Posts Tagged ‘education’

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.

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41eVM7qA80L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Title: How We Learn

Author: Benedict Carey

Publisher: Random House

Year: 2014

Pages: 200 (e-Book (Nook), ARC; hardcover book 272)

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was given no compensation and I am not required to write a positive review. I only tell you this because someone in the government thinks you need to know. To be sure, I don't even get to keep the book.]

The problem with reviewing this book is that I don't  know enough about Mr Carey to know if he has an agenda for writing this book or if he is just really excited about the sort of research he reports in the book. That is, maybe he's so interested in this stuff that he just needed to have an outlet and wanted to share it with an audience who would appreciate it. Then again, "The more I discovered about it, the stronger the urge to do something bigger than a news story" (185). I actually get this. I actually understand something so powerfully welling up inside that it has to have a vent. This book exudes Carey's enthusiasm for this subject.

But he goes on to spell out his objective a little more clearly, "It dawned on me that all these scientists, toiling in obscurity, were producing a body of work that was more than interesting or illuminating or groundbreaking. It was practical…" (185) I get this too.

I work in Special Education and much of the work that I do involves the day in, day out, routine building type of consistency that drives me nuts. I need the mix up. I need the frenzied action that comes with chaos. Oh, sure, I have lesson plans and I try very hard to follow them. But maybe there is something to the idea that going through a day without distractions, a day full of routine, a day without ever taking a break is not the best way to learn.

Or maybe it's like writing a book review: so that when I get stuck with what to say next, I should just stop, re-read what I've written or take a video game break, and start again later. I used to do this when I was preaching full-time: maybe I had writer's block, maybe I couldn't get the transition to work smoothly to the next point, or maybe there appeared to be no coherence between the introduction and conclusion. I would just stop. I hadn't read a study that suggested doing so was a healthy idea, I just did it. I'd put it away and forget about it…sometimes not even bothering to finish until Sunday mornings…sometimes not finishing until I actually stepped into the pulpit to preach the sermon.

I remember learning to read Koine Greek this way. I would practice my vocabulary words until I learned them and then use them in class and in translating, but when it came to test time, I would break out the cards again. It was helpful, to me at least, to create space between study sessions. There's also the idea of 'spacing' which I found to be an especially helpful idea–particularly as it relates to how I teach in my classroom. Regrettably, we spend a lot of time with word lists in education–especially sight (or high-frequency words) words which are the words we use most in our conversations and reading. Maybe what I hadn't considered is how environment does affect student learning. We always say that behavior is environmental, but suppose learning is too. This would explain (in part, at least) why students–especially special education students–find it so terribly difficult to generalize skills learned in one environment to another–whether related to behavior or academics.

What I like about this book is that it confirmed that I am not an oddball because certain things worked for me. A quiet setting never worked for me when it came to studying (cf. p 11). I prefer to study in a place where there is activity and action; chaos and confusion. I like the distractions. I like to sit in the middle of the living room with a television or radio playing in the background. I like to study in different places–and at different times. I like to mess with the schedule–and I like to do that for my students as well. I love scrapping the lesson plans, no matter how beautifully written, and challenge the students with a game or hands-on task (cf. p 52). I was especially happy to learn that 'forgetting' is as important to learning as 'remembering' is. I was also happy to learn that taking naps is not a sign of being a slouch.

Maybe this book isn't so much about the way we learn as it is about the way we teach. Interestingly, much of what I read in the book seems to correlate wonderfully what I have been learning over the last two years about formative instructional practices. (Teachers who read this will understand what I mean without my having to give a dissertation here as space precludes such a lesson.) Knowing ahead of time that 'testing' is important for learning as mere studying is was enlightening. One of the hardest things I have found in my own classroom is getting students to buy into the idea that we don't have to get everything correct. I did this just today when I was giving my students a pre-test on simple subtraction facts and one of my students complained, "I don't know what to do." I kept telling him that it didn't matter; just guess. Write down some numbers. Practice. Try. "…guessing wrongly increases a person's likelihood of nailing that question, or a related one, on a later test" (89).  But we are born and bred on the notion that we must get it right. (I think chapter 5, The Hidden Value of Ignorance: The Many Dimensions of Testing was my favorite chapter because it was the most practical.)

