Technology and non-traditional routes to engage students with a variety of needs are becoming more popular both inside and outside the classroom.
Teachers who attended the Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) Summer Institute symposium, Aug. 26 and 27 at Ècole Secondaire Lacombe Composite High School, were given the opportunity to delved deeper into two methods of engagement, both inside and outside regular classroom learning.
Imagine Learning is an independent computer program originally designed to give additional support to English Language Learner (ELL) students, beyond what they absorbed from core English subjects, because schools don’t have the resources to place a staff member with each small group of students.
Imagine Learning literacy software programs have taken hold internationally, and since initial development in 2004 has expanded to also support early childhood education, struggling readers and students with disabilities.
“It’s a very independent program you don’t have to do a lot with, unless you want to,” said Bobbi Jones, presenter and support training specialist with Imagine Learning.
Imagine Learning includes a process monitoring system for each student as well as advanced intuitiveness written into the software to complement and support the students and their level, which also allows the program to grow as the student’s abilities increase.
“Our goal is to make students successful in their English speaking, both in the classroom and in the real world,” said Jones.
An initial placement process based on literacy and language skills and needs places the student within the program, and from there it’s run on an individualized basis. “You will probably never see the students doing the same activities because they each have their own path,” said Jones.
Activities include word games, read-along books designed to increase phonetic ability and vocabulary, letter recognition games in English as well as first language support.
Teachers already using the program mentioned some students weren’t following every instruction of their lessons — which cover a variety of topics such as math poetry and science — especially when it came to speaking portions.
Jones says this may be because they feel they are advanced enough not to or it’s an indicator to confidence issues. “We’re making sure we’re building that confidence and comprehension.”
The program is available to schools through purchased licensing on a per student capita.
While looking through group and individual reports for students already using the program in their school, the teachers noticed several students had zero hours logged into the program, and while it was a pilot project in many WCPS schools last year Jones says, with budget cuts, if students aren’t going to take advantage of the program it’s wasting school funding.
Extra and fun activities, often stemming from student union or similar groups, also present students with attractive opportunities to engage themselves.
Presenter Michelle Wotherspoon, a teacher at Ècole Secondaire Lacombe Composite High School and student union co-ordinator, talked about the benefits of having these fun, yet underrated educational activities in schools.
“It really teaches them a lot of leadership skills,” said Wotherspoon. As a student’s confidence increases the positive attitude transfers to other areas of academic life.
“It also gives them the chance, if it doesn’t go well, how can they improve it to make it go better the next time,” she added.
Student union activities also benefit participating students who didn’t have a hand in the planning.
“It gives them a chance to interact and try fun things. Sometimes that’s the only fun thing they get to do all day because they don’t like school,” said Wotherspoon.
“It’s really about getting kids to buy into the school and they make it their own.” As students see the school as their building rather than a building vandalism and behavioral issues decrease, said Wotherspoon.
At Ècole Secondaire Lacombe Composite High School the student union is run by Grade 11 and 12 students, with Grade 10 students given the opportunity to sit on committees, which fosters inter-grade interaction. “It’s really good to get students in different groups,” said Wotherspoon.