“It whoket but the problem still was that it still whoed be hard to get our lunch kit.”

This is an excerpt from an English language learner (ELL) at Belfast Elementary School, describing a possible solution to a storage issue in her classroom’s backpack and lunch kit storage area.

For ELL students, and students with other learning needs such as autism, learning disabilities, and emotional challenges, independent learning can be challenging.

In many cases, these students require additional support from teachers to function on their own and demonstrate an understanding of curricular concepts. Without assistance, these students are often left feeling frustrated and bored, which can lead to learning distractions for themselves – and their classmates.

At Belfast School, a kindergarten to grade six school in Northeast Calgary, technology is helping to address these issues and allowing students with specific needs to take charge of their own learning.

With a grant from EducationMatters, Belfast purchased iPads to help students develop a sense of autonomy and build essential skills for coping with academic and social situations. Given the portability of the iPads and the range of apps that can be installed, the tablets are assigned to individual students as needed.

The benefits to ELL students at Belfast School were immediately clear.

“They take the iPad everywhere, class, recess, lunch, to help them build both social and educational connections around them,”

says Jana El-Guebaly, the Assistant Principal at Belfast School.

Language translation apps on the iPads allow teachers to clearly communicate instructions to ELL students. Then, students are given the independence to work on their own, while being able to demonstrate their understanding of course material to teachers using the translation tools.

“The iPads have been an integral tool for the successful transition my students have made both academically and socially,” says one teacher at the school.

As well, students with autism are often found using apps that tell personalized stories to help them navigate their day. There are also apps that help develop fine motor skills and enhanced communication techniques.

Students with learning disabilities and emotional needs are finding the iPads helpful as well.

“We have one student who starts each day with an iPad in the office to calm himself and ensure he starts on a positive note,” says El-Guebaly.

In another case, a student who was prone to frustrated outbursts in class, reduced his in-class disturbances significantly when he was able to use apps and tools on the iPads that were personalized to his needs.

Not only did this benefit the students around him, but he enjoyed the work he was doing and felt that he was an equal member of the class when he could work independently on his own.

The demand for iPads continues to grow and, since receiving the initial grant in 2015, Belfast has purchased 4 new iPads.

The iPads are so popular that when students are given a similar type of assignment there are often several students that want to use an iPad for speech to text, text to speech, and fine motor work at the same time.

For the team at Belfast School, this means that the EducationMatters supported enrichment has been a huge success.

The impacts of the iPads speak for themselves, just look at how clearly the same ELL student was able to communicate her thoughts on the classroom storage space when using assistive technology.

“We did that and it work but the only problem was that it was still hard to get our lunch bags.”