Author: jeffreyfarley

#slowchatED – Week of February 23, 2015 – ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

This week, we’re talking about assistive technology in our schools. Assistive technology, or AT for short, is any device that allows kids with disabilities to access content, skills, and processes in ways that level the playing field with respect to their classmates. These technologies come in many different forms depending on how they assist the student and what disability they mitigate.

For example, audio books are one of the best assistive technologies available to students who have trouble accessing print. Whether the child is blind, dyslexic, struggles with a processing disorder, or whatever, audio books provide a pathway by which a child who has trouble reading with his or her eyes.

Donnie_in_the_matrixHere, is a child reading an ebook on a Kindle Touch while listening to an audio version of the book provided by Learning Ally. This child qualifies for Learning Ally’s services, but had an easier time following along with the voice on an e-reader that allowed him to manipulate the text size. All of this, gave this young man the accommodations he needed in order to read one of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps novels. When I met him just months earlier, he was unable to read Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to me. This is the power of assistive technology.

Assistive technology does more than help kids read, though. We’ve issued NEO2 personal keyboards to students who are dysgraphic. We’ve issued digital spelling aids to kids with memory and retrieval disabilities. The Livescribe Smartpen brings AT to a whole new level giving the student the means to record lectures, take simplified notes, transmit those notes to digital platforms, and return to the lecture later in order to take the time he or she needs to assimilate the content.

Two things got me thinking about the power of AT this week. First, my 7-year-old and I were watching this DARPA video over the weekend featuring disabled vets testing prosthetic arms:

Imagine the finesse involved in drinking from a water bottle or eating a grape. Technology makes these mundane (but previously impossible tasks) possible again.

Second, I got a new student on Friday. This young lady arrived in the United States from China just days ago. Her mother insists that she attend our school despite the fact that we have no ESL program on campus. The girl speaks VERY little English and doesn’t understand much more. While wrestling with what I might do with this child after her translator left us (she had to get to class, herself), two of my students volunteered to take her under their wing. These ladies were undaunted by the fact that neither of them spoke any more Chinese than our new friend spoke English, and sure enough, by the end of class, all three of them had their phones out and were using Google Translate to carry on a conversation. They opened the door through which I will be able to start working with this child and begin the long journey of learning English in a mainstream classroom.

Given my past experience with struggling readers and writers, the amazing heights to which state of the art engineering is soaring, and this new experience using tech to communicate with a human being from an entirely different linguistic background, I figured that when #slowchatED needed a moderator this morning, something in the universe was telling me to start the conversation.

So here we are. Remember to tune in to #slowchatED each day this week for a different question and throughout the day each day, so you can stay involved in the discussion.

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CHANGE is in the air

Sometimes, you could use a little change. PARKING METER WITH TIME EXPIRED FLAG

But then, other times, you’re like, “No. No thanks. You can keep the change.”The Patrice Alegre Affair

One thing is for certain, though: Change is ubiquitous.

We can fight it. We can try to deny the inevitability of it. But change is a constant, a force of nature, and something that, in the end, we must either embrace or risk being left behind.

The topic for this week’s #slowchatED came from a number of changes impending in my life, but the impetus in the moment I decided to Tweet the first question

was something that may seem like a small thing, but even now, nearly twelve hours later, I’m still plagued by the tendrils of it.

Our district is changing email servers. We are finally embracing all that Google has to offer educators and leaving the world of Microsoft Exchange behind. As someone trusted to pilot this change, I am now stuck in the middle of the two platforms receiving some messages here, others there, some on both, and find myself constantly locked out of the overall system due to some device somewhere that is still banging away with the password I was using before this change entered my life.

When I add this to the possibility of leaving the classroom for an administrative position, a new superintendent being sought by our Board of Managers, and the many changes that Board has brought to our district, I find myself thinking more and more often recently about what change means to us. How do people deal with major change in healthy ways? What kind of people embrace change? What kind of people fear it? Why do we fear it?

These questions in one form or another will guide our discussion through this week. Be sure to check back every day through Saturday for a new question. And take your time. It’s #slowchatED.

Photos courtesy of Corbis Images

Is Politics Still Taboo? – August 4-9

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“I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don’t vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ but where’s the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote — who did not even leave the house on Election Day — am in no way responsible for that these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.” – George Carlin, comedian

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Keep On Teaching On

This is one of the more in depth responses to this week’s #slowchatED discussion on “ambition”, and I feel very strongly that it deserves a place here on our site. After all, wouldn’t our profession be a much, much better one if more of our colleagues held the ambition to just be the best teacher they can learn how to be? Give @tritonkory a minute of your time and kudos for being a light in the shadows.

