The government of Alberta released the Setting the Direction Framework in June 2009 after consultations across the province related to how the special education system should work in the province. In this document, the government of Alberta set out a vision of "one inclusive education system where each student is successful." and went on to define inclusive education as "a way of thinking and acting that demonstrates universal acceptance of, and belonging for, all students. Inclusive education in Alberta means a value-based approach to accepting responsibility for all students. It also means that all students will have equitable opportunity to be included in the typical learning environment or program of choice." Its a touching concept and a theory that everyone can buy in to but how do you get from this concept to actually having inclusive schools?
The government set out some short term priorities that would hopefully try to answer the question of getting from words to action. The document Progress on Work within Education that Supports Setting the Direction Short Term Priorities was then released to keep us informed on progress. One of the priorities appears to be to develop an "Inclusive Planning Tool". Although this tool is being piloted in three school divisions across the province, very little is being released about it. By looking on the College of Alberta Superintendents Learning Symposium website I was able to find out a bit more about it from the presentation power point that was posted that referenced it during the 2010 synposium. On the Planning for Inclusive Education: Rethinking Classroom Practice power point the digital planning tool is supposed to originally include personal and academic profiles (reading, writing, language proficiency), supports for social partipation and something related to language arts (not sure what that means).
I know almost nothing about how the pilot of this tool is going but I do know that although the idea of it is great it sets off some huge warning bells for me. My students have complex and multiple needs. A large part of their education is dedicated to actually finding out what tools and supports and adaptations they need to function in the world. It is ever changing as when we find one tool or modification that allows for access then we need to figure out how to go from there to make the access and interaction grow - which will require new supports and will change the profile. While I understand that this tool would be a dynamic tool I'm also concerned that once you make something in to a "form" it is no longer seen as dynamic. Imagine all the work that would go in to creating these leanring profiles and then finding the time to keep changing them.
Yet... there is something good in this because it has the potential to change the focus from remediation and fixing to that of supporting and including. My thought though is that the tool should belong to the student rather than belonging to the student.
I recently got the teacher's manual for The Integrated Self Advocacy ISA Curriclum and it has re-ignited my passion around teaching our students self-advocacy skills. One of the main projects in this curriculum is to have students build self-advocacy portfolios. I've been working on transition portfolios with my students but this idea is making me rethink that approach. Self-advocacy portfolios just seem so much more dynamic and there is the implicatio of more ownerhip. Two other things happened this week that made me start thinking a bit more about this inclusive planning tool. We just had a short workshop related to Social Behaviour Mapping where the presenter was explaining how she uses this tool with some students that she consults with. She explained how one of those students has started keeping his behaviour maps in a binder that he can refer back to when he needs them. When he no longer needs them he takes them out of his binder. I was also talking with a laerning assistant this week about a student she works with (grade 2) who is now much more able to explain and problem solve around sensory regulation issues. They have always used a lot of visuals with him as it helps him start the conversation. We were talking about seeing if he wanted to build a binder that would have different sensory pages including "focusing techniques", "calming activities" and "motor break activities" along with an oultine of when he feels he needs to use these things. We then talked about taking some of the other visuals that he continues to use and including them in this binder. In both situations it seemed we were talking about some version of the beginning stages of a self-advocacy portfolio.
So how about rather than an inclusive planning tool that is developed by the teachers as a way to fix the student or the classroom to make inclusion work we look at ALL students developing self-advocacy portfolios. Self-advocacy starts with understanding yourself and then branches outward. Would that not get us closer to inclusion.
Recently I've read a few blog posts that link in to this idea of trying to find the how of academic and social engagement/inclusion that really points out the need to not start from a deficit model. I kind of think the challenge beyond coming to a place where we are truly starting from an accets-based model is to ensure that we don't take on too much of the control for making it happen. We need to find a way to help students to discover (and change) their own list of supports and tools that will ensure they can learn. We can't just decide for them. I feel like rather than completing the inclusive planning tool we should be facilitating and supporting it.
With that I leave you with these great thoughts on the assets-based approach.
In your classroom the first question should not be, "who is reading at what level?" or "who is holding a pen 'correctly'?" but "How do we make these stories, this knowledge, this information available effectively?" and "How do we let all students communicate efficiently and effectively?"Remediation And Compensation: A Necessary Balancing Act on the blog EdTech Solutions
Because if you ask the former questions you are categorizing, disabling, and seeking "cures." But if you ask the latter you are including, engaging, and helping students to find their way.
Special educators and other specialist, often overemphasize remediation at the expense of accomodation and compensation.Proof: Ben Can Read on the blog Embracing Chaos
So, why is it the default position of schools/therapists/etcetera to assume inability until the ability is proven in a typical manner? This question is two-fold. Why the assumption of inability? And, why can our means of attaining proof not be as creative as our means of teaching or meeting sensory needs?