Engaging Students In Reading Through Ipad Technology Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The purpose of this research project is to investigate if using iPad technology can help engage, support and increase the level of independent reading and participation in literacy activities with a 14 year old student with Cerebral Palsy and ADHD.

The student is part of a classroom setting which includes thirteen students aged between twelve and fourteen years with moderate to severe physical and intellectual disabilities. The class group is made up of two classes in a team teaching environment. The student group is operating at a stage one and early stage one level and many of the students have very specific health, dietary and management needs, both physical and behavioural. The school itself caters for nearly one hundred students from Kindergarten to year twelve with moderate to severe disabilities.

The student has trouble vocalising words and finds it difficult to maintain focus reading regular books and participating in reading activities. Through the use of iPad technology the student will be involved in reading activities to develop word recognition, decoding, listening and reading skills.

This paper will explore how iPad technology can support and engage a student with moderate physical and intellectual disabilities to develop reading and communication skills. Through research literature and selected case studies the study will attempt to explain how the intervention, that was introduced, relates to other studies surrounding academic engagement through technology. The methodology will explain the structure of the intervention and the activities and assessment associated with each phase. The findings and discussion will show the results of teacher assisted and independent engagement using both of the strategies used and how the literature connects to the intervention that was implemented. Finally a conclusion about the limitations and implications for teacher practice and research will be discussed.

Included in this report will be a discussion about recommendations and adjustments that could have been made in areas such as data collection and recording of data and the impact that it had on the integrity of the research undertaken.

Literature Review

The use of technology, especially computer aided instruction (CAI), with struggling readers has been investigated by researchers for decades (Smith & Okolo, 2010). Many studies exploring the validity and worth of technological aides have been undertaken over the last twenty years such as (Heimann, Nelson, Tjus & Gillberg, 1995) (McNaughton & Bryen, 2007) and (Newton, Dell & Amy, 2011). The introduction and use of mobile technological and communication devices such as e-books, iPod's and iPads within general and special education settings has given educators a new and exciting resource in supporting students learning, including developing the reading skills of children. Some research has revealed that that the performance of special education students increases with the use of a computer and/or iPad (Short, Labine, Bruner, Cardoso & Trick, 2011). By using an assistive technology device during instruction, it was concluded that technology provided some students with a broader and more conducive form of education Short et.al, 2011). The current literature surrounding the success of the iPad in relation to student reading development however is limited.

In a study undertaken by Reis, Cabral and Peres (2010) they found that educational technology tools benefited student's educational skills in many ways (p.114). Their study also found that the time it took to complete various tasks and activities was decreased significantly, implying that the computer gave the child a better understanding of the task at hand. It was also found that the students attentiveness increased by a considerable margin when they were able to use the computer (Reis et.al, p.117, 2010).

In research conducted by Yaw, Skinner, Parkhurst, Taylor & Chambers, (2011) using a computer-based sight-word reading intervention (CBSWRI) with a student with autism, the study suggested that the intervention was effective, acceptable, efficient and sustainable and that researchers and educators should continue to develop and evaluate other types of technology based practices that support a high rate of active, accurate, academic responding (Yaw et.al, 2011).

The strategy of teaching whole word instruction through iPad and computer technology is relevant because it can also enhance motivation, attention and on task levels, thus supporting reading development (Heimann et al. 1995). Many students with intellectual disabilities have difficulty learning to read and many of these difficulties are related to attention and motivation deficits, a factor supported by research (Vacca, 2007).

Vacca also noted that the use of phonological awareness and its relation to reading acquisition has been recognized as a valuable teaching technique (2007) and believed that reading through phonics is vital in helping children with intellectual disabilities acquire language competence.

According to Joseph and Seery (2004) children with mental retardation and developmental disabilities like autism, can learn and use phonetic-analysis strategies and can benefit from many different types of phonics instruction. One complication that arises in teaching phonemic awareness and phonics to children with intellectual disabilities, however, is that many of the students rely on alternative and augmentative communication (AAC). Successful instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics skills expect that students will produce sounds in letters and words (Browder, Wakeman, Spooner, Ahlgrim-Delzell, & Algozzine, 2006). Each child is different and will learn at a different pace and in a different manner. The implementation of computers and iPad technology to support individual learning styles and pace, at which a student learns, can support this and is specifically the strategy used in this intervention.

