"Reaching Students with Emotional Disabilities: A Partnership that Works, Part 1" by Keith Wetzel
Lori Mora taught a small middle school classroom of students with emotional disabilities, characterized mainly by issues with collaborative situations. Whereas most of her students had been stigmatized in the past due to these disbilities, Mora attempted to change this and encourage better social skills by integrating technology into her classroom. All assignments were done using a variety of computer programs, and the once stigmatized students decided to call themselves the "Advanced Technology Class" to emphasize their growing skills with computers, rather than their special needs. Wonderfully, the normal pattern of individual work faded quickly in the classroom, a change which Mora credits to the necessary collaborative nature of mastering new technology. Given something to aspire to, the students were able to concentrate on the task at hand. I feel that Mora's planning was very well done. One of her students mentioned that his other teachers did not let him use computers because they assumed his behavior problems would lead him to damage the technology. Mora did not let any assumptions about these students get in her way, and instead found a really good way to get them out of their shells and overcome their emotional disabilities. The students were not learning about technology for technology's sake, but rather to assist them in their schoolwork, thereby learning about more than just collaboration, but the actual subject matter as well. What I appreciated most about Mora's plan, however, was that it gave the students something to aim for and feel proud of, unlike many special education classes that can leave students feeling substandard.
Q1: Even though I do not want to teach a specifically special education class, what can I take away from Mora's approach?
A1: I did not think of technology as a collaborative tool before. When I read the article, I assumed that her students, who prefer to work alone, would actually be encouraged to work alone at the computers since each student had his own monitor and workspace. Technology to me just often seems impersonal. However, it was actually a really good tool because the students were able to consult with one another in order to increase their skill level with the technology. It was also really helpful because the teacher, at times, needed assistance, so the students got to experience a role-reversal of sorts and teach the teacher. Therefore, the computers helped not only with collaborative skills, but with expository skills as well, encouraging students to be clear in their interactions with training others.
Q2: The author mentioned that Mora would have the students do a lot of the activities on paper before using the appropriate computer application. Is this necessary or does it just waste time?
A2: I liked the idea of doing some of the activities on paper first. A lot of the applications do many of the steps for the students (such as in Word, the program can find synonyms for the student or it can also find spelling and grammar errors for the student). If students get used to only developing the technological skills rather than the logic skills that underlie them, then in situations where the technology fails or is unavailable the student also becomes just as inefficient. For example, as listed earlier, if Word always corrects a student's spelling, then the student does not get accustomed to doing his or her own proofreading, and therefore may become incapable of correcting errors without the SpellCheck function.