Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm Going Back to School...

So here is the e-mail I got this week...
Hi Monica,

You have been accepted in the M.Ed. (Inclusive Education & Neuroscience) program.  You will be receiving official documentation in approximately 3 to 4 weeks.


Please confirm receipt of this email.  Thank you.
I am very much looking forward to starting this program in July.  I can't wait to go on this learning journey with everyone!

Friday Five: Five Quotes that Made Me Think

All of my quotes this week are from the books "Because We Can Change the World: A Practical Guide to Building Cooperative, Inclusive Classroom Communities" and "Widening the Circle: The Power of Inclusive Classrooms" by Mara Sapon-Shevin.  The extra thoughts are mine.
  1. "Learning to swim in the bathtub will not guarentee you will be able to swim in the ocean."  And in my mind I added to this one... and if you have a choice between swimming in the bathtub indpendently or swimming in an ocean with the support of a lifejacket I'm thinking most people would choose to be in the ocean! 
  2. "We need to start to think about ways of teaching and learning that recognize that we all have gifts and that the challenges of good teaching is to make gifts visiable, rather than to sort people in to successful and unsuccessful."  Not much more to say on this one except that I love it.  It fits so nicely in to the idea of assessment rather than grading.
  3. "Educators are realizing that we need not dichotomize or choose between teaching skills and teaching students to be caring and responsible human beings.  We need not sacrifice reading to teach sharing and abandon math goals in favor of teaching mutual support and help.  Rather, the classroom community can be structured so that students learn reading through sharing and work on math goals with teacher and peer support."  Just as we know we need to break down and teach skills to our students around "behaviours", we need to start to think in the same manner when it comes to teaching students who to act in an inclusive manner.  We need to set the stage and teach the skills to our students that will create inclusive environments.  We need to have the conversations that ensure that we are making differences an ordinary part of being.
  4. "We must continue to ask ourselves why schools are the way they are and weather they have to be that way."  What better time to do this then now as there is much of this going on. 
  5. "Articulating our task as full inclusion - changing exsiting classrooms and structures so that all students can be served with a unified system..."  I've left off the last because what I feel is important in this quote is that we need to redefine how we are articulating inclusion.  It is not about putting children who have traditionally been in segregated classrooms in to the classroom and making modifications so the child will fit but rather about looking at the classroom and making the changes from the bottom up that will ensure that all students can learn in that classroom.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Inclusion as Community Building

Inclusion is about "belonging".  I feel that as long as we focus inclusion efforts on those who have traditionally been labeled as students who belong in special education we will not see the changes that need to be seen to ensure that schools are inclusive.  Because inclusion is not really about students with special needs - its about all students.  When we focus on children with special needs we refer to things like modifications, differentiated instruction, Universal Design for Learning, multiple intelligences...etc.  All good stuff and a definately a part of inclusive education but for me there always seems to be a hole when that is all we look at.  I think that hole is about focusing time and energy on building community in our classrooms and schools.  I'm currently reading two great books that have me thinking more deeply about this.
Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community (Alfie Kohn)

Being a parent of a child with a disability, I have long been opposed to the concept of compliance.  I have come up against too many people to even count in my son's life time who are looking for compliance above all else - often at the expense of giving him a voice.  My son has limited verbal skills and his processing time can be a bit slower than some people's.  Compliance is so ranked above independence and/or communication in importance for people he has come in contact with during his "schooling".  I bought this book because the title spoke to me in regards to knowing there are others out there who do not put such high importance on "compliance".

I'm not finished reading the book but what I'm finding in the book is some great information on how to foster a sense of community in a classroom.  I am a big fan of the understanding that students will learn to make good choices only when they are given choices to make - not when they are told what to do by a set of rules.  The take away from this book for me is the information around implementing a class meeting process.  It really is a growing point to having students take control of themselves and others - which is ultimately what is needed in an inclusive classroom.

Because We Can Change the World: A Practical Guide to Building Cooperative, Inclusive Classroom Communities (Mara Sapon-Shevin)

I'm really liking this book as there are so many ideas that could be quickly personalized and implemented in a classroom.  I completely buy in to the idea of taking time to focus on community building as part of the curriclum. 

The author emphasizes the importance of focusing on community building skills in every part of the day:  "Educators are realizing that we need not dichotomize or choose between teaching skills and teaching students to be caring and responsible human beings.  We need not sacrifice reading to each sharing and abandon math goals in favor of teaching mutual support and help.  Rather, the classroom community can be structured so that students learn reading through sharing and work on sharing by working on math goald with teacher and peer support."

The book is laid out in a way where there are suggestions for how to make this all fit in to "regular curriculum" at the end of each chapter.  I have loads of "take-aways" from this book.  I hope I get a chance to use all these ideas some day!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is it time to go back to the "regular classroom"?

I'm struggling with teaching in a self contained classroom and balancing out a belief that a "regular classroom" could work for all students if the classroom was transformed in to a real learning environment.  This year we have been "including" a couple of my students quite a bit and its working really well but its working around making modifications for that student and I think that if you started from the ground and built up it could be so much more for all students.  I think it could be what we need to zero in on balancing academics with fostering democratic community related skills. 

So I'm at the point of thinking that there are two ways to keep moving forward.  One is to continue to move my students in to regular classrooms and support as much as I can from the outside looking in.  The other is to jump in, get my own classroom (perhaps with a kid or two or three that is currently in my room in the mix) and build a classroom that works for all learners and then share what I'm doing with others in the hopes of someone else jumping on board (or better yet... find the others who are doing it because there are some and creating a movement).

I'm torn because I can see the advantages to both (although when I put it down in writing I can see also where my heart is pulling me).  Should be an interesting process of seeing where this thought leads me!

January 23 is "Ed Roberts Day" - Be Extraordinary

On December 15, 2010 the United States House of Representatives declared January 23, 2011 as "Ed Roberts Day". Ed Roberts was a huge force in the disabilty rights movement.What he did with his life is truly amazing! To find out more check out this great blog post at "Climbing Every Mountain

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lacking Clarity...

I'm not sure where I heard it but I once heard someone say that premature clarity stagnates the change process.  I love it!

Our school division is really digging in around the inclusion issue.  There is work actively being done to look at how we can move our division towards being more inclusive for all students.

I believe in this.  I want it to happen.  But I have no idea how one would get from here to there.  This doesn't mean I think we can't... it means I think we have a lot of exciting questions and challenges in front of us.

