The Halton District School Board is enjoying success by using interactive Smart Boards as effective teaching tools for secondary and elementary students with intellectual disabilities. The devices – think of a traditional blackboard with a touch screen function – have been welcomed with opens arms at schools like Paul A. Fisher Public School in Burlington, where students appreciate their functionality.
Marian Thorpe, the Board’s Coordinator of Special Education, North Area, explained Smart Inclusion is a project designed to increase the engagement, attention and learning of students who may include diagnoses of a mild intellectual disability, a developmental disability, and/or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Smart Inclusion uses interactive white boards, called Smart Boards, and developmentally-appropriate software to provide visual, touching/manipulation and audio support for academic learning and classroom routines. Specifically, Smart Board technology allows for the use of computer technology in small and large group instruction. Students can use numerous formats for representing concepts, and text is made easier through the use of voice, speech output from a computer, sound effects, pictures, communication symbols and graphics.
Bridges Canada, the Board’s assistive technology training partner, has provided hands-on coaching and support for staff members including assistive technology itinerant teachers, itinerant teachers of students with ASD, and itinerant teachers for students with developmental and physical exceptionalities.
The project encompasses a number of initiatives designed to study the true impact of the Smart Boards on student learning, They include an intensive analysis of learning goals for students, videotaping of staff and student interaction to assess effectiveness, the creation of Smart Board activities to support learning goals, as well as a detailed gathering of data and analysis of a student’s independence like the time spent on a given task and interaction with classmates.
“The use of the Smart Board and specific programs designed to meet the needs of students with intellectual disabilities allows students to express their knowledge and understanding of concepts in non-traditional means,” Thorpe said.
The model for this particular project, she said, came from work completed in the Upper Canada District School Board. Following a visit to that board and a classroom using Smart Inclusion, the decision was made for the Board to begin its own Smart Inclusion project.
Count Christine Robertson among those ecstatic the Board is utilizing Smart Boards for students with intellectual disabilities. As a Life Skills teacher, she has been using the Smart Board for about a year and has seen the learning skills of students greatly improve. She has observed their independence strengthen, their self-esteem improve, and their confidence soar to be able to speak in front of the class when at one time they were too shy to do so.
Smart Boards have become the primary teaching tool in Robertson’s class.
“The Smart Board has helped students make huge gains socially and academically,” Robertson said. “They can do a whole presentation on the Smart Board. It’s been fantastic and a great addition to the classroom.”
Robertson feels the Smart Boards have motivated students to pursue more writing activities.
“They are more likely to help each other out. If a student is having difficulty in front of the Smart Board, another will get up and help them and cheer them on.
The Smart Boards have gone so far as to influence the way students interact on the playground, as students talk to each other more, Robertson explained.
“They have grown more comfortable working and interacting with each other in the classroom because of the functionality of the Smart Board,” she said. “For these students, their peers are very important to them and so are their social skills so they are able to communicate with other students in the school.”
The skills developed through the Smart Boards can become building blocks for students to develop social skills for when they eventually enter the workplace, she noted.
Through the use of the Smart Board, Robertson said, students like Justin, in Grade 5, have responded well, becoming more confident, for example, in showing the class how the boards work and participating by answering questions.
Justin said the Smart Board is “cool” and he loves the games on it, like the drawing features; he enjoys sketching happy faces.
“I like using the computer (on the Smart Board) to type,” he said, adding the feature helped him compile a project he researched about Egypt.
Results have been very positive across all participating schools, Thorpe said.
“Students reacted very positively to the Smart Boards. Student engagement and focus on task was increased in all target students. Prompting to complete tasks was reduced, increasing independence. Student expression of understanding of the learning goals was increased in all but one student, where further fine-tuning of the lesson design is required. The Smart Board increased the focus, engagement and cooperation of almost all students in the classes, regardless of whether or not they were the target student.”