I enjoyed this book. It was readable. It was fun (the author includes a lot of samples in the book so the reader can practice the theories being written about.) There were helpful charts and illustrations scattered throughout the book. It was an interesting tour through some of the history of learning that I hadn't read about in graduate school. Some of the names were familiar, but as he notes, these scientists who have pioneered these studies in how memory works worked in relative obscurity. So unless you are on the cutting edge of this research it is likely you haven't heard of many of these men and women. I applaud the author for bringing them to the popular reader. Carey makes their stories readable and enjoyable.

This book will be helpful, in my opinion, for teachers who want to do a little experimentation to see if some of these theories are true in practice. But for the armchair psychologist (as well as the expert), this is a good place to begin a study of how we learn. It's a fun read, but it's not light. It is challenging at times; nevertheless, I think Carey did a great job of parsing out much of the nomenclature for his readers and making this work accessible to a larger audience.

I'll let him close my review: "Learning is hard. Thinking is hard. It's as exhausting, though in a different way, as physical labor and wears most of us down at a similar rate" (p 176). Maybe something we should do is simply let our students take a nap every now and then.

5/5–an excellent volume and contribution to our understanding of how we learn and, conversely, how we teach.

PS-even though I received an ARC (which I don't get to keep), I will be purchasing this book so that I can do a little more research and enjoy the book at a deeper level.

 

I am happy to say that I did not make this task. One of the paraprofessionals who worked in my classroom did. All I had to contribute was a 'seal of approval' and a grateful heart that she put her skills to use and make something wonderful and useful for the students.

IMG_1054This was not a difficult task to build. Nor is it a difficult task to use.

Materials: library pockets, marker, laminate, shapes (either bought or homemade or perhaps from an Ellison machine), a sheet of card stock cut lengthwise, and glue (I prefer Elmer's Rubber Cement).

First, write the numbers that you wish to use on the outside of the library pockets. In our example, we were working with addends that resulted in sums 6-10. You can use whatever numbers (sums) you like so long as the addends correspond to the numbers written on the library pockets.

Second, take whatever little shape you have decided to use and using a Sharpie or other permanent marker, write your addends upon them. In the example from my classroom, we have used three different addends for each sum. These addends are written upon the shapes as shown below–in this case, we used stars. I think they were purchased at the Dollar Tree or some other thrifty store.

IMG_1053After the addends are written upon the shapes, you may choose to laminate them. I personally laminate everything in the classroom because I work in special education and things tend to get folded, spindled, ripped, mutilated, and chewed upon with great frequency. This helps protect them and give them a longer shelf life–so to speak.

Third, take the library pockets and glue them to the piece of card stock (or you can use a piece of poster-board too). If your school has a laminator, it would be a good idea to laminate the entire project.

And that's just about it. The great thing about this task is its flexibility. You can use any numbers you like and even though we used addition facts, you can also use subtraction, multiplication, and division so long as the numbers correspond. IMG_1051

One final thing, I have no problems also allowing my students to use manipulatives (objects) to represent the math they are doing at the time. Students who are visual learners will appreciate having counting bears or some other such objects to help work out the problems.

Two things of note:

    1. Storage might be somewhat of an issue given that the project is oddly shaped. I solved this problem by folding the game in half.

    2. The possibility remains that the students might memorize the answers based solely upon the placement of numbers. Feel free to mix it up as much as possible in order to prevent such a reflex.

Common Core Standards addressed for addition and subtraction: K.OA.1, K.OA.5, K.OA.3, 1.OA.5, 1.OA.6 (perhaps more).

Enjoy!

Related articlesSee also this game that we built in my classroom. It too deals with addition and/or multiplication.

Learning Addition or Multiplication Playing Games

_225_350_Book.1092.coverTitle: Schools in Crisis

Author: Nicole Baker Fulgham

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2013

Pages: 90

Barna Group

FRAMES on Twitter: @barnaframes

FRAMES

Be Undivided

[WE BELIEVE building strong community means making sure kids and schools thrive. Be|Undivided is churches investing time and effort year-round in students and schools. Whatever the need. And without agenda or strings attached. It’s that simple, and that powerful.–From the Be: Undivided website]

[I am required to inform my readers that I have been provided with a free copy of this book. All I am required to do is write and post an unbiased review of this book. You can also find this review at http://www.goodreads.com and http://www.amazon.com, both helpful places to find books; although, I'd prefer you just read them here at my blog.]

I should let you know at the outset of this review that I am a Christian, a former church pastor, and a (current) public school teacher. I am licensed to teach moderate/intensive special education (k-12) and I do so in a rural, public, elementary school. This is, primarily, the reason I chose this book for review.

