This summer, I was honored and humbled by the thoughtfulness of eight inspiring and knowledgeable Occupational Therapists who so lovingly shared their time and expertise with my readers on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog. Their willingness to jump in and give me a hand when I needed it most won’t ever be forgotten, for sure.
Most importantly, however, their words of wisdom in the 10 blogs they shared will help so many readers for years to come.
In that light, I wanted to take a moment to thank them personally and to share their work with you once again. And, as always, thank you to my readers. You are the foundation upon which the success of the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is built.
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills and understands the link between handwriting skills and writing. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.
The month of August brings thoughts of the new school year and a fresh look at how children learn and grow. With that focus in mind, the Handwriting is Fun! blog is proud to bring you a series of posts that will share insights from Occupational Therapists that reflect their views on and visions for our students’ learning experiences. Our first article, written by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, is an enlightening discussion of the initial attempts of researchers to collect data on the benefits of using technology in learning, as well as the elements that apps provide that enhance learning for our students. I know that you will find her information useful.
Learning and Retaining through Technology
by Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L
Nothing can compare to learning face to face from an excellent teacher. With the increasing demands of the Common Core and state testing, many teachers and parents today are turning to technology as a learning tool. PBS Learning Media (1) conducted a survey in 2013, of the 503 web-based interviews conducted with Pre-K-12 teachers in the United States, nearly three quarters [73-74%] reported technology allows them to reinforce and expand on content, motivate students to learn and respond to a variety of learning styles.
Pre-teaching, teaching and re-teaching are terms that initially come to mind when beginning to explore the world of technology in learning. I would like to just clarify those concepts, as I have experienced them, in the most basic terms. Pre-Teaching is introducing the topic or key concepts to the student prior to actually teaching the material. In my personal experience, pre-teaching can be as simple as exposure to the material by reading a chapter before going to class or even just guessing at definitions, much like when you were in OT school and the first class looked at the student’s knowledge of the profession, i.e., “What is OT?” Some teachers like to ‘pre-teach’ while others feel it disrupts the flow of the lesson. In a class that is alternately assessed, pre-teaching can be a matching activity, matching the new word to a picture, for example. Teaching is the actual imparting of knowledge, instructing students in the ideas and concepts contained within the lesson. Re-Teaching is as simple as it sounds, to teach the ideas and concepts again, sometimes in new or novel ways. When re-teaching, the materials may be presented in different ways, for example, using straight vocabulary then expanding into a word search by definition or a crossword puzzle.
A really good example of using an app for a skill that an OT works on in a school-based setting, and what Katherine Collmer is expert in, is handwriting. I do not propose that handwriting can be learned through an app only that certain handwriting skills can be reinforced through an app. There is nothing like using pencil and paper, feeling the drag of the pencil, moving through, learning and understanding the directional concepts of letter formation, learning how to meet the writing line and many other components of the handwriting skill. An app cannot use hand over hand or modify pencil grip as needed. What the right handwriting app can do is reinforce letter formation [starting the letter at the top] and writing on the line. Another great thing an app can do is collect and share data. Believe it or not, an app can collect data on how long the student practiced, how many questions were completed and how many questions were correct out of the total number of questions. Apps, such as the Touch Math series, will collect data on the number of trials to gain a correct response to a specific question, generally up to three trials.
Many apps have the ability to customize practice to an individual-to create customized lessons. BitsBoard [Free] and BitsBoard Pro [$9.99] are great examples of this customization capability. The BitsBoard series allows the teacher or therapist the ability to add curriculum materials, such as vocabulary. The teacher or therapist can then choose from up to 20 game based learning activities to pre-teach, teach or re-
teach the material. Depending on the student, the teacher can choose activities such as Match Up, Bingo, Word Search, Spelling Bee, Pop Quiz and many more. A score is generated at the end of each activity which can then be e-mailed to the teacher, therapist or the parent. In my experience, once students understand what that score means, they often want to do more and increase their score, much like playing a video game. Each of these activities can be customized as to the level and type of prompting. This becomes one method of differentiated instruction for the individual learner.
