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Education

Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Analytic Hierarchy

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Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) is mathematical thinking about decision analysis based on linear algebra. It is useful when the elements included in the decision are subjective, such as is all human decisions. AHP holds that individual perception, relevant facts, and interrelationships among inputs and agents must be considered in order to predict outcomes. AHP allows for the non-logical, seemingly unpredictable nature of human interaction. The process includes three steps similar to operational modeling in form and function. Step one identifies the decision objectives, criteria, constraints, and alternatives into a hierarchy. Step two evaluates comparisons of options two-by-two at each level of the hierarchy. Step three synthesizes the results of the comparisons utilizing a solution algorithm. Saaty (1988) suggests that “the algorithm result gives the relative importance of alternative courses of action” (Saaty, 1988, p110).

Let us use AHP in a decision about ice cream. Step one: We determine that Polly, our client wants to eat some ice cream. Her favorite flavor is chocolate. She is driving. So, she needs two have a delivery method that only requires one hand. She does not want to wait to eat the ice cream. Step two: We outline the options, and determine predictions.
AHP In Step three, we begin to recognize a pattern of conditionals on which Polly’s choices are based. We construct an algorithm—a set of steps based on her preferences, the options available, and the situation in which she finds herself. We use this algorithm to determine the potential for alternatives. For example, if her options of a place to stop only included burger diners. Our algorithm suggests that Polly would choose the diner that has a drive-thru and sells chocolate ice cream in a cone.

Of course, other client choices involve seemingly more complex decisions. But, recognize that complexity rests with the client preferences, options perceived, and the situation. The analytic hierarchy process helps to manage this complexity.

I have advanced a new model, Perception of Self in Environment-Reality (POSE-R) to encapsulate the theoretical constructs of ecological systems and the presuppositions of AHP. This chapter discusses your ability to influence human systems outcomes through analysis of complexity. Each level in our system (individual, institution, and environment) has questions that assist your analysis. Even before you get to the mathematics and the specific solution algorithm, you are able to outline the ecological construct of human decision making—choice!

It should be noted here that the full AHP that attends the POSE-R model includes WILL as a prerequisite to CHOICE. The full AHP includes will, choice, consciousness, self-efficacy, institution, and movement. I will not discuss the full AHP because that discussion moves beyond the constructs of ecological systems theory and practice (EST&P) toward an integral theoretical construct, AQAL Cube, which allows us to discuss quantum consciousness and non-local, non-linear realities (Neale, 2013). Basically, utilizing the AQAL Cube and integral theory, we are not bound by the 4 dimensions that can be represented in a flat graphic. Integral theory allows us to conceptualize multiple chessboards, interrelated, operating all at the same time.

After reading this section, you will be able to:

  1. Construct an assessment that extends from the precipitating event to provide predictive information in preparation for intervention.
  2. Conduct an ecological assessment including environmental, institutional, and individual elements in a description of Perception of Self in Environment – Reality (POSER).
  3. Articulate the questions and inferential value of context, control, and choice.

Precipitating Events and Presenting Problems
As we have discussed in our review of ecological systems theory and practice, our basic hierarchy includes the individual, the institution, and the environment in an interrelated fashion. We have explored mapping and lexicon meant to conceptualize an understanding of the basic complexity of human systems. Our goal all along was to utilize the model of ecological systems theory and practice to predict outcomes. If we are able to PREDICT outcomes based on systems and inputs, we can conceivably intervene in those systems and INFLUENCE outcomes.

This is the justification for efficacy in social work assessment. Prior events shape the client’s perception of the current event. I propose that your assessment of the current event, the presenting problem, is not just as assessment of the problem, but an attempt to map both the influence of prior events AND the impact of current events. This assessment of BOTH can be termed the client’s Perception of Self in Environment – Reality (POSE-R).

Based in the construct of ecological systems theory and practice as we have discussed it, your task is to answer three general questions. These questions indicate other questions that expand our assessment into POSE-R context, control and choice, which directly connect to environmental practice sociocybernetics, institutional control systems, and individual agents.

General Questions in Ecological Assessment
• What are the social contracts supported by the economic, political, technological, and social environment?
• What are the interactive effects of the intersection of person, environment, and institutional exposure?
• What is the assessed profile and goal of the individual?

