B would have the opportunity to use this software within at least five sessions to develop his typing skills, practice spelling and improve letter sounds identification.
As stated earlier the development of Pupil B’s typing skills is a crucial factor in the success of any intervention strategy using ICT, since most recording of learning incorporates the use of a keyboard and word processing package. The table below (Table 3), presents the scores and data from one of the games within the typing software, demonstrates how Pupil B made significant progress in his typing ability throughout the duration of the intervention project. The game focuses specifically on typing practice and asks the pupil to read and type a passage of text, relevant to the work undertaken within the class, within a certain time. The typing software then produces a score sheet after the game is completed to demonstrate success and areas for improvement, listing the number of words typed and the percentage of words typed typing accurately.
Table 3: 2TYPE Software: Developing Typing Practice Results
Table 3 and clearly shows a progression in typing ability over the intervention period with typing scores increasing by more than 200% while sustaining and improving accuracy. Even though this is impressive over a short period of time, it cannot inform the research of Pupil B’s improved reading, writing and spelling. The data in Table 3 is taken from Appendix 13, which presents all scores and data from the activities and development games used within the typing software, undertaken throughout the intervention project. The following charts, also in Appendix 13, further clarifies the progression Pupil B made in terms of typing development, though also highlights improved understanding of letter sounds and a development in spelling ability over the research period.
Table 4: 2TYPE Software: Improving Keys Identification and Finger Placement Results
Table 4 illustrates Pupil B’s improvement over the intervention period in developing his keyboard awareness in order to use his developed typing skills within curriculum lessons. The data clearly shows how the software used has markedly improved his typing abilities which also tie in to his ability to apply these skills to his understanding of letter sounds, seen in Table 5. However, more impressively, is the improved spelling ability shown in Table 6.
Even though improvement appears stagnant over most of the intervention period, overall there is an improvement rate of approximately 100%. The plateau in this data is due to the time limit set for the task. Increasing the time length of the activities may have offered greater exploration of improvement, however it was decided to maintain a fixed length of time throughout the intervention for comparative purposes and initially to encourage enthusiasm in quick activities rather than Pupil B becoming frustrated and disengaged from many lengthily activities.
Table 5: 2TYPE Software: Understanding Letter Sounds Results
Table 6: 2TYPE Software: Improving Spelling Words Results
This data alone is somewhat convincing, in that ICT intervention techniques such as this one can promote development within reading, writing and letter sound recognition. However, this can also be interpreted as merely getting better at a game, rather than improving reading, writing and typing. To apply what is learnt within a game environment to any given learning activity would be something more interesting and worthy of such an assumption.
In order to attain a true reflection of the success of the intervention strategy, it is essential that the information gathered throughout the intervention process is triangulated with the observations and evaluations from the teaching participants, who worked directly with Pupil B. Only then can there be a realisation of a clearer and more honest picture of the intervention strategies in meeting the aims of this research.
4.5.2 Participant Responses
Participant perceptions and evaluation of the intervention techniques were collected through using a questionnaire related to the types of tools and tasks involved within the intervention process, questionnaires relating to the overall process of intervention and participant interviews. Appendix 5, 6, 7 and 8 show the teacher and teaching assistant’s responses respectively, to the questionnaire on the evaluation of the intervention tools and tasks, presenting the thoughts and judgements on the application of these strategies.
What was pleasing to discover was that the teacher’s and teaching assistant’s perceptions were rather similar in many areas. Most tasks received high praise in supporting Pupil B’s development of reading and writing, particularly the use of the typing programme to develop keyboard skills, reading and spelling ability. There were some discrepancies in their opinions of certain tools and tasks, which were clarified through the use of participants interviews.
From the information gathered by the questionnaires the class teacher and the teaching assistant indicated that they perceived the use of word processing programmes to communicate information confidently to different audiences for a variety of purposes as being highly beneficial. They both agreed that this was due to Pupil B being able to organise his writing far easier, with decreased levels of frustration, add effects to documents and incorporate multi-media in order to add greater visual impact on work and the ability to use a spell checker to confidently write ideas without his anxiety of spelling ability.
