Technology Opens the World for Special Needs Learners: Alta Du Toit School Story

“To many people technology may be just another worldly thing, but for our kids, technology opens up a whole new world, that they are fascinated by” – Zelda Botha, Educator, Alta Du Toit School

Alta du Toit LSEN School offers specialized, professional education to learners with intellectual disabilities from different cultural backgrounds, many of whom come from households where they may never be afforded access to any form of technology.  The school caters to severely intellectually disabled learners, some of whom may be multi-disabled but whose primary disability is their intellectual ability.  The school aims to provide every child with the best possible opportunity to progress according to their ability and at their own tempo.  As far as possible they are enabled to become self-supporting adults, who readily engage in the community to which they belong.  Successful school leavers find employment in protective workshops where they may be given tasks such as sorting or stacking, under partial or constant supervision.

Extraordinary Staff Members Go Above and Beyond

Edit Microsystems recently had the privilege of interviewing Zelda Botha, a teacher at Alta Du Toit school for the past 6 years, and one of the key drivers of technology in the school.   Botha’s passion for teaching learners with special needs is evident in everything she does.  In her highly colourful classroom you will find evidence of many late nights of labour, creating adaptations for each and every learner in her class, so that all may be able to be included.  Zelda Botha works very closely with colleague and friend, Marleze Ferreira, and the two are rarely found to be idle – even during the school holidays they are actively involved in the sports and athletics side of the school, as well as attending various workshops and conferences on education.  When it comes to driving the integration of technology in the school, Botha and Ferreira are joined by Delanie Geldenhuys and Christelle Nortjé.  Having taught as a school in the UK, Geldenhuys has brought back lots of lesson ideas that the school uses, while Nortjé uses the board to teach sign language for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).  Together this team are achieving outstanding results in the use of technology in the school. At the recent Innovate eSchools Conference, the delegation from Alta Du Toit School, including Botha, Ferreira and Geldenhuys, were the most inquisitive and excited group of educators to be found, constantly coming back to the Edit Microsystems stand to ask more questions and try more assistive devices.

Selected for Donation

In 2012, Alta Du Toit were selected by DionWired to receive a donation of an interactive whiteboard and Clicker 6 program, as part of the DionWired Special Needs Project, which is rolled out annually through Edit Microsystems.  According to Botha, when the staff first heard that they would be receiving a SMART Board donation, they were excited but also wary that this might increase their workload, especially since most of the teachers had very little experience with technology.  Following installation, training took place over two sessions.  After the initial training, Botha explains that the other teachers were excited but also scared because it was so much new information to take in.  That’s where Botha and Ferreira stepped in.  Botha explains that she and Ferreira calmed the other teachers down, “We said ‘don’t worry, we will help you,’ and we started designing lessons on the board that they can do.”

They started with simple lessons, which were ideal for both the learners who need to develop basic skills, as well as for the teachers, who needed to be eased into using the new technology.  Botha and Ferreira designed activities such as getting the learners to write on the board with the different pens, drawing shapes and colouring in.  They found that these seemingly simple lessons opened up a whole new world of enjoyment of learning for the children in their classes. “When we started using the board and realising what it could do… at first just to watch videos and the kids loved that, then creating our own simple lessons, and they loved that, then we took photos of the learners and put them on the board and ooh they loved that…everything we would do, the kids just loved.”

An interactive whiteboard solution consists of a computer connected to a data projector projecting onto a large touch-sensitive interactive whiteboard; that altogether brings whatever software is running on the computer to life for the class in a hands-on learning environment.  Learning on an interactive whiteboard engages more of the child’s senses – they have touch, bright and exciting images and videos to look at as well as sound.

One of the most important advantages of teaching with the interactive whiteboard that Botha has found is the consistency.  “As a teacher, every day your voice is different, the speed, the pitch and sharpness, and this is confusing for our learners.  The technology is always the same.  The voice speaks with the same voice every time. That icon in the corner is always in the left corner.  They can’t read it but they know what it means.”  This consistency and ease of use of the technology means that sometimes Botha can sit back in class and let the learners run the lesson on the board themselves – since they know exactly how it works.

The board was installed in a central classroom that could be accessed by different classes on a rotating schedule.  The school soon found that with only one available interactive whiteboard room, demand to use the “whiteboard class” far outweighed the supply.  Luckily, following a report detailing how well the board was being utilised, DionWired decided to donate a second board to the school in 2013.  The schedule for these two interactive whiteboard classrooms is still jam packed, but at least now every single learner in the school has a chance to work on the board at least once a week.

Making Lessons Relevant to their World

One of the tasks Alta Du Toit use the board to teach is how to make coffee.  “We work out the sequence and then we put that on the whiteboard in the form of pictures, but jumbled up.  Then the kids must drag it and put it in the right sequence and then we will come back to class and they must do it in the classroom.  Because we take photos of them performing the different steps they can relate to it to come and do it in the class.”  This repetition of day-to-day activities is crucial to the preparation of the learners for independent life outside school.

Botha believes that having the opportunity to use technology is truly unlocking the potential of the learners at the school.  “I can’t believe what they do without me showing them.  Just by following the pictures on their own… In the beginning I had to show them how to use the pens, where to choose the shapes, but now many of them will get up and do things on their own.  And most importantly, they absolutely love it.”

Request for Support

While Alta Du Toit School are making fantastic use of the technology already at the school, due to the nature of their learners, many of whom have physical disabilities, adapted technology is always needed to help accommodate more learners with specific needs in the classroom.  If you would like to make a donation or find out how you can support the school in their efforts to ensure that every child is included, please contact the school http://www.altadutoit.com/

If you or your organisation would like to develop a project that can help larger groups of schools like Alta Du Toit School, Edit Microsystems would love to speak to you.  We work with many deserving schools that could use your support. Please contact us.

Download the full Alta Du Toit School Story: Alta Du Toit Success Story by Edit Microsystems