First of all, you might be asking “what the heck is a therapeutic school?” I’m not an expert beyond what we do at my own school, but basically I understand therapeutic schools to be schools that teach academic subjects side by side with skills for living a healthy life, including emotional regulation, relationship skills and strategies for functioning successfully in a community. At my school, our students are all working on different goals related to these skills, and as such, we serve them in a variety of groups and in 1-to-1 classes.
We’ve had a Google Apps for Education account for a little less than a year so far, and already there are so many great applications to our work. Here are some of the reasons I think Google Apps is great for therapeutic schools.
- Students get peer interaction without being face-to-face. Many of our students are learning the best way to be in relationship with each other, and sometimes sitting in a room with a peer can be stressful, confusing and hard. Google Apps allows students to interact with one another in a low-stakes way. I can edit this paper with my classmate, but I don’t have to think about my body language and my facial expression and constantly talking to them while I’m also trying to remember how to edit a paper. Real-time collaboration on Google Docs gives a sense of working together while also giving space to each student to think and breathe.
- Students can practice real-world skills in a closed environment. While some of Google Apps for Education’s monitoring settings leave something to be desired, Google does make it easy to close your Google Apps environment so that students and teachers are interacting with each other only, and not the outside world. You can email peers and teachers you’ve already met in the real world or share your website with only a handful of teachers you know will provide supportive feedback. One of the scariest things when you’re learning how to navigate the world is the unexpectedness of interactions with people you don’t know. Learning how to be online in a community of people whose faces you’ve seen makes all of that much less scary.
- Google Apps and constructivist learning go hand in hand. One of the tenets of constructivist learning is to allow students to develop their own knowledge with a hands-on tasks rather than being instructed from above by the teacher. Because Google Apps is generally very user-friendly with intuitive controls, students with even a little bit of prior web experience take to it easily. I typically only need to prompt once or twice that the red button is create, the blue button is share. Since Google’s been making efforts recently to unify design across Apps, the kids can pick up the visual language and apply it throughout. This way, students are developing their own understanding of how to navigate the web. I can be a guide rather than an instructor.