Although I work with a team of SLP who work with clients with the goal of  developing various types of communication skills, my experience is with the group that are labeled "the nuance challenged social communicators." This means the clients I am most familiar with are not verbally challenged; in fact they are often quite verbally gifted. Instead they are communication challenged - experiencing difficulty with the social cognitive and executive function aspects of communication. This means that although I find the chapters we have read about designing and implementing Augmentative Communication systems interesting, I have had to work to find personal relevance in them. So when I saw the title of this chapter, I must admit my first thought was, “another chapter of AC?”

However, as I read down the list of focus questions at the beginning of the chapter my eye was immediately drawn to this one, “What strategies can teachers use to overcome learned helplessness?” Now that IS interesting to me. So while I do think AC is important, and I did read the entire chapter, I am going to focus my response on this one question as the subject that is most related to my profession as an Executive Function Thinking Coach.

The concept of “learned helplessness” is one I have given much thought to over the last few years. Initially I became interested in learning more about the concept when I would hear people question whether giving students with disabilities “too much” support would create a state of “learned helplessness” in the students. Using learned helplessness in this context was so incorrect; it was what Wolfgang Pauli would call, ‘not even wrong’.  For, “learned helplessness” does not mean “learning to act helpless so someone else will solve your problems,” but rather “failing so often that one loses hope, or learns that they are helpless.” This is the state that a person reaches only when they have suffered from a lack of adequate support over time, not a description of someone who has been enabled or made co-dependent by too much support.

Unfortunately it is exactly this state of believing they have no control over the situation that many of our nuance challenged social thinker’s experience. Due to their social cognitive deficits and/or weak executive function thinking abilities they often find themselves in situations where they are unable to generate a correct response to the situation. Thus they find themselves failing to be successful in communication, or in producing the type of responses that the situation demands whether these be academic or personal.

For this reason, as I saw the bullet list "Tips for Overcoming Learned Helplessness" ( page 290) in terms of working with students who were being given an AC system for the first time, I decided to try to translate the information into an Executive Function Thinking Framework.

This is what I came up with:

·         Build a daily expectation of Executive Function Thinking through specific activities:

           o    Making a future sketch of a specific goal

           o    Making a step-by-step plan to accomplish a
                 specific goal

           o    Practice situational awareness in order to make 
                  “smart guesses” about what will happen next, 
                  and what is expected.

            o    Use rubrics to monitor successful implementation/
                  outcomes of a plan

·         Construct a brief daily report for the parent that is communicated by the students with the goal of sharing one or two effective Executive Function Thinking strategies used successfully that day.

·         Allow for natural consequences to occur, and provide coaching for determining what worked and what did not work. Help the student create a plan for repairing the situation. This includes creating setups that alter the environment to provide more support when necessary.

·         Provide opportunities whenever possible that require students to engage their Executive Function Thinking skills in real life decision making.

           o    Use declarative language to invite students to
                 become problem solvers rather than imperative
                 commands that simply require compliance.

·         Provide opportunities for students to use their Executive Function Thinking skills to achieve personally motivating  goals, not merely to complete assignments given to them by others.

This last tip is one that is particularly dear to me, reflecting my deep belief is that in order for our students with weak executive function thinking skills to be willing to embrace the difficult work of developing their area of weakness, they need to have a deep trust that they can use these Executive Function Thinking skills to make their life more enjoyable to themselves not merely to make themselves more enjoyable to others.

Another somewhat informative but rather uninspiring chapter from Web 2.0. Okay, I don’t mean to be difficult, and I admit that I have pretty high standards, having already read and enjoyed Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science with Transform School and Business for the 21st Century. However I really don’t think that this chapter does a good job answering the question: “What do these new technologies mean for our schools?” let alone answer the question posed on page 177 “What should we expect from our new schools?”

I guess the problem is I am really an advocate for educational reform. I am concerned by what a decade-plus of “No Child Left Behind” has done to our classrooms, and do not see the majority of the classrooms of the 21st century meeting the needs of the students of the 21st century. Instead I am afraid that, as Davidson says so eloquently in Now You See It ,”Our standardized education not only bores kids but prepares them for jobs that no longer exist as they once did.” ( pg. 81)  And so when I read a chapter called, “New Schools”, I have high expectations, and even higher hopes.

