1997 Conference Proceedings

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ON-LINE CURRICULUM ADAPTATIONS FOR LEARNING DISABLED STUDENTS

Lanna Andrews, Ed.D.
School of Education
University of San Francisco
2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080
415 422-2099
e-mail: lannna@aol.com

We all have had teachers that make a difference. Two growing factors in today's classrooms, diversity and technology, are impacting these teachers' ability to influence student growth (Grossman, 1995; Male, 1994). Even for prepared teachers, today's heterogeneous classrooms, with bilingual and disabled children, are a constant challenge. The "information highway" can benefit both students and teacher if the proper structures are in place (Male, 1994).

In California's urban schools, the challenge is paramount. The overwhelming majority of the students are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and over ten percent of the students qualify for special education (Grossman, 1995). A typical classroom has several students for whom English is a second language and who have either learning disabilities or language disorders, not to mention at-risk students. It is difficult for a teacher to prepare interesting, appropriately adapted lessons for every child in her class six hours a day, 180 days a year.

Given the mandate to include all students in the general education classroom and to create a classroom climate that is not merely a passive background, but is instead an arena for goal-oriented, reflective problem-solving (Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 1989), schools need new technologies. An integrated curriculum is key to including all students (Sheppo et al, 1995). Students can use what they know from different subject areas to support their own learning and group project development. Multimedia technologies have significant potential for supporting an integrated and adaptive curriculum (Willis, 1992). Gardner (1993) argues that different children need to be taught differently, because individuals understand the world in different ways. Gardner recommends that schools be filled with "apprenticeships, projects, and technologies" so that every kind of learner can be accommodated.

Telecommunications can open up vistas of new learning for students and expand collaboration between colleagues (Reinhardt, 1995)). Crucial to the success of telecommunications is the structuring of activities to require collaboration, student to student, student to teacher, and teacher to teacher. Teachers can interact and share ideas with colleagues and the interaction need not occur in "real time". However, the benefits go far beyond simple communication. Databases can be developed which will be a resource for trying various methods and collaborate about their effectiveness.

The present project was created to provide a structure for student teachers and classroom teachers of mainstreamed learning disabled, limited English proficient students to develop and discuss adapted lessons. It also creates a database of adapted lessons on the internet for all teachers to access.

The project begins with student teachers in a general education teacher training program by providing training during a required course, Mainstreaming: Teaching for Diversity. The training covers learning disabilities, stages of language acquisition, cooperative learning, and strategies for adapting integrated lessons. Once this training is given, the student teachers form cooperative learning groups.

It is at this point that groups are given written descriptions and the Individual Education Programs of actual special education limited English proficient students mainstreamed into a neighboring inner-city classroom (names are changed to provide confidentiality). Students then work together to examine previously written lessons designed for "typical" general education students and develop ideas for adapting lessons for these students using strategies for working with the learning disabled and limited English proficient students.

One goal of the project is to develop an adapted curriculum database on the internet. In order to do this student teachers are also given training regarding accessing and browsing the World Wide Web using the Netscape Navigator software package. (Prior to this part of the project, a curriculum development tool was developed by a project development team that can be reached using Netscape.) Student teachers then have an opportunity to examine the curriculum development tool and see sample lessons already adapted and entered.

After studying the students' needs and brainstorming adaptation ideas, cooperative learning groups then access the curriculum development tool via Netscape and input the lessons with adaptation ideas. This sets the stage for another main component of the project.

The project then goes one step further by conveniently putting the student teachers in touch with the actual classroom teacher that teaches the students that have been studied. This is an advantage of using the internet far beyond the collection of a database. At her convenience, often at home late in the evening, the classroom teacher is able to access the curriculum development tool on the web and comment on the lesson and adaptations. The student teachers are then able to reflect on their adaptations and comment back to the classroom teachers, again on the internet. This dialogue provides real-life feedback and two-way communication.

The college instructor also accesses the lessons on the web and comments on the groups work, giving immediate feedback. While this feedback is an effective teaching tool for the course, the responses from the classroom teacher prove to be the most helpful.

The results of the two-way feedback between the student teachers and the classroom teacher continually go beyond the project's original expectations. Each time groups receive feedback from the classroom teacher, usually in the form of questions, group members brainstorm and respond back in a more sophisticated manner. In other words, their responses demonstrate expanded skill development and reflective thinking.

That student teachers benefit from the project is demonstrated in several ways. Evaluations regarding use of the curriculum development tool have been extremely positive, indicating that success relates to the structure of the tool itself, the teamwork involved, and the on-line feedback component regarding actual students. Also, responses to the feedback show the knowledge and skills gained from the project. Additionally, student teachers self-report that they are using other students' adapted lessons, which are available on the internet.

The implications for use of on-line curriculum are far-reaching. This project shows that the convenience and speed of communication and collaboration provided by using technology can not only help train student teachers, but expand their skills and thinking. This, along with the development of a database for all teachers to access, can contribute to the success of special education limited English proficient students in the mainstream.


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REFERENCES

Gardner, Howard (1993). "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 10th Anniversary Edition".New York: Harper Collins.

Grossman, H. (1995). "Special education in a Diverse Society." Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (1989)."Kids and computers: A positive vision of the future" Harvard Educational Review, 59 (1), 73-86.

Male, Mary (1994). "Technology for Inclusion". Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Reinhardt, Andy (March, 1995). "New Ways of Learning". BYTE Magazine, pp.50-52, 54-56, 58, 62, 66-67, 70, 72. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Willis, S. (1992). "Technology Education Seen as a New Basic." ASCD Update 34, 9:3.


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