Back to basics and wait and see: Oakley House School maximises computer use in a remedial environment

| June 5, 2013 | 1 Comment

By Catherine Fourie

Oakley House School is a new ISASA member school based in Cape Town in the Western Cape.
We opened in 2007 and provide specialised teaching and support for children from Grade R to Grade 9 with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, speech and language delays, motor difficulties, sensory difficulties and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Other Oakley students just need a small supportive environment in which to learn. Our curriculum is based on a multi-sensory, enriched approach and our classes are small. Oakley House teachers work closely with a multidisciplinary remedial therapy team that provides on-campus assistance daily and assists with the assessment of each student.

No rush to buy the latest gadgets

At Oakley House, we appreciate that we live in a technological age, but we are in no hurry to purchase the latest gadgets before making sure they are appropriate for our environment. At present, therefore, we are content to master what some may call the basics. We particularly value our interactive whiteboards, which allow for a multi-sensory presentation of learning materials catering to all learning styles. This technology encourages interactive, active learning as opposed to the passive assimilation of information.

Touch typing important in remedial environment

We have two computer laboratories and our learners enjoy an hour-long computer lesson each week. We start teaching touch typing skills in the foundation phase, as it is a particularly critical skill for dyslexic learners. Touch typing is typing without using the sense of sight to find the keys. A touch typist will know their location on the keyboard through muscle memory.

Touch typing typically involves placing the eight fingers in a horizontal row along the middle of the keyboard (the home row) and then reaching for other keys. At Oakley House School this is taught using a specific game, ‘Typer Island’, to benefit reading, comprehension, spelling and vocabulary. It reduces the need for handwriting, which is commonly a challenge for many learners with special needs. Errors can be corrected easily on-screen without original mistakes being apparent, and spell checkers boost confidence.

Typing on a computer keyboard also offers a powerful way to learn to spell; it becomes a series of patterns and finger movements and this kinaesthetic experience can be a much more effective way of learning to spell for dyslexic children. Learning through touch typing means that more written work can be produced, and language use is typically more adventurous, as experimentation with words and spelling is possible. We also focus on the use and mastery of programmes such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. These are programmes that are used in the world of work and in life in general, and skills in these programmes are often required when applying for any job.

Computers also good for study notes and homework

In our senior phase, we also use our computer lessons to encourage the use of computers to develop study notes and mind maps. When computers are used to do this, there is an added element of enjoyment, and learners can also make use of colour and pictures, which assists those whose predominant learning style is visual.

Our senior learners receive some homework and class tasks via e-mail, and then respond via e-mail to send their teachers their homework and projects. One problem we have experienced in this regard is that not all learners have internet access at home, but we have addressed this by offering internet access at school during breaks and after school. Our parents’ response to this approach has been positive.

Laptops ease learning

Learners with fine motor and reading/spelling difficulties often use a laptop in the classroom and for homework tasks, as this allows them to demonstrate their full potential in written tasks. While their handwritten record of class notes may be slow and often illegible, with a laptop children can record with greater speed and legibility. Tasks can be completed in the given time and this leads to a greater sense of accomplishment.

Assistive software

At Oakley House, we use assistive software that is relevant to our remedial environment. The Australian-designed Mathletics programme, for example, allows teachers to differentiate the levels at which individual children are working within one class.

Children are also able to access this programme at home, which encourages practice, which is so important for the consolidation of mathematical skills. Dragon Dictate software is designed so that the learner’s voice is recognised by the computer. Everything the learner says into the microphone is then typed up by the programme – enabling, for example, a dyslexic learner to dictate an essay, a paragraph or test answers to the computer, instead of having to type or write this themselves.

Claro Read is a programme that ‘reads’ aloud to the learner texts that have been entered into the computer and highlighted on the screen. This is a useful approach for learners who struggle with the mechanical reading of text – although we have experienced some difficulties with the American pronunciation of some words!

Four clubs spells success

We know that we have achieved success with our computer initiatives because we run four different extramural computer clubs in the afternoons. For some learners, particularly those on the autism spectrum, this is a very popular extramural, perhaps because they are able to work independently. Children are set specific tasks to complete for a set purpose – for example, to make birthday cards to be handed out in assemblies, design an invitation to our ‘Someone Special’ Day or create a PowerPoint presentation about Sports Day.

As we grow and develop as a school, it is our intention to expand our research into technological innovations that can assist our learners within our remedial environment. The astounding progress that our learners make consistently convinces us that a ‘wait and see’ attitude is best. 

Catherine Fourie is the principal at Oakley House School.

Category: e-Education, Featured Articles, Winter 2013

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  1. Michelle Lewis says:

    Hi,
    I was trawling the web for high school options in the remedial arena and thought I would pass on this information.
    I am a mom of a severely dyslexic child in Gauteng. We have found that the “Read and Write Gold” programme is far superior to ClaroRead. It is obtainable from Peter Durham (peter@hcd.co.za) if you would like further information.

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