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Digital projects serving educational differentiation

Meeting with Marie-Josée Blanchette, special education teacher at Coursol school who transforms digital challenges into opportunities with her learning support class.

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Teaching elementary school students with learning disabilities comes with its own set of challenges. For Marie-Josée Blanchette, special education teacher at Coursol school and respondent to educational applications of computers (REAPO) in her community, these challenges take on the appearance of opportunities.

For those who teach in a learning support class with 9 to 12 year old students, pedagogy has no other limits than those of creativity. To stimulate her students and make them experience successes, she works by projects and uses a workshop formula, which allows her to differentiate her teaching and integrate digital technology.

École branchée had the opportunity to meet with this daring teacher to learn more about the projects she leads and the strategies she favors in order to take advantage of digital technology:

How and since when do you integrate digital technologies in your teaching practice?

Marie-Josée: I remember the first time! There was a computer lab in my school which was used too little. I wanted to reverse this trend and started a graduation album project with my students. I quickly witnessed the positive impact on the motivation and engagement of my students. It was gratifying for them to experience successes through the use of digital technology. It was at this point that I became aware of the need and the demand for students to experience projects of this type. It was in 2004, and I haven't stopped since.

Can you tell us about some projects you have done with your students?

Marie-Josée: There is 2 or 3 years, I received a grant from MELS which allowed me to set up the project entitled Tactile detectives in cyberspace. The objective of the project was to teach reading comprehension strategies on the Internet to students in a learning support class. Reading in a book or on a screen is not the same thing. With the two iPads I had in class, the students put themselves in the shoes of a detective and carried out educational activities allowing them to live authentic and motivating experiences in literacy. They had to acquire the necessary clues or reading comprehension strategies to solve the different missions. Today, the project Tactile detectives in cyberspace is available in a turnkey format for teachers on our school website.

This year, I also carried out a robotics initiation project with my students, which enabled them to learn French and mathematics.

Is it necessary to have a lot of material in order to take advantage of digital technology with your students?

Marie-Josée: I think it is possible to bring digital projects to life for your students with a minimum of material. In my classroom we only have 3 computers and 2 iPads. Working by workshop allows you to have a rotation of tasks and challenges to achieve, and therefore to accomplish a lot with little equipment. It is the variety rather than the amount of material that matters.

Today, I work in part with resources provided to me (I borrowed a robot Dash & Dot to my school board and my management supported the purchase of a kit Wedo 2.0 which I am currently trying with my class) but also with resources that I have found on my own. When I started to take an interest in digital technology, I started talking about it around me. I understood that by exchanging with members of my family, friends and colleagues, it was possible to find certain resources. You can go very far with a little resourcefulness and creativity!

What are the advantages in your opinion of teaching by project and of the workshop formula? How is this beneficial with students with learning disabilities?

Marie-Josée: On a daily basis, I work in workshops and this allows me to differentiate my teaching. It greatly promotes the development of autonomy and problem solving, in addition to promoting mutual aid and self-esteem in the students. In fact, in a learning support class, students sometimes lack motivation and have low self-esteem due to the fact that they were often bottom of the class. Work in the workshop promotes mutual aid and strengthens the self-esteem of my students. I have discovered a lot of experts over the years. They gain self-confidence because they develop an ease with one or the other of the workshops and they can then help others. Finally, the workshop formula is also a way to vary the activities and avoid falling into a routine.

What advice would you like to give to teachers who would like to integrate more digital projects but don't know where to start?

Marie-Josée: Often we have the impression that digital technology in education represents a challenge. My advice would be to approach the situation as an educational experience to live with your students. I find it helps a lot to involve the students from the start and in the decision making. To make them understand that we are going to experiment and learn WITH them. It is impossible to know everything and to control everything when embarking on a new project so I recommend turning difficulties into challenges and engaging students in problem solving. Above all, to accept that we are going to learn too!

Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of working as a team with colleagues from your school. The workshop formula promotes this collaboration since you can bring your students together with those of a colleague in the same room. This further promotes privileged and differentiated contact with the students.

To contact Marie-Josée and obtain the IBooks version of the project Tactile detectives in cyberspace, you can write to mjblanchette@cslaval.qc.ca.

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About the Author

Alexane Saint-Amant-Ringuette
Alexane Saint-Amant-Ringuette
Alexane is the editor of the École branchée online news feed. She has a bachelor's degree in international relations from the University of British Columbia as well as a master's degree in intercultural mediation from the University of Sherbrooke. She also acts as a communications advisor for the organization Idée Éducation entrepreneuriale.

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