Sunday, November 25, 2007

Technology is Not Gravy! A musing on Thanksgiving Weekend.

"The big step between us and animals is language. But the big step between civilization and more primitive forms of human society is written language.... it doesn't just enable it (civilization) in the sense of making it possible, but rather, it constitutes it. " - Dr. John Searle, Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at University of California- Berkeley (COTC interview)

I am currently taking an online course on Writing in the Content Areas, from PBS Teacherline. In this course we have focused on writing across different curriculum areas, specifically examining secondary students and curriculum. I am the only special educator taking the course and probably the only teacher who has worked with students with severe speech and physical impairments. The perspective that most teachers have presented throughout the online discussions in the 5 weeks we have been taking the class has been that technology is a great tool, but is the gravy on the turkey (forgive the trite comparison, but it is Thanksgiving weekend!). I have tried to explain that for the students I work with technology is a necessity. However, after no one showed too much interest in my descriptions of how my students communicate and access the curriculum with switches and keyboard emulation, I just sort of gave up and tried to pretend I was just another teacher, using my 11 year old daughter and the work she has done as a 6th grader as my example for all things.

In our online discussions, we discussed the importance of time in teaching writing, but I don't think anyone in my class quite gets the fact that it takes one of my favorite students, Lizzie, a good 2-3 minutes to use her head switch to construct a simple sentence using her Vantage voice output device, let alone type an entire paragraph.

We discussed the impact of technology in writing for today's students. One of the teachers in my class worries that technology has over taken social interaction for today's students. I guess I should have done a better job explaining to him that technology opens social doors for my students who would not be able to have a face2face conversation without technology, and who often love email because their disability becomes invisible when they are on the computer.

So where am I going in my rather morose musings this evening? Am I just venting online for all the world to see (can you tell I haven't quite come to terms with the fact that anyone who is looking/stumbling around might see this?)? No, not really, although I can see how bloggers can really use this as a form of therapy. I will instead try to turn this around and move on to how one of Karen Janowski's latest posts directed me to a fascinating website called The Children of the Code
"How well children learn and how they feel about themselves as learners profoundly shapes their lives. For many millions of children, how they feel about themselves as learners is determined by how well they learn to read the 'code' of our written language. The connections between the code, literacy, learning, self-esteem and life success are profoundly under-appreciated in our society. " This quote from the website really sums up to me the importance of providing accessible education for all children and the role that technology can play in altering how a child feels about themself as a learner. Karen's blog directs you to some great simulations that let an individual without a disability see what it is like to have dsylexia and other reading disabilities. Try being dyslexic for a few mintues and then tell me if technology to support reading and writing is just gravy or if maybe it is at least the sweet potatoes with marshmallows that I will not celebrate Thanksgiving without.

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