The graduate student organization for the Department of Special Education is pleased to announce that we have officially launched the rollout of our new name — KU PROFESSIONALS FOR INCLUSION & SOCIAL JUSTICE. The idea for the name change is for people to understand our mission and “who we are” by only hearing our name. We are thankful to all of the students who suggested names and voted.
You will notice that in our future events and communications, we will be using our new name, KU Professionals for Inclusion & Social Justice, and/or “ISJ” for short. More information about ISJ and our upcoming events can be found on our Facebook page. We look forward to continuing to engage students and the larger community in meaningful discussions and events!
KU Professionals for Inclusion and Social Justice (ISJ) is a graduate student organization in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. The primary purpose of ISJ is to transform systems for social justice by building a lasting network of professional leaders and scholars. We are committed to forming university and community partnerships that challenge and expand our thinking. Specifically, ISJ seeks to act as a catalyst for inclusivity and equity in education and society, particularly for historically marginalized communities. We hope to accomplish this by engaging in activities that promote awareness, advocacy, and scholarship.
By Dr. Daniel T. Pollitt
At the conclusion of the day about halfway through my first year as a classroom teacher, I found myself standing at the bus line chatting with a parent. I was a middle school teacher, working with children with disabilities in grades 4 – 7. The parent had just purchased an iPad for her son, who had dyslexia. He had poor decoding skills and low comprehension. This meant that the boy had difficulty correctly combining syllables into words and understanding meaning from a text passage, resulting in low reading scores. At one point the parent turned to me and said (paraphrasing), “I got my child an iPad…now what?” Little did I know that this simple question soon paved the road for my doctoral dissertation research and piqued my interest in the application of classroom technology for students with disabilities.
iPads do a lot of things quite well—as a tablet they fit in our hands, can do just about everything a full-fledged computer can do, and through the use of software applications, provide innovative ways to learn and explore the world. Oh—and they are fun! In 2013 we purchased three times more tablets than PCs (Meeker & Wu, 2013) and we spend 51% of our digital media time using these devices (Meeker, 2015). At the same time, large school districts around the country like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston were committing millions of dollars to iPads for classroom use. Cleary the proliferation of the tablet typifies the zeitgeist of today’s generation.
So, back to the parent’s question: “I got my child an iPad…now what?” As I investigated the literature for classroom iPad use, I found a dearth of research on iPads for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, the peer-reviewed literature and rationale backing iPad classroom use was scarce and generally not focused on students with disabilities. This sizeable research-to-practice gap became the focus of my dissertation research, which can be found in the references (Pollitt, 2013; Pollitt & Weseloh, 2014). So what does today’s landscape of iPads in the classroom research look like for students with disabilities? One aspect that may be useful to focus on when discussing iPads in the classroom is by better understanding the practices that are known to be effective and how iPads may enhance that interplay.
Take for instance the research by John Hattie, a New Zealand researcher. In 2009, Hattie published one of the largest meta-analyses ever conducted in the field of education (Hattie, 2009). A meta-analysis is a neat way to make comparisons, so different educational practices like “class size” and “reading programs” and “social skills groups” can be discussed on the same level playing field. Hattie’s meta-analysis included over 80 million students and 800 meta-analyses. With his results, Hattie devised a learning hinge point that denoted an effect size greater than 0.40 as worthwhile and a good use of classroom teachers’ time and energy. You can find a list of Hattie’s influences and effect sizes related to student achievement here. Practices that are below the hinge point are not necessarily bad practices; instead, there may be practices that are a better use of teachers’ time and energy than ones below the hinge point.
