Friday, December 31, 2010

My New Year's Resolution: Today I'm Going to try to Change the World

In the last hours of this year I'm feeling I should have a lot to say in regards to beginnings and endings.  This has been my most difficult (but also most reflective) year on the professional front.  I'm excited because all the tears and frustrations have brought me to a point where I better understand what I believe and what I want for both my son and  my students.  This is both good and bad.  In the end I believe all I can do is wake up each morning and always keep what is right for my students in the forefront.  So here is my resolution without a lot of words...

From the lyrics of this song...
I'm going say hello to my neighbor. Greet him with a smile.
Shake the hand of a stranger.  Sit and talk for a while.
Tell someone I love them from the bottom of my heart.
Know there's a right and wrong.  I wlil never turn my back on those of us who need someone.
I'm going to try to see myself through another's eyes.
Today I'm gong to try to change the world.  Not for me but for those I'll leave behind.
I've made my resolution.  Change it one day at a time.
Today I'm going to to try to change the world.

I'm Out of the Loop!

4.5 years ago I made the move from "the regular classroom" to "special education".  I have always enjoyed technology and when I taught regular education classes I also taught computers and felt I used a fair amount of technology.  14.5 years ago I had enrolled in a Masters program with a focus of "technology in education".  This was in the days when we were still wondering if we could use the "World Wide Web" in the classroom.  We still had card catalogues in our libraries!  When I moved to special education my experience with technology changed to adaptive technologies and augmentative communication devises.  A series of things have forced me back in to looking at more mainstream stuff (not the least of which is the iPad because so many of the technologies I had been using now have similar apps for significantly cheaper).
I discovered very quickly that there was a whole world that I wasn't tapping in to.  I will not pretend to know a  lot about this but how am I going to learn if I don't start taking my first baby steps and so I post this post for all of those who might be out there in the beginning stages like me.  Here are a few things I've been playing around with:
  1. Blogging is not overly new to me.  I have had this blog since May 2009 but before that I had a personal blog (about parenting a child with Down syndrome) since October 2004.  Yet I'm starting to realize that I probably have not even come close to really tapping in to what a great PD tool my professional blog can be.
  2. Twitter is also not new to me although I have never really used it much.  I'm trying now but must say these concepts of "hashtags" and whatnot aren't always easy to wrap my mind around.  I also feel like I'm missing parts of conversations all over the place and am not sure how to figure that one out.  Still I have upped the number of people that I'm following even if I haven't yet been brave enough to jump in and start talking much myself.
  3. I have been using Facebook for several years but really see that more as a social/personal thing than a professional thing.  I want to keep it that way as I like the separation.
  4. I wanted to wade in this area of "social bookmarking".  Again I get the doing it part... but not really fully understanding the sharing it part.  How do these things become interactive between people?  I'm using Diigo and the other thing that I really like about that is that I'm able to follow the groups that I joined on PLN with this.
  5. I decided to start keeping up with the blogs that I read through using "Google Reader" and am finding that a great way to keep up.  I love that I can tag and share and comment all in one place. 
  6. I've played around a bit with other things - trying to wrap my head around things like wikispaces and PBWorks, using hootsuite to try to follow twitter, looking in to skype in the classroom...etc. 
It all gives me a bit of a headache but also makes me wish that I had way more hours in a day.  There is also a part of me that looks at this stuff and imagines all the things I could do with it "back in the regular classroom" because there are just so many exciting learning opportunities in all of this.
Even if I'm a bit confused, I'm very excited and I'm sure I will figure at least some of this out.

Seriously... How do you expect me to learn when there is no Wi-Fi?

I stumbled upon this video the other day and it made me think of a conference that I attended with a handful of other educators last month.  We trudged in with our iPads, notebooks, phones and throughout the conference we used these to write notes, look things up online, send out information we were getting at the conference to people we thought would be interested...etc.  Our gadget activity was all (mostly) linked to what the conference was about.  I have to say that its the first time I was this active with my "gadget" during a conference (as in the past I used it only to take notes) and it was also the engaged I have ever felt in a conference.  It worked for me as a learner and I'm sure it would work for a lot of other learners too.  Really speaks to the need to consider teaching students educational and responsible use of these devises rather than banning them.

At least the students will do the right thing...

There is hope for the future if this young ladie's peers are standing up against the injustice that is being done by not allowing this student in the class.  I have always said we can learn much from our students.  We are so quick to point out all the negatives about the students and young adults coming behind us but in reality I see more kindness and compassion than ever before.  I just wanted to send out a big thumbs up to the students who stood up for this learner :).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My List of 10 for 2010: 10 Workshops and/or Speakers

