One would be tempted to ask why a teacher who is not a special education specialist would struggle to know or learn more about assistive technologies. The common belief among many people is that assistive technologies are only relevant for special education teachers, who spend most of their career life with special students. However, studies show that over 75% of students with disability spend most of their school years in the general education classroom (Boyer & Mainzer, 2003). In the previous years, these students would be put in separate classrooms so that they could be attended to by special education teachers. However, recent provincial and national legislations in Canada have challenged this method, and have mandated that students with disability must be assessed alongside their physically normal counterparts. Basically, students with disabilities will require special types of technology, assertive technologies, to help them access the curriculum just like their normal counterparts would. The tool must have the needed features in order to accomplish its goal of helping these needy students with the right ingredients to learn. In addition, the effective use of these technologies would determine the success or failure of an educational program as well as social experiences for students with disabilities. Start-to-Finish™ Books: Red Badge of Courage is one of the most commonly used technologies designed for students with disabilities.
Start-to-Finish™ Books: Red Badge of Courage
Features: The CD version
Start-to-finish books were designed to “assist older students pursue their reading goals”, with the main structure being the ability to provide a scheme for the target students (Higgins & Raskind, 2002, p.8). These books can be read with the help of personal computers as well as Macintosh Computers, i.e. the books are compatible with these two types of computers. The CD’s ability to run on the CD-ROMS of personal computers as well as in the Apple Macintosh computers has earned them a name of ‘hybrid’ products, therefore making them suitable with any computer products technology in use (Higgins & Raskind, 2002). In fact, Macintosh, also referred to as PowerBooks of all designs have the ability to play the CDs. Example of PowerBooks in use currently are “Mac LC III’s or those with much higher capacity, the running system of 7.5 or later, with 12 Mb RAM 256 color monitor and CD- ROM drive displayed on a 14” (or larger) monitor” (Bigge, Best &Heller, 2001). The CD’s are also made to be compatible with personal computes or notebooks such as “486/66 MHz PC or higher, Windows 95 or later, 12 MB RAM, 256 color 14” monitor (or larger screen size), and a CD-ROM or DVD drive” (Bigge, Best, Heller, 2001, p.79).
The designs of the books are made to be more like ordinary mainstream textbooks. That is, the books’ presentations in relation to style and look are similar to the ordinary paper book, coupled with high quality work of art with multicolored covers to offer more appeal to the student users. For ease of reading, the books come in double spaced texts and larger and highly visible non-serif fonts. In appearance, they still look the same with other ordinary paper books, thus most students see no difference when putting them to use. The illustrations of the chapters are beautifully laid, just as they appear on onscreen pages.
The books also have the built-in scanner, thus helping switch users to get access to the six books available any time, with no express requirement for the teacher to develop a custom switch access. This makes them ideal for students with physical disability, and are unable to “access conventional books, turn pages independently or cope with traditional texts” (Elkind & Elkind, 2007, p.11). In addition, keyboards that are equivalent to all menus, that enables the books to be “driven and/or accessed by discover Board, IntelliKeys overlays or clicker 3onscreen grids” (Elkind & Elkind, 2007, p.13).
Each of the chapters in the CD version has “a ‘Cloze’ passage quiz”, which the students are able to follow and finally select, thus putting their ability to read into use (Elkind & Elkind, 2007, p.14). The timing is in place, hence offering the students, teachers, and parents the needed feedback for future planning. The ability of the teacher to view the quiz data anytime helps them make a follow-up for the progress of the students as far as test is concerned. It is easy especially for seemingly busy teachers. Some of the available data that can be accessed are: timing for each quiz, the right, wrong or no responses, and the missed choices to the quizzes. The ability to print an additional multiple choice questions from the chapters of the CD book is so important because it can help the students proceed with the learning process outside the vicinity of a computer. Moreover, teachers would be in a position to use the printed versions for future materials preparations and at the same time promote ideas and strategies that would be useful in class and off computers. It is offered for purchase in the form of “single user packs, multiple user packages together with a teacher guide or as Reading Group Packs” (Edyburn, 2003, p.21).
