1998 Conference Proceedings

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BRING TECHNOLOGY OUT OF THE CLOSET: A MODEL FOR CLASSROOM APPLICATION

Kit Kehr
UCLA Intervention Program
University of California, Los Angeles
School of Medicine
Department of Pediatrics
Developmental Studies Program
1000 Veteran Avenue, 23-10 Rehab, Center
Los Angeles, California 90095-1797
(310) 825-4821
FAX (310) 206-7744

Elysabethe Greyrose
UCLA Intervention Program
University of California, Los Angeles
School of Medicine
Department of Pediatrics
Developmental Studies Program
1000 Veteran Avenue, 23-10 Rehab Center
Los Angeles, California 90095-1797
(310) 825-4821
FAX (310) 206-7744

The UCLA Intervention Program has developed software for young children with disabilities from birth to 5 years since the early 1980's, and has created a developmental model for integration of computer technology into classrooms for young children that is used nationwide.

Play is an important childhood activity that is critical to young children's cognitive, social and language development (McCune, 1986; McCune-Nicolich, 1981; McCune-Nicolich, and Bruskin, 1981; Nicolich, 1977; Piaget, 1962). Therefore, it is evident that a method of accessing these important social skills for children with disabilities will provide a life-enhancing experience.

The usefulness of computers in prompting cognitive and social skills is a growing focus of research. A report by Zippiroli, Bayer, and Mistrett (1988) indicated that children both with and without disabilities demonstrated significantly increased socialization and turn-taking skills when engaged in free play centered around computer activities. In addition, non-disabled children who had developed special friendships with children with disabilities, demonstrated increased interaction with their friends around computer activities, as compared with non-computer activities. Studies by Shaperman, Howard and Kehr (1988, 1993, 1995) with toddler's involved in computer play in a classroom setting found improved communication, task persistence, and social interaction while attention span increased and distractibility decreased. With developmentally appropriate, physically accessible software, children with disabilities have play opportunities which are not otherwise available to them such as sharing, taking turns and relating events. Further research (Howard, Greyrose, Kehr Espinosa, Beckwith, 1996) had demonstrated how the intervening adult can not only facilitate but enhance and expand the computer environment to help children move from the abstract screen to "hands-on" curriculum.

The dynamics that exist at the computer encourage and allow children to extend themselves into more sophisticated play behaviors. This is particularly true in terms of the quality of "active waiting". "Active waiting" (Howard, Greyrose, Kehr, Espinosa, Beckwith, 1996), is prominent behavior among children engaged in computer activities. "Active waiting" is defined as the ability to wait with interest and attention to task while peers are otherwise engaged in taking turns and communicating. The skill of "active waiting" is a basic component of positive social interaction at all stages of development.

There are strong indications (Howard, Greyrose, Kehr, Espinosa, Beckwith, 1996) that children exposed to computer activities are more able to develop beginning attributes of cooperative play: negotiating, communicating, and engaging in play. This developmentally appropriate behavior is cultivated by the use of computer programs which approximate many of the usual situations encountered in groups of young children such as singing, getting dressed up, or playing with vehicles ("Wheels on the Bus", "Dress Me", "Community Vehicles" developed by the UCLA Intervention Program). In this same report, children who received computer opportunities showed an increase in simple cooperative play during off-computer activities. While the reasons for this have not been clarified, it appears that there may be an association between the children's achievements at the computer and the ability to transfer these skills into social play situations. These findings warrant further exploration as the significance of play in fostering language, literacy, social competence, and emotional mastery of difficult events has been well documented (Bretherton, 1987; Corsaro, 1985; Goncu, 1993; Howe, Moller, Chambers and Petrakos, 1993; Howe, Unger and Matheson, 1992).

The findings referred to above have significant implications regarding the growth and development of young children with disabilities. Observations made by the research staff as well as teacher feedback throughout the course of a study by Howard, Greyrose, Kehr, Espinosa, Beckwith (1996) indicated that computer activities provided structure and engaged teachers as well as children in learning and socializing. While conducting small groups of children around computers, teachers were observed to more accurately interpret the children's affects and behaviors through verbal responses, be more responsive to children's attempts to initiate activities, foster and interpret peer interactions among children, be more aware of the children's tolerance for waiting, more effectively adapt their own tempo to the children's pace and provide increased verbal reinforcement for children's behaviors.

