Category Archives: EC&I890

Kids Say the Darndest Things.

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On Thursday February 8th, I completed the survey about assistive technology with my grade 5/6 class to obtain feedback on their feelings around being given or using assitive technology in the classroom.  We completed the survey online using Google Classoom. To honest…it was a little ironic…a little frustrating…and a little heartwarming?  Can it be all of those things at once?  With my class being full of INCREDIBLY diverse kiddos I received a very wide range of answers.  They included those of kids that don’t really care to participate and just wanted to use their computer time for something else, to kids who were really interested in understanding why they had certain tools in the class, to having to sit with kids to read them the questions, re-explain them and help them answer even with their assistive technology…hence the irony.  Overall however, I was intrigued by the information I received.  Grab the popcorn, folks and settle in for the fun!  go on what GIF by Originals

Below are the questions I asked.  I don’t intend to share all of the answers, but a summary of either the most popular answers, or answers that hold pertinent information to the study.  I should also preface this by saying that for the majority of my students, this amount of writing is a daunting task so any response, short or not, was appreciated and celebrated…except for the first one…I was hoping we could all nail that one! 😉  Unfortunately, I actually received the dreaded “idk” for that one too.

1.What is your name?

2. Assitive Technology is anything you use to help you learn! Your own computer, a pencil grip, a different chair, a fidget, quiet headphones, etc. Do you use any of these things to help you learn? If so, what?

3. If you didn’t have those things, do you think you would be as successful?

4. What do you like about our class adaptations? (How do they help you)

5. Have you ever felt uncomfortable using these adaptations?
6. If you answered yes or sometimes on the last question, what was uncomfortable? (Did you feel like you stuck out? Did you feel like it was so too primary? etc.)
7. What do you like most about our classroom? (how it’s set up? etc.)
8. What is the worst part of our classroom? (the set up, the structure, etc.)
9. What can I do to make the classroom a more comfortable place for you? What adaptations would you like to see? What would you like taken away?
Question 2:  On account of the conversation we had prior to the survey, the kiddos had a pretty good idea of the things that could be considered Assitive Technology.  The majority of the answers included their personal computer (11/25 have assitive technology assigned from our division), wobble chairs or alternative seating, fidgets and talk to text through the use of headphones.  They also had the option of including anything else they thought aided their learning.  I didn’t have anything extra typed into the survey but a student added, “teacher help” which I thought was interested.  Can a teacher be considered assistive technology?  They said it was because, “they needed our help to finish work.”  I thought this was an interesting concept that I hadn’t considered in the past.
Question 3:  This is the one that really, really surprised me.  52.4% of students that answered said that they would be just as successful without the assitive technology.  2 students whom I was essentially having to spell every word as they typed as well as read the questions, said they would be as successful without it.  This told me that kiddos in my room are struggling to understand what helps them learn.  This tells me that I should potentially spend some time working on learning style and the importance of advocating for yourself in a building that wasn’t necessarily designed with Universal Design for Learning woven in.
 Question 4:  Responses varied from, “it’s nice I guess”, “they help me learn” to “i don’t know” to thoughtful answers that addressed the specific adaptations children are using in the room.  Some of the responses included, “Fidgets help me focus”, “They (wobble chairs) Make It so I Can Move In My Seat”, “Blue paper helps me read, before I had the chair I used to lean back really far, my computer helps me with multiple things- the voice to text helps with writing”.
Questions 5 and 6:  I had high hopes for this question as I was really interested in how my practice was affecting my students.  I love this job so much and only want to do right by my kids.  One female student who uses alternative seating shared, “Sometimes The swivel Makes Your Back Hurt Because It Has No Back Soport”.  She took the question literally, however, it is something to consider when asking your students to use adaptations long term that could be more focused on short term corrections.  I had only really ever considered whatever I was trying to correct, I hadn’t given much thought to the effects that these adaptations had on other parts of their schooling.   I had one student who is new to Connaught this year, sum it up for me in my current context.  This student is dyslexic, has no peripheral vision and has diagnosed but untreated ADHD.  He uses Google Read and Write as well as all his paper work is photocopied on blue paper as he reads/sees best on blue.  He said, “Not as much at this school because lots of kids have computers but at my old school kids would question why I had it. I feel weird using blue paper because other kids don’t use it.”  My classroom has so many needs, that students who have adaptations do not feel as though they stick out because they are part of the majority.  Although I am glad to read this, I am so saddened because it brings to light the amount of kids that require support in a variety of ways, and the truth of the matter that these resources are becoming harder and harder to obtain for students full time.   M’s blue paper made him feel isolated because he’s the only one.  Looking into this theory, his comments backed up what I thought might be the case – if you have a classroom of students with average ability and only a couple students requiring adaptation, it can be an isolating experience even though they require it.  Often times too, students don’t have the language skills to explain why they need the adaptation and it makes them feel worse.  I know this student doesn’t want to share about his dyslexia so I always just say, “M needs this the same way you need ______.  Don’t worry about it.  I will make sure you always have what you need.” (glasses, your computer, a pencil grip, etc.)  My next goal is to sit down with the 28.5% of kids who responded “yes” or “sometimes” and see what made them feel uncomfortable that they were unable to share in the survey.
I am glad I did this activity even though some of the participation wasn’t where I was hoping.  There is a lot to be gained by what students say…and honestly, by what they don’t too.  My goal moving forward is to be mindful of when and what I am giving students as adaptations, but also, to be cognizant of how I set up my classroom and lessons to move more towards the idea of Universal Design for Learning.  By doing so I would hope that the 28.5% of kids who even sometimes felt uncomfortable with adaptations in the classroom wouldn’t even be able to distinguish that they had them in comparison to someone else.
Thanks for reading,
Dani ❤
“Educating the mind without educating the heart,
is no education at all.” – Aristotle

