Learning support during lockdown

Issue: Volume 99, Number 7

Posted: 18 May 2020
Reference #: 1HA7WW

With the help of assistive technology and a supportive family and team, Year 5 student Eli has been able to successfully transition back to school and continue his learning during lockdown.

Eli uses assistive technology to support his learning from home during lockdown, working alongside his brothers Isaac and Jesse.

Eli uses assistive technology to support his learning from home during lockdown, working alongside his brothers Isaac and Jesse.

The Honeysett family’s dining table resembles dining tables all over New Zealand during lockdown. It is covered with schoolwork and devices as their three children – Eli, his twin brother Isaac (both Year 5), and younger brother Jesse (Year 2) – carry out their schoolwork from their home. All three attend Kahutara Primary School, a rural school in South Wairarapa with a roll of 120 students. 

Eli requires more support than his brothers. Four years ago, he developed a rare and severe case of transverse myelitis, a neurological condition that interrupts the messages that the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. 

He became unwell in April 2016 and after spending 10 months in Starship Hospital, followed by 11 months in Wairarapa Hospital, he gradually returned to school, increasing his hours of attendance as he became stronger. He eventually returned on a full-time basis this year after the school had completed a new medical room, enabling Eli to have his health needs met onsite. Eli is on a ventilator; he can talk, move his facial muscles and can feel, but not move.

A number of key people have supported Eli’s transition back to school. Among them is Deb Dennes of Central Regional Health School, and Eli’s specialist teacher, Mel Handyside. Both worked with Eli while he was in Wairarapa Hospital and during his transition back to school. At school, teacher aides Sandie and Eve work alongside teacher Ben Milne, to support Eli in class.

“Kahutara is a very welcoming, inclusive community. It has been a special time for everyone sharing Eli’s return to school,” says Mel.

Role of assistive technology in Eli’s learning

With the help of assistive technology – and much patience and perseverance – Eli and his team have been able to access the school curriculum. Eli uses a Surface Pro for his digital schoolwork. He can navigate his way around programmes with the integramouse. Once the integramouse is positioned in his mouth, he is able to work quickly and independently. 

He uses Gmail, Google Docs, Seesaw and programmes such as Maths Buddy and Prototec, which are all used by the Kahutara students to access their learning programmes. Typing can get very tiring but Eli is able to use a software programme, WordQ5, to predictive type, reducing keystrokes. 

“The future is exciting for Eli with the technology available. We are looking forward to experimenting with Dragon and Google Speak, using the many apps available to further develop Eli’s independence,” says Mel.

“The assistive technology, along with a team effort from everyone involved in Eli’s education journey so far has enabled Eli to access the school curriculum in a supportive inclusive environment at Kahutara School.”

Assistive technology

Support during lockdown

The technology has allowed Eli’s reintegration into school life to continue during lockdown. He is able to join class meetings and reading groups via Zoom and submit work on Seesaw. Class work is set on Hapara platform.

However, it hasn’t been easy for Eli’s parents, Matt and Tracey. The nature of lockdown has meant a lot less physical support with no teacher aide or specialist teacher attending Eli’s daily lessons. They also chose to have no carers or nurses for four weeks during the initial lockdown period. 

“However, there was fantastic contact with the school and teachers, including Deb and Mel, to make sure Eli was coping with the school tasks given,” says Tracey. 

“Support was offered to us as parents and to Eli using resources such as Facetime, email and phone calls. There were teething issues with using new websites, but all was resolved by communicating with Eli’s teacher Ben, and also Mel, around what was and wasn’t working.

“Mel was fantastic, especially in the early days and the unknown of how lockdown and home schooling would look. She provided worksheets and workbooks that would be useful should the technology-based work not work out,” says Tracey.

Of course, there’s another important determinant for Eli’s success in adapting to new technology and successfully transitioning back to school: Eli himself.

“He’s such a great kid and he’s doing so well. He’s got the right attitude,” says Mel. 

“Eli has an amazingly positive nature, he works hard, he is interested, inquisitive, he likes to share his ideas and be involved in everything. Eli’s sense of humour and fun along with his determination has seen him achieve and meet learning expectations at school.”

Eli uses assistive technology to support his learning from home during lockdown, working alongside his brothers Isaac and Jesse.

Eli uses assistive technology to support his learning from home during lockdown, working alongside his brothers Isaac and Jesse.


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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:52 pm, 18 May 2020

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