Last week I was called to jury duty. My two days inside the courthouse involved a little listening and a lot of sitting in hallways wondering what was going on in my classroom. All this waiting led to an uneventful dismissal from jury selection. I jaunted directly out into the freezing rain and took the city bus back to school.
As I rode through the run-down neighborhoods familiar to so many of my students, I even felt a little wistful about not being selected for the jury. After all, it’s comforting to think that in a world with as many complications as this one has, there remains a belief that 12 randomly selected citizens will collectively dole out an honorable justice. I stuck the yellow courthouse tour brochure inside the pocket of my bag and searched my mind for a future date to schedule a class visit.
Aren’t all teachers skeptical of what goes on in their classrooms when they aren’t there? Call me self-centered or student-centered, worried or dramatic, but I’m always glad to be back with the students and teacher assistants. And almost as soon as I returned, I was summoned to a case management meeting, followed by an IEP amendment meeting. While I caught up on attendance, behavior charts, and scheduling, the teacher assistants performed the most enjoyable part of special education – teaching.
Later that day, as I culled the archives for some future lesson plans, I was reminded by a colleague of our charge to use the new web-based Unique Learning System curriculum. The program provides a pre-test that’s designed to help me see what specific areas I may need to address as I present the lessons to my students. Each pre-test takes about 15 minutes and needs to be delivered individually, so the task begins with my trading five hours of instructional time for. . . well, I’m still trying to figure that out.
Currently, I use the Unique web-based curriculum, Teen Biz web-based curriculum, a district-wide IEP program, a Life Skills Data Collection program, as well as Zangle grade book and attendance system. Each of these systems was designed to make my classroom more data-rich and my job easier. But on Saturday morning, when I planned out lessons for week ahead, I didn’t log into my computer. Instead, I had the Sunday paper opened up to the ads section, scissors in hand. As some of the kids might say, it was “old school.”
In many ways, they’re right. When I listen to music, I use a record and a turntable. I’ve yet to trade in my acoustic guitar for an electric. However, these details don’t document a resistance to change. Nor do they indicate that I must be a Luddite or a naysayer of online learning tools.
I just think it’s important to acknowledge that such web-based systems are designed to supplement a curriculum developed by a dedicated group of local educators—educators and teacher assistants who are deeply familiar with the needs of their students. It’s also important to acknowledge that the student, family, and IEP team make the decisions about what lessons are likely to benefit any student the most, which is why we develop individual education plans.
Some of the most valuable data I collect still comes from the least technologically hip spot in the room: the wire basket of student work on my desk. If online learning programs can help me create more student data that ends up in that basket, I’ll be logging in more and more.
As more schools seek to streamline their data-collection programs by demanding use of online curriculums, special educators run the risk of losing an ability to tailor their lessons to the needs of students. They also stand to lose the regional and cultural values inherent in their curriculums.
As a cautious advocate of these online learning programs, I would encourage educators to let them supplement, rather than replace, your current road-tested lesson plans. If we rely solely on web-based learning programs, the education system may find itself in a position where it’s waiting for Superman and a Supercomputer.