Case Studies

The Durham iPad Project

Project Evaluation - June 2012

The Durham iPad Project was launched in January 2012 to investigate some of the possible benefits of using the iPad in schools for children with Special Educational Needs, and one of its main objectives was to evaluate the success of using the Special Words app from Special iApps to enhance the development of communication, language and literacy skills.

Results from the Durham iPad Project

The project was coordinated by Julie Brown, advisory inclusion teacher for assistive technology in the Durham SEND & Inclusion Service (in North East England). Participating in the project were 13 children from 6 schools, aged 3-7 years, with a range of communication, language and literacy difficulties.

For the duration of the project, which lasted for a term (12 weeks), each pupil was required to use Special Words for 10-15 minutes a day. To obtain baseline data, schools were required to undertake a pre-assessment task with each child at the start, and an identical post-assessment task at the end to obtain impact data.

The project demonstrated that Special Words is an effective resource to enhance communication, language and literacy skills, and that it has a positive impact on the development of expressive language, receptive language, word recognition, reading and listening skills. In addition, the project has provided evidence of the iPad's impact on levels of concentration, confidence, motivation and fine motor skill development.

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Cornfields Day Nursery

A chance conversation with a parent led Lucy Martindale to discover Special iApps.

Lucy is a nursery nurse and SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) at Cornfields Day Nursery, in Huddersfield. The nursery was rated ‘good’ in its most recent Ofsted inspection. Following its inspection in 2016, the education watchdog singled out Cornfields’ work with children who have special needs for particular praise. It said:

There are excellent systems for sharing information about children who have special educational needs or disability. As a result, individual programs of learning support these children very well.

Staff give parents ideas of how to extend their children's learning at home and talk to them regularly regarding their child's progress. Parents speak highly of the nursery and of the support put in place to improve outcomes for their children.

Lucy attributes the nursery’s success with children who have special needs to Special iApps’ software. She explained:

I was introduced to Special iApps’ software by a parent who has a child with Down Syndrome. She was already using Special Words with her child and, knowing we had two other youngsters with Down Syndrome, she made a point of meeting me to discuss how effective she had found the app.

We were looking for ways of using software to work with our children and as soon as I saw Special Words I knew it was what we had been seeking. The interface was colorful but simple, there were no visual distractions and the interface was really simple. I think I placed an order with Special iApps the same day – and we haven’t looked back since. The children loved it.

Within a few weeks of using Special Words the nursery placed a second order for Special Stories – the perfect companion app because it allows children to create their own narratives using words, pictures and sounds.

The children take pictures while they are in nursery and we help them to create a story about what they did that day, explained Lucy. Then when they go home they can show their parents what they have been up to. Similarly, the children can use the software to create stories at home then bring them to nursery for discussion – it’s a great way to keep in touch.

And because the software uses the images and sounds the children pick it up really quickly. They love to create stories they can see and hear and when they bring them back to the nursery their friends can’t wait to see what they are up to.

Lucy puts Special iApps’ success down to the fact that company founders Colin and Beverley Dean are parents to William, who has Down Syndrome, autism and other physical problems, including duodenal atresia, Hirschsprung’s disease, hearing impairment and thyroid deficiency, which affect his speech and learning abilities. She explained:

Because Colin and Beverley have William they know what works and what doesn’t. They are personally invested in every app they develop – and it’s reassuring to know that all their software is extensively tested by parents, teachers and children. It makes a massive difference.

Cornfields has 15 members of staff and cares for children from six months old to four-years-old. Since working with Special Stories, Lucy has enrolled on a training course to learn even more about the software. The course was run by Colin Dean who showed Lucy how to add words and photos to the apps; customization which makes Special Words personal to every child who uses it. Lucy in turn passed her newly acquired knowledge on to other staff at the nursery.

I’d highly recommend Special iApps to anyone, she added. It’s an invaluable tool for parents, teachers and healthcare professionals.

Little Acorns

Denise Wilson-Bainbridge has more than ten years’ experience in helping children with special educational needs. A former nursery deputy manager and SENCO, Denise now works with youngsters at Little Acorns day nursery in Hurworth, County Durham.

The nursery was rated ‘outstanding’ in 2016 by Ofsted inspectors who praised the passion and commitment of staff and the support available for children. The inspection report said:

Staff have an excellent understanding of all children and their individual interests and learning needs. Planning, observation and assessment systems are sharply focused. Staff have high expectations of children and provide them with a rich variety of challenging learning experiences. This helps children to be well motivated, confident, independent and actively engaged.

Denise is evangelical in her praise of Special iApps. She says:

When we looked at the educational software available for our children with special educational needs none of it was really suitable. Then I discovered Special Words and it was an absolute revelation. The interface was clear and straightforward with no distractions and the activities weren’t too difficult. Children could progress at a pace which suited them and pick the activities they wanted to do without having to do stages they weren’t interested in first.

Most of all we found that all the children who used Special Words just found it enjoyable and, because they liked it so such, motivation was never a problem.

Denise and Ava
Denise and Ava

Denise also uses Special iApps software at home with her daughter Ava, who has Down syndrome, and says:

Ava uses Special Stories to take photos of her day and creates a story which we look at when she gets home. That way it feels like we are sharing the experience together. It’s a wonderful way to explore the world and encourage SEN children to open up about the way they are interact with the environment around them.

[ Pictured right - Denise and Ava ]

At Little Acorns children can link their tablets to an interactive white board and show their stories during Show and Tell sessions. So they might create a story about what they have done at the weekend then show it to their friends when they come to nursery on Monday, explains Denise. All their friends love to see what they have been up to.

As Ofsted found: Planning, observation and assessment systems are sharply focused. Staff have high expectations of children and provide them with a rich variety of challenging learning experiences. This helps children to be well motivated, confident, independent and actively engaged.

Denise was so impressed by Special Words that she even volunteered to help work on the new ‘Pro’ version of the software. Special Words Pro Includes everything from the standard edition of the software plus printing, assessment sheets, dual control and a growing library of curriculum resources. Denise worked on the new app’s instruction manual and says Special Words Pro will appeal to educationalists:

The software market is predominantly aimed at parents, but this new app has been created with the education sector very much in mind Teaching staff will definitely appreciate the wider customization and free downloadable curriculum-based materials. By using Special Words Pro teachers will be able to let children progress at their own pace.

Little Acorns works has established close links with its host primary school. One of the nursery’s key aims is to ensure children are well-supported as they move into primary education. As Denise says:

Thanks to Special iApps software all our SEN children are making a great start as they begin their learning journey.

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