There is no medium of expression that is equally suited for all students or for all kinds of communication. On the contrary, there are media which seem poorly suited for some kinds of expression, and for some kinds of students. While a student with dyslexia may excel at story-telling in conversation, he may falter drastically when telling that same story in writing. Alternative modalities for expression should be provided both to level the playing field among students, and to introduce all students to the full range of media that are important for communication and literacy in our multimedia culture. Additionally, students vary widely in their familiarity and fluency with the conventions of any one medium. Within media, therefore, alternative supports should be available to scaffold and guide students who are at different levels of their apprenticeships in learning to express themselves competently.
5.1 Options in the media for communication
Unless specific media and materials are critical to an objective (e.g. the objective is to learn to paint specifically with oils, or to learn to handwrite with calligraphy) it is important to provide alternative media for expression. Such alternatives reduce media-specific barriers to expression among students with a variety of special needs but also increase the opportunities for all students to develop a wider palette of expression in a media-rich world. For example, it is important for all students to learn composition, not just writing, and to learn the optimal medium for any particular content of expression and audience.
- Composing in multiple media:
- drawing, illustration, design
- physical manipulatives (e.g. blocks, 3D models)
- film or video
- multimedia (Web designs, storyboards, comic strips)
- music, visual art, sculpture
5.2 Options in the tools for composition and problem solving
There is a pervasive tendency in schooling to focus on traditional tools for literacy rather than contemporary ones. This tendency has several liabilities: 1) It does not prepare students for their future; 2) It limits the range of content and teaching methodologies that can be implemented; and, most importantly, 3) It constricts the kinds of students who can be successful. Modern media tools provide a more flexible and accessible toolkit with which students with a variety of abilities and disabilities can more successfully articulate what they know. Unless a lesson is focused on learning to use a specific tool (e.g. learning to draw with a compass), curricula should allow many alternatives. Like any craftsman, students should learn to use tools that are an optimal match between their abilities and the task demands.
- Spellcheckers, grammar checkers, word prediction software
- Speech to Text software (voice recognition), human dictation, recording
- Calculators, graphing calculators, geometric sketchpads
- Sentence starters, sentence strips· Story webs, outlining tools, concept mapping tools
- Computer-Aided-Design (CAD), Music notation (writing) software
5.3 Options in the scaffolds for practice and performance
Students who are developing a target skill often need multiple scaffolds and graduated supports to assist them as they practice and develop independence. Those same scaffolds that are important for any novice are often critical for students with disabilities in both practice and performance. Curricula should offer alternatives in the degrees of freedom available, with highly scaffolded and supported opportunities (e.g., templates, physical and mnemonic scaffolds, procedural checklists, etc.) provided for some followed by gradual release and wide degrees of freedom for others who are ready for independence.
- Provide differentiated models to emulate (i.e. models that demonstrate the same outcomes but use differing approaches, strategies, skills, etc.)
- Provide differentiated mentors (i.e., teachers/tutors who use different approaches to motivate, guide, feedback or inform)
- Provide scaffolds that can be gradually released with increasing independence and skills (e.g. embedded into digital reading and writing software)· Provide differentiated feedback (e.g. feedback that is accessible because it can be customized to individual learners – see also Guideline 6.4)