Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Why Didn't I Think of This Before?

                                                      Microsoft Clip Art

For the last two days, I took part in an inservice around Universal Design for Learning.  I had the pleasure to hear Dave Rose of CAST share information about UDL in the classroom.  My big take away was the need to balance remediation and compensation for our students who struggle with reading, writing or math.  How much data around failure do we need to collect before we offer students tools that will help compensate for their missing skills?  As students get older, their level of frustration will rise until they decide this repeated failure is too much and they quit school.

As a parent, I watched this rise in frustration in one of my own sons until in grade 12, he said, "What is the point of this?  I suck at it." And he quit school.  No one offered him any ways to compensate.  In fact, his math teacher said he really didn't have time to give my son more time as was indicated on his IPP.  How was that for compensation?

Dave explained that of course, as we begin to offer students more compensation, we will get push back from those folks who are "able" to do the work with their own raw brain cells.  They figure if they can do the work with no extra help, it is too bad for those who cannot!  After all, this is how we divide the good from the useless, don't we?  ABLEISM at its finest!  Those who can do not want those who need some tool to help to catch up. . .   That somewhat discreet form of prejudice in our society...

The second day of the conference included the keynote speaker, Christopher Lee.  This was when I experienced my biggest aha moment of the two days.  Christopher has a learning disability.  He has a visual and discrimination disability as well as an auditory perception disability.  He had a language delay.  He has a great deal of difficulty with print in every form.  AND he has a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus
on leadership, policy studies, social psychology and assistive technology. But, when he was younger, his teachers did not expect he would amount to anything as his reading disability was so severe!

He explained that trying to read and trying to write was so exhausting for him as a youngster, not to mention the cognitive exhaustion he experienced trying to cover up his missing skills.  This was my AHA!  Every day, as educators, we ask our students to try again, to stick with it even when it is hard, to keep going.  Now that I think about it, I can only begin to imagine how exhausting this must be day in and day out for students with learning disabilities.  It is no wonder they dis-engage or act out in their frustrations. . . One little grade 3 at our school was always (and I mean always) tired.  While he may have had some crazy bedtimes or something, he was probably exhausted because of his hard work of learning!  And our answer is to ask him to do more...  no wonder he was so disengaged.

I think of my own grandson who was recently diagnosed with a learning disability.  We get him to try again and again to read.  He had headaches last year and now I can see why this might have been a regular occurrence.  He was doing very hard, very exhausting work!  My next move will be to see how the school can compensate for him while doing remediation (levelled literacy intervention) but making sure he doesn't get so frustrated he shuts down or misbehaves (this did happen last year also!).

I have a new appreciation for our students with learning disabilities.  Let's make life a bit easier and help to make school inviting instead of a place of horror.  Use available assistive technologies. And when the ableists suggest these students are cheating, stand up and remind them we allow glasses, wheel chairs, insulin so why not a text to speech program or speech to text or grammar checker or. . .  what ever is needed.

Our students need us to speak up. I bet you can think of one or two students who would benefit from compensation. . .

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. You're speaking right to my heart. We have to make sure we are not chipping away at a student's sense of efficacy as a learner. Learning is about making meaning and we need to make sure that a student is able to get the information in so that they can actually make the meaning. If they are putting their effort in to decoding then they are not putting their effort in to understanding, connecting and using information. I think it's fantastic that we now have so many people who have gone through our school system with the label of "Learning Disability" speaking up and telling us what we need to do to support learner variability.