Technology has the power to make lives better. The right technology can help us break down barriers, stay in our homes longer, or tackle health challenges head on. In schools, technology has incredible potential to help build ability, to help every child transcend barriers to education and achieve a bright future. Microsoft Canada is working to help every teacher embrace technology and build an inclusive classroom.
My daughters are amazing girls with many strengths and a few challenges. They both fall squarely within the 3.2% of Canadian children aged 5 to 14 affected by a limitation related to learning. That statistic comes from the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey by Statistics Canada. We know kids like mine with special needs are at risk in the classroom. But with technology, and with the support of educators and policy makers, partnering with brands like Microsoft Canada, we can help to build an inclusive classroom that enables all students to make the grade and feel confident while learning.
Falling Into The Gap
With my computer and my smartphone I run a consulting business that allows me to be available to my family at home. I have Crohn’s Disease and my kids both have unique needs and challenges pertaining to learning. It is imperative that I have a flexible workplace. I get called often by the school, or by my children from school. Or I should say, I used to get called a lot. Before we had any technology or IEP’s (individual education plan) I was called a dozen times a week. Teachers and support staff didn’t know how to support my younger daughter when she acted out because she couldn’t understand a lesson, or when she failed to comprehend the unwritten nuances of socially acceptable behaviour in school culture. She was not having a good day, they’d say. Come and get her. That happened at least once a week. It was hard on all of us and my daughter’s confidence was eroding slowly.
When my other daughter was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, and a math learning disability, I would get calls from her having anxiety attacks in school. Nobody knew how to manage them, or how to help her. Sometimes I talked her through them by phone and reminded her to do her breathing or positive self talk. Sometimes I had to also pick her up. Both of my girls missed a lot of school. It was heartbreaking.
In theory, each of my girls was in an inclusive classroom. In reality, their programs, and classes had a long way to go. There was a big gap and my kids kept falling into it.
When You Know Better, You Do Better
Fast forward to this year. Both my girls are gadget girls. Both often use technology in school to help them overcome challenges. We first recognized that my older daughter could use technology to help her when she was about 12. That was the year we bought her a tablet to use at school, to take pictures of homework assignments and keep a schedule of when assignments were due. That simple action, with supportive technology, helped her to get through that grade. This year in grade nine at high school she is confident, engaged and she really enjoys learning again. There are no anxiety attacks at school. She gets great grades and has as much support as is necessary to help her succeed. The difference is dramatic.
My younger daughter, who just turned 12, uses speech to text software at school to help when she is unable to write or type on a computer. Now that I know all of the features available on a Microsoft Surface I have a goal of getting her one for individual use in her classroom. The built in audio app on a Microsoft Surface would work well for her. There are school resource computers she uses daily. Both of the girls use Microsoft One Note and Office products frequently. Powerpoint is in the rotation too.
I know there are still many ways we can do better for my daughter and for all the kids who learn differently at school. We have work to do to close this gap for all our children, but progress is happening.
The World Health Organization’s World Report on Disability estimates the number of children under 14 living with disabilities ranges between 93 and 150 million. Whether the disabilities range from vision, hearing, mobility, dexterity, language or learning impairments – children need access to assistive technology during their learning years.
In fact 87% of Canadian teachers agree that technology has the potential to empower personalized learning, according to the study Parents and Teachers on Education. The study, commissioned by Microsoft Canada, also revealed nearly 9 in 10 teachers agree that technology has the potential to cater to student special education needs. However, only 60% and 65% respectively agree that this is being used effectively right now. I agree with that because I see this gap as a parent. We can all do a better job supporting students with special needs in the classroom.
Microsoft Canada is doing their part to make sure students with special needs have access to technology in education. Microsoft Canada believes in empowering teachers with free tools and specialized training to help empower the inclusive classroom.
Teachers across the country, like Elizabeth MacArthur, from Nashwaasksis Memorial School in Fredericton, New Brunswick, are embracing technology in the classroom to “level the playing field” for all students. Elizabeth and her colleagues have seen significant improvement in student learning outcomes since introducing Surface tablets in the classroom. “Trying to meet all their needs at the same time is proving to be a challenge, not just for me but many teachers in the profession,” says Elizabeth MacArthur, who is a grade 3 teacher at the school.
Elizabeth has watched as struggling learners discover a new sense of self-esteem and self-confidence with their Surface + OneNote solution. Children who had difficulties communicating with paper and pencil are able to record their thoughts through the built-in audio recorder. With more students actively engaged using technology, the school has also seen a reduction in behavioural problems. That is a great outcome for any school.
Tablets help with a wide range of learning styles. Without the technology teachers like Elizabeth MacArthur indicate that students are being left behind. That can’t happen. We have the ability to do better and to build every child’s strengths and change their future. When we know better we can do better.
Free Microsoft Workshops to Help Build an Inclusive Classroom
Now, teachers and other educators who want to learn how to better use technology to build an inclusive classroom, can attend free workshops put on by Microsoft across Canada.
Educators interested in learning how built in accessibility features in Windows and Windows-based applications like Office and OneNote can be used to create personalized learning are invited to attend a free Accessibility Workshop. Sessions are being hosted at locations across Canada in April and May. Visit microsoft.ca/accessibilityworkshop to find an upcoming event near you.
This post has been sponsored by Microsoft and as such I was compensated. Education and technology and building an inclusive classroom is an issue that speaks to my heart as a parent.
Stay tuned next week to see how seven educators across Canada are using assistive technology to improve the lives of students.