#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.

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?


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.