Using ICT to support pupils with behavioural difficulties

Written by: HTU | Published:

Using handheld technology can prove effective in helping pupils with behavioural, emotional and/or social difficulties, who often avoid written or literacy work because of a fear of failure. Primary ICT co-ordinator Mary Farmer explains

For children with behavioural, emotional and/or social difficulties (BESD), a blank sheet of paper can be daunting. Many have difficulties with spelling and/or fine motor co-ordination, which can make written work appear rushed and messy.

When you combine this with poor self-esteem, it is hardly surprising that some children with BESD will do nearly anything to avoid putting pen to paper. But avoiding failure – as many do – can be a big barrier to learning and leave children feeling disengaged and demotivated.

Careful use of technology can break down some of these barriers, particularly with handheld Apple iOS devices (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and other platforms (Android and Windows phones/tablets, etc).

In simple terms, as far as children are concerned, this includes the ability to swipe, tap, zoom, pinch and other means of input which are so much more intuitive than pen and paper to many young people.

These can be used to support pupils across the curriculum but have the greatest impact for children with BESD when used to support, extend (or even replace in some cases) the writing process.

There are numerous resources that allow children to “show what they know” rather than put pen to paper. Apps such as Puppet Pals, which allows children to create their own shows with animation and audio in real time, are an excellent tool for demonstrating what they have learnt in history or as a stimulus for creative writing.

I worked with one child who, reluctant to put pen to paper, instead used Puppet Pals on an iOS device to make a very entertaining short film. The confidence he gained from this task had a huge impact on his self-esteem – he saw himself as a successful learner and that had a positive effect on both his behaviour and his writing.

So the use of such apps clearly allows children to demonstrate their knowledge and learning and in turn self-esteem and behaviour is increased. No longer does a child view their work as a negative experience but rather as something they have created that is of a much higher quality than would normally be produced without the intervention of this technology.

Such content is easy to share, and that interaction is another tool to boost a child’s confidence. After uploading the film to a social network (parent-monitored accounts on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter for older children or child-friendly groups such as Grom Social for younger ones), a QR code (an easily-generated and printed square much like a shop item’s barcode) can be created to link to the video.

This can then be scanned by a QR code reader (many are free in app stores for SmartPhones) and printed to be put in children’s books as evidence for friends, family and others to see, which really makes it come alive.

Tiny Tap is another great app for children with BESD. Originally designed for very young children to create educational games from their own photographs by recording simple questions alongside them to make an interactive quiz or other similar activity, I have used it with children of all ages to demonstrate their use of scientific vocabulary.

Two boys – both with significant behavioural difficulties – used it to make a science video on classifying materials, which sparked a fascinating discussion between them about whether writing and tracing paper were in fact “paper”. Had they been made to write down their ideas, I am not convinced they would have explored these higher-order thinking skills.

Handheld devices can also be very useful for creating sharable online books. The Book Creator app is a very simple way to create “pageflip” publications (on-screen documents that resemble books in so far as pages appear to physically flip over) – complete with attractive illustrations and often interactive audio and video – which can be created on an iPad and shared with other tablets or even submitted to Apple’s iBookstore for publication.

The app requires very little instruction about how to use it because, like many such apps, it is very intuitive. It uses the built-in spellcheck which provides another layer of support for those with spelling difficulties and it is simple to add pictures, text and audio/music.

Books can also be saved as pdfs, meaning children who do not have iPads at home do not miss out. There is easy integration with cloud-based storage solutions such as Dropbox or online noticeboards like Evernote which makes sharing across Apple/iOS products, non-Apple devices and desktop computers in schools a much simpler process.

I used Book Creator for iPad with a child who would generally struggle to write more than a paragraph. With the help of this app, he produced a much higher quality of writing and was exceptionally proud when his book was shown in assembly and praised by all.

I screen-recorded the book using a software programme called Air Server, which will allow me to eventually add the children’s stories to the school’s web page or again to use QR codes to make their workbooks “come alive”.

Book-creation apps can be particularly effective in helping children on the autistic spectrum to develop their social skills, as it allows them to be very much a part of the story-writing process.

I have just started using Clicker Docs, a portable word processing software for the iPad, which can help extend children’s vocabulary through word prediction.They are particularly helpful for children with BESD as they have a “sound shift” tool that allows children to listen to words before using them, which could have a great impact on their writing success.

Using tablet technology has had a huge impact on the attitude, motivation, quality and quantity of work produced by the children I teach. These devices are a true game changer and they are likely only the tip of the iceberg in terms of technological development.

Four years ago, the iPad did not exist – now it and its Android/Windows tablet rivals are very much part of everyday life and the innovation potential for the classroom is extraordinarily exciting.

• Mary Farmer is ICT co-ordinator at the Cedars Primary School, a special school for children with severe social, emotional and behaviour problems in Hounslow. She will be talking about using iOS interfaces to support children with BESD at the Education Innovation Conference and Exhibition on Friday, March 8. For more information, visit

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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