Thursday, March 28, 2019

Finding the Right Tool for the Job

In many instances, educators are encouraged to approach student learning and growth by focusing on individual student deficits or identified areas of need. While being aware of student needs is important, an effective educator must also be able to focus on what a student can do rather than solely concentrating on what they can’t. Educators spend a lot of time collecting, evaluating, and comparing assessment data in order to guide practice in a way that is designed to fill and eliminate learning gaps for students. However, promoting student growth and success requires an educator to see their students from multiple perspectives and to know where they are in the now.

A successful model of education considers both strengths and needs and does so by allowing students room to showcase those things on a daily basis. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University and a famous autism spokesperson expressed this effectively when she said, “In special education there’s too much emphasis placed on the deficit and not enough on the strength.” One of the best things about being involved with special education classes at Eaton High School is seeing how the teachers of these classes focus on the entire student. Knowing what students need as well as what they are capable of doing is key to helping them learn independence and skills that will serve them well into adulthood.

Lisa Daniel’s Applied English students are given opportunities to not only learn necessary ELA skills, such as expository writing and resume building, but she also works with them on how those skills apply to real life situations by arming them with the right tools and resources to compete for opportunities in the postsecondary world. For example, Lisa’s students were given the chance to begin developing their own ePortfolios to help record and reflect the skills they have been learning as well as to create a way to showcase themselves after they leave EHS. While building these sites, one student spoke of his deep interest in meteorology and weather and began incorporating his independent research and knowledge of the topic into his ePortfolio in order to show not only his desire to pursue that passion but also his independently developed skills in the areas of research, communication, and science.

Another student in one of Lisa’s classes encountered this same curriculum in an equally inspiring way by requesting access to an added tool in order to begin setting up his ePortfolio. This student, who deals with some physical limitations that most might consider a total obstacle to his ability to use digital tools and devices, was able to communicate a need for a stylus in order to access Chromebook features, allowing him to more effectively express how he wanted information displayed by setting up his page formatting, background, profile photo, and portfolio pages. While this was not an easy process for him, with a simple tool and some one on one teacher support, this student was given the independence to complete a task successfully. What some may not realize is that the student’s differences are not a hindrance to him in every situation. With the right tools, this student, who may not express a physical voice that is heard, can have a distinctive voice through his work and successfully do the same, if not more, than the students around him with no noticable differences in the end result. The author, George Couros, said it best when he said, “Technology is not just a tool. It can give learners a voice that they may not have had before.”

Christina Schweitzer’s SOAR (Social Occupational and Academic Readiness) students were awarded iPads and upright stands through the Northwest Education Foundation Grants. These particular devices, when utilized with the provided stands, allow students with physical differences to access tools that help to develop online navigations skills as well as reading, writing, and other communication in ways more conducive to their physical needs. For example, students were given the opportunity to work directly with interactive online anatomy curriculum to access content about the human anatomy in ways that were previously unavailable to them with textbooks or regular curriculum tools. In addition, these SOAR students are able to utilize digital resources that are focused on incorporating individual interests and skills. By bringing in digital tools like these, teachers can facilitate personalization of learning and students can engage and connect more with content while showcasing talents and mastering curriculum. Simply put, when we figure out what a student can do, we can find the right tools and resources to help that student grow in ways previously unimaginable.

Although technology tools are great to have in the classroom, it is never about the tool itself. Good learning is always about how those tools are used and about using the right tool for the right student and situation. When educators, such as these special education teachers, take the time to get to know what their students are capable of doing, they can customize curriculum to access those strengths and create situations where students display their talents while building confidence and a solid mastery of academic skills.

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