World Enabled

World Enabled Case Study on Increasing Adolescent Agency

“Breaking Boundaries – The New Media Academy” was an 8-week course in Digital Storytelling offered to high school students with and without disabilities in Reseda, California. The course included 20 students with skills ranging from gifted to average to developmentally disabled. This inclusive environment incorporated Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles into a standards-based curricula to make the course material fully accessible to all learning levels.Each student was able to produce a 1 – 3minute video that told a story about their lives. The course focused on story structure, collecting digital assets, hand-on video production and post-production, captioning, and showcasing their work.The challenge of teaching in an inclusive environment with different learning levels was met by having:

(a) A curriculum specifically designed by UDL and Digital Storytelling Experts to meet California Education Standards to provide multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement;

(b) Twovery experienced high school teachers with expertise in audio, video and media production (but almost no experience teaching developmentally disabled students);

(c) One disability expert with extensive experience teaching persons with disabilities;

(d) College students with disabilities that served as Team Leaders; and

(e) Personal Assistants for the students with disabilities.

The findings of this Pilot Program were:

  • The New Media Academy program was overwhelmingly successful in its pilot implementation as the first inclusive, UDL and standards-based digital storytelling and media production curriculum within California schools.
  • Students with and without disabilities reported more favorable perceptions of disability along all three factors measured: (1) comfort with persons with disabilities, (2) increased understanding of persons with disabilities and (3) preference for an inclusive classroom. Moreover, students were engaged throughout the program and reported an increased interest in learning and having a career in film and media. Such outcomes could have a positive, long-term impact upon society and be a groundbreaking precursor to a new level of awareness raising.
  • The program provided a valuable experience for the instructors in terms of and team leaders. It presented seasoned high school teachers with an opportunity to further develop their teaching skills though Universal Design for Learning in a fully inclusive classroom setting. The team leadersdeveloped their leadership skills, an opportunity that can be challenging for persons with disabilities to find.
  • The New Media Academy demonstrated the utility and practicality of Universal Design for Learning. While the principles need to be further applied to future program implementations, the pilot program demonstrates the viability of such an approach in tandem with standards-based curriculum.
  • The future of education is in UDL. All persons—disabled or not—learn effectively in different manners, through a variety of types of instruction and teaching methods, and at various rates of learning. The need for inclusive education is here, now. Breaking Boundaries – The New Media Academy was a giant first step.

Points on Executive Functionings:

The steps of executive function:

Around the time of puberty, the frontal part of the cortex of the brain matures, allowing individuals to perform higher-level tasks like those required in executive function. Think of executive function as what the chief executive officer of a company must do -- analyze, organize, decide, and execute. Very similarly, the six steps of executive function are:

  1. Analyze a task
  2. Plan how to address the task
  3. Organize the steps needed to carry out the task
  4. Develop timelines for completing the task
  5. Adjust or shift the steps, if needed, to complete the task
  6. Complete the task in a timely way
  • setting a goal, (understanding what the assignment or question is asking one to achieve)
  • planning a course to achieve it, (remembering the procedure appropriate to the task)
  • holding the plan in working memory while executing it,
  • sequencing the steps in the plan,
  • initiating taking those steps and shifting between them,
  • monitoring progress for both pace and quality,
  • regulating attention and emotional responses to challenges that arise,
  • making flexible changes in the plan as needed, and
  • evaluating the outcome for use of the plan in a subsequent similar activity.

For most of us these processes occur without much explicit thought on our part, and we get better at executive functioning as we mature. For some of us, though, these functions are disordered.† Almost all people who have frontal lobe anomalies, like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, have difficulty with executive functioning. The medication they take (stimulant) helps with focus and impulsivity control but it only helps, it does not solve the problem entirely.What comes to most of us fairly unconsciously must be explicitly taught to folks with Executive Dysfunction. A combination of cognitive training and appropriate accommodation can make an important difference to those who suffer from these anomalies.

But there is another element of the problem. People who have Executive Dysfunction tend to develop pretty negative beliefs about their ability in the areas where their problems are most visible. Despite more than adequate intelligence they just can’t seem to do well in those activities. Since diagnosis of the problem has only been available in the last 7-10 years as advanced technologies allowed new observations of brain function, many kids (to say nothing of parents and teachers) do not get the understanding of what’s going on for them until they have already developed defeatist beliefs and feelings about their potential in the areas where their dysfunction shows up the most. For some this is in language based activities, and others find it in visual/spatial reasoning and math, although it does impact† functioning across most of the areas of their lives in one way or another areas as well.

So, all that said, how does this play out in terms of school and work for the individual? First, s/he goes in with the feeling that s/he can’t do it. With that ideation and anxiety, s/he attempts the work in front of her/him and effort is inconsistent. You have to believe in the possibility of success to pursue it with even and sustained effort. S/he reads the assignment or the question and either gets what it is saying/asking or not. If not s/he either gives up or applies a fairly random set of fragmented understanding of the appropriate procedures to the problem. For example as s/he is reading an article assigned for tomorrow's discussion s/he gives up several times only willing to give it another shot with encouragement and partnership.† Hitting an obstacle like missing pages, or something that doesn't make sense s/he loses the thread of the story and gives up entirely. When it comes to written assignments s/he is focused on getting the answer right, rather than on the processes needed to do that. Often the process seems like magic to someone with Executive Dysfunction. S/he may know the answer to the math problem but have no idea how s/he came to know it. S/he often get the critique that s/he need to "show your work!" But S/he doesn't, because s/he has not been clearly aware of how s/he did it.

Even if s/he has learned the formulae for the genre and has done assignments like the one s/he is currently attempting, s/he has trouble holding them in working memory while she enacts the pieces of the process this time. S/he may apply the elements of the procedure out of sequence, or skip steps without awareness of having done so. S/he has the sense that something is going wrong but is not clear on what, and s/he has trouble monitoring her progress. Folks tend to cope with this uncertainty and anxiety by going faster and adopting a blasé devil-take-the-details demeanor, using a sense of† humor in the circumvention of the trouble. S/he is truly shocked when the paper comes back with a grade that s/he knows is not the sort people as bright as s/he is should be getting. All the adults around urge her/him to make a better effort and apply incentives and consequences to help him/her achieve.

Now, I have no trouble imagining most kids in this situation providing their teachers and parents with “opportunities for guidance,” but treating this set of misfirings of their noggins as discipline issues will be unlikely to result in improvement because it misses the real root of the trouble. Instead we need to consistently

  • encourage her/him to suspend† disbelief in his/her own potential to do well in the area of concern for a moment; We need to provide scaffolding for his/her confidence as s/he builds it.
  • provide the tools and strategies that work around areas of executive dysfunction (that’s where I come in), and provide support for him/her to use them (that’s where teachers, therapists, and the family come in);
  • praise efforts even if the outcome is not optimal, inviting her/him to tweak the strategy or tool use in a way that looks promising; the more s/he owns the methods and tools and fits their use to her/himself the more likely they are to become an automatized part of his/her day-to-day practice.
  • maintain firm, honest, and encouragingly constructive critique of her/his efforts. Sugar-coated critique tells a kid that s/he is handicapped and a lost cause. Harsh, or overly meticulous criticism has much the same effect. S/he has issues to work on just like the rest of us, and like the rest of us, s/he will do better with the clear demonstration that she is respected and believed in.

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