Archive for the ‘Special Education’ Category

OASISTitle: Asperger Syndrome: The Oasis Guide

Author: Patricia Romanowski Bashe

Publisher: Harmony Books

Date: 2014 (3rd rev ed)

Pages: 564

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a favorable review. There you go.]

This book has been around long enough and been through enough iterations that I don't need to spend a great deal of time writing about it's overall contents and objectives. The subtitle says enough: "Advice, inspiration, insight, and hope from early intervention to adulthood." Straight up: this is a book about Autism Spectrum Disorders with a special emphasis on Asperger Syndrome.

The book is thorough and comprehensive and what began as an internet project eventually morphed into this present (3rd edition) volume–a veritable encyclopedia of information, resources, and insight into the world of ASDs and AS. The importance of the volume is expressed early on:

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that 1 in 68 children have ASD. Autism spectrum disorder is more common than childhood cancer, Down syndrome, muscular distrophy, or cerebral palsy. Authorities who focus on AS estimate that perhaps 1 in 250 present with that profile. (15)

These are staggering and important numbers. On the one hand, it means that more and more parents need to be provided with resources and information for early intervention, treatment options, transition services, and long term stability of their children. On the other hand, it means that the public education sector needs to continue preparing educators, therapists, and intervention specialists to service the needs of this growing and demanding population of children. We need to know about evidence based practices, service providers, and available resources for our students who present with an ASD in general or AS in particular.

There is no shortage of 'experts' in the field of ASD and wading through the plethora of information, discerning between this expert and that expert, is no easy task–especially for those parents whose children are being identified earlier and earlier. As an educator, I will say this: wading through the muddled mess that is special education is a mind-job in and of itself. Having a resource at your fingertips that can provide you with a clear path and information on reliable sources is a must when first encountering a director of special education, an intervention specialist, and the handful of therapists who will work with the child.

This book will be a reliable resource for such parents. In the book you will find:

  • Information about what AS looks like; although, the saying, 'If you have met one person with an ASD you have met one person with an ASD.' No two people with AS are alike. There is a lot professionals know; there is a lot they do not know.
  • Discussion of various interventions including one of the most popular, Applied Behavior Analysis. Parents are cautioned to keep their children first and to ask questions–a lot of questions before undergoing any sort of treatment regimen. I found the section on OT (Occupational Therapy) especially helpful.
  • There's an important chapter about medications. As always, it is important to ask a lot of questions of experts before undergoing any sort of treatment involving medication
  • A significant chapter covering aspects of the child's life at school. Here, I speak as a professional. The child's life at school can be one of the most complex, draining, demanding, and beautiful experiences if the professionals working with the student are 'all on the same page' and work together. Consistency across the board and respect for the student's disorder is vital.
  • Discussions about various laws and how they affect the families of children with an ASD both as young people and as the child grows into adulthood.

There is much, much more too. The book is written in a nice, conversational style and technical jargon is carefully explained making the book accessible to lay-folks–for whom it is written!–but also stimulating for the professional. I don't think this is the sort of book a person will read for pleasure, but I do think this is the sort of book that will need to be kept close. I expect the new parent will want to keep a pen handy for highlighting and underlining and perhaps also some sticky-notes for noting important websites and other resources they want to pursue.

The general education teacher will also find this a helpful volume too since many students with AS are fully integrated into the general population of students at school. This book will be a handy resource when learning about characteristics and qualities that make students with AS so unique and valuable in the classroom. The teacher will also have a helpful resource to share with colleagues and parents who have questions.

Finally, the intervention specialist will want a copy of this book too. There is a helpful index where subjects can be accessed easily and quickly and also scattered throughout the book are various resources–both online and in print–that the teacher may want to add to their library. The section between page 356 and 374 dealing with tantrums, rages, and meltdowns is essential reading for parents and professionals alike. It is this section, among others, that I will be sharing with the paraprofessionals in my own classroom.

I highly recommend this book. Even if the prevalence of ASD levels off, there will still be a large portion of the population in need of care and intervention. There will always be families and educators who need helpful and thoughtful resources in order to meet these needs. This book is as timely as ever and should be in every parent's hands. It is comprehensive and thorough yet highly accessible.

5/5 Stars

PS-I am not, necessarily, an advocate for any of the particular 'treatment' or 'therapy' options in the book. I think the book is a helpful resource for someone who is searching for direction in a maze of opinion and experts. As a special educator, I try to keep an open mind about therapies when it comes to students with an ASD or AS. Given that every child is different, I extrapolate from this that every child will respond to treatment differently. I am advocate of whatever works. And every parent needs to follow their own heart, their own medical professional's expert advice, and be patient with their child. There is beauty in the uniqueness of every child with AS and it is my hope that every parent will see this beauty and choose what is best for their child and their family. The book is a guide and it should be taken as that.

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Probably the most significant change that took place within the last year is that I changed schools, changed classrooms, changed students, and moved. So the past seven months or so have been spent getting to know an entirely new population of students: teaching years 1-3 were spent in an MD classroom with a variety of students—students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, Cognitive disability, and one with a rare disorder called Smith-Magenis Syndrome. There were a few others students with varying disabilities too and the age range was vast: 2nd grade through 7th grade.

Then, on a whim, I applied to the Educational Service Center in my home county. I noticed an open position on their website and sent off a resume the next day. I was called back about a month later—at the last moment when I had already given up hope of being called—and the director conducted a pre-interview question and answer type conversation (i.e., a phone interview) and asked if I was interested in a high school position. It wasn’t my first choice, but I was interested in moving back near my family so I agreed. Then I waited…and waited…and waited. No call.

Then one day, in July 2014, I received a call from the director and was asked if I was still interested in a position with the county. Funnily enough, I was in my classroom tutoring a student when the call came because I had just told my principal a day or two before that I had given up hope and would be back next school year. She was gracious when I eventually broke the news of my impending departure.