Audio Cassette Version
The audio cassette version of this toolkit is made with the goal of helping students apply their listening skills both at home and school. It provides the students with an option of reading the paperback copy and at the same time gives them opportunity to listen to the audio version. This kind of audio reinforcement is critical in the overall comprehension of the text as well as building of the learner’s confidence. The tapes also come with page cues, putting at ease the reader’s ability to follow the story sequence. By listening to the taped words and reading at the same time, the poor readers are able to “practice with tailor-made system that can be accessed at home in their bedroom, in their study area or in the classroom at school using headphones or listening posts-even in the car on holydays” (Cennamo, Ross & Ertmer, 2009).
Students who might benefit from using the tool
Some of the probable beneficiaries of the Start-to-Finish books are older students who have difficulty in reading. The books come with reading schemes for the students, hence helping them overcome the difficulty associated with reading of the ordinary texts. In the overall design, the books have been designed in an innovative manner with variety of titles and formats. Each of the formats are supported by different designs that helps teachers, assistants and parents select the most appropriate combination that would suit specific student’s ability, needs and interests.
The need by special students to read more so as to become more text-proficient is hampered if these students are subjected to ordinary texts. In other words, the reluctance to read on the side of the students is propagated by exposure to traditional ordinary texts that do not much their needs and invoke their desires. Power-deFur & Orelove (1997) explain that the reluctance to read is based on unsuitable texts and insufficient stimulation to engage in more active reading exercise. This problem aggravates further as the student grow older, as they find books with complex contexts more challenging and difficult to cope with. The fear of failure makes some students to reverse to other easier and less intellectual hobbies, thus the need to have assertive technology toolkits to help them out. The availability of this toolkit helps students to overcome these problems as they come in the form of custom-made products.
Students in upper primary and junior secondary school are considered older enough, thus require more additional support for their efficient learning process. Basically, these older students are able to engage themselves in the reading process with the help of the computer format. The onscreen presentation is important since the students are able to visualize the texts as they wish, with the support of high quality voice presentations. The voicing may take the whole page, or the student has the ability to click on specific word any time they want, giving them the convenience they need. This toolkit also offers more flexibility as students are able to navigate to any page they want, and even repeat where necessary, to help facilitate further understanding of the texts. The texts are provided in a clearer format, with more illustrations where students are able to read as a group or as an individual.
Possible strengths and weakness of the tool
Start-to-Finish™ Books have several advantages as far as usability is concerned. The first and the most important strength of the tool is its portability. Both CD and Audio Tape versions are easily portable and usable in both personal computers and Macintosh Computers. It is acknowledged that some software may be designed to work in a PC yet they cannot work in A Macintosh. Just like any device, usability and reliability of Start-to-Finish™ Books is very critical in the advancement of knowledge and skills among the needy students. It’s proven that this toolkit is very reliable as far as usability is concerned.
The toolkit is easy to learn and use. Studies have shown that it is user-friendly and would be essential in the development of beginner’s knowledge acquisition (Elkind & Elkind, 2007). Its commands and direction for application are easy to follow, and only needs basic operating systems to manage. The fact that the tool comes in a variety of designs for either audio and visual users or both is an added advantage to its usability. It is a tool that parents, teachers and students can easily use to enhance educational success for the disable students.
Adding to its advantage is the fact that this toolkit can be used anywhere as long as the user has access to a computer device. It’s easy to store nature is important as a student can carry it with little worry of destruction, as long as the students follows the storage guidelines with care. That is, the student should be in a position to handle the CDs with care to avoid possibility of scratch. The CDs are also well designed with high quality picture display. The audio CDs versions too have very clear audio output, making it easy for the student to comprehend the story as he or she reads through. Start-to-Finish™ Books are flexible as user can manipulate font size of words as they appear on the screen. For one who would want to increase legibility of the written words, he can enlarge font size to suit his visual capability, thus improving readability.
The books have been supported by the availability study guides, which primarily guides the presentation, practice, and assessment activities. Study guides convey relationships through outlines, questions, or summary statements. They also offer both teachers and students with logical structures and focus, which helps them highlight critical information as well as facilitate latter’s involvement in learning process (Raskind & Higgins, 1999). Given at all levels of the Start-to-Finish™ Books users, these study guides have proved essential in all stages of learning as teachers are able to track the extent of comprehension among learners and identify areas that need improvements. Students are able to complete practice activities independently or even in groups by responding to questions set in the guides. The fact that Start-to-Finish™ Books come with their study guides make them more essential in the overall management of homework and test preparations. The books’ study guides help teachers and parents adapt to the programs to specific students needs, thus supporting quicker comprehension of texts.