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend serveral different workshops and speakers in 2010.  Here is my rundown from most to least impact for me...
  1. Dr. Stephen Shore: Spoke to the issue of self-advocacy which is something I was just so excited to be listening to.  Got some great information and was able to find some great resources as a result of this workshop.
  2. John Antonetti: This was a day long presentation on "student engagement".  What I left with was the connection and cross over between "student engagement" and "universal design for learning". 
  3. PECs Level 1 Training: I have been using PECs for several years with both my son and some of my students but had always done it with an SLP overseeing it.  Getting the training myself really gave me a clearer understanding of approach and long term goals.  Completely worth the two days that I was out of town to get to the training :).
  4. Temple Grandin: I was able to attend a workshop where Temple Grandin was one of the speakers.  I had read her book and watched some of her stuff online so her message was not really overly new.  All the same it was wonderful to see her in person.  The best part of her talk was perhaps when she took charge of the people who were running the lights and told them what she needed so that she could concentrate on the job at hand.  It really brought home that whole need to self-advocate.
  5. RJ Cooper Workshop: This spring I was able to attend a workshop put on by RJ Cooper.  It was great to see him working hands on with students to come up with solutions tailored to a specific student.  It was a really neat approach.
  6. Five Point Scale Overview: I attended a 2 hour session that outlined the 5 Point Scale. It was great and springboarded using it with a few of the students in our school.  We have never used it exactly as it is outlined because we do find we to set it up based on student needs.  It was great to get the exposure to it in this short introduction.
  7. Cory Johnson: Cory was the keynote speaker at our Teacher's convention back in February.  He was a very motivational speaker and challenged people to realize that there were things that all people do that were bigger disabilities than a diagnosis.
  8. Good Sense Training: A short training talking about sensory regulation, sensory diet and sensory tools.  Nothing overly new to me but a great reminder.  Loved that they talked about finding a common language around sensory challenges so that students could start to take control of their own sensory regulation.  This is a local training put on by a private OT company in my town.
  9. iPad/iPod and Communication (ACETS Calgary): This was a one hour overview of some of the communication apps for the iPod.  It was a great start but I'm pretty confident that learning about this is going to need to hands on.
  10. Doreen Granpeesheh: Unfortunately I did not get to see this whole presentation and pending road conditions put me in a situation where I had to leave early.  I wish I could have stayed longer as the morning piece was an overview of things I had already heard. 

Thursday Think: Connectivism

I'm an introvert who went to University to learn how to teach highschool mathematics.  A large portion of the first 14 years of my teaching career was spent doing exactly that.

I'm an idealist (or perhaps I'm a skeptic or a pesimist as the line seems to be a bit blurred).  I often look at things and see how they can be done better.  I have never been okay with keeping things status quo and I think I have to change jobs every so many years because I somehow make the current job that I'm in too big.
I'm a perfectionist.  This is not a good thing for me because it is rooted in a lot of insecurities that I have about myself.  I have to constantly fight to ensure that I'm working effectively and efficiently and not getting caught up on details that have no real return.

Lately I'm discovering that above all this I'm a humanist (a person having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity).  This is what has driven me to be everything else that I am.  I feel it is what defines me.

I've always believed that learning happens both outside and inside of you.  In order for things to be truly learned the outside part is important.  We do not learn or grow in isolation.  So it follows that I'm fascinated by the connectivist theory of learning. 

Here is the best  description of connectivism that I've been able to find online.

Here is a great video of the theory of connectivism works when we are thinking about 21st century learners...

And for me personally this links back to the idea of inclusion and how important it is.  If learning truly takes places through these connections what are we doing when disconnect a part of the population from others? 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Inclusion Matters (#1)

There are so many reasons why inclusion matters.  I included a (#1) in my title because I'm sure over the course of the next little while I will be reusing this title over and over again.  I'm sure this is the first in a series of posts.

This thought starts with a nagging thought and a personal story:

Back in October we decided to change up the schedule of one of the students in my classroom.  Rather than looking at including him for "specials" we decided to have him join the "regular classr for core academic time.  It was a shift and although we have not achieved perfection as far as inclusion goes I believe we are on the right path.  One of the driving forces behind wanting him to be in Language Arts class in particular was to try to expose him to not only remediated language arts instruction but also to grow literacy skills.  Although we had done some focus work on literacy in our room it had mostly been in a one-on-one type of setting and we found very quickly that this students was far more motivated to interact and be a parrt of literature when there were other students involved. We quickly moved from working almost exclusively on remedial reading work to trying to find the best way for him to access content.  I see so many more things that we can work on over the next couple of years that will be beneficial to him now.  I saw those things before but without the authentic need to make them happen the motivation (on our side but more importantly on the side of the student) isn't really there.

These two posts help to frame the emotion/feelings around this story:
In particular it is this line that confirmed for me what I had been thinking and feeling: "Special educators and other specialists, often overemphasize remediation at the expense of accomodation and compensation."
And here I sit thinking that inclusion is so much more than just putting a child in a regular classroom because "it's the right thing to do".  Putting a child in the regular classroom changes the focus of what you are trying to achieve through the course of their education.  Rather than focusing on remediation and life skills you begin to look at finding the modifications, adaptations and supports the student will need to function in a larger world.  You begin to work more collaboratively with the student and you have more opportunities for them to start to take better charge of their learning (figuring out what supports they need in any given situation).

The second article I linked to seemed to point to the need to teach our students to be self advocates.  I used to think that as long as we taught our students to be self aware and somehow made sure that they believed in themselves then they would somehow become self advocates.  I'm coming to realize that the skills and information behind being a self advocate can be taught.  And again... much better taught in an authentic environment where there is a need to be a self-advocate.  When we take control of making the environment work too much for our students then we are taking away the opportunity for them to discover what works and doesn't work and then to advocate to make it so for themselves.

