Learning about Compensatory Support: Adapted Art Tools for poor fine motor control

EDER 679.08 Adaptive Technologies in Education. Toolkit Part A: Compensatory Support Introduction.

Glass, Meyer & Rose (2013) suggest “[…] including arts options, especially informed by UDL practices, can provide a rich range of unique and complex content, processes, and thinking habits for valuing, understanding, and making meaning of the world” (p. 116).

Type of Compensatory Support: Adapted art tools that remove or reduce the barrier caused by poor fine motor control

When to remediate versus compensate?

Dave Edyburn (2002) arguesAt some point in the educational process, we must recognize the need for compensatory approaches” (p. 2). He further asks “How much failure data is needed to trigger a decision to de-emphasize remediation approaches and activate the use of compensatory approaches that enhance a child’s functional performance?” (p. 2). A great question, especially when considering the child’s perspective for how many times must a child attempt to do any task, in a certain method, when the method is clearly failing? Some fine motors skills are developed as a child grows and with practice. Yet, despite remediation, some learners may struggle with the process of forming shapes and with the entire cognitive production of holding a writing tool (Broun, 2009). A person may not be able physically improve with remediation due to a learning disability or a permanent injury for example. Broun (2009) advises “Teachers must exercise caution in trying to elicit a skill that may never reach a level of proficiency sufficient to enable students to demonstrate what they know or think in an efficient and fluid manner” (p. 16).

If we are following the guides of Differentiated Instruction supporting diversity (Tomlinson, & McTighe, 2006), educators should encourage a variety of methods to represent knowledge and understandings. Further, if we are fostering principles for Universal Designs for Learning (CAST, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002) educators should encourage individual ways of expressing understandings and also individual use of materials. Glass, Meyer & Rose (2013) argue “arts educators will have to be more responsive to individual differences by recognizing the variation in difficulties that their students will have and addressing them in productive ways” (p. 104). Thus, by providing improved access to the visual arts through adapted art tools, educators can help support learners with poor fine motor control by embedding adapted art tools within creating. Who we include or do not include in any educational setting, sends a clear message on who is valued within a school and the Fine Arts are no exception.

General Overview of Adapted Art Tools as Compensatory Support

Goal: to support the authentic participation of learners with low fine motor control in an art setting.

Barrier: a Fine Motor or physical disability preventing a person from fully participating in an art activity.

A video showing an example of adapted art tools for fine motor use. BridgeSchooler. (2009, Oct 22). Bridge School News Network 10/22/09 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6HW5CXaoiU

Creating visual art and design projects is a complex process involving the physical mechanics of hand control and the cognitive component of organizing, creating and composing images with color, shapes, lines, textures and other materials. Further, creating is a process which serves different purposes based on the context and the author’s intent and can form as a method of communication between people.

Similar to the concept of writing on paper, creating or forming marks on a surface in art (cutting with scissors, gluing, pencil crayon coloring, painting, sculpting clay etc.) often requires a fine motor control of an art tool such as a pencil, paintbrush, clay carving tool, scissors and other hand held devices. Similar to printing or handwriting, thinking too much about the process of creating combined with the physical aspect of attempting to create intended mark takes the energy away from the purpose or goal (Newton, Dell & Petroff, 2012). Some people simply do not have a physical capability to hold a tool to create art the way they would like. Adapted art tools can provide support for learners with poor fine motor control. There are a few specifically adapted art technologies available on the market designed to assist in a variety of ways and there are many creative adaptive ways to modify current tools for a person with a fine motor disability. Which is the best? This depends on the specific needs of each individual, and the tasks they wish to be able to perform independently.

Who would benefit from an adapted art tool?

  • One with fine motor disabilities (for example hypotonia or apraxia)
  • One with a physical disability preventing fine motor hand use
  • One with developmental coordination disorder
  • One with motor dsygraphia or spatial dysgraphia
  • One developing fine motor skills with/without conjunction with Occupational Therapy
  • One who has lost the ability of fine motor skills as the result of a stroke, brain injury or influencing illness
  • One with poor balance and coordination
  • One with a vision impairment
  • One who may not have identified learning disabilities
  • One with unsteady reaching & holding
  • One who enjoys tactile or “hands on” learning experiences
  • One who enjoys visual learning (representation)
  • One who prefers expressing their learning visually
  • One who wants to try/experiment with different methods of expression
  • One who has poor physical strength due to an injury or illness
  • One with oral challenges

How might an adaptive art tool support learning? 