Yet in order to achieve results such as these the stage must be carefully set within the classroom and with all the individuals involved. Preparation of the classroom environment, classroom staff, families, and children is essential to the overall success of computer use within the educational curriculum. In planning for the integration of the computer into the classroom environment it is necessary to consider: the appropriate location for computer activities; the purchase or construction of a cabinet to house the hardware, software, and adaptive devices (design for accessibility, i.e., monitor at eye level); determination of the timing of computer activities; incorporation of computer activities within the development appropriate paradigm and creating ancillary materials to conjoin computer themes to concrete play experiences.

The following six-part training program is one model that has been useful for teacher/staff preparation. Session one is the introduction of the computer hardware, with hands-on time for each participant to learn how to assemble and disassemble the computer and other basic operative components. The next session is spent learning how to install software and operate the various access devices used with young children. Session three has proven critical to staff comfort level--trouble shooting of hardware, software, and access devices. In session four, the topic of appropriate seating and positioning is addressed to ensure optimum access for each child. The evaluation and selection to developmentally appropriate software is the focus of session five, and finally, in session six, strategies for individual and group activities are discussed.

Preparation of the families can include a variety of techniques including: evening parent meetings on computer technology, guided observations of computer activities in the classroom, establishing computer related goals with the parents as part of the child's IFSP, familiarization with resources such as the Alliance for Technology Access or Closing the Gap, and finally the establishment of a computer lending library.

Because initial exposure to the computer is critical to it's success or failure with young children, it is essential to know the developmental level of each child before introducing the child to the computer. Preparation of the child should include: observation of the child in a play setting to determine the level of functioning in play, cognitive, language, personal/social skills, and motivation with the child's parents and classroom teacher, and formulation of computer related goals in the child's IFSP. Initially the child is introduced to the computer individually carefully considering seating/positioning, appropriate access devices and software. At this point, the child is ready to be introduced to the group computer experience.

REFERENCES

Bretherton, I. (1987). Pretense: the form and function of make-believe. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, April, in Baltimore, MD.

Corsaro, W.A. (1985). "Friendship and peer culture in the early years." Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Goncu, A. (1993). Development of intersubjectivity in social pretend play. "Human Development," 36, 185-198.

Howard, J., Greyrose, E., Kehr, K., Espinosa, M., & Beckwith, L. (Spring 1996). Teacher facilitated microcomputer activities: Enchaining social play and affect in young children with disabilities". Journal of Special Education & Technology, Volume XIII, Number 1, 36-47.

Howe, N., Moller, L., Chambers, B., & Petrakos, H. (1993). The ecology of dramatic play centers on children's social and cognitive play. "Early Childhood Research Quarterly," 8, 235-251.

Howe, C., Unger, O. & Matheson, C.C. (1992). "The collaborative construction of pretend: Social pretend play functions". Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

McCune, L. (1986). Symbolic development in normal and atypical infants. In G. Fein & M. Rivkin (Eds.), "The young child at play: Reviews of research". Washington, DC: NAEYC.

McCune-Nicolich, L. (1981). Toward symbolic functioning: Structure of early pretend games and potential parallels with language. "Child development," 52, 785-797.

McCune-Nicolich, L., & Bruskin, C. (1981). Combinatorial competency in symbolic play and language. In K. Rubin (ex)., "The play of children: current theory and research," (pp. 1-4). Basil, Switzerland: Korger.

Nicolich, L.M. (1977). Beyond sensori-motor intelligence: Assessment of symbolic maturity through analysis of pretend play. "Merrill-Palmer Quarterly," 23, 89-101.

Piaget, J. (1962). "Play, dreams, and imitation in childhood". New York, NY: Norton.

Shaperman, J., Howard, J., & Kehr, K. (1989, October). Beyond fun and games: The computer's role in a child's development. Paper presented at the "Closing the Gap" Conference, Minneapolis, MN.

Zippiroli, S., Bayer, D., & Mistrett, S. (1988). Use of the computer as a social facilitator between physically handicapped and non-handicapped preschoolers. Final report for HCEEP. To obtain a copy, contact Susan Zippiroli, United Cerebral Palsy Association of Western New York, Inc., Children's Center, 4635 Union Road, Cheektowaga, NY 14225.


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