Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Giving a voice

It started rather simply enough.  There was a 2 for 1 sale of smart boards and I went for it.  My student services teacher is the assistive technology go-to person for the district and she had some great ideas for how it could be used.  What I saw in the student services area amazed me.  We have a largely non-verbal autistic boy who was able to demonstrate his writing and ability to read much more concretely than before.  The whiteboard essentially took away the difficulties with fine motor skills for writing and the verbal part of reading.  Watching him write on the smart board was moving.  We were now able to better see his strengths and abilities and minimize his challenges.  His progress has been amazing.  He is much more communicative than before, and I also feel that he is far less frustrated.  Our SEAs have embraced the technology and now work daily on the smart board with our students.  They have become engaged learners and are enthusiastic when it is time to come down to the student services area.

A staff member who also has an autistic child has been sharing about the transformation that she has seen in her daughter.  She has seen what the smart board and laptops allow some of our students to do.  Her daughter is non-verbal and has struggled to share her knowledge and I believe that seeing the transformation of some of our students she felt more comfortable with technology in the hands of students.  When her daughter was at her Occupational Therapy session she began tracing objects in coffee grinds and then began writing, perfectly.  She had not written previously.  Suddenly three words written by a 9 year old have rarely ever conveyed so much and created such an emotional response.  She wrote to her mother "I love you".  Her mother was amazed that she was able to write all of the family members' names correctly, that her spelling was perfect and that she had a large vocabulary.  Through Facebook over the summer I have been getting updates on her daughter's progress and it is amazing.  She is now sending her mother emails and writing on the computer.  She may still be non-verbal but she has found her voice.

Why is technology so important in schools?  It gives students a voice that they may not have had before.  It gives an opportunity for students who may have been limited in their ability to express themselves a new media in which to convey their knowledge.  It is an opportunity to see not what they cannot do but what they can do and in some instances it can bring you to tears.

If inclusion is to work, then we need to have a greater focus on technology in the classrooms as well.   We need to find resources in order to put laptops or something akin to laptops in the hands of some of our struggling students in order to facilitate their ability to convey their knowledge.  Opportunities such as Tumblebooks, Virtual manipulatives and imovie allow for students to demonstrate their knowledge without being hampered by their reading or writing struggles.  Struggling readers are able to engage in the same books, struggling writers are able to show their math comprehension without pencil and paper and demonstrate their understanding orally through multimedia.  There are resources out there that teachers can access without having to reinvent the wheel for individual children.

We will never know what students are capable of unless we find a way to minimize their weaknesses and harness their strengths.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see you writing out loud Remi. There are many similar stories like yours in our schools. I think the key is to see potential in all students and to be willing to try different approaches and tools. Technology in its assistive form is a pretty flexible tool-set to support diverse learning needs. Let's keep things moving forward in our District!