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By Sarah Pliske • February 12, 2014

Behavior Management Strategies with Special Education Apps

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Teachers face many challenges in the classroom every day. For special education teachers, these challenges can be compounded by significant behavior management issues, the need to differentiate instruction across a large caseload of students, and the pressure to advocate for student placement in inclusive settings. Recent data shows that iPads can be powerful instructional tools in the hands of special education students. Let’s explore how the iPad (and the myriad of special education apps available) can be a powerful resource in helping special education teachers overcome challenges in their classrooms.

Common Challenges Faced by Special Education Teachers:

  1. Behavior management issues
  2. Promoting inclusion when beneficial for students’ academic and social/emotional growth
  3. Differentiating instruction to target IEP goals
  4. Supporting progress towards multiple IEP goals across caseload

Sound familiar? These challenges might sound like a lot to overcome, but iPads can be enormously useful tools in helping teachers to conquer classroom obstacles. iPads and the right set of special education apps can help you to turn these challenges into opportunities for student growth.

Challenge 1: Behavior Management Issues

With the plethora of iPad apps available, special education teachers can use iPads to target many facets of behavior management.

  • iPads increase student engagement, which is an important factor in behavior management strategies. iPads can meet the sensory needs of students in a way that isn’t possible with traditional classroom materials like pencils and notebooks. iPads give students who have poor fine motor skills the ability to participate and interact meaningfully with curriculum and own their learning. With engaging and interactive content, iPads can be very motivating for students with ADHD and other attention issues.
  • Social skills apps can provide instruction and strategies to help students build and maintain interpersonal relationships with general education peers. With social stories apps, you can create personalized social stories that will provide students with the support they need to navigate everyday school and community experiences.
  • Visual schedules can help to create predictability and routine within students’ school days, but they can be cumbersome and difficult to transport. With the iPad, visual schedules are mobile and can go wherever the students go, so students will have constant access to their schedules.
  • Timer apps and "first, then" apps can be used to foster independence in navigating the school day and can help special education students to successfully transition between activities. These apps can help students to better understand what is expected of them during a given class period, which can decrease anxiety.
  • Behavior tracking apps can be great resources for both students and teachers to bolster existing behavior management strategies. These apps can help special education students build self-awareness by having them track their own behaviors during class. Need to collect baseline data for a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)? Want to track the effectiveness of your behavior interventions? Put down your clipboard and pencils—there are great iPad apps out there for those tasks as well!

Challenge 2: Promoting inclusion in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The current push in special education is to include students with disabilities in classes with their typically developing peers to the greatest extent possible. Today—more than ever—mainstreaming has become the norm. However, students with disabilities often have very different needs than their typically developing peers and may require extra support to meaningfully participate in general education classrooms.

iPads can be powerful tools for facilitating collaboration and social interactions between general education students and special education students. Yet many teachers witness inclusion only working at a surface level: general education and special education peers sitting in the same classroom without interacting with each other.

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iPads have the potential to break down the barrier between students with different needs, interests, and strengths. The interactivity of the iPad draws students in and provide opportunities for students to play and learn together.

iPads can also function as augmentative communication devices using apps like Proloquo2Go to allow students who are nonverbal to communicate. This has incredible implications for special education students’ ability to participate in academic, extracurricular, and social settings with their peers and to navigate these settings more independently.

Challenges 3 & 4: Differentiating Instruction & Supporting Progress Towards IEP Goals

These two challenges go hand in hand—supporting progress towards students’ individualized education goals requires differentiating instruction to meet students’ needs. All teachers understand the importance of differentiated instruction, but its value is magnified for special ed teachers with large caseloads of students with IEPs.

Utilizing iPads is a great way to tackle the challenge of differentiation. With content area apps that are both engaging and academically rigorous, iPads allow teachers to modify instruction, assignments, and assessments providing individual students access to curriculum that is motivating and developmentally appropriate. iPads can augment the curriculum that you already have in place to cut down the amount of time you spend making materials to fulfill each of your students’ IEP accommodations. With text-to-speech functionality, videos, games, and books, iPads can change how information is presented to students helping them interact successfully with new material in a way that is most meaningful to them.

For students who are higher functioning or more self-directed in their learning, iPads can also bolster the station work in your classroom. Record mini-lessons using the camera app on your iPads, and leave one at each station. When students get to each station, your video will be there to provide them with the guidance they need to get started with their work.


Using iPads to automate your differentiation strategies saves you time allowing you to work one-on-one with a high-need student or provide small group instruction.

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How will you know that your instruction strategies were effective and that students are making progress towards their annual goals? Some education apps, like Articulation Station and ArtikPix, collect data on student performance as students are playing the apps, so the teacher doesn’t have to sit next to the student to track their progress. Other apps are designed to facilitate progress monitoring by allowing teachers to easily collect, store, share, and even graph data. These special education apps can help you track student progress through RTI interventions and towards their IEP benchmarks and annual goals.



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