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).

Continue reading


Let go of titles?

What’s in a name? Why do we still use Mr., Mrs., and Ms. in Education?

Over the holiday break I started thinking about why educational institutions require learners to call their teachers Mrs., or Miss, or Mr. or Ms.? (or any other abbreviated title before a last name). What does this action mean and why do we require titles in school contexts, instead of our given first names? When I hang out with acquaintances, they call me Alison. Those close to me such as family members and friends call me Ali. I don’t expect them to address me as “Mrs. Turner” over a cup of coffee while sitting on my couch. Just as much as I am sure you don’t address your friends or circle of colleagues by Mr., or Mrs. or Miss. Why do we use such titles in Education today for learners to address educators?

Where did abbreviations of Mr. and Mrs. originate from in history? From what I could find, the word mister stems from the Latin word magister; meaning “master” or “teacher” then translated into Old English maegister or Old French maister or magis (more) which translates into master. The original use of the word is “more” to imply status of “more important”. Sometime in the 17th Century, the title Mistress shifted into Mrs. Often, people addressed those perceived socially higher than them as “Master” or “Mr.” (Or arguable were legally and unethically forced to address people this way.) This was based on social class systems as well as racial levels of social hierarchy. Yet, today we still use Mr. and Mrs. A concept worth thinking about.

Another area regarding acronyms I find interesting is why women are given titles based on marital status. Women are often addressed using Mrs., Miss, or Ms., yet men on the other hand are usually Mr. One could argue this relates back to the hierarchy of men being the ones in power of estates, people and the term “master”. Why don’t men state in their acronym if they are married or not? In today’s context, do we need to address someone based on marital status at all? Why does a learner need to know if a teacher is married or not? Does being married somehow change capabilities for educators? Does it define our identities? Another concept worth thinking about.

So what does the use of titles mean in the 21st Century context?

I’ve heard people state using titles is a sign of respect. I have to ask then, why do teachers not address learners with Mr. or Miss? Do we not owe learners respect equally in return? Learners are human beings deserving of our appreciation and entrusted in our care. If acronyms are an affirmation of respect, does this mean another human being calling me by my first name implies they don’t respect me? Hmm. How many learners in the history of Education have experienced moments of being disrespectful while at the same time calling their teacher Mr. or Mrs.? I don’t see titles as a magic badge of respect or a way to eliminate a negative behaviour. Respect is nurtured by relationship development. Respect should be expected as part of a school culture every single day from every single person.

If we are truly aiming for inclusive learning environments in Education with the belief of honouring and accepting every single human being for who they are, do we still need titles? What about gaining respect from learners through mutually earned relationship building and school culture? I feel an inclusive learning environment is attending to the needs, differences and talents of every single human being in our buildings, online and in any social interaction connected to school. Human variances should be celebrated, shared, respected, validated and accepted. I see inclusion as embracing all ethnicities, physical appearances, gender, race, religion, socio-economic backgrounds, family history, talents, struggles, and all the fantastically idiosyncratic uniqueness’s which make us human.

Are titles a tradition and we simply continue on never questioning the action? I know considering how addressing someone might seem minuscule in the spectrum of Educational ideas and I am not arguing everyone must immediately stop calling an instructor Mrs.D. or Mr.W. I am simply curious why we do some of the things we do without taking a moment to really reflect on the meaning or purpose. A learner wanting to engage in conversation with me by addressing me as Alison instead of Mrs. Turner…well, that is 100% all right with me. Alison is my name, after all.

What are your thoughts on titles in Education? Do we really need them anymore?

Living a Responsive Curriculum

My son Jacklayinginthegrass and I set off on one of our many adventure walks, taking advantage of the quickly diminishing summer days. Suddenly, Jack veered from the footpath, ran to a patch of lush green grass, and laid down with a giant grin. He yelled, “momma, come lay on the grass with me!” I couldn’t help but laugh with the energy of his spontaneity and quickly joined him. I looked up at the perfectly blue October sky, felt the soft grass tickle my skin and I smiled at the simplicity of our shared moment. My son is only three and yet emits such a wonderful wisdom on the art of enjoying life, of feeling life and of living every moment.

When approaching my second toolkit challenge, for my “Designing Inclusive Learning Environments” grad class, I felt it was necessary to discuss the concept of supporting an inclusive learning environment through a responsive curriculum. I wrote a post recently titled Learning to “leave” the classroom : Differentiating School Programming, discussing how I see Education should provide students with multiple pathways to learn and ultimately choice in their learning continuum. And in order to support multiple learning pathways, teachers need to connect curriculum in a responsive way to the students.

Why a responsive curriculum?

If I acknowledge and firmly believe that every student who enters a classroom arrives with their own past experiences, knowledge about the world, interests and curiosities, and varying areas of understanding, in order to best differentiate for them I need to facilitate the curriculum to meet their individual learning needs. Doing so honours each student as an individual human being. Not trying to fit human beings into a curriculum. I am teaching students before me today. Not students from last year, five years ago, or students in the future. So then the challenge lies in how do I create a Responsive Curriculum for my students?

Imagine going to see a physician for a leg pain, and then arriving and the doctor already has a prescription in hand before even knowing asking you about your experience in the first place. How often have I planned a Unit, or a lesson plan or thought I had a great inquiry challenge for my students, but had first started with looking at the curriculum. Then later wondered why the students just weren’t hooked? I assumed I should start with the curriculum and then adapt it to meet my learners. Teachers are here to teach the curriculum, right? However, I had it backwards. Instead, I should be asking: how do I help foster a learning experience where the students inform the choices that develop the curriculum of the year?

Because ultimately I need to honor the learner and where they currently are in life’s continuum.

So when does the curriculum come into play? 

Continue reading