Some reflections on using Myst in a special setting

| March 11, 2010 | 0 Comments 

Roz Brown – English teacher at Valence School, Westerham, Kent, was kind enough to record the first part of her thoughts on using some of the virtual worlds with her special needs students.

Valence is a special school for students with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. Students are divided into ability groups for lessons.

Having seen Tim in January 2009, I decided to use Myst to devise a scheme of work for writing non-fiction with a group of students with complex difficulties who all use alternative means of communication.

Whilst Myst clearly lends itself to descriptive writing, I decided to use it to stimulate non-fiction writing as the students in the group have limited experiences, and often unreliable memories, so that writing about concrete facts can be very hard. Using Myst as a stimulus, with added tactile objects, would give students ‘experiences’ that they could then use to write about.

The first activity involved building up the students’ interest in the topic by saying that we were going on a journey to a mysterious new planet. I then showed students a range of images from Myst on the IWB which we described to the students as a number of them have visual impairments and asked questions e.g. would you like to live there etc.

I then asked the students to each think of a name which would sum up this new place. Each student came up with an idea which we shared and then they voted on their favourite; Prison Planet was chosen.

I then told the students that their assignment was to be a journalist, a guest writer on the ‘Prison Planet’ newsletter for which they would be required to write a number of articles.

The first article was writing a ‘Where is it?’ article describing a place in detail so that others could try to guess the location. I played the image of ‘Tomahna’ without the image to enable students to focus on the sounds. I also had a range of objects that were taken from the scene: a rock, a cactus and some cotton wool (to represent the clouds). The students were encouraged to explore the objects and comment on how they felt using their communication books. We also had a range of smells (oils) for students to smell and pass comment on.

Finally, we actually looked at the image and described what we could see. In the subsequent lesson, we looked again at the image and objects and I gave the students a symbol board encouraging them to make short sentences: I can see/hear/smell/feel + mountains/clouds/a bird etc.

The students were then asked to find their own describing word(s) (from communication book) after which they were given the option of having a bonus word from their symbol sheet e.g. circling, twittering. The results were really exciting: a selection of short sentences from each student with the bonus words which helped them to go beyond the limited vocabulary in their communication books.

The second assignment was to write diary entries based on activities that they experienced on ‘Prison Planet’. For the first diary entry, I showed the students images from the beach and we talked about the kinds of things that could be done on beaches.

Using a range of props (kites, buckets and spades, swimming floats, sun hats and sun cream) the students were photographed in front of the IWB taking part in these different activities. Using a symbol board, the students then composed diaries of their day on the beach using temporal connectives and then adding their own thoughts about the activity.

Once again, the students were really motivated by having ‘visited’ the beach and the photos of themselves doing the different activities. A second diary day was then done in the ‘granny flat’ – which we called The Dragon House’. We explored this environment together with the students making decisions e.g. shall we go in here or press that button etc. The students were really engaged by this. Once again, I used tactile objects when we went into the round room and looked at the objects.

The students were photographed interacting with their mystery object. The way out of the ‘Dragon House’ was down the roller coaster which comes much later in the game. We sat in front of the screen in a roller coaster formation and got the staff to provide the necessary sound effects.

None of the students had ever been on a roller coaster and all of them indicated that had been their favourite activity in the Dragon House.

More to follow from Roz soon, on the fun she has been having with her students, and on the impact it has had.

Category: 1) Events and Training days

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