Continuing on with the concept of using apps in learning, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center in association with The Sesame Street workshop published a document called Learning: Is There an App for that? Investigations of young children’s usage and learning with mobile devices and apps.(2)This document identified Key Opportunities and Key Challenges in mobile learning. Key Opportunities include “anywhere, anytime” learning, reaching underserved children in low income communities and developing countries, promoting and fostering collaboration and communication, more natural fit within various learning environments, personalized learning experience. The Key Challenges include surmounting cognitive, social, and physical challenges, the potential for distraction or unethical behavior, physical health concerns, and data privacy issues, cultural norms and attitudes, lack of widely accepted mobile theory of learning, diversity among mobile devices and internet access, poor design of some mobile technologies adversely affect usability and distract children from learning goals. In my opinion, apps are very concrete. Either the response was correct or it was not. In addition to the challenges identified in the report, eye hand coordination and postural control can be significant factors in accuracy of response when it comes to using tablets with apps.
In many ways, technology becomes a motivating factor in learning. Julie Alex, a 2nd grade intern at Easterly Parkway Elementary in State College, PA, stated, “I need to remind myself that the children I am teaching are growing up in a world where technology plays a big part. Students today do not know anything different. It is a way of life for them. They are not afraid to try new things on the computer, or think it may be too complicated. They just do it.” (3) Ms. Alex reported that 16 out of 18 [n=18] students remembered more facts after completing a presentation on the computer using PowerPoint. She also reported that 16/18 students remembered more facts that they had included in their presentation and that 7/18 students remember additional facts from the research that they had conducted that was not included in their presentation. While this is a small study, I feel that this is a well conducted study with pre and post surveys to the students and their parents. An important component in her study explored the motivation of her students, after learning how to use the program and completing the presentation, 100% of her students reported that it was fun to create a presentation, were proud of the work that they had done and enjoyed sharing their work with others.
Dr. Susan B. Neuman, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and Professor of Early Childhood Literacy Education at NYU, released findings on an App called Learn with Homer. This was a small [n=18] blind and randomized study conducted at seven Head Start programs in Brooklyn. According to this report, 4-5 year old children using this app for 15 minutes per day [without the assistance of a teacher] for 6 weeks over the summer increased school readiness skills by 74% over those children not exposed to the app as assessed by pre and post testing using the TOPEL [Test of Preschool Early Literacy]. (4) Although I personally feel that this study needs to be repeated in a number of settings with a more varied student population, this is significant in terms of understanding the power of technology in learning.
Technology is relatively young and I believe still in it’s infancy with regard to education. Much of the current research has been through the survey model and not through randomized trials which is why the Learn with Homer research is so significant. Some educators embrace technology while others are kicking and screaming when asked to add technology to their curriculum. Either way, technology is here to stay with over 1.5 million apps in the App Store, 1.6 million Android apps, with Amazon and Windows apps trailing behind. (5) Laptop computers whether they are PCs or Macs are getting lighter, more portable and more flexible with the addition of a convertible laptop [converts from a laptop to a tablet]. Smart phones and Google Glasses makes technology even more portable. We have come a very long way since the introduction of the iPad but we still have a long way to go with much research to conduct.
Eleanor Cawley is an occupational therapist with many years of experience in the pediatric sector and specifically in transitioning students from high school to post high school. Much of her practice focuses on using technology when lower tech strategies fail to meet the needs of her students. She is the author of Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy and The Student Interview. You can read her work on her blog site and contact her at email@example.com.
This month, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to host another guest author series. In July we will be sharing information on the topic of Technology and OT. Our series will stray from our typical course and discuss non-handwriting related topics, except for the one that was presented the first week. I know you will enjoy what our guests will be sharing and will learn a great deal from their expertise.
This week, we are proud to have Rebecca Klockars, the OT Mommy, join us again to share her “OT-made AT for success!” She truly demonstrates the ingenuity and creativity that occupational therapy is based upon. If you enjoy her post as much as I did, please be sure to stop by her site and let her know!
OT Mommy, you’re on!
Low Tech AT: MacGyver Inspired
One of the things I love about Assistive Technology is that it does not have to be high tech. Some of my favorite MacGyver-inspired modifications came from searching the plethora of stuff I have in my OT room.
When adapting materials for writing, I like to scour my surroundings and look for ways I can reuse materials. I am sure many of you can relate to the hoarder tendencies in your own therapy room.
