September 2011 Newsletter

Kate Reinke

Maryland Kindergarten Teacher Pilots TeachTown: Basics Computer Aided Instruction Technology

In 2008, a District Supervisor for Autism Programs in Baltimore, Maryland asked Kathryn Reinke, (Kate) a kindergarten teacher, to pilot a new computer aided instruction technology called TeachTown: Basics for children with autism.

Kate piloted the technology for 3 years with 30 children, ages 5 and 6. Each child had an IEP (Individual Education Plan) and worked independently on the computer learning skills that Kate had assigned to them based on their ability levels and the IEP goals she set.

"Teachers can select computer lessons on TeachTown or let the software prescribe lessons automatically based on a student’s abilities,” she said. “I like that the curriculum matches the Maryland State Curriculum. The software helps me to provide differentiated instruction with more consistency and has given my students more freedom to learn required skills quickly."

Kate feels good about her work with students using the program. She can give them more attention now. “Every year, I try to spend one-on-one time with my students, but that does not always happen with 10 youngsters in a class. TeachTown is like having an assistant. I go to the computer, select assignments and track a child’s progress. Students are engaged using the class technology, and the assessment reports help me evolve their IEPs. I can focus on how to help each child improve academically and I’m not caught up with excuses like ‘not having enough time’ anymore. The computer lessons are organized and structured to support the basic skills I want my students to learn.”

This year, Kate traveled to Washington, DC and spoke with Alexa Posny, the Assistant Secretary of Special Education for the U.S. Department of Education. “Ms. Posny was interested in how children learn with technology and how computer aided software, like TeachTown, support the classroom and teachers’ strategies who instruct children with autism. “I told her that I’ve seen huge improvements in my students’ academic skills and class behavior,” said Kate. “Plus, students appear happier and excited to learn. I shared these personal student stories below...”

Students Learning With Technology

“A Vietnamese boy could barely say a word in English. After just two months on TeachTown, he is speaking English. “I’ve seen students with no verbal skills leave my class talking and able to use a computer for learning without assistance from a teacher or aide. What a gift for the next teacher responsible for helping these students grow in their learning progress.”

“Another student did not like schoolwork. He acted out in class stomping his feet, crying and saying “no” to learning. This child had one task on his IEP (identifying shapes) but he could not master the activity. I put him on TeachTown for 2 to 10 minutes a day. Within 6 weeks, he went from a pre-test score of 33% to posttest scores of 96% and could identify four required shapes. Today, he generalizes his pattern skills to everyone. He calls out the top of yogurt container as circles and signs on school walls as squares or triangles. When he hears the TeachTown music he’s the first to sit down at the computer and focus on assignments, what a transformation.”

“A female student in my class mastered 39 lessons in a short period of time (February to May, 2011.) She is now able to make choices and generalizes skills to everyday events. For example, in TeachTown: Basics four animated characters demonstrate activities, such as how to play on the playground equipment. Pico, a favorite character among children in my class, performs an activity in which he slides down a sliding board and climbs on monkey bars. My students no longer wander on the playground. When I hear them say, “WEE… I’m sliding down,” I know they are mimicking Pico. The computer instruction taught them the skill and they transferred it to a playground activity. I would not be able to teach this learning activity.”

Kate says students with autism like to organize their routine. This is is especially true for one boy in her class. “There are times when class schedules get out of sync,” she said. “He would get upset if his schedule was disrupted. I knew that if I could teach him how to tell time, he could better cope with an activity like going to the cafeteria for lunch each day. Within a couple of weeks with TeachTown, he was telling time on the school clock. He would look at his schedule and the clock and know that our schedule was off. He would say to me …”We have to wait 5 more minutes.” Now, he is so good at telling time, he keeps me on track.”

Parent Involvement

“Parents like the technology too,” shared Kate, “especially the student progress reports that can be printed in graphical charts. When parents ask me what they can do with their child when they are helping other siblings with homework, I tell them to use the TeachTown home version. More parents are involved in their child’s learning development.”

Three years have passed since Mrs. Reinke (Kate) first piloted the TeachTown technology. She summed up the results. “My students learned required skills at a quicker pace and were able to extend their skill practice time at home. They increased their attention spans and their independence is showing through in their social interactions. Just as importantly, they are able to generalize skills to everyday experiences. These are all great learning attributes the software provides for children with autism.”