Monday, November 16, 2009

Sounds Good

I remember my first pair of eye glasses.  I was a sophomore in high school.  I recall putting them on and saying, "Wow.  Is this the way everybody sees?"  I guess it's an example of not knowing what you don't know.  I had become gradually near-sighted and just assumed I was seeing the world the same as everyone saw it.  One immediate benefit was that I could see the blackboard from anywhere in the classroom.  Until then I had been a front row student or when I was assigned a seat further back, I squinted.  I remember, at the end of a class, if the homework was on the board, I would come up to the front to copy it down before going to the next class.  Glasses made life as a student a lot easier.

The other day, I learned that Native American children have a slightly differently shaped ear canal than other children and as a result suffer from more ear infections.  I learned this because the classrooms I was visiting all had FM speaker systems.  In this school, because there is a significant Native population, the teachers wear microphones and speakers in the ceiling drop the sound down evenly to all parts of the room.  While these systems are not the answer for children with a hearing disability, they do help those students with mild hearing loss due to an ear infection that they may be beginning or recovering from.  From an audio point of view (excuse the mixed metaphor), it is as if every student has a front row seat.

This made me realize how many wonderful breakthroughs we have made in education that are unrelated to curriculum content or pedagogy.  Uncovering dyslexia at earlier ages helps students who in the past would have been labeled as slow learners.  While some argue it is over-diagnosed, there are children with genuine attention deficit issues who in the past were simply seen as hyper-active trouble makers.  Students, who because of poverty do not start the day well nourished, can get breakfast at school before the day begins, instead of being thought of as lazy for having little energy.  Seeing or hearing the classroom from a student's point of view, and making accommodations so they can learn is not just an educational imperative, it is a moral one.

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