Congratulations to the winners of CDW Canada's 2009 Teaching with Technology Contest
Grand Prize Winner #1: Gail Grant
Crystal Park School, Grande Prairie, AB
by Gail Grant

Imagine a world where spoken language is a garble of sounds. Imagine being bombarded with messages with no meaning to you, yet being asked to respond and act upon them. Imagine trying to send your own messages, yet no one understands you or acts on what you say. Travelling in another land you might think - but no, this is the world my students live in daily. I can't imagine it, but must attempt to bridge the crevasse between children and the world immediately around them.

For many students in my special education preschool, words are not life illuminating but rather they are only a source of unending frustration. There is no multi-language translation dictionary for young children to fall back on. Severe delays in receptive and/or expressive language, and possibly articulation indicate that a new form of communication must be introduced, taught, and practised. I use technology every day in my classroom from the simple to the increasingly complex. The most powerful tool I have, to impact my students' lives, is to facilitate the transference of visual symbols into a meaningful language that empowers them to make requests, choices, and to tell and receive information.

The journey to communicate is different for each child. I, along with the teaching assistants in my room, have become users of sign, holders of pictures, depositories of innumerable gestures, and programmers of tech communication devices. Software with pictures for visual schedules, request strips, and sign language are used daily as we build language skills. Hardware such as digital cameras, computers, printers, and scanners are used to create images that replace the spoken word. Buttons that talk, animals that dance at the press of a mouse, and programmable communication displays give power to those who had none, other than the behaviour born of their utter desperation to be heard.

In my memory bank the most poignant pictures are of the unspeakable joy on the faces of young children, who for the first time, connect a picture to an actual place or activity and know what they are being asked to do. Or, when in wonder, they realize they can point to or exchange a picture to get something themselves.

Imagine a world where technology opens the world to those previously not able to participate in it. Imagine a world where a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Imagine a world where a boy with autism or Down syndrome, a girl with cerebral palsy or Prader-Willi syndrome, children with global developmental delays and those loving them can communicate. I do. I see it every day. That is why I embrace technology as part of my tool kit as a teacher.

Gail Grant, class and Matt Chatwint
Crystal Park School
CDW Canada's Matt Chatwin and
special education preschool teacher Gail Grant
Teaching with Technology Prize Presentation
Gail Grant and students at Crystal Park School
with technology prizes
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