Archive | July, 2010

AN OPEN LETTER TO PRUE MACSWEEN

21 Jul

AN OPEN LETTER TO PRUE MACSWEEN

Dear Ms MacSween.

I am writing about your comments on Weekend Sunrise last week (11th July, 10) about the teacher claiming compensation for damage to her larynx after shouting at a class – which included several students with ‘special needs’.

In case you need reminding, here’s a link to the video

I would just like to clarify a few of the points you made:

You said:

“These special needs kids should not be in a class with kids that don’t have special needs for a start”

“we need to throw more money at the education system, make sure that these kids are properly administered to”

“What about the kids who are quite normal and adequately able to understand. They’re being held back.”

“It’s like girls going into school rooms with bloody boys. Boys are so retarded, they keep them back.”

“I mean I honestly think that we need to make sure that we have these special needs kids put somewhere where they are properly trained and then slowly, once they are in a capacity of being able to-“

I’d just like to confirm with you that you believe:

  • Children who have special needs should be separated from those who are ‘normal’.
  • These children should be ‘put somewhere’.
  • These children hold back the education of the ‘normal’ children.
  • All boys are ‘retarded’.

Is that right?

I have a few further questions.

What exactly do you have in mind when you suggest that children with special needs need to be ‘properly administered to’ and ‘put somewhere’?  Where do you think they should be ‘put’? What happens in this place? How exactly do they get ‘trained’ (and why not ‘taught’) ?

Also, I know you didn’t get the chance to finish your last sentence, so please enlighten me: just WHAT do ‘these kids’ need to be ‘properly trained in’? Being ‘normal’?

And I suppose the real question is: Do you think that all children fall into just two categories: those who are ‘normal’ and ‘adequately able to understand’ and those who are not? Seriously? I think maybe you need to go back to school. And realise that in a class of 25 children, there are 25 different kinds of ‘normal’.

Speaking of sweeping false generalisations, you also described boys as ‘retarded’ (and you can’t back away from this one either. Watch the video again! You repeat the assertion right at the end!). Are you suggesting that all boys have an intellectual disability? What’s more, are you aware that this is an offensive term, even discouraged by those who have/or advocate for others who have an intellectual impairment? May I suggest you have a look at the ‘ban the R word’ website – and perhaps even go so far as to take the pledge to “support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

In case you are wondering why I care about any of this:

My son is 5. He has cerebral palsy. He is counting down the days until he starts school next year. Mainstream school. I am excited too. But a little nervous. Not really about how he will go at school. I know he will do great. But more about how others might view him. And actually, I wasn’t even really feeling those nerves until I saw your segment. After all, he’s been at kindergarten this year and it’s been brilliant.

So I was shocked and saddened listening to your words. All I could think was: REALLY? People REALLY think that?

You did get a few things right. You were right about more money needing to go into the system. But you were wrong about money being ‘thrown at’ the system. Rather, funds need to be carefully targeted so there is sufficient support for all staff and students to provide for the inclusion of children with special or additional needs, meaning there is quality education that is equitable for all. I think equality in education is pretty important, don’t you?

To get back to the original issue, I could maybe even be in support of the teacher making the claim (although I’d question that shouting is every going to be the most effective way to deal with problems in a classroom, but that’s another story). I’m also a teacher and I know how difficult it can be to teach a challenging class if you are not appropriately supported. But you’ve painted the wrong villains here. The problem is not the children. Many children with special needs are not disruptive. And many children without special needs are. And in any case, the teacher herself was not making a claim against the children, but the lack of support she was given.

So I repeat, the issue isn’t the children. It’s the provision of adequate funding and support for ANY teacher to teach ANY class, regardless of who the students are.  Because EVERY child has the right to an education, right, RIGHT??

In case you think I’ve misconstrued your words here. That maybe extra support is just what you were advocating for, then could you just explain this for me: Paul Murray (who was sharing this discussion with you) said “What they need is two teachers in the room to be able to make sure that there’s one who can cover the gap”. You responded by saying “No. I’m sorry I don’t agree with you.” So. If you don’t think that even with support all children can be in the same classroom, I am thinking that you pretty much are advocating for complete separation of any child who is, in your words, not “normal”. Is that right?

A mainstream setting is not best for all children. We do need the wonderful Specialist Schools that are available. BUT even these schools are not places for children to be ‘put’ and ‘trained’.  Rather, they provide quality supported learning environments for the students. It depends on the individual needs of each child. The fact that we have the choice is wonderful. We carefully considered the choice, and we’ve chosen mainstream.

So why do I want my son to have a mainstream education?

Because I know it will be the best learning environment for him. I want him to gain an education alongside his peers so that later he will be able to work and socialise alongside them too. I don’t want him to be separated and definitely not “put somewhere” because he has a disability. When he grows up, I want him to be an ACTIVE, EARNING member of society. For me, I think that means it’s a good idea for him to be part of society from the word go. Wouldn’t you agree? The school that has accepted his enrolment certainly agrees.