Here are some of my latest thoughts (and many are raw an unformed so if you're looking for answers this isn't the place)...
  • We are spending a lot of time looking at and thinking about how we can get to inclusion.  Is it worth spending some time on defining what exclusionary practices we currently have in place in our school system?  Should we be trying to eliminate them at the same time as we are trying to encourage inclusion?  Or is that reducdant because eliminating exclusion and encouraging inclusion are the same thing?  I have a thought on the answer but is my answer right... does focusing too much on the negative (exclusion) stagnate a process?
  • We are really moving towards the "multidiciplnary team" model.  Do these teams only add to the medical model of disability?  I'm all for having a lot of input from a lot of different sources but it seems that a student's voice gets smaller and smaller as "the team" gets bigger and bigger.  From the outside looking in, I see sll the time and energy that is currently being spent in our division around defining universal sensory strategies in classsrooms so that we ensure we are setting up classrooms to eliminate the sensory issues that will challenge some of our students.  I'm excited about this because it ensures our students have better learning environments but are we taking away an opportunity for them to learn how environmental factors affect them and then to give them the skills to create the change needed themselves.  How do we help students to recognize theset things themselves so they can carry the skill beyond the classroom?
  • How does hte idea of assimilation and the need that so many people have for people to the same fit in to inclusion?  Do people see inclusion as a set towards assimilation of all people?  Are people so opposed to it because we have to move away from assimilation?  And even more overwhelming on this end of it... what role does needing to extract power or control over others play in the whole concept of inclusion and exclusion?  If we are looking for control isn't it just easier to get rid of the ones who can't be controled then to redefine what we are aiming for?  How do you get to a point of ensuring that every person is an active participate in their schools (and is that the same thing as inclusion)?  I just think there is something to ensuring our classrooms and schools are democratic communities that opens up answers around inclusion and how to make it work.
  • I currently have a student who is very included in a regular classroom but I'm still taking care of his IPP and plan to do this for the rest of the year.  I'm no fan of data as I think it comes back to my belief that tally marks serve to dehumanize people because then you are looking at a behaviour and not the person.  How do we balance data nad people?  There are times that I think its important to record so this is tough.  But one question we might want to look at when we are looking at moving towards inclusion might be realated to weather teachers are more intimatidated by the IPP and data collection then they are by the human that is coming in to their room.  Maybe we need to find a way to eliminate the paper work before we can get to the point of the child just being "regualar" in the classroom.
  • How many disabilites have we as a society created simply because of the way our schools are set up?  Do we have a lot of students who have labels that they would not have if our school systems were more flexible and student centered?
  • How do we ensure that this is not about us imposing something on students when this should really be their movement (although because of the structure of our school system they would not at this point feel they have a big enough voice to make it that way)?  This should not be a passive experience for our students.  We have one student in a self contained classroom in our division who talks openly about wanting to be in a "regular classroom".  Do we not have a responsibility to respect her request?  We have another student in our division who got upset when it didn't work out in his schedule for him to attend a mainstream class that he was excited about (and could have easily been included in but it didn't work in the timetable.  Sometimes students don't have the verbal skills to articulate the same way that we do but their message is still clearly there and we need to listen.  How do we get students involved in this process?  Are we even considering that at this point?
Lots for me to think about at this point.  We are in for some interesting times ahead :).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Five: Five Things I Learned This Week

  1. Do not celebrate on Monday morning because you only have one thing other than teaching scheduled for the whole week because by Monday lunchtime you will probably end up with a full agenda for the week ;).
  2. Always look for different ways when the first one doesn't work.  We were able to find an alternative funding source for something that I felt was very needed for my students but the money just wasn't there. 
  3. It dawned on me this week just why the statement "We can't do it because we don't know how.  It's just too hard." is so frustrating for me.  It's because we, as teachers, would not accept this statement from one of our students.  So why do accept it in ourselves?
  4. That I need to stop being afraid to share what I'm doing.  There will be people who criticize but I need to use their response as a way to improve what I'm doing instead of as a means to beat myself up.
  5. That I love reading on my iPad (am now using the Kindle App and its wonderful).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What if why we do it goes way past a "culture of acceptance"?

A couple of days ago I posted the Simon Sinek Ted Talk that had the message of "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."  I ended that post thinking that the why we need inclusion is so that we can create a "culture of acceptance" in our schools.

What if its more than that?

I am reading the book Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community by Alfie Kohn right now and I'm starting to think that we need more than mere acceptance.  That what we are after is to build community.

There has been a lot going on around me (and in me) in regards to redefining how we deal with (manage) students.  It appears that we are all heading in a more positive direction but there are still so many things that bother me about the whole concept of managing students, classrooms and schools.  This is a quote from the book I'm reading that might offer an alternative:
Here is a second way to help students think past the confines of discipline - and to use an early class meeting to begin fostering a sense of community.  Begin by asking this question (adapting it as necessary to the students' developmental level): "What if, some time this year, you found yourself acting in a way you weren't proud of?  Suppose you hurt someone's feelings, or did something even worse.  How would you want us, the rest of the community, to help you then?"  After everyone has refelcted privately on this question, and perhaps discussed it, pose the follow-up question: "What if someone else acted that way?  How coudl we help that person?"

This thought experiment represents nothing short of a revolution in thinking about classroom problems.  Actions that would normally be defined as misbehaviour - and therefore requiring discipline - are reconstrued as signs that somebody needs help.  if a student had trouble with long division, after all, we would naturally want to help him understand the procedure (and its rationale), rather than seeking to punish him.  So if a student instead had trouble, say, controlling her termper, our response again ouht to be "How can we help?" - not "What consequence should you suffer?"  We should ask, in other words, "What can we do for you?" - not "What can we do to you?"
Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  What if the "why we do it" is actually more than building acceptance but actually that of building community in our schools?  Our students don't want to be merely accepted.  They want to be a part of it and belong.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Moment...

Sometimes we get so caught up in wanting to get to a dream that we forget to pause and look around us.

2.5 months ago we made the decision to take one of our students who had been in our self contained setting for a few years now and rework his schedule so tha the was included in a "regular classroom" for the core academic part of his day.  It was an experiment and done in response to a whole host of issues.  This is a little boy who has a list of "challenges" a mile long.

When he first went in to the classroom my concern was not that he was accepted but that he was "too accepted".  Everyone was babying him, arguing to push his wheelchair, talking to the learning assistant that was in the room as an extra set of hands as if she was his ears.  It was frustrating and heart breaking to me as I want so much more for him than that he is just a class mascot.

And then some moments...

The first moment that another little boy in the class stated to his teacher that it was not fair that our student got to do announcements with the principal everyday and nobody else did.  For me, the fact that this little boy saw it as a matter of fair or not meant that he had moved to an equal playing field.

And then there was the day that I was in the room talking with the teacher as the kids started to come in from recess.  Our little guy came in and spotted me, wheeled over and asked me if they had library today.  I told him to ask a friend as I did not know.  I remembered those first days when we had to teach him how to get another student's attention because when he was a novelty (only going in for "specials") others would initiate with him instead of it having to be the other way around.  And I watched him that day confidently getting another students attention, asking his question, getting his answer and moving around amoung the kids until they were all settled (including him) and paying attention to the teacher.  And it was wonderful!

Today I popped in to their gym class.  And watched as they finished a game and came back to the circle in the middle to decide on the next game and give rules.  They had a sub today and the sub asked them to pick a game.  One little girl named a game and the sub responded by asking her how she played it.  The little girl began to explain the game and needed some names of people to describe so she named the people who were sitting beside her in her explanation... and as she came to this student, she did not skip over him, she did not stumble on his name, she did not pause and give him a cute little look... she just named him the same as every other child.  It may seem like nothing but from where we came it is huge.

