Just when I think teachers are tired and burned out - it's May you know - I get surprised by the compassion, eagerness and resolution they can muster at the eleventh hour. That's how it was yesterday in a day-long, hands-on workshop where teachers explored access for all students using the tools that we have been discussing over this blog and the article by Ira Socol on Planning for Access (see my post on it with the link to his article here).
I showed the teachers free online tools like Natural Reader, Odiogo, Click-n-type Keyboard, Virtual Magnifying Glass. Ghotit, Merriam Webster dictionary tool, and several other tools (see Ira's article for all the links). We explored the CAST UDL Editions Literacy site that was built by a partnership with Google Literacy , CAST and TextHelp, and we set each teacher up with a blog on blogger (closed to us without an invite-sorry) where they are embedding videos, modifying content to accommodate, using e-text and text readers, including site links that support the content and Word journal entries with the Natural Reader floating miniboard toolbar.
We had a fruitful but exhausting day covering all this material. They left with the start of a unit for fall that will be modified for access with remedial learners.
At the end of the day, as we closed, the conversation turned to ethics and moral issues of not providing this for everyone. I smiled inside as they began to fidget and want to share their gut feelings...
"I see these tools and it doesn't feel right to me to only modify the content and use the accessibility for one or two students we are doing this for. Don't we have an obligation to do this for all our students?" one teacher asked. (I had set aside time for them to read Ira's article in the morning to set up the day.)
"I see huge applications for opening this up to all my students," said another. "The TAG students can use the tools to go farther and the remedial ones that aren't on IEP's can use them to gain ground so our whole achievement bar is raised school-wide."
"If I am going to invest time to develop accessible content for two students, I might as well make it usable for all my students," said a determined teacher.
They got it! No one was making them bridge that gap today - although I hoped they would - but they wanted to do it of their own accord. Their compassion and dedication to see students learn gripped them as they saw the potential of how these tools could help many other kids they knew.
It wasn't just that they wanted to have the tools on computers - that would have been great enough, but they wanted to integrate the tools into accessible and interactive content. Even though at first it was intended for one student with unique needs who had a strong advocate for a mother, now the light was dawning - this was something that could help lots of students.
"We have this training and now we need to share it with the other teachers and help the students learn how to use these tools." (This was the math/computer science teacher talking who is in charge of the IT and computer images in the district) "We need to put these tools on all the computers in our buildings and teach the students how to use them."
"Be an ambassador of equal access," I shared. "Learn how to use what you know now effectively and begin to expand on it. Get the software on every computer and show students how to use it. Help them develop strategies based on their learning styles that will let them accommodate for themselves because they have the tools at their fingertips to do it. Don't become adversarial with your administration and other staff, but rather, model and demonstrate how it supports."
I had met with their superintendent the day before, showed him the odiogo text to speech widget for the web and he was excited. He wanted it on all the school web sites and each teacher's blog so they were developing more universal design access points. "Can we give the links for these things to parents to get on their computers at home?"
We have lots of work to do but the inspiration is there, the vision is being birthed.
I saw educators get excited yesterday. It is May. The only thing I thought excited teachers in May was the thought of summer vacation.
I was wrong...again. Blissfully wrong.
All the best to you!