Ignite Potential: A Special Education Teacher's Journey with Innovative Learning Tools

Nicole Nesheim, Ph.D

Feb. 12, 2024

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Almost everyone you know can share a story about a teacher that went above and beyond to make an impact on their life. Teachers give their all daily to help children learn and become successful. Some teachers, however, go above and beyond, choosing to work with populations that need more attention than the average student. Andrew Donnelly is one of those educators.  

Mr. Donnelly is a longtime special education teacher in New Jersey whose students range in age from kindergarten to second grade; however, academically, his students function at the ages of 6 months old to just at pre-K. Mr. Donnelly describes his students with affection—he shares their likes, dislikes, and individual personalities as he witnesses them day in and day out. To speak with Mr. Donnelly is to understand his patience, understanding, and dedication to helping his students grow.  

Teaching a special population requires the incorporation of innovative learning tools at times, which is why Mr. Donnelly was willing to participate in a pilot program for Ignite by Hatch™. A powerful digital learning tool, Ignite affords children an engaging experience while propelling them through a learning journey aligned to curriculum and standards. Mr. Donnelly voiced getting “a lot of great progress with the kids” who participated in the pilot, leading to the full incorporation of Ignite this year in his classroom.  

After learning more about Mr. Donnelly’s use of Ignite in the classroom, it became clear that the implementation of Ignite enabled his students to be assessed from a proficiency model, something that isn’t always easy to do with students who cope with traumatic brain injuries and other cognitive impairments. One benefit of Ignite, according to Mr. Donnelly, is that children can select their picture as a method for logging in to the program, rather than entering an email address and password, making it much easier for them to begin playing and learning.  

Mr. Donnelly points out that his students really enjoy playing Ignite and that it is also a helpful progress monitoring tool, allowing him to not only see where children are academically, but also enabling him to make small group placements in the classroom.  

Further explaining how he uses Ignite to demonstrate student abilities, Mr. Donnelly explains, “on Friday morning, we pull up the progress charts and see where the kids are standing, what skills they’re struggling with, and who ‘gets it’ and which ones don’t. It allows one of my students to reteach and lead in the classroom as a teacher model.” In this nature, learning is reinforced, and long-term memory is solidified.  

While there are many options for assistive technologies and special needs tools, Mr. Donnelly posits that, unfortunately, most of these tools require students to be verbal, an area where his students are not always proficient. Mr. Donnelly explains, “my students are partially verbal to nonverbal. Ignite really placates to that. It doesn’t matter if you’re verbal—let’s just see what you can do! Nine times out of ten, SPED programs need kids to be verbal; this program really bridges the verbal and non-verbal divide.” 

The celebration of children’s abilities and strengths on the path to kindergarten readiness is one that is of utmost importance if we are to keep children motivated and engaged in the classroom. The product developers at Hatch Early Learning strive to ensure that all children can enjoy engaging learning experiences, which is why Ignite is continually evolving and growing to meet children’s goals and needs. Explore Ignite!

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