A Little Self-Reflection Never Hurt Anyone.

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Hello everyone,

After my readings last week I decided that it was time for some reflection to actually assess how I use both Assistive Technology (AT) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in my own classroom and school.  First, here is a quick video on the story of École Connaught School  so you can get an idea of the consultation that went into the new build.  Later in the post I will include a couple photos of my old classroom (formally and now the music room again), as well as my new classroom located in the portable rooms just added to our building 2 weeks ago.

Connaught is a unique school that has taken UDL to heart throughout the build in many ways.  Many of the classrooms have large garage doors so they are not only accessible, but offer the teacher a way of allowing independent or group work to take place in a new setting with supervision.  We also have many wide open work spaces with lots of alternative seating including couches, different chairs and varying heights of tables that are available to any student – they were not selected with anyone in particular in mind.  We have break out rooms, community spaces and “wet and messy” areas that are available to all staff and students as additional learning room!  Many classrooms are connected with sliding doors to connect learners and allow for collaborative work.  Each classroom has an interactive board and microphone system.  Connaught is also equip with an elevator to accommodate students who cannot navigate the stairs for whatever reason.  There is also plenty of natural sunlight as well as patio work spaces for the warmer months.  There are so many positive, well thought out attributes of the school.  I am honoured to work at a school where student success took such a front seat.  Assitive technology is also alive and well in our building.  We have SUCH diverse needs at our school that not offering these aids is really not an option.  We have wiggle seats for students, wobble chairs, assistive technology (lap tops, google read&write, etc.), games room at recess for students who struggle going outside, pencil grips, visual schedules,

 

SOOOO…where does this all leave me???  I am immersed in the possibility of wonderful teaching practices and a beautiful school but am I facilitating any of the positives that I have learned about, to ensure my students have what they need without feeling ostracized?  Below are a couple photos of my temporary classroom, which is normally the arts education room – hence the carpet and wall mural!  On account of the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be in this classroom for a long time, I didn’t put up all of my decor however, I made sure that all my regular items were accessible to my class – fidgets, alternative seating and flexible groupings.

      
When we moved into our new classroom I was able to finally give the students a classroom that was put together, looked nice and had the amenities that I was hoping for!  A breakout space, soft furniture, alternative seating, fidgets, essential oil diffuser, plants, an organized space for lap tops and cords for student computers, a visual schedule, a large calendar on the wall, quiet headphones, etc.  Although some of the list are not direct assitive technology, they are pieces of the classroom that students had become dependent on to have a smooth day.   I also kept my decor very simple and not cluttered – many of my kids have ADHD and too much going on in the class is a determent.  Below are photos of my current space:

I moved after doing some of the reading last week and I tried my best to make the classroom more accessible to all, rather than singling out specific kids.  I walk around the room to teach, I use my microphone, I allow students to choose their seat, sit on the soft furniture or stand and I allowed students to choose a wiggle seat, or wobble chair.  I was happy to offer the students some choice – however, I was also happy to lead children into certain items that I felt would benefit them.  Rocking chairs and rolling stools are assigned to students with specific needs, however, I gave them the chairs without making a big deal out of it and most of the other students didn’t notice.

