In the absence of an official guide by the Texas Education Agency, COH is releasing this information page as a jumping-off point for districts seeking to improve the accessibility of their schools and learning environments, particularly and especially in this peri-pandemic era where proximities to others must be closely regulated and traditional classrooms are not a completely safe and viable choice for administering educational materials to all students.
This organization would like to extend the open invitation to COH Online, the free and private social server on the web and mobile app Discord to any and all students, families, educators, tutors, curriculum designers, and learning industry professionals via this link: discord.gg/5wbbS5g
Discord is a secure online platform on which groups build “servers,” which are private spaces for communications and collaboration. COH Online uses Discord to create digital classrooms, virtual clubs, and open forums.
For teachers, COH Online is an alternative to Google Classroom, where materials are only accessible to a set roster, there is no cross-class socializing, and no sharing of materials between educators. Additionally, the use of Classroom by a teacher outside of a school’s G Suite for Education plan is prohibited, which is why COH has its own G Suite for Education plan. Registered education leaders on COH Online pay $1/week or $40/year to manage their classroom and to have their services advertised across social networks. Students are a part of the greater community, which is enriched by their presence, while also having the attention of educators they or their family forms a contract with. This creates a closer parallel to in-person schools, where there is socialization between students outside of class, and with students who aren’t necessarily in their particular class. Surveys of parents show that one of the largest concerns about Distance Learning for public school students is the lack of interpersonal contact and the loss of social time between peers. COH Online serves to create safe places for students to connect as people, not just as classmates.
The greatest obstacle to furthering accessibility in schools is the lack of choice parents and students have in how and when they receive instruction and learning materials. With the simple implementation of readily available technologies, schools can begin to provide this choice at registration, asking, “What does your preferred ‘classroom’ look like?”
Camp Oak Hallows makes the following suggestion to districts as to how to ask this question in the registration process, via one-pager using checkboxes and short written response fields:
In Section 1, respondents are asked to select Learning Environments in which the student is comfortable receiving instruction. These LEs are:
FTF–Face-to-Face, a traditional classroom with direct instruction from a teacher.
SGC–Small Group Collaborative, a cohort of no more than five students who work together through units of instruction with minimal time spent receiving lecture instruction.
KAG–Kinesthetic Active Guided, where students in a lab-type setting interact with the material in a physical/realistic way, with a present teacher giving intermittent guidance between independent learning time.
KAI–Kinesthetic Active Independent, where students in a lab-type setting interact with the material in a physical/realistic way, with a present supervisor who is only there to be responsive to questions and needs, rather than to provide direct lecture. This supervisor may be a librarian or safety monitor.
CBG–Computer Based Guided, like synchronous distance learning, with direct instruction from a teacher, or with moderated progression through a pre-set course of recorded instruction and responses.
CBI–Computer Based Independent, like asynchronous distance learning, with limited to no moderated progression or direct lecture instruction. Like KAI, a supervisor may be present for responding to questions about things other than the material itself.
WBK–Workbook Completion, where a student progresses at their own pace through a pre-set course of work. Math textbooks with interspersed assignment pages are an existing source of this material.
XPG–Exam Preparatory Guided, where a student begins a study course with the explicit intention of taking a Credit Exam. An existing example is the CollegeBoard’s AP system, where students work all year to pass “the test.” Many colleges produce Credit-by-Exam tests, such as UT and TTU. In XPG, a teacher guides students through the preparation process with direct instruction.
XPI–Exam Preparatory Independent, where a student begins a study regimen with the explicit intentino of taking a Credit Exam, but without being assigned to an educator for direct instruction. They use a prep guide and self-sought materials to build the knowledge and skills for the test at their own pace. An existing example is the CLEP system, another CollegeBoard program which focuses on post-secondary credits and annually produces an Official Study Guide, but there is no “class time” component.
RRW–Read and Respond (Written or Oratory), where a student receives “paper” study materials and displays comprehension via word response. This LE can be especially helpful for “STEM-brained” students who don’t take pleasure in the intense study of literature, but could instead study the facts about the work and its author, and respond in informational and research terms about the non-fiction side; or vice-versa for students who can’t or don’t thrive in STEM courses but could explain the functions of concepts rather than repeatedly use formulas to answer questions and give calculations.
RRP–Read and Respond (Project), the final LE which asks students to study course materials and display comprehension with a presentation or project showing content mastery. The combining of processing information with the physicality of creating a visual piece is a form of engagement similar to lab settings, appealing to the active and tactile learners, who need to “touch” their information.
Section 2 asks respondents to select “Needs, Wants, and Don’t Wants,” which straightforwardly lists aspects of Learning Environments that may be appealing or revolting to the student. These components are:
Frequent physical activity breaks, such as walks or “opportunities to get the ‘wiggles’ out.”
Ambient noise, such as music or radio. What is ‘soothing background sound’ to some may be ‘teeth grinding distraction’ to others. Pairing students who enjoy a little smooth jazz to supervisors who like to jam out creates a more pleasant campus culture.
Seclusion, such as ensuring no one is moving behind or around them while they work. This is beneficial for students with anxiety or spacial security needs.
Lounge space, such as a library couch or beanbag circle, where students can feel free to get comfortable with their work and even have quiet discussions with their peers.
Low-stimulus environments, serving students who find themselves affected or easily disturbed by bright light, sudden or loud sounds, and frequent ‘transitions,’ such as a bell schedule.
Close proximity to a bathroom, which is aimed at students with disabilities for the obvious reasons.
Close proximity to mental or emotional health care, which is aimed at students with the need for counseling and guidance access.
Also on the list are the requests for school-provided transport, technology, and meals, as well as a box for requesting privacy while eating.
Section 3 covers Student Accommodations in and out of the IDEA/Section 504 program. Things like mobility needs, immunosuppression, support animals, and extreme allergies are all things that can be disclosed. Many families aren’t aware of Section 504 or the IDEA law that requires schools to make accommodations for students in need.
Section 4, for high school students, is a course selection that outlines graduation requirements and asks students to choose their desired Learning Environments course-by-course. A student could opt for an Independent Lab in Geometry with FTF in Chemistry and RRP in English. There is no reason students should have the same experience in every class, all day, every day.
The first step for any school considering creating more flexibility and choice is to evaluate both their physical and digital ‘space.’ Any hallway wider than 10′ with more than one indoor exit can become a one-way hall with cubicle desks for students who don’t mind an active ambient environment. Auditoriums, gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries, and labs otherwise used only intermittently should be considered as permanently assigned “seat space.” Additionally, the school system should either apply for G Suite for Education, or invest in a service like Discord for creating a virtual school environment that reaches home-bound and off-campus students. These services are free and user-friendly.
It’s important to get creative, and abandoned pre-conceived notions of what a classroom ‘is.’ WBK, XPI, and RRW/RRP students don’t need a 20×20′ room with rows of desks and a front board, they just need somewhere to be.
If you have questions or comments about this outline, don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org and thank you for your interest in creating more accessible schools.