Held in similar esteem was the use of the typing support programme, being successful in initiating Pupil B’s motivation to write and enjoyment of recording ideas. They both explained and believed that the use of ICT promoted greater motivation to learn compared with when asked to handwrite work or use non-technological methods. This was due to the fact that the software and tools used within the intervention strategy were pupil friendly at all levels, as they allowed for differentiation and personal preferences to cater for Pupil B’s pace of learning and specific needs.
However, there were some issues that needed looking into such as the issue regarding the ICT strategies allowing for collaboration with others. The class teacher perceived this differently to the teaching assistant, mainly because the class teacher is observing these strategies within a whole class context, catering for 29 pupils, Pupil B being only one of these children. Perhaps the teaching assistant may have a clearer picture of any improvement made in terms of collaborative skills, since she works within a one-to-one context, hearing, seeing and being involved with every interaction during her time with Pupil B.
This difference in role within the classroom context may also be the reason for the discrepancy in the perception of how the ICT strategy had a positive effect on pupil’s behaviour during lesson time. During the participant feedback interviews the same question was put to the class teacher and the teaching assistant, “Has the pupil been more actively involved within his learning?” The responses to this question were slightly different in comparison to most of the other questions during the feedback interviews (see Appendix 6 and 8). The class teacher’s response was far more positive when saying,
“Yes, he has shown improved motivation for language work and his spelling activities. He loved the Mind Map software. Being able to use Natural Reader to read worksheets was also motivating for him. He is far more confident and competent when doing what he needs to do on the laptop.”
The teaching assistant’s response highlighted this difference of opinion through a slightly different view and position in the class.
“Yes, but sometimes tends to go off task, mainly focusing on changing font, colours, backgrounds, borders and images, rather than the learning objective. I usually have to encourage him to remember the lesson focus.”
This is by no means a criticism of the class teacher, but rather a true reflection of daily life within a modern classroom. The class teacher caters for all, regardless of the class size and the wide ranging ability levels within it. This is in contrast to the teaching assistant who usually is assigned to a small group or an individual pupil, therefore getting a clearer picture of an individual’s development and interaction, hence the necessity for strong collaboration and discussion between the class teacher and the teaching assistant. Even though the teaching participants involved in this Case Study have an outstanding and effective working relationship, there can still be slight differences of opinion due to the differences in the nature of their role within the classroom.
The scenario described above possibly indicates Pupil B’s use of distraction techniques even when using a process that appears to be more stimulating and self motivating for him. Though another point of view is perhaps that through Pupil B’s increased motivation comes far greater pride in presentation and design of recorded work, which is in great contrast to when he records work using pen and paper. Before the inclusion of technology to his daily work in class, Pupil B’s offering to a whole lesson’s writing would often only include the title of the work and the date.
The responses from all participants involved within the intervention process were very positive towards most of the tools and tasks implemented to support Pupil B’s learning and development. The questionnaires demonstrate the encouraging evaluations of nearly all software packages and strategies to allow Pupil B to become a more effective, successful and confident learner within the class. Their attitudes towards these strategies were also confirmed within the feedback forms and interviews, in particular was the response given by the class teacher when asked the question, “Has the Intervention Strategy been successful in regards to the overall aim of improving support and personal motivation for the pupil’s spelling, reading and writing?”
“Initially when introduced his behaviour deteriorated, however, being able to use his laptop for spelling activities, to read text, to create his own project on Volcanoes and during his reading time has captured his interest and has shown great motivation towards work.”
This was also supported by the teaching assistant, who stated that the intervention process was,
“…especially helpful with motivation. He thoroughly enjoyed using the laptop and has improved his spelling, writing and reading.
Disappointingly, albeit importantly, an issue which stood out when cross referenced with comments made during the feedback interviews and questionnaires was the requirement of further training in one of the software packages, Clicker 5. This package was not given enough priority and the result of this was teaching participants not applying it enough throughout the intervention process, resulting in having no effect on Pupil B’s performance.
The class teacher and the teaching assistant found it difficult to incorporate the programme’s ability to develop Pupil B’s writing into curriculum lessons, due to the complexity of the software and lack or experience using it, which was evident when the class teacher was asked the question, “Which aspects of the ICT Intervention Strategy could have been improved and why?”