I was a little surprised at the dimensions of the book. It is rather small and will be difficult to place properly on my bookshelf and manages to live up to the FRAMES motto: read less and know more. This doesn't really inspire me, but they at least live up to their ideal. The book is heavy on graphics and colorful charts. The writing is sparse and the paragraphs have large spaces between them. It took me about an hour to read this book, but I'm not really sure that I know more after having read it.

Of course, after reading, I know all sorts of Barna statistics and and the book is nice and colorful, but what the author told us really isn't a surprise, isn't really shocking, isn't front page news, and isn't altogether that crisis laden. Are there bad schools in America where children are getting the short end of educational outcomes? Yes. Should we be doing more to help 'fix' these problems? Yes. Are there concrete, real world solutions to these problems? Yes. Should the church be involved in these solutions, a part of the solution, the solution? Depends on who you ask. Here's why I say it this way.

On page 23, the author quotes a rather startling statistic: 'Barna polling shows that nearly half of the nation's public educators are practicing Christians, meaning people who attend church at least monthly and who say their faith is very important to them.' This bothers me a lot–and I'm one of them. She goes on: "More than seven out of ten of the nation's primary and secondary public school students affiliate with Christianity, and millions of those are actively involved in church, confirmation classes, and youth groups." (23-24) This should give anyone reading this book pause. It seems to me that if this number of people in the schools are already Jesus followers, then something should be changing about our schools from the inside. And yet we are constantly told that schools are in crisis, standards are on the decline, and that children are the ones suffering the outcomes of white privilege (see p.70; 'white privilege' always seems to be a part of the problem, but given that this book was published during the 2nd term of a black president, I find it terribly difficult to sympathize with this sort of racially charged, irresponsible, statement especially when there is no evidence or footnotes pointing to evidence to support the charge.)

So why aren't they? I have drawn my own conclusions, but they are tangential to the point I'm making about this phenomenon which is, simply, that if so many Christians are already a working part of the public school system, then why are things going as poorly as they are and as they have? This is a problem that is not significantly, if at all, answered in the book. But I think the underlying current is this: Christians have, historically, been as much a part of the problem as the rest of the population and not a significant part of the solution. Perhaps this FRAME book can help bring about some changes, but I suspect that the wrong people will read it. Teachers who are Christians need to read it and I suspect that not enough will, and until Christian teachers realize that they have become part of the problem (for various reasons which I will not catalog here) I don't see church volunteerism being a significant part of the solution.

I realize that FRAME Books are written for a niche audience and that they are unlikely to branch too far outside of those confines. This is unfortunate because there is a real sense (at least to me) that if the 'right' people were reading this book (i.e., teachers in public education arena) that maybe we could accomplish something or bring about the changes that are necessary. I'm not one who happens to think, however, that these changes need to start from the outside and work their way inside as seems to be the point the author is making. It's a great thing to donate time to making school buildings in urban areas look pretty, it's a great thing to donate school supplies to needy children, and it's a super thing to volunteer time as after-school tutors. But the fundamental problem, as the authors point out, is that children are coming out of schools ill-prepared in various areas of literacy and mathematics. A pretty building is not going to fix that problem when the students still go home at the end of the day to homes that are full of violence, drugs, little food, or no parents.

Indeed, as the Barna research notes in answer to the question, "What do Americans think will improve lower-performing schools?" 76% said greater family and parental involvement. (Running a close second was 'more high quality teachers' at 70%. Frankly, I'm not sure most Americans know what 'high quality' really means. I know teachers, and the rigors we are put through in order to become teachers and stay teachers are excruciating at times. There really are not many 'low quality' teachers in schools.) But back to the point, more parental involvement is key because I firmly believe that that education starts at home–which is why I could not disagree more with the author's contention that we need to 'educate early and often' (41ff). Academically, there is point and counterpoint as to whether or not early education benefits students. I necessarily lean towards it being mostly unhelpful because young children are simply not developmentally prepared for the rigors of education.

In this scenario, the school becomes little more than a babysitting service. We are given some nice anecdotes about sending 'babies on to the local public elementary school' and seeing them fail. We are told about how the these remarkable children made great progress in pre-school only to see it 'erased in their elementary years' (42; see also page 68). My thought is, 'of course they failed. The local school is not the same as a small church run preschool.' The problem is that we are not given compelling evidence-based reasons for why, aside from such heart-wrenching anecdotes, early education is necessary or that it prepares students for anything (aside from their own surveys and 'research' there is no research to speak of supporting this work–at least none that is reported in a resource list or peer-reviewed evidence, etc.). In fact, a quick google search shows there is actually a mounting body of evidence to the contrary–that is, we probably send kids to school too early in life when they are not developmentally ready for the day in-day out rigors of a school day. (A related point, is the idea that we need to extend the school day or school year so that 'children will have more time to learn' (73). I disagree. Children need more time at home, with their parents and siblings, to play and live and make memories about their childhood–memories that do not involve drill and practice in the alphabet and counting.)