A Matter of Context: Environment Questions
Environmental practice Sociocybernetics provide a context for the review of the presenting problem. This analysis sets the stage for your engagement in social change. With this framework, you can suggest interaction schedules or lifestyle changes, financial services and literacy, innovations and technological tools, and social policies that alleviate the problem, support coping, and promote sustainable adaptation.

• What were the exposure, experiences, circumstances, and expectations prior to the choice?
• What were the financial circumstances and expectations central to the choice?
• What technologies enhanced or hindered capabilities?
• What policies are pertinent to the execution of the choice?

A Matter of Control: Institution Questions
Institutional control systems are a practical way of defining and reviewing institutions. Institutions are not buildings. They are constructs that suggest normative behavior. With this definition, consider that the major institutions in civil life are Marriage, Family, Education, Business, Faith & Volunteerism, and Health Care.

With this framework, you are able to model the structural influences on individual choice and group dynamic. This is especially useful when you need to cognitively restructure understanding or re-educate clients. Instead of conceptualizing the need for education as central to the intervention, this framework suggests that you recognize the influence of institutions (the control systems) as central to the intervention.
• What are the individual needs and expected behaviors as the client enters the control system?
• What routines and values are communicated through the control system?
• What are the controls implemented during execution of the control system?
• What is the expected outcome of the control system?
• How is feedback used after exit from the control system?

A Matter of Choice: Individual Questions
The individual agent conception offers a view of the client as both unique and active. Your task is to compose a profile of the individual agent that accounts for the complexities inherent in behavior, cognition, and meaning. Behavior is the result of choices. Cognition is the knowledge brought to bear in the decision making process. Meaning included the interactive effects of environment, institution, and individual uniqueness to produce the individual REALITY.

You are practiced in offering services and increasing options. Consider that some clients were NEVER in a position REALISTICALLY to perceive the services and options as viable for their situation. Efficacious practice means that you include this awareness in your treatment planning. Competence demands that you have a theoretical framework that offers some certainty in assessing and intervening in these situations.

With this individual agent framework, you are able to model the choice architecture of the individual agent. You can predict what options the client will see as possible. You can intervene intentionally to expand meaning and expand what is REALISTIC to the client. The foundational constructs for individual agent profile are Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Spirituality, and Meaning producing the following questions:

• Is the choice age appropriate and not the result of disease?
• Is the choice informed from multiple and competing sources?
• Is the choice free from undue influence except that it maintains the culture of the in-group?
• Is the choice based on factors that are not readily observed or are unique only to the client?
• What is the impact of OUR interaction on cognition, meaning, and potential behaviors?

Conclusion: The Root of the Problem
And here it is. My grand contribution to the knowledge base concerning ecological systems theory and practice: THE ROOT OF ALL HUMAN STRUGGLE IS CHOICE. This individual choice is confounded in institutional system structures. We seemingly lose the ability to identify the origin, to re-educate, and to introduce new options because, in institutions, the individual identity gives way to the collective identity. Once the norms and values become widespread influencing the creation of new infrastructure, problematic, unsustainable behaviors become the context from which all behaviors are judged. This is how unsustainable choices become reasonable to many. It is how culture becomes reprobate.

The solution begins at the root. Yet, the solution must address each level in the hierarchy: context, control and choice. Though the individual identity seems lost in the institution, it still maintains the predictive nature of its identity. It still responds predictably to transactions, environment, and culture based on individual choice. Social workers are uniquely trained to assess and intervene at each of these levels. The choice rests with you. The control system of social work education must integrate this knowledge. Social workers must be agents of sustainability and culture change.

Reading this series was a good start. My hope is that you see the both the immediate use of EST&P as well as the limitations of the model. Linear, system-bounded representations of human behavior are useful because they provide a construct for our beginning questions. They can even provide a foundation for simple predictions. Yet, in order to explore more complex predictions, we must employ a more robust, multidimensional model as our foundation. The mathematics of the model are useful in calculating probability, but you will be much more interested in the behaviors they present as most probable. Trained practitioners make these calculations intuitively. I offer this advancement for those who want to understand and more intentionally implement their intuition.

