Intro to Eagle Hill Southport
In the skill-based transitional program at Eagle Hill Southport, we have a great impact on our unique student population. We strive to impact students’, with language-based learning disabilities, achievement in all academic areas. Given that we only have a limited time with them, our mission is to guide the acquisition of skills to allow for greater success in a traditional academic environment. With disabilities in decoding, comprehension, and processing, we take care to micro-unit lessons to foster abilities in all subject areas. We need to consider how the inclusion of technology should be addressed with the same care and focus to foster learning.
Technology at EHS
We have approached the adoption of technology with care to ensure we keep true to our mission of addressing skills for students with language-based learning disabilities; However, “Today’s students can tap into free, relevant information and networks from around the world; but at the same time they need to learn the critical-thinking skills to assess the wealth of global information that can be found online.” (Jacobs, 2010)
As with all learning skills, we as the educators need to ensure that the tools are introduced within our mission to create independent learners. We cannot let them utilize the tools without providing the same structured instruction provided in all other parts of our program, with consideration for their learning styles and scaffolded to address learning needs.
Assumptions may be wrong
When tutoring students in public schools, some of our teachers find that students are assigned to complete projects utilizing technology, without having full knowledge of how to use the tools. This can be a challenge for any student, but for a student with learning disabilities, it just makes an often difficult assignment, even more taxing. There is an assumption that students today just know how to use technology. This is not as true as we think:
In working with students in public schools and students in our setting, they are not as technology aware as we might assume. They can text, post, interact with apps, and do a basic search, but beyond that, we are giving many of them more credit than is due.
In our approach to make learning accessible, we break down tasks that are achievable and provide instruction that ensures success. When tasks requiring technology are assigned, direct instruction on the use of the tools is the first part of the lesson. Lessons are scaffolded to meet the students where they are currently knowledgeable not just about the content being discussed, but with the use of the technology tool they are being charged with using.
Just in the last two months, I have worked with middle school aged students on the use of Google to find information. Seems like a basic task, but they quickly admitted that they rely on a few things:
1. one word searches
2. selecting the first result
3. relying on Wikipedia and Ask.com
4. not scanning the results page for information before selecting a link
5. not considering the authenticity of the results.
One question I had them search was the weight of the largest pumpkin, and a variety of results were found within a group. When I asked why that might be, they had no idea. Thus we had the direct conversation about considering the source, the date of the site, and other information that needs to be considered. Providing them with several other tasks that led them to have to consider the accuracy of the information opened many eyes to internet searches. How many educators just assume kids know how to do this task?
Students have also directly worked on how to use tools such as Glogster and Voicethread. The instruction is provided directly, while utilizing academic content, so they can additionally see how leaning these tools can be applied directly to future assignments. The key is really breaking down the steps that students need to learn to successfully interact with technology tools to achieve and demonstrate learning, and providing instruction at each step.
The Take Away
Technology is key to the future of learning; however, ALL students need direct instruction into its utilization just as they need to be taught how to read and write. Technology instruction and integration should be purposeful and part of the overall learning process.