The current research results support the efficacy of the CBSWRI; however, there are limitations with such studies that need to be addressed before definite recommendations and conclusions can be drawn. This study was conducted with only one student. To better evaluate these procedures, additional studies are needed involving a larger group of students with intellectual disabilities and across populations (e.g., students with intellectual disabilities, students with EBD) (Yaw et al. 2011). To better evaluate maintenance, future researchers should assess maintenance over longer intervals of time when no treatment or assessments of learned words are conducted (Yaw et.al. 2011).


The structure of the intervention includes using phonics based activities to engage and help support improvement in, the student's ability to decode areas of language such as letter sounds, letter blends, whole word recognition and reading short sentences or series of short sentences. These activities are already part of the daily classroom structure in which the student is familiar with. It is hoped that after using the iPad to support the above mentioned skill sets, the student will be able to transfer some of those skills back into regular class routines and structures used in reading and literacy based activities.

Both printed and electronic versions of list words were used to engage the student in developing the skills to participate in and enhance reading, as well as supporting their communication skills and confidence in reading. The data was collected from the student's ability to show understanding in initial letter and blend sounds of words, including recognizing and knowing the whole word of selected animal names and words which describe associated actions of those animals. These words are part of a unit of work in science. The unit of work is about wet and dry environments, more specifically animals that live in ocean and desert ecosystems. There were 23 words in total, 15 were the names of animals that live in both ocean and desert environments and 8 were descriptive words highlighting actions that any of the animals might display in their particular habitat.

It is a single subject research model using an A-B-A-B design. In the initial phase the student was assessed on learnt initial sounds, blend sounds and word knowledge as well as being able to read short descriptive sentences (e.g. the fish can swim in the ocean). This was assessed using flash cards in which the student attempted, using prior knowledge of initial sounds and blends to show understanding of these skills in recognizing full words. The initial letter/s of individual sounds and blend sounds were highlighted in bold to support the student. The teacher would also say the word if required as a supportive prompt to engage the student if they were unable to answer independently. The observations occurred in the afternoon sessions and were approximately 20-30 minutes in length and each phase was carried out over a six day period.

On the final day of each phase the student was assessed on their ability to display understanding of all the words, through the abovementioned strategies. A correct response was deemed as one where the student had said the starting letter and its sound or the first two letters and the blend sound as well as the whole word with minimal teacher assistance. A correct response was also recorded if the student could read a sentence using a word highlighting an animal and an action. The student was also given slightly more time to read a full sentence.

The second phase had exactly the same procedure as the first phase except an iPad was used instead of printed flash cards. The iPad with ProLoQuo2Go software displayed the words on the screen and had the initial letter or blend highlighted in bold to support. An audio prompt could be played by touching the word on the screen if, required by the student. The student would then repeat the letter sound or blend and the whole word. There would be a short time response given before either teacher or audio support is introduced, approximately three seconds. This was subject to external factors such as student behaviour, including moods and physical well-being, as well as classroom distractions and situations that may arise with other students.

The follow up phases involved the same procedure as phases one and two, but without the audio or teacher assistance. If support was required for any of the observed skill areas, than, a correct answer would not be recorded. In each phase the words were displayed randomly, so that the student was assessed on understanding and not simply memorising the order of words. There was also a time limit of 2 or 3 seconds for a correct response in these phases. The four separate observation sheets were collated into two tables highlighting the data collected. Table 1 displayed the data from the teacher led instruction phases. Table 2 displayed the data from the independent, student led phases. Finally the two tables were converted into line graphs displaying individual phase results and a column graph highlighted the end of phase results for the intervention.

Presentation and Discussion of Findings

The findings have been presented through a range of graphs, highlighting the results between using flash cards and using the iPad across four activities aimed at developing reading skills and engagement. Graphs 1a and 1b shows the results of teacher instruction with the student, using flash cards and the iPad to support the student in letter sound, blend sound, whole word recognition and reading a short sentence with teacher assistance.

(Graph 1a)

(Graph 1b)

Graphs 2a and 2b shows the results of the student working independently, using the flash cards and then the iPad over the six day period for each phase, again assessing initial letter sounds, blend sounds, whole word recognition and being able to read a short descriptive sentence.

(Graph 2a)

(Graph 2b)

Graph 3: This graph highlights the final assessment scores for each of the four assessment areas at the end of each phase. The results of the findings did show some improvement in sounding out letters, blends and word recognition as well as general reading development, but there was only a slight increase.

