A Digital Story Critique in Three Parts
First, the background:
In her moving account of her life as a Special Education student (published via Storycorps), Kaylynn details the shame she felt as she progressed through grammar, middle, and high schools. For her, having an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), was a traumatic experience that seems to have brought her more sorrow than help.
For those new to the world of Special Education, an IEP is a lengthy document detailing a student's learning disability, along with teaching strategies designed to help these students access the school curriculum in the same manner as their peers. Included in an IEP are:
An IEP contains a number of other components, but, for the purposes of this blog entry, we do not need to go into any further detail. I just wanted to give a quick overview of what an IEP is since Kaylynn speaks of feeling burdened by having one.
Second, the critique:
For this particular story, I chose to focus on the following Digitial Assessment Story traits (taken from Jason Ohler): Media Application, Economy, and Writing.
Media Application: To tell her story, Kaylynn chose to record her voice. Her story was then uploaded in print from to the StoryCorps website. I found her choice of media to be apt. Simply recording and writing her story conveyed her message in an effective manner. However, I wonder if the reason it works for me is because I am a Special Education teacher. I know this story. I see it every day. For someone unfamiliar to the world of Special Education, a more visually oriented presentation would have been more instructive and powerful.
Economy: Kaylynn told her story in a very abbreviated fashion. She did not deviate from her narrative's main thrust: that having an IEP for most of her scholastic career was a traumatizing experience. When she recounted how she used to wait until all the other students were in their classes before she would go to her Special Education class, I instantly thought of my students. There are a handful of them that come in late every day. I wonder if they feel the same way that Kaylynn does. For me, this story resonates. However, Kaylynn's story would have been more powerful for non-teachers if she had included a few other instances of the shame that she felt as a Special Education teacher. I would have also liked to see at least one example of a positive experience that she had as a Special Education student.
Writing: Kaylynn's writing served the purpose of her story. To my eyes, it did not show any signs of having been extensively edited; it seemed like her first draft was the one she chose to publish. However, I am not familiar with Kaylynn's writing ability, so this may not be a valid criticism. Other than that, I found her writing to be insightful and precise.
Now, the letter:
One of the biggest challenges any Special Education teacher faces is helping their students regain their sense of worth. This is especially true at the high school level. I completely empathize with you. If a student has had an IEP since grammar school, by the time they reach high school, they often feel beaten down. Due to their learning disability, they have faced potential failure over and over again.
these students fight every day.
They fight to "beat" their school work.
They fight to defy others' sometimes low expectations of them.
Unfortunately, they sometimes even have to fight against other teachers who do not understand how their disability affects them.
HOWEVER, THEY, NOR YOU, EVER NEED TO FIGHT TO GAIN MY ADMIRATION.
I have worked with many students who, just like you, work hard every day and achieve great things despite their learning disabilities. Like you, Kaylynn, some of them are able to transition off of an IEP. Some of them don't. Regardless, some of the most resilient, kind, understanding, hard-working people I have ever met are the students with learning disabilities that I work with every day.
I would not even consider working with any other group of students.
I have experienced first hand the joy that a student feels if they are able to transition from an IEP. When this happens, I share the jubilation that the student and their family feels. However, I am also sad. Sad that I will no longer be able to work with this extraordinary person. Sad that I will not get to see them every day and listen to their views, their passions, and their hopes for the future. Alas, I have to tell myself that I, hopefully, helped them accomplish their goals.
That's enough for me.
Kaylynn, I hope that your experience in Special Education was not entirely sad. Regardless, your accomplishment is a great one.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.