The Things That Are Digital

A few weeks ago, Renay was a part of an exploratory committee for new curriculum. Renay has a seat at the table representing special education. The last time Renay reviewed materials for curriculum adoption, the companies were just starting to introduce digital copies of the book or audio copies. Now, the opposite is nearly true, it’s optional for a hard copy of the book: all majority of the texts and supplemental materials will be online.

Part of the world has made a digital leap. For students with disabilities, may things being technically inclined really makes the difference. But the world is not always thinking about students with the whole spectrum of disabilities.

Digital curriculum benefits some with disabilities. We recognize that first and foremost. Students with executive functioning are less likely to lose their materials. The book is there because it is online. The papers that go with the assignment are there and in some cases it is as easy as clicking the “Turn in” button specifically tied from the login directly to the teacher of record. Students who need written words read to them can use the direct accessibility features to have the reading read to them.

Digital curriculum benefits some with disabilities. … But digital curriculum can come with barriers


But digital curriculum can come with barriers. Curriculum built on digital platforms comes from a place where the assumption that students are ‘digital natives’ that while smart phones may seem commonplace, laptops have been available to students to use in most districts since they were quite young. It also may assume that a student can access the material after hours. However, for a student with a severe disability, some material, especially grade specific material is incomprehensible. Most digital curriculum is locked at a level beyond the lowest student’s comprehension without a connection to their world.

We appreciate the direction of digital curriculum to pair-share and the teacher moderated class discussions. This gets students actively thinking about the material they may have read or uncovered. Sharing ideas in groups is useful. Except when you’re the student being asked to contribute and you weren’t able to read the material. Digital material read by the device output (speakers or headphones) to the student gets some students who might not be able to contribute, but listening to material and being able to respond within minutes is not always possible if a student has an auditory processing delay. Students with ADHD who race through material and annotate required readings may not be connecting to the material read or listened to. This is a task to get to choose how much energy to expend on the material. The name of the game will be “get it done.”

Modifying expectations is a fair choice with digital curriculum. However, what to do with students who are still emerging readers when the material cannot be adjusted? Should the only choice be to exchange a digital curriculum activities that might look less than enticing to a student whose entire class is working on a computer?

For discussions perhaps making groups up to four might help some students, but all too often the larger discussion groups wave off the materials and then turn to whatever else is more enticing, school gossip or sports for example. The model may deny a chance for a student to form their ideas both students with disabilities and their general education peers. After all, chemistry is an idea that has been explored and what is in front of them dealing with the student drama is often much more alluring.

When the entire class is on computers, the goal is that all the students, regardless of ability are on computers to access the curriculum. Substituting appropriate videos is often suggested, but that also implies time to review the videos and knowing that the student will not just be ‘listening’ and that their contribution to the class will matter. Additionally, if one student is watching a video, how is that student then interacting with the material the entire class is to work with?

We know that digital only curriculum is new, but the modalities we have seen presented is a little disheartening. We understand that expecting the spectrum of learners in any given classroom is daunting, but it is the challenge that is before every single company that creates curriculum. We also know that what works one time for one specific unit may not also be an effective modality for the next unit with the same student.

We have provided suggestions to work around digital curriculum, but the suggestions aren’t the best suggestions out there. Just be ready. Digital is coming. But we’d like to see a wider range of abilities addressed.

Side Notes

We were watching at teacher this week teach one of the three most hotly contested fictional books that discuss race as a key point of the entire book. The books are, in no particular order, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Huck Finn by Mark Twain, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker—we recognize that other books broach the topics of racism, but these books come with specific vocabulary.

This got us thinking about resources how to have those hard conversations with students about race and the other –isms that exist.

We came across two great ways to funnel those conversations for all students of all abilities. We thought we’d leave the links here for your reference. Even if you aren’t a part of the class conversation, knowing how to guide students through a frank, respectful, open conversation about race, race relationships, history, and the changes that the United States tries to recognize the road to true equality is still incomplete.

From PBS specifically for Huck Finn, but helps shape discussion points and respectful conversation:

For all other questions about race, gender, ability, check out

From Teaching Tolerance specifically about the N-word

Kindness and Gratitude

We thought we’d wrap up this week by remembering the professionals who helped shaped our methodology. We know we aren’t done, and true professionals are never done learning.

We know each campus is filled with folks who are working hard to help all students.

Thank a person who works in education for remaining to help continue to contribute to the future of all students.

ParaEducate will sign off for the 2018-2019 academic year on May 23, 2019. Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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