Bibliographic Notes
Neal, L. (June 2013). The AQAL cube for dummies. Intergral Leadership Review. [Retrieved from http://integralleadershipreview.com/9013-the-aqal-cube-for-dummies/ August 14, 2013].

Saaty, T.L. (1988). What is the analytic hierarchy process? Mathematical Models for Decision Support, 48. Springer. 109-121.

Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.

          
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Education

Enhancing Education with Digital Tools in the Classroom

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Especially now, with the rise of technology in the classroom, teachers have practically unlimited methods for teaching, assigning, and grading student work. Features within forums such as Google Classroom, Flocabulary, Read180 Universal, PowToon, NewsELA, etc., allow for student choice, engagement, and differentiation. While the options and methods are seemingly unlimited, there are a few things to consider when it comes to utilizing classroom technology effectively.  

To ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for students and parents, educators will want to address the following concerns before planning and implementing:

Is the technology adding to the student’s understanding of the material, or is it simply technology for technology’s sake?

If teachers cannot readily identify how the digital tool is adding a layer of complexity, relevance, choice, or differentiation, then the tool may be better utilized for another task. What we do not want is for the learning to be secondary to the digital forum. For example, if students are using PowToon or Prezi for an assignment, then the objective should be something related to summarizing, paraphrasing, simulating cause and effect, etc., since those are skills that the digital tools support. Those two particular digital tools are more geared towards public speaking or presenting, so an objective for speaking and listening should be a component, as well.

How much scaffolding or frontloading will the technology involve?

As teachers, we know that time is limited, as we are constantly moving students from one skill to the next. A worst-case scenario would be for the digital tool to become a “time-suck” in the unit. More than anything, the technology should be comprehensive and user-friendly, so that it does not become an obstacle for students to demonstrate mastery.

How much of the student’s grade will be determined by the proper use of the technology?

Again, if the objective is for students to relay research that they have gathered in a focused and organized way, then the technology feature is simply a small aspect of that task. Consequently, if the objective is for students to construct a timeline of a story and present the animation, then the technology becomes more of a vital component.

Can the use of the digital tool be optional?

Another recommendation when considering student choice is to provide the option to not use the technology to demonstrate mastery. For some students, technology can be scary because of their unfamiliarity with it. For others, computer or internet access at home may not be a possibility. Teachers should be wary of only using digital creations or submissions, as this would mean that some students can only work on an assignment or project in the classroom—not at home.

Are my digital posts, grades, and assignments easy to access and displayed clearly?

When using a digital classroom like Google Classroom, teachers should be sure to make their digital forum as accessible and transparent as possible. At open house or parent conferences, teachers should consider inviting parents to sign up to the virtual classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into and monitoring the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted.

This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. Guardian access also allows teachers to post entire lessons, documents, and reading to the classroom. This type of transparency provides parents with a peek inside the day’s activities and lessons. With documents posted, there will also be a backup option for parents if their child has lost or forgotten the paper copy.

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Education

New Year’s Resolutions for Students

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It’s that time of year again — the new year when many of us set impossible goals or make empty promises to ourselves about “bettering” something in our lives. Do you know there’s a better way to set achievable goals?

When I instruct my students about reflecting and goal setting, I use the popular SMART goals method, an acronym which helps direct us to make goals that are, well, smart. The same directives we use in the classroom to set SMART goals can be easily applied to students’ papers about New Year’s resolutions, a short writing task I give my students on the first day back from winter break. I, too, will use the SMART goals method to set and reach my own personal New Year’s resolutions this year. But how, exactly, can we weave SMART goals into resolutions for students?

Let’s take a look!

SMART

The acronym varies slightly among teachers and educational resources, but the basic expectations of SMART goals are seen below:

Specific (simple, straightforward)

Measurable (meaningful, monitored)

Achievable (attainable, agreed upon)

Relevant (reasonable/realistic, results-oriented)

Timely (trackable, tangible)

Specific, Simple, Straightforward

Much like setting SMART goals, students’ New Year’s resolutions should be specific or straightforward, meaning “Do better in school” would not make the cut. We must prompt students to specify exactly what they hope to change or achieve. Ask questions like, “In which class or classes do you want to see improvement?” “What grade do you consider to be ‘better’?”

