Thursday, June 4, 2009


It's a fascinating read. I was hoping more emphasis would be placed on disruption at the elementary level. There are approximately 5X more schools currently at this level. I was hoping for some clarity on effective disruption strategies for K-8at VSA, but none emerged. Any ideas from the group?

Educational Software

"Every student learns in a different way. This idea that sudetns have different learning needs - is one of the cornerstones of this book." Disrupting Class pg. 10

Disrupting Class briefly addresses the use of technology to assist learners with special needs, but this is an area where instructional technology has been widely used. Special needs software has been used to assist students with learning for 30 years. The UK lead the effort in developing technology tools for special education and continues to be on the forefront of the newest special needs technology products. These software products range from screen readers, programs for Autistic Spectrum learners, switch (mouse alternative) access software, cause and effect programs, touch software, and screening & assessment tools.

Using software programs to reach children with special needs works well because the software can be customized to meet the needs of each learner, has visual and audio support, and allows to work at their own pace without judgment or embarrassment.

Newer software programs are designed to provide curriculum-based content that can be customized for each learner. Educators can change the level of difficulty, change text and color backgrounds for students with visual difficulties, increase font size, add speech to the text on screen, and add a switch for learners with physical limitations.

Software content programs give students the ability to learn at their own pace. Most educational software programs are designed with student login for saving and tracking student work. Teachers can then monitor the student progress over time and adjust the software difficulty, providing focused instruction. Students using software programs with on screen or audio instruction can learn without direct instruction from a person, which works well with some learners. Mistakes made are noticed by the students or pointed out automatically by the program without discouraging the student.

For the BRSU, we are progressing toward using technology tools and can take advantage of many more resources available, in both the special needs and mainstream content area. Our company, Tool Factory, has provided software and technical assistance pro bono to some BRSU schools and will continue as needed.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Here is a Wordle of blog posts as of 4:01 pm on 6/3

Wordle: Disruptive Innovation in BRSU

How to Pull It All Together

I found this book fascinating. The basic argument of disruption theory has been built so carefully and on such solid ground. In addition viewing education through the spectacles of Disruption Theory provides a fresh view of age-old problems. Then as I started each new chapter, every one seemed like it would be boring and uninformative But every chapter wowed me. I got as far as the Early Childhood Development piece, and was totally stunned by the insights and information that was offered. I cannot imagine how the Federal Government could formulate a program that would effectively implement the goals and objectives as outlined in this book.

But in quick summary, what I pulled from the book is contradictory:
  1. The "disruptive" forces of change seem unstoppable. They seem to be operating outside of our areas of control. They seem inevitable;
  2. The development of technology and effective computer software is happening and is proceeding at its own rate of speed. Hopefully it is gaining speed. The computer driven products are improving;
  3. The need for our children to development all of their own ingelligences in their own way and at their own speed seems so obvious and necessary;
  4. The current mono-lithic structures within which education abides are daunting. They are powerful and they grind away relentlessly. It is hard to imagine how to chip away at them over the short term; and
  5. With the large monolithic structure that is education as we know it, comes huge barriers to entry. With entrenched interdependency, budget constraints, a powerful teachers' union, the pressures for immediate measurable results, standardized testing, and the "caretaker" role that schools play while parents work, it is hard to imagine "flipping" these powerful forces for student-centric, computer driven learning.

It seems that change is coming and it is coming quickly. When I look out over the next 5 to 10 years, it is clear that a massive disruption and transformation is on the horizon. But it is difficult for me to envision what steps we should take now that will most prepare us for what is coming. It reminds of the old proverb, "when elephants fight, mice get trampled." I am deeply concerned that if we aren't careful the children of our communities will suffer. My response to this book is not so much one of fearing the change, but wanting to understand it better, so we can best manage it as it comes. That is what I will seek to uncover during tomorrow's discussion. Iam looking for ideas at the very least, and an operational framework at the very most. These ARE interesting times.

Can We Make this Happen?

Disclaimer: I have not finished the book. My classroom teaching is limited to some student- teaching in college some 40 years ago. I am, however, a college trustee of 12 years, a Dorset school director and a BBA trustee. I care deeply about education and its ability to transform lives. I have sensed for a long time that we need fundamental change. I am committed to working for change.

I confess to a sense of urgency, but I am stuck on all the reasons why disruptive innovation will not happen in the BRSU and most public schools in the near term.

If we accept Gardner's premise that there are at least eight different intelligences, how we will get teachers to move to a student-centric model? Technology, as defined in the broadest terms in Chapter 3, offers a possible path, however:

"an organization cannot disrupt itself" Repeated throughout the book.

Jackie: "Schools are not big risk takers" I would add that school boards and teachers are not big risk takers either.

Where will the resources come from to support disruptive innovation?

I am optomistic about the ability of institutions to transform themselves, but I worry that we are way behind the curve on this issue. My experience has taught me that schools, even independent ones, move ever so slowly.

How can we pick-up the pace?

Disruptive Innovation

As a special educator director these first quotes caught my attention:
“In the 1960s and 1970s, society began requiring schools to customize offerings for students deemed to have special needs11” (p.34)
“Students who qualify for these designations typically require individual approaches, codified in an individual education plan” (p.34)
Discussion ensued about the high cost of this approach, and how the resource allocations to special education, create increasingly standardized one-size-fits-all, value chain (p.26) for students in general education, when in fact all students learn differently. There is the assertion that all students require individual plans. The State of Vermont Department of Educations think s so too (see A Framework for Transformation from the Vermont State Board of Education, 8/01/.08 ) Student Centric learning for all, enabled by affordable, easily used, modularized, technology is the hope.
How will this change happen? ( It is happening now and will continue to happen). In Chapter 5(p121) the authors talk about the development of innovative technologies that will allow less expensive, student-cenrtic modular systems for learning to be created and developed in a facilitated user network According to the author this change will start from without and/or on the fringes of an organization.(The “architecture”of existing systems are antithetical to disruptions). It will find a foothold with the “nonconsumers” (i.e. those with nothing to lose) and build until there is a “flip” to the new model.
Special Education and Individual Education Plans have always been “student centric”at least in intent. Innovation that allows for customized learning should blur the distinction between many of the students who are labeled “learning disabled” and “nondisabled” students.
For me the book articulated a common language and frame of reference for discussion within the BRSU.


Throughout the book there are several references to regulations. Being a rule bound special ed administrator but also thrilled by breaking rules, the idea of disruption in spite of regulations intrigues me. A few quotes:
"What is unique about public schools is that laws and regulations make them a virtual monopoly..."
"Never did success come through a head-on attack against the regulations...Rather, the disruption prospered in a completely independent commercial system outside the reach of regulators.."
The example given that "chartering legislation gives innovative educators the tool of separation and the freedom to step outside the departmental create new architectures for learning."
In Vermont, we may have more leeway as we are encouraged to request a waiver if a regulation becomes too restrictive. In the BRSU, the established policies are broad structures and not impediments to innovations that promote student centered learning. Michael Horn cited the need to be nimble, to move, implement, be responsive and not let ideas languish in committee. I don't believe this happens by an edict or pronouncement of a radical change but at the classroom level, recognizing successes and allowing individual teacher creativity to discover new ways to reach each student. In order to do this, teachers need to retool in mid production and better yet, experience their own teacher prep in a totally new way.