I can choose to get caught up in all the details or I can just keep looking for the moments and trying to set things in place that will hopefully create more moments.  I can choose to worry about what the whole school or whole division is doing or I can figure out what I can do for my students.  I can get angry at a world that does not yet fully accept people with disabilities or I can find a way to set my students up to be accepted by others.

I need to step back, take a breath and always act with the interests of the students that I have right now first and foremost instead of concentrating on too large of a picture.  I can't show the whole world but there is a part of the world that my students can touch if I do my job as teacher, facilitator and advocate.

Motivational Monday: Aimee Mullens: The Opportunity of Adversity

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Positive Behaviour Supports and Inclusion

A few things happened during work last week. 

On Tuesday I had meeting with myself, our school principal and the special education facilitator around building a more inclusive plan of action for the students in my room.  One of the things we discussed was what happens to my students next year.  A couple of them have been integrated more in regular classrooms this year and its time to start thinking about what that means for next year.  It means rather than finding one classroom that works for a student we need to see if we can make the whole school work for that student.  It was a starting point.

On Wednesday we had a division wide special education meeting. We have these once a month.  Inclusion was once again an agenda item.  This makes sense as it is also currently an agenda item for the province that I work in.  The discussion on this day was around what is needed to make inclusion happen.  By the time we were done there was a list of things on the board that were needed to make inclusion happen including things like professional development, differentiated instruction, collaboration.  One of the things on the board as "culture of acceptance".  There was some discussion around that being the most important thing on the list.  The lesson was that as long as we keep trying to make inclusion happen from a special education standpoint it won't happen because inclusion is about whole schools.  The question I was left with then is how do you make it about the whole school instead of just about special education.  I'm thinking this Ted Talk video seems to offer some insight in to that...

I'm thinking the "culture of acceptance" is the "why" part of things. Its the idea that needs to be sold.  The how was everything we had on the board that day and the what are a lot of the things that have been chalked up to education reform.  For us specifically the what comes down to changing resource room model, adding in learning coaches, eliminating some of our self contained settings, focusing on learning instead of teaching, going from grades to assessment, collaboartion...etc.

In so many ways we are well on the path to inclusion in our division.  Our province has a program called Alberta Insitiative For School Improvement (AISI) and our division is currently focusing on "assessment" as our project.  At the end of October we had John Antonetti come and speak to us about student engagement. He presented to us an engagement cube that I thought was matched up to Universal Design for Learning concepts.  It was the first time that in my head I was able to tie a move towards inclusion to our division's AISI project.  I will admit that I had not been paying too much attention to the project before this so I spent some time backtracking and realized that I should have been paying attention.  Even with the work that has been done by our speical education department to move towards inclusion, I'm kind of thinking that this AISI project may be doing more in regards to laying the right groundwork.  The project seems to be trying to move us along a continuum of extrinsic and standardized to intrinsic and differentiated.  We are going from grades to assessment, teaching to learning, passive learning to student engagement, doing to students to doing with students...etc.  To me it just seems that when you get to thinking this way, it would follow that inclusion makes sense.

On Thursday I attended a "Positive Behaviour Supports" workshop where we looked at supports that can be put in place on a school level, classroom level and individual level.  There was much talk about buildling relationships (great) and positive reinforcement (thoughts on this coming up).

Throughout this week we have also seen one of our students have an increase in behavioural incidents and I've been trying to dig through the why of it so that we can figure out how to help this student get back to a more regulated place.

A collegue sent me an e-mail in the middle of the PBS workshop saying something along the line of "thanks for the positive reinforcement" to which I had an immediate reaction.  It's because I'm having a hard time right now around the whole idea of positive reinforcement and praise (probably because I've been reading Joe Bower's Blog a lot lately).

In the past our division has been very rooted in "behaviourism" - on the time out end of things as well as on the reinforcement end of things.  I've been evaluting this a lot lately so these events of last week made me think even deeper.  Here's the thing about behaviourism: it is all rooted in experiments that were done on animals and training animals should not be the same as teaching children.  I do use rewards and reinforcements but am coming to realize that I need to start exploring more alternatives.  Because many of my students are non-verbal (or have limited verbal skills) this presents a bit more of a challenge... but it is doable.

I'm in the middle of reading the book "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Punishments and Rewards to Love and Reasoning" by Alflie Kohn and I'm realizing that I need to step back and evaluate what I'm doing as both a parent and as a teacher.  I've been moving along thinking that I was being so positive with my son and my students but now I'm questioning it.  The underlying message that I'm getting about praise and positive reinforcment is that when we do these things we are teaching children do them because it will make us happy when they do them.

We had a short workshop on "Social Behaviour Mapping" the other day after school.  It was great as it was a way to sit down with a studnet and visually link emotions, actions and consequences (consequences in terms of what happens when not in terms of someone handing out a consequence).  The idea behind it was that you could sit down with a students and work through making all these connections and from there the child could make decisions about the things they were going to do.  It was a conversations - a learning experience - around how what we do in the world impacts other aspects and people around us.  There was no reward or punishment being handed out by an adult.

Of course for me the question is what are the alternatives to praise?  What do we do instead to help our students to learn how to get through in this world?  Some suggestions were things like:
  • instead of praising a child when they share something, comment on how they made the other child feel when they shared
  • instead of puting a child in time out when they take something from another child, point out that the other child looks upset and dig through why that other cihld would be upset and what can be to make that child happy again
  • when a child has completely something and they show it to you ask them if they like it - this also opens up the door for expanded learning as the child may come up with some great creative ideas on how to add to it
  • pay attention and be present when a child is doing something that you would typically praise - when we praise then the child may start to divide their attention between the task they are working on and getting your praise and therefore do not work as hard on the task anymore because the praise has now taken on equal important to the task
The overall message for me was that we need to try to ensure that our kids don't only feel good about themselves when they look good to others.  A very personal message for me because I still get sucked in to the need to look good to others.  There are some people I feel free to share with and its because somehow those people have given me the message that they are in the same place as I am - that it's more important to dig around and find what is right than it is to be right - that it is okay to make mistakes in the process of looking for the answers because that just provides and opportunity to reflect and learn and change and grow.  So I can take risks and not worry about how it will look if I fail to others.

Back to a quote from Joe Bower's blog.  The quote itself is from Jerome Burner and it sums it up by saying "Students should experience success and failure not as rewards and punishment but as information."  The way I would word is that we are teachers and our job is teaching, not managing.  When we move over to managing then we need to step back and find a way to move back to teaching.   If I think in this way I believe I can move away from rewards and consequences.