Measurable, Meaningful, Monitored

A measurable or monitored resolution should be quantifiable; it must involve progress which can be tracked. Ask students how they plan to track or measure the progress, and how often they should check-in, evaluate, or adjust based on the measured progress. For instance, if a resolution is to improve their timed mile run by dropping 30 seconds, encourage them to keep time logs, workout schedules, and other exact measures of their progress.

Achievable, Attainable, Agreed Upon

An achievable resolution is one within the realm of reality — and students need to be aware of this fact. Resolutions must be attainable and realistic. While we teachers should not dash dreams or cut anyone short of their highest potential, we also need to help students realize what is and is not achievable in the manner or timeline they have allotted. If a student’s resolution or goal is to win the state’s 1st place mile, but they have never run any sort of distance race, their aim is set much too high. This is not to say they cannot one day reach that level, but this resolution should detail smaller steps in an effort to reach that point in the future.

Depending on a student’s age, the achievable factor should be agreed upon, meaning a parent or other adult figure is “in” on the accountability of the resolution. Relevant resolutions should be goals that matter on a larger scale. If a student wants to focus on family time, a resolution might be to keep the cell phone off and away during meals, gatherings, and other family activities. This goal is certainly achievable; there are no outside factors which could disrupt the goal. The student simply has to be mindful of his or her presence during family time. It is relevant because the cell phone is a likely distractor during conversations and meals.

Timely, Trackable, Tangible

Finally, a timely resolution is one that has a definitive starting point and incremental check-ins. When writing a New Year’s resolution, students should ask themselves, “What can I do today to work towards this? What can I do two weeks from now? Two months from now? What would this resolution look like in 6 months?” Working towards the resolution or goal should start right away — as we all know, procrastination is a surefire way to derail our progress.

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Education

Family Team Time

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It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grind with family team time.

What is Family Team Time?

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities — as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly change students’ lives — but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes — all these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

Museums & More

Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang — not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs.

Family Entertainment

Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so children can follow along while listening to the book aloud.

Physical Activity Fun

Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste-tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud!

Volunteer as a Family

As opposed to hustling from a game, to a recital, to a playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day — what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

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Education

How to Provide the Full-Service Community-Supported Public Schools We Need

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All students have potential, but access to support and opportunity is not equally distributed. As a high school principal for 10 years, I encountered well-intentioned teachers and students racing toward adulthood with an endless variety of needs: students struggling with poverty; transience; family changes; immigration; addiction; the negative effects of trauma; and emotional, physical, and social health.

In most cases, these challenges directly affect a student’s ability to thrive in the classroom, and schools struggle because there is no prescribed or easy solution. The response to the academic struggles of our students has traditionally included longer days and school years, improved instructional strategies, targeted remediation, and focused test preparation. But schools have rarely attempted to combat the non-academic root causes which are negatively affecting the achievement of our students.

Simply put, not enough is being done to address the lack of equity experienced by students and their families. So we must ask ourselves a few questions: How can I ensure my students have the access and opportunity to fully realize their potential? How do we help each student understand his or her personal aptitudes and assets? How do we instill within a student a sense of optimism and a sense of purpose?

A Comprehensive School Offering Wraparound Support

To really help students succeed, schools need to implement a holistic approach by supplementing our extensive instructional efforts and becoming “full service” schools. With embedded essential community services such as basic needs provision, mental and physical health services, hard and soft skill development, and workforce exploration, students have their best chance at a successful start following graduation.

A comprehensive wraparound school is a place of hope, connection, and opportunity — a school that’s actively striving to make equity and future success attainable for its students. This means monitoring student setbacks and successes, providing academic and behavioral interventions in a timely manner, connecting students and families with support services, and offering high-quality aptitude-based career and college transition counseling.

“Whole child” schooling, paired with collaborative community partnerships, is a cornerstone in the common-sense revisioning of public education and a powerful solution we need now. Here are some tips to improve a school’s ability to provide comprehensive, wraparound community services and partnerships to ensure all students have the support they need and an equitable opportunity for success:

1. Evaluate Students’ Needs

A comprehensive full-service school is designed to meet the needs of its students by working with local individuals, agencies, and businesses to strengthen the community. First, schools must identify needs and establish priorities. Schools uncover specific barriers and concerns students are facing by speaking in depth with students, parents, and community members. High-quality needs assessments provide data that schools and communities use to prioritize the most pressing needs and opportunities for support and partnership.

