Promoting Participation and Engagement: The Smart Inclusion Initiative – Part 2: Breaking News

by Heather Snider (Classroom Teacher), Tania Mason (Student Engagement Teacher) and Alex Dunn (Speech Language Pathologist) at Upper Canada District School Board, Ontario, Canada

Interested in the research study about the Smart Inclusion Initiative? Read Part 1: Data from the Smart Inclusion Initiative.

Lights, camera, action! ‘Glen Tay Kids News’ flashes across the screen as the news anchor takes her place and prepares to greet the students at Glen Tay Public School in Perth, Ontario, Canada. Instead of listening to the announcements over the PA system that morning, students in every classroom tune into their SMART Board to watch the local news. Students in the Grade 3/4 class report on school activities and events that occurred that month. Reporters share news about winter carnival, basketball teams, science experiments, birthdays, and weather. A previously recorded interview and a recycling commercial are also included. It is a very exciting climax to an extensive literacy project.

Smart Inclusion has become an integral part of programming at Glen Tay P.S.  As educators, we try to improve our skills and teaching practices while refining our use of technology to meet the needs of all learners in the classroom. We make every effort to step out of the way of our students by turning the technology over to them more often, giving them the opportunity to collaborate and create. We have challenged ourselves to create projects that will offer students opportunities to learn and produce work that has real purpose and an authentic audience. We also continue to look for innovative ways to use technology in the classroom to both engage students and find ways to accommodate their needs.

Collaborative inquiries involving the classroom teacher, learning resource coach (LRC) and the school principal provide an effective platform for planning. It was during one of these planning sessions, that the idea of a newscast came about. The classroom teacher informed the group that the next comprehension strategy this Gr. 3/4 class was going to be focusing on was questioning. The basic elements of lessons that would be taught during shared reading, read-aloud and guided reading were drafted, but before specifics were ironed out, the team wanted to decide what the culminating task would look like. Keeping authenticity in mind and giving the students a purpose for learning effective questioning techniques, the notion of conducting interviews emerged. Connecting this to a real-life situation, the group naturally thought of news reporters and the role they play in broadcasting the news. Applying these ideas to a classroom-based project would surely have a strong engagement factor, but what about the student with severe apraxia?  How would they participate alongside the other students?  Through the fusion of constructive collaboration, Universal Design for Learning, Aided Language Stimulation and the Participation Model, the team of educators envisioned a full-blown newscast in which ALL of the students would be involved. The project was set to move forward.

One of the first whole group lessons the teacher planned was brainstorming a list of words that a person can use to start a question. The list was surprisingly extensive and led directly into a subsequent lesson on the difference between thick and thin questions. Thick questions being those that have a complex answer and may require some research or high-level thinking in order to respond to. Thin questions, on the other hand, can be answered briefly with little detail involved. Both types of questions were modeled by the teacher during read-aloud; and then during guided reading, students were asked to share questions that came to mind while gaining meaning from the text they were reading. These questions were recorded in a word processing document then sorted in both SMART Board and SMART Table activities  into the categories of thick and thin questions. Once students showed competence with this reading strategy, their next task was to write and answer thick and thin questions as part of their reading response activities.

Soon afterwards, the newscast project was announced which of course stirred up a great deal of excitement. Web based examples of other newscasts produced by elementary students provided a model for this class to go by. Kidspiration was an effective tool for recording aspects of a news broadcast and creating an organizational web of tasks that the children would perform themselves. Dividing into small groups, the children set out writing reports, creating background scenes, researching topics and preparing questions that could be asked during one of the school interviews.

Media literacy was an obvious curricular link too so a study of commercials ensued. The purpose and intended audience were examined through a homework assignment whereby the students and parents were asked to record the type of commercials that were shown during both a children’s program and a news broadcast. Comparisons were made and characteristics noted. One group of students was then responsible for creating a commercial that would be appropriate for our newscast audience; the student body.  This advertising team set about using SMART Notebook for graphics, text, animations and sound in order to create an impressive commercial about recycling in our school.

Other students prepared scripts they would later read while reporting news from their angle. Learning effective research and summarization skills was also a necessary step in this process which included gathering information from internet sources, conducting live interviews with staff and students in our school, and recording them with the iPad2. Interviewing the basketball coach, for instance, provided the necessary facts and background information for the sports report. Getting a list of students’ birthdays for the month allowed a group to develop an interactive SMART Notebook page of birthday wishes. To add some creative flair, backgrounds were made using graphics and creative tools, photographs of school activities were imported and music was added to introduce the news. There was no doubt that these students were reading and writing for a purpose every day.

Incorporated into this elaborate plan, and every plan, is of course inclusion. All activities need to be in the reach of all students. The Participation Model Matrix1 was completed at the beginning of the year with all team members2 providing opinions and input around where students with special needs were starting from and gathering all pertinent information together for goal setting.  Through this method, the team agreed on a small number of goals in the area of inclusion, participation and/or independence as a point of focus for a specified period of time for a given student.  In this case, one of the student’s goals was to become more independent during the literacy block.  Once the goal was established, the Activity Standards Inventory (ASI) was used to take the goal and compare it to the goal of a peer, identify environmental and student +barriers to participation, and then design interventions as a team to promotethe target student’s independence and successful participation.  As a team, we identified that the special needs student in the class lacked the communication skills that would allow him to participate in the newscast in the same way as the other children but he needed to be involved just like everyone else. Through some careful consideration and planning, we decided that this student would be responsible for reporting the weather; a topic he could easily relate to. Working alongside the rest of the class, he created a page in Clicker5 that would tell the date, the season and the kind of weather we were experiencing that day. With a touch of the screen, the words he wanted to say, came out loud and clear. The look of satisfaction on his face was immeasurable. And to make it even more meaningful for this student, he drew a picture of himself using the tools in SMART Notebook and used images of clothing to dress himself appropriately according to the weather. Now he had his own segment in the broadcast. What a proud moment!

Our debut performance was almost ready. The final step was to make sure the technological elements were looked after. Sharing images on multiple SMART Boards was a new venture for all of us but where would we be without opportunities to grow? The day of the broadcast, the news set was a complicated array of equipment, cords and lights. One laptop ran the Smart Notebook pages of background pictures that would appear behind the news reporters. Another laptop worked as a teleprompter so the reporters could read their scripts. And a third laptop used a microphone and document camera to provide the lighting and sound and push the broadcast out to the other SMART Boards in the school which were connected via AdobeConnect.

It all worked. We did it; our own newscast – kid style! Everyone played a part bringing to life the belief that inclusion really is the key to success for all learned.

1. Participation Model Matrix (PMM) as well as the Activity Standards Inventory (ASI) come from Beukelman, D. & Mirenda, P. (1998). Augmentative and alternative communication: Management of severe communication disorders in children and adults (2nd ed.), Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. Visit for samples and case study examples.

2. Depending on the student’s needs, team members could include but are not limited to teachers, principals, educational assistants, parents, speech language pathologist, audiologist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, physician, consultants.

Published November 2012