Wednesday's Weekly Comments: December 22-28, 2010

Excellence and Integrity - The Truth About Making a Difference on 21st Century Collaborative: As I dig further in to this whole "inclusion thing" I'm finding more and more that its about educational reform as much (or more) as it is about inclusion and so I've started to read more on 21st century teaching. This was a much needed reminder as it seems it is time for action rather than just researching and making baby steps.

8 Real Ways Facebook Enriched Ms. Schoening's First Grade Class on The Innovative Educator: An older post (as I just found this blog and was digging through it backwards) but one worth commenting on.  Nice to see a proactive approach to teaching responsible social media use.

My List of 10 for 2010: 10 Books I've Read This Year

This has been a year where I've been working hard to figure out exactly what it is I believe in as a teacher.  In doing this I've done a lot of exploring and I wanted to share some of that exploring in a few posts related to what I've read and done this past year as far as "professional development" goes.  My first list is a list of the books that I read this year that helped me to better define what I believe in. 
  1. Dymystifying the Autism Experience: A Humanistic Approach for Parents, Caregivers and Educators by William Stillman: Early this year my 11 year old son who has Down syndrome was given a second diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  When I came in to my room 4.5 years ago I had one student with Autism who had a pretty established protocol that worked.  When you teach one student with ASD... you teach one student with ASD.  In September 2009 we added student number 2 with ASD, in November 2009 we added student number 3 with ASD, in February 2010 my son was diagnosed with ASD and in September 2010 we added student number 4 with ASD (my son) as well as gaining student number 5 with ASD on a part time basis (assisting with including this student in a regular grade 1 room).  All of this has propelled me to learn a lot more about ASD and to come to discover that I'm extremely humanistic in my beliefs and appraoches.  This book offered me written words for my feelings and beliefs and was transformational in moving me forward.
  2. Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism by Temple Grandin: In my quest to find information about Autism I started reading blogs and articles written by people on the spectrum and you can't do that without reading Temple Grandin.  As I read all these other accounts by people on the spectrum I began to realize just how broad the spectrum was.  It really speaks to need to not buy in to a "one approach fits all" type of approach with any disability.  I'm going to a workshop on the SCERTS model in January that I'm really looking forward to because from what I've read it respects the fact that different approaches will work with different students.  I guess I will know more after I've been at the workshop.
  3. Teaching Conversation Skills to Children with Autism: Script and Script Fading by Lynn E.; Ph.D. McClannahan; Patricia J.; Ph.D. Krantz:  Three of my students on the spectrum are in that process of moving from scripted to spontaneous talk and so when I found this book I had to buy it.  There is some great stuff in here - not just about the process of scripting and script fading but also about prompting and prompt fading in general.  I would like to say that I've implemented a load of stuff from this book but I haven't gotten there yet.  I am hoping to use this process in 2011 :).  It is never wasted a read though as even if you don't formally implement things you change approaches from what you read.
  4. Including Students with Severe and Multiple Disabilities in Typical Classrooms: Practical Strategies for Teachers by June E. Downing: As we moved in to the 2010-11 school year I had a new challenge before me.  We had decided to not move our youngest student in to our room but rather to leave him with his peers in the grade 1 room.  This has been going great (more on that later).  Within about 6 weeks we decided to put another student from our room back in to the regular classroom for core academic time and this has also been successful.  There is so much more I can post about all this but I'm going to try to be breif today.  What this did was move me back to a time when inclusion was more important to me and then it propelled me forward to start thinking about a more workable model of inclusion.  Although there is much to do I'm starting to dream again of more inclusive school - but one that stems from making the school fit students not students fit the school.  I'm thinking the next few years will be exciting.  This book was great!  I thought it was very practical and from it I could start to see how it could be done. 
  5. Teaching Language Arts, Mathematics and Science to Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities by Diane M. Browder and Fred Spooner:  I continued my quest for information on inclusion.  I did not find this book to be as informative or inspirational as the one I had just put down but it did help all the same.
  6. Just Give Him the Whale! 20 Ways to Fascinations, Areas of Expertise and Strengths to Support Students with Autism by Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz:  It was around this time that I started reading articles on Paula Kluth's website.  I had gotten this book some time earlier but had not sat down to read it and so I did it at that point.  The book was that first baby step towards thinking about inquiry based learning as one of the paths towards inclusion for all students.  It was a good read more in that it reconfirmed the need to work with student interests/passions rather than to try to fit them in a box.  It certainly did not apply only to students with ASD :).
  7. Making RTI Work: How Smart Schools are Reforming Education through Schoolwide Response to Intervention by Wayne Sailor:  You can't read about inclusion without coming up to the concept of RTI.  I can't put my hand on how much school divisions are in to this in the States in comparison to Canada.  Its really not a buzzword here - although the concept of universal supports certainly is.  I have to admit that I did not get all the way through this book.  Perhaps I'm still at a point where I need to think in fluff and theory rather than practicality.
  8. Collaboration for Inclusive Education: Developing Successful Programs by Chriss Walther-Thomas, Lori Korinek, Virginia L. McLaughlin, and Brenda Toler Williams:  Another okay read but also quite frustrating.  As you begin to really think about inclusion and how far reaching change has to be to make it work you can sometimes get a little bogged down and start to wonder if its worth making the first steps.  From this book I see a real need to ensure that our whole school is onboard with the tiny steps that we started making this year.  Some days I would just like to close my door and teach in my own room.  I am not a face to face "collaborative" person but I'm starting to realize that this is something I'm going to need to get over!
  9. Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum by Ruth Elaine Joyner Hane, Kassiane Sibley, Stephen M. Shore, Roger N. Meyer, Phil Schwarz and Liane Holliday Willey: Just a few weeks ago a group of us attended a workshop where Stephen Shore was one of the keynote speakers.  He talked about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: self-advocacy.  He went through a process of including the student as part of the IEP team as a way to teach self-advocacy skills.  I was so impressed I bought the book and it did not disappoint. 
  10. The Integrated Self-Advocacy ISA Curriculum: A Program for Emerging Self Advocates with Autism Spectrum and Other Conditions by Valerie Paradiz and Stephen Shore:  In fact the first book was go great that I went digging to find more about teaching self-advocacy skills and found this book.  This book is fantastic!  It is written by someone on the spectrum herself.  I would love to see a course like this offered to students in our highschool (and again not just ones on the spectrum as I'm pretty sure everyone would benefit from learning some self-advocacy skills).  Highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Two Cent Tuesday: Reflecting on Lessons Learned in 2010