A few weeks ago I read this great blog post Teach (Know) Your Children Well over at the SpecEd Change blog.  There was on one part of a documentary called "Children Full of Life" in the middle of this post.  It was so good I had to go and find the whole documentary.  Here it is:

My favorite part in the whole documentary is in part 3 when the teacher falls back on using punishment rather than focusing on communicating, sharing, learning and reflecting.  There is a student who stands up and says "this is not right".  He has internalized the lessons of the year and although he was afraid to speka up he did all the same because he knew he was right.  And the teacher was amazing - rather than getting defensive and offended and taking the student was being disrespectful, he responded by listening to the students with the respect that they deserved. 

Its all really intersting to me.  I need to evaluate it all more. I've ordered another one of Alfie Kohn's books called "Punihsed by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes" and I can't wait to read it.

The move away from competitive classrooms really seems to be the base from which truly inclusive classrooms could be built.  There is so much great reading out there on this topic and I'm so excited to read and learn more.  I'm sure I will post more over the next little while.

Back to the meeting on Tuesday.  We talked a bit about inclusion and started thinking of a plan for our students.  We did not find the answer but I think we took some good steps forward and there were a couple tiny seeds planted in regards to ideas... one of them was an idea that another teacher planted in my head instead of the other way around.  Its amazing how when you start to talk the ideas and thoughts will flow both ways.  I'm feeling empowered and I can't wait to see where all of this leads.  I have hope.

And finally our little guy who has been struggling this week.  I wish I could write more about him but suffice it to say that my conclusion on him is that he is simply someone who is trying to make sense of a very confusing world.  Many would recommend a "behaviour plan" but to me that just seems ridiculous.  As much as it would be nice for someone to come in with some magic to turn it around I believe it is in the middle of the messy of working through these things that students find their own power and their own voice.  I don't call others in to work on a plan because I believe that I'm the only who has the answer but more because I believe the student has it in him/her to find the answer.  And so when I think of this Positive Behaiviour Support workshop that I attended it kind of gets me to thinking that there are some things that you just can't package and put in to a pyramid of intervention.

And so my new vision is quite simply a culture of acceptance in our schools.  That is the "why".  The "how" and the "what" can wait for another day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday Five: Five Things I Learned This Week

  1. I learned that when you try something new and attend and online symposium you can find a lot of people who are as excited about education and its potential as you are.
  2. I learned that transparency truly is empowering - after being told this at the keynote session of last weekends conference I decided it was time to start talking to others at my school about my dreams of inclusion for my students.  One of them responded by throwing out a great idea that might end up getting me one step closer to my dream in the long run.  Its a plan of action that I would not have come up with on my own.  Now I need to let it take root for a few days ;).
  3. I learned that when you attend a workshop (this one in person) that is not that good you can still get something out of it becuase it makes you think about what you believe instead of what was presented.  I went to a "Supporting Positive Behaviours" workshop yesterday and wasn't overly impressed.  It did help me to better define how strongly I believe in intrinsic motivation.
  4. I discovered that sometimes its okay not to get too caught up in gaining clarity in the middle of a change process beause part of the change process is to find that clarity colaboratively.
  5. I learned that there is still so much left for me to learn and do as a teacher.  As frustrated as I get sometimes I am so blessed to have a job that challenges and ignites me every single day.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Motivational Monday: Where Good Ideas Come From

My favorite quotes from this are "because they created a place where ideas could mingle and swap and create new forms" and "good idea normally become from the collision between smaller hunches so that they create something bigger than themselves." 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Setting the Direction Framework - Inclusive Planning Tool

The government of Alberta released the Setting the Direction Framework in June 2009 after consultations across the province related to how the special education system should work in the province.  In this document, the government of Alberta set out a vision of "one inclusive education system where each student is successful." and went on to define inclusive education as "a way of thinking and acting that demonstrates universal acceptance of, and belonging for, all students. Inclusive education in Alberta means a value-based approach to accepting responsibility for all students. It also means that all students will have equitable opportunity to be included in the typical learning environment or program of choice."  Its a touching concept and a theory that everyone can buy in to but how do you get from this concept to actually having inclusive schools?

The government set out some short term priorities that would hopefully try to answer the question of getting from words to action.  The document Progress on Work within Education that Supports Setting the Direction Short Term Priorities was then released to keep us informed on progress.  One of the priorities appears to be  to develop an "Inclusive Planning Tool".  Although this tool is being piloted in three school divisions across the province, very little is being released about it.  By looking on the College of Alberta Superintendents Learning Symposium website I was able to find out a bit more about it from the presentation power point that was posted that referenced it during the 2010 synposium.  On the Planning for Inclusive Education: Rethinking Classroom Practice power point the digital planning tool is supposed to originally include personal and academic profiles (reading, writing, language proficiency), supports for social partipation and something related to language arts (not sure what that means).

I know almost nothing about how the pilot of this tool is going but I do know that although the idea of it is great it sets off some huge warning bells for me.  My students have complex and multiple needs.  A large part of their education is dedicated to actually finding out what tools and supports and adaptations they need to function in the world.  It is ever changing as when we find one tool or modification that allows for access then we need to figure out how to go from there to make the access and interaction grow - which will require new supports and will change the profile.  While I understand that this tool would be a dynamic tool I'm also concerned that once you make something in to a "form" it is no longer seen as dynamic.  Imagine all the work that would go in to creating these leanring profiles and then finding the time to keep changing them.

Yet... there is something good in this because it has the potential to change the focus from remediation and fixing to that of supporting and including.  My thought though is that the tool should belong to the student rather than belonging to the student.

I recently got the teacher's manual for The Integrated Self Advocacy ISA Curriclum and it has re-ignited my passion around teaching our students self-advocacy skills.  One of the main projects in this curriculum is to have students build self-advocacy portfolios.  I've been working on transition portfolios with my students but this idea is making me rethink that approach.  Self-advocacy portfolios just seem so much more dynamic and there is the implicatio of more ownerhip.  Two other things happened this week that made me start thinking a bit more about this inclusive planning tool.  We just had a short workshop related to Social Behaviour Mapping where the presenter was explaining how she uses this tool with some students that she consults with.  She explained how one of those students has started keeping his behaviour maps in a binder that he can refer back to when he needs them.  When he no longer needs them he takes them out of his binder.  I was also talking with a laerning assistant this week about a student she works with (grade 2) who is now much more able to explain and problem solve around sensory regulation issues.  They have always used a lot of visuals with him as it helps him start the conversation.  We were talking about seeing if he wanted to build a binder that would have different sensory pages including "focusing techniques", "calming activities" and "motor break activities" along with an oultine of when he feels he needs to use these things.  We then talked about taking some of the other visuals that he continues to use and including them in this binder.  In both situations it seemed we were talking about some version of the beginning stages of a self-advocacy portfolio.

So how about rather than an inclusive planning tool that is developed by the teachers as a way to fix the student or the classroom to make inclusion work we look at ALL students developing self-advocacy portfolios.  Self-advocacy starts with understanding yourself and then branches outward.  Would that not get us closer to inclusion.

