I’m still in between writing assignments. Well, I have one in the works, but I’m waiting around for the publicist to set up the interview. So, let me tell you about another topic that’s on the back burner.
Last spring, I spent weeks and weeks touring other public schools in the area looking for another public school that would work for Ian. I think I looked at seven or eight different programs. The best programs were doing super interesting things with computers. Let me back up.
One of the big problems in special ed is that you have a group of kids who are disabled, but they are each disabled in different ways. Some have emotional problems, others have cognitive problems, and still others may attentional issues. Public schools dump all those kids in the same room. None of them may read on grade level, but each one is getting tripped up for different reasons.
The old school way of dealing with this diverse bunch is to make them all read the same book at their age-level ability, even though none of them actually reads on grade level. So, the teacher will read the book out loud to the class — in some cases the kids will listen to the book on tape — and the teacher will explain the book to the kids. So, the kids aren’t working on learning how to read. Then the aides and the teachers will talk them through an essay on the book. I call this pretend learning.
The new way is to set the kids in front of a computer, where they’ll read “Huck Finn” or “Charlotte’s Web” on their reading level. The computer program translates the book to their ability. These programs generate questions and assignments that are appropriate for them. Later, the class might work together on a group assignment or discussion on the same matter. The whole group has read Huck Finn, just on their own level.
This method is very cost-effective. Instead of hiring extra teachers and aides, the kids use a computer. The teacher doesn’t have to generate assignments for each kid. The kids aren’t stressed out by doing work that is too hard for them. There isn’t any of the pretend learning bs. I don’t see a downside.
There’s a quiet movement that’s happening in general ed to do the same thing, because, after all, all kids are different. It’s starting off in some charter schools and spreading. The teachers’ union hates it because, in some ways, it de-professionalizes the teachers. The standards movement people hate it, because they insist that every 9th grader should read the same 9th grade science textbook. But this movement is going to win out, because of money.