Exploring and reflecting on meaningful pathways to inclusive and personalized learning and living for students with complex developmental needs because education should prepare all students for a lifetime of inclusion, connection, growth and learning.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Supports for Overcoming Barriers to Learning - Assissitve Technology

"In order to make the Four-Blocks Framework accessible to children with disabilities, we consider six general areas where children with disabilities often differ insignificant ways from their classmates. These differences are significant because they impact the relative success or difficulty that children experience while participating in literacy activities.  The six areas include communication, cognition, physical abilities, senses (primarily vision and hearing), affect and attention.  As educators, we find that these areas of potential differences are more informative to instructional planning than the label assigned to characterize a student's type of disability (health impairment, learning disability...etc.).

Once we have identified one or more significant difference, our problem-solving efforts focus on identifying or developing adaptations that neither change the fundamental nature of an activity or make it more difficult or less desirable for children to achieve than the original activity."  (Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four-Block Way, page 7)

I think one of the other barriers that often exists for students with significant disabilities is one that comes down to just a complete lack of experience.  Sometimes experiences don't happen because those around them are so busy addressing day to day care, medical, sensory and behavioural needs.  This goes back to Linda Burkhart's line of "input before output".  We so often quiz these students to see if they can do something and then when they do not quickly show they can, we take it apart and start focusing on skills. instead of creating more experience to learn wholistically.  

Moving the elementary and middle school students that I serve from a self-contained to inclusive settings over the past couple of years has resulted in a personal shift in thinking in regards to instruction and learning for these students.  In a self-contained setting, I found I was often thinking in terms of breaking things down, remediating, simplifying, creating experiences...etc.  Having my students in classrooms where a curriculum drives what is going on shifts one's thinking more towards the bigger picture and the more I think about the bigger picture, the it becomes clear to me that by breaking things down too much we take away the function and the purpose and the why of what we are doing... and therefore we also take away the motivation.

The literacy and AAC course I attended in May really confirmed a lot of the thoughts that I had been having in thinking that when we break things in to skills, rather that focus on cognitive processes, we are actually setting up barriers to learning for students with disabilities.  It seems to go against what should be.  We want to help.  We want to simplify.  We want manageable pieces.  But the manageable pieces don't really have meaning in isolation and this impacts motivation and understanding and, most importantly, the opportunity to make personal meaning.

This is what I've learned by thinking of my students as being members of general education classrooms.  Certainly I could have now taken these things that I've learned and changed what I was doing in the self-contained world that we had been functioning in quite well for so many years but I have also come to see how much my students look to their peers as models and how much the other students are learning as a result of these students being full members of their classes.  The peer part of this is really another post all together that I plan to make at some point as it is one of my focus areas for next year.  This idea of overcoming barriers to learning that is based in general education curriculum is another one of my focuses.  

This will be part of my professional growth plan next year.  The action items that I am currently looking at in working towards a deeper understanding include the following.  Note that I am continue to focus in mostly on literacy and numeracy as I think the things that we learn through these is what will build the groundwork for other subject areas.
  1. Continuation in the Alberta Education "Literacy for All" pilot project.  This fall we will be "going deeper" and looking at "The Daily Five" and "The Cafe Book".  I have been posting as part of a book club for "The Daily Five" the past few weeks.  I am seeing great potential for authentically including the students on my caseload within a structure and approach like the one outlined in this book.  
  2. I have ordered some books from Attainment company outlined below that I think hold great promise around looking at the use of Assistive Technology to help provide access to curriculum content.  I was excited to see that the sample pages that are available on the website from these books was broken down in much the same way as what is outlined in the quote that I started this post with - by taking a look at what the challenge or barrier is and then addressing that.  
  3. We will continue to work with the "Action Dictionaries" that are a part of the "MeVille to WeVille" and "Equals Mathematics" programs.  These are great resources because they take words that you often see in objectives and give alternative approaches to ensure that students with varying needs are able to participate in the learning that is going on in the classroom.  
  4. I'm planning to attend a two single day workshops by Dave Edyburn in Edmonton in August.  The first is "Practical Strategies and Technology Tools for Supporting Diverse Learners in All Classrooms" and the second is "Technology Interventions for Learning Coaches".  I have read a lot of Dave Edyburn's work and I'm excited to have the opportunity to learn from him.  
  5. Continue to connect with others online who are passionate about the same things.  I believe that the "Enhancing Inclusive Environments: Support for Implementation" online community of practice will become one of the hubs for this as we move forward.  
  6. Next year we will be working on building a more cohesive support team around these students with a focus on enhancing membership, participation and learning in general education settings for these students.  It is a process and it is a matter of finding ways to move along a continuum.  Its really a matter of engaging in that process rather than over focusing on the product as the education of these students is about finding the best ways to allow them to live full, inclusive lives as adults. What better place to figure that out than in inclusive classrooms?


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