Here we are at the end of 2010.  Beyond a doubt, this has been my most challenging year as a teacher. It has also been my the year that I feel the most alive as a teacher.  We have gone through a lot of changes and I feel we are sitting on the edge of many more.  I am at a place where I can pull back in to my classroom, not create any waves and keep doing what I'm doing or I can take all the discomfort that has come with this past year and move forward (probably through even more discomfort).  Its exhuasting and hard but also incredibly exciting.  I think I am finally getting back to why I made the move from regular education to special education 4.5 years ago - to make the changes that are so needed in special education.  But now its bigger because I'm coming to see that the changes needed in special education are really just a reflection of the changes needed in regular education.  I do not know where this is all going to go but over the weeks I've gotten closer to a place of embracing the not knowing and I'm excited because that seems to be the first step to true learning.  And shouldn't teaching be about learning?  Because I have to start this journey somewhere, here is my muddled list of what I've learned, witnessed or come to question over the course of 2010.  I'm pretty confident at this point that my blog in 2011 will come to a place for me to piece all of this and more together so that I will eventually be standing on more solid ground.   My apologies if there is any vagueness in some of what I say as I have to be careful around confidentiality issues :).

Linking Inclusive Education and Educational Reform

In May of this year I applied to the University of Lethbridge for a Master of Education Special Study Theme Focus of Inclusive Education and Neurosciences.  Both the neuroscience and education programs at this university are strong and this program was developed response to Alberta Learning's "Setting the Direction" initiative related to creating a more inclusive educational system for all students.  The program starts in July 2011 and I'm expecting to hear back sometime in January as to if I got a place in the program or not (fingers crossed).

Kathie Snow (Disability is Natural) has always touched my heart as I believe strongly that we each live in our natural way of being.  What she writes puts in to words what I have always felt.  My definitions around inclusion start with the idea that "disability is natural".  I do not believe we need to fix people with disabilities but that we need to support them in the way that we support all students.

As a result of a variety of things (changes to my classroom, this inclusive education initiative in my province, putting together my application for this program, things breaking down at school for my son...etc.) I was once again driven towards dreaming that perhaps some day schools could actually be truly inclusive.  In the end, I partially came back to where I've been before: that we need to take what works in our self-contained settings and move it out in to the regular classroom rather than trying to fit "our students" in to the regular classrooms.  But I was ahead of where I was before because I was starting to believe we needed to do it rather than to feel defeated by the idea of changing a whole education system.

And so this school year (2010-11) I took the first baby step off the cliff and we moved two of the students from my room in to general education classrooms - one in grade 1 and one in grade 3.  We had always had our students going out for "extras" but this time we had them join for the "classes that matter".  We have seen some great initial success and I have many stories to share but this will need to wait as this post could take me the rest of the year if I go there.

But here is the thing... as my students moved in to these classrooms I began to research the changes that our school division has been making through an AISI Project over the past 4.5 years that I've been locked away in Special Education.  And what I discovered is that there were little pockets of great things happening - and those great things were paving a path to true inclusion (more on this in the next sections).  From there - instead of just finding information about "inclusion" online I started to look in to "school reform" and suddenly it was clear to me that including the students in my classroom links directly to what is needed as far as school reform goes.  When you truly look at what the stumbling blocks are to including the students from my room you see what needs to change in the classroom for all students.  Interesting... and exciting!

Stand Up for Your Convictions

At the end of a long year of doing battle with myself I have come to the conclusion that going along to get along just can't work.  This is one that has taken me a long time to get to.  In fact it is as I write this that I am committing to this appraoch.  I need to make this change for my students but I'm also at the point where I need to make it for me because my effectiveness as a teacher (and person) has been limited as a result of not living this way.  I need to believe in my passion and my instinct and set out on the less safe path because I know it is the right thing to do.  The fact that it is the right thing to do needs to be bigger than the rest of the stuff.

