For the hard cases

9th January 1998 at 00:00
Sally McKeown looks attechnology to help young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

WE HAVE all seen films, such as To Sir with Love and Sister Act, or watched the television soaps which show that if you're a really good teacher and try hard enough you, too, can succeed with difficult adolescents and turn them into model pupils.

Of course, the reality is different and the euphemism "challenging behaviour" doesn't begin to cover it. I once taught a young man called Darren, six foot tall with a body to die for and the face of an angel. On a bad day he would destroy anything - human or inanimate - within arm's reach. As I look at technology, I sometimes wonder if information and communications technology (ICT) is Darren-proof.

The Concept Keyboard Company has some sealed keyboards that are designed for use in garages and other dirty environments. They can also be bleached, so they could be the answer to some of the really anti-social behaviour of the Darrens of this world.

The designers have found a way of stopping those malevolent technical aces with a knack for wiping out crucial screens and programs. They have set up Concept keyboards so that there is no need to use a mouse or the computer keyboard, and the teacher can restrict which programs or files can be accessed. Teachers will also find CatFlap '95 from Black Cat Software, another useful program for restricting access.

Of course, not all learners with emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) need to be controlled and restricted. With all the media hype about exclusions, bullying and curfews, I am delighted to find an oasis of common sense in the work of Glyn Holt, my colleague at the National Council for Educational Technology. His new book, Using ICT to Meet the Needs of Learners with EBD, is being launched at the BETT educational technology show at Olympia next week (January 14-17) and provides a wonderful paradigm for teachers to reflect on their own usage of ICT. Like the best guides, Using ICT draws on the experiences of many practitioners, particularly teachers and advisers who work continually in schools or pupil referral units. One of the best things about this book is that it provides a clear analysis of problems and solutions, which will be of great comfort to teachers.

As we look at some of the characteristics and needs of the learners with challenging behaviour, we can identify software which can meet their needs and identify some of the gaps in current software provision. So, if you manage to get to BETT '98, full of good resolutions for the New Year, consider some of the following issues raised by Glyn Holt and his group. For most young people, it is crucial that they master ICT if they are to be accepted by their peers. Adult approval is irrelevant and may even be unwelcome. A cynical, streetwise image isvital. ICT has a role to play because ithas prestige.

Software is OK. It's better than books and it's good if ICT has overtones of pubs and amusement arcades. Maths Explorer from YITM (stand 402) works well in this respect. It's lively and fun. The maths level is low - primary, key stage 2 - but it might still be acceptable to some older trainees because of its graphics. YITM's The World of Sport Examined CD-Rom has wonderful images, animations and video. It is designed for GCSE and GNVQ students and covers fitness and training methods.

Many trainees have problems with literacy and numeracy and become over-critical of their own performance. Others are afraid of new experiences and need higher levels of support and counselling than the average teacher is willing or able to give.

Trainees with low literacy skills may benefit from some of the new materials from Widgit - such as symbol-supported student texts covering important and difficult issues. Grandma deals with the topic of death and bereavement; others examine body piercing and conflict at home and at school.

THE new program, Making Tracks, provides structured activities to build skills, keeps detailed records and, most importantly, helps pupils identify what they can do. It also rewards achievement by producing printed certificates as each new stepis mastered.

We need to remember that EBD encompasses an enormous range of problems. Some young people with EBD need to feel secure and will require a close matching of task to their abilities. KeyBytes for Windows might be a good choice. It provides core skills in ICT, including data handling via a program of 17 teaching units. Originally a Dutch program, it has been adapted for the English market and provides two different versions, so it should be possible to provide differentiated activities for different trainees.

Those who exhibit anti-social and disruptive behaviour will need help to focus attention on the tasks at hand. Sometimes they respond well to working against the clock. One useful program here is Newsdesk from Resource, which uses the principle of the timed news feed, so that there is a regular change of activities. It will not be suitable for trainees who need a slow and methodical pace, but many will find this activity stimulating. It displays a picture andor text whenever the pre-set time is reached - and attracts attention with a satisfying ding.

Pupils who don't like school need help to identify new learning styles and work with imaginative software. Rushbed Software is a new company which works with students and teachers to create programs for those educational markets that are often overlooked by larger developers. The first releases are designed for older trainees with special needs. They include talking books based on adult literacy reading texts and software for core skills developed in conjunction with Beaumont College. All the software is visually attractive, easy to use and practical. It will be available at BETT '98 and Jen Taylor, one of the developers of Rushbed Software, has a seminar, Inspecting IT - A Special Needs Perspective (key stages 1-4), on Saturday January 17 at 11am in room B16.

Rushbed Software, Rushbed Cottage, Crawshawbooth, Rossendale, Lancs BB4 8LXT. Tel: 01706 216659 email: Sally McKeown is senior programme officer at the National Council for Educational Technology.

BETT Connection

Black Cat Software stand 732

Concept Keyboard Co stand SN24

KeyBytes stand 601

NCET stands 545, 560

Resource stand SN30

Widgit stand SN8

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