I do agree with the author on another point though. She writes, "Literacy affects every aspect of a person's life. And, as Christians, we should care deeply about the kind of life people are equipped to lead. But, as Christians, literacy resonates with us at an even deeper level as well. We are a community that centers itself on a book of truth, so literacy is essential for spiritual education." (50) And she is correct. This is compelling enough reason for people, Christian people, to be concerned about the schools that educate children on a daily basis. There are, as the author well points out, a lot of reasons why we should be concerned that children, people, know how to read. To this end, I think that Christians should do a great deal more to help our public schools, but again I must point out that that I believe this is should be centrifugal in nature and not centripetal. That is, it should start with that nearly 50% of teachers who self-identify with the Christian faith and work its way outward.

If this book finds itself in the right hands, I think it will be dangerous (in a good sort of way) and might prompt a small revolution in the way things are done in schools. If, however, it remains among  the niche audience, it will merely be, proverbially speaking, preaching to the choir.

4/5 stars

 

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Becoming Something Because of What we Know

Myth_spoiledTitle: The Myth of the Spoiled Child

Author: Alfie Kohn

Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books

Date: 2014

Pages: (preview copy e-book) via netgalley: 282

Author Page: Alfie Kohn

[You need to read this before you take another glance at this page: the FCC wants you to know that it is imperative information that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I'm glad that's off my chest and I hope you feel better knowing it.]

I was warned about Alfie Kohn when I was in graduate school. I was warned that his ideas are somewhat 'naive', that they sort of controvert the 'mainstream,' and that they are not compatible with 'reality.' So I began the reading with not a little nervousness and apprehension. Yet, as I went deeper into the book I found myself nodding in agreement, highlighting in agreement, and sort of shaking my head in disbelief at the depth of common sense I was discovering with each turn of an electronic page. I was warned that Kohn is a little out of the mainstream; I was not told that I might actually find what he is saying useful, helpful, and sensible.

I was trained at a university in the finer points of Applied Behavior Analysis and I am a strict student of the tools, techniques, and trials that accompany such a method of educating students who have special needs. I am a special education teacher, an Intervention Specialist, and when I think about a typical day with my students, I think about the words I have used throughout the day: "Don't ask me why;" "The goal of this exercise is so that the student will learn to comply;" "These students will not always have us around to guide them on every step of their lives, they need to learn how to do on their own without all the hand holding, mothering, and coddling;" "Good job!;" "Because I said so;" "Prize box at the end of the day if…." And so it goes, on an on. These are the words that accompany other interventions (such as time-outs, various rewards, Class-Dojo points, deprivation of recess for misbehavior, and so on and so forth). All of this is designed for one purpose, and that is to elicit compliance–a word, as I have reflected on my teaching practices, I use entirely too much. Kohn writes:

In reviewing popular books and articles for parents, I'm struck again and again by how their focus is on how to elicit compliance. There's considerable variation in the strategies they propose, from bullying to bargaining, from techniques frankly modeled on animal training to subtler forms of manipulation. But the animating question in such texts is rarely 'What do kids need, and how can we meet those needs?' Rather, it's 'How can you get your kid to do whatever you want?' (37)

Kohn's book caused me to pause and gasp quite a lot–not because it is necessarily deep, but because it makes sense, more sense, in any number of ways, than Applied Behavior Analysis. It also caused a great deal of reflection, deeper reflection, about the way I work in my classroom. It made me think long and hard about what my ultimate goal is with my students who have various disabilities and it made me think of the various ways that I attempt to motivate them to those ends. Frankly, the book made me question a lot of things about a lot of things: what was the purpose of my own education from elementary school to graduate school? What is the overarching purpose of today's public education system? It seems to me that perhaps more people ought to be asking some of these questions too–people who are in positions to ask them and bring about necessary changes. The more I think about what Kohn wrote the more I am convinced that a larger portion of the things we teach kids each day in school would be better off consigned to the rubbish heap.