“Clicker is good if he is working individually with support, though doesn’t help if he is following the work the rest of the class are doing. I didn’t really get a chance to use it much. More training and time to work with it would be required to personalise activities for him when using Clicker.”
This opinion was supported by the teaching assistant, when asked the same question, stated,
“More prior staff training would be appropriate for using Clicker, as I was not very familiar with all of the software tools.”
This was a huge disappointment, due to the quality of the resource; however this clearly implies my lack of attention to the teaching participants’ needs, in terms of training and support in this area. Another explanation for this negative scenario, perhaps, was task overload. Further ICT intervention strategy projects to support the development of pupils with special educational needs such as this, may require less tasks and tools, in order to generate greater quality support and more productive learning experiences for all.
The slightly negative and apprehensive reaction towards Clicker described above highlights the most important and highly anticipated conclusion from this research; that human intervention is far more influential than any technological intervention. The class teacher’s and teaching assistant’s opinions of the various strategies were reflected in Pupil B’s performance in using and applying them within his daily learning and class work. When having an informal discussion about the tools and task used, Pupil B said that he did not like using Clicker as the games were “boring and too hard”. Though when asked about 2Type Pupil B stated that, “There are fun games and it challenges you”, and that it, “Helps me to write fast”. These opinions are reflected in the class teacher’s and teaching assistant’s perceptions, taken from the questionnaires (see Appendix 5 and 7)
Where the teaching participants were positive about the tools and tasks included within the intervention process, Pupil B felt confident and experienced greater success in using them to improve his reading and writing skills. This is strong evidence that the enthusiasm of the teacher in applying technological intervention techniques to support pupils with special educational needs is paramount to achieving any success in their application. Regardless of the use of a pen or a laptop, pupils need to be closely monitored, scaffolded and encouraged to improve. Simply being left with the intervention programme is not enough. This supports the opinions of many researchers and authors within this field and reflects comments made in the Literature Review (Chapter 2), in particular, Labbo (2000) who strongly advises that relying solely on technology does not provide adequate scaffolding for children's learning and academic development.
The results gathered from the spelling, typing and letter sounds activities coupled with the participant responses and perceptions of the whole intervention process, are rather convincing in that, for Pupil B, the use ICT can offer robust support to pupils with special educational needs in their learning and academic development. However, for some, this evidence may appear too flimsy or insufficient to make such an assertion. For this reason, when designing this research project, I decided to include the use of pre-testing and post-testing techniques to try measuring any significant development in an aspect of Pupil B’s abilities.
4.5.3 The Pre-test and Post-test Comparison
The use of a pre-test and post-test technique was implemented to gauge whether any significant development in an aspect of Pupil B’s abilities had been made over the six month intervention period. This was carried out by selecting the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability (NARA II) to assess Pupil B’s development in reading accuracy and comprehension, as discussed in Chapter 3. The reasons for this selection were due to the test matching the specific purpose and content of the investigation in question, and that Pupil B had carried out this test previously. Therefore, the school had previous data using the same test dating back three years which could be called upon for further analysis.
The results in Table 7 below are extracts from the full data tables found in Appendix 14. They show the standardised scores for reading accuracy and comprehension, within the pre-tests and post-tests. The data also illustrates Pupil B’s reading age as a result of these pre-tests and post-tests. To demonstrate any progress made over the six month intervention period, calculations were also included to reveal any differences.
This data shows a marked improvement on Pupil B’s reading accuracy and comprehension, with an increase in a standardised score of 12 in terms of reading accuracy and 9 in terms of reading comprehension. This improvement is far clearer and more striking when converted into reading ages. The comparison of reading ages from pre-intervention to post-intervention demonstrates an increase of 1 year and 9 months in terms of reading accuracy and 1 year and 3 months for comprehension. This is strong evidence that Pupil B has improved his reading ability dramatically over the course of the intervention period.
To obtain perspective on the progress made by Pupil B’s over six months, I decided to measure it against data gathered from the same reading test undertaken previously by the SEN team within the school. The results in Table 8 below are extracts from the full data tables found in Appendix 14, showing the scores from the same reading test taken 1 year previous to the pre-test taken at the beginning of this research project.
