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Friday, July 11, 2014

Attainment's Early Numeracy Program

The first two thing that jumped out at me as I read through the Implementation Guide are these quotes:
This curriculum is intended to help students become fluent in early numeracy skills to better prepare students to participate in the general education curriculum.
The Early Numeracy curriculum is not a precursor to teaching grade-aligned academics in mathematics, but should be used concurrently in order to strengthen students' numeracy skills while also providing opportunities to practice the skills in different contexts, environments , with different material, and possible with different instructors.
The curriculum focuses on counting with one-to-one correspondence, number identification, naming numbers, rote counting, creating sets, beginning addition with sets, identification and understanding of numeracy symbols, identification, extension and creation of ABAB patterns, using and understanding calendars and measuring with nonstandard and standard units.  These skills are the foundational skills that students need to be able to meaningfully participate in mathematics learning of general education curriculum.  This program is designed in a way that allows for the flexibility of supports, instructional methods, materials, and time needed to ensure that students are able to master the concepts.  
 The program includes teacher-directed lessons that include direct work on rote counting and number recognition, a math story that include several opportunities to stop and work on early numeracy skills, math skill practice time and a game to review the concepts from the lesson.  The lessons are meant to be repeated over several days with different practice work each day.  Hands-on student materials and organizational mats are included so students are able to actively engage in their learning. In the context that I work in, I'm envisioning these lessons as being pull out lessons with me going through the lessons with student and learning assistant (in groups or individually dependent on context) once a week. A learning assistant would then repeat the lesson each day that week with the student doing a different practice set each day. The practice sets are set up on worksheets.  This allows me to assess where students are at each week and to ensure that we are using methods that are working for the student.
The second part of the program is related to finding times and ways for the student to continue to practice the same skills within the general education mathematics context.  This is done in two ways. The first is to find natural times during the class to work one-on-one on the skills that are being worked on in the lesson.  The second is by embedding the skills in to the lesson that the rest of the class is doing.  The later does involve some brainstorming and thinking through when what is being done in the class can be used as the context for working on these specific skills.  An example would be to take work that is being done on finding the area of rectangles and use that as an opportunity to practice counting with one-to-one correspondence or measuring with standard or non-standard units. A nice thing about the processes is that they are ones that can be taught to peer supports with the guidance of myself or the learning assistant so as opportunities for this present themselves in class they can be capitalized on.

With the students that I'm working with, I'm also looking to embed as many opportunities for communication as possible.  A couple of them already have math page sets (either tech or non-tech) but I'm looking to expand these based on what is in this curriculum and what I'm learning as we keep moving forward with what we are doing.  I will post about this later in the summer as I'm still thinking this part of things through.

We still plan to continue to find the opportunities that students can engage in the same mathematics as the rest of the class be it through modifications, peer supports, use of manipulatives (virtual or concrete), use of a calculator...etc.  Some of my students are past this stage and I'm looking at other similar ways to supplement their programs so that we are continuing to move toward finding that balance between remediation (working on foundational skills where they are at) and compensation (finding the work-arounds that allow them to participate in what is happening in the community around them). 

I'm excited that we will be taking another step in figuring out how to do this and so glad to find a resource that starts from the idea of supplementing participation and learning of general education curriculum for students with complex needs. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Mommy Walk Down Memory Lane

Nine years ago today, a couple of weeks after my son Mikey had finished Kindergarten, I sat down and wrote a document titled "My Vision for Mikey".  I wanted to have some record of the dreams that I had for him as he ended in to the world of graded education. 

I went back to look at it last night and I can't say that my dreams for him have changed all that much.  I still very much want him to have a life that is his own.  The steps that we need to continue to keep trying to take to achieve that can be both frustrating and wonderful.  In the nine years since I've written this, I've come to realize that the road is not always easy but it is meaningful and worth it. 

Here is the statement I wrote back then. Original post can be found on my personal blog which I no longer write on. Link:

I believe that each person on this earth has their own special gifts and talents and when these gifts are discovered and nurtured, they become the passions that make up the meaning of life.  I see my role as Mikey's mommy as being that of providing him with the opportunities and support to ensure that he is able to discover his own unique gifts and talents and then to ensure that he has the tools, supports and proper environment to nurture these.  Ultimately, the goal would be for Mikey to take charge of his own life and understand and be proud of what he contributes to our world. 
I believe in Mikey's uniqueness and do not want him subjected to pressure to conform to standards that may not be right for him.  The struggles he faces in day to day living activities need to be balanced with many success activities throughout the day.  I want him to feel success more often then he experiences failure.  I want him to understand that success is not only in the final product but in the effort put in to get to the final product.  I want him to believe that he can do whatever he sets his mind to but at the same time, I want him to be the one in control of what those goals will be.  I believe people who come in contact with Mikey should set realistic, yet challenging expectations of him so that he can learn to do the same for himself and strive towards being the best Mikey he can be.  I want him to have a full understanding of the difference between doing his best and being the best and to be proud of the times when he does his best without comparison to others. 