Overall, I feel like after reflection I am doing OKAY.  I think the basis of my success falls back on relationships with my kiddos.  I have built a comfortable classroom where students know they will always get what they need, and that if another student gets something, it’s because they needed it.  I think it’s very important for kids to trust you and know that you have their best interest in mind.  I try and compare it to students wearing glasses – they wear them because they need them, you don’t wear glasses because you don’t need them.  If the trust is built I think it takes away some of the anxieties and stresses that assitive technology could cause.  I also think it’s crucial to think ahead and try and use UDL to minimize the amount that you have to customize for individual students as you probably have more students than you even realize that would be take something away from the change.

Now that you have an idea of what my classroom is all about, I intend on interviewing my students to see how they feel!  I am also going to transition into the learning apps I am using to try and engage students.  Do they like them?  Do they not?  Why?

Thanks for reading,

❤ Dani

“Educating the mind without educating the heart,

is no education at all.”

-Aristotle

 

 

 

 

 

There is certainly a difference!

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Welcome back to the hub!  My goal for this week was to first explore, what Assistive Technology is and it’s main goals in the context of my classroom.  Next, I wanted to look at what Universal Design for Learning is, how it differed from Assistive Technology and if it would be something that would benefit my classroom (or potentially something I already do?)  I dug through loads of literature and feel like I have a better grasp on these topics and their main functions.

Assistive Technology:  As per the ATIA (Assitive Technology Industry Association) Assistive Technology is, “is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”   My initial understanding of AT in my classroom was computers that could be used to utilize programming like Google Read & Write, Dragon Dictate, Kurzweil, math games online, etc.  However, after reading more, I realized that AT is so much more than that.  AT according to ATIA could be:

  • AT can be low-tech: communication boards made of cardboard or fuzzy felt.
  • AT can be high-tech: special-purpose computers.
  • AT can be hardware: prosthetics, mounting systems, and positioning devices.
  • AT can be computer hardware: special switches, keyboards, and pointing devices.
  • AT can be computer software: screen readers and communication programs.
  • AT can be inclusive or specialized learning materials and curriculum aids.
  • AT can be specialized curricular software.
  • AT can be much more—electronic devices, wheelchairs, walkers, braces, educational software, power lifts, pencil holders, eye-gaze and head trackers, and much more.

I discounted how important the smaller adaptations such as a pencil grip could be to students.  I have one child who has a sensory issue with pencils but struggles to do math with a pen – I got him a mechanical pencil and it solved his issue.  Nothing ground breaking, but it was for that student.  I also did not think of things like prosthetics, wheelchairs, walkers, etc. as assistive technology, however, when you fully understand the definition, these items help improve life and basic function for the user and therefore fit the category – even in my context in a middle years classroom. Image result for assistive technology

In one study I read out of North Carolina, “Remote control: how one school turned its assitive technology startegy inside out through telepractice” they spoke to the immense benefits of enabling students in K-12 to spend portions of their day on the computer to aid in their speech and language programs.  Their SLP’s were spread thin and this gave them easier access to students more frequently.  Some of the major benefits included access to SLP’s that were out of area, greater access to help means higher success rates, happier students and families because access is more regular, huge savings in time and energy training and hiring as screening is already complete and better scheduling, tracking and reporting for both schools and families.  This project could not have been attempted without a school willing to make adaptations for its students that needed it.  “If compensation for reading is not introduced, then students who struggle with reading will potentially struggle more with all subjects as the curriculum content increases in higher grades.” (Edyburn, 2007).  Assistive technology is there to, “help students with special learning needs gain access to curriculum and information and report their findings…” (White, Roberston, 2014) and now that I fully understand the wide scope of AT I see the importance of allowing students access to these tools so they can keep up with their grade alike peers if possible.  Everyone needs something different to help them be successful, right?  We should sure ensure that every student has access to adaptations and items needed to aid their learning.  HOWEVER, when does aiding our students stigmatize them and their needs and make them feel more isolated than they potentially feel already?  I think the line is thin.  White and Robertson say, “It is critically important, however, for students with special needs to be able to participate fully in a way that does not make them fRandom Winona Ryder GIFeel outside of the mainstream communications and functions of the regular classroom.” (2014).  So where did this leave me…questioning my practice for sure.  Had I been giving kids adaptations this whole time and although they required it and it aided their learning, was I making them feel isolated and uncomfortable in the classroom?  I had never asked them.  I always, ALWAYS try my best to make my whole classroom an accepting place where adaptations and AT are no biggie – you need glasses, student x needs a pencil grip, student y a rocking chair but I never really thought of the implications.  This is where I feel Universal Design for Learning comes in as it preemptively answers some of the questions I had asked once I read the AT literature.

