Abdul doesn't like biscuits. But he remembers from last week the way the activity works and is prepared to play along. He chooses the breadstick as his "best biscuit". The rest of the group, teachers, pupils and teaching assistants, have chosen theirs from the four on offer. A chocolate bourbon, a pink wafer, a cheddar and a breadstick. This isn't break-time - it is a planned opportunity for pupils to have ICT lessons tailored to their needs and to help their schools and support staff do the same back in school.
The pupils are a mixed-ability group from all key stage 2 years and all have Down syndrome. The biscuits on offer differ in shape, colour and taste so the children can make their choice by any of these characteristics, not just flavour.
The pupils arrived at the Tower Hamlets City Learning Centre in east London by taxi from their different schools accompanied by a teaching assistant (TA). All but one of the six are in mainstream classrooms from across Tower Hamlets, and they are usually the only child in their school with Down syndrome. That is another reason why the ICT group exists: so the children can meet other pupils with Down syndrome - when Moryam saw Mina for the first time she pointed at her and said with a big grin: "It's me". Hence the emphasis on groupwork.
Lynne Roberts, an LEA advisory teacher, begins with circle work, everyone stating their name. Softly first. Next loudly. Then each week a statement, such as a favourite television programme. The first ICT task uses an interactive whiteboard, and follows the weekly reading from The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Hamish Hamilton Children's Books).
Everyone listens, then each child is asked to remember something the caterpillar ate. A lollipop is drawn and labelled on the interactive whiteboard to show the children what the first ICT task is and how the software, 2Paint from the 2Simple Infant Video Toolkit, works.
They go to their individual machines and, helped by their TAs, complete it. Jenni uses a touch-screen. Mina is distracted by this and keeps prodding the screen herself, although she usually works well with the trackerball on her computer. Other pupils are quite adept with the mouse, with varying degrees of assistance. 2paint has straightforward tools, like a set of coloured felt tips stacked down the side of the screen, with the lid off the one being used. Jenni chooses red to draw an apple, then selects green to draw its leaves. In the space at the bottom for a single line of text she copies, "Jenni's apple", from the note her TAhas written.
Once their work is printed the group show it off to appreciative remarks and move on to a data handling exercise. Apart from the four plates of biscuit samples the table also has A4 laminated photographs of the choices available.
As Lynne passes each plate round she describes them carefully, by colour, shape and taste, using Makaton (the most popular language and communication programme for people with learning difficulties of all sorts in the UK) to illustrate what she is saying. After sampling the biscuits they take turns to place one on top of the photograph to make a pictogram of everyone's choice of "best biscuit". This gives a link into the next stage of hands-on ICT work, creating a graph on the computers.
In turn, the children come up to the table and count a column of biscuits before going up to the whiteboard and tapping the appropriate image on the screen that number of times. Abdul needs reassurance and after each number lifts his head to check. "One," look up, "two," look up. He gets to five, without missing out four as he often does, and waves his fingers to celebrate.
The group are using 2Count. This has an easy-to-use picture editing facility (downloadable from the website), so the same A4 images on the table now become the graphics for the pictogram. When this task is completed the children and TAs return to their own computers and create individual graphs, with their own name in the label, "Jamal's Best Biscuits."
The final activity overlaps with this. Using a digital camera the pupils pose with their choice of biscuit. In MS Publisher a caption is added:
"Mohamed likes pink wafers", and the photograph is printed out. When the group comes together they first discuss which biscuit most people chose. Abdul walks up to the board and, correctly, points to the Cheddars.
Finally they all show their morning's work, and their photograph, to the group to plenty of applause. They will stick their printouts in the books they are creating with their TAs back in school, reinforcing the vocabulary, the maths and the ICT skills they have used.
John Galloway is advisory teacher for ICT and special educational needsinclusion for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets The Down Syndrome Educational Trust, has a useful book, Meeting the Educational Needs of Children with Down Syndrome: A handbook for teachers by S Buckley and G. Bird) available at www.down-syndrome.infolibrarybooksmeeting-ed-needs For an overview try the Trust's Assisting individuals with Down syndrome to access information technology by Frank Buckley.
The Down Syndrome Association's website, www.dsa-uk.com has an online booklet, Including Pupils with Down's Syndrome.
2Simple Infant Video Toolkit: www.2simplesoftware.com