2. Give Students Hope, Purpose, and Relevance

For struggling students, some of the most powerful interventions regarding post-high school planning lie in the realm of social and emotional learning — the development of a student’s self-discovery and aspiration leading to optimism, self-worth, and purpose. Aptitude-based assessments are capable of helping educators and parents learn much more about our teens than what is typically gleaned through traditional academic testing.

While I was a principal at Marietta High School, we partnered as a pilot school with YouScience, an aptitude assessment tool. YouScience uncovers students’ natural talents and matches them to careers in which their abilities add value to the workforce. Too often, we point students in directions or make course recommendations for them based on what we have available for scheduling, what we can gather from their academic test results, and our own personal hunches about what they might be good at or interested in. Typically, educators have little information which is relevant to whether the direction recommended is the best fit for the individual student. YouScience equips schools to engage in individualized goal-setting with students and parents through a process that is informative and inspires hope.

3. Compile Resources

With students’ needs in mind, schools must search the community to identify local resources, partners, service providers, and funding sources. Consider looking beyond the local community for resources if need be, and then connect students and families with the available services. Some schools might want to start small, with partnerships providing care closets, apprenticeships, job placement assistance, mediation services, or wellness coaching, and then gradually grow the number of services offered over time. Other schools might have the resources to introduce multiple community partners to work with students and their families on a regular basis. The important thing is that students are connected with community resources providing the support they need.

4. Commit to the Long Term

It’s important to remember that developing a school which provides comprehensive support is a process that takes intentionality, time, and patience. School districts must commit to discovery, innovation, and collaboration, and they must focus on a long-term goal of community improvement. It’s deep work that’s dependent upon trust and building relationships with students and community members. Start small and commit to the long haul.

Schools are microcosms of their communities. The time and energy invested in this process will benefit not only students and their families but also the community as a whole. Creating a “one-stop shop” of support and coordination of essential community services is the best way to address the most significant barriers our students face today, as well as set them up for success for years to come.

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Education

Procrastination: Why We Do It and How to Combat It

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Consistently, procrastination creates a snowball effect, in which anxiety or stress further compounds the need for the task avoidance. In basic terms, the more a student puts off a task or assignment, the greater the stress of the impending due date or need for completion. We all know this and can relate to that instinct — we then put it off even further because it has become such a monster, we must avoid it or ignore it at all costs.  

The other issue surrounding procrastination is we often procrastinate with the tasks or responsibilities which matter most or have the highest stakes. Whether we do this out of fear, denial, indifference, or laziness, the end result is typically the same: we experience a sort of self-destruction by missing an important deadline, or we cave in and begrudgingly and reluctantly complete the task in hurry. Either outcome is less than ideal, especially when grades are involved. Because of procrastination, students dig themselves into a hole, lose motivation, and therefore put forth even less effort with their school work.

The solutions   

Awareness is key to combating the instinct to put off undesirable tasks. Once students realize how they procrastinate, they can begin to alter those behaviors. For example, a student completing research for a paper will find ways to distract himself from the assignment while working. They may check social media, text friends, pause to watch a show, listen to music, or simply scroll through random websites — anything becomes more enticing than the actual research.

Instead:

  • Encourage students to limit distractions by keeping the phone offlimits during work sessions.
  • Complete work in an area away from television, music, friends, and other distractions.
  • Set a timer for 20-30 minutes of solid, uninterrupted work time. Then allow yourself to take a 3-5 minute break, but then get right back to work.
  • Keep light snacks and water at hand while working to stave off hunger and the unnecessary urge to graze to avoid the assignment.
  • Construct a checklist for a multi-step task and prioritize the tasks in order of difficulty. As students work, they should monitor the checklist and stick to the order of steps as necessary. Again, the urge to complete the easiest or most interesting steps is another procrastination tactic — instead, encourage students to tackle the challenging steps first. This will boost motivation and confidence while working.
  • Organize to-do lists with tasks requiring the most time or focus at the top. These are typically the first things that students will avoid completing.
  • Ask students to write down three things they have accomplished at the end of a work session. The successes, no matter how small, show students a strong work ethic and focus does help them to chip away at a daunting task they may have vehemently avoided in the past.  