Start-to-Finish™ Books, just like other assistive technologies, have several weaknesses that need to be analyzed before any decision of purchase is made. Start-to-Finish™ Books have been made purposefully to help people with disability acquire knowledge alongside their counterparts. According to Section 58 of the Assistive Technology Act (1998), electronic and information technology resources should be accessible by individuals with disabilities (Lingberg, Ziegler & Barczyk, 2008). This is a major challenge to the publishers and developers of the educational digital resources for the disable students as schools are flooded with materials that tend dilute the value of this software. Some schools have even gone further to ratify their programs to include digital material alongside books to facilitate further educational needs. While this is a positive move, the implication is that students with disability are likely to overlook the contents of Start-to-Finish™ Books and be consumed into the use of other digital materials outside the provisions of their academic. In fact, the main problem in using Start-to-Finish™ Books is that they are so academic and gives little room for exciting features known to be associated with other digital materials.
In addition, many people may find it difficult to differentiate Start-to-Finish™ Books from other digital materials. For example, in some qualitative study on the consumerability of assistive technology, some parents complained that they find it difficult to distinguish Start-to-Finish™ Books from other assistive technologies such as instructional or educational technology (Raskind & Higgins, 1999). Basically, just like any other assistive technology, a close examination of Start-to-Finish™ Books shows that it is just a tool that makes some parts of our lives simpler by capitalizing on our strengths and removing barriers. But the technology can be barrier in itself as many would rely on it. The weakness surfaces when it fails to operate at a critical time of need. The CD versions of Start-to-Finish™ Books are known to be delicate, just like any other CD product.
While the book can be flexible to use in both personal computers and Macintosh computers, the color mode restriction for these gadgets makes its usage limited in some instances. Basically, the requirement is that this book only works in a 256-color mode, without which it can never be displayed. It therefore restricts the usage, thus any computer that has lesser mode will not offer appropriate help as far as display is concerned.
How the tool could be used to support participation in the classroom
The need for teachers to develop some basic knowledge of specific assistive technology devises has been advocated by many educational scholars. The most common reason provided for this requirement is that there is need for students with some physical deficiency to learn with little barrier, thus a teacher’s knowledge and skills will prove handy in the move towards this goal. According to research findings, assistive technology has the ability to reduce potential isolation that comes with physical disability among students of different backgrounds (Edyburn, 2003). The said students can quickly be integrated into classroom; they become more conversant with regular subject area in classroom activities such as texts and comprehension.
Start-to-Finish™ Books toolkit can be used to integrate classroom participation among students with varied abilities in class environment. Basically, the inclusion of all students in a standard classroom is one major challenge that physically impaired students face in the process of learning. It is no wonder teachers have been encouraged to be more sensitive to knowledge acquisition needed to cope with the challenge. Once they are well equipped with this knowledge, they would be in a position to develop a strategy that can help students be more integrated and merged in the learning system, with no one being left out because of disability.
Start-to-Finish™ Books help students increase their independence in the learning process. These students with special needs are in a position to acquire skills that enhances their confidence in class, thus increases participation. They are able to advance their academic standings, gain equal rights to access informational resources within class and school environment. The best way to integrate the students into the learning process is to encourage sharing of this tool among students in need. Sharing encourages educational need-based approach, where students with developmental delay can find common ground of discussion. The ability to come together and discuss an issue increases the learning ability of individual students.
A standard classroom teacher would need to develop the skills needed to operate Start-to-Finish™ Books, so as to increase the instructional process. An instructional instrument helps students and teachers to develop structural procedure for learning. In other words, a structural learning procedure will be needed to encourage the students, teachers, and parents underline a process of learning in an organized manner.
