Sunday, January 22, 2012

Raymond's Room: Ending the Segregation of People with Disablities by Dale Dileo

There are so many people in this world who are passionate about ending segregation of people based on disabilities.  It is always wonderful to read stories of people who dedicate their lives to this very worthy cause.

The book starts with a story of the author working in an institution and the horrid conditions that one of the people there lived under.  It describes Raymond's room and how he was viewed as being so dangerous that he needed to be locked away in a room living in conditions that we cannot imagine.  Dale Dileo moved from this experience to dedicating his life to changing "institutional thinking".  He has seen much progress but the book challenges readers to recognize that although much progress has been made, there is still a lot of "institutional thinking" in the world.

A few parts of the book that really resonated with me include:

Group Mindset: I like the approach to thinking not only about institutionalization but also institutional thinking.  When we group people together based on a disability label we do many things.  The book pointed out a couple that we need to be very aware of.  First, other people will notice what is common to the group of people - so they notice the disability as opposed to noticing the person.  For people to be seen as individuals they need to stand as individuals.  If we put someone with the disability in the middle of people without disabilities, people again notice what is common to everyone - which is that they are human.  The second point that is made about group mindset is that when there is a group of people there is far less social interaction with others then when people are on their own.  Expectations change when there is a group.  Getting rid of institutions is not enough.  We also need to get rid of institutional thinking. 

Pre-requisite Skills: I really liked the analogy made in this book about being required to have a certain set of skills before a person with a disability is allowed to do something in the real world. People with disabilities are expected to learn skills in simulated environments while others are given the opportunity to learn these same things in the middle of real life situations.  Perhaps what hit home with me the most was when the author spoke of the time when we move away from home for the first time.  Did we really have all the pre-requisite skills needed for living on our own?  I know I didn't.  I phoned home to find out how to do my laundry.  I had to learn to budget by getting to the end of the month and realizing there was more month left than there was money.  I learned that I had to pay my bills on time when I lost phone access because I didn't stay on top of things.  I gained skills through the experience and through the need.  This is tied in to the concept of "dignity of risk" and something that all people have the right to.

Real Jobs: This is one that is near and dear to my heart as it is important to me that Mikey (my son) eventually have a real job rather than work work in a sheltered environment or spend his days in a "day program".  One key point from this section was related to thinking about the context of a job.  There is one story about a man who has the "behaviours" of swearing and spitting and they are worried about placing him in a job.  He ends up getting a job at a shipping dock and succeeds there partially because many of the other people who work there spit and swear.  In this context, it is not a "behaviour".  The other thing I found important in this section was the discussion around the need to fit in to the social fabric of a work environment and how someone who is supporting the employment of a person with a disability should focus on helping them to fit in rather than breaking down the tasks in the work environment.  Once a person fits in to the work environment, those around them tell them the tricks of the trade.  I like this approach as it mirrors what I feel is the most important first step with my students.  We need to get them looking to and interacting with other students to figure out what to do next as opposed to relying on adults for that.

Lots of other great things in the book. Well worth the read and lots that motivates and inspires related to ending of institutional thinking.  I think it also helps frame the idea of looking at individual needs and desires when planning.  This means there may be some things that are done individually - but that is not the same as "in isolation".

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Great Website: Project Participate

Wanted to share this great website that I found the other day.  The focus on finding ways to increase participation mirrors what we are currently focusing on with our students.  We look at three areas of participation: academic, social and routine and continually try to increase.  We are no where near reaching the goal of equivalent participation for our students as that of other students but we are moving in the right direction.  This website has a lot of great ideas that we are going to implement and/or modify to use with individual students. Very user friendly and easy to understand.  Always great to find a good resource.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What Should We Focus On?

As we move forward in thinking about how to expand inclusive experiences I find myself jumping back and forth between thinking about the concrete (supports, strategies, modifications, adaptations, assistive technologies, role of learning assistant, peer supports...etc.) and the abstract (the philosophy behind inclusion).  I recognize that different teachers could implement the same list of strategies in different ways and that this would impact how effectively my students would be included.  The underlying difference would be the mindset related to what the education of students with special needs should look like.  It goes back to mindset.  To

I recently read an the article "Professional Development  Needs and Practice Among Educators and School Psychologists" by Timothy J. Cleary and was fascinated by a few of the quotes in the article.  Part of it is because as our province starts to make this shift there seem to questions around coding, assessments and interventions.  The "what should we be doing about testing" question seems to be floating around these days.  The author of this article examined what type of testing is beneficial to inform teaching practice. 
"All participants were asked to read two reports. The first report delineated information about a student’s motivation and self-regulation processes, whereas the second report detailed data about the student’s cognitive abilities and academic skills. The primary finding was that the teachers reported motivation and self-regulation assessment data to be significantly more useful than the cognitive ability/academic skill report for enhancing their skills across multiple roles, such as developing instructional plans and enhancing the quality of school-based team meetings and consultations with school psychologists. Collectively, research has shown that teachers are highly interested in learning more about student motivation and self-regulation and perceive such information to be valuable to both students and to their teaching skills." (page 80)
The last five words of that quote seem to be pretty significant.  I think, for the most part, people believe cognitive testing results to be a fixed indicator of what a child is capable of and it seems to me there is the potential for the numbers that come out on these tests to be self-fulfilling.  On the flip side, there is a general belief that we can have an impact on things like motivation and self-regulation can be changed.  There are varying opinions on what is the best way to impact these but the fact remains that we generally see it as something that we have some control over.  Starting from a list of numbers that we believe we can impact seems a better place to begin from.

The article suggested two assessments and says "collectively, these scales target a wide range of regulatory processes, such as strategy use, goal setting, and planning, as well as motivation beliefs, such as self-efficacy, interest, and achievement goal orientation." (page 83)
Having this information as a part of a student profile can go a long way both in empowering a student to understand themselves as a learner and also giving a teacher direction on how to help a struggling student.

What do we value? What focus will best result in supporting student growth, learning and success?  What components of a learner profiles will ensure that the teachers and professionals see a student with a growth mindset? 

It seems that with students with special needs we do some things that tend more towards trying to figure out a student's capacity rather than their potential.  But we don't really know anyone's capacity as it is so dependent on the things we do and the environment that the student is in.  If we added this type of testing to the learner profile that highlights a student's learning style and their interests and strengths it seems we would have a great place to start from in figuring out how to support a student.  I would venture to think it might even result in thinking about how we can support students in the general education classroom.  Cognitive testing alone seems to result in a mindset that can overemphasize remediation and isolation (note: students can be isolated and still be physically present in a classroom).  I'm not saying remediation is not necessary - just saying that I think there is a huge need for re-balancing how much is needed and thinking through what the correct balance is between remediation and compensation (and particularly thinking through this at various grade levels).  We don't live in a world where there is only one right way to do something.

As nice as it would be if including my students just came down to a list of strategies, it just isn't that compartmentalized.  Effective and authentic inclusion can only happen as a result of a shift in mindset. So the question for me is still what practices help shift mindset?  Would starting from a profile with a different focus result in a growth mindset and different practice?  More importantly - would this then result in increased participation, engagement and achievement in general education classrooms for both both students with and without special needs?

Cleary, T. J. (2011). Professional Development Needs and Practices among Educators and School Psychologists. New Directions For Teaching And Learning, (126), 77-87.doi:10.1002/tl.446