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Jan 2011

Visual Learning for Special Needs

Subtitled Educational Videos and Your Special Needs Child

We begin this fourth article in the series about Visual Learning by looking at exactly what Visual Learning is and what the term Special Needs is generally accepted to mean. Then as we move on we will examine how the various techniques and ways that subtitled educational video can be used to provide an effective way of achieving education advancement with your Special Needs child or student.

The definition of Visual Learning is “a teaching and learning style in which ideas, concepts, data and other information are associated with images and techniques. It is one of the three basic types of learning styles that also includes kinesthetic learning and auditory learning.” In other words, by using subtitled educational video to deliver curriculum material in a graphical format combined with the use of various techniques we are able to stimulate the learning process in a meaningful, interesting, enjoyable and effective manner.

And the term “special needs” generally applies to mental or physical disabilities or circumstances that create an exceptional situation requiring individualized educational programs, physical accessibility or primary care requirements.

Here at Zane Education we feel very strongly about the use of the term “Special Needs”. And the reason is because we believe that every child has special needs. Each one has the need to be loved, cared for, nurtured and educated. Each of these is a particularly special need that every child deserves. However what is of greatest importance is to understand and appreciate that every child is different, and the way we as teachers and parents accommodate and effectively provide for those needs, often comes down to each child’s individual personality. And when it comes to providing education that child’s individual abilities and preferences need to be understood and catered for if the learning process is to be meaningful and effective, especially if we desire to arouse and help develop that child’s powers of self-motivation.

Many would argue that one of the main failures of today’s educational system is that it leaves no time, or room for the teacher to be able to develop an understanding of, and cater for each child’s individual needs, their natural skills and abilities, and most importantly, their preferred learning style.

Understanding a child’s natural skills and abilities will often help demonstrate the areas that they are most interested in. And understanding what they are most interested in, and enabling then to learn more about those topics, will generally provide an eager, happy and self-motivated student. This applies to most children, and it also applies to the special needs child. In other words what their interests are, and where their skills and abilities lie, will more than likely be the areas that they are interested and motivated to learn more about.

Similarly, understanding their educational and academic needs, abilities and preferred learning style will help determine how the relevant information is best delivered to them. Therefore it is important that each child be provided with choice as to how they feel most comfortable absorbing and processing the information.

So to summarise this in the most basic terms, if you are going to attempt to transform a naturally gifted tennis player into a rocket scientist, then you have to expect to encounter resistance and problems. Similarly if you attempt to teach that naturally gifted tennis player the rules of the game by giving them a book to read, even though they have reading difficulties, your efforts are not going to achieve much success.

So let’s take a closer look at the education of a child that is being described as “Special Needs”.

In essence, the majority of special needs children are little different to any other children, with the exception that they have some sort of disability, and that disability may vary in intensity or severity. However a particularly interesting situation exists with many “special needs” children, and it is one that is often only recognized by their parents. It is not uncommon to find a special needs child that is enjoys particular talents, abilities or skills in other areas of their lives, and while they may not be academic skills, they are exceptional skills non-the-less. The most disappointing aspect though is that the child is all too often recognised for their deficiencies, rather than those exceptional skills. It’s the old story in that to many people the glass appears to be lacking because it is half-empty, rather than for being half-full.

So we would suggest that the starting point in the education of the special needs child is the identification and discovery those topics in which they have a genuine interest and a desire to know more. Obviously with more severe cases of disability the discovery of those areas of interest may take more work, and parental participation is very important because they know their child and will recognise the signs and indications much better than others will.

Once those topics or fields of interest the child has have been identified, then they need to be nurtured and the relevant information provided to them to feed and satisfy that desire. Continuing to read the signs and a monitoring of the way the child reacts is extremely important but at least a starting point has been established. Establishing what topics your special needs child is genuinely interested in and enjoys working with is an extremely important step for many families and should be regarded as a foundation for better things. With time, effort and attention on behalf of the parents, and perhaps siblings, interest in other subjects may also take place as the seed that is the process of learning process sprouts and starts to grow and develop.

With some special needs children, their interest and ability may remain centred on that one topic or area of interest and in time it may show that the child has a particular affinity, interest and special talent in that particular area, whereas with others that first topic may be the stepping stone or first rung on the ladder towards greater things in other areas. But it is identifying the desire and interest and then supporting and feeding that interest or desire that is all-important.

So where exactly does subtitled educational video fit into this wonderful process.

Well firstly, subtitled educational video provides each child, special needs or otherwise, a learning medium with three important choices. It offers the choice to watch, to listen to, or to read the presentation of the relevant topic. Some children will have a learning style that may prefer the use of one of these three options, while for others it may be a combination of two of more options. In some situations the watching and listening to the educational video will lead on to the use of the subtitles, and it is quite interesting to watch the number of children whose eyes are naturally drawn to the reading of the subtitles as things progress. And this is where the opportunity for improvement of read skills may also present itself. The mind and brain are wonderful pieces of equipment and it is surprising just how often subtitles and word recognition will impact upon the child even though that was the original intention or purpose.

The next opportunity and potential for benefit for the special needs child presents itself when the child is provided with access to large and varied library of subtitled educational video. Many parents of special needs children have told us that by sitting down in front of the computer with their child and giving their child the opportunity to explore all of Zane Education’s educational videos (includes over 1,000 online videos teaching 11 subjects and 260 curriculum topics) is the single most effective way to discover which topics attract their attention and interest, and which don’t.

One situation that took place and was reported back to us recently, and that we found to be particularly heart-warming, involved an 8 year old boy with severe learning difficulties. When given the chance to explore Zane’s online video library ended up in the biology videos and demonstrated a strong interest and ability in the topics of Plant and Animal Classification – curriculum intended for students twice his age. And this was a child that had as yet been unable to come to terms with even the most basic arithmetic, demonstrating an interest and ability well beyond his years.

That young lad has continued on to embrace learning through having discovered other video topics that interest in and his own desire to use these educational videos, and through a committed mother that was so frustrated with the lack of other suitable training materials. Her determination and dedication to working with him on his new voyage of discovery using Visual Learning has been both rewarding and successful.

And this is the other important part of the puzzle. While having access to Visual Learning and the subtitled educational video are important tools for special needs child, it is so important for them the attention and support of a person that is prepared to work with them as they use these tools. Not so much to answer the academic questions, because this is the job of the video content, but more to provide guidance and assistance when required, and to share the experience and to monitor what situations and topics achieve the greatest success.

While there are many fine teachers in schools with the very best of intentions, there can be little to match the caring and devotion of a loving parent to help complete the circle offered by the use of Visual Learning and subtitled educational video as the tools, to help promote and stimulate the academic mind and education of a special needs child.

FOOTNOTE: Zane Education also a provides comprensive range of K12 curriculum multiple choice quizzes containing 23,000 questions to support and continue the Visual Learning provided by their ondemand educational video subscription service.

For more information visit or contact Zane Education at www.zaneeducation.com

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