Inclusion Start-to-Finish™ Books in the Teacher Preparation Program
21st Century educational requirements have dictated the way we think towards needs of every child. In order to be more effective in classroom application of technology, teachers need to have the needed skills from the beginning of their learning, particularly at college level. During training of teachers, there is a need to develop a plan where they can be taught in all round classroom skills to accommodate all needs of diverse students (Eizmendi & Craddock, 2007). Thus, teacher educational program would encourage acquisition of concepts of inclusion of classroom skills, including more knowledge on technological provisions. These requirements should be made standard college units during training, which will reinforce knowledge of teachers in the process of developing standard procedures for students’ integration. Moreover, the standards for modern training techniques require that “graduate teachers should be in a position to develop and apply effective teaching methods that would suit students with different developmental stages, different learning skills and those from different social, economic, cultural and political backgrounds” (Cunningham, Hall & Sigmon, 1999). In other words, teachers should be in a position t o know what areas qualify as exceptional cases, e.g. physical and/ or mental disability (Cunningham, Hall & Sigmon, 1999, p.197). The said graduate teachers would be better equipped when they are exposed to more Start-to-Finish™ Books informational materials at early stages. This will give them the confidence needed to apply it in an unbiased manner for the uniform success of the students.
Progressive Education Association and Quest for a New Social Order
It is noted that one of the most significant factors that instigated quest for progressive education was chaos in the social order of the Canadian society. Progressive Education Association was formed and directed towards the promotion of students’ needs and desires (Hayes, 2006 cited in Lingberg, Ziegler & Barczyk, 2008). The main aim of the organization was to assist individuals to understand as well as deal with social problems in the society, and more importantly, develop a structure that would usher in a new social order in North America. The country was envisioned to have a more democratic approach to issues such education, identified as the basic for a new and a more vibrant social order. Hayes states that there was an urgent need for constant a curriculum that was learner-centered, project-oriented, and that could add more values to the practice of democracy (Lingberg, Ziegler & Barczyk, 2008).
In fact, the people of North America experienced the most difficult moment in the history of their nation when Great Depression occurred later in the middle of the 20th century. One of the most common attributes to this disjointed social order was lack of appropriate educational structure that would facilitate innovative ways of survival in case of such events. The Great Depression brought a lot of trauma to the ordinary citizens, who could not invent any better ways to overcome the problems that emerged. Lack of clear regulatory mechanism for the capitalists’ economy was a major blow to the people of North America. It is no wonder many scholars proposed a social system that would regulate a capitalist’s economy that had gotten approval from majority of first nations. People like George Counts had to put it more clearly: “Dare the School Build a New Social Order” (Lingberg, Ziegler & Barczyk, 2008). He and many other scholars as well as opinion leaders believed that a new social order would be necessary to help avert problems from the Great Depression. In fact, those who advocated for revolution as the best way to develop North America, specifically Canada, had better think again as it clearly emerged that educational system as per that time was perpetuating a society of less innovativeness and productiveness and more consumers. It thus became apparent that no amount of revolution would correct the problem that was deeply rooted in the society’s social structure. The only way out was to develop a system of education that would direct a new generation towards injecting more fundamental values into the economic and social structure.
In fact, everyone must agree with me that public education presents one of the best hopes as well as worst fears for every generation’s quest for a new social order. The shifting cultural values, together with the increasingly changing political and economic reality is considered the most significant factors that influence what a generation needs for not only survival but for progress. The belief that education is the foundation for a meaningful change in social order is historical in almost every society, and most importantly in the American society. In fact, European settlers began enacting formal education and social welfare laws as early as 17th Century. The Puritans, for example, began to pass laws regarding schools and apprenticeships from 1942, which required the candidates to have the “ability to read and understand religious principles and the laws of the colony” (Herrick & Stuart, 2005). These laws and legislations were as a result of concerns about Christian vision, religious morality and progress. However, as population grew, education became core value in decision making process. The social difference was as time went by, defined by education in schools, homes and churches became increasingly important as boys and girls were taught separately. Religion determined educational progress and Protestants in New England (now Canada) would be more focused on building schools where bible would be taught as the main means to stay pure and off devilish acts. People from the South were more concerned with how they could integrate educational demands to meet the needs of all children across different backgrounds.