Anyhow, I said I was still interested and I was told that an elementary position had become available and would I be available for an interview—in like two days! The rest is history. I scheduled my second interview. Passed. Then went on to a third interview with the building principal. Passed. Had a background check. Passed. Reference check. Passed. I was hired and within the next thirty days packed a house, rented another, resigned my position, rented and loaded a U-Haul, moved, and began the long process that moved me from a mixed age MD unit in a rural community to a strictly elementary (K-2) ED unit in an urban area near my hometown.

Moving from a solidly district school classroom to a county run classroom is a strange thing that required all sorts of adjustments both mentally and professionally. Although I am housed in a regular elementary school building, accountable to the building principal, and can fully participate in all building-wide activities I am not—nor are my students—officially attached to the school or the district itself. I work for the county (not the local school district), my students come from all over the county (I have eight students from five different school districts), and I see my official principal very infrequently (yet she’s always only a phone call away, so this is no criticism, and the building principal is always available to us also).

One of the great challenges I have had to master is the art of communication. Since my students are drawn from five different school districts, I have to communicate with no less than five different special education directors. I also have to communicate with several administrative people at the county level—for attendance, for classroom needs, for payroll, and much more besides. I had to learn how to negotiate scheduling issues when writing IEPs in order that all parents, therapists, district representatives, and ESC representatives can be present—people coming from all over the county. I also have to contend with five different bus schedules—no small feat when it comes to the writing of daily report cards, packing of backpacks, and actually getting children out the door.

Another significant change is that I also have three adults in my room besides myself. Thus I am also managing the work and break schedules of three other adults. Add into this mix managing the therapy schedules for eight different children who at varying times attend occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Finally, throw into this dough the specials schedules also: art, physical education, library, and music and making certain that the paraprofessionals are where they are to be.  

Wow, that’s a lot to contend with now that I think about it. But let’s not stop there. Let’s also consider that I am still finishing my residency (I am a year three working on my Resident Educator Summative Assessment) and anyone from Ohio knows what a pain that is, that I am still required to go through the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (which requires 2 formal and 2 informal observations, the writing of Student Learning Objectives, and more), and that this year I had to learn a new aspect of education in Ohio (because my students are not cognitively disabled,  they are not eligible for the Alternate Assessment which means they must be prepared for regular state testing by third grade): RIMPs—Reading Improvement Monitoring Plans for the wonderful 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee.

Make it better: KRA—Kindergarten Readiness Assessment; First Grade Diagnostic Assessment; Second Grade Diagnostic Assessment. Parent-Teacher conferences.

Really, this year has been an amazing, whirlwind of adventure and learning because besides everything I have just mentioned, there is the daily pressure of patiently working with students who have an emotional and/or behavioral disability, writing lesson plans (for 8 different children in three different grade levels!), managing IEPs, communicating with parents (and home districts), breakfast, lunch, behavior intervention plans, math, language arts, science, social studies, data collection, progress reports, report cards…and we have three months left in the school year.

It never ends, and there’s never enough time.

I am not writing any of this because I am looking for sympathy or because I want anyone not to go into teaching. On the contrary, I think this is reality—not just for me, but for every single special education teacher who goes to work every single day and lives on the island I like to call ‘where is my professional support team here in the school?’ I was talking about this one day with the music teacher and the physical education teacher and we all agreed: if you teach specials or special education, you often teach on an island. Not many people understand what we do every single day in the special education classroom; specials teachers come close, but only to an extent. Being a special education teacher or an intervention specialist is a lot of work, and I think it might be easy for the young teacher to get overwhelmed in those early years if they do not have the proper supporting staff from administration all the way down to classroom paraprofessionals to mentor teacher during residency.

As I said, this is reality. We have to work very hard to participate with the general education teachers—they have their own unique problems to deal with so I’m not disparaging them—so that our students can be included as often as possible in school wide events and activities. I work with a great group of teachers who have graciously allowed me to integrate some of my students into their classrooms for short periods each week. This is reality: if you are preparing to be a special education teacher, these are the things you do each day—and let’s not even get started on supplies, funding (I recently learned of the joys of www.donorschoose.org; you can contribute to my current project by visiting www.donorschoose.org/jerry.hillyer), and simple things like printer ink, paper, glue sticks, and curriculum).

And there is the ongoing, constant need to create new learning tasks for your TEACCH bins or for IEP objectives, or for Dr. Seuss week. (Thank God for Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher’s Notebook!!)

The reality is that in a sense special education teachers have to work hard(er) to make certain our students are getting everything they deserve each day. It’s not easy work, and we do it for reasons we often cannot define or place a finger upon. We do it because we look deep into our students and we see potential that might otherwise go unnoticed or be overlooked because of behaviors. We do what we do because we want our students to have hope and because we want our students to have the confidence they so obviously lack. We do so because our students are special and not typical. We do what we do because we often think to ourselves that we might have done better ourselves if these classes had existed when we were school children and struggled with large groups, not enough attention, and lack of confidence.

This is reality. I have quite a few teacher friends in other areas of life—church, acquaintances, and elsewhere—and sometimes they say things to me like, “I am thankful for you; for what you do. I could never do it. You must be special to work with those kids.” Sometimes it is kind of embarrassing when they say it because I think, “Nah, I was trained well. Anyone can do it if they are trained well.” Then other times I think, “You know what, maybe I am good at what I do. Maybe I do it because I can, because someone else cannot.”

It’s not a bragging thing, it’s a truth thing; a reality thing. You are in the place you are right now because you can do it, because someone else cannot do it. You have the gift(s) to help your students realize their potential every single day. Surround yourself with solid people, work hard every day, and most of all love your kiddos. Not everyone can do what you do; not everyone will.

ZippyTitle: Zippy the Runner

Author: JiYu Kim

Illustrator: JeongHyeon Seon

Publisher: Norwood House Press

Year: 2015

Pages: 29

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair an unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated for my review and I was not required to write a positive review of the book. ]

I teach special education at a small elementary school. I have been teaching special education for 4 years now as a second career. It is not easy work–I work with students who have emotional/behavioral disorders. The students keep my on my toes and on the go. They have more energy than is typically necessary for a human, but that is all part of the fun of the work.

