Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wrapping up the iProject: Teacher Reflections (TLLP 2012-2013)

The teachers participating in the iProject (using iPads with students with Autism to enhance their learning) met today to talk about the professional learning we experienced, the successes, and the challenges of our 2012-2013 TLLP project.

In our discussion about our professional learning, we discovered that we had a lot in common about what we gained from our year long experience. We talked about how technology can be used in our classrooms to benefit student engagement, motivation, and focus. Aside from our professional learning around the technology, we realized that we had 1) accumulated a deep knowledge of how to effectively teach our students with Autism and 2) a deep awareness and interaction with our student's IEP.

This project allowed us to really examine the characteristics of our students and how to best use the iPads to enhance their learning. As we learned more about the common characteristics of Autism we also discovered the personalities of our students, which sparked more of an interest in learning how to better serve them. With respect to the IEP (which was the main force behind the apps we would choose for our students to engage with), it became a rich and dynamic document that was used daily rather than weekly or monthly. This project led to strong teacher-student-EA interaction which helped inform the creation and maintenance of the IEP.

When we talked about the successes of the project we immediately acknowledged the effective communication and collaboration we experienced with each other and our EA's. The team work we engaged in to meet our professional learning needs and the learning needs of our students was a rich experience that provided us with feelings of support and collegiality. Another success has been the engagement, motivation, and focus we have witnessed from our students. We have also noticed that the use of the technology has allowed two of our students to become more social in the way they use their device in the classroom community. It has provided them with a way to connect to other students in the classroom and to feel more involved.

When we talked about the challenges that we came across during this project it was clear that it was difficult for us to not be involved and understand everything that was going on with our iProject students. As we instruct and support the majority of our class, our EA's would be providing direct support with the students using the iPads. At times we felt like we were on the periphery of the project rather than being in the center with our EA and student. We realized that our challenge was more of an emotional/philosophical one rather than a logical one. We felt like we weren't "in charge" because we weren't sitting with our iProject student every minute of the day. With time and constant communication with each other and our EA's, we overcame our challenge by establishing a strong relationship and trust with our EA's.

Near the end of our discussion my colleagues expressed some interesting points about their experience with this project. They noted that they are not tech savvy and that they wished they could understand the technology better. They still seem to puzzled about what they referred to as the "abstractness" of the technology and how apps are found and loaded on to the iPad. They expressed concern in not understanding how all the "abstract" stuff come together and end up on the device. From my perspective, I think that they could benefit from actually participating in locating and actually downloading apps from the iTunes store right on to the device. They experienced a taste of this a while ago and after our discussion it is clear that it was not enough for them.

Overall, our reflections on the iProject are positive and it is our belief that the use of iPads with our students with Autism has been beneficial for both the students and the teachers. It has been a great year of professional and personal growth.

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