Saturday, October 29, 2011

Peer Support Strategies

It's amazing that even though we all look at things through different lenses in the end good education is just good education.  I've been exploring peer support strategies quite a bit lately.  From the reading and research that I've done it is evident that if properly implemented and supported, peer support strategies could go a long way in creating inclusive opportunities for my students and in enhancing the learning of other students in the general education classroom.

What amazes me in all of this is how this directly ties in to a bigger picture - that learning collaboratively is not just something to be looked at for my students and the peers that could support them - that if we took the strategy that would make it work for my students and applied them to all students in the classroom it would benefit all of them.

I really enjoyed this video hat speaks to learning in collaboration.  There are some direct comments on learning not happening later in the video.

It doesn't have to be this huge.  If students partner up with one of my students during math activities that involve manipulatives and have my student move the manipulatives around while they explain the process then my student is able to work on material management, communication, direction following, counting, sorting and the other student is able to work on verbalizing the process that he/she is going through.  If a student works on a vocabulary activity with my students - taking complicated words and simplifying them and then finding pictures for my student it seems that student would have to have a pretty good grasp on the vocabulary they are supposed to be learning.  If a student works on a writing project with one of my students and has my student contribute to the writing assignment by using their communication system it seems the other student would need to have a pretty good understanding of what they are writing and would gain some skills in questioning techniques and incorporating the ideas in to their writing (perhaps their writing would actually be more challenging).

Its an area that I am just beginning to explore but there seems to be so many opportunities for more robust learning for all by using these types of strategies - and a lot of added social benefits as well as it doesn't leave a student sitting on the side of the room with a learning assistant.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


There seems to be a common theme emerging in everything that I'm studying and reading about inclusion for students with "significant disabilities" and that is one of focusing on finding ways to increase participation rather than just focusing on "access to curriculum".

I have just finished a group project for my masters program where we looked at SMART inclusion.  The course we are currently taking focuses on UDL, DI and Assessment.  SMART inclusion starts with the concepts of UDL and DI but then uses the Participation Model and Aided Language Stimulation (two SLP concepts) to ensure that all students are able to participate in the class both socially and academically.  Check out the SMART inclusion wiki which was created by the founders of the concept for background: and check out the website we created that synthesizes what we learned while looking up information related to SMART inclusion:  I'm hoping to soon write a post about applying some of the SMART inclusion philosophy in practice!  Research shows benefits to all students in using the SMART inclusion approach.

My next research project for my masters course involves using a peer group to assist with introducing the PODD communication system to a couple of my upper elementary students.  I'm hoping to use this as a springboard to incorporating some academic peer support strategies.  I'm using several sources for background information but the one that I'm finding to be the most useful is a book called "Peer Support Strategies for Improving All Students Social Lives and Learning".  The major focus of this book is around increasing both social and academic participation by having peers support students with significant disabilities.  Research shows benefits to all students in using these types of strategies.  The research project will be completed in early December but it is a spring board in to a lot of other things and I hope to be blogging about more as we go through the year as this is one of my big focuses for all of my students this year.

I have talked about the "Beyond Access Model" before.  To me this is an approach that holds the most promise in regards to finding a systematic way to truly include my students in the long run.  The model is built on presuming competence and taking a team approach to find ways to ensure that students with significant disabilities are able to participate socially, academically and in routines in a general education classroom.  Ways to check fidelity and efficacy are built right in to the system.  The idea behind this model is that membership in the classroom is assumed.  When a student is a member we need to focus on increasing participation and learning will happen in the middle of participation.  Traditionally we have focused on how to support learning (looking at access) but if we look at increasing participation instead then learning happens as a result of that participation.  We still need to look at learning but we widen our focus.

I read the book New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Ableism in Policy and Practice this summer.  Great book!  The book speaks to the goal of special education as being that of eliminating the impact of disability and increasing participation in general education classrooms.  Seems about right to me.

I find that when we focus on increasing participation one step at a time we also step towards "inclusion".

