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Teaching children with Downs Syndrome

This group consists of children with Downs Syndrome and two autistic students. They all know each other because they belong to ADOCU, an Association for peope wiht Downs Syndrome and their families based in Cuenca. Cuenca is a small town in central Spain, where people have little contact with other languages apart from English. That’s why it was very difficult to convince the President of the Association of the necessity to teach these students French. She felt they had to do English, otherwise she considered they were being part of an undesired experiment and didn’t like the idea very much.

We explained the idea of the project, and let her know they would be part of an international project from which the students could benefit a lot. She eventually accepted and two groups were established, one doing French, the other one doing English. In this case study we will talk about the group doing French.

The main aim with this group was to raise language awareness and make them enjoy language learning. Some of them had been in touch with language learning at school, but the slots of time devoted to English and French were used to develop their witing and reading skills in Spanish, and if they ever attended these lessons, they didn’t get the attention necessary for them to become aware if the importance of language learning. They felt frustrated because they were unable to follow what their peers were doing, and this made them dislike the language.

Therefore, our main aim was to explore the field of attitudes, perceptions, feelings and motivations in order to raise language awareness and make the students enjoy the activity.


Teachers come from the academic field. They are university teachers with plenty of experience teaching at university level. Therefore they had to adjust to the new situation. First of all, they had long talks with Diana, the students’ motor-skill teacher, who gave them very interesting clues. It was necessary to integrate in the language lesson things they did in an entirely different context and with which they were familiar. The students’ speech-therapy teacher also gave teachers important clues related to the way these children learn and develop their mother tongue.

Teachers soon realised they had to change their methodology and they all agreed that it had been one of the most interesting and productive experiences in their academic life. They realised they had to take into account feelings, attitudes and present the language in an entirely different way. The way the students responded made them adjust or change the methodology according to the needs detected.


Once the group had been established and teachers had talked to the President of the Association, the speech therapy and motor skill teachers, it was necessary to plan the activity. It was agreed that an innovative approach had to be taken. Teachers decided the use of the Interactive Board would be the best way to fulfil their aim. These are some of the advantages of the Interactive Board taking into account a) participants, b) teachers.

a) participants:
• It stimulates students with visual, hands-on learning.
• It facilitates the integration and cohesion of the group.
• In integrates in the system students with special needs from the motor-skill and intellectual point of view.
• It helps focus the students’ attention.
• The user’s self-esteem increases, since they are able to control media systems which may be difficult for people to use.
• The computer, which is an excellent tool for self-learning, becomes a cooperative tool.
b) teachers:
• Teachers can easily incorporate multimedia material, such as CD-ROMs or the Internet, into curriculum and control it from the interactive whiteboard.
• It provides educators with the tools they need to create dynamic, interactive learning environments. Students can actually go up and touch it and they can see it. Teachers can save it, so it really changes the dynamics of the classroom.
• Students and teachers can also write over any application and save their notes to a computer file for future reference and distribution.
• Teachers can capture and save syncronized data and audio, and annotate over moving or still video, so that lessons can be played back or viewed online.
• It gives teachers a better sense of security and control within computer labs and makes students more responsible in their computer use. As a result, both teachers’ work and students’ results are more successful.

Apart form the interactive board, many other materials were used, as these students need a variety of activities in the lesson. One of the difficulties we came across was the age of our students. Some of them are nine, but others are twenty. Some like dancing and singing, others preferred colouring or speaking. We found a way to sove the age problem: We realised they all loved pretending they were English people so we started performing different dialogues with realia. Dialogues were very successful and we practised them every day, that way vocabulary was never forgotten. The use of real objects and flashcards was essential as they felt they were not Silvia or Quique, they were English people in a real situation. Children with down Syndrome are used to routines. They liked to prepare the scene before starting the lesson. If we had to practise the dialogue “at the market”, they arranged the fruits, put the apron and so on.


The activity started the 17th of November. It was agreed that 45 minutes sessions once a week were desirable, otherwise students lost their attention and was difficult to make any progress. The activity ended the 24th of May. This is the second part of an activity which started last academic year. However, as we introduced the interactive board, it is considered a group where further refinements have been made in order to improve the experience.


Teachers, parents, students and facilitators are all very happy with the results of this experience. Once the initial reticence was overcome, things started to work very well. When parents were asked about the progress of the activity they always answered that their sons and daughters were very happy, asking continually when they had to go to the French lesson again. Parents also said that on the way to the university or on the way back, the students told them in a very enthusiastic way what they had been doing or what they were supposed to learn. Parents told us that these students are very straightforward and always let you know their feelings. Because parents saw their children were enjoying the activity and it was being very productive, they also were happy.

“You will see if they have enjoyed your lesson in their faces, their faces talk”, one mother told the teacher once. It is true. Their face is the best way to evaluate their progress and motivation. Students feel comfortable in the classroom. They show it when they smile, talk and move.

The experience was reported in regional media at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. The last day they students performed in front of the parents what they had been learning. Parents were really pleased to see what their children could do.

There is no doubt that it has been a very succesful activity. Next year it will go on. Both the Association and the University (José Ignacio Albentosa and María Jesús Pinar) had talks with different institutions which will be funding the activity next academic year. They were surprised with the outcome of the project and thought it was a very interesting social Lessons will take place again at University of Castilla-La Mancha and the teachers will be the same.


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