To me the most interesting part of the Web 2.0 chapter was Jeff Utrecht’s very short piece, “Creators in the Classroom” which advocated for educators embracing and harnessing the power of the social web as an educational tool, and David Warlick’s “Learning from Games” which listed the “elements of the video game experience that makes it both compelling and instructionally potent.” Still even here, I think Davidson says it better with “Games work so well and are so infinitely appealing because they reinforce the idea that the more we know, the better the game is.” (p

So really, my reflections on this chapter come down to this: if you are interested in envisioning (or even better creating) a 21st century classroom, you should start by reading Cathy Davidson’s book.

“A plethora of assistive technology options exist, yet selection must be based on student needs, not availability of technology.” pg 224. Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Enhancing the School Experiences of Students  with Disabilities

  I am consistently impressed with the tone of this textbook, and this quote from chapter 9 is an excellent example of how the authors continuously invite the reader to focus on the needs of the student as the driving force in choosing and using assistive technology.  

I especially appreciated the warning against falling prey to the one-size-fits-all assumption that an assistive technology that is beneficial for one student will therefore be equally beneficial to another student. There is indeed a plethora of assistive technology tools available to choose from, and while it can seem daunting to try to understand the variety of options out there, it is a mistake to assume that one or two of them will form a sort of magic bullet that will be equally useful for all students in all situations.

Often two students will “look” the same, especially on paper, while they are in fact functionally and cognitively very different. We see this in the special education community where some witty person has turned the phrase “if you‘ve seen one ______, you’ve seen them all,” into “if you’ve seen one person with Autism, you’ve seen ONE person with Autism.” From my experience, this second phrase is true whether you replace the label “Autism” with the label “ADHD”, or with any of the diagnostic terms for developmental / learning disabilities. In fact, I imagine that you could easily replace any of those somewhat murky diagnostic labels of cognitive disabilities with any of the equally straightforward labels describing the range of physical disabilities, and the second phrase would still be true. For example, “if you’ve seen one deaf person, you’ve seen ONE deaf person.” This is because, although labels are a helpful way to start understanding the specific limitations and challenges of any disability, they are still only labels and are as such not particularly descriptive of the actual person who has the disability.

For this reason, best practices in “assistive technology decision making and assessment” recommend a three prong team approach which focuses first and fore-most on the individual student’s needs and abilities, including identify the specific tasks to be completed within a specific environment. Additionally, a trial use of assistive technology tools, with identification and training of appropriate pre-requisite skills whether they be operation, functional, or strategic is suggested.  Finally, ongoing support and assessment of the success of the tools to actually meet the student’s needs is the third element in the successful implementation of an assistive technology program.

I definitely found this chapter to be less informative than the previous chapters in this same book… in fact for much of this chapter my main response was “of course.”  I mean, yes, multi-media is going to be beneficial for teaching ESL students, and yes again in general terms “students with disabilities have a greater need for accessing technology than their non-disabled peers,” . I also agree that the inverted classroom idea of having the students listen to the lectures online- at home- and then come to class to get instructional help with the homework is inspired and has real possibility to transform education as we know it.

Then when it did start introducing new ideas, it gave me very little more than enough interest to whet my appetite. For instance, I would have liked more information about Graham Stanley’s idea of using podcasts for creating interactive listening mazes. However, although the book mentioned him and his mazes, it then went on to discuss something else without even giving the reader a link to Stanley’s Blog about them. (Of course the wonderful thing about the internet is a quick search led me straight to it)

For me, the most exciting part of this chapter was the idea of “authentic assessment” and of how the technology  of web 2.0 is creating opportunities for creating electronic portfolios which could be used not only for “assessment OF learning” but also as “assessment FOR learning”. As an advocate for mastery-based learning these ideas were quite intriguing to me, and yet again although the chapter dedicated many pages to the idea (as opposed to the one paragraph given to interactive listening mazes) I was still left wanting more.  

However, I will give it this; the book did give me hints of places to go. For one, it mentioned the website of ELGG which is described as social network software for education. However the site they sent me to was rather opaque, and again it took a web search to find this article in ReadWrite where the authors of Elgg are interviewed , for me to even begin to understand what Elgg was.  

Additionally this chapter named Henry Tuttle and Helen Barrett as researchers who are looking at how educators and students can use common software and web 2.0 tools to create electronic portfolios which support authentic assessment “of” and “for” learning. Still in Tuttle’s case there was no information on where to go to find out more. While in Barrett’s case the book did provide some sites to go for more information,however these were in the references section as opposed to the main text.