Procrastination is an all too familiar practice for many of us. While certain people are more likely to put off all tasks until later, we have all experienced the desire to push off occasional duties, errands, chores, or responsibilities. For students, no matter their age or academic aptitude, procrastinating can become an alluring yet problematic habit. Pushing off tasks can become a major pitfall for several different reasons, but there are methods to combat this bad habit — and they begin with awareness.

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Disability

Four Ways Neurodiversity Holds the Key to the Future of Special Education

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For ages, special education has been developing on its own, together with the development of ordinary education. It emphasizes disorders and the ways special education students are lacking compared to an average student. Those who have a noticeable dysfunction have even been mocked for their lack of focus or skill to learn something – sometimes by teachers too.

And even though the history of the special education has been filled with inappropriate names and terms, the future is bright. More and more scientists and educators are turning to the better ways of conducting special education – and one of those ways is related to neurodiversity.

This term was first used by journalist Harvey Blume in the early 1990s and means that autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other special-needs conditions are the part of normal variations in the human population. And here is how neurodiversity changes the entire special education system.

1. In theory.

Special education as it is at the moment regards disability categories as something originated from biology, genetics, and neurology. Neurodiversity, on the other hand, focuses on the advantages these disabilities have to offer – they use this to explain why these genes are still here today and why people are still born with disabilities.

This new concept examines how a person with a disability can be lacking in some aspects but even more advanced than regular people in some. During the past decade, university programs such as London School of Economics’ Dyslexia and Neurodiversity program, or the College of William & Mary’s Neurodiversity Initiative are aimed to support neurodiverse students and create positive acceptance and niches for them.

Annabel Gray, neurodiversity specialist and educator at Origin Writings states, “Regarding a person as completely disabled is fundamentally wrong. Whereas a person with, for example, autism can be lacking in some areas of life, on a job which requires focus and attention to detail, this same person would do outstandingly well.”

2. The focus.

The focus of special education so far has been solely on assessing deficits and how to go about educating students based on these deficits. However, neurodiversity relies more on assessing the strengths, talents, abilities, and interests of disabled students. It is a strength-based approach where an educator would use a series of tests to discover the student’s abilities and teach them how to use them to tackle their everyday and educational challenges.

What is so great about neurodiversity approach is it gives the students all the necessary tools to cope with their day to day life by focusing on what they do best. This way the students are not feeling left out and they know there are some things where they can thrive in.

3. Workarounds.

Workarounds are another way the neurodiversity improves the disabled students’ lives. What it essentially means is the educators are supposed to find ways for students to experience and learn which does not include their disabilities. For example, students with ADHD could be allowed to use special tools like stability balls or standing desks in order to focus on studying.

This could be expanded to create an individual education plan for each student based on what they need and in which environment they thrive the most. Placing those students in the traditional learning environment will help them to feel “lesser human being” or a burden.

Lila Christie, an educator at 1Day2Write and WriteMyX confirms: “Workarounds are some of the best ways of teaching the disabled students. We implement this strategy of putting each student in an environment that will allow them to learn without anything in the way. It not only works but also gives students the satisfaction and comfort.”

4. How to communicate with students.

While most special education programs still teach children about their disabilities, neurodiversity teaches them about the value of variation and being different. It teaches them how their brain works and how the environment affects it, how to use their skills to the maximum etc. This kind of mindset can help them realize the growth mindset can improve their performance.

To get the brain to its full potential it is important to get the students exercising in various ways, each suited to their own abilities – writing exercises are excellent ways to improve brain power and it can be easily accessible to students through tools such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Windows Speech Recognition, etc.

Conclusion

Neurodiversity is a great new approach to special education. It gives students opportunities and new ways of understanding themselves. This is a fresh take on educating those with disabilities – in fact, it relies more on their abilities and strengths. It can give students confidence and tools to be successful and do more later in their lives.

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