Policy, UDL in real life UDL settings, and finishing up

In our last class, we will be addressing Susan Gabel’s article on how UDL can impact public policy in education.
We will also be joined whether physically or through contribution by several faculty members from across Syracuse University who will share some of their experiences teaching through utilizing Universal Design for Learning approaches.
Finally, we will be doing evaluations and taking care of other final business. Students will be submitting their final projects next week.
Thanks to our students for their contributions to class this week. I hope you found the class helpful and something that you can and will use in the future. Have a great and productive summer!

Other approaches to UDL and texts

We talked about texts and other approaches to UDL at tonight’s class.
Various approaches to literacy do become very important. These approaches seem to basicallly state that there are various approaches to teach literacy, that there is no one way to read a book, for example.
We also concentrated on various other forms of UDL not covered in class thus far or at least explicitly covered. We allowed the students an opportunity to take some self-directed learning in that we allowed them to more or less pick their own texts. Various approaches that were covered included multiple intelligence theory, personality approaches to learning, multicultural learner theory, and feminist pedagogy, just to name a few.

architectural design

Today, we talked about how architecture and buildings can affect education. These intangibles, coupled together with curriculum, programing, and so forth make such an important difference to how students are perceived.

This is an image of an escalator at the Air Canada domestic terminal at Vancouver International Airport. Notice that there is no stairs on the escalator; it’s more like a moving sidewalk up an incline.
One element of design is communicating what is important. The Vancouver Convention Center where I recently was for the American Educational Research Association 2012 Annual Meeting www.aera.net. The Convention Center featured several photos / stories including one about a local wheelchair basketball team which became very successful and very famous.
These things are from outside the realm of education, but they have a lot to teach us about the radical ends of inclusion. Universal design seeks to create products and services that can be used by anyone, so creating things like desks that can be moved around, programing that all can access, and learning products that fit a variety of student / consumer needs is a very large part of that.
We put a lot of emphasis in class today on how the visual elements of architecture communicate welcome. Certainly, it is no replacement for the human factor, but architecture does play a very large part in it, even helping or hindering even the best teachers, instructors, staff from doing the very best job they can.

Speaking for All and Speaking Well: Sound and Speech

Today, we are talking about two things. One will be related to PowerPoint and other elements of presenting. We will be focusing on creating effective presentations that not only engage everyone, but allow everyone to engage, including the presenter.
Another thing we will be talking about is issues involving the social construction of speech and speech difference in the classroom including the idea of “normalizing” the classroom. Speech can be very socially constructed. For example, check out this article http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/magazine/24FOB-medium-t.html?_r=1.
Technology has been an important part of creating more effective and universally designed products. Many products designed by Apple Computer, for example, contain AAC equipment installed on it already. For example, see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703440004575547971877769154.html.
The plan is to not just trouble how society / education sees speech difference, but to engage in some of the advantages that speech difference can give an individual.

Texts

We will be talking about texts and literacy in tonight’s class. Due to the importance of text based information in classes, it is important to know how to negotiate this information.
We will also be talking about blogs i.e. what they are for, how to use them in classes, and so forth.

How to get rich through lesson planning

Tnight we are going to be talking about getting rich through lesson planning! Well, maybe not rich in the conventional sense, but we will discuss how to make our lesson plans fuller by incorporating an inclusive approach. This is an important to universal design because it allows us to incorporate and target our lessons on purpose toward specific kinds of audiences and specific students, allowing many more strudents to be able to learn and participate in the curriculum.