I want him to lead a life full of love, joy, discovery, real relationships, balance, and a positive sense of self.  Throughout life, I want him to strive towards independence.  I want him to take responsibility for himself - to make his own decisions and to take responsibility for the way those decisions play out.  At the same time, I want him to understand that true happiness for anyone is found in interdependence and not in independence and I want him to have a full understanding of who is in his support system.  I want him to turn to these people (or seek out new people if the situation demands it) when the need arises with the understanding that he is showing strength and not weakness.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Behaviour" Supports Built In To Communication System

We have all probably heard the statement that "all behaviour is communication" countless times. It is true with every person but when working with students with complex communication needs it becomes so very evident. I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to hold everything inside and not have the words to release. 

A couple of days ago, I loaded the one month free trial of the DynaVox Compass App. I am not at all thrilled with the pay structure for this App as it is a monthly subscription that will add up pretty quickly but I wanted to check it out all the same (Note: if you have the very expensive system there is not a monthly cost for the App).  I am also interested in the fact that there is a P.O.D.D. page set as the idea of having a no-tech and tech system that so closely match is one that I am excited about.

I have to say that I'm really liking that the system has "behaviour" supports built right in to it.  The system is arranged by environments or tasks with the typical things that would be said in those environments or while doing those tasks listed in that particular folder.  On the page for a given environment or task (say dentist or classroom seat work or eating or playing games) is a link to the "behaviour" supports.  On this page there is a timer that you can set to say when an activity will be done, there are "first-then" visuals, there are token reinforcement pages where you can set a item that is being worked for and then "give" tokens until the page is filled up, you can set up visual/auditory rules for the given activity, you can create a social script (like a social story) for the activity, you can create conversation strips that you can use to teach the student and to practice with the students conversations that might be had in that environment or when doing that task (it is color coded for each person in the conversation so going through the script can be done in turns and then you can go back and recreate it using the system), and there are contingency maps where (start with a decision and then follow through based on the choice you made to see how things might turn out).  There are some pre-made ones but you can also make your own modify the ones that are there.  

I really like that this is all embedded right within the communication system as so much of this stuff is communication driven and it really reinforces how closely behaviour is tied to communication and allows for teaching and experimenting and ensuring that the stage is set.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Great Video on How to Model AAC for Communication Partners

ISACC (International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication) defines communication as "the essence of human interaction and learning"...
The nature of communication is dependent on interaction between two or more individuals and understanding is constructed through that interaction.
Communication is a basic human right and essential to our quality of life as a social species.  As human beings, we use communication to: relate to others, socially connect, greet, call attention, share feelings, express an opinion, agree, disagree, explain, share information, question, answer, tease, bargain, negotiate, argue, manipulate, compliment, comment, protest, complain, describe, encourage, instruct, provide feedback, show humor, discuss interest, be polite, make friends, express interest or disinterest...etc.  
As both a parent and a teacher I feel a level of urgent anxiety around figuring out how to support my son and the students in the area of AAC. It feels like there is some illusive magic bullet to making this happen.

Tonight Lauren Scchwartz Enders, an AAC consultant that I follow on Facebook shared a training video related to modeling the use of an AAC system to the user that I thought was really well done.  Many wonderful reminders in the video of staying the course when it comes to Input before Output.  I am sharing the video here as I think it is worth spreading around to teams who are working to support students develop communication through an AAC system. The story at the end of the video also spoke to me as a parent about the need to be modeling the use of the system at home.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Evolution of Academic Learning for Students with Significant Disabilities

This past week, a book that I was very excited to read arrived in the mail.  The book is More Language Arts, Math, and Science for Students with Severe Disabilities.  It's a newly published book.  The reason I was so excited to receive it is because it is a follow up to the book Teaching Language Arts, Math, and Science to Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities.  This first book was published in 2006.  2006 is a significant year for me as it was the year that I moved from teaching general education mathematics to teaching a self-contained classroom for students with multiple complex needs.  The book is significant for me because it was one of the first books I read a couple of years in this new job to try to figure out how I could create programs rooted in academic learning for the students I had in my classroom.

The comparison of the two books, written just eight years apart is an interesting one as it speaks to how much we have learned in a very short period of time.  I feel it also speaks to the urgency to continue to work toward tapping in to the academic potential that exists within students with this "disability" label.  While the first book spoke to the reasons and need for learning curriculum content, the second addresses the how much more deeply.  And the how is all very closely related to not just curriculum content but learning curriculum content in the general education classroom. It challenges us to think beyond overlapping functional objectives and to target and reach academic objectives that are tied to the curriculum/program of studies.

