Accommodations For Adults: Reflecting On Google Maps And UDL

As many of my blog readers know, I was very reluctant to get a cell phone, and only due to a wifi outage last summer did I choose to make the leap and purchase my first iPhone. Since then, the phone has changed my workflow, and I even decided to purchase an Apple watch a few months ago. I realize how privileged I am to be able to make these purchases. I also realize how much thinking and learning comes out of my daily tinkering with these exceedingly more common tech devices.

In some recent blog posts, I’ve shared about my summer position as a coordinator for Camp Power and Camp CLIMB. This year, there were three different locations for this summer camp. While I was usually at one location a day, occasionally I had to drive between sites. Two of the schools were very close to each other, and I already knew the quickest way to get from one to the other. The final school though was on the Hamilton mountain, while the other two were in downtown Hamilton. A number of years ago, I got acquainted with one of the mountain accesses, and as I am apt to do when I drive, I tended to choose this one access every time that I needed to go up the mountain (or back down it). The problem is that this access was quite far from the summertime downtown schools, and it was also closed in one direction. What could I do? I decided to look up the directions on Google. For those that do not already know, I do not like driving on the highway, but I could restrict the highway option in Google. I then pressed, “Start,” and put my iPhone in the cup holder. The most amazing thing happened: Google talked me through the directions. Maybe all of you already know that this is possible, but for me, this was an eye-opening experience.

This amazing phone feature reduced so much of my driving stress. I didn’t need to know where to turn or how to get from Point A to Point B — I just need a charged phone to get me there. The only thing that bothered me is that I love to listen to music as I drive — usually country music blaring from my car radio — and now I need to listen to, “In 300 m turn left.” πŸ™‚ Everything changed yesterday though, when I learned another trick …

Now I can listen to music on my phone or on the radio, and Google Maps will quietly interrupt it with where and when to turn. Mind blowing.

I may be the last SMART phone user to be aware of these special features, but these wonderful accommodations are not lost on me. In fact, they are making me think more about the classroom. As we learn more about UDL (Universal Design For Learning), we are often challenged to reconsider our classroom spaces and our accommodations for students: what might be necessary for some and good for all? This Google Maps feature is like UDL for adults.

  • It provides a visual of the directions for those that can read the turns (which, by the way, is not me).
  • It speaks the directions to you: preparing you in advance for each turn, so that you have time to get into the right lane.
  • It recalculates the drive if/when you make a wrong turn. For me, it’s the exiting of the roundabouts that always leads to problems, but I know that this Maps feature has me covered. πŸ™‚

There’s no need for a driving IEP to have these accommodations in place, nor does anybody question the need for adults to access anything from Google Maps to Waze. Let’s make the link between these driving experiences and classroom practices (with the implied assumption here that there is no IEP in place).

  • Would it be equally okay to have an iPad read a story to a child instead of having the child read the story independently?
  • Would it be equally okay to have a student use text-to-speech to write anything from a sentence to a paragraph, instead of doing this with a pencil and paper?
  • Would it be equally okay to provide the diagram for the math problem instead of the need to draw it?

These are just some examples. Maybe not every child needs these accommodations, just like not every adult needs the talking voice to get from Point A to Point B, but does our openness to one set of accommodations help reframe our views on others? Sometimes learning happens in the strangest of places and circumstances. I wonder what iPhone features I’ll learn about next. πŸ™‚


Why Share? A Further Look At EDTV.

Last week, I blogged about my EDTV thinking and some future plan ideas. There are many reasons that I love blogging, but one of which is that it can start a conversation. This is exactly what happened with this post.

The conversation started thanks to Nancy Angevine-Sands and a comment that she left on my post. Nancy has always made me think more about parent engagement versus involvement, and her comment here pushed my thinking even further.

  • First, she wondered about the use of a YouTube channel. I actually have a YouTube channel that I used a lot many years ago, but I’ve used less over the years. When we started creating these EDTV videos for camp, we were focused on making them short. The idea was to make them between 1 and 2 minutes, where we would share a few ideas and provide families with some home learning options. I always think about YouTube for longer videos — probably because this is how I used it so many years ago — but it doesn’t need to be just for these. The conversation on the VoicEd Radio Show this week, reminded me that many people regularly access YouTube. Maybe uploading videos to this space would be a way to not just engage our parent community, but also the larger community.
  • Then, she mentioned having a meeting to explain these options to families. This is a great idea! In our school community, I have heard that informal conversations with parents can be very beneficial. I’m almost imagining a table set-up — maybe even at a Meet the Teacher Night — where we can share more about EDTV and the value of these videos. This could also be a great way to find out more about topics that families want to hear more about, and target recordings to meet these needs. Having an anonymous survey might work well to hear input from some families, while chatting about options, might work well for others. Often people love to munch and mingle, so I’m envisioning adding some snacks to this table space.
  • After that, she spoke about the use of multiple languages. Her comment made me think about our new Language Curriculum Document, and the discussion about translanguaging. I’m wondering how we can not only invite families to share learning in multiple ways and multiple languages, but how we can be more intentional about including multiple languages and experiences as part of our video provocations.
  • Finally, she spoke about how “effective and meaningful engagement takes place in the home.” She had me thinking about the question prompts that Aaron Puley always used to suggest that I leave at the end of my blog posts for families. While we might be able to write a question or two down in a post after recording a video, I wonder if we can also include these questions as part of our videos. Maybe sharing the ideas orally as well as writing them down would also meet different family needs, as having text there could help with translation apps. There is always so much to consider.