Another aspect of these students' lives that is perplexing is their willingness to give up easily on tasks they deem too difficult. Typically their default mode is: "I can't." It is terribly frustrating for me as a teacher because I see in them the ability to do anything they set their minds to doing–even if it requires more processing time to do so. Yet within in them there is a chicane of some sort or another that convinces them they cannot. Thus a large part of every day is spent working to show them that they can, in fact, accomplish something and that what matters is not, always, success, but effort. We constantly use the word 'try' in my classroom because, as I tell the kids, you do not know if you can or cannot until you try. 

To this end, I believe Zippy the Runner would be a helpful book. Zippy, the main character, has to press on and on, keep practicing, keep running–keep trying. What I like best is that at the end of the book Zippy has no yet succeeded, but neither has Zippy quit trying. This, in my opinion, is what is key to this story.

I also like the artwork very much. I believe the illustrator did a brilliant job composing art for the pages–even though what I saw on the digital version didn't render very well on my Adobe Digital Editions (I didn't even download this to my NOOK so I'm not sure how it rendered on that device.) Still, I loved what I saw. And if the truth must be told, I will say that if a children's book as good artwork, it will usually fly with kids–and with me. I love the illustrations.

The end of the book features a Reader's Theater idea which can be found here and some curriculum ideas for using the book in the classroom. The reader's theater is a bit short, but may be helpful in lower grades. The curriculum idea is a fun little art project that the students will likely enjoy as well.

This is a book I will incorporate into my classroom and one that I think my students will enjoy. I enjoyed very much and I will look forward to reading more from this author and, perhaps, from Norwood Press House books in the MySELF Bookshelf Series.

5/5 stars

The information below is from the Norwood Press House website I have linked to above.

Grade level: K-2
Dewey: E
Subject: Fiction, Social and Emotional Learning, Optimism, Self-Worth
Accelerated Reader Reading Level: 2.5
Accelerated Reader Quiz #: 168500
Lexile Level: 470L
GRL: K

Today was a long day at school, hence the title of this post. It was a long day of teaching that began as most of my days do: waking up from a night of restlessness and nightmares. The day ended with me sitting here at my laptop writing about what a long day it was at school.

I made some new friends tonight and spent some time with other friends while playing a small part in  our school's 'spring' literacy night. I was privileged to stand behind a table and scoop hot nacho cheese into plastic bowls–a slight improvement over bus duty; at least no one cursed at me tonight.

Previous to that experience, I tutored a student for two hours. We spent the entire time struggling together through the Brigance Diagnostic Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills. It's startlingly good fun and if you've never administered such an inventory before, well I highly suggest that you get busy doing so.

In fact, I enjoyed Brigance so much today, that I pretty much did nothing else but Brigance with my students today.

That was my day.

I cannot merely assess a days' worth based upon whether or not I actually accomplished anything though. I mean, I'm sure I accomplished something, somehow, and in some way, for someone. I don't feel like I did, but I'm sure that somewhere along the way I was able to positively impact at least the chair I sat on most of the day. Although, since I left an impression, I probably had a negative impact on the chair; I'm just saying.

Being a teacher is demanding work at times.

Do you know what the best part of my long day was? It was not administering the Brigance. It was not serving nachos–as fun as that was. It was not my daily foray into the swarm of cars and buses I fought through in bus duty. It wasn't hearing from the high school principal that one of my own children was about to be suspended.

The best part was being around the people I am privileged to work with every day. I was able to spend time with my principal, fellow teachers, parents, children, custodians, and others. It was nice to hear the stories of their day, touch base with their lives, make a connection that might not have been there in the past, and in general just get to know them on a personal basis. It was fun to see them 'outside the classroom' during our evening Literacy Night (with a fiesta theme.)

What I have found is that teachers are humans. We have our flaws. We make our share of mistakes. We have some faulty idealistic dreams that are incompatible with the real world. Yet, what I saw tonight at Literacy Night was a wild pack of teachers, who had been teaching all day, giving more of their time to encourage literacy among our community.

And we would it all over again. And we will.

I recently posted at my blog that part of a solid education reform package would be keeping kids out of school until they are developmentally ready–say 6 or 7 (granted that some are developmentally ready at 5, but that none are ready at 3 or 4). I posted this to my LinkedIn account and got some feedback.

One wrote back:

"Should kids go to school at age 4, 5, 6. You mention family time would be better than going to school at younger ages but with many families trying to eke out a living they do not have the time to keep kids at home. The reality for many is that preschool and school are about child care not necessarily education. A well run program for young kids is certainly more beneficial than what many families could offer if the kids were at home" (Name withheld) 

I wrote in response:

The end of your statement is exactly the problem: "The reality for many is that preschool and school are about child care not necessarily education."

This is why parents then refuse to get involved in the academic success of their children, why teachers are expected to thus raise the children and teach them what they should be learning at home, and why there are so many discipline issues at schools.

Teachers are not in existence to raise other people's children or babysit them. We are there to educate the children. Children should be at home at young ages building forts, playing with trucks and dolls, and eating toasted cheese sandwiches made by mom or dad for lunch not dealing with the rigors of a 6-7 hour school day.

Sorry, I disagree with you entirely. School should not be be a place of social engineering which is what it becomes when children go to school at increasingly younger ages.

And when it falls upon teachers to be mere baby-sitters, education fails. I cannot concentrate on educating 15-20 kids in a classroom when there is 1 or more who require and demand my attention because of their misbehavior, or age appropriate behavior (for 3 or 4 or 5 year olds that is).

My point all along is that true education reform has to begin at the home. And what happens when children this young misbehave in the classroom? They are sent to the school psychologist who then runs a battery of tests and determines the child is ADHD.*** The parents then take the child, armed with new evidence, to a doctor who prescribes pills for the child.

The child then learns nothing because he/she does not learn to measure their own behavior or to self-regulate, but rather to suck down a pill. That is not education.