Even today, education is still regarded as the most significant factor in defining the society’s social structure. For example, the government of Canada has recognized the importance of supporting families, through family allowances to motivate families and children to embrace better societal structure. Family incentives were also considered valuable as they helped industries in subsidizing workers’ wages to control demand of for increase in labor cost (Herrick & Stuart, 2005). In fact, during the World War II, which followed the Great Depression, the Canadian economy, heated up, creating a demand for labor as Canadian men enlisted in the military. After several years of staying with no jobs, many workers saw brighter side of life as they could get better paying jobs to support their lifestyle and enhance their social status. This clearly showed how social transformation was highly regarded in the society, and the only means with which it could be enhanced was through education.
Original Purpose of Public Schooling in the 19th C Canada
The 19th Century Public education in Canada was a more general issue than what it became after the reforms in the later years. The type of public schooling system developed involved fragmented approach where each region was defined by its own needs and desires. There was a major difference from place to place, with regions like backwoods districts such as Ontario’s Halliburton County had space and its own style of life. This region’s style of life greatly contrasted that of Montreal’s St. James Street, which was a cosmopolitan region (Herrick & Stuart, 2005; Sandwell, 2006).
Basically, not all Canadians would enjoy the common experience of educational changes in public schooling. In fact, public school was not meant for every member of the public but a selected few. For example, the native and the African American would be denied the opportunity to share the progress in education. Others such as conservatives in the Mennonite community flatly rejected the option of joining the mainstream of change. The Upper Canadian educational system did not have specialization as the interest of the child was immersed into the overall interest of the nation. All children were assumed to be able in terms of educational subjects. The dominant social issue was on morality in the society that was propagated by public schools run through church and other religious organizations. Additionally, the system focused on the ability of students to cooperate in order to increase productivity in research and development (Sandwell, 2006).
The theory of dualism was considered the most integrating educational system for students. There was a common belief that social structure would only be built through dualism, where students learnt everything from religion to history. The issue of specialization was considered a recipe for disintegration and dichotomy. However, the common happenings were that the cost of education in the early years of the 19th Century was too high for every family to afford (Herrick & Stuart, 2005). It therefore meant that education was exclusive for specific groups of people who could afford it. However, the later part of the century saw a number of changes in the Upper Canada, where a structure was established to support compulsory education for all children, with uniform curriculum for all. However, children from the urban poor were exposed to cruder facilities and little opportunities to advance their education. Among this group, the most affected ones were children from black and native communities, who had to put up with racially segregated schools which frequently shut down because they lacked funds to continue with their designed programs. On the side of teaching staff, teachers in these regions were mainly women who were being hired because they could be paid less than their male counterparts.
Mass education was believed to be the source of good behavior and developing necessary thoughts among the students. That education was not primarily based on acquisition of academic knowledge but instilling good behaviors in the society. That is, the common societal problems such as poverty and crime would be eliminated through public education. The ability of public education to make these changes work were based on the need to solve constant problems such as increased migration; the need to move from agricultural economy to the more coveted industrial economy; and the need to form a nations with string statesmanship (Barman, Hebert & McCaskill, 1987). In fact, education was believed to be the source of citizenship that would eventually foster exercise of political power in Canada as a whole. As stated earlier, it is noted that these factors drove the progress in education, however, the expenditure and cultural determinants dictated what type or design of education was adopted in each region.
The Rebellions in Quebec region instigated political concerns among the educational leaders. Basically, the Catholic Church had the leading role in educational issues. Both religious as well as secular political leaders increased debate on the possibility of a mutually beneficial educational system, which would suit the political power players and increase political responsibility.
While immigration was very rampant in the region of St. Lawrence River towards the City, majority of the immigrants were actually on their way towards the western part of Canada, where there was a more relaxed educational standards and appropriate developmental issues to suit their needs and demands (Barman, Hebert & McCaskill, 1987). At the same time, the Northern region was visibly undergoing significant transformations as far as education was concerned. The discussions of the need for schools were more pronounced in the region of Montreal; where it was believed that educators were able to develop transform the economic, political and social structure of the region.
Hidden Curriculum and the Indian Education
The world is defined by rules, guidelines, regulations, and policies that determine our behaviors in the society. Although these rules may complex, we find it easy to take comfort in them albeit in a manner that we cannot conceptualize even with our strongest mental ability. The bottom-line fact is that these rules help us figure out and define our everyday life. The rules are normally taken to be consistent until they appear unclear that we get upset or rather confused in the overall design. These unstated rules are with us in almost daily basis, thus the term hidden curriculum.