Image result for universal design for learningSo…what is Universal Design for Learning, that seems like the best place to start.  In the article, “Smart From the Start: The promise of Universal Design for Learning” by Bart Pisha and Peggy Coyne they define it as, “Think[ing] about the needs of the entire range of learners who are or could be in today’s classrooms, and then design curricula, materials, methods and environments that support and challenge each learner as appropriately and consistently as possible.” (p. 197, 2001).   Generally speaking, newer school builds have considered how our spaces affect our learners (sometimes…that’s another post topic! 😉 ) and they have adapted them – wider door ways, elevators, interactive board technology in every room, microphone systems built in, etc.  “However, as the students open their textbooks, many are still denied access to learning.” (Pisha, Coyne, p.197, 2001). Universal Design for Learning invites teachers (and builders, and admin and support staff) to consider all aspects of learning and how they will affect students who require adaptation, as well as those that do not necessarily.  “At minimum, UDL must provide multiple representations of information.  Traditional text alone is insufficient to meet identified student needs.” (Pisha et al, p. 198, 2001).  What I understand of UDL is that is pre-planning for the inevitable diversity of our classrooms and being proactive rather than reactive which is Assistive Technology.  Essentially, I believe that UDL is an answer that came from necessity – whether it was this or something else, teaching had to change to accommodate the dramatic change and diversity in our students.  I believe that in many ways, Dr. Alec Couros graduate level course embody the idea of UDL because we engage with a variety of materials, presented in a variety of ways and are given the option to “show what we know” in a variety of ways.

In an article titled “Universal Design in Elementary and Middle School: Designing Classrooms and Instructional Practices to Ensure Access to Learning for All Students” by Margaret M. Flores explores the idea that students gain access to information and instructions through certain UDL principles.  They are:

1) Equitable use

2) Flexibility in use

3) Simple and intuitive

4) Peceptible information

5) Tolerance for error

6)  Low physical effort and,

7) Size and space for approach and use

All of these pieces need to be take into consideration in order to utilize UDL properly.  It takes a team of people to facilitate this wide scale change.  AT, although it requires thought and consideration, it is more between the teacher and student, and sometimes the family, whereas UDL requires so many parties working in unison.

Image result for bandaid analogyTo conclude, I can’t get the “band-aid analogy” to teach equality and equity in the classroom, out of my head as a great example of why AT has its place in the class.  One student comes up for a band aid for a cut of some kind, you give that student a band-aid and then continue to call students up, giving them all a band-aid.  They will undoubtedly be confused and ask why they are getting a band-aid when they don’t need one…well, one student needed one so you all do.  They will inevitably take issue with that and say they don’t need one – once this happens, you can let them know that just because one child needs something to help them be successful, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone does.  I am not sure where I stand and truly, if I need to have a stand – both AT and UDL have positives and crossovers.  All I know is that I will absolutely be more cognizant of my integration of AT in the classroom so as I don’t have students feeling out of place.  I will continue to build strong, trusting relationships with my kids and hope that even if I stumble in my integration of AT, or my attempts at UDL in my classroom or school, that they will come and talk to me so I can make it right and make the classroom and safe, healthy, happy and accessible place for ALL my students.

My plan going forward with this concept is to interview my students (either on paper or recorded) and post my findings on this blog – the questions will relate to whether or not they have ever felt singled out with AT, how they feel, if they have ever said anything to anyone about, it, whether they wish they never had to use it, etc.  I am curious to investigate this more in my school because it is a newer build that was designed and constructed with teacher consultation.

