Diverse Learners – creating opportunities to feel capable and cool by Dr Helen Street

ipadModern technology offers increasingly effective solutions for kids with special needs…. not to mention a much needed dose of credibility…


All too often, kids with diverse learning needs feel uncomfortable, inadequate and out of place in the classroom. Even when teachers are sympathetic to their specific issues, they are still battling  in an education system that had not been designed for the way that their brains work. They are also dealing with a daily onslaught of messages telling them that academic success and life success go hand in hand.


For example, we still find communities where dyslexic kids have been shot down with labels such as ‘lazy’ or even ‘stupid’. Bright dyslexic kids may be told they have potential but they still have to watch their peers collect higher grades and the higher hopes of those around them.


As one year-five dyslexic boy recently told me, “If I am really as clever as everyone says I am, why do I have to do extra classes…and how come I have never got higher than a ‘C’ on my report?”


It can be a hard road to navigate through a system that still focuses on the acquisition of facts and figures above the development of engagement and creativity.


The good news is that there are lights appearing at the end of the school tunnel for those struggling with literacy and other learning difficulties at school.


Increasing numbers of teachers are embracing social and emotional learning as a priority. In so doing they are also embracing the need to engage students in a process of life long learning, rather than in the  goal of gaining specific academic outcomes, (even when ‘the system’ seems to increasingly embrace grades and assessment).


And then there is the advent of rapidly advancing technology.


Technology that not only opens up a whole new world of learning for kids, but technology that is also enviably cool…Among others, Apple’s ipads and apps are providing opportunities for those with all manner of diverse learning needs to not only keep up, but to feel good about school.


At Positive Schools 2014 (positiveschools.com.au) Apple Distinguished Educators Australia wide will introduce some of the newest ipad tools that can really help young learners to take on board information, process it and produce their own creative work at an impressively high standard. Ipads are not merely tools for substitution (I can type instead of writing.) they are tools for creating learning in a whole new way.


Another dyslexic child I recently spoke to, this time in year six, had just completed a highly competent book review as a mini-ipad-documentary. As this enviably bright girl said to me “not only can I now do things my own way, I have friends who look at the stuff I do… and are pretty amazed…”


When I said that ipads were enviably cool, I didn’t say it flippantly.  It is vital not only that we have improved learning opportunities for those struggling with traditional methods of education; but that we provide opportunities for these young people to feel confident and competent in their own right.


Apple will be supporting workshops at all Positive Schools 2014 events. The workshops will show us how modern technological tools and applications can help all diverse learners, including those with dyslexia, in every mainstream classroom and school.


It is time that diverse learners experienced the same validation as other kids. It is not enough to tell a kid that they are great; they need to be able to prove it for themselves.


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