"Student Engagement" and UDL

I attended a great workshop (John Antonetti) on "student engagement" this fall.  He spoke of using this cube to create engaging lessons.  At the time I was reading revisiting the concept of Universal Design for Learning (and trying to wrap my head around it on more than a surface level).  The timing was perfect as it became evident that the 3 faces of John Antonetti's cube actually alligned with the three learning networks (recognition network, strategic network and affective network) stressed in UDL literature.  For me it was another moment of that link between what we are doing and learning on the special education front and how it links over to what is being done and learned on the "regular education" front.  It also speaks to the fact that if we start with UDL, the stuff we are aiming for (student engagement in this case) will happen.  Having our students in the room makes it only that much more evident that these changes are needed.  For me this takes the benefits of inclusion beyond just the idea that other kids will learn to respect and be kind (which rubs me the wrong way but that is also a whole other post).

Experiential Learning

At the beginning of my teaching career I had a most amazing opportunity to teach for a couple of years in an experiential learning classroom.  Our studnets ranged in age from grade 8-10.   They directed their learning.  Looking back now I can see both sides of this situation.  The program was put together on a dream of what education should be.  This was really before the "information age" (we had one computer on our school campus that had Internet and nobody really used it) and so the idea was born from reading a couple of documents and a collective dream.  The incredible thing is that much of what we did in that room is what is being encouraged now by way of "educational reform".  We focused on student interests, collaborative learning, inquiry based learning, service to others, mistakes as a part of the learning process, creativity, presentation of information...etc.  We had great success with our students but the program eventually folded for a variety of reasons.

As I mentioned above, my quest to find out more about making inclusion work has led to doing some reading around school reform.  Again and again the theme that schools are no longer needed as places that give out information comes up.  We need to focus on a different way of doing and a different set of skills if we are truly going to prepare our students.  Side note: this is true for students who are under the "special education" umbrella as well (more on that later too).  I remember vividly geting our first set of encyclopedias in our home and how much it changed the way I could do my school work because I now had information at home.  When I remember back to this I can see just how different things are for our students now.

I believe we were ahead of it when we did our experiential education program but I also think the rawness of it was what made it work so well.  I believe that being ahead of things (before policy and paper work bogs them down) is often when you can experience the most success with them.  They are much more messy but working through the mess is what the learning is all about - and its what ensures that things will work for the people that are in the mess.

The Advantage of My Parenting Experience

I often struggle with the fact that I'm a parent to a child with "speical needs".  By the deficit model, my son Mikey has Down syndrome, Autism, can be aggressive/destructive, is stubborn, has limited verbal skills, many sensory issues, is prompt dependent, low cognitive functioning, has low muscle tone...etc.  The list goes on and on.  If you want to get in to comparisons, when you stand Mikey by other children his age with either Down syndrome or Autism he would most likely come out "lower functioning" than most of them.  I believe strongly that Mikey is as Mikey is meant to be.  I believe we need to support him and help him grow the tools he needs in this world but I do not need for him to be "normal".  I tell you all this only to get to my point that even though I love and cherish and celebrate Mikey, there are times where I get caught up in worrying that others will see Mikey as a "burden" or someone who will never amount to anything anyway so why should we put all this effort in to educating him.  I don't agree with this at all but there are times where I feel like other people might think it.  And this results in my protective instincts (need to pull him back to a safe place) being bigger than my advocating instincts (need to push things forward for him).

I feel like I have to say that this is not equated to self-contained or regular classroom for me as I believe you can push students forward in either setting.  Somewhere in this past couple of years I have come to believe (and I don't even know how) that I can seperate me as a mother (protecting) and me as a teacher (advocating).  And I wasn't just making this separation when it came to Mikey - I was doing it with all of my students.   The protecting was starting to take over.  And then I attended a workshop where Stephen Shore spoke about self-advocacy and disclosure and in a flash it became evident to me that its not about protecting - its about arming them with the tools they will need to live in a world that will not always be kind or work for them.  I have many more thoughts on self-advocacy that will again come up in later posts.

The other blurred line that started happening between parent and teacher was that I had found myself saying things like "I know what is right as a parent but then I can see it from the execution end of things as a teacher and have to redefine things."  I need to find a way to get past that.  The execution is unknown and messy and that needs to be okay.  It has to go back to what is the right thing to do.  I need to use the fact that I am both a parent and a teacher to move things towards parents being a real part of student learning teams.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday's Motivation: A Vision for 21st Century Teachers

The flip side of today's earlier post.  I have thoughts on everything that I've been sharing for "Monday's Motivation" and it is my intention to begin using this blog in 2011 as a place of reflection related to the tie between educational reform and special education.  For now I'm just gathering my information :).

Monday's Motivation: A Vision for k-12 Students Today

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two Cent Tuesday: You have to crawl before you walk... Or do you?

This weekend my cousin, who also has a son with Down syndrome, posted a celebration of his first independent steps as her facebook status.  And what a celebration that is!  I remember vividly celebrating each of those great milestones in the first years of Mikey's life.  They were each so definitive and wonderful.
Looking back this weekend I was also struck with the order of Mikey's development.  Mikey crawled when he was 9 months old but did not sit up independently until he was 11 months old.  This is not "typical development" but it really didn't much matter to me as he was accomplishing things and we just celebrated whatever he accomplished.  I had to work with him on both crawling and sitting unassisted.  With crawling we would put a towel under his tummy and just pull him a bit up so he could start to get his tummy off the floor.  With sitting we padded around him and slowly pulled the padding off from different sides until he was able to sit without it.  With every skill he has learned since we have used similar scaffolding methods - giving him the support he needs and then pulling it off until he no longer needs the supports.