Reflections for week of Feb. 7

Strangeman (2006) speaks to teachers, among other things, on utilizing technology for assessment. For example, one teacher held online mini-conferences with the students, where their work logs could be analyzed and strengths and concerns could be given. One teacher felt like she could “get into their heads” more because technology allowed her to focus much more on process and less on the end result (Strangeman, 2006 , pp. 68-69) Process, or method of doing, is an important concept in education because it allows the educator to evaluate not just the material (i.e. does the student have the “right answer” or has created a “good product”, but to instead gauge whether the student has the skills that they need to actually succeed in the content area when they need to. This strikes me as something especially important to be doing in K-12 because those grades, especially the elementary and middle school years are focused in particular on building basic skills and less about mastery of a particular subject area.
To some extent, this is also true of post-secondary education as well. Bain (2004, p. 49) stated that the best instructors focus on engaging the subject matter and on fostering critical thinking skills. This, of course, is important because the “best teachers” ought to be people who can enliven the subject matter and teach students how to apply it. In regards to critical thinking skills, I do wonder at what point we ought to make sure students have mastered the subject matter. This is particularly true in areas where students are not necessarily going to pursue graduate study. For example, while it’s important for a business manager to think critically, is it not also important that he or she is competent at performing the task? In my opinion, both skill building and critically thinking need to happen. I believe that this could happen at the same time, but too often, I feel, there seems to be a dichotomy between the two. It’s important that students have both content and the ability to think about the content so that they have the capability to apply their lessons to real life situations, to conducting research, or whatever.
Still, I like the idea of the subject-centered classroom (Palmer, 1998, p. 118). In my opinion, Palmer’s reflection made Bain much more meaningful as he illuminates the need for the attention not to be on the role of the instructor as the “expert”, but rather as a sort of facilitator that still needs help. Palmer refers to this as “interdependence” and demonstrates this by utilizing an example of himself saying “please” and “thank you” to try to get a discussion going in a classroom where he was lecturing. While Palmer protests that his was the actions of a “starving man” what he was actually doing was showing great respect to the students in his classroom, not letting his own ego get in the way of the class finding a way forward (ibid, p. 140). He shows the need for instructors and students to find “mutuality and meaning” within the content. His comments about “self-protective professional autonomy”, therefore, show the need for students and their instructors to respect one another with much less emphasis on the traditional teacher-student hierarchy. I think this goes to several areas: respect of the subject matter, mutual respect and care for one another within the class, and for appropriate professional behavior on the part of both instructors and students.

Works cited

Bain, K.  (2004).  What the best college teachers do.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.  

Palmer, P. J.  (1998).  The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Strangman, N.  (2006).  Teacher perspectives: Strategy instruction goes digital.  In D. H. Rose & A. Meyer (Eds.), A practical reader in universal design for learning (pp. 57-72).  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Technology lab – Smart Boards

To be honest, I am almost totally new to this particular technology. I may have seen a Smart Board once, but otherwise have not really seen them used that much. I had heard of the technology and knew a little about what they did, but I would mostly rate myself as a novice.
Some of the first links I came to involve not a “how to use” sort of idea, but rather reflections on how school districts use Smart Board successfully http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3748726 and how sometimes they can be a hindrance in inner city classrooms http://nyceducator.com/2011/10/do-smartboards-make-you-smarter.html. In the first link, it was intriguing to see how many suburban type school districts were listed as being good models for good practice. On the other hand, the blogger at NYC Educator claims that Smart Boards would not actually enhance professional practice in inner city classrooms, especially because economic conditions in many inner city schools are not favorable to this type of technological intervention. Instead, one has to rely on one’s own intelligence and innovation.
Smart Tech, the company that manufactures Smart Boards, has a basic demonstration online that can be downloaded here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0U05WeXPGlk. This link basically shows all the things that can be done on a Smart Board utilizing what appears to be an elementary school classroom. Since this is sort of a corporate ad in a way, it was intriguing to see how they represented the classroom. It certainly seemed quite a bit more racially diverse than one might expect given the arguments of the above links. A series of “how to use” videos from Cambridge University Press concerning Smart Boards can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLxVjw1yvRk&feature=related.
I see Smart Boards as being more helpful for K – 12 educators than at the post-secondary level. Certainly, in a very large class, some of the features can be used (and it’s my understanding that this is where this is most commonly used at the post-secondary level), but for a smaller or more moderate size class this would probably be a hindrance as the technology, I think, would “take over”, depreciating human interaction and dialogue. That’s not something I would want for my classroom as I value classes as a community. I do think the many activities are helpful for younger students, especially those in preschool and early elementary. Some of the high school students I’ve worked with utilize iPads in similar fashion so they might benefit from another way to express themselves. On the other hand, it does seem that one has to have a certain amount of motor control, so that might be difficult for some of these students.
I think I learned the basics of how to use a Smart Board. I would probably have to have more experiential experience and learn more before assessing my ability to use it. I’m a pretty experiential learner in terms of technology so I do have to kind of “fool around” with technology a bit before I actually get it, but I do think I have the basics to be able to succeed. Since I plan to teach post-secondary students in the future (if I end up teaching at all), I would probably have to evaluate whether to utilize the technology based upon the dynamics of the class before making a determination on whether to use this technology as I think it has mostly limited appeal to a post-secondary environment at this point. If I was asked for a recommendation by K-12 schools where I’ll be doing research, though, I might suggest this as a possibility.