The data indicates that throughout an 11 month period pupil B made only a 5 Months progression in his reading age for accuracy and 8 months for comprehension, both well below average progress and still below his actual age. When the data acquired from this measured progression is compared between tests a year before the intervention process and during the intervention process we can begin to see the very interesting intimations. The information below tries to demonstrate this by separating the data from the tables in order to achieve greater clarity and understanding of the information:
Therefore, according this data, the intervention process had increased Pupil B’s accuracy reading age by approximately than four times more than if traditional methods were only used to develop his reading, though in half the length of time. The intervention process had also nearly doubled Pupil B’s comprehension reading age, in comparison to not implementing technological tools and tasks to support reading development, though again in half the length of time. This can be seen far more clearly in the chart below.
Table 9: Data Chart Displaying the Reading Ages improving
4.6 Case Study Summary
The Case Study carried out indicates that ICT can offer productive support and high levels of motivation for pupils with specific learning needs. The participant responses and data gathered from the intervention process signify this in a very convincing and compelling manner, coinciding with much of the limited research available within this topic. The research techniques used throughout the Case study reflected the intentions made within Chapter 3 with an emphasis on ethicality, in order to gain credibility and reliability in its findings. The following chapter reports on the overall conclusions derived from the literature review and this Case Study research.
This research has set out to investigate the potential of implementing an ICT intervention strategy to support the learning and development of pupils with special educational needs. This was carried out by undertaking and reflecting on an extensive literature review of the current research and recommendations within this field, in order to acquire a clear understanding of the possibilities, features and problems related to such an intervention approach.
This information gathered through the literature review was then used to inform a Case Study, which focused on how the implementation of various ICT support techniques could provide an individual pupil, with specific learning needs, support in accessing the National Curriculum and his development in reading, writing and spelling, which were the main concerns highlighted within his Individual Education Plan and SEN statement.
This research clearly supports the fact that there are strong claims for ICT and its role in supporting the learning and development of pupils who require extra support, as well as indicating the problematic issues relating to such an approach. The participant responses and data gathered from the intervention process signify this in a very convincing and compelling manner. All of which coincides with much of the limited research available within this topic, such as the similar situation explored within my research context, where Pupil B’s Dyslexia is concerned, Keates (2002) concludes that,
“ICT helps the dyslexic pupil achieve more of their potential; access NC subjects; and increase self esteem and confidence. Thus, ICT provides access to curricular subjects, offers patient scaffolding and presents consistent feedback.”
(Keates, 2002, P6)
5.2 Summary of Research Findings
Through the application of the ICT intervention techniques described in the previous chapter and with the data collection methods explored in Chapter 3, I was able to arrive at the following conclusions, in relation to their positive effect on the learning and developments made by Pupil B.
During the intervention period Pupil B had made significant progress in his reading, spelling and writing in comparison with before the intervention period.
When measuring the rate of improvements made during the intervention period compared with any period of time before the intervention, the striking realisation of not only the amount of progress made became evident, but also the rate of improvement, which appears to increase when ICT strategies are implemented to support learning:
Accuracy Reading Age development over 12 months before intervention: 5 Months
Accuracy Reading Age development over the 6 months intervention period: 21 Months
Throughout the intervention process I had observed that the social interaction between Pupil B, his class teacher and teaching assistant had improved. I believe this is due to Pupil B’s success in the areas developed through the use of a strategy he enjoys and the nature of support that he is receiving from his teachers, of which he finds interesting and supportive. This in contrast to the negative relationships that often occurred between them when undertaking traditional methods of teaching and learning, which he found challenging and uninspiring, resulting in disengagement.
During feedback sessions, the class teacher and teaching assistant both commented on how Pupil B’s had improved the length of time on task within a learning activity and had displayed greater enthusiasm and motivation towards his school work, even when undertaking activities that previously would not have been attempted. An example of this was his written project on Volcanoes, purely self instigated, as described by the class teacher within her feedback interview form.
“Being able to use his laptop for developing spelling tests, to read text and to create his own project on Volcanoes, captured ******* interest and he showed great motivation towards it.”
(See Appendix 7)
The class teacher also suggested that since the implementation of the ICT intervention process, she had witnessed a marked improvement in his organisation of witting, spelling and standards. This would indicate a crossover of skills development from technology to traditional approaches. The class teacher, teaching assistant and I all agree that this is due to Pupil B’s confidence lifted by experiencing success in areas he had not previously and therefore trying harder and realising his ability away from the computer.