Recently I've read a few blog posts that link in to this idea of trying to find the how of academic and social engagement/inclusion that really points out the need to not start from a deficit model.  I kind of think the challenge beyond coming to a place where we are truly starting from an accets-based model is to ensure that we don't take on too much of the control for making it happen.  We need to find a way to help students to discover (and change) their own list of supports and tools that will ensure they can learn.  We can't just decide for them.  I feel like rather than completing the inclusive planning tool we should be facilitating and supporting it. 

With that I leave you with these great thoughts on the assets-based approach.

In your classroom the first question should not be, "who is reading at what level?" or "who is holding a pen 'correctly'?" but "How do we make these stories, this knowledge, this information available effectively?" and "How do we let all students communicate efficiently and effectively?"

Because if you ask the former questions you are categorizing, disabling, and seeking "cures." But if you ask the latter you are including, engaging, and helping students to find their way.
Remediation And Compensation: A Necessary Balancing Act on the blog EdTech Solutions
Special educators and other specialist, often overemphasize remediation at the expense of accomodation and compensation.
Proof: Ben Can Read on the blog Embracing Chaos
So, why is it the default position of schools/therapists/etcetera to assume inability until the ability is proven in a typical manner?  This question is two-fold.  Why the assumption of inability?  And, why can our means of attaining proof not be as creative as our means of teaching or meeting sensory needs?

Yesterday's Reform Symposium Experience #rscon11

Trying to blog about all that I learned at the the Reform Symposium yesterday might be too large a task or it might just be something that takes more time as there is much to process and talk through before it can all fit for me.  What I am learning above all else as I've tried to move from "just blogging" as I've been doing for several years now to truly becoming involved and connected in the learning experiences that are open to my online is that I need to be paying attention.  Learning has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  I'm excited at what this could mean for students.  So I will share one small bit of learning from yesterday now...

At the end of one of the sessions the host thanked the audience for being "such a great audience" as she had gotten a lot of great ideas from the chat that was going on at the side.  When you go to a conference in person being in the audience means sitting quietly and taking in the information independently (although lately we have been taking our mobile devises and looking things up and sending message while in them it still was not as rich in conversation as what I experienced yesterday).  It was great to be taking in information collectively.  I learned as much from the chat between audience members as from the presenter yesterday (and in some cases more).  This is not an insult to the presenters... I think its actually a huge compliment because it was their topics, presentation and passion that ignited the conversations that were taking place on the side.

Thank you to all who organized, presented and participated. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Children's Books About Sensory Regulation

I believe strongly that we should be very transparent about sensory challenges and regulation.  We should help our student to understand and mange their own sensory challenges.  I'm sharing a few links to children's story books that I know about that can help with discussions around sensory challenges.  I think its great that we have these tools to create conversations that will ultimately allow a child to better understand and advocate for themself.

Picky Picky Pete - A Children's Book About Sensory Issues

Written by Michele Griffin, an occupational therapist, this picture book is a must for any child with sensory processing disorder. Pete finds his clothes uncomfortable and can’t stand “paint, soap, and things with lumps.” He explains this to his mother and the reader in this fun children’s book, as he and his mother navigate a difficult morning in the life of a young boy with sensory issues.

Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload

Izzy is now in first grade, but having a difficult time with the structure and environment of the classroom. The book is written through Izzy's point of view, giving the reader a first-hand account of how sensory overload occurs throughout the day of an Elementary school student.

Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions That Build Success
Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions That Build Success is a beautifully illustrated children’s book centred on an exuberant young boy who struggles to pay attention in class because of his sensory needs. Written from Arnie’s point of view, it gives readers insight into some of the sensory tools and strategies he uses at school and at home to help him succeed.

This Is Gabriel Making Sense of School: A Book about Sensory Processing Disorder
This is Gabriel Making Sense of School provides a look into the challenges children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) face in the classroom. This easy to read and beautifully illustrated picture book gives teachers, parents and students a better understanding of all seven senses, how they are each affected at school and what kinds of accommodations are necessary to help children with SPD become learning sensations!

Squirmy Wormy: How I Learned to Help Myself
Lynda has transcribed the behaviors seen with sensory needs in her book, Squirmy Wormy that depicts, Tyler, a child with Autism and SPD maneuvering throughout his day.  The use of repetitive sing song words, “Flappy, Flappy, Pinchy, Pinchy, Hit, Hit, Hit” brings the young reader to attention.  Lynda follows each behavior with a sensory suggestion for kids, then suggestions for adults.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Friday Five: Five Quotes The Guide Me

Each Friday I'm going to try to make a different list of five that will generally be realated to my learning on this journey.  Feel free to join in by doing the same list of five on your own blog.  If you do, I would love a link so I can go and read yours.

My first list is a simple one - its five simple quotes that are ingrained in my mind because they speak so deeply to what I believe in.  My apologies for not crediting these to the people who own them as they are just little things that have stuck in my mind without names attached.  Here they are...
  1. It's a matter of will, not skill.
  2. Doing right is more important than being right.
  3. Be the change you want to see in the world.
  4. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. 
  5. Learning is not doing - its reflecting on doing.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday Think: Planning Tools/Templates and Universal Design for Learning

Just wanted to share a couple of planning tools/templates that I feel would help to insure that lessons are being planned from a universal design standpoint.  I do not pretend to know everything about these tools but they do look exciting in regards to considering all students in the planning process.
  • Authentic Learning Wheels: I stumbled across this while looking for something else.  I checked out the Power Point included and it seems like a great planning tool.  I really know very little about it but have seen quite a few different planning tools that haven't caught my eye the way this one did. 
  • John Antonetti's Engagement Cube: I attended a day long workshop about student engagement by John Antonetti where he explained the use of the Engagement Cube.  He spoke to using one concept/approach from each of the three faces of the cube when designing lessons. 
It may not ensure UDL but they look like a step in the right direction to me.  This is the start of a list that I'm hoping to add to as I learn more :).

Teaching in the "Beyond the Walls" Program

I feel it important to put the timeframe in perspective and I will explain that later in my post.  It was 1995.  To me it seems like yesterday but in terms of how technology has changed it was really another life time. Note many people had cell phones and the ones that were out there were big and almost brick-like (example from Motorola). Power Point as part of the Office Suite didn't exsist.  The year before (1994) Netscape had made it easier for us to actually get around the "World Wide Web".  ICQ (1996), Hotmail (1996) and Google (1998) hadn't come around yet.  Although we had heard about these fancy things called Smart Boards, nobody in education could say they had actually seen one.  It was also the the first year for Geocities - and how exciting it was to make our very own webpage and set down roots in cyberspace.  Occassionally students would go online to find information but generally research was still done in the library with books and encylcopedias. 
That September marked the begining of my 4th year of teaching and I was excited to be taking on a new job as a teacher in the "Beyond the Walls" program at the same school that I had started my teaching career in three years earlier.  Its a program that was dreamed up a couple years before I started teaching and had been in operation for a year before I came to the school.  I spent the next two years teaching in this program before the program folded (reasons were many and some are speculative but when you have something that is not "mainstream" in a very traditional school it can cause problems).
We had a group of 32 students, 2 teachers and 2 volunteers (one was a professor at a local college and another was a lady in the community who just really enjoyed literature and writing).  Students (and parents) applied to be in the program.  We had regulations in regards to ensuring we had a balance of students in the program (girls/boys, grade levels, academic achievement levels....etc.).

