Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two Cent Tuesday: Eliminating the Box

The question of what it would take to ensure that all students could be including in a classroom is one that haunts me.  I think there are some great "movements" happening right now that will help us move towards more inclusive schooling.  In some ways its hard to narrow my blog focus down because these other things need to be a part of it.  To that end, my goal is to try to frame these concepts/movements around inclusive education in the hopes to focus things a bit more.  This is really a list of what I see this blog being about.  I have also created short information/link pages for each of these topics that are linked at the top of this blog.  On them I will put a brief outline and then post links as they come up.  If you have anything to add to it please feel free to comment on the bottom of any of the pages.  I appreaciate feedback.  Part of why I'm writing this blog is to try to become more grounded in all of these things that I "feel" right now.

Building Lessons and Activities Using Concepts of Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction

When people talk about "inclusion" these seem to be the two "go-to" approaches that come up.  Universal Design for Learning comes down to ensuring students can access to the curriculum while Differentiated Instruction is about allowing for the way a student learns.  There is crossover.

I'm also finding that there also seems to be crossover between the concepts of "student engagement" and Universal Design for Learning.  UDL, by its very nature is meant to be about all students (universal) but it seems easy to get caught up in thinking only in terms of students with special needs when talking UDL.  When you frame UDL in terms of all studnets it links to engagement - as a student can only be engaged when they truly have access to the lesson/content/activity.  We think of disabilities blocking access but there are so many other factors that would also block true access (or connection) with the lesson/activity/content...etc. 

Focusing on 21st Century Skills (Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity)

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills speaks of combining with traditional 3 Rs with the 21st Century 4 Cs skills. These skills are
  1. critical thinking and problem solving
  2. communication
  3. collaboration
  4. creativity and innovation
These skills really require working in community and the link to inclusion is not a big leap from there as for me icnlusion and community are words that should be almost interchangable.

Creating Authentic Learning Experiences

Call it project based learning, experiential learning, enquiry based learning, authentic learning.  Bottom line is generally real and hands on.  Traditional approaches to lesson delivery (lectures) make it hard to envision inclusion.  I think its because lecture based teaching really works for so few students... the difference then between my students right now and students in the regular classrooms is that the students in the regular classroom, for the most part, have the skill of sitting quietly bored. If a classroom (school) is built around authentic learning experiences, modifications, adaptations, links ot "life skills" would be easy to create for the students who need them. 

Shifting from Assigning Grades to Assessing Learning

For me the bottom line here is that grading sets up a competive environment where we communicate to students that their worth is somehow linked to the grades they are getting.  Assessing students is about ensuring they are learning.  When we assess instead of grade we take the competitiveness out of learning. I believe that inclusion starts from a place where people feel they are working coopertively rather than competitively.  This is also how community is built.

Focusing on Social and Emotional Learning (aka Living in Community)

Is it just me or is this something that is currently missing from our schools?  I think its in behind a lot of what people are saying needs to change in education but also feel that it needs to come out more in front as well.  We have assumed that it is only students who have been traditionally labeled as having "special needs" often need extra focus time working on social an emotional concepts and so we work this in to their learning.  It would make more sense to find the time to teach all students these types of things.

Use of Current Technology (Mainstream and Assistive/Adaptive)

There is much "out there" about ensuring that our schools keep up with the technology that is available out there.  Now more than ever, it seems that current technologies can open access doors for our students with special needs.  In this way technology serves almost a triple puprose - to engage students, to ensure that students are working and learning with current technologies and to ensure access for all students.  Of coures there is also the whole world of assistive technology but the iPad really seems to be diminishing the line in that area. This is an exciting area for me - one that I hope to dig much more deeply in to.

Balanced and Comprehensive Literacy Programs

Although these programs fit in to a lot of other areas I thought they deserved their own subtitle.  We have waded a bit in to the pool of acaemic inclusion (having studnets in traditonally academic classes and not just "specials") for the students who are are in my room and I'm finding that the way our language arts programs are being run now really lend themselves to inclusion as it allows a student to grow their reading and writing skills from where they are at.  It also encourages play and exploration around literacy.  Which is so important for the students in my room as they need that exploration time.  Being literate now means more than being able to read at grade level - it means that you can communicate effectively, gain information and experience pleasure/enterainment from a vareity of sources.  It also recognizes that the medium used to do these things is not always going to be the written word (and so puts a child who may never be able to print with paper and pen on a more even playing field). 

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