Changes in teaching and learning

This visit to Wales was a turning point for us as it showed us that we would have to devise our own material for the LCA classes. At present there are no textbooks aimed specifically at LCA. There is a syllabus provided by the Department with guidelines for each subject. A lot of extra work devolves upon the teacher to supplement these, to direct research, and to a large extent oversee the pupil's work on an individual basis. Obviously, this was going to be a major factor in the uptake of IT by the subject teachers. Some teachers managed this better than others. Some subject areas were better suited to using IT than others. As the LCA course is predominantly task-oriented, with seven tasks to be completed and examined over the two years, the access to personal computers helped greatly. Literacy was, and still is, a major problem for some of our boys. While spellchecker is some help they still need virtually one to one teaching at times. Another advantage of the laptops was the way in which they could organise their work in different subject areas into files and folders on the computer. Each computer came with a two CD-ROM encyclopaedia which helped greatly when it came to doing research. There was, naturally, a tendency to copy and paste chunks of material, rather than expressing it in their own words. The Internet was used extensively in class and not always for educational purposes, it must be conceded.

The desktop appearance rapidly changed to Britney Spears in many interesting poses. These had to be edited for the formal launch by Minister Woods but at least it taught the boys how to download from the Internet. In fact, in some cases, the boys learned best from each other as they discovered how to use their computers. The most visited web sites were the ones which allowed them to change the ringing tones of their mobile phones. Using the carrot and stick approach we found that the boys would concentrate upon their class-work if they were rewarded with some discretionary time on the Internet now and again. This needed strict monitoring but in general they complied with the guidelines, which basically were: if you stray into an unsuitable site close it immediately. The penalty of losing Internet for a week for breaching the rules had to be implemented only once, in the early days, when a paper jam in the printer identified the culprit. Peer pressure prevented a repetition of this. The laptops were used to take dictation or notes from the board. While this occupied them for long periods, the nature of the LCA class is such that a lot of attention has to be given on a one-to one basis. The teacher allocation needs to be increased for schools teaching LCA as well as the introduction of properly qualified teachers as classroom assistants. After eighteen months' of pleading our Learning Resource teacher obtained a qualified teacher for some hours for one of the class who is a Downs Syndrome child. The difference this has made for him, albeit at this late stage, from having the additional help is already very noticeable. This illustrated for us the importance of having qualified help to take these extra hours The laptop project made the boys responsible for caring for their own computers, having them charged for class and locking them away in school any day on which they did not take them home. There was minimal physical damage, with one machine losing the cover of the CD drive, and two machines having had to be returned for major repair to the operating system. Overall, the boys were very careful with the machines and they will be ready to be passed on to the next LCA class next September.