Our approach involved experential education, individualized learning, student driven curriclum and, in the area of mathematics, mastery based learning.  We were young and enthusiastic and there was much that was great about our program but I will be the first to admit that we were driven more by a sense of what we though education should be than by research of what works in education.  Even as a teacher things have changed as a result of having this kind of information at our finger tips.  We probably would be a lot more methodical if we were to set up a program like this again.

Here are some of the things that happened in our program:
  • Each year we would pick a theme that we would focus on.  This theme would culminate in a month long trip at the end of the year.  One year we chose "Canadian Unity" and did a trip through Quebec and Ontario.  The next year we decided on a double theme and focused on geology and theatre culminating in a trip down the West coast and returning through Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.  The students worked in groups to plan sections of the trips.  They needed to find destinations that linked to our theme and then gather and share information related to that section of the trip.  They would make connections in locations that would include finding places to stay, finding people in that community who would be able to present to us or give us tours, finding places to go (usually tourist places so that was the easy part), mapping out that part of the trip...etc.  They basically had an outline of what their trip package should look  like and when we did that part of the trip they were the guide.  Being the guide included teaching the other students about the section of the trip.  As teachers, we would come up with activities, explorations and discussions that linked to the year theme throughout the year.
  • Community Service was a weekly part of our program.  Students would commit to two different service projects each year (one for the first part of the year and one for the second part).  One afternoon a week students would go out and work on these projects.  They kept journals and had supervisors fill out forms.  We (teachers) used every 2nd week as joint planning time and on the opposite weeks we went and joined in on various projects with the students.  Students did share experiences and reflections from these activities during our weeklly group meeting.
  • Mathematics was done on a mastery basis.  We put it together in packages and students would work through packages, take tests and once they had reached a certain level they were able to move on to the next package.  Students were encouraged to do peer tutoring, work in groups and also come to use for help as they needed it.  There were times where they would ask for a group lesson on a topic.  Looking bakc now I can it was pretty dry.  If I had it to do over agian our packages would be much more hands on and focused on problem solving.
  • We had this great science volunteer from the college who would come in with these science project ideas, present them to the students, have them work on the projects and be available to them to work on the project and to teach them science as they were working on the projects.  He never lectured the whole group much as he just moved around and talk with people as they were working on their projects and talk to them about science or asked them questions that they would need to find the answers to by the next time he came.  We did projects like the egg drop (where students had to figure out a way to make some sort of case that you could put an egg in and then we would drop it from increasing heights to see if the egg would stay in tact), spagetti bridge building (where we would put increasing amounts of weight on the bridge), recycled boat building (where students made life sized rafts out of recycled materials and then we saw how far across the lake they could get in their boats)...etc.
  • We had a volunteer who was passionate about reading and writing come in.  Our formal language arts program was built around the concepts of writers workshop, book clubs and book projects (as opposed to the very standard book reports of the time).  Again, when our support person came in she would meet to conference with single students or groups of students.  We did not restrict writing to traditional formats - groups of students could work on a script and then present their final project dramatically - individual students could create a poster or an advertisement to get some message across...etc.  There were guidelines surrounding how many of each type of project needed to be done in a given year.
  • Students completed 3 major projects each year.  Each major project was meant to be an indepth study of some topic they were passionate about and last approximately 3 months.  All projects needed to be presented to either the whole class or us upon completion.  Students did not stand for boring lecture style presentations so everyone got creative in how they presented (dramatically, with games or hands on activities, by creating simulations...etc.).   There was a process to follow that included presenting and meeting with us about the project idea, creating a timeline, thinking about a variety of resources (with a real encouragement of making people connections to learn)....etc.  One of the three projects needed to be individual and one had to be with at least one other person and the third it was up to you.  Some sort of final project (besides the presentation) was required.
  • Students took responsibility for themselves and others.  Each year they would come up with their own mangement plan in regards to how to ensure that we had a focused work space and that people were getting their work done.  The day was often pretty open as we only scheduled things like once a week class meetings, once a week current event discussions (which had assigned leaders and often resulted in some type of action), time when our support people would come in to answer questions or meet with students on what they were working on, group gym time, scheduled service time.  The rest of the time the students had to figure out what they were doing themselves so there was a real need for some way to ensure people were on track.  Both years the students decided that they should be accountable to small groups and they created a point system that would give them privledges througout the week (mainly the privledge to move freely aorund the school - if you were behind they felt you should need to stay in the classroom and get caught up - and they would help the ones in the room in regards to bringing resources to them.)   Students kept timelines outlining what they would complete each month in all areas and during small group meetings they all looked at how others were doing.
  • We believed in learning from failure.  We did not step in and correct unless we were seeing a disaster that would be hard to fix coming.  We supported getting things back on track when the time was right.  Even with timelining we had students who had to lose a lot before they would take the initiatve to get it back on track.  It was not always easy to watch but I believe our kids learned the most valuable lesssons in these times.
  • We focused on community building a lot.  We started the year with a retreat where the focus was building connections amoung us.  One year we biked from Banff to Jasper in Alberta.  Some of our students were avid athletes while others struggled every pedal of the way.  They pulled together and at the end everyone had done every mile on their own (including some very large hills).  Another year we did a retreat at a local camp where we spent much of our waking time tied together in groups and did a lot of adventuring style activities in between.  We had class meetings and debriefing sessions and focused a lot on the ripples we create with our actions (both positive and negative). 
  • We did other trips but they were often tied in to student's major projects.  One example would be a group of students who did a project on the Canadian Navy who planned a 2 day trip to the base on Vancouver island for our whole class.
  • There is more I'm sure as these are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head.
I'm sure there is more that I'm forgetting.  Was it for every kid?  I would say yes because we tailored it to students when we saw that they needed more or less of something.  We did have groups of kids who wanted lecture style lessons with certain skills or topics and we could make that happen for the ones who wanted it.  It was messy and choatic but I believe there was some great learning going on.  We tracked our students before and after program and.  They went back in to regular classes for grade 11 and 12 and even without the "curriclum" from the three years they were in our program they did well - in fact almost all of them had higher averages in grade 11 and 12 then they had in grade 6 and 7 before coming in to our program.  Teachers reported that our students were great workers and knew how to study.  When we tracked our students through to post secondary we saw great things as they had learned the skills that allowed them to successful there.  We had struggling kids who had never enjoyed school who became passionate learners when they could spend time studying topics of interest to them.  We had gifted students who had alwyas been bored who were now excited.  There were a few students that it didn't work for and they slipped through the cracks... knowing what I know now I feel that we could have made it work for them with a bit more guidance and support.  They went back in to regular classrooms and still did as well as before they came to our program.