  • Encourages actively participating within peer projects which increases a sense of belonging.
  • Fosters a sense of interconnectedness with others. Art is often created for “an audience”. Thus fostering, what Wolf (1998) calls an exchange & response. Art can often open dialogue between peers, community and home which increases a sharing of perspectives (Greene, 2003; Jensen, 2003; Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013).
  • Helps a learner create a “product” representing the conceptual structure of knowledge (Alberta Regional Consortia, 2014; Jensen, 2003) as part of UDL and DI learning strategies.
  • Encourages imagination & exploration of ideas through materials (play & purpose).
  • Fosters cross-curricular integration if a learner has access to multiple means of representing their ideas (CAST, 2014) in any subject and fosters increased understanding in other domains (Fiske, 1999). For example, a learner can create a painting to express their feelings and ideas regarding studying the Holocaust in Social Studies (Wolf, 2008).
  • Promotes learner choice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008; Wolf, 2008). “There are not so many “right” answers as there are multiple, effective, powerful, or stunning ones. Think of all the ways there are to create a portrait […] But to realize a powerful solution or new version means making choices about what to say and how to say it.” (Wolf, 2008, p.7).
  • Inspires a democratic learning environment where students are active participants in personal expression, choice and voice (Mason, Steedly & Thorman, 2008).
  • Increases engagement when a learner can fully or more directly participate in an inclusive environment and activities (CAST, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002).
  • Supports self-expression for learners with oral challenges.
  • Fosters self-identity & empowerment (Taylor, 2006).
  • Promotes independence as students can paint/draw/cut/create without always relying solely on another person.
  • Increases the visual detail/intent/communication of a desired expressed art.
  • Encourages the individual style of a learner by removing/limiting a barrier and focusing on the message or intent of the art.
  • Creates an equal learning opportunity for students requiring fine motor support.
  • Supports an inclusive learning environment by promoting a sharing of experiences and perspectives. By truly listening to a child’s voice we can better understand their perspective. Children should be provided ample opportunity and multiple ways to share their identity, thoughts and feelings. The arts lend themselves in partnership and promote individualism and the community group.
  • Builds upon a learner’s current abilities, especially if a learner enjoys visual arts, thus fostering UDL’s principle of engagement increasing motivation, persistence and emotional self-regulation. Intrinsic motivation increases creativity (Jensen, 2003; Pink, 2009).

Conditions in the learning environment that would support the effective use of this type of compensatory support?

[…] variability is not a function solely of inherent differences among individuals but is always a function of the dynamic interaction between the capabilities of individuals and the demands and resources of the environment” (Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013, p. 105).

  • A belief system where individual learner success is imagined (Ellis, Klassen-Landis & Gottlieb, 2002)
  • A supportive environment valuing the arts & possibilities
  • Art materials easily available/accessible for the learner
  • Art materials available based on a learner’s needs, goals & interests, verses an assumed art level
  • Access to art materials found both at home and in the community so a learner may practice or experiment on their own terms and with others
  • An Inclusive classroom/school culture where adapted art tools are found often and accepted without stigma or isolation
  • Ongoing assessment of the technology such as a daily check in with the learner: How are things going?
  • Is the physical space around the learner large enough or designed to provide ample room or angle to use the adapted tool? Does a surface area need to be slanted to provide better support?
  • Can a learner ask a peer for help if needed? Is a peer aware of this learner’s needs?
  • Modeling or direct instruction so the learner can practice and gain confidence with a tool
  • If a learner has an educational assistant helping them, then the assistant should be on board with the tool and goals
  • “A connected system in which students, teachers, parents, school leaders, and community members communicate, share what they know, and strategize to find solutions” (Ellis et al. 2002, p. 45). See also the SETT Framework (Zabala, 2005).

Planning considerations for embedding the use of this type of compensatory support in learning activities and/or teaching routines.

Atmosphere of Experimentation. The Arts often inherently encourage and celebrate individuality and experimenting with tools is encouraged and practiced. Trying new tools is part of the process for “Arts education has always encouraged, and taught, expression through a much wider range of media” (Glass, Meyer & Rose, 2013, p. 110). When considering the use of adapted art tools within an art setting, one idea is to provide an adapted art tool within the provided art supplies for the entire class to try, to reduce the “stigma” of only an individual learner using a “different” tool from their peers. Who knows, perhaps a brush with a wider handle would also help another learner who has small hands and finds a wide handle easier to control. Perhaps another learner would enjoy discovering the use of a computerized motion sensor paint program. A sense of play and possibilities can encourage experimentation for all.

art room diversity

Curriculum. Often in my art classes, learners are inquiring into individual or collaborative projects and it is simply not “different’’ to see 32 students all using a different tool. In fact, it is the “norm” to use a tool matching a learners interests or a learner’s desired goal. While the learners may have a common learning outcome, they are universally designed so all learners can hopefully reach an outcome, they reach this goal in their own way. For example, “I CAN…create a 3D art piece.” This outcome is universally designed so that a learner could create a 3D art piece in a multitude of ways and in a method which works for them. Clay, paper mache, wire, cardboard etc. The curriculum must be seen as a potential barrier for learners and needs careful designing so that every learner may achieve success while equally reaching for the same goal (Rose & Meyer, 2002).

Collaboration. Nurturing an environment where collaboration is respected. What about partnering a child with a fine motor disability with a practicing artist with a similar disability in their community to act as a role model?

Build upon a learner’s current abilities especially if a learner enjoys the visual arts, thus fostering UDL’s principle of engagement increasing motivation, persistence and emotional self-regulation.

  • Adapted art tools available to try and practice with before a project begins
  • A team collaborative knowledge sharing process. Decision on the tool should include input from the learner, teachers, family and any other’s involved in the leaner’s success (Zabala, 2005).
  • An art tool might need modifications during the process if not achieving required goals.