So, while this chapter did inspire me to ask some questions like:

How can I learn more about authentic assessments?

And, how can social network software be used to create “a truly learner centric environment”?

It did not give me enough information about any of the subjects I was interested in to create any sort of thoughtful response.

Universal Design for Learning vs. Differentiated Instruction

First off, let me say I found the clarification between Universal Design for Learning (UDL )and Differentiated Instruction (DI )to be instructive. I hadn’t realized it, but two terms had merged together in my mind to become the gestalt idea of using diverse means of instruction to teach a diverse student body. While this is a useful idea in and of itself for an educator, as I am also someone who writes about education, having the clarity to see the two terms as two distinct and different parts of the process is useful. UDL is about designing curricula to meet the diverse needs of a diverse student body, while DI is about using diverse methods of teaching while using any curriculum to teach a diverse student body. This is to say they are similar but different ways of addressing the diverse needs of a diverse student body.

The shared truth of the two theories is that learners come in many sizes and many flavors- and that although we group students by age level, our classrooms are filled with kids who as learners are more different from each other than they are alike. Each student brings with them to the classroom different interest levels, different background knowledge, as well as different learning styles and abilities. For this reason teachers need to be able to teach allowing for multiple levels of engagement, using multiple methods to represent the information being taught, and allowing their students multiple means of interacting with and expressing the information they are learning.

Having been a both classroom teacher and a home school teacher I can say that I have firsthand knowledge of how much easier it is to meet the learner where they are most able to learn when you are designing lessons for individuals rather than groups. However, as this chapter emphasized, teachers in the 21st century have more tools than ever before to use in their attempt to reach the broadest range of learners possible.

Using technology to support the 3 core principles of UDL

UDL Principle 1:  Multiple Means of Representation

Six words* : Interactive White Boards and the Internet

 The ability to import multi-media presentations directly from the internet to the classroom whiteboard, means that teachers can easily enhance their lectures with slideshows, video clips, and graphic images, and  thereby offer learning experiences that are more stimulating than the traditional “talk and chalk” approach. Additionally  the multi-sensory approach of these multi-media presentations means that students with different learning styles ( visual vs auditory) can gain knowledge from the same presentation, at the same time, in their preferred learning modality.

*An alternate six words could be: a computer with a video projector

Then when you include the world of assistive technology where classroom teachers have access to the technology to provide individual accommodations such as electronic textbooks with text-to-speech, the idea of multiple means of representation opens up into a whole new paradigm of learning.

(Note to self: Check out Readability- a free utility that is added to the toolbar in a user’s browser and can be used to remove distracters such as advertisements and displays the remaining text in a format style specified by the user)

UDL Principle 2: Multiple Means of Action and Engagement

By approximately the middle of second grade written output is the means by which a student’s academic proficiency is measured. And yet many bright, intelligent students struggle to create a written product that is representative of their learning. Now with the advent of digital tools teachers have a huge variety of ways to invite students to demonstrate their learning. Teachers can easily invite their students to build on their strengths and to design projects that are individually geared to match their talents, preferences, and learning styles.

I myself have had success by inviting reluctant writers to create a three sentence report where they go online, grab three images and add a caption to each. From there is an easy step to turn the sentences into the supporting details of a five sentence paragraph.

(Note to self: check out netTrekker-a website that supports students in avoiding copyright violations by offering image searches for images that are topical AND copyright free.)

Additional Sources for Public Domain (copyright free) images:

A community Indexed Photo Archive of Public Domain Photos


A Collection of high-resolution digital stock photography

(Additional note to self: Check out Glogster EDU-where students can create an interactive poster or Glog)

UDL Principle 3:  Multiple Means of Engagement

Need I say anything here…screen time is so much more appealing and engaging to student’s then just about anything else, certainly more than paper and print for the digital natives of the 21st century.  How awesome that savvy educators can take advantage of the intrinsic stimulation of the digital world and use it to motivate and engage students.

I am really interested in checking out Quest Garden and getting links to ready –made WebQuests as well as resources and inspiration for creating my own. Oh,
and look what I found online- a quick tutorial on using QuestGarden for creating WebQuests.

Additionally- there is a wealth of great non-digital materials out there that educators can easily access by learning about them and ordering them online through their websites: Borenson’s Equations Hands-On Algebra comes immediately to mind.

(Note to self: check out Classical Comics)