*Even the president thinks we need more pre-k services for children. But I ask why? What does it accomplish having children under 5 attending all day or every other day classes at a public school. The question remains: who benefits from children being in school at such a young age, getting burned out before they are in 2nd grade, missing their parents, and trying to learn what they are not ready to learn? Not the parents. Not the teachers. Not the children. (Hint: If you said the government, you are right.

**See also: Early-Education Advocates Welcome Fresh Federal Infusion. I am not advocating that early education needs more money, just pointing to the article as an example of how misguided this entire process is. Simply throwing more money at education 'problems' is not a solution. It is a washing of hands. I wonder how much suffering our culture could alleviate if parents kept their children at home until 6-7 years of age?

***And that is no knock on the school psychologist who is doing his/her job. My point is that if the child were developing at home under the aegis of the parent, some of these problems might just vanish befor the child is in school. Medication is not life; it is medicine. As an intervention specialist, I never recommend medication. Children can learn a lot from parents, and should.

 

Related articles

Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 1: Athletics & Academics
Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 2: Government Meddling in Education
Thoughts on Education Reform, pt 3: True Education Reform Starts at Home

I have been thinking a lot about educational reform since I started teaching three years ago.As a second-career teacher, I have seen many of the arguments, pro and con, for reform. I have been thinking about it because it seems like it is always in our faces. I’m not sure teachers are going to come out on the winning side of this debate/conversation. I am sure that teachers, teachers who have ideas, need to be more involved in the conversation and that those having the conversation need to stop using teachers as their piñatas.

It is important, I think, to seek input from various places and from various people, but I remain steadfast on the idea that those who are in the classroom day after day after day are the ones who have the best ideas for how and what to improve in our educational ‘system’ in America.

In his short review of Amanda Ripley’s book The Smartest Kids in the World, David Steiner wrote this astounding sentence:

To put the matter bluntly, if all U.S. schools applied the rigor and attention to their academic offerings that our high schools pay to their highest-profile sports programs, our students would come far closer to matching their demographic peers in high performing countries. 

This corresponds to exactly the point I made in my first post of this series: we need academic boosters as much as athletic boosters. That is, I see so much emphasis on academics in public schools that you would think kids only have one option: to play professional sports as adults. In other words, by over-emphasizing athletics we are necessarily de-emphasizing academics. Steiner could not be more correct in my judgment. 

But I digress. This final part of the series is focused on a final few things that I think we should consider when it comes to educational reform. Since this series has gone on for a long time, I will keep this part of the essay short and focus on three final areas that I believe need to be addressed in order for true reform to take place in the American Education system.

First, I am of the opinion, and there seems to be quite a mountain of evidence, that we start children in formal academics far too early. When I was in graduate school, I heard a great deal about so-called early intervention—especially as it relates to students who are eligible for special education services. There may be some merit to giving new parents to children with special needs the sort of support and intervention they will inevitably need as their child progress at a non-typical rate of development. I’m not arguing against that. What I am arguing against is the incessant compulsion our politicians seem to have for continuing to fund educational programs where children leave the home and start school at 3 or 4 years old.

Here’s what is written at the White House website:

Expanding access to high quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments that we can make. Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life—when the human brain is forming—represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life. 

Participation in high-quality early learning programs—like Head Start, public and private pre-K, and childcare—will provide children from all backgrounds with a strong start and a foundation for school success. These programs also generate a significant return on investment for society; numerous economic studies have documented a rate of return of $7 or more on each dollar invested through a reduced need for spending on other services, such as remedial education, grade repetition, and special education, as well as increased productivity and earnings for these children as adults. 

There it is: ‘significant return on investment for society.’ It’s all about the cash. Education cannot simply be about return on investment–there are other ways to get a good return on investment. But take it back a step: if this is the time when a child’s brain and cognitive skills are full of potential and fully open and opportune window, why is the assumption that the best place for them to be is away from their family and at some public school program? Why, oh why, is that the assumption? Frankly, I cannot think of a worse place for a child of 3 or 4 or, to be sure, even 5 to be than someplace apart from their family.

I’m not sure how the evidence in America can point to the benefits of early childhood education and the evidence in England point in the opposite way, but that is exactly what seems to have happened. Some say children shouldn’t start school until age 6 or 7. In England, there is an entire campaign designed around the idea that children start school too soon and that it is harming them in numerous ways. The Too Much, Too Soon campaign website features numerous links and other evidence to support this claim. (See also David Whitebread of Cambridge University.)

I’m sure others have written more substantially on this topic than I am devoting in this one post, and that is fine. The bottom line is, however, that early childhood formal education is not, contrary to the official lines of politicians democrat and republican alike, as effective as they want us to believe. I will leave this for now, but there is more to say about it in the future.

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When I was a blogger for Reality101 (Council for Exceptional Children's blog for new teachers) I wrote a lengthy piece about zero-tolerance. I was writing in the wake up a high profile school shooting and lamenting the fact that we hear so few opinions from local educators about how to reduce or eliminate such actions.

I was also concerned, probably more so, about the ridiculous policy foisted upon schools called Zero-Tolerance. After citing several examples of the absurd way zero-tolerance has been enforced in our schools I wrote:

I teach special education. I also teach a room full of boys. I have toys in my room that are used for sensory breaks—toys like Lincoln Logs, Legos, blocks, little plastic soldiers and other things. My students, my boys, build lasers, play soldiers, play secret agents, cowboys among other reality-based fantasy and role-playing games. I also happen to be teaching in a rural school district where the opening of deer season is akin to a national holiday and camouflage tuxedos adorn the yearly prom (I jest, of course, but camo is a popular clothing style in our school district).  

If I practiced the same zero-tolerance described in the articles above in my classroom, my students would never be in school. That is not rhetoric; that is reality. In many ways, this is what kids do: they imagine themselves as soldiers, cowboys, police officers. I did it growing up, as did my brothers and countless other boys and girls. If I took away the Legos and Lincoln Logs the boys in my class would use pencils or crayons or my pointer stick as guns. In other words, in special education, this is not merely a black-and-white issue. On the other hand, even in general education this is not merely a black-and-white issue.

