Thursday, October 01, 2009

Autism and baptism

Internet Monk has a post on the baptism of an autistic teenager. This is close to home for me, as I often think about how to honour the humanity of cognitively disabled children in difficult home circumstances. This leads me to reflect on my work situation for a bit.

For many years I have had the habit of organising a play or reader's theatre, and I have found that it has made room for the equal participation of special needs children of different ability levels. This year I may not be able to stage a play as my timetable is quite different and the teachers have other priorities. I feel a bit sad about that.

I have picked up quite a few tech blocks instead. While this is not at all a substitute for putting on a play, it does alter the image of working with Ms. McCarthy, the "tech teacher," rather than the "special needs" teacher.

I also hope to get back to having a group produce a class newspaper as well. Maybe I can turn my new tech blog over to some students. That would be a big help. Perhaps the newspaper itelf will be digital in format, although I would not favour a simple chronological series of posts in blog style, but something more collaborative.

The important thing about using technology in the classroom is that it always has to be a means to an end, a learning tool and not a goal in itself. Technology needs to be used in ways that enhance student agency and participation. This requires a certain level of comfort and what is called automaticity with the technical aspects, so the teacher can reflect on the intended and unintended consequences and benefits for the students of a shift in learning medium.

While technology has tended for some time to lead to social isolation and online interaction, the latest revolution, interactive whiteboards, promotes both teacher and student face-to-face learning and student interaction and turn-taking. This technology favours the development of the collective rather than the individual. For the first time, web learning and design, or the production of online document and files, can become a social and shared task, rather than a socially isolated task.

I have come a long way from autism and baptism, but the common thread is the opportunity to integrate everyone into the activities of the group.