Pedagogic Model to the Teaching of Technology to Special Education Students
Almost thirty years ago, the American federal government passed an act mandating the availability of a free and appropriate public education for all handicapped children. In 1990, this act was updated and reformed as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which itself was reformed in 1997. At each step, the goal was to make education more equitable and more accessible to those with special educational needs. During the last presidential term, the "No Child Left Behind" Act attempted to assure that individuals with disabilities were increasingly mainstreamed and assured of high educational results. All of these legislative mandates were aimed at insuring that children with disabilities were not defrauded of the public education which has become the birthright of all American children. The latest reforms to IDEA, for example, provided sweeping reforms which not only expanded the classification of special needs students but also addressed the needs of homeless and minority children, and the integration of social services and the school district. (Altshuler & Kopels, 2002)
No Child Left Behind was unique, however, in that it established mandatory educational goals applicable both to disabled and non-disabled students, and that it instituted strict standardized testing to force schools into compliance with these rules of achievement. No Child Left Behind also mandated punitive measures for schools, administers, and teachers whose students failed to reach these goals. Of course, in addition to the legislative mandates passed down by the supreme federal government, there also exists a pressing moral obligation to provide a fitting education for special needs students and a parallel obligation to provide training for their teachers. With these pressures mounting against the school districts, this is the perfect time to bring a new focus on scientific methods and the necessity of re-educating teachers so that they will be best prepared to teach the new generation of Americans.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
The purpose of this study is to explore, identify, design, implement and evaluate a unique approach to enhancing pedagogy, learning, and assessment of classified special needs students. The Pedagogy for Understanding program will work towards integrating the various hierarchies of a school system through education and direction, and to train teachers in a pedagogy for understanding designed (a) to create a constructionist learning environment, and (b) to positively effect special needs student outcome in the environment. This new design, entitled the Pedagogy for Understanding will be evaluated through statistically significant growth for identified special needs students.
A further purpose is to analyze this process of integration, training, and outcome through a scientific rubric, presenting it (as much as possible with such a subjective subject) as evidence regarding the flaws and merits of current school systems and pedagogies.
There are, per force, two competing theoretical perspectives which frame this work. The first and most philosophically important is that of the constructionist perspective on education. Constructivism suggests that all learning is constructed by the learner, rather than imparted by the teacher. In order to construct true understanding rather than merely regurgitating information, students must understand the processes which lead to that understanding and be equipped to apply them in novel situations so that they can glean understanding and learning from experience even in the absence of an authoritarian teacher or a classroom environment. Constructivism seems particularly important for children with special needs and/or learning disabilities, because they are likely to have problems with retaining information and functioning within the authoritarian classroom. Only a framework for understanding can help them be adaptive enough to circumvent their own disabilities to gain true understanding. Because constructivism is focused on constructing understanding rather than repeating information, it often rejects grades and standardized testing as a method of evaluation, preferring the use of portfolios and individual evaluation. This is where the second, competing theoretical perspective must emerge.
This study has as its goal the creation and implementation of a curriculum to function within the American school system which, since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, has a legal obligation to provide high standardized test scores for all of its students. This conflicts with many of the basic practices of traditional constructionist teaching. Therefore the goal of this study is to combine the theoretical superiority of constructionist teaching with the practical necessities of the No Child Left Behind Act. This can be done by using constructionist theory to teach for understanding both of subject mastery and of test taking skills, teaching children to think creatively and analytically about tests as they would think about any other problem. No Child Left Behind is not, however, merely an obstacle to be overcome before a good constructionist classroom can be created. It also has important theoretical underpinnings which it shares with previous legislation such as IDEA. The theoretical underpinning of No Child Left Behind which is vital to the theories of this study is that every child (regardless of special needs or disabilities) deserves a good education and fair, equitous treatment. Seeking not to devalue alternate learning styles and seeking to accommodate both ability and disability provides a vital moral element to the constructionist classroom.
Constructivism as a Theoretical Framework for Pedagogy for Understanding
Many of the basic ideas of the Pedagogy for Understanding are not in themselves unique. What is unique is the application of these idea to special needs children in the technological classroom. Pedagogy for Understanding draws heavily both from theoretical constructionist theory and from the priority application of constructivism to classrooms.
The theories of constructivism have become widely accepted in the theoretical aspects of pedagogy, which is to say that they are frequently taught in schools and understood by academics. Like most schools of thought, constructionist theory is varied in its incarnations, and has become wrapped up with a number of theoretical offshoots and some extreme applications. For example, some constructivists may suggest such things as abandoning all hierarchies within the classroom and allowing for entirely student-led and self-evaluated learning environments. (This might not be a bad idea in theory, but it would not be feasible within the current political and social environment or the modern school system) It is possible that the identification of these radical suggestions with constructivism have actually hindered the adoption and study of more mundane constructionist approaches within the educational system.
Constructivism was so labeled relatively recently, the theoretical foundation for it stretches back into prehistory. Constructivist-like theories of mind and pedagogy can be seen evolving throughout the world history of the humanities, in the disciplines of sociology and philosophy, anthropology and mythology, psychology and education. (Handley, 1994) The pre-Socratic skeptics in venerable ancient Greece taught a form of constructivism which suggest that learning is founded in activity and cognition. In the influential educational text Meno, Socrates is seen to argue that learning by rote is pointless because individuals already have access apart from the pedagogue to all the true knowledge of the world. The Socratic method of questioning the learner and guiding them into recognizing (constructing) their own understanding is a perfect ancient model for radical constructivism.
Constructivism as a positive educational theory did not spring untouched from ancient Greece to modernity, as some cultural ideas may be thought to have done. In 1710 Giambatista Vica, an educational theorist, was expressing basic ideas of constructivism when he wrote: "one only knows something if one can explain it." (Hanley, 1994) Meanwhile the often-times conservative Kant claimed that humans are never passive in their reception of knowledge, which indicates a necessary reaction between those who absorb and those who impart knowledge.
Despite these early roots, modern constructivism is most frequently and accurately credited to Piaget, whose child-development theories broke new ground regarding the adaptive process through which children learn to maneuver the world at large. He taught that language helps to define the world, and that the acquirement of language is a social and adaptive process.
Constructivism focuses on equipping the individual student as a learner, rather than merely imparting information. Constructivism remains a pragmatic sort of theory, which proposes that "people create their own meaning and understanding, combining what they already know and believe to be true with new experiences with which they are confronted." (Plourde & Aliweye, 2003) Rather than directly or passively absorbing the knowledge presented to them by authorities, individuals are always expected to interact with new and existing knowledge to construct synthesized versions of reality from their own experience and interpretations. (There may be a largely unrecognized Hegelian aspect to this theory, which bases rational evolution as a relationship between the thesis, antithesis, and evolving synthesis of ideas, language, culture, and the soul.
Von Glasersfeld would label the most basic forms of constructivism, such as those favored by the Pedagogy for Understanding, as being "trivial" because of their very simple claims: "Knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received from the environment." (Dougiamas, 1998) Such trivial constructivism, though, is the bedrock from which Glaserfelds more radical constructivism springs. He continues…
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