I think it should be clear enough to most people that common sense would be a more appropriate law than zero-tolerance. Well, now we have the federal government stepping up to the plate again and interfering with local school districts:

The memo, jointly released by the departments of Justice and Education on Wednesday, urges public schools to ditch so-called "zero tolerance" policies the feds claim disproportionately affect minority students. The letter, which was sent to all public schools, said even well-intentioned policies are discriminatory if they end up being applied in greater proportion to minority children.

I'd like to make a few points here.

First, I agree 100% that zero-tolerance laws are absolutely absurd. What we need is common-sense and redirection. The point I made in my blog post is that boys are boys and boys do things that boys do: make fake guns, wrestle, chest thump, make sounds of explosions–they engage in reckless behavior and take many unecessary risks. But these are not reasons for boys to be expelled or suspended or sent to detention. These are occasions to educate and inform.

“It’s just the way they play, but the policy doesn’t allow for common sense.” [Christina Sommers as quoted by foxnews.com]

I suspect that if we continue shoving Ritalin and other medications down boys' throats, continue practicing zero-tolerance and boys live in constant fear of suspension if they so much as pass gas, and the ongoing effort to neutralize the male instinct in boys continues we are going to end up with a generation of men who will forever be content to sit back and let others run over them and run the world.

Second, this is not (only or primarily) an issue of minorities–it is an issue of boys. The foxnews.com article ends this way:

Other experts say that zero tolerance policies affect not just particular minority groups but all students, especially young male students, unfairly.

“The Attorney General was right, but if you look across the board, boys are being punished for simply being boyish,” Christina Sommers, a resident scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, told FoxNews.com, referring to recent stories about how young male students were suspended and expelled for making a gun gesture with their finger and making a play weapon from a Pop Tart.

This is true. With a few exceptions where girls have been the targets of such absurd measures, by and large it is boys–of all races, creeds, and colors–who have suffered under zero-tolerance laws. I have seen it first hand, which is why in my classroom I do not practice zero-tolerance: I practice common sense and hold every student–boy or girl, black or white–to the same level of accountability.

Third, while I fully agree that zero-tolerance ought to be replaced by common sense, I absolutely disagree that it is the responsibility of the federal government to issue fiats and directives to schools indicating such things ought to happen. Frederick Hess was quoted by Foxnews.com as saying:

“As best I can tell, they are telling schools that even if you have policies that are clearly neutral, that are clearly evenhanded, that are clearly designed to create safe environments for students and educators, DOJ still might come down on you like a ton of bricks,” Hess said.

He is correct. And I will say explicitly what he is kind of hinting at: the federal government of the United States of America needs to stay out of local educational policies. If a school wants to implement zero-tolerance, then so be it; if a school wants to adopt a more common-sense based approach to discipline, then so be it. It is not the responsibility of the federal government–and damn the 'good-intentions' monologue–to be a nanny to every single school district in every single state. Continued, bold, excursions by the federal government into education is only making it more difficult to educate students. It is also making it more difficult to give students the quality of education they deserve.

School should be a place of learning and joy and good memories, but when students have to live in constant fear of suspensions and expulsions for minor offenses–well, it takes its toll on everyone involved. It certainly isn't helpful when everyone from the principal to the pre-school is at defcon 5 every minute, of every day.

This is part of my platform for educational reform in America: local schools, by and large, have smart people in charge and they do not need the federal governments condescending to instruct us in what is 'in the best interests of the children.' We do not need their reforms, their philosophies, and we sure as hell do not need their meddling. We need them to get the hell out of our way and let us do the hard work of educating the next generation of children. When the federal government encroaches upon state and local juridiction everyone loses.

Related articles

Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 2: Government Meddling in Education
Loving my Students
Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 1: Athletics & Academics

In part one of this three part series, I wrote about athletics and academics. My point was not so much that we should eliminate athletics in schools as much as we should deemphasize them. I realize this causes a lot of problems for many people given how much of our national budget is spent on sporting activities yearly, monthly, daily. I have no problem with sports in their proper place. I just think that too many people get too excited about student athletes and not excited enough about student academics.

In this second part of the series, I will address the following issue: I believe that if we are going to make any advancement at all in education reform we desperately need to find a way to lessen, if not eliminate, government involvement in local education. Marc Bernstein wrote in June 2013:

Federal involvement in education has increased geometrically under President Obama as his Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan used 2009 anti-recession Congressionally-approved stimulus money to fund state and local school district grant programs that were focused upon student accountability through standardized testing and teacher evaluation based upon those student test results.

But he is also careful to note that government involvement (or meddling) has been on a steady increase since the 1980's. (Bernstein is writing specifically about school vouchers, but I think the point is all the same. Vouchers is just one manifestation of the disease of government meddling.) As he notes:

The upcoming battleground is the larger issue of education–what role should the federal government play versus the states. Historically, education has been a local matter; however, the federal government has found a persuasive way to become involved, namely, by offering large amounts of money to those states and school districts which implement federal initiatives. As always, money is a great motivator.

Money is a great motivator. And it is sad to say that educators have reached out, grabbed the shiney apple, and not thought for a minute about the consequences of doing so. 

Continue Reading »

LogoA quick post to alert readers to a new resource (new to me that is). The website is called We Are Teachers and from a quick look, there is a lot to enjoy.

There is a brief registration one must follow in order to access all aspects of the website. It took me about 3 or 4 minutes. A profile page can also be edited in order to make connections with other teachers. 

There is a section containing blogs where teachers can find ideas and inspiration for the classroom. There is a section for lessons and resources for a variety of classroom subjects. Much more can be found at the website and I'll look forward to exploring it more deeply later. For now, I'm merely giving it some props without endorsing everything that is there. 

Finally, there is a section dedicated to special education–which makes me very happy. Complete with blogs, lesson ideas, and lesson plans specifically dedicated to the intervention specialist should prove useful and worthy of repeat visits.  

Other sections can be found for science, social studies, writing, technology, language arts and more. Check it out and see if it is helpful to you. 

