1999 Conference Proceedings

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Madalaine Pugliese
Instructional and Assistive Tech Specialist
5 Bessom Street, Suite 175
Marblehead, MA 01945
Voice: (781) 639-1930
Fax: (781) 631-9928
Internet: pugliese@tiac.net

Dana Bertrand
Assistive Technology, Inc.
850 Boylston Street
Chestnut Hill, MA 02167
Voice: (800) 793-9227
Fax: (617) 731-5201
Internet: dbertrand@assistivetech.com

This session will present a structured framework from which to categorize levels of language and cognitive development and to select appropriate software for each level of development. This session is designed for special education school based team members who serve students with developmental delays. Participants learn software selection strategies along a diagnostic/prescriptive continuum designed to create just the right supportive learning environment. Instruction includes guidance for creating long range plans to address computer based needs for learners of developing skills. Handouts include prescriptive recommendations for both hardware and software through a continuum of language and cognitive development. Demonstrations include sample activities for evaluation purposes to assist learning guides in placing students along the continuum of development as well as sample programs from the recommended selections.

Seven categories of development will be defined in terms of the levels of language and cognition experienced by each group. The range of levels are defined as: Cause and Effect; Pre-Linguistic Skills; Emerging Language; Early Concepts; Advanced Concepts and Communication; Functional Learning; and Written Expression. Individuals who are in the process of transition from one level to the next (or use material from multiple levels) are included in the preceding group for ease of presentation.

Stage One, Cause and Effect, is defined by the learners' ability to focus on the target or object on the computer monitor. The learning objective is to develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of controlling the computer with an input device such as a switch. The learner is required to respond to visual and auditory feedback from the computer and instruction is focused on the learners' needs in terms of prompting from the instructor or software program. In order to develop these skills, it is important to select software programs that are designed to help develop a level or awareness and attention to task. A range of evaluation activities that target these skills created with Companion™ software, a multimedia authoring tool, will be introduced. A selection of software appropriate for this population will be recommended and reviewed.

Stage Two, Pre-Linguistic Skills, targets the learner's exploration of receptive vocabulary through interactions with the computer. Exposure to language patterns and familiar vocabulary are experienced through software that is rich in content. Key features for learning guides to look for in selecting software for this group will be reviewed along with software demonstration from the recommended list. Customized applications created with Companion feature a variety of activities that may be used for evaluation purposes as well as for drill and practice exercises for adults and students.

The third stage, Emerging Language, is similarly rich in content and is characterized by an increase in range in language exploration. At this stage, the learning guide will have increasing opportunities to make adjustments to the way in which information is presented to the user. For example, there may be preference settings that optimize the presentation medium so that a learner better sees, hears, or understands the material. Similarly, the physical environment around the learner may be enriched or adjusted in order to promote appropriate access. Again, customized activities and a selection of software appropriate for this group will be demonstrated and reviewed.

Stage Four, Early Concepts, marks the transition towards traditional academic and social readiness in the learner. Readiness for reading includes such skills as: letter recognition, sounds of letters, retelling or sequencing stories and matching pictures to their initial letter sound. Readiness for math includes such skills as: recognizing numbers, counting, patterns and exposure to math vocabulary. Software programs at this stage target skill development in these areas and present opportunities to explore the concepts they represent. Customized activities are characterized by academically oriented explorations of beginning number, letter and color concepts. Related software will be demonstrated and reviewed.

Stage Five, Advanced Concepts and Communication, targets increasingly complex skills including the comprehension of complex sentences, word recognition and the foundation for number concepts and manipulation. Learners at this stage often demonstrate decision making skills and the software that is used includes opportunities for choice making. Guidance from the instructor also considers the emotional side of learning at this stage as learner confidence becomes an important consideration. In reviewing evaluation activities and recommended software, appropriateness will be highlighted.

Stage Six, Functional Learning, targets real life skills such as telling time, making change, and appropriate dressing skills. The content of software at this stage is nonacademic, though it emulates real world skills necessary for independent living and vocational proficiency. Frequently, activities at this stage target specific skills that are explored through a traditional drill and practice approach. The use of more commercially produced programs may be incorporated, and avenues for access using overlays for alternative keyboards, or custom set ups for keyboard and mouse emulators will be suggested. Appropriateness in the presentation of materials continues to be an important consideration at this stage.

Stage Seven, Written Expression, focuses on written literacy development and the development of written communication skills. Learners in this group typically use a combination of software programs to provide the most efficient method and range of communication materials. Many software programs featured in this group incorporate auditory feedback for multisensory learning. A comparison of such "talking writing" programs will be reviewed along with evaluation activities and recommended software solutions.

In sum, this workshop will present to the audience a framework from which to place learners along a continuum and will introduce a wide range of recommended software solutions for each stage. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions, engage in discussions with the presenters, and explore activities and software hands-on as allowed by time.

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