Saturday, September 27, 2014

Supporting Students with Print Based Disabilities

"There is a place in UDL for remediation. However, we must first determine the nature of our beliefs about students and their disabilities. When I ask an English language arts teacher whether a student with a visual impairment can receive an A in their course - even if the novel or play they are studying is not available in Braille, the answer is always yes. When I ask them how they would assess this student, they quickly respond that they would read the text aloud or use an audiobook, and then assess the student's understanding of the book. For the sake of argument then, we are saying a student who cannot read the text can still receive an A in English. Yet when I ask teachers weather a grade 9 student reading at grade 3 level can receive an A in their course, the answer is almost unanimously no. When asked why, they respond that he student cannot read the texts required in the course, and is not meeting expectations for reading. In other words, a student with a visible disability can be excused from decoding, but a student with an invisible disability cannot, even if they have a documented disability. Why would we punish students with invisible disabilities? Is the act of reading about the physical ability to lift the word off the page? Or is it the ability to appreciate literature, make sense of an author's communication, draw inference and make connections, analyze plot and character, and so on?

I am not suggesting that we just give a student a student an A, but I am suggesting that we make the same accommodations for a student with an invisible disability that we make for a student with a visible one, and then mark them on the depth of their thought, not on the skill of decoding. Similarly, if I ask a teacher whether a student who is quadriplegic and cannot physically write their thoughts on paper can get an A in their course, they almost unanimously reply yes. When asked how they would assess the student, they reply they would ask the student to express their understanding orally, then rate the depth of understanding. Even in English language arts, one can mark an oral presentation for sentence structure, descriptive language organization, and other mechanics of writing. So it is only the physical ability to put pencil to paper that is compromised , and perhaps their spelling. Many of the students with learning disabilities who struggle with expressing themselves in writing, yet demonstrate a high level of understanding during class discussions, are assessed based on written tests and assignments and receive poor marks, or fail, courses across the curriculum. Again, why would we punish a student for having an invisible disability?

We discussed in earlier chapters how we punish students with invisible disabilities by devising programs on an IEP that requires the student to spend all day doing what they cannot do, and failing. We do not expect a student with a visual impairment to learn to see or a student with a physical disability to learn to walk, but we force students with learning disabilities to spend years in remediation programs that only result in frustration and failure because we refuse to acknowledge that an invisible disability is un-fixable. Instead of helping the student see what they can do, and building on their strengths by teaching them how to adapt to their disability as we would do for teh student with a visual or physical disability, we focus on what they cannot do and consider that, if we don't keep trying to fix it, we are 'giving up'."

Source: Resource Teachers: A Changing Role in the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning by Jennifer Katz (2013)

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