Hidden curriculum simply means set of rules or rather guidelines that in most case are never taught in schools but are basically assumed to be known (Barman, Hebert & McCaskill, 1987). One of the greatest challenges of hidden curriculum is that it has proved to be very difficult to determine the items that comprise it. It may not be easy to explain all the rules; however, it becomes clear when it is broken. When the hidden rules are broken, their impacts become clear and that’s when the people involved become aware of the whole scenario. The complexity and elusiveness of the hidden curriculum makes it hard to accept it as a whole, since it sometimes varies from place to place or from situation to situation. It is always necessary to analyze whether a hidden situation will work for all those who are intended to work with it. According to Mission School Syndrome video, the Indians are the most affected by the hidden curriculum in North American schools. No Child Left Behind policy requires that all schools need to improve their standards for all students in order to continuously receive federal funding. However, Indian communities have been found to score the lowest in tests that come with hidden curriculum.
In the West Indian Schools during the 19th Century, the main focus for primary education was to develop young people’s values, beliefs, attitudes and dispositions considered necessary for the maintenance and reproduction of social order that existed in the pre-emancipation times (Sandwell, 2006). The aim of education was to achieve the above highlighted issues that would develop conscious reality- one that prepared them to acknowledge and accept the standards set.
Many of the Public Schools had adopted some educational practices within regions occupied by Indians, to reinforce the hidden curriculum among students (Barman, Hebert & McCaskill, 1987). The growth of hidden curriculum was more pronounced, where the system got diffused with some hidden rules for the Indian decent pupils. Just like Indian education, hidden curriculum was based on strategies and principles that would facilitate implementation of societal good behaviors and virtues that would increase social cohesion rather than technical skills. Both approaches however makes it difficult to launch any assessment criteria that leads to the belief that the rules are common sense and should not be regarded as part of the curriculum.
The 19th Educational Reforms Progress
School reforms were mainly focused on the need to make education accessible to everybody, irrespective of religion, race, sex, social class of any other forms of education. However, many did not see this goal achieved as planned. Although the then political leadership focused on these goals, there were disgruntled voices as far as educational programs were carried out, particularly in rural areas and low class urban regions that lacked several facilities. Moreover, early years of reform was met with a lot of disparities in terms of social justice and racial discrimination.
While one of the main goal was on the need to move away from agricultural economy to industrial state, many could not access well equipped educational institutions that would enable them get the right skills to match the demands of the new strategies. For instance, urban schools were instinctively exclusive for the rich who would afford the costs. Accordingly, this groups attended schools to emphasize their social status in a society that was becoming more unequal everyday. The classes were mainly defined by social class stratification, which ensured each student got treatment according to their social class. According to Sandwell (2006), middle class Canadians mainly attended schools as to enhance their chances of moving to the higher social class. In fact, the basic was that a good structure would maintain the status quo, hence building a stronger society.
While the concept of democracy in choice of what to do by the students was gaining ground, it was not fully applied as many students did not have the freedom to choose what they wanted to do in the syllabus provided. The freedom to attend schools was in existence, but how could one access schools far away in exclusive urban centers from the excluded rural regions of the country? The poor infrastructure jeopardized the educational progress as planned, in that many institutions that were located far away from the mainstream urban centers did not get opportunities to attend well equipped schools in upper class urban centers. One major concern was that education was meant for all but limited for majority. In fact, many of the teachers who were employed in these rural areas were female teachers because of the stereotypical nature of less pay demand against their male counterparts. The complain was that educational system perpetuated gender discrimination, and maintained the status quo as the ground for reforms. That is, educational programs did very little to demystify the barriers to affirmative action.
While the reforms achieved success in determining the status of the students as far as ability and success in general units were concerned, special students never got the chance to access equal education as per their demands. In many cases the needed special programs that would eventually lead to equality were not included in the programs. Their social status was neglected. The generalization of the curriculum did not help either, thus creating a scenario where the whole community members were excluded from the national and regional educational programs.
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