Monday, October 10, 2011

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.

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