Friday, August 19, 2016

The Tools We Use

This is a follow-up to my last post "What Students Need." The connection may not be readily apparent, but bear with me, and I promise I will connect the dots.

More than most other learners, my students use a lot of technology to access learning. Some of it is obvious: the wheelchairs, the iPads with communication software, the positioning and medical equipment. Some of it may be less obvious until it is pointed out: the keyboards, touchscreen computers, visual supports and schedules, social stories, staffing ratios.

Sometimes, the line between the technology and the pedagogy begins to blur. That's where we talk about things like prompting hierarchies and token economies/reward systems. The tools that teachers use to access student learning. (Not to assess it, but to gain access to the learning student so that teaching can be effective.) It's no wonder, then, that this is where the the controversy lies in so much of special education.

To understand the problem, we have to clearly separate technology from pedagogy. Our goal, always is for our students to be independent learners and citizens. To do that, we have to recognize that the wheelchair, the social story, and the token board can all be viewed as giving the student the same amount of independence or fostering the same amount of staff dependence, depending on how we teach the individual to us them.

Consider the differences:
The student who pushes their own chair (or uses a powerchair) vs. the student who has a manual chair she cannot push.
The student who is able to find or write their own social stories vs the student who depends on a parent/teacher/SLP to write social stories in order to cope with new situations.
The student who creates his schedule and works for a self-created goal vs the student who is only able to participate in class with the carrot of a reward dangled in front of him.

The second student in each example is clearly better off than the student without any of those resources. But the first student has something very important. She has the tools for self-determination. The second student will have to work much harder at self-advocacy to have their independence recognized and honored, simply because they do not have access to (or the skill to use) the technology to seize it themselves. We owe it to all of our students to give them access to, and teach them to use, all of the technologies that they will need for self-determination. We cannot limit them because of our preconceived ideas of what "assistive technology" means or looks like or because we value a certain pedagogical approach that doesn't use that tool. Our job is not to help our students. Our job is to teach them the skills to help themselves. To do that, they need all of the tools we can give them.

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