Blog post for week of Jan 31, 2011

In my readings for my upcoming comprehensive examinations, one theme that has come up is constructing classroom space for individuals with speech impairments, particularly those who utilize alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) systems (e.g. Buekelman & Mirenda, 2005, Mirenda, 2003, Ashby, 2010). The goal is to allow the student to participate in an inclusive classroom while allowing the student to participate and be included in the classroom as much as possible, preferably allowing the student to have a “competitive” placement meaning that they are dealing with the same content as their non-disabled peers and are being evaluated in a similar manner.
One way to do this would be to incorporate principle 1 of universal design, utilizing multiple models of interpretation (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle1, CAST, 2011). The most relevant sub-parts here involve language usage and cognition. I suspect the part about language usage might have been intended more toward individuals that do not speak English as their first language, but individuals whose speech is limited or who do not speak would certainly benefit from having instruction that does not over-privilege the verbal, something that certainly looms large on the educational scene. In terms of cognition, some individuals may struggle with managing a communication system and “normal” academic work especially since many AAC users are not fast typists (Buekelman & Mirenda, 2005). That means that work needs to be adapted for them.
Thousand, Villa, & Nevin (2007) also discuss the importance of content. The key to content seems to be to design the curriculum in such a way that all the students can learn without dissipating academic content. In my research, I work with high school aged students. In this area onward, it becomes very debatable as to what the appropriate content is. Certainly, one might correctly argue that elementary and middle schools also have this concern. However, high schools and, more particularly, post-secondary schools are credentialing. High schools are particularly difficult to negotiate content wise because high school students are on different tracks. Some may choose to do a “college prep” type track while others may be bound for more vocational pursuits. Certainly, content can be taught in “appropriate” ways, but due to the credentialing / tracking element to secondary schools onwards, the standards of colleges and the professions have to be taken into account as well, some of which are external to the educational system itself. Certainly, I don’t think anyone is making the argument that standards ought to be reduced, but often standards and doing things in a certain way, particularly in professional schools. I first noticed this during a brief stint in law school, and have continued to notice how this gets done throughout my master’s and Ph.D. programs, but arguably if I had been in a more professionalized major, such as business administration, I probably would have noticed it earlier and I’m also sure that there were likely “standards” of what was required that were, while perhaps more flexible, still a “line in the sand” concerning my undergraduate major and even the honors and advanced placement courses I took in high school. Because I passed through these standards, I am where I am today and, to some extent, it’s appropriate that I have competency in certain things. However, it is also a way for certain individuals with certain skills to corner the labor market while excluding new ideas and ways of doing things.
One thing that can be done is chunking (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler). This allows students to do the whole material, but to break it up into little bits at a time.
Cognitive Dissonance (Lidwell, Holden & Butler, 2003, p. 45) is a term that comes up in the literature in my field to describe Facilitated Communication (Mirenda, 2008). What Mirenda means by this is that certain FC users have confounded expectations by learning to type independently and/or learning to speak, which makes it difficult for more “objective” based, usually empirical studies to dispute that they are not doing the typing, even when much of the scientifically based evidence would suggest otherwise.
Control (Lidwell, Holden & Butler, 2003, p. 64) is important in alternative and augmentative communication. Usually, individuals do not really know their machines very well, particularly small children, so they require a lot of help. As they grow more proficient, they can utilize more options and have more individual control.
Design by committee (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2003, p. 75) is important in regards to alternative and augmentative communication users of all ages, particularly those in school, because it allows teachers, various therapists, families, and individuals to work together to fulfill the individual’s needs.
Normal distribution (Lidwell, Holden, & Butler, 2003, p. 166) is arguably something that can help and hurt AAC users. When they speak naturally (assuming they have speech), these individuals cannot perform very well. However, with AAC, most of their communicative abilities can be restored.
Gestures (http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/chapter3_4.cfm) are a major component of speech. Sometimes, it can be helpful to “act something out”, but it has to be accompanied with a cognizant sound. It’s not enough to simply “guess”. What gestures can do is aid in understanding, but that understanding may still be limited.
Works Cited
Ashby, C. (2010). The trouble with normal: The struggle for meaningful access for middle
school students with disability labels. Disability and Society 25 (3). pp. 345-358.
Buekelman, D. & Mirenda, P. (2005). Alternative and Augmentative Communication:
Management of Severe Communication Problems in Children and Adults. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
CAST (2011). UDL Principle 1. Found at
http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/principle1. Downloaded 27 Jan. 2011.
Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Universal principles of design: 125 ways to
enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions,
and teach through design. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, Inc. (Find five principles that may influence how you implement Principle 1 in your field)
Mirenda, P. (2003). “He’s not really a reader…”: Perspectives on supporting literacy
development in individuals with autism. Topics in Language Disorders, 23, 271-282.
Mirenda, P. (2008). A back door approach to autism and AAC. Alternative and Augmentative
Communication, 24. pp. 219-233.
Rose, D. H., & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for
learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Thousand, J. S., Villa, R. A., & Nevin, A. I. (2007). Differentiating instruction: Collaborative
planning and teaching for universally designed learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Reflective Blog for Week of January 24

