Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Participant or Observer - How Can We Break Down the Barriers for Our Students?

"Where there once was an observer, let there now be a participant"     Eliot Eisner

Last night in my university class (Assistive Technology), we learned about the SETT Framework created by Joy Zabala. And not only did we learn about it but we were graced with Joy Skyping into our class. What lucky students!

She shared about the components of the SETT framework and how important it is to consider the student, the environment, the tasks and then the tool.   So many times in classrooms, we see the next shiny thing on the market and purchase it before we consider the first three important components: the student, the environment and the task. We see the apps available on the IPad and figure this will be the answer to solve all of our problems.    

In the past year, we tried a shiny new Ipad with one of our students with Autism. We didn't consider the student.  We didn't intentionally ignore his needs but we just thought this would be a good tool for him to use to learn letters.  Why did we think he needed to learn letters?  We didn't really think it through carefully, but thought, this is grade one so must be a good idea. We didn't consider the environment.  What was happening in the classroom?  How would the IPad fit into the lessons?  Nope, we didn't think about that. . .  We didn't really consider the tasks the teacher was setting up in the classroom.  I think it all boiled down to how we really only wanted to keep him occupied.

Well, you can guess what happened next. . . the IPad was a complete flop.  It was the wrong tool for this student.  He got really stuck on the IPad and had a hard time stopping the activity, resulting in some huge meltdowns!  After some time, he was just swiping the screen and not really paying attention.  Did he learn letters?  Maybe, but the over-stimulation was the over riding factor that covered up any potential learning he may have done or could have demonstrated to us.  If I were to go back in time, I would have addressed the situation following the SETT framework completely differently!

I would have asked these questions first:  What is the functional area of concern? What does this student need to do that is difficult or impossible to do independently at this time? What are the student's special needs that contribute to these concerns? What are the student's current abilities that contribute to these concerns? What are the student's interests? (From Ready, SETT, Go!  )          

If we had started there, we would have been more specific about his lack of communication.  That was our foremost concern (not learning the alphabet!). He could not communicate independently. He had only a few approximations of words to communicate his needs and wants.  And while he was interested in computers, there are many other ways to communicate that are low tech.  We could have used a picture exchange and later on we did use simple signs that allowed him to share his needs or wants with us.

We fell into the trap of a quick fix and did not take the time needed to really investigate the full situation.  And we paid for it with a student who was frustrated and angry much of the time because we did not understand him.  The IPad, although shiny and exciting, was not the correct tool for our guy! It pains me to think how terribly we failed this little guy for the first three months at school.

Looking forward, I am grateful for learning about this framework that will allow me to improve, maintain, or increase functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. (from our lecture last night). I will work to remove barriers to performance for our included students.  In Canada we don't have a law that insists we look at AT as an option.  It is my experience that AT is considered as a last resort rather than up front.  I have heard about the SETT framework in the past from two individuals, a speech language pathologist and an occupational therapist.  But it has not come up any other times in the years I have worked with students with special needs. However, with this new knowledge in my toolbox, I will share with staff in the many schools I am working in this year.  My past mistakes will inform my work as I move forward.

I am excited to work with a speech pathologist who is about to go through this process with a youngster in a kindergarten class who requires some AT to participate fully in class.  I hope to learn a great deal from this colleague and see the framework in action.  I will keep you posted.                               


  1. I want you to know that this post was my inspiration to go to work yesterday and question the AAC plan that was in place for a student in our program. I was inspired to open up the discussion to ALL members of our classroom team and challenge them to take time to reflect on the best plan of action for the student. Your written words called my courage to the surface and inspired me to be BRAVE. And for that, I thank you.

    1. I have to take that first step also. I will admit freely I am impatient and want results now. However, now I realize time taken up front will pay off in the end. I hope you discover the right thing for your student.

  2. Is all this information used by ALL those in inclusive learning in the EPSB?

    1. Not sure what part of the information you mean. Do you mean using the SETT? If so, I am not sure everyone has the background knowledge to do so. As for what I am learning, I am sharing with my staff for sure. . .

  3. SETT - too bad - they should make all the inclusive learning staff get this knowledge.

  4. they may have and I just don't know yet. I am very new to this position.
    I will find out.

  5. What I have discovered is some folks in Inclusive learning feel more comfortable than others to complete a SETT framework. This is no different, I suppose, than any other skill: the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel doing it. Since we are seeing more complex students included, we will all have to be coming more comfortable taking the lead on a SETT framework for our students.