This discussion evolved even more when Doug Peterson, Stephen Hurley, and Heather Swail discussed my post on the This Week In Ontario Edublogs VoicEd Canada Radio Show. Here are some points that really stood out to me.

  • First, there is value in variation. In my last blog post, I included an example of a video that I shared with the camp. Nobody is only going to want to see videos of me, nor will they only want to see videos in my car. This summer, we have had classroom instructors, site leads, and administrators record and share videos through our private Instagram account and on Twitter. For the upcoming school year, I would love to have classroom educators and administrators also share videos for EDTV. When I shared my last blog post on Instagram, Jennifer Casa-Todd mentioned a willingness to be a guest recorder. This would be an interesting option to explore. Could there be guests across our Board and across Ontario, who would share their ideas and question prompts on EDTV?
  • Next, there is the point about a background. I will admit that for the summer recordings, we didn’t worry too much about settings. People recorded videos everywhere from their car to their classroom, but maybe we need to consider some different settings. Seeing specific items or areas, might also further the learning. I wonder if a green screen would be helpful at times. This is not something that I’ve worked with a lot in the past, but maybe there is some new learning for me in this area as well.
  • Finally, there is the question about student involvement. It would be wonderful to have ways for students and families to also partake more publicly in this sharing. I wonder if this would help further create a community of learners. This summer, I know that some families began to tweet us about their home experiences and/or responses to their question prompts. This could work during the school year. Families might also comment on an Instagram post, a YouTube video, or a blog post, but are we getting enough participation in this way? Considering the media component of the new Language Document, I wonder if there’s a way to link this sharing within the school environment. I can almost imagine a Speakers Corner set-up — am I dating myself for remembering this TV show? Definitely more to contemplate here.

I’m not sure how many answers I have now, versus further wonderings, but as the end of the summer draws closer, I want to keep these thoughts and questions at the forefront of my mind. That’s why I’m blogging about them here. What other ideas and questions do you have to add to the conversation? It will be interesting to see the evolution of EDTV. Thanks for being a part of the process!


EDTV and Parent Engagement: Possibilities For The Upcoming School Year

Over 11 years ago, Aaron Puley and I started conversing, sharing, and reflecting on parent engagement together. At the time, he was the Parent and Student Engagement Consultant for our Board, and now, he’s a vice principal. I’m reminded of these discussions a lot this summer in my role as the Coordinator for Camp Power and Camp CLIMB. Parent engagement is an important component of these camps, and just like all of those years ago with Aaron, we’ve definitely been talking a lot about viewing engagement through an equity lens.

This summer, we’ve been thinking about a few different ways that we can engage parents, while also being responsive to their requests and insights. For the first time ever, we started a camp Instagram account, as we know that many families are on Instagram, but not necessarily Twitter. That said, some families and educators engage with us through Twitter, so we did not want to remove this option. We decided though to use Instagram in a slightly different — more focused — way. We’re creating EDTV videos, where instructors, site leads, and maybe even administrators, share a daily 1-2 minute video about learning at the camp and a home extension opportunity. Either through the video or through the description, we’re asking questions and inviting conversations with families about learning at home. Knowing that some families like to interact with us more on Twitter, we’re also tweeting out these videos each day. I really appreciated this tweeted reply to our first video.

As I started to post more of these videos, I had an epiphany, which a few days later, has inspired this blog post.

What about taking this idea back to the school? I realize that a social media way of sharing is not going to work for every family, but I wonder if these short video recordings could be a good way to share school learning and extension opportunities for home. Maybe by cross-posting to Twitter, Instagram, and even a blog (I’ve just requested a new one πŸ™‚ ), we can engage more families and inspire more sharing.

In September, I’m starting as a Reading Specialist at a different school. As I build relationships with the staff there, it would be great if they could also share their recordings on this platform. These videos would align with the learning shared through our monthly Reading Specialist Meetings and the experiences taking place at school. I would love if families could also start to request topics for videos — maybe both through an online survey and a home paper option. I’m still thinking about exactly what this will look like, but I’m hoping that this blog post will make me accountable to jump in and try something new. Will it work for everyone? Probably not. But could this be an effective way to engage families and share school experiences? I think that it could, and seeing the number of families that are following along with these videos this summer, I’m seeing a lot of potential. Have you ever tried something similar before, and how did families respond? I’d love to hear your insights as I continue to think aloud — and think publicly — about this new engagement opportunity. Every year, when we reflect at camp with those from the Ontario Summer Literacy Program, we’re asked what learning from the summer might make its way back into the classroom during the school year. After only one week of camp, this is one way that I would share. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of weeks bring!


Please note that I realize that there are many different kinds of families, and when I speak about “parent engagement,” I’m including engaging all of the caring adults in our lives.