COLUMBIA, Mo. — For years, educators have had a challenge finding ways to support students with developmental disorders such as autism and Down syndrome. Teachers try to strike a balance between giving them enough resources without taking away autonomy and keeping them engaged in classes and following directions. Now, a new app may help students with special needs and keep them on track in the classroom.
Thanks to a half-million-dollar grant, a researcher from the University of Missouri says this app will improve self-regulation and independence in high school for these students.
“The interventions that teachers provide to support high school students might not be sufficient for their needs, because students want an opportunity to make their own decisions and have a say in anything that they decide to do,” says Sara Estrapala, an assistant research professor in the University of Missouri College of Education and Human Development, in a media release. “Ultimately, we want the students to have the skills they need to increase academic engagement and decrease their disruptive behaviors so that they can access the school curriculum.”
To test things out, the four-year grant will be used to increase academic engagement and reduce disruptive behavior by students with disabilities in order to empower them to regulate their own behaviors in an independent way. The project will include 50 public high school students from Jefferson City, Hallsville, and Fulton, Missouri. The students will set goals on how they want to improve in school, which could include things like paying better attention to teachers or following directions better. They will then monitor and evaluate their progress toward the goals they make by using a self-monitoring app called I-Connect.
With the app, students will receive periodic alerts with prompts to help determine if their behaviors are in line with their goals, like paying attention or participating in classwork. The app will also graph student progress, which can be analyzed to track improvements. This could be a breakthrough, allowing high school students to have some control and be reminded of the goals they set for themselves, in order to stay accountable.
“We need to leverage that developmental need for students to make independent decisions and have a say in what they want to do, and I want to combine that with some evidence-based practices that we already know work, such as goal-setting, self-monitoring and self-evaluation,” Estrapala explains. “Adults often feel like they know what is best for the students, but going forward, let’s ask the students themselves what their goals are and then have them go through a process of learning about their own behavior and how to change it in a systematic way that can be helpful in the classroom.”
The funding for this new app comes from a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.
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