Teachers & Technology: June Weston


Teachers & Technology is a regular column featuring teachers who share specific technologies or strategies that have made positive differences in their students.

It's one thing--a difficult thing, at that--to teach a class of high school students one particular subject. But what about teaching a class of special education students a variety of subjects at a variety of teaching levels? That was the responsibility of June Weston, and she accomplished it with good software and exceptional pedagogy.

Vital Stats: June Weston

School:Westside Alternative School, Midwest City, OK
Grades:9 to 12
Subjects:Math, science, language arts, social studies, electives, etc.
Started teaching:1975
Formal technology training:Using assistive technology for special needs students; using computers.

What I use: During the summer of 2000, I was given the opportunity to assist in the development and implementation of a program designed to meet the special education needs of those students who are experiencing difficulty within their current special education placement. This program would target specific skill development in the areas of conflict resolution, social skill development, behavior management, and academic achievement.

In order to make a program such as this work, I had to find a way to teach all grade and ability levels in the same room. I needed a modern one-room school. The only way to accomplish that was to institute the use of technology--computers instead of books. With the help of many different individuals and many hours of research, I found a company that could provide my students with the needed curriculum in a computerized format. The American Education Corporation's A+nywhere Learning System not only provided curriculum at all grade and ability levels, it also provided a pre-post testing option that allowed for accelerated student movement.

The results: The program--called the Special Needs Alternative Program (SNAP)--has now been in existence for seven years and has helped many students get back on the right track, both academically and behaviorally. When my students are sent to me, they are in trouble with the school and sometimes the law. They not only have trouble reading and keeping up in the regular classroom, but they also have trouble keeping up in life. They are fearful of failure and distrustful of adults in authority. Once they begin working on the computers, however, their confidence begins to increase.

Taking away the group pressure to be on the same page at the same time doing the same thing does wonders for these students. They learn that they control the speed of their learning. They learn that completing a lesson is a reward in and of itself. They enjoy what they are doing, they ask questions without fear, and they know they can achieve success in learning.

My advice:There were some difficulties--not insurmountable--in implementing this program:

  • Teaching without textbooks was new to me.
  • Learning to wing it when the computer system went down was interesting.
  • Assisting 10 students who were working on 10 different subjects at many different grade levels was not new; however, doing it quickly was.
  • Keeping up with the students became a challenge for me as the computers were able to present more material at a faster rate than I could sometimes follow.
  • Going from first-grade math for one student to algebra for another sometimes muddles the mind.

Finally, I often have non-readers at the high school level; being able to turn on and off an auditory option would be great.

If I could have, free, one piece of hardware or one software program for my classroom, it would it be: A class set of digital cameras and a projector.

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About the author: Neal Starkman is a freelance writer based in Seattle.

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