One of the more important points that Kohn makes in his book is that we give way too much emphasis and enthusiasm to competitive pursuits as parents and schools. I have written about this as plank in my own ideas about education reform, but suffice it to say that I didn't take it to the ends that Kohn did–but armed with his analysis I am ready to do that very thing. I won't spoil all of the fun of reading through Kohn's analysis, but suffice it to say that I believe he is correct: there is far too much emphasis on competition in families, in schools, in life and when competition is introduced at an early age, well, what can we expect when our children view life through that lens?

Something I don't particularly care for is his heavy lean to the left of things–to the extent that even though he claims the current president extended and intensified the education policies of the former president one still gets the sense that it is still the former president's fault for initiating them to begin with. Now I don't particularly care one way or another if Kohn is liberal or conservative or Martian.What bothered me is that at the beginning of the book that 'an awful lot of people who are politically liberal begin to sound like right-wing talk-show hosts as soon as the conversation turns to children and parenting' (2). He goes on:

Have a look at the unsigned editorials in left-of-center newspapers, or essays by columnists whose politics are mostly progressive. Listen to speeches by liberal public officials. On any of the controversial issues of our day, from tax policy to civil rights, you'll find approximately what you'd expect. But when it comes to education, almost all of them take a hard-line position very much like what we hear from conservatives They endorse a top-down, corporate-style version of school reform that includes prescriptive, one-size-fits-all teaching standards and curriculum mandates; weakened job protection for teachers; frequent standardized testing; and a reliance on rewards and punishments to raise scores on those tests and compel compliance on the part of teachers and students. (2)

He goes on to note that liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans all sound the same when it comes to education (and parenting). My point is that even though he says the two sound alike, it is the conservative side of this conversation that receives the majority of Kohn's verbal aggression. All of our problems with parenting and education date back to an appalling sense of devotion to Puritanism and the so-called Protestant work ethic and their perpetuation in our current day. He says that it was left-leaners who sounded like conservatives that prompted the book (2) and yet there is nary a word of criticism for those left-leaning folks who cannot make up their minds one way or another. In other words he uses words like 'right-wing', 'Puritan', 'religious', and 'conservative' all in a pejorative sense and, frankly, it just gets tired after the first 100 repetitions.

In my opinion, Kohn  made a lot of good points–points that I fully agree with and intend to implement in my own work as an educator. Kohn has a way of stripping us of our blinders and forcing us to look at our own prejudice:

We Americans stubbornly resist the possibility that what we do is profoundly shaped by policies, norms, systems, and other structural realities. We prefer to believe that people who commit crimes are morally deficient, that that have-nots in our midst are lazy (or at least insufficiently resourceful), that overweight people simply lack the willpower to stop eating, and so on. If only those folks would just exercise a little personal responsibility, a bit more self-control! (170)

He also has a biting sense of humor–as a fan of sarcasm, I appreciate his efforts.

Finally I will say this. I really do not know what to make of his analysis and critiques of newspaper editorials, blog posts, and peer-reviewed papers. He could be correct, it could just be his opinion of those things. For every point he brings up, the skilled researcher can probably find a counterpoint, for every yin he slings, someone will sling a yang. Kohn writes from his contrary, against the mainstream, point of view and most folks in research are aware of that so I'm sure there will be plenty of peer-reviewed critiques of the book. Nevertheless, the book is meticulously referenced and footnoted (37 pages of end notes) and referenced (26 pages of references) and even if one happens to disagree with his points and his ultimate conclusion (of which I am a bit skeptical to be sure) it cannot be denied that he has stirred the pot–frankly, for the better.*

It is time to strip the pretenses we have as parents and educators of children and dial back some (all?) of our antiquated ideas about how children should be raised and how they best learn. I may not be on the bandwagon for every jot and tittle of this book, but by and large I have been challenged to reexamine my own value system, my own educational practices, and my own care and concern for children–my own and others'.

The bottom line is that kids learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions. If we want kids to take responsibility for making the world a better place, then we need to give them responsibilities. That means dialing back our control, whether of the flagrant or subtle variety. (189-190**)

Well said. It requires courage, but I think it can be done. I think folks who are willing to have their presuppositions challenged, who are tired of the status-quo, and who are tired of people in the media telling them how (and what and when and why) to raise their children will appreciate Kohn's frankness, the depth of his research, and his skillful analysis of the myths perpetuated by those who have more of an agenda than an actual valid point.

5/5 Stars

*The book will also, in its finished form, contain an index.