I saw these links in my Twitter feed today and thought they were important enough to repost links here.

The first deals with suicide and isolation among people with Asperger's.

When I googled the terms "suicide" and "asperger's", I was surprised at how frequently the subject seemed to be treated with confusion – why would a person with Asperger's feel driven to suicide? To me, the answer to this is obvious. The need to bond with others is a basic human need. The very definition of Asperger's is to have trouble fulfilling that need. So why is it surprising that someone with these difficulties might fall into despair?

As educators, it is important that we take time to note when our students might appear a little or a lot out of sorts. It is not always easy to help our student through difficult times, but paying attention and being aware of changes in their routine or demeanor might mean the difference between life and death. 

The second article, 15 Workplace Behaviors that Exclude, also help us see that we do need to be sensitive to people who have an ASD. Certain behaviors that we might think are innocuous might create a hostile workplace environment. The bottom  line to this article, is that we should simply be courteous. Frankly, it really doesn't matter if the person has an ASD or not, most of the behaviors the author speaks of are just plain rude. 

The third article, What Does it Mean to Have Asperger's Syndrome?, is a brief introduction of sorts to Asperger's Syndrome:

In general, people with Asperger’s generally have trouble with social interaction, communication, as well as regulation of the motor skills and sensory systems.They also can develop obsessive and compulsive tendencies, which manifest themselves in various ways.

We can look around and see that perhaps we have been just a bit unfair or unkind to people who might be on the spectrum. So as educators we need to continually raise awareness of Asperger's and Autism in order that people will be a lot kinder and slower to judge. Knowing can lead to understanding and understanding can lead to more compassionate responses towards those who are on the spectrum. 

This is one of my main 'job's as a special educator. I mean this sincerely when I say I am sometimes left flabbergasted at the ignorance of the general education teachers. I think a large part of our work is to help keep the general education teachers informed (or at bay) when it comes to our students who are on the spectrum. This in and of itself is a monumental task–one would never imagine that people so educated could be among the worst offenders when it comes to students in special education. 

Hopefully you will find something interesting in these three short posts. Again, it is important that we, as educators, continue to raise awareness and advocate for our young friends (students) who happen to be on the autism spectrum or who happen to be differently-abled. I believe it starts with us–eradicating ignorance and snuffing out the flames of discrimination. Our goal is, as always, to help out students move about in the real world as fluently, frequently, and freely as possible.  

HK4522WS74PK

I saw this link via a Twitter post and followed the link to a post by Richard Byrne, so HT to Richard and thanks.

Save_our_beach_200If you like science as much as I do and you teach it in your classroom as I do (yes, even the students in my Resource Room are exposed to science on a daily basis) then you might find this website hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helpful as a supplement. It's called Games: Planet Arcade.

 

There are 25 different interactive games available from puzzles to matching to connect the dots to board games. You will learn about w Scavenger_hunt_200eather, conservation, animals and more. 

I suppose this might be better for supplementing a lesson or maybe good for a day when there is a guest teacher in the classroom. I'm not endorsing everything you find here, but simply pointing the way to something that may be helpful to you in your work. 

I am a big believer in teachin science to our students and any resource I can find and use is of some benefit, I will try and incorporate in our daily lessons. Enjoy the resource. 

 HK4522WS74PK

Every time there is a presidential election we hear folks asking what the prospective candidates will do about ‘the problems with our educational system.’ It gets old very quickly; nevertheless, it has become a staple of presidential campaign platforms and so it is necessary to talk about education, sadly, from a political point of view.

In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama made a speech at a school in Colorado. He was, I suppose, in part laying out his agenda for how to ‘fix’ education. He spoke that day about No Child Left Behind which he simultaneously praised and condemned. Condemned might be too harsh a word, but since he was in large part appealing to his constituency, it is apropos. And then he hit the nail on the head: “We don't have to accept an America where we do nothing about six million students who are reading below their grade level.” That was probably a political dig, but I agree even if I disagree that we were ‘doing nothing about’ it. I think if we ask any teacher, they would disagree that ‘we’ were doing nothing about it.

Whatever else we might say about teachers, students, parents, politicians, or custodians, this is a problem: children cannot read.  As an educator, I am only too well aware of the struggles our children have when it comes to reading. Being a newer educator, I’m not exactly certain yet where or what that disconnect is, but there are reading issues prevailing in our classrooms.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reading programs available and there are thousands of well-educated, dedicated, passionate teachers using them to help children read. I know that the teachers I work with would balk at the idea that they are doing ‘nothing about it.’

So, if that is true, and I think it is, how can someone start off a blog post, syndicated by Huffington Post, that starts this way: “The education reform movement is failing”? (Vicki Cobb) I’m not sure what education reform movement is being referred to because I thought our president had solved all those problems and had reformed NCLB; I guess I was wrong. People demand teachers be accountable; politicians act; people get frustrated when teachers do what politicians say. There is one disconnect. 

Personally, I do not happen to believe that education needs to be reformed. Maybe people's expectations need reformed. Maybe where we spend our dollars in education needs reformed. Maybe the way we teach each individual student needs to be reformed. At the end of the day there will always be problems until we address some seriously significant issues–simple issues–that will not be solved by merely throwing more money at the problems. We need to reform our mindset about how we adults are behaving when it comes to education. We don't need education reform; we need people reform. 

In part 1 of this 3 part series of posts,  I will begin laying out what I believe will help improve education and might bring about some of the reform that people are evidently clamoring for in the United States. Maybe if we practice some of these things we can help close the achievement gap that exists between the USA and, say, China. At minimum, I would like to see our children become better learners, better readers, and take a life-long joy in learning about this world in which we live.

First, I think we should de-emphasize athletics in schools (which is not to say eliminate). I’m sure this will rankle the hearts and minds parents whose children derive their self-worth from their ability to throw or catch a ball, but I think it is necessary. I do not even think it is enough to have eligibility tied academics. A Notre Dame football was recently suspended from the team for exercising ‘poor academic judgment.’ So of all the football programs that exist in the USA, we hear about one player being suspended for academics? Really? And this is supposed to teach us exactly what? Of all the programs that exist in the USA there is seriously only one athlete having academic issues? Really?