Work In Progress

Something I’ve always said was a perk about living in a tiny, little town in the middle of nowhere is that it gives one plenty of country roads in the middle of nowhere to drive on all by yourself, which gives one plenty of time to think. Today I had a 25 minute drive on those country roads while heading to pick up my daughter at gymnastics practice.  Confession, during this 25 minutes of driving I bawled the whole time.

The reason why I bawled?  I’m a teacher who truly loves just being a teacher.

I should probably back up a little bit, as there is more to the story.  It started earlier in the day by this question posted by Jeffrey Farley (@FarleyJeffrey) in the #slowchated chat group on Twitter-Q3 What are your ambitions as an educator? Or have you “arrived”? Thinking about my answer to this question was…

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Week 15 – April 5-10, 2014: Opening Statement – Ambition

Okay. There isn’t a lot of time. I’m a mad juggler here lately, and if I don’t push that pretty blue “Publish” button over there before I stand up, this “opening” post on the second day of the chat will never manifest. So here goes.

As I said in one of the opening tweets yesterday, I’ve wrestled with the concept of ambition in my life. Is it a good thing? Or is it a bad thing? As @randahendricks pointed out yesterday, ambition has historically been associated with the white-knuckled grip of the tyrant, the superficial climber who will stop at nothing to summit the social pyramid.

But then, for many of us, ambition is an admirable quality. It means that one is not content with mediocrity. It means that one is not content with the status quo and desires to change it.

I want to continue exploring this concept throughout the week. I want to see whether that traditional connotation remains in place for anyone. I want to know you all better as educators, humans, and friends, and it is my position that our ambitions tell a great deal about who we really are.

See you all week at #slowchatED.

Week 11 – April 7-12, 2014: Opening Statement – Reaching Marginalized Students in the Age of Standardized Testing

The last person who asked me why I teach got an earful for the better part of an hour. The person before that published my response here. That response will probably offer more insight into this week’s #slowchatED topic than anything else I can hash together here at this moment in my life.

Our topic for the week of April 7, 2014, will be Reaching Marginalized Students in the Age of Standardized Testing. You see, I have a theory about this business of ours. I think I’ve seen a nasty underbelly, and what I’d like to learn this week is one of the following:

Am I correct, and this thing needs to be fixed sometime more immediately than now?

OR

Am I wrong (please God let me be wrong), and is this windmill just NOT the giant that I see every day when I look upon it?

So, help me figure this out, please. We’ll start by figuring out what kinds of kids constitute my alleged marginalized populations. I don’t want to give too much away here, but it boils down to this thought: In our public school system’s quest for the Holy Grail of academic excellence represented by standardized test scores, it is only logical (to many educators, anyway) to focus mainly on the largest single population of students in a school. You see some of the margins in this graphic.

Screen w_Margins

See that Sea of Green? That’s where the money is.

When parents and teachers and students, themselves, begin advocating for some educational program or another that meets the needs of just a small segment of the student body, I see administrators and legislators who look the other way. Not enough bang for our very literal buck. This idea, and our necessary response to it as professional educators, is summed up nicely in @JennGRoach’s tweet from March 4 of this year:

My contention, in short, is that No Child Left Behind has fostered a culture within our nation’s public education system that is indeed leaving many, many children behind. While this was not the intention behind this or any other legislation or policy invoking standardized testing as the barometer used to judge success, incentive pay, ratings, promotion…abandoning small groups of children – marginalization – in the pursuit of these golden things has been and will continue to largely be the result by virtue of this major flaw in the design. Unless we fix it.

Stuff to read:

Why Dyslexia is a Learning Difference

Why geniuses don’t need gifted education        I personally think this is completely erroneous, but I’ve included it here for the sake of argument

Dewhurst releases interim charges for Senate education committees   Note the end of the fourth bullet

The School-to-Prison Pipeline Starts in Preschool   THIS gentleman is extremely hardcore about this topic, but isn’t that why we’re here? To get hardcore?

And like I said before, if you think I’m just wrong, please let me know – ALL WEEK LONG – because I need to believe that somewhere out there lies an Eden where every single child is learning.