An overall observation of the findings does indicate a small to moderate increase in knowledge across the four areas assessed, particularly whole word recognition. There are a number of reasons that could account for this. The repetitive nature and simple routine of the activities was possibly supportive in helping the student recall information. Also the words used in the intervention were regularly used in a unit of work the class was engaged in. The student was also working in a one-on-one structure with a teacher and received extensive support. The iPad as a tool for engagement was clearly evident. The general mood and enthusiasm towards the activities was noticeably increased when using technology as apposed, to the paper format of the words. Within my study the student's level of engagement and response to reading activities was significantly increased, even though the overall results in reading improvement and word and sound recognition were only moderate. The student response to learning via using the iPad was generally more positive, to learning with flash cards and paper based instruction.

A similar conclusion was reached in the study completed by (Reis et al, 2010) which also found that, overall children's general response to learning with the computer was more positive than it was when working with paper (Reis et al, 2010, p.113).

While the student in my study did not achieve the same level of success in time response to sight words and reading prompts as the abovementioned study, it highlighted the benefits in using technology in education to increase an individual child's educational skills and attentiveness towards tasks.

(Raggi & Chronis, 2006) concluded in their study, that the use of the iPad was the major contributor as a mediator of their intervention. Another contributing factor was how the manipulative touch screen promoted the use of several modalities (Raggi & Chronis, 2006), especially visual and tactile/kinaesthetic.

As the child in my study had physical disabilities in the form of reduced fine motor skill development, the iPad proved to be an easier device to use and less frustrating than handling and manipulating flash cards.

Learning to read and communicate effectively is a common and serious problem for many students with disabilities (Watson, Fore & Boon, 2009). The No Child Left behind Act acknowledges the potential of technology and promotes the purchase of technological resources to support reading instruction (The Special Edge, 2003). Although there are a number of computer programs for reading instruction only a few have been empirically validated (Lee & Vail, 2005). Given that technology is widely used to teach children with disabilities and that there is limited documented evidence on its effect, this study sought to examine the effectiveness of using computer technology for children with developmental disabilities (Lee & Vail, 2005).

Recently the NSW Department of Education and Communities (2012) conducted a small trial across three schools to gather information about the use of tablet technology in the classroom. They also gathered information from trials conducted in other states including Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

In Victoria a series of iPad trials were conducted in nine primary and secondary schools and the Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2011). Over 700 devices were deployed, with the purpose of the trial being to examine the impact of iPads on student learning and teaching practice. The Learning Exchange from the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta conducted a trial of iPads in 2010.

Titled the 'iPads in Schools: Use Testing', this comprehensive report explores the iPad as a learning tool in eight primary and three secondary classrooms (Catholic Education, 2011). A similar trial was conducted in the Northern Territory, with the Department of Education implementing an iPad trial across five secondary schools. The aim of this study was to examine how these 'emerging devices and technology (to) provide teachers and students with improved learning opportunities' (Northern Territory Government, 2011). While in Queensland, Redlands College, Queensland, iPads are being used with middle and secondary students via a one to one provision. All of these trials have provided conclusive evidence to suggest that iPads have had a positive and significant impact on student's knowledge and understanding (Goodwin, 2012).

Within the findings it was found that the level of engagement and motivation was increased and that the capacity to demonstrate understanding in a variety of ways technological resources was increased. This included skill development in areas involving problem-solving, higher order thinking skills and decision making (Goodwin 2012).

Limitations and Adjustments

Within the study I conducted there were a number of limitations that arose as a result of the method in which data was collected and recorded. Specifically the data recording instrument design was lacking in addressing exactly what the student was able to do. The general nature of observations at each stage of the intervention raised critical questions about the process undertaken and the integrity of the data collected. In attempting to implement an intervention incorporating specific steps in reading instruction, including individual letter/sound, blend sound and whole word recognition as well as reading short descriptive sentences, vital steps in the process of observation and data collection were overlooked. The process was initiated firstly with a discussion with the classroom teacher regarding the student chosen for the research project.

The student was selected based on her ability to be able to participate in the project and also because she wasn't engaging in regular reading activities. The student showed enthusiasm when using technology based resources such as the computer, iPad and interactive whiteboard so it was agreed she would be an ideal selection for the intervention that would be carried out. The initial observational checklist was designed to assess and gauge the level of understanding in phonic awareness and word recognition as well as the student's ability to read a simple descriptive sentence, using a list of words which would be used throughout a unit of work. While the original checklist showed the overall correct answers given for selected areas of assessment on each day, it did not specify exactly which sounds and words the student was successfully understanding or which words were causing problems in verbal communication and recognition. Also due to it being the first week of observation and assessment the marking criteria for correct responses was not as rigid as the marking criteria carried out for the following three phases. This was largely due to, trying to accommodate the student's initial concerns about participating in the project and attempting to establish a rapport with the student and build confidence in the tasks. On reflection this should not have been allowed as part of the process, as it influenced the results and was not an accurate indication of what the student actually understood.