**I previewed a pre-publication copy of the book. Page numbers may have changed in the actual published book.

I've been reading this book called The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn. I'll be reviewing it on this blog soon so I won't spoil much with this post, except to say that if what Kohn is saying is true, and at this juncture of my reading I'm leaning towards that particular assessment, then I may well have to reinvent myself as a teacher of students with disabilities. If what he has written is true, maybe more parents, teachers, and administrative specialists in schools ought also to read it; slowly.

The thing about life is that we are always at a juncture of knowing and learning. There are many folks among us who stand at said junctures and say something ridiculous like, "Well, I know; therefore, I need not learn." They are making a commitment to stasis, to static. Everything is fixed, nothing will change. Everything is stable and there is no upsetting that balance.

Others stand at the same juncture and say something lucid like, "Well, here I am. I'm not sure. I'm uncertain. I do not know. Teach me." These folks are making a commitment to a certain level of functional chaos; to imbalance. Everything is fair game, there is no balance. These folks have made a lifelong commitment to learning which necessarily means they are willing to change–at any given moment, on any given subject.

It used to be said, it might still be said, that it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind. I think it is a human beings' obligation to change our minds, our hearts, our lives, our views, our entire being. What would the world be like if we were born with a set of beliefs or values or ideas and those were the only beliefs, values or ideas we ever had? What if we lived in a world where learning was nothing more than the compulsory memorization of meaningless points of historical trivia? What if criminals were sentenced to summary execution which was summarily carried out and were never, ever given the chance to change?

This leads me to question the very nature of education. Is education merely about learning facts and dates and numbers? Or is education about learning to think in such a way that our minds might actually be changed and our lives irrevocably altered? What is change? Who is to say what change is and what it means? Who is to say how much change is required or how much effort should be invested in making changes? Who is to say what standard should be applied to measure whether change has occurred or not? It's all very confusing and rather unpleasant to think about this late.

Yet, I am rethinking everything I have learned about what it means to educate and, perhaps more importantly, what it means to be a teacher; what it means to be a human; what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Maybe I have those in the wrong order.

There I was: at work, not so much enjoying my day. The day didn't start off too well. It didn't continue too well either. There is so much to do and so many distractions. People coming in and taking students off for therapy, phones ringing, school psychologist stopping in and handing me a stack of papers that I have to complete on one of my students. There's always so many things going on in the room at any given moment.

It's not so much mayhem, but neither is it much less. I kind of like it that way. I always have at least an idea of what we are doing in the room, but to the uninitiated it probably appears like a three-ring circus inside a whirlwind trapped in a teapot.

So there I was, working, wondering–trying to imagine how it is that I can either repair some broken relationships among my colleagues or make them worse or just leave well enough alone. I'm really good at making matters worse, but I've been working hard to make things better. I take my work very seriously, but I confess that most of the time working in special-education feels much like an being naked-and-afraid on a deserted island. That being said, I get lonely at times for adult companionship at work–perhaps many other teachers feel the same way, but I'm willing to bet that it is just a wee bit worse for male teachers working in special education.

I confess to the sin of second period self-pity.

I was working with a student, a little girl to be exact, and I was feeling a bit salty about some things. Then, while watching her work, a thought occured to me that significantly brightened and changed my day: she was working; working hard. I had given her a paper to complete which contained about 40 math problems. They started out very simple and became increasingly more difficult as the paper went along. Out of the 40 or so problems, she managed to get exactly one, the first one, correct. After that it was all a complete guessing game–no math, no calcuations, no counting, just writing numbers on the lines.

I watched her write every one of those numbers; you know why? Because she was writing those numbers to please me. She was working about as hard as a person who had no idea what they were doing could. She was not for a minute going to return a paper to me that didn't have a number on every provided blank answer space. She was writing with the intensity of a professional athlete. If we gave grades based on effort, determination and intensity, she would have passed with flying colors.

It was at that moment that I realized that nothing else about my job matters except that little girl (who represented all the students I work with and for each day.)

At school, it's only about my students. Her smile melted me. I have much to learn.

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 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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There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about the work I do and how I do it. More than once I have heard from other staff, who have spent any time in my room, that all teachers ought to spend a day in my self-contained, multi-disability resource room. I think I probably agree…they should come in and see what we do because general education teachers, generally speaking, have little idea what we do in special education. I seriously believe that sometimes they think we are not even educating the students in our classrooms.

As a new special educator (but as a second career and, thus, older teacher), I have been writing down some thoughts and observations that have helped me, and continue to help me, become a better intervention specialist. Here are 9 tips that have helped me.

