Making Sure the Curriculum is Accessible to All Students
Mark Hollodick, Concord High School principal, spoke about that fact educating ALL students is the primary role of everyone in the building. Mark said he was proud of Concord’s Special Ed program and that this year it is serving students better than ever. However, the program continues to evolve and there is always room for improvement. This year at Concord they have two models for Special Ed. They have a Community Based program for some of the students. Everyone else is is included in the Regular Ed classrooms. There is no longer separate academic classes for Special Ed students – they attend the same classes as everyone else and get extra help as needed. This allowed all students to have access to all the great staff and facilities at the school.
Mark told the story of a class he observed where students were broken out into groups and each group was given a paper to read on the topic at hand. The student groups summarized their papers and reported back to the class as a whole. Later, after the class was over, Mark found out the groups had been created around reading levels the teacher had pulled from NWEA MAP reading scores. This allowed the teacher to provide each group with reading material at different levels. Each group got the same sophistication of core material but the students who had trouble reading got passages on a lower reading level so their reading level did not hinder their ability to join the discussion at the same level as the rest of the class. Concord is striving for a culture where staff are constantly looking for acknowledgement that students are learing and continually adjust teaching to meet the needs of the students
Principal Holodick credited his forwarded thinking teachers, in particular his Special Ed dept, as well as support from District staff in helping the school move forward. Mark was pleased that Stetson and Associates came back over the Summer to help Concord create a well organized Master Schedule.
Beth Mineo and Marvin Williams from the Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative (DATI) spoke on Breaking Down the Barriers Posed by Print Disabilities -the presentation is posted on the BSNPTA website. Making educational material accessible to students across a wide variety of media is part of the larger topic of Universal Design for Leaning. According to the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST):
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing curricula that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all.
While there are many things that are considered to be Assisstive Technology, the speakers focused on issues related to making print resources “accessable” to people who have issues ranging from visual impairments to lower reading levels.
A focus of the presentation was on different ways to get the information available in printed material.
According to Beth, changes in the the most recent re-authorization of IDEA has created new rules and tools to help students access printed material. According to IDEA, Districts must ensure that students with disabilities who need materials in an accessible manner receive them in a timely manner.
In the past, text books had to be scanned or even manually re-typed to get then into a computer readable format. The National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) requires publishers to make all new textbooks available in a special digital format that will make the content much easier to deliver in the increading number of technological mechanisms available today. The National Intstructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) is a national clearing house to store these digital version of textbooks and other learning materials.
NIMAS materials at NIMAC are not currently available for private use, they must be requested by schools. However, Beth described some other sources of accessible texts.
- Project Gutenberg is a repository of over 20,000 free books in both text and audio versions. Online links at the site claim to provide over 100,000 free books. Just as Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized accessibility and availability of books by mass producing them via the printing press, the Project Gutenberg web site is making books even more widely available through the internet. The titles on Project Gutenberg are most those already in the public domain. That means you can find all the “classics” but not Harry Potter or the latest Geography text book.
- The Recordings for the Blind and Dsylexic sells copyrighted material in various formas and special devices to play the material in audio format. This is a place you CAN get the latest Harry Potter book among many other titles. Yearly subscriptions start at $60 and special players start at $200. It is not free but may be a good option under some circumstances
- Kurzweil is a compay that produces sophisticated players that for a computer that can help students listen to or every read along to digital text. Kurzweil is one of th only “accessible” accommodations allowed on the DSTP.
- Bookshare.org is another organization dedicated to making printed material more accessible.
Lynne Robinson, Executive Director of Paws for People discussed their Reading Education Assisted with Dogs [and cats] (READ) program.
Paws for People does a great many community activities but Lynne focused their program where students read to pets. The idea is that the dog or cat is a friendly “listener”. The overall process provides a positive reading experience in a non-judgmental environment. Students snuggle up with a pet and get to experience the fun of reading. No one is correcting the readers; this is not teaching the students decoding. This program is to help struggling students begin to enjoy the activity of reading and to practice fluency. Mount Pleasant Elementary school is piloting this program. Lynne gave some examples of success stories.
- One child’s stutter disappeared when he was reading to the dog.
- Another student was “too cool” to engage with the teacher or reading tutor but he was so excited to work with the dog that he even practiced at home to be prepared for follow up sessions.
- A young non-native English speaker the teacher thought couldn’t read fluently jumped at the change to work with a dog. It turned it he was self-conscious about his accent and hesitated reading to the teachers or in front of the class. I front of the dog, he was much more fluent.
In the a school setting, these sessions last about 6-7 minutes. Sessions are also offered at some librbaries and last more like 15 minutes each.
Here are some additional sources of related information:
- “>Assistive Technology Links on the BSNPTA More Resources Page
- UDL articles from Cast.org
- National Center for Accessing the Curriculum (NCAC) publications
- UDL page from Dept of Ed’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education
- 4 paws for Ability