“He loved using the Mind-Mapping software to plan his ideas for writing, on or away from the computer. Being able to use Natural Reader to support his reading with worksheets was also motivating for him. He is confident and competent when doing his work on the laptop, which has supported his confidence in his written work, in the text books.”
(See Appendix 7)
One of the most successful techniques appeared to be the use of the typing programme to develop Pupil B’s keyboard, letter, letter sounds and spelling awareness. This was a great contributor to Pupil B’s motivation and enthusiasm throughout the project as stated by the teaching participants and expressed by Pupil B during an informal discussion. This was due to the highly interactive and attractive nature of the programme and the fact that he was aware that through using this software he was developing greater command over his reading, spelling and writing.
Further analysis of this data in Chapter 4 shows that the progression Pupil B has undergone within the activity ‘Understanding Letter Sounds’ (Table 5), and especially the activity ‘Improving Spelling Words’ (Table 6), reaches a plateau at around half way through the intervention process and only improves marginally for the rest of the intervention process, in comparison with the activity ‘Teaching Keys’ (Table 4). This is, more-than-likely due to a number of issues, such as:
The ‘Teaching Keys’ activity relied on a basic understanding of letter identification, which posed some challenge initially for Pupil B, however he made exceptional progress over the duration of the intervention period in this area, which was a great achievement. Eventually the improvements made by Pupil B, rendered the activity less challenging, therefore the only challenge left was to improve the amount of correct answers within the time required, shifting from the initial desire to purely identify the correct letters on the keyboard.
In comparison to this, the difficulty levels of the ‘Understanding Letter Sounds’ and ‘Improving Spelling Words’ activities, which started at a very basic level, pitched slightly lower than Pupil B’s ability, became increasingly more challenging over the course of the intervention process. Pupil B may have reached his ability level for the words and sound offered within the programme.
On the other hand, this may be due to there not being enough time given per activity, to physically type more words, resulting in a levelling off of the amount of words/answers to type within the time frame offered.
While there were many positive issues related to the intervention process on developing Pupil B’s reading, spelling and writing there were a few problem areas identified, that required close monitoring and careful consideration. The following points were arrived at through discussions with Pupil B, the class teacher and the teaching assistant involved within the research:
While the intervention process provided many new opportunities for Pupil B, in terms of development in his reading, spelling, writing and motivation towards learning, there appeared to be a duality in the effect on his social interaction with class members. Due to his increased levels of confidence and skill within ICT, many pupils turned to Pupil B when requiring support and ideas for their work. This provided great satisfaction for Pupil B and recognition of his success.
However, on occasions he would react negatively to any (as he describes) ‘interruptions’, when the intention would be collaboration. Successful social interaction between Pupil B and other class members are still only viable on his term alone, which is when he instigates the interaction.
Even though Pupil B has developed his length of time on task and that he is highly motivate to learn while using ICT resources there still exists a requirement for teacher intervention and structure to monitor, support and channel concentration, which was made apparent during the teaching assistant feedback.
“Sometimes he would be difficult to keep on task, as mentioned previously, but generally he liked using the laptop so much that his behaviour has been generally very good, with some support.”
(See Appendix 8)
In regard to the observations made through the analysis of the participant questionnaires, further work on intervention strategies such as this would require a specific code of conduct for word processing designed in collaboration with the pupil involved. This could be referred to when any pupil wanders off the specific task and clarifying the times to type, edit and amend presentation. This code could then be referred to whenever required in order to structure the pupil’s recording and creativity, constructively. Ideally, this would become a self-organised skill demonstrating improved independence and a greater enthusiasm for learning.
The information gathered, in order to arrive at these judgments, was derived from the participant questionnaires and interviews, discussions held with Pupil B, pre-test and post-Test data comparisons, typing software results and classroom observations made by myself during visits to the classroom.