I think athletics are over-emphasized, over-valued, and an overall distraction to academics in our schools. What I mean is this: I’d like to see as much emphasis, enthusiasm, financial support, and volunteerism from parents for academics as there is for athletics. Why not have a booster club for academics? Why not have cheerleaders for ‘nerds’? Why not have book clubs? Writing clubs? Chess clubs? Math clubs? Cross-country reading groups? Academic baseball or golf? We should have art shows and talent shows. We should have drama clubs. 

It seems to me that we have no problem whatsoever raising thousands of dollars for new football stadiums in the USA—at the taxpayers expense!—but we have to beg, borrow and steal when it comes to a new playhouse or library levy (and I’ll have more to say about the arts later in this series). Author Anne Lamott has done significant work when it comes to libraries and I have appreciated reading about her passion for these ‘places of small miracles.’

If we want to help children keep reading, reading more, reading better then we should not have to worry about budget cuts affecting libraries or curriculum or the arts first. The majority of the population can live without school athletics, but you cannot even be an athlete without knowing how to read and think and comprehend.

I’m not opposed to athletics. I am opposed to the infatuation we seem to have with them and the lack of enthusiasm we have for reading or learning. I want to see academic competitions with parents lined up out the door. I want to see more things like Literacy Night that we host at my school a couple of times per year (in contrast to the hundreds of athletic events we host/participate in yearly). Maybe we could have teachers on the radio calling commentary on students while they are taking a test: “I see Johnny is erasing his answer on #3…what’s up with that Bill? Oh, I see…he wanted to add another paragraph and cite some references. Good for Johnny!”

I don’t know. All I’m saying is that maybe a switch of emphasis will help bring about the reform folks are looking for. Maybe it’s not reform of the same tired methods we need, as much as an utter revolution of ideas and emphasis?

One final thought. Why is it if you are an athlete your coach can demand that you spend x amount of hours working out, lifting, running, practicing, watching film (even in the summer!!) and getting your body in shape and building stamina and that if you do not meet x requirement, you don’t play. But if a teacher makes a similar requirement of a reading or math student it is an issue because ‘it might cut down on family time’ or some other such nonsense? Think about all the hours demanded by coaches all in the name of ‘being the best player’, but that backlash teachers receive if the same student has an equal amount of reading to do before the next day. Think about all the evenings and Saturdays parents give up for athletic competition, but how many parents show up to school on test day to cheer on their kids?

You want your student to do better on tests? Well have them read for an equal amount of time that they practice their football or basketball skills.

Reform or revolution? I think by and large we have our priorities way, way out of balance in America.

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss my second practical thought on how to improve education in America: Lessen government involvement. 

Not many of the tasks I post about here happen due to careful, calculated efforts on my part. Sometimes I am simply riffing from another idea I see. Sometimes it is out of sheer necessity. Sometimes it is pure luck. Such is the case with this task: it was pure luck that I happened to have in my classroom, stuck in the closet, three different sizes of Play-Doh canisters awaiting purpose. And a game is born. 

The canisters happened to be empty because, as it is in life, Play-Doh when played with enough is eventually left out or falls on the floor or is eaten by hungry students and thus an empty container is born. Luckily for my students, I never throw anything away that has a lid. Everything is useful. (Seriously, the smallest containers have been in my classroom since January 2012. I'm not even sure we used the fake-doh that was in the canister because my paraprofessional would not permit it. She said, "It's fake!")

So gather the Play-Doh containers, grab an empty shoe box, and sort through your box of random or leftover manipulatives and, Voila!, a sorting, ordering, sequencing task is born. 

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For the most part the lid colors are the same. Only the smallest green lid differs from the two larger green canisters. There was no intent here; just what was available. I will probably rectify this at some point in the future–and if you want to use this task, you should probably just build it correctly to begin with–but for now, it is sufficient. 

You can see that the three canisters in each column are of three distinct sizes. There are also four distinct colors. You can use any colors you like, but I chose simple colors for the purpose of this task for a specific reason: there are objects inside the canisters that match the canister lids. 

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Notice also that the sizes of the objects are also relative: small, medium, and large. These objects fit inside the small, medium, and large Play-Doh canisters according to color. Really, this task is about as simple as it gets. 

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Below is the jumbled mess. You can start the task here by asking the students to sort the objects by size, by matching the manipulatives to the correct canister size, or matching by color. Frankly, you can have students work this task any way you like. That's what is fun about it. (I start with all the lids off the containers too just to make the mess in the box look even worse.) Differentiate the task by including less objects and/or less containers. Some students may need only one size; some may need only one color; others may need only one set of objects. Really, it's up to you. 

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At the end, all the pieces fit nicely into an empty shoe box for safe and convenient storage. You may want more uniformity in your choice of objects that go inside the Play-Doh canisters. That's fine. Honestly, I should probably be more concerned about it, but again, for now, it works just the same. 

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This task came together in a matter of about 10 minutes or so. It was easy to build and it will be a nice addition to our classroom curriculum. And not only that, but we have saved space in our local landfill by keeping 12 empty Play-Doh cans and a shoebox out of it. 

I would categorize this as a math task; however, we are also working with fine motor skills too. It is a chore for the students to remove and put the lids on the Play-Doh containers so they will have to work at it. I also use tasks like this for measuring what I call 'time on task.' That is, it's a long task that I want the student to work at for more than 5 minutes. 

So enjoy the task. Let me know about your use and variations on the task. I'm always happy to hear from readers. 

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Cereal boxes, breakfast bars, etc: Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle, pt 3
Recycle, Reuse: Country Time Lemonade Containers & Film Containers
I Love Old Shoe-Boxes: Recyle, Reuse, pt 2

I confess that I am not much of a math student, but that doesn't mean I do not try to be the best math teacher I can. In my multiple-disabilities, self-contained classroom, I am the students' sole source of match instruction. I take every opportunity I can to learn about math, math techniques, and ways to teach math that eschews worksheets. I work very hard for my students because they deserve my very best efforts. And math should not be boring.  