This year, we have shifted gears with a few of the students in my classroom and are now looking at including our students more during core academic times.  In the past if we did integration it was during the non-academic times.  For me it has been challenging and exciting and I feel like we are finally started to look at what education should be about for the students who have traditionally been placed in my room.
For so long we have been trying to assist these students in gaining the skills they need to access and interact with the world and the people in it.  We do it in isolation - one painful step at a time.  We do it thinking there is a specific order that we should be developing skills.  We do it for the students.

Throw these students in the middle of a "regular classroom" and the challenge before us becomes that much more real.  What I've noticed though is that the students now become key players in the finding the solution.  And I'm starting to thinking that finding the solution is actually the essence of what education means.  What is the best way for students to be able to engage and interact in their learning.  This covers it all because in this day and age you aren't learning if you aren't also interacting.

We are no longer so caught up in a sequence of skills that need to be learned in a certain order or thinking that a student will not be able to access curriculum until they have a certain set of skills.  We are finding ways for the students to be a part of the class and the curriculum.

And... we are seeing some kids walk that we had been having trouble teaching to crawl in the self contained setting.

We still have much to do but I do believe I've found my new star to shoot for and I'm excited about what these next years will bring :). 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday's Weekly Comments: December 1-7, 2010

Eligibility Categories vs Educational Needs on KPS 4 Parents:  This year I have taken two of my students who would have traditionally been in my room and placed them in regular classrooms for core academic times.  I hope to do this with more of my students.  I have been really struggling with how students get placed in specialized classrooms and if these truly are the best placements for them this year.  Reading posts like this one help me to better define where my struggles are.

What I Learned from Swimming Class on The Spicy Learning Blog:  I always have felt blessed that I was able to teach swimming lessons before I taught in a classroom as I feel it helped to shape what I believe about education today.

Personal Learning Network and Personal Learning on Spencer's Scratchpad:  What a great post.  So many parts of it that I connected with!  I have always felt that I learn as much (well actually more) from my personal learning time as I do during our PLC time.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paradigm Shift

I'm still here... still plugging away.  This year has gotten off to a great start.  I have a great group of students and staff and everything is settling in nicely.  I should feel relief because things are now pretty close to how I dreamed them.

Instead I'm finding myself a lot thinking about the great inclusion debate and wondering if our self contained setting is the right approach with the students in my room.  I'm sure this is going to become the focus of my blog for a while so just wanted to make a quick post stating where I'm at and what I'm thinking about.
Are there any readers out there that do inclusion with this level of student?  I would love to connect with you :).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer is Winding Down...

I can't believe that in two weeks I will have finished our staff days and will be doing last minute preparation for Monday morning back to school faces.  Where has the summer gone?

I still have much to do but am also feeling good about what I've accomplished the summer.  This past week I spent two days in my room doing a major clean-out/reorganization.  I went through every little thing that is out and decided if it was something we were going to use this year or not.  If it was something we wouldn't use I organized it in to "get rid of" or "store away".  I then cleared out a couple of cabinets and shelves that we have a hard time getting to and put all the "store away" things there.

Then it was on to organizing the things that were left.  I sorted and shelved everything by skill.  To make room on the shelves and to make things flow easier during the year I took severl of our "programs" and moved them from binders and bins to file folders and put them in the filing cabinet (but I need another filing cabinet - lol).  All of these programs are step-by-step programs - you master one step and move on to the next - so it will be great to just be able to pull the file of the current step that a student is on and keep it with his/her programming materials until that step is done.  I did this with Edmark Reading, PCI Environmental Printing, Reading for All Learners Program, the Money Skills program that I created (loosely based on F.A.C.E.S. curriculum) and the Primary Phonics Program I've been working on this summer.  I am thinking I may also start organizing a few other things this way as well (all in good time).  I am also in the proces of taking all of the file folder activities, interactive books, matching cards, envelope activities and putting them in to bins based on skill.  Right now I have bins for Number/Counting, Addition/Subraction, Letters/Printing, Phonics/Sounds, Pre-academic Skills and Other.  I'm sure as these grow I will add bins and seperarte but it will be nice to just be able to grab what is needed.

Finally I carved out one whole shelf per student in the room.  This is where their binders and programming materials will go.  If they are working on a specific skill the materials for that skill can be stored on their shelf for the time they are working on it and then returned to the place it came from (which will be easy as it is all labeled).

I'm feeling good about the organization of the room.  Now I just need to use these last few weeks to get everything together in all of these individual programming binders that are in various states of completion (or more like incompletion).  Its going to be a haul yet but I'm feeling confident I can get it done in time for learning assistant orientation 13 days from now :).  Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Loving Unique's Transition Band!

Uls Back in June I decided to purchase Unique's Transition Band for this year with the hopes of perhaps learning how to ensure my older students are getting the program that they need to transition out of our classroom.  I was hoping to find a few things that would be helpful and figured I would call it good if I did.

