What is Success?
This past week, one of my students who is currently learning to navigate a visually supported communication system on his iPad, was supposed to give a pre-planned and recorded presentation on using Tap-Speak-Sequence (a separate app from his regular communication system) during drama class.
We all went in to the week knowing that this student might not even get up to the front of the room as he is not much for "performing". This was okay as the learning experience that we were focusing on in this activity was tied to creating and recording the sequential script. We had taken the assignment and he had worked with both a learning assistant and peers to answer yes/no questions and navigate around his communication system to find the things that he wanted to put in to the co-created sequence that he would use when he did his presentation.
Presentation day came. There is no doubt that this student would have gone up and obediently tapped the screen each time he was supposed to if a learning assistant would have gone up with him, turned on the program and prompted him through hitting the screen each step of the way. There is also no doubt that making this student go up on his own would result in no movement at all. So when it was his turn, another student in the class went up to the front with him and held his iPad while he turned it on and went to the needed program.
He did hit the button once but then it was so quiet that nobody could hear it. The student with him tried to turn up the volume but it was already as loud as it could go. This student turned off the iPad at this point. The classroom teacher stepped in and the three of them (teacher, the student who was presenting and the other student who was up there for moral support) played around for a bit trying to hook up a portable speaker to the iPad. All the time the student who was doing the project, who doesn't often get up in front of the class, was engaged with this process of trying to hook up the speaker.
They tried the presentation again. This student turned off the iPad.
They tried the presentation again. The student up at the front with him tried to encourage him a bit more to give the presentation. This student again turned off the iPad.
It became clear that the actual presentation wasn't going to happen. The teacher thanked him for coming up, told him it was a good try and said maybe he might want to try again next class. A couple of students said something to him about trying again next class in a very supportive way. The interaction was probably not unlike an interaction for a child who might become "stage freight" in the situation. It was no big deal and they moved on to the next presentation. This student remained in the audience listening to others present.
To an outsider looking in on this presentation day it might look like this student "did nothing" and "learned nothing". Some who know him might even be frustrated because they would know that he is capable of the simple act of just pushing a button to activate a sequential script and all it would have taken that day to make it happen was for an adult to step in and direct him.
But that wasn't the point.
In a world where we want to be able to quantify everything, we are often quick to look to "end products" as an indication of what learning has occurred. If this student had been given a mark for his "performance" that day, he would not have "passed" the assignment and his mark would have reflected a belief that no learning had occurred during the process.
Yet, in the process of creating the script, he navigated around his communication system, demonstrated comprehension of conversations he had with several different people in created the script, connected all the pieces of his presentation together by the choices he made, typed in some of the words needed for his script, went to the front of the room without adult support, turned on his iPad and found the appropriate script, engaged in problem solving with the teacher and classmate around his system not working (trying to figure out the speaker part of it) and protested in the best way that he knew how when he just didn't feel like he could do the next step (shut the iPad off... and given some of his past protest methods this is a huge step forward) and then just sat back down and carried on with the rest of his class when he "failed" to give his presentation.
Maybe next week the peer support that he got around the "maybe next time" approach will motivate him to get up and present. Maybe it will just motivate him to get up and go through the process of finding the script again. Maybe it won't motivate him at all and the presentation will never happen.
It doesn't much matter because it has already been an incredibly successful learning experience for him.