Teaching students with special needs requires a great deal of planning and technology, regardless of whether they’re gifted, have learning disabilities, have ADD/ADHD/dyslexia/ODD/ASD, or cognitive and/or developmental disabilities. As much as these students need and would benefit from cooperative learning, often social behavior disorders prevent them from connecting with other students. “Cooperative learning is a successful teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject” (Himmelfarb, 1992).
Technology like Face-Time on iPhones, Skype, and even texting messages on cell phones or chatting on Facebook “can play a unique and vital role in cooperative learning” (Pitler, Hubbell, and Kuhn, 2012). “Research shows that students with these impairments connect with peers and teachers through cooperative” (Himnelfarb, 1992) efforts, especially when using technology which reduces differences and creates a bridge to communication. A young man with Aspergers whose mother worked with this author made a connection on Facebook chatting daily about his new job obtained after graduation, sharing his experience and practicing social skills and empathy by asking questions like “How was your day?” and “Do you have time to talk right now?”
Another young adult with fetal alcohol syndrome sent and received texts to and from this author that helped improve her reading, writing, and spelling skills, while a young man with developmental disabilities whose academic skills are severely low sends an IM every morning and has shown tremendous improvement in his writing. According to Pitler et al. (2012), believing in self-efficacy motovates learning and achievement as proven by research. “The instructiomal strategy of reinforcing effort enhances students’ understanding of the relationship between effort and achievement by addressing their attitudes about learning” (Pitler et al., 2012, 57).
Technology was useful in helping all of the aforementioned students practice using communication skills and for the last two, increase academic skills. Although one-on-one instruction works for individual students with various special needs who often have social behavioral issues, these students more than any need to make connections with peers. The question is how does the teacher working with different students at different levels who need help in different areas provide cooperative learning experiences using connectivist-based instructional strategies?
According to Siemens (Laurel Ed., Inc., n.d.), connectivism is a learning theory that integrates technology, social networks, and information. First, the teacher needs to not only connect with each student, but provide ZPD (zone of proximal development) support for each child. Technology provides several ways of showing the teacher what the child is doing and allowing the teacher to scaffold the child’s learning by asking open-ended questions. One that can also be used to provide corrective feedback during deliberate practice is Google Docs. “This highly contextualized, constructivist environment enables most people to gain understanding” (Hargis & Wilcox, 2008).
¿Habla Usted Espanol?
Recently, this author was asked to provide consultation in creating a curriculum for a student taking private Spanish lessons to improve her general understanding of language. First, applicable technology (Duolingo, social media, a cell phone, and Google Docs) were suggested as curriculum tools to provide independent deliberate practice and ZPD through chats, texts, and collaboration in addition to her thirty – minute tutoring sessions three times a week. Duolingo will allow this student to practice speaking, writing, and translating Spanish daily. This app provides deliberate practice using corrective feedback, covering one concept at a time, and revisiting learned concepts to instill them in long-term memory. The same material is then used in Facebook chats and cell phone conversations with the teacher, providing the student with weekly planned opportunities to practice what’s was covered during lessons. Posts in Google Docs are monitored in real time with the teacher so corrective feedback can be immediate, thus more effective.
However, there are no opportunities for cooperative learning outside the class sessions using these instructional strategies. Several possibilities are being considered, mainly locating an ESL student and provide each student with the opportunity to practice her/his second language via Skype or Face-time (providing the other student has an iPhone). Since DuoLingo also teaches students how to write in Spanish, the Spanish student can receive feedback from the Spanish speaking student and vice versa, giving both students opportunities to practice their second languages writing text messages and during Facebook chats. What makes these technologies so effective “is their ability to provide rich, authentic experiences and their ease of use. Connections are
relatively instant, feedback is almost immediate, and rapid productivity is observed” (Dembo, 2008 October).
The student learning Spanish could also go to a Mexican restaurant and order her meal in Spanish, listen to Spanish music on her iPod, watch Spanish or other videos that feature Spanish language or music, read books online written in Spanish and make Podcasts reading Spanish aloud, singing or talking in Spanish, and then listen to herself to evaluate her pronounciation. Efforts are also being made to connect her with children in Spanish-speaking countries via Skype. “Cooperative learning is not so much learning to cooperate as it is cooperating to learn” (Pitler et al., 2012, 80).
Dembo, S. (2008, October). Virtual worlds for educators. District Administration, 44(11), 48–52. Retrieved using the Academic Search Complete database.
Hargis, J., & Wilcox, S. M. (2008). NOTE FOR EDITOR: Ubiquitous, Free, And Efficient Online Collaboration Tools For Teaching And Learning. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 9(4).
Himmelfarb, H. (1992) U.S. Department of Education, OERI 555 New Jersey Ave. NW Washington, DC.
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Social learning theories [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Pitler, H.; Hubbell, E.R.; Kuhn, M. (2012). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD