Can a learner with Down’s syndrome benefit from using mobile devices for developing their literacy and numeracy skills? The early indication is a most resounding yes! The following is an abbreviated account that captures some of the work that we have been doing with one particularly disengaged young learner. Student 1 has Down’s syndrome and teachers had observed that the student was often disengaged from the rest of the class. The student completed an online literacy and numeracy assessment which showed that the student had very low literacy skills especially in the area of spelling.
Student 1 was provided with an Ipad and completed the first spelling list using the Skill Builder Spelling (SBS) app. The teacher/assessor enters spelling words of a level suitable for the particular student. A number of different lists can be created. Initially the student typed in the words using one finger and recorded a slow time for the test. After the first attempt the student’s times improved with fewer mistakes. Some of this improvement was probably due to the student becoming familiar with using the tablet keyboard.
As a way of testing the efficacy of this activity the test was repeated using flash cards and the student wrote the words using pen and paper. The assessor observed that handwriting the answers required the student to concentrate harder and the test took longer as the student had to focus on remembering how to write each letter. The result was more spelling errors which the assessor attributed to the effort of handwriting.
When asked about these spelling activities Student 1 reported that she:
- Enjoyed the spelling activity when they used the Ipad
- Preferred typing to writing
- Would change the background colour of the app to purple
- Would like the app to read the word rather than the teacher (this would allow for more independent learning)
- Would definitely try the app again
- Preferred to use the tablet instead of a smart phone, laptop or desktop computer
- Preferred using e-learning technology to improve her spelling.
Some other questions that this case study raises include: When we test spelling using pen and paper are we gaining distorted results, particularly with students who have difficulty writing? Why are developers reluctant to create age specific apps? Why do so many apps that are seeking to build proficiency with literacy only provide information to the user in a written format? Additional information on this case study and other examples may be found in the final project report.