The idea that other ‘normal’ children could be ‘held back’ by having my son in their class is a total fallacy. I encourage you to spend some time visiting schools where children with ‘special needs’ sit alongside those without. I encourage you to see just how these environments are enriching absorbing places of learning FOR ALL.

You are probably aware there’s a Facebook group with over 2,500 members urging you to make a public apology about your comments. I think that’s a good idea. The comments were insensitive. They were hurtful. They were ill-informed. They were wrong.

But, I’d like you to go just one step further. I would love to see you advocate for further funding for inclusive education and support of ALL children with special or additional learning needs, wherever they choose to study. With your PR background you’d be well placed to help work towards improving everyone’s educational opportunities. If you think the system needs fixing, why not be part of the solution!

One last thing, and I really don’t want you to think I’m picking on you here. But I’d like to give you some advice.  I read your response to this issue in the paper yesterday and I think you should do some reading about ‘people first language’ I think you should know that the phrase ‘Down Syndrome boy’ is actually not the best way to describe a person with Down Syndrome. Firstly,seeing as he was employed in your office, I don’t think he was actually a “boy” (maybe a teenager? Or a man?). Secondly, it’s best to put the person first – like this “a man with Down Syndrome”. See how much better that sounds? Now you’re seeing the person first. Not the disability. Don’t you think that’s a good idea?!

I look forward to hearing your response.

Proloquo2go…what I learnt next.

4 Jul

It’s school holidays. Yay! Finally, a little time to relax. And a little more time to play with the iPad.

We’ve learnt how to do a lot more than  before and overall, we are loving it.

As for p2go, we are mostly really happy with it too and think it’s going to be a great tool for S. His fine motor skills using p2go on the iPad have improved dramatically. Partly because of practice with the program, but I think more so because of playing with other apps on the iPad that have given him lots of practice at accurately touching, pointing, swiping, scrolling etc. No better motivation than playing ;-).

And I’ve learnt how to do a few more things.

I’ve learnt how to take screenshots and email them. It’s easy. And apparently it’s the same way you take screenshots of an iPhone or iTouch. Here’s a link to the site that taught me how: simplehelp.

I’ve also learnt how to use images instead of symbols. Easy too. See below the page that I made of S’s favourite TV shows.

I googled images, saved the images, then used the ‘Choose a picture’ option from the edit category to find and place the image. Yes, it took a little time to find the best image in some cases but I love the result and think it’s a fab way to customise page sets. Later on, I’d like to see if it’s possible to somehow replace some of the p2go images with Boardmaker images which S is more familiar with and in some cases I think are better images (especially for more abstract ideas).

Speaking of symbols, if you’re considering the p2go and want more of an idea of the symbols they use, they are from Symbolstix. Mostly, they are great symbols, but as I just said, I’m not so thrilled with some of the more abstract images.

We bought a speaker. I decided to go for the easiest to buy local one. It’s this altec lansing orbit M speaker:

It’s pretty small and I am quite happy with the sound. I was even happier with the price. It was $49 in Officeworks. With batteries in, it weighs just under 190 grams. It’s about 4.5cms high and about 8.5cms across. We haven’t had a chance to test it out in a loud setting yet, but once school hols are over we will give it a good trial. I will be back to tell more then. We’ll also be looking at the best way to transport and secure the speaker to the iPad. Any ideas welcome!

As for how I’ve been going setting up our pages, I am quite happy with the page sets that I have created for S so far, but they are a work in progress. We’re still editing and updating  so it’s got all the vocabulary that S needs. I get the feeling that will be an ongoing process – and probably not surprisingly so. A 5 year old gains a fair amount of new vocabulary each day!

As an example, the other day S decided we should go to Japan on a holiday. It took me a while to work out it was ‘Japan’ he was saying. Japan was not in his p2go page set and not in his PODD book. The ‘J’ sound is also one that S hasn’t quite mastered yet. Once we worked it out (thank-you bullet train) I added Japan to the p2g0 in the ‘holiday places’ category. I also added it in the ‘Geography’ page of the ‘School’ category. And because he asked me some questions what we could do/see in Japan,  I went one step further and made a whole Japan page. Here’s what the page looks like:

All up, it probably took me about 30 minutes to make. You can see I was able to find symbols for most things. For others (bullet train, Mt Fuji etc) I found images online and used those.

I’ve also learn how to alter pronunciation. This is a very handy thing to be able to do when you have a family with foreign names and a smattering of Indonesian words in your vocabulary. Also handy if you want to eat ‘tomahtoes’  instead of ‘tomaytoes’.  It has taken a few trials with some words to get the pronunciation that I have been after, but I’ve been overall happy with the result. Here’s a great new tutorial from the p2go website about how it’s done.

So, as a quick overview, here’s the things I’m really happy with about p2go:

I like how easy it is to use, edit and update.

