The goal of Pathways for Learning is to improve the learning outcomes of students with disabilities in general education classrooms through the effective use of technology facilitated by appropriate organizational support and professional development strategies. CCT collaborated with the Lawrence, New York, public school system, one of two demonstration sites for the project, to design, implement, document, and evaluate professional development and administrative support strategies to facilitate the sustained and integrated use of technology in inclusion classrooms across multiple grades.
Many U.S. school districts are currently undertaking reform efforts to improve the education of all students, including those with disabilities. A growing number of students with disabilities are now included or 'mainstreamed' into general education classrooms. Research suggests that the key to successful teaching and learning in these classrooms is the use of technology to help teachers individualize students' educational experiences. Computers, video, telecommunications, and a variety of assistive devices can make it possible for students with disabilities to gain access to and participate in a broad variety of educational experiences. For students with disabilities to achieve high standards of learning, however, educational experiences must be customized to their individual needs and be consistent across the grades so that teaching and learning in one grade, including the use of technology, will build the foundation for the next.
The professional development approach of this project involved providing cross-graded and multidisciplinary teams of teachers with ongoing support for the development of technology-supported learning activities. Pathways Teams consist of five to ten teachers from several consecutive grade levels and multiple disciplines, administrators, and student-support personnel such as resource room teachers, psychologists, and social workers. Each team is supported by a school-based facilitator (a teacher or an administrator) and a CCT consultant. Pathways Teams meet regularly throughout the school year and in the summer to develop learning activities that address the needs of students with and without disabilities in regular classrooms using a variety of technologies.
In developing learning activities, Pathways Teams pay particular attention to the needs of selected students identified as at-risk or as needing special education services. Decisions about curriculum, instruction, support services, and technology are made collaboratively by the team members based on a shared understanding of students' capabilities and challenges. An important aspect of the Pathways Team process is that planning for a child is shared by current and future teachers, ensuring that successful strategies for targeted students will be carried over from one grade to the next, rather than each teacher piecing together a new approach at the beginning of the school year.
Organizational support provided by participating schools and the district has involved providing coverage for teachers to attend team meetings, support for summer curriculum projects and staff development days, ensuring that target students are taught by Pathways teachers from the same team in successive grades, acquisition of software and hardware, priority scheduling of computer lab time, and clerical assistance. More recently, the project has helped organize a district-wide committee to coordinate the expansion of the Pathways approach to other schools in the district.
Over the first three years, the Pathways approach has had a significant impact on students, teachers, and facilitators, and has received enthusiastic support from school-level and district-level administrators. Participation in the Pathways Teams has helped teachers refine their understanding of learning disabilities, ways of integrating technology to serve students with a variety of needs, and the processes involved in collaborative activity planning. Pathways teachers have become more accepting of academic diversity in their classrooms and have developed special interest in and concern for the target students (e.g., trying to find extra help for the students, showing continued interest in how these students are doing after leaving their classroom).
Participation in the Pathways project also helped teachers to develop their competence in using computer technology. Most have made using computer technology an integral part of their classroom activities. Teachers have become more critical reviewers of software and proficient users of several programs, including HyperStudio, Storybook Weaver Deluxe, and Inspiration. Some even serve as a resource for other teachers: One is teaching a district-wide in-service course on HyperStudio; another has served as a computer coordinator of the middle school. The facilitators have improved their leadership skills, needing less help from CCT staff to plan and conduct team meetings and to orchestrate organizational support.
Above all, the main goal for implementing the Pathways approach in Lawrence was to improve learning outcomes. Most of the target students were more engaged. in writing, collaborated more, felt more confident about their writing, and for many, the quality and quantity of writing improved significantly. For non-targeted students, the Pathways activities were highly engaging as well. The activities provided all students with exciting new means for expression.
This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and the Lawrence public schools.