Monday, October 10, 2011

I Choose...

Purpose of this Blog?

As time goes on and I learn more, I find that although I become more sure of the base of what I believe in, I also become more unsure of how it all fits in to this world that already has some very established ways of doing things.

I'm working on three different research projects for my Masters right now and wanted to share the evolution of thought that I've had around all three of them to this point...

We are doing a group research project on Smart Inclusion. It started for me as looking at one specific strategy that I felt could be used to facilitate inclusion of my students in general education classrooms.  I thought that it would be an approach that teachers would be excited about and a great place to start (so many still want to find more effective ways to use their Smart boards so this concept speaks to that).  I haven't changed my mind - I still see this - but things have expanded.  I'm now thinking about the concept of integrating mainstream and assistive technology in a way that the assistive technology starts to move along a continuum and eventually rebalance itself as mainstream technology.  This quote from the book Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning by David Rose and Anne Meyer sums it up nicely..
"The assistive technology model assumes that a printed curriculum is a given and provides tools to support individual access to it.  Tools such a video enlarger are not integral to the curriculum, but rather, are associated with the individual students who need them; they are simply means to helping these students overcome barriers in the curriculum.  The assumption that students must obtain individual tools in order to overcome barriers in an inflexible curriculum is inherently antithetical to UDL.  To solve the same problems, UDL looks not to the student but to the curriculum itself.  The underlying assumption is that it can be adjusted to meet the needs and preferences of each learner.  This built-in flexibility reduces, but does not eliminate, the need for assistive technologie.  Students with motor difficulties who access the computer via alternative keyboards or single ability switches will still need their tools.  However, we believe the role of assistive technologies and the way people view them will shift as UDL curricula become more available.  As the concept of UDL gains acceptance, people will understand that assistive technologies are tools like eyeglasses and personal digital assistants that enhance personal effectiveness; they do not relegate their users to a separate category such as "disabled".  Already, some of these devises, once solely linked to disability are working their way in to mainstream community.  For example, speech recognition technology is applied to voice-activated telephone directories, airline reservation systems, and banking systems."
I've shifted gears on my action research project.  I feel in this job I have always thought in terms of what supports and skills do my students need to function more autonomously and independently in the world.  But put them in general education classrooms and the level of challenge behind this question changes drastically.  The space around them is less "safe".  It makes you very aware of the world you are going to send these students out in to when they graduate.  It is a challenge for sure but I'm seeing even more clearly that is a challenge worth taking on.  At first my action research was going to be about differentiating grade 6 math so that a range of students could learn within the class.  This is still important but it seems at this point with what we have going on it is more important to focus on communication and social interactions for my students.  So my action research has shifted to implementing the use of the PODD communication books that I did training on this summer through the use of a peer support club as well as the supports that we would have used to implement a new communication system in the past (so does adding this peer component make a difference for both my students and the peers that are supporting).  I have also started implementing the books for some of my other students without the peer support at this point because we are not yet at the point where we can create that peer support group for them (they are just starting a transition to a new school).   Again... no change in the core of what I believe but there is a whole lot bigger picture.

Finally I'm still working on my individual research project.  This one is a broader topic and I'm looking at Universal Design for Learning in relation to students with significant disabilities.  Can curriculum and classrooms be universal enough to ensure that students like mine are active participates and learners in those classes?  Do we have the resources?  Do we know the approaches?  Is this something that can be done now or is this something that needs to wait or can never be done?  Obviously my gut tells me it is something that can be done... but now I'm sitting down to the research on it and thinking more deeply again.

And so what is the purpose of this blog?  It seems I just need a space to throw out the things that matter to me - the things that I'm thinking about.  The blog is meant to be for me to reflect.  I question sometimes if it should even be public - perhaps it would make more sense to keep a journal instead?  I don't know.  What I do know is that I feel like it is time to just start throwing out what I think instead of waiting until I have a fully formed thought because if I do that I might never write anything.  Seems that the only thing constant right now is that I'm always thinking something new.