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Use of laptops in lessons as reasonable adjustments

Discussion in 'Special educational needs' started by dz1, Jul 24, 2018.

  1. dz1

    dz1 New commenter

    We have a number of students who have been given a laptop to support their progress in lessons as a result of illegible handwriting and / or speed of handwriting.
    We are finding it difficult to ensure that all students use their laptops regularly (where appropriate; maths for example may not always be appropriate) and that they print off the work, the work is handed to staff and returned to the student as if it had been completed in a book.
    We need to come up with a way of monitoring how the laptops are used and so if anyone has any ideas they have used / seen etc, they would be gratefully received!
  2. dzil

    dzil Occasional commenter

    Can't it be handed in electronically and marked on screen by the teacher? Our students log into their own drive on the network when they use laptops in the classroom. They save their work to their own drive whilst working on it and copy to a common "student drive" in a folder under the teachers name when completed. It's usually marked on screen or it can printed by the teacher and marked if that is required. The teacher or the student can then save the marked copy back to the student drive for the student to check.
    Saves a lot of printing. we only print things that are required for evidence, usually only for external verification as the work is accessible to anyone else in the school if needed.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  3. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    Hi @dz1

    Not sure I understand quite why students using laptops for their Maths should be such a difficult thing to achieve, when numbers and equations both require considerably less "writing" than prose or text ?

    The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy brown dog.

    a = 4 c = 3
    b = 2a + c
    b = (2 x 4) + 3
    b = 11

    If you could manage to issue the Maths tasks in the form of an electronic workbook, they could complete the activities on their laptops, and submit the completed work either via the school network, or even using a USB pen if necessary. The completed piece of work could then be marked, and a copy with the required comments returned to the student, if required.

    If the work involves the use of mathematical symbols, maybe you could show the affected students how to access a system font containing the required symbols, which they could simply copy and paste as required.
    If necessary, I'm sure your system admin could arrange to install any extra fonts needed onto the laptops. Better still, make sure any symbols required are contained somewhere in the electronic workbook itself, and again they can simply copy and paste into the appropriate places.

    As long as a record of their work is retained in some form, and they still receive any comments and feedback from marked work, I don't see why there should be any need to print off every piece of work they produce.
    dzil likes this.
  4. Flanks

    Flanks Established commenter


    It doesn't work for maths for two reasons, work layout and special characters.

    1. Layout is difficult to normalise and also be flexible.

    For example, needing to do a table followed by a graph. Both are easy to do, but not fluently, particularly because you need to label, mark, switch toolbars etc. I am extremely computer literate, work in spreadsheets and word far quicker than colleagues, and I would be slower than anyone even slightly fluent in maths working by hand. Don't even get me started on trying to do fractions on a computer!

    You could argue that this would be overcome by additional time. However, this ignores the additional effort involved working on a system which is non fluent. Physical and mental tiredness, frustration etc will all creep in very quickly.

    I Have worked with several young people who have severe motor skills difficulties and are trying to do A-level maths. Apple has some apps, Android had one released about 18months ago, but even with considerable time spent building fluency and knowledge of how to navigate the apps, to the extent that they could do their homework without help, all 3 of them defaulted to handwriting in the exam due to difficultiea in working that way.

    2. Fonts

    The existence of special characters etc doesn't make it easy to use them. This overlaps with above, the essential problem is fluency. Changing between keyboard setups or needing to involve an additional window/toolbar with preloaded symbols, is simply very tiring.

    Usb pens sound great, but of course in practice if this was viable we wouldn't need the laptop to start with!

    In my opinion, students with motor skills difficulties need their maths teacher to spend more time time with them explicitly testingt and reteaching layout as a specific skill. In maths layout can make up for a LOT of ills, and it is easier to learn than handwriting.
  5. carterkit

    carterkit Occasional commenter

    In answer to the OP's original question, I have used Google docs for this. Each pupil had a folder with a document/documents for each subject. The folder was shared with all subject teachers and support staff working with the pupil. It then provided ample evidence for access arrangements.

    The great advantages of Google docs are firstly that work cannot be deleted and secondly that everyone who has been shared into a document can access it at any time, which is great for pupils wanting to complete work at home and teachers giving feedback. Obviously you don't then need to print out any work either.