First, be prepared for a lot of ill health, absenteeism, late arrivals and early dismissals. It can be a blessing and it can be annoying, but whatever it is, on whatever day it is, you have to be prepared for it. There are doctor appointments, there is a higher susceptibility for illness, there are appointments with psychologists or social services workers, and a plethora of other places your students will have to be. And it’s not just at home either. At school, your students will have appointments with counselors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech pathologists. This means, in short, that you have to be prepared and flexible.

It means that you may have the most beautiful lesson plans ever written and have to put them on hold for another day or two or three or month. It means that some students will be perpetually behind in their work. I have had a student who was supposed to move out of state who actually never left town, was gone for two plus months, and is now returning to class. There’s a lot of work to do and there is no point in getting frustrated by the hecticity and chaos of the students’ schedule. Roll with it.

Second, be prepared to write an IEP, for a student you may have never met, on a moment’s notice. New students are arriving and new students are being identified for special education services all the time. You need to have a plan in place for how you will bridge that gap when it arrives. Often the ETR or IEP meetings are scheduled at a moment’s notice: be prepared. Gather as much information as you can, rely on state standards (or common core) for the language you will use in the IEP itself, and take a few minutes to talk to the student, if you can, beforehand. The key is to be ready–practice if you need to.

Third, be prepared to play ‘catch-down.’ This will tie in with another point I make later, but something I realized early on is that it is unreasonable to ask my students to move at my pace because then I’m always asking the students to play ‘catch-up.’ So, I took the initiative, placed the burden on my own shoulders, and decided to play ‘catch-down.’ I made mid-course adjustments so that I am moving at their pace. Now this is not to say that I never prod them to work harder or faster. I do. But it is to say that it’s OK if you do not finish a project in one day. I made a deliberate decision to simply slow down the pace.

Fourth, hurry is a choice. I was walking with my principal one day, talking about school stuff, and it was clear she was in a hurry. I get that. Principals have a lot of work to do. But it also occurred to me that being in a hurry is not something I have to do. I can choose to walk at a casual pace if I want to. Playing ‘catch-down’ is also a deliberate choice. It means that, even though it appears we have very little time, we actually have as much time as we decide we need. There is no point in getting overly stressed about time. Learn to manage it. Learn to make time your servant, and not the other way around. I heard someone say that ‘teachers do not get to choose when they go to the bathroom.’ I disagree. It seems to me that it makes better sense for a student to learn a few things thoroughly than a bunch of things poorly. Take your time.

Fifth, be prepared to write lesson plans for a variety of students who have a variety of abilities and a variety of interests and a variety of learning styles and a variety of skills. In the cross-categorical classroom, we have students with Downs Syndrome, Autism, emotional/behavioral disorders, and whatever else comes our way. And we do so happily and gladly. But we also know that no two of our students will learn the same way, at the same pace, and with the same methods. Lesson plans typically need to reflect this. Be ready to write plans that differentiate your instruction for your students. It is typically a lot of work; be ready. (Also, let's note that IEPs are individualized for a reason.)

Sixth, be prepared to communicate with parents often. I personally send home my own version of a daily-report card–daily. There is also email, phone calls, parent teacher conferences and the spur of the moment, unscheduled, my-kid-got-kicked-off-the-bus meetings. I tend to be pro-active about communication that way I am not caught off-guard. I try to communicate as often and as much as I can without interrupting the daily routine. It is not always possible, neither is it always easy (especially if you are communicating discipline issues or IEP issues), but it always necessary.

Seventh, be prepared to deal with the ignorance of general education teachers, but also be cooperative and helpful. (This is not an insult to gen-ed teachers. It is a reality. We all have our own specialty areas.) Generally speaking, regular education teachers are not trained to deal with an autistic student who is having a major meltdown. Generally speaking, regular education teachers have very little idea what we do in special education (which is, to be sure, teaching students just as they do, but differently). So when I say ‘ignorance’ I simply mean not specialized or unaware of what 'we' do. Therefore it is important for the special educator to be patient with other teachers (and they us), supportive, helpful, and deft in conveying information that will be helpful to them if they ask questions about their own students. In other words, be open; do not be a know-it-all. Help when asked, observe when not asked, and communicate clearly always.

Eighth, be prepared to spend a lot of time alone. Yes, teachers get lunch & prep time, but that does not mean that our students take a lunch and a prep time. They still have needs and they still could melt-down (sadly, I have seen it and it typically manifests itself in unstructured areas or when they are with inexperienced staff or paraprofessionals.) Again, the special education teacher needs to be flexible. On the other hand, special education is often a small and overlooked ‘department’ in the school. There’s not a lot of time for team meetings with other special educators and given the needs of our students, we must spend a lot of time with them. Be prepared to make some friends you can count on or be prepared to spend a lot of time alone.

