To Be Fair: Please Remove Your Glasses
I wrote the following article in 2009 for an ISTE conference. At the time I thought it would only be a matter of time before technology to support those with learning differences would be readily available and enthusiastically embraced.
I was overly optimistic.
About a month ago a colleague of mine talk to me about a session he was going to do to address the feeling that students who use technology to learn are somehow "cheating". That it isn't fair to the students who completed the task without the technology. Sigh.
I went searching through my files and found my article. I've republished it in its entirety below.
Today, I am cautiously optimistic.
I see more and more evidence that we may be turning the corner. For example, the new ISTE Standards for Students encouraging students to customize their learning environment (1b) we may be turning the corner.
ISTE Student Standards: Empowered Learner - addresses students use of
technology to customize their learning environment
When students enter our classrooms, do you ask them to remove their glasses… or their hearing devices? Of course not! We know that this technology allows students the means to access visual and auditory information. Without this technology there would be a barrier between the student and the material. When we remove this technology, their access to the information is impaired or denied; making learning, regardless of the student's potential, severely limited. We know this technology doesn't tell them the answer. It still requires them to think, plan and create. Providing then with the technology they require doesn't do the learning for them. We know they still need to interact with the information in order to construct meaning.
Why is it when a student has a physical limitation and requires technology we do not hesitate to provide it? But when a student with a learning challenge requires technology, we think of it as "cheating". We ask: "How long will this student require this technology?" "Will they become dependent on it?" "How can I give this student the same mark as the student who didn't need the technology?" We would never ask these questions of the student with glasses.
We need to view all technology as support technology:
available to everyone to use in any way that meets their learning needs.
In my classroom I followed the principle of Universal Design for Learning (www.cast.org). I removed as many barriers as possible to instruction, materials and production, often through the inclusion of technology. In the area of writing I applied the principles of UDL. My goal for students went beyond the mechanics of spelling to the expression of thoughts and ideas. I asked myself: If I insist my students write without technology what limits am I placing on their thinking and learning? If my goal is students who can express themselves in written form, who in my class faces a barrier to their learning without the technology? Who needs glasses?
As a teacher, I provided every student in my school access to WordQ™.
WordQ is a simple but powerful writing tool that supports students throughout the writing process. It provides word prediction in context with auditory and visual support so students can become competent and confident writers. Its highlight and readback feature supports the editing process as well as additional help with content reading. WordQ became the glasses for my students. It didn’t do the “seeing” for them but it did remove the barriers to written communication.
Students began to see themselves as writers. Those who could write used the technology to improve the quality of their work. Those who struggled with writing gained independence. Students who wrote one or two sentences now wrote a page. They saw themselves as writers and that is powerful! Before, without WordQ, they could not get past the production of words to the true purpose of writing; communicating and sharing ideas. With WordQ, non-writers become writers and good writers become better writers.
As a teacher, I couldn’t ask for more.