Its a lot to describe and it may not be exactly the way that education should look today but I think there is a lot in it that speaks to real student learning.  It is also speaks to it being doable.  Because the program was so individualized and there was so much collaboration and peer tutoring/partnering going on, I really believe that anyone of my students now (who have multiple complex needs) could fit in to a structure like this.  I do not believe this is the only structure or even the right structure but I do believe that inclusion and education reform have to a joint effort and we have to think in terms of inclusive classrooms when we look at education reform.  When we think about what type of classrom would work for EVERY student I think we get closer to creating true learning enviornments for our students.

On a final note I want to go back to the technology references at the beginning of this blog entry.  I wanted to frame it because I believe that the skills that many focus on through social media today are the same as the skills we focused on without the social media back in the day.  I think its great that we have all these great tools now and would love to teach a class like this again with everything that is there now (as I can see so much potential) but my thought was that we need to focus on the skills and not the tools.  We can't just use tools for the sake of them being "cool".  This is a message that I've seen over and over again when reading about educational technology and I completely agree with the message.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Now tell me how they can all be taught in one class...

This was a comment that came up yesterday night in the middle of #spedchat. Its a great question and one that I would never pretend to have the answer to because I do not know. But then if we are honest we have to admit too that we don't yet even know how all the students who are currently in the class can be taught in one classroom. This is why we are seeing "education reform" movements everywhere.

Again something that was said in #edhcat did help me towards making the answer did become a bit more clear as I'm thinking the question should actually be: How can all students learn in the same class?  When we reframe it and start to think about students learning rather than teachers teaching does it change things?  Focusing on teaching starts with the assumption that all students should be doing the same thing at the same time in the classroom.  Is this what we should be doing in any classroom in this day and age?  Is this an issue that is already there but it only becomes more evident when we start to think about putting students with special needs in to regular classes.

The other question that I think we really need to think about is: Are the words "classroom" and "class"  interchangable?  I would argue they are not the same thing but we often use them interchangably when we talk about "where" we educate students.  The inclusion movement, in its most extreme cases, goes so far as to say that any pullout means the student is not included.  For me it comes down to redefining a class - to thinking of a class in terms of the people who belong in it - the students, more than one teacher and hopefully also one or more learning assistants.  Once we define it that way the walls of the room don't matter.  There will be times for any student that it is more appropriate for them to learn outside the walls of the classroom and the adult that is with them can vary at any given time (or there may not be an adult with them).  Can all students learn together in that classroom?  I would argue they can.

But no matter how you frame the questions the reality is that the simple fact that we are asking the questions speaks to the need to really evaluate if we should be educating all students in the same class.  I do believe that if we put students that have traditionally been segregated in to regular classes we would see more clearly the issues that need to be addressed in education right now and be better able to frame where we should be going with our reform movements.  I believe "our kids" would make the issues that need to be addressed all the more clear.  We would not be dumbing anything down as it would force us to truly look at how we can individualize instruction for everyone.  Although some would see this as creating way too much work for teachers, I really think that in it would not be more work then what teachers are doing now.
Here is what I believe we could potentially see more clearly if we started thinking in terms of educating all students in one class:
  1. Learning does not have to take place within the confines of classroom walls.  For many students there are times in the day when learning is better done in other places - sometimes as individuals and sometimes as small groups and sometimes as whole groups. 
  2. One teacher in a classroom is not enough.  I know there is a cost factor here but I think its worth evaluating if larger classes with two teachers (with different specializations working collaboratively) is a btter option.  Or perhaps class sizes need to be different at different times of the day and there are times when one teacher is enough.  Ideally it would be nice to have the size of classes we have now with an extra teacher in each class but that isn't going to happen.  But is that the right reason to stop thinking about possiblility of teaching not being an isolated task.
  3. Sit and get is not an effective way for students to learn.  Teachers need to focus on facilitating learning through creating active and relevant experiences.   
  4. We need to design lessons keeping in mind each of our students (i.e. use Universal Design for Learning approach).
  5. Learning is not done in isolation. We need other people to learn.
  6. Teaching and helping others is one of the best ways to learn.
  7. Every student brings something unique and special in to the mix.
  8. Technology makes it easier to learn and we need to use it to help us connect to the world.
  9. Literacy (reading, writing, using media, using the arts, talking, communicating in whatever way we can) is relevant in all learning.  We need to focus on exploring information and then sharing what we know.
  10. We need to directly focus on social and emotional learning and this will lead to building community.
I know this is not exhausted.  I know that some of it might even been off the wall.  Right now its just my first reactions to a statement that has made me think.

I am working on a post about my experience teaching in a program called "Beyond the Walls" back at the beginning of my teaching career.  This is a class that any one of my students (and I have some pretty complex kiddos) could have fit in.  Will post about it soon.

Wednesday's Weekly Comments: December 29, 2010 - January 4, 2011

A Middle School That Works on the blog SpEd Change: Brought me back to my days when I taught in the "Beyond the Walls" program.  It seems so long ago now and I look back on it and realize that the whole program was based on gutt instincts in regards to what works in education. I was pretty niave and we did some great things with this program but I sure wish that I could do it again knowing what I know now.  I will need to make a point to create a post outlining what we did back than (it was 15 years ago already).

I Believe in You on the blog About a Teacher: Amazing post! This to me is the base that inclusion is built on.  It is about the message that we as teachers send to students when we act as if we believe in them and will not ever give up on them reaching their potential. When I talk of inclusion being beneficial for all students this is what I mean as it forces us all to teach in a way that our students will confident and comfortable enough to take the risk required to learn.

Dear Arnold on the blog Blogging through the Fourth Dimension: Another great post about seeing the good in the student rather and helping him/her along the path to self acceptance. There is no rocket science when it comes to behaviour really. I really believe its about relationship.

Thinking Outside the Box on the blog Learning is Growing: Really enjoyed the positive approach to "problems" here because there is always an opportunity when we come up to a struggle.  I think that the only time we truly learn is when we are faced with a struggle (or something uncomfortable).  I particularly liked the approach to student learning challenges. Imagine how much quicker educational reform would happen if everyone saw these challenges as an opportunity to find a new approach rather than continuing to try an approach that doesn't work.

Happy New Year on the blog Teacher Space: Great blog with lots of resources and I can't wait to follow it into 2011 :).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My First #edchat and #spedchat Experiences

Today was a great day for learning!  I took the plunge and joined in on #edchat this morning and #spedchat this evening.  Thank you to all the people who were there.  I learned a lot from reading and responding.