The type of learning activities (tasks) this type of compensatory support would facilitate

Eric Jensen (2003) argues if something can be learned, it can be represented. This concept of visually representing knowledge can extend into any topic or subject in an educational setting. I stress arts integration within any subject could potentially foster the sharing of knowledge, connection with others and fostering growth in identity. With educational team collaboration a learner could not only use a creating tool within an art setting but also within all subjects. There are many tasks an adapted art tool could facilitate, yet the specific tool should be dependent upon a learner’s individual needs. What may work for one person may not work for another. Some task examples could include:

  • Painting with a paintbrush
  • Drawing on materials
  • Cutting paper and other materials
  • Creating/holding for longer periods of time
  • Occupational Therapy techniques for younger children or those developing fine motor skills

Current research on adapted art tools

Edybrun (2011) states “The field of special education technology has considerable work to do to identify a body of research-based evidence to such a level that we can claim we are an evidence-based profession” (p.31). While the arts have shown positive increase in motivation and cognitive learning (see Deasy’s compendium of 64 studies from 2002) and academic and social outcomes, research specifically in the realm of assistive technology within the visual arts is scarce. Just because there is not a great deal of research yet, discussing support adaptive art tools, this does not mean there is no benefit to such a tool. If a barrier is alleviated or removed for a learner by using an adapted art tool then that is cause enough to do try.

Alberta Regional Consortia. (n.d). Visual Thinking Tools. Learning Technologies: Information for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.learningtechnologiesab.com/learn-more4.html

Broun, L. (2009). Take the Pencil Out of the Process. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(1), 14-21.

Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST). (2013). What is Universal Design for Learning? About UDL. Wakefield, MA. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html

Deasy, Richard J. (2002). Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student and Social Development. Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ERIC-ED466413/pdf/ERIC-ED466413.pdf. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.

Dell, A. G., Newton, D. A., & Petroff, J. G. (2012). Chapter 2: Assistive Technology to Support Writing. Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Enhancing the School Experiences of Students with Disabilities, Second Edition. Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Edyburn, Dave L. (2002). Remediation vs. compensation: A critical decision point in assistive technology consideration. Retrieved from https://anzatresearch.wikispaces.com/file/view/Edyburn+2002RemediationvsCompensation.pdf

Edyburn, Dave L. (2011). Some of the Best: Advances in Special Education Technology Research. Closing the Gap. Retrieved from https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/edyburn/www/CTG29-6.pdf

Ellis, D. M., Klassen-Landis, M. & Gottlieb, D. J. (2002). A Broad Brush: Access and Arts Education insights from School Districts. Access to Arts Education Investigation: A National Research Project. VSA Arts, Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.kennedy-center.org/education/vsa/resources/Broad_Brush_10-03-1.pdf

Fiske, E. B. (1999). Champions of change: The impact of the arts on learning. Retrieved from http://artsedge.kennedycenter.org/champions/pdfs/ChampsReport.pdf

Glass, Don & Meyer, Anne & Rose, David H. (2013). Universal Design for Learning and the Arts. Harvard Educational Review, 83(1), 98-120.

Greene, Maxine. (1995). Chapter 2: Imagination, Breakthroughs, and the Unexpected. Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change (pp. 17-31). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jensen, Eric. (2001). Chapter 3: Visual Arts. Arts with the brain in mind (pp. 49-70). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Mason, C. Y., Steedly, K. M., & Thormann, M. S. (2008). Impact of arts integration on voice, choice, and access. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 31(1), 36-46.

Naested, Irene Russell. (1998). Chapter 2: Art in the School Curricula. Art in the Classroom: An Integrated Approach to Teaching Art in Canadian Elementary and Middle Schools (pp. 20-40). Toronto, Ontario: Harcourt Brace & Company Canada, Ltd.

Perera, D. P., Eales, J. R. & Blashki, K. (2007). The drive to create: an investigation of tools to support disabled artists. In Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI conference on Creativity & cognition (pp. 147-152). ACM.

Perera, D. P., Eales, J. R. & Blashki, K. (2009). Supporting the creative drive: investigating paralinguistic voice as a mode of interaction for artists with upper limb disabilities. Universal Access in the Information Society, 8(2), 77 – 88.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Rose, David H. & Meyer, Anne. (2002). Chapter 5: Using UDL to Set Clear Goals. Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning (pp. 87-105). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Taylor, M. (2005). Self-identity and the Arts Education of Disabled Young People. Disability & Society, 20(7), 763 – 778.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann & McTighe, Jay. (2006). Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Wolf, Dennie Palmer. (2008). Building and Evaluating “Freedom Machines”: When Is Arts Education a Setting for Equitable Learning? The Contours of Inclusion: Frameworks and Tools for Evaluating Arts in Education (pp. 4-15). Washington, DC: VSA Arts. Retrieved from http://www.kennedycenter.org/education/vsa/resources/VSA_evaluation_pub.pdf

Zabala, J. S. (2005). Ready, SETT, go! Getting started with the SETT framework. Closing the Gap, 23(6), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.joyzabala.com/uploads/Zabala_CTG_Ready_SETT_.pdf


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