By Melissa Rubin
NEALS Board Secretary, Principal at The Student First
The summer, traditionally, has been a time to take a deep breath after an intense school year. I can imagine you all can relate. This summer was no different for me - I needed this time to rejuvenate. At the same time, knowing that I did not have as many commitments to students, I saw this as an opportunity to seek out some professional development. I found an on-line, 10 week course offered by UC-Santa Cruz that piqued my interest, Assistive Technology (AT) for Learning Differences. I have to tell you all, taking this course was the best decision I could have possibly made. Shelly Haven, the professor of the course, was not only knowledgeable, but organized, responsive and insightful. The mind-blown emoji ( ) would be an understatement in the best possible way. Shelley not only introduced me to countless new apps, but more importantly, she shifted my mindset and offered a protocol I plan to follow from now on when considering AT options for my students.
I thought I’d share some of my takeaways here, if nothing more than to whet your appetite for what April Pendergast (learning specialist @ Kent, and fellow student in the course) and I will be sharing in October at NEALS’ Table Talk Discussion:
A picture is still worth a 1000 words. The image used to explain the difference between equality and equity can be applied to how to view AT for students with learning differences. AT can help the learning process be more equitable. (https://interactioninstitute.org/illustrating-equality-vs-equity/)
I have been asking the wrong question! Or at least skipping over some really important questions before asking about the “best app” for given students. First, I should be focusing on parceling out the student’s specific need and then how it should be addressed before even thinking about what app to use. Let the student’s needs dictate the most appropriate tech for the situation.
Just giving a student access to AT doesn’t mean that the problem is solved. Careful consideration needs to be given to ensuring that the student understands how to use the tech and assessing the effectiveness of the tech. Furthermore, just because the AT helps for a given task now doesn’t mean it will be the best tool to use in the future - frequent re-evaluation (maybe every term, for instance) is crucial.
Finally, taking this course was a great reminder of what it feels like to be a student. I have to admit it was stressful, not because of the amount or level of difficulty of the work assigned but simply because I knew I was going to be evaluated on my performance in a numerical way (i.e., a grade) for the first time in 25 years. It didn’t matter that the grade would have no bearing on any of my work - I put pressure on myself to get that ‘A’. This experience reminded me of what my students must feel on the daily, and even more so as they are juggling a number of courses at a time. Therefore, as I enter the school year, I come with more empathy for my students.
Ultimately, I came away from the course achieving my initial goal of having more tools to help my students be more effective and efficient. More importantly though, Shelley Haven has truly revolutionized the way I consider the AT selection, implementation, and evaluation process, including the way I use my own computer. All this being said, I look forward to sharing more specifics on Wednesday, October 5th.