From this research I would strongly recommend the continuation of this approach to Pupil B’s support and access to mainstream learning situations. He has made tremendous developments on all aspects of the issues relating to his specific learning needs highlighted in his SEN Statement and Specialist reports. However, there are major concerns for Pupil B in terms of social interaction with his peers. I believe that these concerns will significantly increase as he prepares to move onto secondary school. My findings in this Case Study report will most definitely be shared with the secondary school and their SEN department, so that more effective plans for induction, with the inclusion of the successful strategies utilised within this research, can be organised and prepared in readiness for his attendance at his new school.
5.3 Considering Limitations of the Research
Even though much of the findings indicate that applying ICT strategies to support pupils with special educational needs can improve pupil progress, the research must bear in mind a number of issues. The fact that the Case Study only deals with one individual and focuses on only one main form of learning disability. The range of conditions and disabilities that fall under the special educational needs umbrella are copious, along with the range of technology devices and strategies to support them.
Therefore, within the constraints of time and available resources, the best option was to conduct a Case Study on one situation, in order to place as much time and effort into this as possible to get a true reflection of the possibilities of ICT meeting the demands of supporting special educational needs.
Another factor to consider here is that the very nature of the SEN pupil is permeated with support from a wide range of sources, as mentioned earlier in this Chapter. Pupil B possesses an SEN statement which carries15 hours of one-to-one support with a teaching assistant throughout the week and has regular sessions with Local Educational Authority based Speech and Language specialist, Occupational Therapist and Educational Psychologist. Pupil B also attends an after school tuition centre funded by his mother twice a week.
Therefore to say that this ICT intervention process is solely the reason for Pupil B’s improvement would be misguided and rather conceited. Then again, these pockets of support for Pupil B have been there for some time, yet he has only made small progress over the time they have been involved. The greatest progression recorded in any documentation related to Pupil B has been during the six month intervention period, which can appear to be credited to the implementation of technology to learning, or at least supplied extra motivation alongside the support that already existed.
There are clearly strong claims to be made for ICT, but to view ICT as a universal remedy and solution to the educational challenges we face by virtue of its sheer existence, is misguided. In order to be able to maximise the effectiveness of ICT use teachers, do not only need the requisite technical skills, it also depends on the familiarity with good practice firmly rooted in an understanding of how pupils learn.
With this last point in mind, the main conclusion to take from this Case Study is the fact that merely applying ICT strategies is not the solution to the challenge of offering quality support for pupils with special educational needs. However technological tools and strategies, if used appropriately, can be invaluable resources with the possibility to provide improved access to the national curriculum and motivate pupils to succeed in many other learning situations that otherwise may not be possible.
What is crucial for this to occur is the teacher, however interactive and advanced the software or device applied, it is the teacher that scaffolds the learning, provides necessary support, challenges ideas, reacts to arbitrary responses within learning situations and promotes deeper thinking. This point is supported by Florian and Hegarty’s (2004) inquiry of previous attempts at implementing technology to promote the reform of schools and to support the learning within the classroom. They reported that,
“Sometimes inappropriate equipment was assigned to children, perhaps provided by charities….and made provision or recommendations without reference to the child’s school. Teachers were then presented with expensive, complicated IT equipment and expected to learn how to incorporate it in their teaching without any training or support. Not surprisingly, the equipment found its way into a cupboard. Other children were more fortunate and had multi-professional assessment to decide on the most appropriate provision.”
(Florian and Hegarty, 2004, P39)
During their investigation the findings pointed towards the fact that most schools were unsuccessful because they failed to adequately address the real needs of their teachers, pupils and contexts. With this warning in mind and from this research, I strongly believe that it is essential for effective staff training and professional development, in order to maximise the benefits that are possible in the application of ICT strategies and tools to support the teaching and learning processes. This requirement is heightened even further when considering support and intervention for pupils with additional needs. Coupled with this is a requirement of a strong familiarity or relationship with learning theories and the findings from educational psychology. Otherwise, there is a real danger that the implementation of any computer activity may too easily encourage a distancing of teacher involvement; or as Crook (1994) suggests,
“…a dislocation from the normally rich context of class-based activity and discussion”.
