18 November 2011

Suggesting new ways to see school, education, disability, and learning design Part 2

Barbara Lindsey of the University of Connecticut asked me join her, her students, and colleagues Wednesday for a conversation about Universal Design for Learning and re-imagining education.

You can actually watch the whole Elluminate Session here.

Before the session, those participating sent me ten questions. They were ten great questions, and as I began answering them I began to see an "FAQ" developing... So I wanted to share this widely. This is part two - with my suggested starting points in the search for answers.
Part one, the first five questions, is here.

Rethinking Everything. Michael Thornton Photo.
Q6: "How can we concretely make special needs education more visible at the institution level? Could these policies be spread to all students as each student is different and has his/ her own difficulties? Would that make sense? and how?"

The primary thing is to break “the medical model of disability” and to stop letting the institution see “disability” in pathological terms: http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/05/may-day-retard-theory.html
and begin to understand what, exactly, our human differences really are:
Next, however you can, make your environment open to all, because this is seen, it is highly obvious:
But understand, I am not at all sure many people want all students to succeed:

The Iridescent  Classroom: Learning is transparent, knowledge is constantly shared,
the art of being a child is continually embraced

Q7: "What are some key elements that allow us to implement UDL into our lesson plans?"

I don't really believe in "lesson plans" and I advise teachers not to create them. I'd like you to think more in terms of starting an activity with a "learning goal" or a "learning target." That is, "what will your students be able to do, or understand, or how will they be changed, if your activity/lesson succeeds."

If that is your starting point, then you'll have a real goal which students can focus on, and you won't be trying to specify paths in advance for any of your students. This is essential because specifying paths not only limits creativity, prevents critical thinking, and builds dependence, but it really limits Special Needs students by stopping them from exploring their capabilities.
http://mthornton78.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/cave-painting/ http://mthornton78.wordpress.com/2011/09/03/welcome-to-the-future/

Suppose you are teaching a maths lesson.  Consider, ratios. Different students can choose entirely different routes and completely different tools - based on their needs, interests, preferences. You could use blocks, or food, or a calculator, or a computer, or draw on the floor - you might approach it conceptually or mechanically, the trick - Montessori style - is to have this wide range of tools and supports available. What I call your "Tool Crib."

Similarly, my 9th year English teacher offered us print copies of books, audio books, and movies made from the books. (long before computers) We could write, or type, or dictate to a friend, or record our voice. If we really didn't like the book, he'd help us find something else to read which would allow us to be part of the conversations. This was a class full of "failures," the school referred to it as "Dumb English." Most of us had never read a book before or written more than half a page. Yet with this very low tech UDL we produced hundreds of pages of poetry and short stories and arguments, and read through most of the great dystopian literature of the 20th Century.

Alan from Paul Shapiro on Vimeo.

My high school English teacher, reshaping education to allow all to succeed.

Q8: "It is extremely important not to make feel student with disabilities different but what is a practical example of it? If you have two different examples of cases with different disabilities even better!"

Maybe we begin with what NOT to do.  We don’t want to “disable” students with our choices:
and then move toward what to do, we want to reimagine our classrooms so that there are always choices which enable students:
“For some kids alphabetic decoding will be a quick and efficient method of grabbing that information. For some kids, writing with a pen will be a great, fast way to get ideas down into recorded form. For some kids, writing numbers and/or remembering "the times table" will be a short route to manipulating numbers.
  “And for others, those routes will not work, or they will not work well enough to really give them access.
  “For all those kids, we need to find other routes to get them content, to get them involved, to get them excited, to get them communicating.
   “Which is all easy now. We have the technology, from Click-Speak to WYNN, from WordTalk to Windows7 Speech Recognition, from audiobooks to mp3 conversion, to switch to access systems that work. We can use calculators (free ones) and Word's Equation Editor.  We can get kids in, connect them right now.”

Q9: "Do you think usage of media in a classroom is beneficial towards UDL or could the over-usage of it inhibit the main purpose of UDL?"

It’s all media. Books are media, they’re technology. Pens are media, they’re technology. I think offering numerous ways in to any subject lies at the heart of choice.
What makes flexible contemporary media “better” is its adaptability to differing student needshttp://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/04/culture-and-comprehension.html
The questions regarding technology are complex, but we rarely ask the right things...

Q10: "Why do we use the term "universal design" when we introduce a concept that avoids creating a universally accurate design for all students? Isn't it better when we emphasize diversity?"

First, I need to ask, what is “a universally accurate design”? Can such a thing exist? Even in rocket science, the US and Russia always embraced radically different design ideas.

So, if there is no learning design which can be "universally accurate," we choose to embrace our humanity and acknowledge that we are all different. Diversity isn't something which needs emphasizing, it is simply a fact of working with people instead of products.

It is important to know that the idea of "same for all" teaching and assessment is a relatively recent concept, reaching only back to the start of the Second Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of the American and "Second" British Empires. Until the late 19th century most students continued to go to schools with all ages, individualised lessons and evaluations, they came to school when finished with family chores in the morning, and left school when they were done with their work.

The "all the same" idea, treating students "as if they were any other manufactured product," as Ellwood Cubberley - the chief advocate of this - said, was designed for two purposes (a) to train single function workers for factories and offices, and (b) to fail 80% of students - there are eight grades before high school, each grade was supposed to chase 10% of students out, leaving 20% to go to high school. In fact, as recently as 1960, evidence shows, few more than 25% of American students finished high school.http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2010/09/designed-to-fail-education-in-america.html http://education.change.org/blog/view/counting_the_origins_of_failure

Those are the purposes behind the design of our schools. If those are no longer our purposes, the design must change.

- Ira Socol

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That 'universally-accurate' idea is a real killer.

I was just thinking how in high school we watched the film version of Romeo and Juliet (1968), and amongst themselves the students were questioning whether it was the 'real' Shakespeare. There was no explanation that stories often transcend their media, or that the story is different depending on who tells it, or that Shakespeare stole his ideas, too.

Left to their own devices, it seems that students will simply reinforce the status quo they've been taught is inviolate. So media literacy, and literacy in general, has to be taught as a process for gaining wisdom from whatever's around you and available, rather than waiting until you've experienced some authoritative version of it.

Of course this undermines the role of the teacher as the dispenser of authoritative information, so it's tricky. :-)