    I've used OneDrive as well but I found Google docs easier.
  6. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    OK, I take your point. But could the students not use a graphics tablet as the input mechanism ? I have seen applications that allow the user to "write" on the tablet by hand, and then import it into another application. Maybe there is a "Maths-based" application out there, that can accept input from a tablet ?
  7. Flanks

    Flanks Established commenter

    Khan academy has released a maths app, and there are several Mac ones, none of which (to my knowledge) take tablet input. At this point, we also bump in to the problem that none of these apps are approved for use in exams. I would also say, that if a user could 'write' on the tablet, they could also write on paper, the need could be ameliorated without the need for a PC.

    I would dearly love a maths app which had pre-existing layouts set up which a user could then just plug numbers in to. The number of students with autism who I have supported due to the accompanying motor skills deficit, but are excellent at maths, is incredible. I suspect the problem then would be that such layouts may provide guidance, so perhaps a selection of 'layouts' which could be clicked on to create a row or something.

    Find me an app designer and Ill work with them on it for sure!
  8. Flanks

    Flanks Established commenter

    I agree on Google Docs, I prefer it also. It is also free, and is a normal way of working which students can take with them after leaving school, without having to learn something new. Furthermore, if they log in to Google chrome correctly, it will bring their settings/apps/extensions automatically whatever computer they log in to, so they won't need to worry about installing/settings if they move computers etc.
  9. elder_cat

    elder_cat Established commenter

    Where a student can write, but only painfully slowly, using a tablet would be of benefit whatsoever. I was suggesting writing on a tablet might be useful where a student could write, but their writing was illegible. They could 'teach' the software package to recognise the individual elements of their own handwriting. How successful that would be in practice is another thing. It would take time to set up, and would ultimately depend on exactly how illegible their handwriting was.

    Have you looked at this:


    According to the vendors, it allows typed/handwritten/speech input, allows the user to enter quite complex equations etc, and works with Google and Microsoft documents. It's free for teachers to download, and £80 (single licence) or £450 (schools licence) doesn't seem that bad.

    Not sure about this ? The website shows them as Google for Education Partner and Microsoft Partner Gold Application Development, and there are UK schools shown in their Case Studies section ?
  10. Flanks

    Flanks Established commenter

    Jcq are the arbiters for exams. Texthelp read and write is permitted, but I doubt the handwriting software is as it often depends on cloud based AI. If handwriting is that poor then AI won't handle it at all.

    Obviously balances need to be found. In practice some balance of scribe and self writing can work if they are very practiced in giving very precise instructions. This is hard to achieve, but doable. I still maintain that extra time spent explicitly teaching layout skills can make up for an awful lot in maths, not least because simply creating more space around letters and numbers is always a strategy for reading difficult handwriting. I often suggest to students with poor handwriting that they write on every other line for a while, and it is surprising how often this helps!

    An alternative, for exam solutions, is to use transcription. I.e. someone else rewrites the exam legibly afterwards.
  11. ABCCBA123321

    ABCCBA123321 Occasional commenter

    Just throwing in here (and I'm shamelessly and openly doing so with the agenda of being a SN parent of a really attrociously dyspraxic dyspraxic) for opinions on what age would you be expecting to see tablets/laptops being able to be used within the classroom as a reasonable adjustment? After opinions on this one as I know they vary wildly and there's arguments of benefit on both sides - I'm laying the initial IT-literacy groundwork at home at the moment but know I'm likely on a hiding to nothing for a good few more years on this one so at least we might have worked out which end of a mouse is which by the time I get any joy! (We can't use speech to text as they also have a speech defect)
    Flanks likes this.
  12. Flanks

    Flanks Established commenter

    This is really difficult, and certainly no clear cut answer. The difficulty is that there are conflicting difficulties, and in addressing one another area can accidentally be harmed.

    The difficulty with use of assistive technology is that it can have a detrimental impact on literacy. A key factor in hadwriting (in particular) which is often over looked is that it takes time. The time taken to complete tasks is often a concern when an educational need exists, however the mistake then made is to incorrectly go toi far the other way and view time taken as a barrier in and of itself. In fact the reverse is true.

    Handwriting is complicated because of how many processes need to run fluently and in a coordinated fashion in order to generate the output. Several of these processess 'NEED' time, particularly memory and structural composition. The time taken to write a composed sentence, itself provides time to begin constructing the next one. So, while I am writing one sentence, I can start to draw on memory and compose the next. This is a difficult skill to matter, which is why it takes years to master.

    So now we come to the potential conflict. In alleviating the motor skills burden, we could accidentally harm the acquisition of other skills which are just as important for the generation of written text. There is also some evidence that writing by hand generates an physical impression of the letter which enhances phonic association.

    How to overcome this is difficult, because it is actually an area which has very little research (almost none).