Here are some of the things that I learned today...
  • This morning I tried to use TweetChat to follow #edchat and it was pretty confusing.  I really should have read this blog post before I started.  I got wiser tonight and I used HootSuite and put my home feed, the #spedchat feed, my mentions feed and my inbox right beside each other and had a much easier time following (of course it helped that #spedchat was probably a bit slower in general than #edchat). 
  • Loved to see how quickly action can happen tonight.  It was neat to watch as people talked about what could be done, came up with a plan and started tweeting people that could listen in regards to changing things immediately.  I am still putting my toe in to this big pool of "social media" so watching this was a great learning experience for me.  I'm looking forward to seeing if Michelle Rhee joins a future #spedchat.  Even though I'm Canadian this would be fascinating for me!
  • During this morning's discussion there was a lot of talk about teaching students to use social media but also teaching them the skills around managing their digital footprint.  A great link to this lesson was shared during this discussion: Introducing Students to Their Cyberselves.  It ties in to my thought that we need to be teaching so much more than academics - to really understand one's digital footprint there needs to be an understanding of so much more.
  • I'm finding that by reading blogs and connecting with people online that I'm finally starting to really understand some of these catch phrases that people are saying.  Today the tweet "Education should not be about teaching so much as it is about setting up situations where students can learn" (my apologies to the person who wrote this line as I should have got your name to include here) finally made the idea that its about learning and not teaching clear to me.
Again... thanks to all those people in these chats.  It was a really great experience for me and I look forward to doing it all again next week :).

Two Cent Tuesday: Eliminating the Box

The question of what it would take to ensure that all students could be including in a classroom is one that haunts me.  I think there are some great "movements" happening right now that will help us move towards more inclusive schooling.  In some ways its hard to narrow my blog focus down because these other things need to be a part of it.  To that end, my goal is to try to frame these concepts/movements around inclusive education in the hopes to focus things a bit more.  This is really a list of what I see this blog being about.  I have also created short information/link pages for each of these topics that are linked at the top of this blog.  On them I will put a brief outline and then post links as they come up.  If you have anything to add to it please feel free to comment on the bottom of any of the pages.  I appreaciate feedback.  Part of why I'm writing this blog is to try to become more grounded in all of these things that I "feel" right now.

Building Lessons and Activities Using Concepts of Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction

When people talk about "inclusion" these seem to be the two "go-to" approaches that come up.  Universal Design for Learning comes down to ensuring students can access to the curriculum while Differentiated Instruction is about allowing for the way a student learns.  There is crossover.

I'm also finding that there also seems to be crossover between the concepts of "student engagement" and Universal Design for Learning.  UDL, by its very nature is meant to be about all students (universal) but it seems easy to get caught up in thinking only in terms of students with special needs when talking UDL.  When you frame UDL in terms of all studnets it links to engagement - as a student can only be engaged when they truly have access to the lesson/content/activity.  We think of disabilities blocking access but there are so many other factors that would also block true access (or connection) with the lesson/activity/content...etc. 

Focusing on 21st Century Skills (Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity)

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills speaks of combining with traditional 3 Rs with the 21st Century 4 Cs skills. These skills are
  1. critical thinking and problem solving
  2. communication
  3. collaboration
  4. creativity and innovation
These skills really require working in community and the link to inclusion is not a big leap from there as for me icnlusion and community are words that should be almost interchangable.

Creating Authentic Learning Experiences

Call it project based learning, experiential learning, enquiry based learning, authentic learning.  Bottom line is generally real and hands on.  Traditional approaches to lesson delivery (lectures) make it hard to envision inclusion.  I think its because lecture based teaching really works for so few students... the difference then between my students right now and students in the regular classrooms is that the students in the regular classroom, for the most part, have the skill of sitting quietly bored. If a classroom (school) is built around authentic learning experiences, modifications, adaptations, links ot "life skills" would be easy to create for the students who need them. 

Shifting from Assigning Grades to Assessing Learning

For me the bottom line here is that grading sets up a competive environment where we communicate to students that their worth is somehow linked to the grades they are getting.  Assessing students is about ensuring they are learning.  When we assess instead of grade we take the competitiveness out of learning. I believe that inclusion starts from a place where people feel they are working coopertively rather than competitively.  This is also how community is built.

Focusing on Social and Emotional Learning (aka Living in Community)

Is it just me or is this something that is currently missing from our schools?  I think its in behind a lot of what people are saying needs to change in education but also feel that it needs to come out more in front as well.  We have assumed that it is only students who have been traditionally labeled as having "special needs" often need extra focus time working on social an emotional concepts and so we work this in to their learning.  It would make more sense to find the time to teach all students these types of things.

Use of Current Technology (Mainstream and Assistive/Adaptive)

There is much "out there" about ensuring that our schools keep up with the technology that is available out there.  Now more than ever, it seems that current technologies can open access doors for our students with special needs.  In this way technology serves almost a triple puprose - to engage students, to ensure that students are working and learning with current technologies and to ensure access for all students.  Of coures there is also the whole world of assistive technology but the iPad really seems to be diminishing the line in that area. This is an exciting area for me - one that I hope to dig much more deeply in to.

Balanced and Comprehensive Literacy Programs

Although these programs fit in to a lot of other areas I thought they deserved their own subtitle.  We have waded a bit in to the pool of acaemic inclusion (having studnets in traditonally academic classes and not just "specials") for the students who are are in my room and I'm finding that the way our language arts programs are being run now really lend themselves to inclusion as it allows a student to grow their reading and writing skills from where they are at.  It also encourages play and exploration around literacy.  Which is so important for the students in my room as they need that exploration time.  Being literate now means more than being able to read at grade level - it means that you can communicate effectively, gain information and experience pleasure/enterainment from a vareity of sources.  It also recognizes that the medium used to do these things is not always going to be the written word (and so puts a child who may never be able to print with paper and pen on a more even playing field). 

Monday, January 3, 2011

What's To Fix?

Alberta Learning recently defines an inclusive education system as "a way of thinking and acting that demonstrates universal acceptance of, and belonging for, all students. Inclusive education in Alberta means a valuebased approach to accepting responsibility for all students. It also means that all students will have equitable opportunity to be included in the typical learning environment or program of choice."  Setting the Direction Framework - June 2009

I will say that this post is a little disconnected simply because I'm hoping that writing about it will help me connect it all a bit more.  It starts with these two posts that I've read this past week:
Both posts are written by people on the spectrum and speak to my heart because I feel that we currently have a system that makes people feel like they are broken or need fixing.  But in a truly inclusive mentality, what strikes me about these posts is that they could be written by a lot of people.  This is not exclusive to those who have autism.  I, myself, felt empowered reading these posts thinking that I need to take the lead that is being given to me here and I also need to quit listening to the voice inside me that points out all that is wrong.

William Stillman wrote a piece entitled "The World Needs People With Autism".  I understood it the first time I read it but as I dig deeper into the true definition of inclusion I'm seeing that by imaging a school that truly includes people with disabilities makes it very evident what needs to be fixed for all students in the school.  And one of those things is exactly what these two blog posts speak of - we need to ensure that we are not in some way feeding in to the idea that our students are broken or need to be fixed.

Where do I go with this?  I have no idea but I'm starting to think more and more that inclusion is not really about modifications and UDL but rather it is about teaching every child to know and understand and celebrate their uniqueness.