As a result an adjusted observational checklist has been attached (see appendix 1) to demonstrate how the collection of data originally sought could be enhanced and reflect accurately what the student knew and what areas of reading comprehension needed to be improved.

The results of unreliable data impact on educational decisions in a number of ways. Firstly, as the initial step was to assess her phonic understanding and decoding skills, by not accurately recording which letters and blend combinations were understood the task of addressing any phonic awareness issues could not be effectively catered for. This would subsequently cause greater problems when focussing on whole word instruction and reading complete sentences with similar or same initial sounds or blends. As a result the classroom teacher is left with a situation where they have an unrealistic or distorted understanding of the student's knowledge, and what they can consistently do or not do.

While the student in my study did not achieve the level of improvement that I expected in the four assessment areas to the sight words, blends and reading of sentences, it did highlight the benefits in using technology in education to increase an individual child's educational skills and attentiveness towards tasks.

A similar conclusion was reached in the study completed by (Reis et al, 2010) which also found that, overall children's general response to learning with the computer was more positive than it was when working with paper (Reis et al, 2010, p.113).

(Raggi & Chronis, 2006) concluded in their study, that the use of the iPad was the major contributor as a mediator of their intervention. Another contributing factor was how the manipulative touch screen promoted the use of several modalities (Raggi & Chronis, 2006), especially visual and tactile/kinaesthetic.

The Australian Curriculum, in its current form, emphasises inherent capabilities required for learning into the future. Amongst the guidelines for implementation there is acknowledgement of the importance and validity of information communication technology (ICT) to support student development across key learning areas (KLA's), including literacy. The curriculum explicitly outlines that;

The curriculum will provide flexibility for teachers to take into account the different learning situations and rates at which students develop and the diverse range of learning and assessment needs. Consideration of how best to engage every student will be given and of the way that particular groups may have previously been excluded. The utilisation of various technologies, for example, provides opportunities for a range of students, including those with disability, to access and engage with the curriculum (ACARA, 2012).

In order to provide meaningful opportunities to meet the range of learning and assessment needs of individual students, it is vital to have accurate and specific information that is clearly recorded and reflects exactly what the student or students understand and can do. It is also important for establishing what they have difficulty with and cannot do. Without clear and correct data, the classroom teacher will not be able to provide the learning experiences they are trying to deliver.


There are many articles that have been reviewed that highlight the positive correlation between technology in the classroom and increased performance in many areas of student's educational outcomes (Short et.al, 2011). After studying the articles above, one can assume that technology in education provides multiple, educational benefits to a variety of students in special education. It can also be assumed, based on the response from the students, that assistive technology and the utilization of video, technological colour and sound provides positive reinforcement to the student's senses in a way that most teachers cannot (Short et.al, 2011). It is also important not to assume that just because a certain technology benefits one student, that it will work to benefit another student in the same way. Our students are all diverse with different educational needs, and we need not assume that a "one-size-fits- all" educational strategy will be the best approach for the needs of our classroom (Short et.al, 2011).

Finally, it may be suggested that students prefer technology based activities (such as using an iPad) rather than activities using regular paper and pencil resources and display a more engaging attitude towards technology. Overall the demeanour and mood of students towards learning and general attentiveness to a task was higher, than anxiety and frustration was lower, while their interest and persistence at completing an activity was increased ((Yaw et.al, 2011).

Commercially developed programs, eBooks often with text-to-speech, and computerized learning games all have research to document their varying degrees of effectiveness (Moody, 2010). A tablet computer like the iPad has much more functionality than many other computer based programs and eReader type resources such as the Kindle (McClanahan, Williams, Kennedy, & Tate, 2012). As well many of the regular classroom teaching strategies and resources may not meet the learning styles of certain students. It is possibly still too soon to expect well designed studies of the usefulness of iPad technology to give clear empirical evidence of success with struggling readers or students with disabilities, but as new technologies become available, maybe the leadership and direction for research will come from teachers trying out these technologies in their classrooms, such as the iPad. (McClanahan et.al, 2012).