What are some practices that we know are effective for students with reading problems? For starters, explicit instruction has been found to be an effective instructional practice (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004; Swanson & Deshler, 2003; Swanson & Hoskyn, 2001; Vaughn, Gersten, & Chard, 2000). What is explicit instruction? Take for instance the strategy of “think-alouds”. Think-alouds ask students to read a passage orally, monitor their comprehension, describe the story in detail, and predict what may happen next. A teacher using effective explicit instruction would first describe to students what a think-aloud is, and then reading a passage herself, model the expected behavior. The teacher would walk around the classroom to monitor student progress, provide numerous opportunities for students to successfully practice think-alouds, and provide immediate and direct feedback. For the boy we discussed earlier, this process of explicit instruction may help improve his reading scores.
John Hattie’s research reinforces this type of practice. Comprehensive interventions for students with specific learning disabilities has a very high effect size—0.77—the 7th highest practice on the list! Furthermore, hallmarks of explicit instruction, like providing feedback (10th highest), teaching meta-cognitive strategies (13th highest) like think-alouds, and having students self-verbalize or self-question (18th highest) have all been found to be good uses of teachers’ time and energies.
Where does this leave the inclusion of the iPad? Part of my answer is cheating—iPads are relatively new technologies and software for iPads like iBooks only came out in 2012. So it makes sense that John Hattie’s list does not include the specific mentioning of tablets. That said, there is a natural inclusion for iPad use within the framework of explicit instruction. A classroom teacher may want to reinforce the practice of think-alouds by allowing a student to use an iPad to read a story or passages. The iPad provides numerous features that promote strong, classroom-friendly accommodations. For instance, the iPad allows for highlighting of text, different font sizes and colors, headphones can be used to have the story read aloud, students can record themselves reading a story, and stories may include images or widgets that promote high levels of student engagement. Furthermore, families and parents could reinforce this practice at home by reading stories together and practicing the think-aloud strategy. The benefit of combining the teacher’s explicit instruction of the think-aloud strategy and the iPad’s reinforcing of practice opportunities is a natural pairing that starts to address the parent’s question of what to do with an iPad. The iPad may best be served in a classroom as a tool to enhance and promote good, quality classroom instruction rather than a replacement of classroom instruction as a whole. If you are interested in some iPad apps that promote the use of strong explicit instruction and allow for students to read highly-engaging stories, the following three lists may be of interest to you:
- The American Association of School Librarians’ Best Apps for Teaching and Learning 2015
- The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet 50 Great Apps for Teachers
- Reading Rockets’ Literacy Apps
Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. E. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A Report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Alliance for Excellent Education.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses related to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.
Meeker, M., & Wu, L. (2013). Internet Trends: D11 Conference. Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Meeker, M. (2015). Internet Trends 2015 – Code Conference. Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
Pollitt, D. T. (2013). Effects of an iPad iBook on reading comprehension, electrodermal activity, and engagement for adolescents with disabilities. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest (UMI #: 3606960).
Pollitt, D. T., & Weseloh, G. (2014). Understanding the iPad and iPad iBook as classroom interventions. KU-CRL Stratepubs (May 2014), 2-18. Lawrence, KS.
Swanson, H. L., & Deshler, D. (2003). Instructing adolescents with learning disabilities: Converting a meta-analysis to practice. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 36(2), 124-135.
Swanson, H. L., & Hoskyn, M. (2001). Instructing adolescents with learning disabilities: A component and composite analysis. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16(2), 109-119.
Vaughn, S., Gersten, R., & Chard, D. J. (2000). The underlying message in LD intervention research: Findings from research syntheses. Exceptional Children, 67(1), 99-114.
Daniel T. Pollitt, PhD, is a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas (KU). He currently coordinates fidelity measurements for Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT), a national technical assistance center on inclusive school reform at KU, and is a researcher in the Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL).
Dan has taught middle school, worked as a paraeducator, mentored and tutored students, consulted with school districts, taught undergraduate and graduate courses at KU, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Haskell Indian Nations University, and presented at international conferences. His current research interests include specific learning disabilities, adolescent literacy, instructional strategies, and classroom-based technologies. His dissertation, entitled Effects of an iPad iBook on Reading Comprehension, Electrodermal Activity, and Engagement for Adolescents with Disabilities, was published in 2014. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.