Thanks for reading,

❤ Dani

“Educating the mind without educating the heart,

is no education at all.” – Aristotle

References:

  1. Margaret, M. Flores (2008) Universal Design in Elementary and Middle School; Designing Classrooms and Instructional Practices to Ensure Access to Learning for all Students, Childhood Education, DOI: 10.1080/00094056.2008.105.
  2. Laura Sokal, Jennier Kotches. Effects of the Three Block Model of Universal designing for Learning on Early and Late Middle School Students’ Engagement.  
  3. Bart Pisha, Peggy Coyne.  Start from the Start: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning. 
  4. Heather White, Lorayne Robertson.  Implementing assistive technologies: A study on co-learning in the Canadian elementary school context. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.12.003
  5. Tech & Learning.  Remote control: how one school turned its assitive technology strategy inside out through telepractice. 

 

A New Chapter

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Hi everyone,

Long time no see!  Welcome back to The Hackel Hub! I am so excited to be entering my final semester of my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Regina.  I have been through many changes this school year and it has dramatically impacted how I will be approaching this course. In this post you’ll learn my story and my goals for this semester as I work towards using research and action to explore assistive technology, universal design for learning and worthwhile apps and online programming at Ecole Connaught School.

Image result for tangled brainA Change in Brain: For the past seven years I had been at Lakeview Elementary School, located in the old Lakeview area of the city, teaching grade 2/3.  This school year I was moved to Ecole Connaught Community School teaching grade 5/6.  Although these 2 schools are only a few blocks from one another geographically, they are worlds apart as far demographic and family engagement. As if moving from primary to middle years wasn’t enough, the immense shock of going from engaged and involved families, to essentially no family engagement was hard to handle.  My kids this year are often going without food, warm clothing, and struggle to even make it to school as there is often times no one at home encouraging them to do so.  It was and still is a  HUGE mind shift. Daily, I am reminded how completely crucial it is to meet basic needs before any learning can happen.  Not to mention, many of my students are coming from significant trauma.  They are trying to unpack what they have been through and work through it with their limited life experience and a brain capacity not meant to handle these often grown up issues.  This greatly affects how much learning takes place and how my students interact with each other and me, as their teacher.

book page turning GIFMy next mind flip happened when I realized what kind of academic struggles I was facing – not only do my kiddos this year have very little school stamina, my classroom is VERY diverse in academic/emotional need.  I have students reading at a grade 1 level all the way through grade 8, I have students with ADHD, depression, intellectual disorders, dyslexia and autism to name a few.  Many of the resources I am pulling from are well below grade level and 11 of 25 students are assigned assistive technology from division office.  Diverse doesn’t even begin to explain what I have going on!

The trouble:

So here’s the trouble – I have 11 students with computers assigned to them for a variety of reasons.   Realistically, all my kids should probably have them.  I have received no guidance on what do with these computers, little guidance as to why the child has the computer in the first place (the needs of each child vary SO greatly a computer doesn’t seem to address it all) and little guidance as to how to utilize the technology so it benefits the student to its full capability.  I have App and programming suggestions with what I feel is little reasoning behind them and very minimal training to assist me in ensuring I am using the technology appropriately.  All of that being said…

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My goals:

I have many goals for this course all that should conclude with me assessing my practice and deciding what is actually going to work with my kiddos!  Below are questions I hope to explore through research and action in my classroom over the course of the semester:

  1.  Is there benefit to students having individual technology in a class where everyone doesn’t have access to it as readily?
  2. Do students feel uncomfortable being singled out with assistive tech (wiggle seats, sounds cancelling headphones, alternative seating, computers, etc)?
  3. What is the most effective way to integrate technology into the classroom (if at all)?
  4. Should students have an opinion in assessing apps and technology programs they use in school?  If so, what would they actually say?
  5. Does social media have a place in the classroom?
  6. If technology in the classroom doesn’t improve learning, what is it doing?  Are there still positives?

In conclusion:

I am thrilled with the opportunity to explore some of these questions and bring my students along for the ride.  The only time most of them seem engaged is when we bring out the computers…however, I would venture a guess that most of them only like it when they get “free time”! Image result for winky face  I am looking forward to assessing some of my current teaching practices and seeing where I can improve with this unique and varied group of students!

Dani ❤

“Educating the mind without educating the heart,

is no education at all.”

-Aristotle