Implementing Hybrid Learning in a Special Education Classroom

Student and Teacher in Hybrid Learning ClassTechnology is rapidly growing in today’s classrooms, as one-to-one and hybrid learning initiatives expand throughout our region’s general education classrooms. But special education? Can classroom technology enhance learning for students with special needs such as autism or emotional support? Ask Lori Blantz, IU13 Supervisor of ECSES Software Training, and you’ll hear a resounding “Yes!”

Blantz launched a pilot project with a group of IU13 classrooms last year where Chromebooks and iPads were implemented as new instructional tools in IU13 autistic support and emotional support classes with noteworthy results. She explains, “I have teachers and administrators that genuinely believe this is benefiting their students and feeling that this is important.”

At first, teachers seemed a bit hesitant with bringing in all the technology, as these particular programs serve students with difficult behaviors and the concern arose from students damaging the equipment. There was a learning curve with training the teachers, and yet, they were willing to embrace this pilot, and wished for student instructional tools to enhance their lessons. They realized the vitality for these students to know that they belong, and that they can be a part of their “21st Century World.” Blantz, and many others, are dedicated teachers that see benefits of technology for their students.

This effort isn’t all about technology – it’s about instruction to meet student needs, using the most appropriate tools. Blantz explains that teachers maintain a balance of technological interaction with personal interaction for their students. The teachers do not use these new devices for every lesson and still continue social groups along with class activities. In previous years, paper and pencil were used for students to improve in their studies, which also included behavioral and social skills. This, however, created a barrier between students and their need to communicate.

Yet technology in these classrooms has provided not only ease for the 70 students in the pilot program to express themselves more fully, but a voice that they may not have otherwise had. Megan Harnish-Huaman, IU13 Emotional Support Teacher for Grades 2-4, explains that a program called “Recap” has been beneficial in “hearing whole thoughts.” While students before had the added challenge of writing and spelling, teachers now “get the next level of understanding of what [the students] know and what they want to express.”

Likewise, teachers have seen an increase in productivity. Previously, students would be able to complete about six to seven math problems during lessons. This number has since been doubled thanks to helpful apps and classroom activities that actively engage students in their learning.

Along with creating ease of expression, technology in the classroom has aided students in their ability to communicate with others. Students use the iPads to make requests, practice letters, spelling, and mimic behavior. Elementary Autistic Support Teacher Bill Piser explains a success story with one of his students, Sebastian. Using an app called “Talking Ginger,” Piser would speak a phrase into the app, where an animated cat would then repeat it back. This app was used to bridge the gap, creating a fun and engaging way for Sebastian to repeat phrases he heard through it.

Piser goes on to say, “This was a student who came into the school year unable to [echo phrases] consistently, and so through instruction and also supplementing with the iPad… [he is able to] hear his own voice. He has, with a lot more confidence, repeated things that staff say…. This is really significant for a student whose primary response form has been sign language and has generally been identified as a nonverbal student.”

Students themselves have reacted positively towards this innovative change. For them, the new online activities create an enjoyable reward for after lessons and discussion; it both motivates and challenges them to complete assignments. One student explains how he prefers Chromebooks to paper and pencil, as they have programs that help to challenge him. Another student describes the Chromebooks as “a lot easier…and a lot more funner.”

Overall, the reaction from both staff and students towards this technological shift has been extremely positive. It has allowed for greater ease in expression, in behavior, and in accomplishment.

Now, Blantz is working with the IU13 technology department to provide this opportunity to more of our special education classrooms. Currently, she is also working with a local district on training staff on how to best use this new technology in a special education classroom.

All pieces and all people must work together, like training, technology, and the teachers’ desire for the success of their students, shares Blantz. It is vital that students are given the tools they need to succeed in the world, and to truly know that they belong.

Now, putting technology in the hands of students with special needs is another valuable tool in the toolbox to help them build success! 

For more information, please contact Lori Blantz.