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Empowering Learners With Exceptional Needs
by Andrea AJ Lugo, Canoga Park Elementary School
This past year, my students with exceptional needs demonstrated the highest growth towards meeting standards on the Smarter Balanced summative assessments. Yes, you read that right! All it takes is creativity, determination and lots of support from my professional learning community. If you were to ask me a few years ago how technology integration would impact my students with exceptional needs, I would not have believed remixing my lessons to incorporate the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards would make such a big difference. But it has.
As a Resource Teacher, I have had many of my students for multiple years. I am constantly trying to reinvent my teaching in order to keep it fresh. This prompted me to delve into the many professional developments that are hosted by the Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI) department. I enrolled in any training possible, especially topics that were foreign to me such as coding and programming in early grades in the context of digital storytelling. By doing this, I met many people that I was able to add to my professional learning community that help support edtech in my classroom.
One example of this was my determination to lead with instruction. I recently designed a book study for my students using Angela Dominguez’ Stella Diaz Has Something To Say. Each day, students read a chapter or two and conducted rich discussions that elicited deeper thinking. Upon completing the book, these empowered learners participated in global collaboration during a Skype session with the author, Angela Dominguez. Students were able to ask clarifying questions and get an understanding of her writing process. Subsequently, they recorded a podcast discussing their experience and connection to the character, Stella Diaz. As creative communicators, they collaborated with peers to demonstrate their learning by recreating scenes from the book in Minecraft: Education Edition for their culminating project while practicing their digital citizenship skills. My engaged students created a screencast video tour and cited evidence from the text to show why.
So, if you are skeptical about how implementing the ISTE standards alongside Common Core State Standards empowers student agency, let me provide you with some hard data. With 12 students combined in both 4th and 5th grade, every student has increased their DIBELS reading scores by a minimum of 30 words between the Beginning of the Year and Middle of the Year. Additionally, students with exceptionalities at Canoga Park Elementary had the largest percentile growth on the 2018-2019 SBAC summative assessments in both language arts and math. Students with disabilities grew 29.3 points in English Language Arts and 7.7 points in Mathematics.
My belief, supported by this data, shows that engaging and increasing student agency boosts confidence, retention of information, and content knowledge shows marked improvement not only for my students, but for all types of learners. We must continue to provide rich, meaningful instruction to create college and career ready students with future ready skills.