For example, the art teacher was throwing away “broken” brushes, so I grabbed them. Like many occupational therapists and special educators, I had a box of unused pegs from peg boards activities. Through trial and error, I discovered that a peg fit into the handle’s old spot, creating a short paintbrush with a convenient form to enhance the grasp of a developing writer.
If you have a child struggling to keep the pencil resting in the webspace, two elastic bands can provide a handy support. Just overlap the bands and pull through. This is great for tablet styluses too.
If you have a student with significant grasp difficulties, sometimes for just a few cents worth of PVC piping found in the plumbing section of your local hardware store, a T-shaped crayon holder can be built. Depending on the size of the tool you are using, you will want to grab a PVC tee connector and two pieces of PVC piping cut approximately 2-3” in length each. Place the two lengths of piping in each end of the top of the T; the writing implement is placed in the open end. If needed, thread a strap of One-Wrap through the top to help support the grip. Here’s an example from Therapy Fun 4 Kids!
Need to build up diameter of pencil but don’t have any foam tubing? Head to the dollar store and get a package of curlers. These can be used for tactile feedback as well as a build-up material.
I’ve gone as far as the gym teacher’s closet to find broken jump rope handles. Sometimes a marker fits perfectly in the handle, creating a makeshift universal cuff for writing.
Positioning materials are just as important for grasp development and writing readiness. If a student needs a more angled surface than you can achieve with a three-ring binder, make your own. Get an old political sign made of corrugated plastic, some Velcro, and wallpaper corners (found at the local paint and decorating store). With strategic cutting, bending and velcroing, a slanted surface for either writing or reading is easily achieved.
For a great how-to video, visit University of New Hampshire You Tube Channel ATinNH – right here!
So the next time you are struggling to find the perfect pencil grip for a student, look around the classroom, in the art room, or in the aisles of the local hardware store. You never know what you will find. You may even become inspired to be your own AT hacker.
Rebecca Klockars is a mom, occupational therapist, RESNA certified assistive technology professional and author of the blog OTMommy Needs Her Coffee. When not ranting and raving about things to do with her children (her own and the school-based kids too) she enjoys cooking, reading and building things with PVC, duct tape and velcro. For more information, visit her site dedicated to Assistive Technology Consideration in Transition Assessment and her blog at www.otmommy.blogspot.com
This month, the Handwriting is Fun! Blog is proud to host another guest author series. In July we will be sharing information on the topic of Technology and OT. Our series will stray from our typical course and discuss non-handwriting related topics, except for the one published the first week. I know you will enjoy what our guests will be sharing and will learn a great deal from their expertise. This week, we are proud to publish this blog concurrently with Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L as she presents us with a beginner’s tutorial for helping students achieve their highest level of self-sufficiency with or without assistive technology.
Eleanor, you’re on!
The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology
As school districts begin to think about transitioning students with disabilities out of school and onto the next phase of life, the idea of becoming as independent or self-sufficient as possible comes to mind. I prefer to use the term self-sufficient as this term implies a sense of power and strength in addition to not requiring assistance from others. At the age of 14 years, school districts are required to begin developing a transition plan. Educators, therapists and parents investigate vocational as well as, social and self-care tasks. In many high schools, Life Skills Programs concentrating on just this effort are charged with the task of fostering self-sufficiency.
Collectively, we explore both basic [BADLs] and instrumental activities of daily living [IADLs]. BADLs include basic self-care tasks, such as feeding, toileting [including maintaining continence], dressing [donning/doffing and selecting clothes], grooming/bathing, walking and transfers (such as from bed to wheelchair). These are the skills that we have begun to develop since birth. IADLs are more complex skills that we are taught as our thinking skills become more developed and include things like money management, driving/using public transportation, shopping, meal prep, communication using a telephone, computer or tablet, managing medications, housework and basic home maintenance. The IADL and vocational skills are the focus of the Life Skills Programs.
Eleanor Cawley is an occupational therapist with many years of experience in the pediatric sector and specifically in transitioning students from high school to post high school. Much of her practice focuses on using technology when lower tech strategies fail to meet the needs of her students. She is the author of Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy and The Student Interview.