It speaks to what is becoming more and more important to me as we continue to examine the how around "inclusive education".  It speaks to moving past inclusion for the social benefits and finding a way to tap in to the academic benefits of this approach already.  Just having these students in classroom where full curriculum content is being addressed is a starting point... but there is a long journey that must be taken beyond that.

It's been almost four years now since we started this journey... since we placed our first student in the general education classroom rather than a self-contained program.  It has not been smooth and there have been many times where it just seemed that it would be easier to 'bring them all back' to the self-contained world where things were much easier to control.... where objectives could be written, plans could be implemented and goals could be reached with minimal outside barriers.  It seems it would be so much easier... but then you get to thinking about those barriers and recognizing that if we create an artificial world without barriers now, the real world with barriers will still be there in the future... but so will artificial adult worlds. Are we putting kids on a life path by eliminating rather then finding the modifications and adaptations that allow us to address the barriers?

That is the question that keeps the sometimes wavering momentum for this but this book and a few other experiences over the past while has resulted in momentum coming from a deeper understanding of the possible benefits of academic learning rooted in the general education curriculum in general education spaces.  This book excites me as it offers some great ideas and reinforces the belief that the sky is the limit.  We don't yet know what this population of students will be able to do.

In a time when the pace of change sometimes seems to slow, the difference in these two books speaks to the fact that progress is being made in the discovery of effective teaching practices for this population.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Believe in Good - Celebrate Interdependence

"Our deepest calling is to grow in to our own authentic
self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of
who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find
the joy that every human being seeks -- we will also
find our path to authentic service to the world."
~ Parker J. Palmer ~

Saturday, February 1, 2014

SIVA (Supporting Individuals Through Valued Relationships)

This past week, I attended both a SIVA (Supporting Individuals through Valued Attachments) Training and a Train the Trainer session.  I'm pretty excited about the framework and the possibilities in using it to help facilitate increased intrinsically motivated self-management skills in students.

SIVA is a safety management framework with the focus of working with people to pro-actively identify and maintain safe behaviour and situations. Foundational to the SIVA philosophy is the belief that true safety is built on communication and the establishment of trusted relationships. An understanding that an intervention can never be of greater importance than a trusted relationship is the key to building the relationships that assist with avoiding crisis situations and ensuring that students are available for learning.

Some key take-aways related to SIVA from this past week for me include:
  • SIVA is specifically designed for supporting people with complex needs (disability and mental health). The framework factors in the person's individual needs as well as the fact that there is often a "caregiver" involved with that person on an ongoing basis (not necessarily one on one but there is extra human support involved in some way). 
  • SIVA is an overall model that guides support and interaction rather than a crisis intervention program. SIVA philosophy guides how we perceive, think and problem solve to ensure safety at all times. 
  • SIVA is a dynamic system. It is not rooted a trajectory about a person and then creating a static crisis response plan. The work done within the framework is about supporting and scaffolding growth towards valued relationships and self-management. 
  • SIVA is goal-directed rather than consequence-driven. The goal is to successfully maintain safety (emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual) at all times.  When we are able to maintain safety for an individual, we are able to discover with them ways to increase their level of participation and engagement in inclusive activities and settings.  
  • Collaborative teaming is a key component of the framework. This involved including the student and all stakeholders in the dynamic process.  The framework is set up so that even those with the most complex needs can play an active role in the creation and ownership of their safety management plans. 
  • SIVA promotes self-management and empowerment. The approach starts with the understanding that when people feel powerless they are also feeling unsafe. When they feel powerless and unsafe, they will begin creating artificial ways to gain power.  We often call these behaviours "maladaptive". We need to work with the person to feel safe (aka "empowered") so we can reduce the need for that person to create the maladaptive ways of gaining power and replace them with appropriate ways to self-manage and have power and control. Power and control are not bad things as having power and control of one's self also means having responsibility for one's actions. Power and control only become an issue when it infringes on the rights of other people.
  • SIVA believes that it is the strength of the relationship and the ability to create safety that allows a person to be available for interventions, therapy, education...etc. We cannot deliver programs to students if they are not first available for learning. We need to be cognisant at all times that what we are doing is creating the safe and trusting environment for this to happen.  
To learn more about SIVA, check out their website at

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Worth Thinking About: Charity or Solidarity

Reminded me of Emma Van der Klift & Norman Kunc's


I post new "Worth Thinking About" questions on Sundays. 

In reality, some might be more "and" statements rather than "or" statements. It is about finding the right balance so that we are aware enough to be effective in supporting student learning.

Click here to check out more "Worth Thinking About" posts.