    In my opinion, the way to do this is to continue teaching writing in the same way and to aim for the same level of output. In other words, we want someone who types to have the same output as someone who writes. If that is 10 words per minute then that is fine, we need to get away from the assumption that typing needs to be faster. This is because typing speed IS faster, we need to teach learners how to build in the time for memory and composition which is being accidentally lost. This requires explicit teaching of composition, planning, alongside use of a computer. Teaching the learner to take additional time on these other tasks which would otherwise be lost.

    Again in my opinion, they need to do foundational writing tasks to build the use of these skills in the same way a handwriter would, letters home, post cards, what did I do on the weekend, stories about X y z, book reviews, etc.
    suzyshepster and elder_cat like this.
  13. ABCCBA123321

    ABCCBA123321 Occasional commenter

    Yeah it's a hard situation to be in - balancing the fact she needs to develop these writing skills along with the fact that basically she's on a crash course to fail because the gap between what she knows and can do verbally and what she can actually record is becoming a chasm rather rapidly - she can't spatially locate the letters appropriately on the paper so everything ends up plonked on top of each other in a letter mash mountain. Phonically it's all there and she'll pootle up to anyone who is writing and offer them spelling "help" (it's rather cute to see how disgusted an older sibling can get when being told how to spell something by the little one), and the reading is all there too... just flipping pencil and papers which cause me insomnia on a night.

    I do a lot to support it and reinforce it all at home - we work through the usual interventions suggested, work through modelling placing letters and words on the paper appropriately, generating her own work to write as well as just practicing letter formation (which is generally not bad) - but it's a slog and it's not really going in even little and very often, and as a placid, compliant child in a mainstream class with a lot of "personalities" - she's never really going to be a high priority on the radar.

    Eventually I'm going to have to have the technology battle (and it'll go easier if I come up with as much of the solution as I can do myself) and I'm just planning when I start to make that push really (I'm about as supportive and non-confrontational with the school as you can hope to get, I'm in no way a "difficult" parent when I've got the parent hat on - don't get me wrong - but flipping heck having a SN kid is an assertiveness boot camp course at times!)
    Flanks likes this.
  14. Flanks

    Flanks Established commenter

    Blimey, definitely hands full!

    All I would say is remember the mantra, 'neurons that fire together wire together'. In other words, if you can tie related processes together repeatedly, then after a while the brain will automatically fire them together. With dyspraxia this can still happen, it just might take more exposures for the automaticity to take place.

    It might be interesting to try hyper awareness as a training tool. Ask her to narrate what she is doing as she does it, it is a quite intensive and tiring way to work but can have real impact on skills development. Lots of professional athletes and sportspeople do it as a method of generating automaticity and developing specific responses.

    It isn't a new idea, we do it in other ways quite often without noticing. Talking to ourselves under our breath, speaking out loud as we follow instructions like recipes or maps etc.
  15. neddyfonk

    neddyfonk Lead commenter

    Do I assume then that the school has given up trying to teach these students how to write legibly ?. If a 'selected few' are allowed to used laptops instead of a pen, do the others complain they would also prefer to use laptops?
    In 1965 ( I was 11) my teacher sent me to the head for one-to-one handwriting tuition. I went on to do calligraphy and Olde English.
  16. Wotton

    Wotton Lead commenter

    One of mine had very poor handwriting. In secondary school all his exams were transcribed. At uni he was give the ability to record lectures and all his work was on computers, well he was studying computer science, this certainly helped and reduced any anxiety and stress. It worked as he achieved a first.
  17. moonpenny

    moonpenny Occasional commenter

    My son always had poor handwriting which was very difficult to read. I mentioned it to his secondary school when he started there but nothing happened and he wrote by hand in his GCSEs.

    When he got to college, his tutors referred him to learning support because they thought his handwriting was illegible and he was given a computer in exams.

    I decided to have him assessed for Spld when he was 17 and the assessor found him to be dyspraxic and dyslexic.

    The dyspraxia wasn’t a surprise as he is very uncoordinated and disorganised with poor sense of time and space, although he has got much better at getting organised - he still does things like book the wrong train time or day ( he does this quite a lot) . He also still gets dates wrong such as turning up to meet his friends a day early!

    He has been able to use the report to have the use a computer in exams at university which has been brilliant as he is a very fast typist.

    Looking back, he did very well at GCSE but did even better at A levels - 3 A * in politics, economics and history and a B for maths which I think was affected by dyspraxia because of losing marks for setting / working out .

    So I think the use of a computer is really helping him.
    Flanks likes this.

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