Wednesday, 13 February 2013


The other day in my Twitter read, I came across an article by Ellen Notbohm: A Word About Normal.  As educators, it is easy to caught up in the trap of this little, but powerful word.  As soon as we begin to divide our students into "normal" and "abnormal" or whatever term you use to describe the kiddos who don't measure up to your internal standard for children, we have a BIG problem.  Really, as the Tylenol commercial says, "get back to whatever your normal is."  Who decides what is normal?  Who's measure do we follow?  I think it is "normal" to differentiate for all of my students based on where they are in their learning at the time.  Maybe you don't think that is "normal" but a crazy and unattainable impossibility. You may think it is "normal" for a child to sit for endless hours doing mindless worksheets.  I would argue that it is crazy to expect children to feel engaged and really learn from such a practice.  I would argue, I have never had a "normal" day because everyday has something exceptional that makes it memorable. 

Ellen says that the "n" word needs to be abolished.  It is an outdated term that has no place when describing children.  I agree.  If we are to make a difference in the lives of our students and prepare them for a future that we really do not have an idea about since technology is changing faster than we can imagine, then we better get down to knowing our students and their strengths and then teaching to those strengths.

When a teacher complains that her students just aren't getting it and she has explained it over and over, I expect that her strategies will change and she will differentiate.  But not just give the kids the same work over and over and complain because the "normal" kids get it!  Arrrggghh!  I want to pull out my hair.  We have  to start recognizing it is okay (and even NORMAL) for kids to progress at different rates and we need to figure out what they need before moving on to the next thing without insuring they have understood the basics. Hard work?  Yup, but as professional educators, it is OUR work. 

Sitting listening to the Minister of Education the other night, he expressed the need to meet students where they are at and develop their creativity for an unknown future.  This is apparently the party line, but without training for teachers who are still teaching in the industrial model, it just isn't going to happen.  I am not sure what the government wants or expects?  This situation will magically change for a number of teachers who teach the way they were taught in the 60s and 70s?  Heck, one administrative colleague got up and ranted about the three "hellions" in a class and likened them to the girl in the Exorcist with their heads spinning, destroying the classroom and ruining it for the NORMAL children.  I almost threw up and had to bite my tongue.  I cannot believe  there are still administrators holding on to this archaic and low-minded attitude.  The first thing that came to mind was "Where is the support for these frantic little people?"  And how on  earth do we expect them to do better if that is what we expect, all the while projecting such an unwelcome existence where no one loves them.  I am saddened to think they go to a school where they are certain to realize they are not welcome.

I realize that it is within my circle of inflluence to change those around me with my actions and words.  That is the best I can do. . . And pray for those who still live in their own dark ages. 

Phew, I feel better. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Huge Tiny Steps

We are so fortunate to have a small person in our German grade one class who is on the Autism Spectrum.  When he came to us in September, he was non-verbal with minimal communication.  He was not yet toilet trained. He had multiple melt-downs borne out of his frustration with us.  They lasted up to an hour.  But that was then. . . 

Fast forward to this week.  Our amazing little person has been learning sign language compliments of the wonderful Educational Assistant we just hired before Christmas. Yesterday he showed me how he can count  using sign up to six.  He matched the number of blocks with the number. He vocalized four and five.  On Friday he did a science experiment just like his class and signed hot water and cold water as he tested different temperatures.  He took part in gym and did everything his classmates did.  He listened to the story with his classmates. At the beginning of the day, he turned in his daily organizer and his home reading.  After a hiatus from the computer, he typed in his spelling words and transitioned from the computer with ease (this didn't happen in the past because he LOVES computers).  Melt downs?  What are those?  They are few and far between and still borne out of frustration if he can't make us understand.  And today, he used the toilet and proudly flushed!

I don't know where to begin. . .I love this little boy.  Everyday he brings joy to our office when he visits.  I love his big hugs and wide smile when he is excited.  Today, for fun, we did the little finger play, "Round and Round the garden" that ends with a tickle.  He LOVED IT and proceeded to do the finger play on my hand, squealing with delight when he made someone else happy.  Yesterday a little girl hurt her knee falling down.  She was being attended to and my guy came in the room and high-fived her, making her smile and feel better.  How is that for communication!

You know, because of his "disabilities" I could have said he should be in a district site for students with Autism.  I could have said he had no place in a second language program.  After all, shouldn't he learn English first?  And, because his melt downs were somewhat violent, shouldn't we keep all of us safe?  These are all questions asked by staff  and parents in our program.

But, I stand by my belief that children need to be included!  They need to have good role models.  They need to be stretched to their potential because we don't know what that is yet.  They need to be in a place where they can learn to communicate, whatever means turns out to be best way to communicate.  They need to be in a place where students will learn to go beyond tolerance for others who are not just like them, but where students will learn to accept the differences just as differences.  Not a big deal! Students in our school need to learn to communicate in ways he can so they can "talk" with him.  

Because he is in our school, students are learning sign language.  Students are learning that difference is okay and we need to work to help him learn the best way he can and it is okay if it isn't the same as them.  Would this little guy have come this far in a district site?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  We call these sites Interactions, but do these little people really interact with each other? I don't think so.

I fully believe he has come this far because of where he is.  He is included in his class.  He does some things on his own, but he is welcome at our school.  This is where he belongs! His EA today said, "I am not sure I am making a big difference for him" to which I replied, "Huge tiny steps.  That is what we are taking here."  She said, "Yah, I like that thought."  

Here's to the huge, tiny steps we are taking along side of our wonderful little person. 

Monday, 4 February 2013

Alberta's Competencies

When we think about inclusion for all children, it is important to look at the new (or not really so new) competency visual put out by Alberta Education.

If you look at the visual, it should be much easier to think about how a teacher can include all students. We want all of our students to be ethical and engaged. That is a given. In this century, we better be thinking ahead to how our students can develop an entreprenurial spirit so they can contribute to our society as adults. Looking at the inner part of the visual, pictured are skills that all students should gain regardless of abilities. Finally, at the centre we see literacy and numeracy which can be differentiated for all students. If we look at this focus, inclusion seems natural. If we change our focus from knowledge retention to critical thinking and problem solving, everyone is in.