Keep in mind that we must consider this as multiple environments, as no student exists in only one environment! (Even the rare person who is only in one place all the time experiences a multitude of influences which can alter the environment - changes in the people setting up the environment, for one.) If we look at only the school environment, we must consider the profound environmental differences betweeen the classroom at different hours of the day, the playground, the cafeteria, the hallway, the bus stop, etc. In each environment, there are factors to consider.
ARRANGEMENT: What is the anticipated arrangement of the environment? Though discussion might include possible placement options, it should also include, when known, the setup. For instance, when considering a mobility system which must be used in a crowded hallway, a classroom with close-set rows of with desks, a sand and grass covered playground, and a bus that currently has no left system, it is important to remember that each of these factors must be considered UP FRONT in order to come up with a functional mobility system. Environmental issues like those mentioned does NOT mean that power mobility or the like would not be considered, it just means that, in order for power mobility to be functional in these environments, other PARTS of the system would be critical, like: identifying a lift system for the bus; some assistance for the teacher in classroom space alterations; training for the student and others in how to manage in crowded situations; some possible alterations in scheduling so that the student might avoid the halls at the most crowded moments, at least at the beginning of using the system. These should be a part of UP FRONT system selection, as, without them, the system will not meet expectations and will most likely be abandoned in favor of other workable - but perhaps less independent - strategies.
SUPPORT: Are there people in these environments who know how to suppport the student in using the system well and know how to invite the student to do so? How will support people be identified? Will training be needed? If so, in what areas? Many of these answers will change depending upon how the tools system is developed, but they must be identified NOW, as they can have a significant effect upon the cost and use of a system.
MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT: What are the other students using? What materials and equipment are currently available for students to use that could be used by this student? If computers are being used and may be an option for this student, what platforms (operating systems) are in use? What software is currently available? What additional equipment is currently available to this student without additional purchases?
ATTITUDES: This area, perhaps more than any other, is a critical one because attitudes have an incredible influence on the environment! Within the catagory of attitudes is expectations. If I am the person who has the responsibility for developing environments where learning can take place, my attitudes and expectations have a great deal to do what what I include in those environments. For example, during the years that I was a first grade teacher, it was my expectation that all of my students would acquire with the skills needed to eventually be fully participative in adult society. They would be able to attend college, be productively and happily employed and do whatever chose. With that in mind, I set about providing an environment where the necessary skills - at the first grade level - were readily addressed. Literacy was a primary focus for everyone all the time and the classroom setup and activities reflected this focus. Basically, woven throughout everything else that was done, literacy was taught and practiced ALL DAY LONG! It was never confined to one particular period of the day and one particular circumstance. It was far too important for that! What if, however, there had been some reason to suspect that among my students were those for whom college and adult productivity appeared to be a long shot? Would have worked as long and hard at developing literacy for those students, suspecting as I did, that it was highly unlikely that they would ever master the art receiving and giving information in written form? Would I have taken the time and effort to provide a print rich environment and drawn attention to its use at every possible moment? Though I would like to THINK that I would have, I know that this is highly unlikely. Chances are I would have selected more "meaningful" and "attainable" goals for students in this situation and given the development of literacy the backseat that it appeared to deserve. Given these expectations, I would have failed to offer invitations for my students to develop literacy skills. Thus, whether they were capable of learning to read and write or not, they would NOT DO SO, as they opportunity for them to learn these skills had not been suffiently presented and acted upon! Scary, isn't it? Are attitudes and expectations important? You bet they are! But they are tough to deal with.
Consider the I.E.P. meeting where Mrs. Jones finds out that John, a student with severe physical disabilities will be in her classroom. Mrs. Jones is unprepared to deal with the John's special needs and her other students. She expresses her frustration and misgivings by protesting that John obviously does not belong in her classroom. She doesn't seem to realize that you will be there often to support John and her in the learning process. You realize that it is her fear and lack of understanding that is standing in the way! She has a very poor attitude about John and you know that that is really what is standing in the way! You address her directly, saying, "Mrs. Jones, certainly you have concerns, but it is your attitude that will stnd in the way of John's success in your classroom. This committee has decided that he WILL be in your class, so will need to make some changes! I will help you all I can." Will this approach change Mrs. Jones' attitude? You think not? I think so. Consider this, before you confronted her, she did not want John in her classroom. NOW she doesn't want YOU either! And you were the one who was going to assist her in this venture! Attitudes and expectations! Areas rich with opportunities to invite growth and, yet, fraught with the potential for disaster! Attitudinal differences must be recognized, but must also be dealt with over time in ways that promotes the opportunity for growth by ALL parties so that STUDENTS will have the oppportunity to learn and grow.
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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts. NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013. Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information. If you do so, please cite NCIP. Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government. This site was last updated in September 1998.
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