It has been so much more than what I expected.  The program has "CORE TASKS" that you do all the time that is basically a lay out of how to set up your day.  The great thing about it is that setting up the day this way (with a few modifications) can work for all the different ages in my class (which is saying a lot given my span this fall will be grade 1 through beyond 12 as I have one student is staying an extra year beyond graduation).
Each month you get a set of "Instructional Tasks" in a few different categories.  They include "Lifetime Skills" (Communication, Money Management, Social Skills...etc.), "Job Club" and "Daily Living Club".  In the Job Club section there are lessons are building transition portfolios - something that I've been trying to get going forever but never really do a great job of it.  Now I have a place to start!  The Daily Living Club has articles and stories to read with questions in the same format as the rest of the Unique Bands but the stories are more related to older students in the community.

I am just so amazingly impressed with this resource that I had to share!  Well worth the money even after just one month :).

Check it out here:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Primary Phonics Workbook Interactive Activities

Primaryphonicsbook1 This year I have a couple of students who are ready for phonetic reading.  For the most part we have worked with students on sight word reading.  We do some letter and sound recognition stuff but haven't gone very far in to phonics.  Things are changing so I had to dig up some extra ideas to approach phonics but they had to be ways that allowed for some physical challenges in regards to writing.  So I stumbled across a post where someone was using this set of books as a starting point to create activities for their son.  I was so excited and I ordered the first book in the series to see if I could make it work for what I was trying to do.  And it does.
Here is what I have done so far with this book as a guide:
Primary Phonics Book 1 Tracking Form: I wanted to create a tracking form that could be used generically for all sections of the book.  I generally go with a mastery approach to academics.  When a student achieves a specified standard and can demonstrate that standard three times in a row they are ready to move on to the next step.  I'm planning to use the same approach with this.  So this is the tracking form that will be used for all activities related to this book.

Primary Phonics Book 1 Page 1 (Recognizing and Reading Color Words):

This isn't really part of the phonics itself but the students I'm thinking of are well on the way to having these words memorized so I thought I would put it in here as it will be them closer to independently reading the task cards in other lessons.  Note that for this activity I have included my explanation of how this topic works.  I will be puttting each of these in a folders and then in a box and staff will just pull the file folder they are working on and the explanation will be in there (laminated) along with all materials needed.

Primary Phonics Book 1 Page 2/3 (CVC Words that End In "an" and "at"):  Here is the task set for page 2 and 3 of the workbook.  This one will be a long set as I have broken it down in to 4 steps that th student needs to complete before moving on.  Not all of the pages will take as long as these two. 

Note that I have done some more pages but have not done the staff explanation part of it. I'm loading the pages now but will come back at some point and put up the pages with the staff explanations and the rest of the book as well and then move this up as I update it.
Primary Phonics Book 1 Page 68 through 80 - Coming Soon! 

Wednesdays Weekly Comments: July 28 to August 3, 2010

New Position posted at Special Classroom: Very excited to follow this new journey on the blog :).

News from news-2-you posted at Excepational Students in the Classroom: I'm looking forward to seeing what changes are being made over at the news-2-you and Unique Learning pages.  We should be able to see it soon :).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Storing Homemade Materials Idea

A question someone asked me in response to one of my posts made me think to write a quick post about this.  I make a lot of my own materials with Boardmaker - things like matching cards and sorting activities.  I wanted a way to store them that allows me to label what they are so that we can get them quickly.
What I did in the end was going to Staples and buy some "mailer boxes" in different sizes so that I can store the items.  Since then I have found them for a significantly lower price online.  I'm including the link but realize its a Canadian Supplier.  I'm sure there is something similar in the states.  I'm also putting a couple of pictures of how I use these types of boxes in this post.

Hope this is useful to someone :).

The place I have found to order these boxes is called Uline.  This is a link to the page that has the box sizes and the prices.

Examples of how I use the boxes:


 Here are some boxes that I used to make "Alphabet Boxes".


Here is an example of a box that I use to store an activity with hands on items.


 Here is an example of a box used to store a card activity. Inside the box are a bunch of different sets of cards related to the concept on the outisde of the box.  I put the sets in envelopes (or half envelopes) with answers or content writen on the outside. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Color Coding Student Materials and Spaces

So I needed a break from "thinking" work and decided to spend a couple of days doing some decorating type of work.  With the evolution of my classroom and the number of students who are now ambultory and have functional use of their hands I have revamped things quite a bit in that they need to be able to take care of their own materials.  So I'm doing things like changing to individual pencil boxes rather than using communal supplies.  One of the other things I decided to do is color code each student's materials so that students are easily able to find their own.  So I tackled their binders first and just kept going.  In the end here is everything that I color coded for each student.  I didn't realize that there was so much stuff for each individual :).
Home-School Communication Binder: I'm using a binder rather than a duotang for written notes between parents and myself.  The idea is loosely built around "M.O.O.S.E. Binders".  I have broken the sections in to "Money and Notes" and put a pouch behind that section.  This will be used for things like lunch order forms, school fundraisers...etc.  The second section is the "Communication Log" and this will be pretty much exactly what I had put in duotangs last year.  Each day learning assistants fill in information that parents are interested in (each sheet is different) such as toileting, positions, aggressive incidents (basically I build this with the parents so that they get the information they feel is important). Then I put a note in saying how the student's day was. Parents can write a note back in the morning.  The third section is "School Newsletters" and I'm putting this in there because I always misplace the things and figured this might be a way if there are other parents like me out there ;).  The final section is just "L.A.P. Classroom" and I will put in anything relevant to our room like my contact information, extra forms, class and staff list...etc.