(Crook 1994, P18)
The class teacher is the main influence with regard to the organisation and success of any computer assisted activity, guiding pupil’s learning experiences through structured planning, supportive interventions and promoting links to other curriculum areas. Therefore with this in mind, if there is a lack of understanding of this concept and the structured guidance from the teacher is missing, there is a strong chance that these computer aided learning experiences will be ineffectual or even detrimental. The role of the teacher, therefore, remains pivotal, such as in identifying appropriate learning outcomes, choosing appropriate software and structuring the learning process, as stated in Waller (2002)
“The potential of ICT is rarely realised because the effective use of software is dependent on the teacher providing appropriate support or 'scaffolding' for learning. Whatever the suggested benefits of a particular type of software (or hardware), it is when the teacher assists and guides the child's learning that these benefits are fully realised…Technology on its own does not enhance learning; teachers need to incorporate ICT very carefully into the curriculum. The role of the teacher in facilitating learning experiences at the computer is, therefore, seen as highly significant. .”
(Waller, 2002, P3)
The application of ICT to learning is reliant on a range of relevant conditions including; the teacher’s skill, knowledge and experience in using the technology; their understanding of how ICT can be applied to varying learning experiences for their pupils. The crucial issue about ICT and learning is not about if it should be used, rather how it can be used best to maximise potential.
The key determinant for the successful integration of ICT into the curriculum to support learning is that of the existing school culture. The extent of collegiality is one of the key factors in determining whether an innovation is implemented effectively. Successful change requires strong cultural collaboration and support from others who share knowledge, ideas and give moral support, as supported in Hargreaves et al, (1997).
“Educational reforms never work when teachers do not understand them, care for them or have commitment to them. And even where teachers do support educational change, successful implementation is unlikely if teachers are given little or no time to talk to colleagues, think the changes through and experiment with them alongside other teachers within school time”.
(Hargreaves et al, 1997, nd, www 8)
There are important implications here for quality reflection time and training within the working day, in order to place importance and value on such activities. Teachers require allocated time to allow collaboration among colleagues to discuss their ideas, successes, fears and anxieties. If collaboration is to take place in the teacher’s own time, this will present a significant barrier to any ICT integration. In reflection it would also be extremely beneficial for the whole staff to be involved in an ICT intervention development plan, including time to meet with, and learn from, each other. Without this inclusivity, there is a real threat to the sustainability of effective ICT intervention to support pupils with special educational needs throughout the school.
The importance of the teacher within pupils’ learning experiences has always, and will always be critical. As the diversity of our population and the complexity of what students need to know increases, teachers who are capable of designing learning appropriate for their community and the students who will work in an information age become increasingly important. Any instructional design theory in which teachers do not have a central role as designers and facilitators of learning will become less and less useful. The tasks of the teacher have become increasingly complex and the staff development needed is no longer a token training programme or providing teachers with so-called teacher-proof materials, but rather continuous opportunities for professional development that occur in the context of the everyday work of the school. Schools are most effective when they cater for the learning needs of all – a continuously evolving community of practice.
The opportunity now exists to combine our emergent knowledge about the brain and learning with the power of technological tools, and use this synergy to provide new learning opportunities within the classroom, the library and the home. To make the most of this opportunity, we need to combine the knowledge of how learning happens most effectively with the emergent power of ICT. The human brain may have changed little in the last 40,000 years, but we can use modern day know-how to provide a context where pupils who require additional support for their learning may adapt and thrive.
I firmly believe that this research demonstrates how ICT is potentially both an amplifier and a catalyst for improving support and acquiring success within the learning process and I close with a highly insightful and fitting statement from Davitt (2005) which I believe clarifies my thoughts on this research and underpins my values towards its topic.
“Pigments, axes and spears have all had an upgrade in the world we now know but we are still toolmakers. We can now tap into a bigger brain and observe large moving interactive images flitting across the cave wall of the modern classroom. Our sticks in the sand were swapped with pens, and for a long time the values of education were firmly tied up in the craft skills of their use. To be able to listen, read and write still marches on higher ground of what is valued in education. But ICT challenges the rules. It tells us that to force pupils to use exclusively the older technologies of pens, books and voice is to place a class filter on the richness of individuality, and to lead many to apparently underachieve. In the world beyond school, the skills and attributes that are needed in the jobs of tomorrow do not always strongly connect with what schools place greatest value upon today, and in some notable key areas cannot be found anywhere in our national curriculum.”
(Davitt, 2005, P127)
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