I am impressed with the range of vocabulary and symbols available. Apparently there’s over 700o vocab items and over 8000 images. Not bad!

I like the automatic conjugation tool – if you hold down on some verbs it will come up with different forms of the same verb. Here’s an example to show what I mean.

This is a USEFUL tool, but one that S hasn’t mastered yet  because using our current setting, it requires holding down on the same item for 6 seconds. Also,  S just isn’t that interested in this level of verb control yet, which I figure is pretty age appropriate anyway. But I think this feature will be very valuable once he’s a little older and we’re working on correct verb tenses/sentence structuring etc.

In the same vein, I like the similar auto plural/possessive feature with nouns. As seen here:

I also like the vocabulary colour coding system used. This simply means you can ‘label’ an item according to what word form it is (verb/noun/preposition etc). The label is shown by a different colour border on the item. It makes it handy to quickly scan to a word form, e.g verbs on a page (You can see the coding system on page 43 of this manual) .

On the negative side, here’s my wish list of things I hope we’ll see in future versions/updates:

For the program to be more DYNAMIC – by this, I mean for their to be more scope for more flexible movement between the pages. For example, if you are constructing a sentence , it’d be great that if you tap a pronoun, article, preposition etc that you could then be taken back to the page you were initially working on, as opposed to the way it works now where you have to manually use the ‘back’ or ‘home’  function. It’d save a lot of time and also reduce the opportunity for errors. I know that the creators are already looking at this. It’s one of the biggest things that would make p2go not only much more user friendly, but also much more accessible overall.

Word prediction in the typing mode. Again, this would make the application much more dynamic and give the user much more SPEED in writing words, sentences etc. As for as use in the school setting goes, this is the number one clincher for us that has sent us down the Dynavox path for use as a writing tool in the classroom.

The ability to change the size of the text. At the moment you can set it to either show as much text that will fit in two lines or one. It’d be great to be able to make the text smaller so you can see more of longer words/phrases when using the single line option.

The ability to colour the backgrounds of items – at the moment you can change ALL the background to the SAME colour (as seen here), but you can’t customise different colours for different items. This would be especially good for categories. It can make finding the right category an even faster process if the user can quickly scan for a colour as well as the symbol and/or text.

The ability to ‘lock’ items in columns. At the moment, when you move an item to a different place on the page or add or delete an item, the items shuffle around in rows. However, I’d like at times to keep things in columns – for example in the clothes page: a column for clothes for the upper body, lower body etc. At the moment it’s difficult to work things into columns because when you shuffle an item all items above it shuffle into place to ‘fill in’ the gap from the item you’ve moved. It’d be great to be able to LOCK certain items in one place so they don’t shuffle around when you move other items.

As mentioned in my earlier post, we’d love larger sizes of the small tabs when in keyboard mode. This would be a huge improvement. S has become much more accurate using the keyboard (with help for the spelling, letter location etc but using his own fingers to touch/type) but he finds it very hard to use those tiny tabs to press ‘save’ or ‘speak’.

Probably not going to happen for a while, but we’d love some Australian voices. A more likely wish is for some better children’s voices. The kids voices don’t sound very childish really. I imagine it’s a hard thing to do, but I hope it happens.

And my overall major, number one wish is something that I’ve already found out goes above p2go level and is a sincere request to Apple:

From all that I’ve gathered, it’s not possible to LOCK an application – as in, protect it from being deleted. THIS to me, is the one major flaw of the p2go compared with a dedicated AAC device. The fact that it is an isolated application and with a few taps can be wiped off totally. Yes, you can back it up. Yes, you can lock the whole iPad so that you can stop someone from using it. BUT we’ve already had several applications accidentally deleted at home, mostly by S’s little brother M who sometimes just likes to keep pressing buttons until something happens. If M deleted p2go at home we’d have a back up – but then the pressure is back on me to remember to back to up to an external source as OFTEN as we make changes.

I’ve already heard a few stories from friends who have managed to delete the application accidentally AND I really hate the thought that S could be at school or out and about and somehow his ‘voice’ could be deleted suddenly and irretrievably until he got home and we could hopefully download it again from the back-up version (I say ‘hopefully’ because we haven’t had to try to retrieve from back up yet)…

So my number one wish is that in the future,  the clever people at Apple create the ability to lock applications – so for example if someone tries to delete it, they need to type in a code in order for the app to be truly deleted.  If anyone out there already knows a way that this can be done (maybe it’s possible for someone to create an application to do this? maybe one exists and I just haven’t found it yet?) PLEASE let me know.

Later,  so you know it’s not all business in our house, I’ll be back to talk about some of the fun apps we’ve been enjoying on the iPad. And asking for recommendations of more. The current, newest fave in our house is ‘Fruit Ninja‘.  Loving the mindless, simple splat of ninja sword sliced fruit ;-).

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