Personal Binder: This is something new that I'm adding this year.  I'm very excited about these. The idea came from the Unique Learning Transition Band (with some small modificatins to make it work in my room). This is a place for students to keep track of themselves.  The sections in this binder are (1) Personal Calendar, (2) Daily Schedule, (3) Personal Checklist and (4) Other Materials.  The Personal Calendar will be a place for the student to record things that are coming up in their lives.  Parents will need to assist with this.  We will be making or buying cards and mailing them to people when there is something important coming up for friends and family.  The Daily Schedule is just an outline of what is happening on that day.  Some of the students will also have running schedules that they use throughout the day.  I'm still working on the personal checklist.  In the Unique program its all based on getting paid but I haven't completely decided yet on how I'm going to make that work. 

Religion Binder: This is just a place to keep all materials related to our Religion Class.  Some of what goes in here is just pictures of students doing religion activities.

O.S.C.A.R. Binder (in my closet and for my eyes only):  I found this term when looking up information on M.O.O.S.E. binders and was at first going to use it as home-school communication but then figured it actually applied more to the personal binders that I keep for each of the students.  These are binders that are for my eyes only and are locked away.  I put copies of what is needed information in student binders.  I put these together a couple of years ago and they have been so helpful in keeping everything organized!  This binder is broken up in to the following sections: (1) Current I.P.P., (2) Parent Contact, (3) Consultation Notes, (4) Program Planning and (5) Other.  I record notes about any parent contact that I make (in person, on the phone or e-mail) in section 2.  Consultation notes are any notes from meeting with therapists, psychologists, behavior intervention workers, outside agencies that work with the student...etc.  The 4th section is just so I have a place to store ideas when I think of something I want to implement for a student.  I check off things that are done in this area or make notes if I change my mind or if we tried a version and know it won't work.

Transition Portfolio Binder: My older students are working on Transition Portfoios.  This is meant to be a "picture" of the student that can travel with them to the agency that takes over their adult programming.  It is a work in progress!

Individual Programming Binder: This is the binder that much of the day is built around. I have posted about this several times and am in the process of completely revamping these this summer.  Its a huge process.  Basically this is an outline of goals, activities and tracking forms related specifically to the student.

Lunch Program Binder: A few of my students do an individual lunch program every day.  This program has the planning their menus for a week at a time, checking their items and then making grocery lists and then going shopping for the items.  I am creating binders this year to keep everything for this program organized.  More about this soon!

Visual Supports Binder: All of my students have binders that have their personal visual supports in them.  These are the ones that we use throughout the day.  Some students have loaded binders while others only have a few pictures in there.  I started this last year and its been a great way to keep all these visuals organized.  On a funny note: we have one student who loves books and he will go in and take people's "library" PECs every chance he can get so that he can request library about 40 times a day ;).  I do have this binder broken in to sections and sections vary from student to student.

PECS Binders: This is for the students who use the formal PECs program and it is their personal binder.

Morning Meeting Binder:  I used these last year and there are some great things in there but I'm thinking to retire them for at least the first part of the year as we will be covering everything in them during morning meeting.  If I'm finding I need to use them WITH the morning meeting later in the year they are ready to go. I'm pretty sure though that the personal binder will do just fine.

Theme Duotangs: I made duotangs with each of the seven movies we are studying for each of the students.  We will store any activities we do in this duotang.  Visual recipes will be sent home in case parents want to recook them at home.  A lot of this duotang will be response types of activities - did you like the movie, did you enjoy the game type of thing.  We will also do some voting and graph making in this duotang as well as some science experiment notes.  Each duotang will be sent home at the end of the theme.

Pencil Box: Moving to pencil boxes instead of communal supplies (although communal supplies will still be available).  For those who can't get out their own materials due to physical challenges this will be an excellent time to work on functions of objects!  I ended up buying black pencil boxes and sticker paper and making large stickers in the student's color to go on their box.

Programming Materials Box: Our students do not have desks.  To keep things organized, I have always used large boxes for their materials.  I have put large colored labels on the sides of these boxes.

Coat Hook(s): They are still supposed to change my coat hook area.  It is in a very small corner of the room and layered 4 layers high.  Up until a year ago we only had 2 students who were able to hang their own coats so we just gave them spots that were easy to get at.  This fall, we have 7 of the 10 and its not set up for that.  They are supposed to come in and spread them along an entire wall.  Each student will have two hooks (one for coat and one for backpack/lunch bag) and I made lablels for these.  I would like to get lockers but that might be a year or two down the line.

Hygeine Bag: I want the student's hygeine bags to be color coded this year as well so I'm on the hunt for large clear hygeine bags that I can label with their color codes.  I still need to put some thought in to this because the labels will need to be able to withstand water and what not ;).

Visual Schedule (Binder or Board Dependent on Student) and Reinforcement Cards: Some of my students have these and I have also modified these so that they are in the student's colors.  Note tihs visual schedule is beyond the one that we will use in the personal binder.
Its been a busy but productive couple of days. Later in August when I start posting pictures of my classroom I'm hoping you will be able to cearly see the shelves full of colored materials :).