By that I mean I am always looking for new, creative, and interesting ways to teach math concepts. I recently attended a two-session math seminar hosted by our local State Support Team and featuring math professor Ky Leigh Davis from Muskingum University and learned about some fantastic tools that I can add to my toolbox. Ideas shared during that seminar inspired me to come up with my own ideas. This post is about one such idea. 

This quick math game I invented for my kids in order to learn either addition or multiplication. So depending upon which skill you want to teach, it serves both purposes. 

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What you see is two separate number grids. Both grids contain the numbers 1 through 9. We intentionally mixed the colors. It is not necessary to do so, and one can use more than two colors if you like. You could use the different colors to differentiate (notice all our lower numbers are one color and the higher numbers are a different color) or simply to make the game more interesting. 

Another important aspect is to make certain the numbers are mixed up on the board. It is probably unhelpful to put the numbers in order; although, it might not matter at all. It just depends upon your preference. 

After you have assembled the two boards, laminate them. This will preserve the boards for many uses (especially since the game will be played on the floor). You can make the boards as big as you like. Ours are about 18 inches square. We also used pre-manufactured numbers as opposed to trying to write or draw them in freehand. I think it makes the game more uniform and appealing–plus, the numbers are big for those who may have visual impairments. 

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After the boards are assembled, it is up to you how you will play. Again, it can be either addition or multiplication. (I suppose the game can also be used for division and subtraction, but the number boards will have to be adjusted accordingly.) Make a 'plus' (addition) sign and a multiplication sign to place in between the two boards in order to remind the students during the game what sort of math equations they will be working with. Or, as a way to vary the game: make a stack of cards that feature addition (+) and multiplication (x) signs. When a student comes up for their turn, they must choose a card. The sign on the card will determine if the student is to perform an addtion or a multiplication problem.

Now, originally, I thought about having the students throw darts at the boards in order to choose the two numbers they would add or multiply. Then I got to thinking…hmmm…Special Education…darts….nah; bad idea. So I opted for bean bags. The gist is this: the students toss the beanbags, the beanbags (or whatever you use) land on two numbers (one on each board) and the students either add them or multiply them together. (I actually got the idea from a game I played as a kid called 'Toss-Across'.)

Here's a fun variation: do both addition and multiplication. Let the student choose which calculation they wish to make and award points based on difficulty (if, in fact, you make it into a team based competition.)

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This is a simple task that you can use as a group or even for individual work. The kids are learning addition facts and/or multiplication facts while playing a game. The kicker is, they are having fun and learning math at the same time. These foundational facts are so important to the students' future ability to master higher order mathematics that really this is not just as task for special education students. This is a game that anyone can use or play in any classroom, at just about any level. 

Have fun. Be sure to let me know how you use it so that I can add to my own toolbox. 

PS–this is also a great way to help the children exert some gross motor skills, practice mental math, and learn about social cooperation during game play. That's what I love about building games like this: so much can be accomplished during the course of one game. Good luck.

I have a book called Tasks Galore and the task I will share in this post is, to be sure, a riff on a task found in that book. Credit where credit is due and all that. I have modified my taks and made it a little sturdier and, as always, I have used recycled materials to accomplish my task. 

The task is a simple sequencing or sorting task–it just depends upon what you want to accomplish with your students. It is flexible and can easily be modified to suit your needs. Here is a picture of the completed task.

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The materials you will need are as follows:

1. One shoebox

2. Three Countrytime Lemonade containers (minimum)

3. At least six empty film containers w/lids

4. Six plastic counting bears (or other manipulatives of your choice. I used six because that is the six basic colors available.)

5. A few brass fasteners; rubber cement; tape.

Step one is to wrap the plastic film canisters in colorful paper that matches the color of the manipulatives you have chosen. That's why I use the counting bears. There are six basic colors which makes choosing colors easy. 

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Next, you will want to secure the lids of the lemonade canisters to the lid of the shoebox. I turn the lids upside down and using the rubber cement to secure them to the shoebox. While they are securing, I punch a hole in the center and addd another layer of security by pushing a brass fastener through. Now, I push the brass fastener from the top of the shoebox so that the part that gets folded down is actually inside the lemonade lid. Note: only fasten two of the lids to the shoebox lid. The third lemonade lid will remain loose so it can be screwed back on top of the lemonade containter where you will store all of your manipulatives when the task is not in use. 

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In the above picture you can see the fasteners attached to the outside of the lid. At this point, your project should look like the picture below.

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The third step is to wrap the larger part of the lemonade container with a picture of a 'stop' sign. It's not terribly difficult. You can see the sample in the first picture. This will alert the students to the fact that 'this is where the task ends.' You can use different words besides 'stop'. 

That's about it as far as assembly is concerned. When it's all assembled, you can store all manipulatives and parts inside the shoebox. In the picture below you can see how everything fits nicely inside the shoebox for easy storage. (You can also see the brass fasteners. For an extra layer of protection, I cover the fasteners with tape.)

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The final step, then, is simply to open up the task and let the students get busy working. What I like about this task is that it is easily manipulated to form other sorting or sequencing tasks. Here is how the task is set up:

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 You can't see them very well, but in the third lid is the smaller lids for the film canisters. The task follows three steps:

1. Choose a colorful canister.

2. Choose a matching colorful bear.

3. Put the bear inside the film canister.

4. Put the smaller lid on the canister.

5. Place the canister inside the 'stop' container. 

It's a simple task that I use with my students who have autism or other developmental disabilities. And again, you can alter the task to suit your needs: create less steps; create more steps; change colors; etc. 

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This is a fun task for students and it also manages to find a way to recycle stuff that might otherwise end up in a local landfill. 

Thanks to Tasks Galore for the inspiration. Enjoy the task. If you use it and make modifications, please let me know what they are so I can incoporate them into my own version of the task.