The Harwood & Humphry (2008) chapter is something that I think a lot about in my own scholarship on adolescents with speech disabilities. Their main concern was utilizing what is considered “exceptional” from both the perspective of what might otherwise be called “gifted and talented” and, the other side, “special education”. The concern that the authors take, and my own scholarly concern, have to figure out the construction of the “ideal” citizen or “ideal” student with the stipulation that those individuals are often accorded privileged treatment. Sometimes, educators want to only provide education for the “ideal” student while the others are left out (Harwood & Humphry, p. 380). Some of the idea behind universal design or to utilize the Kliewer & Biklen, (2007) article on “local understanding” which we will read later on in the course is that educators ought to take responsibility for educating all their students, not just an elite few. There will be differences, of course, but educators cannot responsibly create those differences.
Of course, as Young & Mintz (2008) note, the educational system has been trying to create labels for years. One of the biggest problems is that schools are obligated under law to attach labels to students (Young & Mintz, 2008, p. 501) creating dependency on the helping professions (Young & Mintz, 2008, p. 503) and providing a stigmatizing identity for the individual (ibid, p. 507). Again, this is one of the larger issues that the individuals I study have. School created labels can “make or break” an individual. I would propose, though, that Young & Mintz’s ideas about the government are mostly a result of how individuals are constructed out in the larger community and less about how they are constructed in the local community (Kliewer & Biklen, 2007, Kliewer, 2008). Schools have to do testing and perhaps attach the label, but as the aforementioned authors note students can still be capable of some degree of success if their families and schools have high expectations of them, overlooking whatever label they might have. It is true that, too often, the special education system has done quite the opposite as the authors suggest, but as they also conclude, this need not be the case at all.
Part of this, as Ginsburg & Schulte (2008) note, in their study of college professors, is taking the onus off the labeled student and putting it on the instructor. By shifting the burden from the individual to the instructor, the instructor is able to utilize a broader ability to help the student succeed. From my personal perspective, when I was in school I almost always did better when educators were trying to make sure I succeeded rather than when they “blamed” me for not succeeding. Usually, I just needed things explained in a different manner or something to that nature. That does not account for individual responsibility, but I do not think it is “always” the student’s fault if they do not learn. Sure, there are those who “just don’t care” no matter what, but every effort must be made to make sure that is not the case.
Sousa (2011) presented various approaches of the brain with the general claim that most brains work alike, but others do not. Although Sousa did spend a lot of time explaining the various processes of learning, it seemed to me like the principles of neurodiversity seemed to somewhat escape this chapter. In other words, the chapter seemed to approach the subject in a way that was somewhat like “Most brains work this way, but not all brains”. Although this, in and of itself is not so bad, there was little explanation of the alternatives.
Rose & Meyer (2002) better accounted for such diversity, especially in their section on reflective networks. As they explain, there are “bottom up” ways to learn and “top to bottom” ways to learn. As they further go on to explain, there are various ways to learn, especially a subject like reading. This is something that I have encountered in my various readings about alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) especially in regards to students’ early literate achievement (Kliewer & Biklen, 2007, Kliewer, 2008; Miranda, 2003, 2008). As Young & Mintz (2008) noted, though, policy is a large issue and, unfortunately, educational policy does not account for non-“evidence based” i.e. a one-size-fits-all account of what works very well.