Main content

Alert message

senseabilities masthead
A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals

Emily Morlandt, Education Specialist: Low Incidence Disabilities, Assistive Technology, Related Services, Education Service Center, Region 20

Abstract: Ms. Morlandt shares her experience with using Active Learning for a student during and after a two-year pilot entitled “Developing District Capacity in Active Learning.”

Keywords: Active Learning, Education Service Center Region 20 (ESC-20), Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach (TSBVI), HOPSA dress, Functional Scheme.

I began my Active Learning journey backwards. I had been an Educational Specialist serving teachers of students with Low Incidence Disabilities for two years after teaching students from the same population for several years prior. I attended a conference with Ms. Patty Obrzut at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) to build my knowledge base about Active Learning, which had been introduced to me at the time by my partner at the Education Service Center.

I felt like a door had opened to reveal possibilities for students just like those that I had served in the classroom years ago that I had been at a loss with how to reach at the time. I had done the best that I could with what I knew at the time, and I’m proud to say that some of what my team and I had done were on the right track—but it could have been so much better. I began to wonder how I could use this invaluable information in my current role as a provider of professional development and training for teachers serving students with these significant challenges. How could I help these teachers to have this information so that they would be empowered to build instructional programs for their students who needed this approach?

I brought my thoughts forward to other stakeholders who serve the same population, and through our conversations the Developing District Capacity in Active Learning (DDCAL) Pilot was born. It was developed as a collaborative effort between the Low Incidence Disabilities Statewide Network (LID or LISN) and TSBVI. Four regions from around the state would support a district team around one student that met the criteria as a learner who would benefit from the Active Learning approach. Each team would complete the Functional Scheme assessment developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen and submit baseline videos. The team members would receive training through participation in ongoing consultation visits with the ESC lead and TSBVI Outreach staff and/or support to attend the 2-day Active Learning Conference. Then each district would have access to a minimum of $1000 from the LID to help them purchase materials or equipment needed for implementing Active Learning for the student.

The Pilot proposed to add 4-5 additional regions each year, with the intention for all 20 Education Service Centers to participate within four years. I volunteered to represent Education Service Center, Region 20 (ESC-20) as one of the pilot teams, and along with four other teams of my esteemed colleagues from around the state we began this two-year project.

Fast forward a few months—the first ESC-20 DDCAL team was selected and ready to go. None of us knew what to expect but all were dedicated to the idea of getting Active Learning incorporated in the school day for our student, Voozeki. At the time, Voozeki was in Kindergarten attending Maverick Elementary School in San Antonio Independent School District (ISD). Sara Kitchen, our support from TSBVI, guided the team to complete the Functional Scheme, which is the assessment tool that guides how Active Learning is implemented.

Can I say how extremely fortunate I have been to work alongside such dedicated, hard-working people? Voozeki’s team took in all of the information Sara and I shared like a sponge and immediately began incorporating it into Voozeki’s day. He has the most conscientious (not to mention the coolest) parents who have been there every step of the way. They shared the activity boards and other materials that they were using at home. They created these activities for Voozeki after they attended Active Learning training with Patty Obrzut and tweaked these learning environments with the data we gathered through completing the Functional Scheme assessment! They even invited representatives from Team Ability, which is a non-profit organization in San Antonio where Voozeki attends therapy sessions, to participate. Team Ability also utilizes the Active Learning approach. This collaboration and information sharing between school, home and this facility was incredibly helpful. Team Ability not only shared information with the school team about his progress during therapy at their facility, they also allowed for our team members to visit and watch Voozeki in action. Voozeki in the HOPSA dress examining rocks in a baking pan with his bare feet.

By the end of year one, the original team had done so much—the Functional Scheme had been completed initially then was updated. The team had worked together to build equipment and gathered materials based on his preferences and what the data indicated he might need. Thanks to DDCAL support, the team was able to purchase some equipment and materials to help build on what we had begun. This included a portable tripod designed to support a hammock chair (Hammaka Tripod Hanging Chair Stand found on amazon.com), which we used to support a HOPSA (Holding Up for Standing Activities) dress so that Voozeki could explore items from a standing position.

Year Two brought a new set of opportunities and challenges. Voozeki, now a first grader, transitioned to a new school, which meant there were new team members to train about Active Learning as well as all of the other considerations when a student joins a new classroom and team. And again, the new team rose to the challenge. Voozeki’s new team members jumped right in.

One of his teachers at his new campus, Crockett Elementary, has a unique classroom called the Sensory Optimal Learning Environment (S.O.L.E.), which is designed based on the Active Learning approach and philosophy. Voozeki has been able to spend part of his school day in this setting, and his S.O.L.E. teacher, Claire Heins, graciously assumed the leadership role to assist his other teachers with implementing Active Learning strategies in their classrooms. To continue moving forward, the team used an amazing and thorough online resource, Active Learning Space (www.activelearningspace.org), to provide support for new team members as well as to build his program. This website has been developed through collaboration between Penrickton Center for Blind Children, Perkins School for the Blind and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Whenever a team member needed additional support on a particular component of Active Learning, such as the 5 Phases of Educational Treatment, they were able to visit the website to view videos that describe each phase as well as examples of implementation with students.

From year one to year two, Voozeki made progress in these skill areas: communication, fine movement, perception of objects, and spatial perception. Voozeki showed this progress through developing new skills such as purposeful acceptance or rejection of options using auditory scanning of consistent verbal labels for familiar activities. This was generalized to use either when presented by a speech output device or by a person. He showed rejection by turning away, and acceptance by turning toward a person and vocalizing. He has been vocalizing more during play and his vocalizations have become more differentiated. He also has developed specific preferences and is very clear of what he wants at various times of the day. He has grown more confident in his own ability to make choices and get information, and spends more time engaged in activities and less time taking processing breaks. He is now able to spend more time looking at his own activity with objects. He is currently experimenting with graded force of his own action, and no longer only uses large back muscles to activate arm movement. He keeps his hands in midline more often and is able to isolate the pointer finger of his right hand to spin a favored toy. Voozeki remembers where items are in familiar learning environments and returns to favored items to compare their qualities or repeat an activity with an item.Voozeki at the zoo touching a chime.

We are now approaching the end of Year Two. In a few days we will meet as a team for the final time to discuss this project: How has it benefited Voozeki, the team, what the data shows, and where we go from here? I have to say that I have no doubt about his future success. I have had the honor and privilege to work alongside these dedicated educators and family members for two years now and it reminds me of why I decided to make special education my profession years ago. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have learned from and grown with each person on the team.

I plan on taking what I have learned from this experience and sharing it throughout Region 20 by creating workshops that will help other teams build a similar program to serve their students. TSBVI has graciously agreed to continue to support me and my partner at ESC-20, Dana Frankland, with building these new training opportunities and I couldn’t be more appreciative. One new training tool is the online self-paced course, Active Learning Principles. TSBVI plans to develop 5-6 additional online modules about various aspects of utilizing Active Learning during the 2018-2019 school-year.

My ultimate goal is to share as much information as I can with school teams so that they are empowered to build meaningful instructional programs for the students in their classrooms that access the general curriculum in a very different way. My participation in the DDCAL project has provided me with the information and support to do just that. I’m very excited to see how this will grow to serve more teachers, therapists, families, and (most importantly) students.