How tech has helped our pupils with additional needs

Remote learning will never be ideal but new technology has helped in the classroom and at home, says Kenneth Falconer

Kenneth Falconer

How tech has helped our pupils with additional needs

I remember the first computer in my primary school. It was a beige box with green text on a dark black screen. It was always a thrill to be the one to type my news and send it to the printer, which would screech and thud as the paper emerged. Access to appropriate technology can enhance learning in many ways.

Digital innovation across the sector has changed how teachers engage with pupils. We no longer have to rely on photocopied sheets or workbooks for pupils to access their learning. The traditional classroom has been reimagined and we must harness this opportunity to improve pupil attainment and help manage teacher workloads.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of technology in education, as teachers, learners, parents, and carers have adapted to remote learning through a variety of online platforms. Overnight, education was catapulted into an era where remote practice took precedence. This had its challenges, but the pace of change is now greater than ever before.

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In partnership with information technology company CGI, Glasgow was one of the first local authorities in Scotland to purchase iPads for teaching staff and all pupils from late primary to S6. The pupils at Hollybrook Academy, a high school for children with additional support needs (ASN), all now have their own devices. This is an enormous step, which is changing how pupils learn and how teachers plan lessons. In my opinion, one of the most important benefits of this technology is how it can support development and act as a leveller for pupils with additional learning needs.  

For children with dyslexia and autism, we now have the opportunity to customise the accessibility features of each device. In the past, we might have provided coloured overlays, or printed materials in different fonts, but now the individual learners’ devices tailor the experience to their specific needs. Meanwhile, for pupils with early or limited reading skills, we are able to leave voice notes or additional graphical instructions on work. And those who need extra time to process instructions can listen back to the notes as often as they want. This has all given teachers an easy way to provide a more individualised approach to learning.

While remote learning will never be the ideal, the new tools at our disposal have allowed us to interact with pupils in the classroom and at home. The same work can be completed remotely, and can be returned and assessed just as easily. This is vital when pupils have to self-isolate or shield, allowing us to include them in a way that would otherwise have been impossible.

I am deeply interested in – and have always been passionate about – digital technology and how this could be embedded into education and the wider world. When Glasgow began its iPad deployment, I worked my way through the Apple Teacher course. The training illustrated how easily these devices, and many of the core apps, could support creativity and collaboration across the school. As we strive to close the attainment gap, equity in education is vital, and one-to-one access to a device will help to do this.

The world is becoming increasingly defined by digital technology. As teachers, we must nurture pupils as they learn how to be creative, comfortable and safe. Access to this technology in school will allow our learners to collaborate and explore in a positive way, which will help to prepare them for a very different future.

Kenneth Falconer is a teacher and digital leader of learning at Hollybrook Academy, a Glasgow secondary school for students with additional support needs. He is also a regional training facilitator for the Apple Teacher programme

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Kenneth Falconer

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