Successful Learning

At the moment I am working with 3 boys, who are all about the same age. They all have some form of Autism, but vary in abilities and talents. Each child also has specific learning issues that require a differentiated and individual approach. It’s important to share their stories so that we can see the importance and value of using a mobile device like the iPad, but to also see how it is vital for any program to be designed to suit their individual needs.


I am constantly concerned that we are just handing an iPad to students, expecting them to learn. It’s vital that the teacher or parent is the person who is the designer and ‘driver’ of the iPad use. Not one program will work for every child. We need to make sure that the apps and activities will:


1. Suit the learning style of the individual student


2. Are appropriate to the expected learning outcome.


The following three simple case studies demonstrate how the iPad can be used in three different scenarios. I created differentiated programs for each of these students according to their:


1. Ability level
2. Interests
3. Specific learning needs


Student One: “K’

This student is 11 and is on the high functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. K. is verbal, extremely smart, but is struggling socially in his school environment. He feels highly misunderstood and not liked by his peers and as a result has built up this huge defensive demeanor that is abrasive and abrupt.


My first interactions with him have been challenging, but I decided to strip it way back and find a connection with him.
This boy can be the ultimate in negativity and I understand why. His constant comments are that he is bored, he hates life, hates school etc. Inspiring a student like K. can be extremely challenging because you have to work past the negatives and the walls that he has built up.


To inspire learning in K. I believed I needed to go to what he gravitated to the most, which was technology and his iPad. It didn’t take much for me to convince him to work with me using this device. To get to know him I decided to do a task that would tell me more about him. Initially he didn’t want to write anything or take pictures. So I decided to use iMovie. I showed him a piece that I created and he seemed interested. It actually took a few months, but as he learned to trust me more, he eventually agreed to create his own movie.


As I work with him at his house, it was easy to give him the iPad to go around his house and take photos of his favorite things. He enjoyed doing this and took lots of photos and videos. I wish I could share his piece but he is shy about sharing anything about himself, so I must be respectful to retain his trust. I am going to share my own version, so you can see an example of the idea. Click here to go to my iMovie in YouTube.



iMovie is incredibly easy to use and a great way to use photos and text to tell a story, which is a really effective medium for children who are on the Spectrum. Children love to use this medium as it is extremely freeing for them. My student started off tentatively, but before I knew it he was racing around his house taking photos that had meaning for him. This was a real breakthrough moment for three reasons:


He enjoyed the process, was confident, relaxed and knew what he was doing and completed the project with a feeling of satisfaction.


His movie also told me a lot about him because a lot of his photos were of his cat. Before this time, it was hard to tell if he cared about anything but his iMovie revealed a boy who cared a lot about his home and his animals. I knew I had more to work with based on this knowledge. He is making remarkable progress and I am really enjoying getting to know him.


Student Two: “R”


The second student is 12 and has just recently transitioned from Elementary School to High School. I’ve known R. for about four years now, so we have a well established relationship. He is a delightful young man and extremely social for a child on the Spectrum. He loves music and is desperate to fit into the mainstream of his high school. R. finds it difficult to keep up in the classroom and needs all of his work explained visually. He prefers the work to be ‘chunked’ into smaller parts. We’ve set up his iPad for him to use daily as R. has dysgraphia where he cannot write clearly or legibly. Using the iPad for his day to day lessons means that he can keep up with his peers. He can type his answers and use the iPad to present what he has learnt throughout the day.


The biggest problem I’ve had as a consultant with his School was getting some of his teachers on board. Some have been resistant to use technology in the classroom and this has been a steep learning curve for us all. I’ve stressed the importance of R. being able to use his iPad as I believed that the use of this device would provide R. with a level playing field.
A teacher’s initial resistance has more to do with fear of the technology rather than just not wanting to use the device. Many people have a genuine fear of technology and 9 times out of 10 this has to do with lack of confidence and training about using the technology. I’ve been able to share ideas, strategies and teaching ideas on using the iPad for R. and this has made a huge difference to teacher’s acceptance and embracing of the technology.


Below is an activity we did to share with the third student described in this blog. I thought it would be cool to connect with another student who is on the Spectrum but lives in another country. R. had a great time doing this activity and was very keen to make a new friend. This was also an opportunity for me to show teachers how quickly we could use the iPad to share information about R’s life. (Work presented with permission from R’s parents).




Student Three: “J”


Lastly, I’m working with a third boy who is 12 and he lives in California, USA. J. is verbal, but has speech difficulties and lots of issues that relate directly to his Autism diagnosis. I met his parents when I was in the USA and I shared my work with them. J’s Dad was keen to see if I could work with him using the iPad and software called Zoom. Zoom enables us to ‘face chat’ but we can also share screens, including sharing the iPad inside Zoom and additionally, I can also record this session. This enables me to look back and reflect on the teaching session.


J. has problems with attention, so getting him to sit still in front of a screen for 25 minutes was our initial hurdle. Within a week, J. would enthusiastically sit in the chair, greet me and wait for the session to begin. We are now building his vocabulary, as well as working on sentence structure and spelling of common words. J’s parents are extremely enthusiastic about his progress and that via the technology and a carefully sculptured program J has demonstrated that he is capable of learning new words using a visual and audio app (photo, also used with permission).




The important factors of each case study have been the personal tailoring of a program suited to the learner; mentoring the student through the process; and ongoing re-evaluation and willingness to adjust the program if necessary. I can’t stress the importance of these factors for any child when using technology. We just can’t expect the technology to do the work by itself. We need to be the drivers of what happens when we use any mobile device for learning.





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