Finally, ninth, work that your students do does not have to be perfect, it just has to be theirs. Bottom line is this: I want the parents of my students to be proud of their son or daughter’s work, not mine or the paraprofessional's. We could do the work for them, make it look pristine and wonderful. Or we could leave it to the students–there will be too much glue, wrinkled papers, sloppy writing, overworked crayons, and more. It won’t be perfect, but it will be theirs. And this is the most important thing I can say to new special education teachers. Let the students be proud of the work they accomplish on their own without your help. It’s important that we guide our students, not control them.

Special education can be tricky. We want our students to do and be and succeed, but we (at least I) want it to be their best effort not mine. I practice hands-off because the only way I know if a student can do something is if they do it. If they try and fail, that’s OK. We learn in failure too. But if they never try, and they never fail, then what has anyone learned?

So that's my 9 tips for new special educators. What are some of the tips you would offer to new special educators?

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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.

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Thoughts on Education Reform, Pt 2: Government Meddling in Education
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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. 

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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.  

Everyday, typically developing students and adults absorb and interpret thousands of pieces of data. Students in special education classes absorb these data too, but oftentimes have a great deal of difficulty interpreting their meaning. This, in turn, makes daily communication a chore for most students. Furthermore, not knowing how to interpret the data received often leads to awkward and/or embarassing social moments.

Students in my resource room, perhaps especially noticeable in students with and ASD, have deficits in communication, play, social skills and relating to others (Rao & Gagie, 2006 membership to Council for Exceptional Children may be required to access full text). A significant portion of my time is spent in developing ways to help these children communicate their needs, their feelings, their wants, their frustrations, and, in some cases, just to say something as fundamental as the ABCs or 123s. 

In response to the need to generalize an understanding of facial expressions among my students, I developed this sorting task. Originally, this task had four categories the student would sort, but in this latest iteration I chose to excise the 'shy' category given that it was too obscure. Then we went with only three categories: sad, happy, and angry as shown below. 

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These three categories are at the top of the board and a line separates them. Down the columns, as you can see, are pieces of Velcro. The students attach pictures of faces to these. In the next picture, you see the faces. These faces have been cut from old magazines, shaped, and laminated in order to preserve them for many uses (we also have a bunch of extras we keep separate).

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In the original design of this task, the faces were all cut to the same shape. What I found is that this was just a bit confusing at times and offered little in the way of self-correcting strategies. In this revised version of the task, we cut the faces into one of three shapes: triangle, circle, or square. These three shapes then correspond to one of the three emotional categories: sad, happy, angry. 

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This is a very simple sorting task and costs virtually nothing to create. Any piece of cardboard will do; any face from a magazine or google search will do; and you can decide which categories you wish to use. Sometimes it is difficult to find more categories and the pictures can oftentimes be rather difficult for the students to interpret–due to their subtle nature. I work with elementary students so these three categories are easiest to find and the easiest with which to work. 

When the student is finished working with the task, simply fold it up and put it away! I use this task to help students learn the subtleties of facial expression and the varieties of ways people show happiness or anger or sadness. But I also hope that the students will learn to generalize these categories–so I'm kind of working backwards in a sense. 

It also seems important that the pictures we use are in a rotation too. So I have another bag of faces and we are always in the process of looking through magazines for more. Again, ask your librarian for magazines that are about to become garbage. It keeps them out of the landfill and they are useful for creating wonderful games. 

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This is a very simple task to create, you get to recycle, and it is flexible enough that the categories can be altered or adjusted for age appropriateness.  Let me know what you think or what sort of alterations you make to improve this idea. Thanks. 

Edit: I came across an article at Psychology Today written by Lynne Soraya called Empathy, Mindblindedness, and Theogy of Mind that I found very helpful and pertinent to this blog post. From her conclusion:

In her article "Who cares? Or: The Truth about Empathy in Individuals of the Autism Spectrum," researcher Isabel Dziobek outlines her study on the subject of empathy.  Through the course of the study, more than 50 subjects on the spectrum were evaluated against neurotypical control subjects.  The results? To quote Ms. Dziobek – "More generally speaking, our data shows that people with Asperger syndrome have a reduced ability to read other peoples' social cues (such as facial expressions orbody language) but once aware of another's circumstances or feelings, they will have the same degree of compassion as anyone else."

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