Tuesday, 30 April 2013

It is all about the preparation or G's first fieldtrip!


Last Friday was a momentous occasion. My grade 3 guy who experiences significant exceptionalities went on his first field trip.  Now this great guy has some serious sound sensitivies and huge anxieties in new situations.  He has some big tics that include swears when he is anxious.  But he has come sooooo far in the past year.  When we finally figured out how to support him for success, things have been running so much more smoothly.  G wears sound blockers for many activities and this helps a lot.  He does fitness activities in the office (ride the stationary bike, work out on the exercise ball, carry the medicine ball, pushups on the wall, sit ups in my office or the meeting room; really whatever it takes to get him to sweat).  He does not take music but works on reading or math instead.  Assemblies are still hard, but he has been known to hang out by the door to hear the assemblies. He doesn't manage the lunchroom yet, but eats with a couple of buddies at a table close to the lunchroom.

A couple of weeks ago, the teachers from two classrooms decided to go to the Royal Alberta Museum to see the Creepy Crawlies Exhibit.  There was a lengthy discussion about whether or not G could manage the trip.  One of his teachers, who has embraced inclusion, was certain, with preparation, he would manage, BUT the grown-ups would have some work to do.  Another teacher felt he would likely have a screaming meltdown and "what would we do if that happened?"  First of all, two mindsets were evident and needed to be figured out.  The growth mindset person knew that with preparation, G would manage.  The fixed mindset said everything is "_____" way and will never change.

After discussion with mom, it was decided she would talk to him and give him choice.  He would be in control of his own destiny to attend the museum fieldtrip or go to the YMCA for a playdate fieldtrip.  "Either way," said mom, "he will be socializing."  We agreed with her and then began to prep him for the big day.  Talk about the bus, how he would manage if he was anxious, the fact that he could wear his headphones on the bus or listen to music that soothed him were all part of the discussion to prepare him.  Staff laid out every step of the trip so he would know what was happening and reminded him that the final decision was his.  But, they knew he would love the trip.  Wednesday before the Friday trip, G chose to go to the Museum.  Again, staff went over each step of the trip so he would be comfortable. 

Was it worth it?  Absolutely! Was it a bit of work?  Sure!  But G went on the trip and enjoyed every part of it.  He didn't do each station set up, but attended to the parts of the museum other students would be seeing.  He needed some breaks and articulated this need (another big breakthrough for him - no screaming his distress, but stating that he needed a break). Take a peek at the Animoto link at the top of the page to see his successes (shown with Mom's permission)!

Staff were celebrating this huge success with both G and his mom.  Everyone was so proud.  However, the fixed mindset statement was made that "he was only successful because he had so much support." 

Yah, that is right!  He had the necessary supports to be successful.  NECESSARY. . .  being the key word.  We cannot expect students with challenges to be unsupported and go it alone, just because it won't be fair to the others.  I mean, fair is not equal.  Most of us know now that we have to focus on equity not equality if we want all students to be successful.

After all, no one would expect me to read anything on a far away page without my glasses, would they?  My glasses are my support so why do people get grumpy when a student needs support that requires some work on our part.  Word Q has become a support for many of our students lately.  Teachers are beginning to see the positive results from using this support.  Slowly, but surely our paradigm is shifting toward an environment of equityAnd I am thankful that our exceptional kiddos will thrive in an environment that is becoming a learning environment for all! 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Universal Design for Learning = Success

Yesterday I was making my regular rounds through classrooms when I walked into the grade 3/4 class.  They had just finished writing their HLAT (highest level of achievement test) that we do in writing and reading for the district.  The prompt was a journal entry about an adventure they had gone on either for real or an imaginary adventure they would like to go on. 

I noticed that some of the children had typed their stories.  First of all, it was exciting that students had choice to either type or write with pen and paper.  Then I asked, "Did anyone use Word Q to write their stories?"  Their faces lit up and many hands flew in the air.  The teacher said it was making a real difference in student writing.  The students said it was so helpful to them.  One student told the teacher that writing was becoming "fun" now that he could use Word Q and he "liked it way better."   (Word Q is word prediction software that is amazing!)

I still get goose bumps when I think about that little guy.  He struggles with reading and writing and when we talked about writing the PATs (Provincial Achievement Tests) before, he said, "I can't do that," and looked horrified until I told him he could get help with the reading and the writing.  Well, now he is starting to "like writing" because he has a tool that gives him assistance and then confidence.  Imagine that!  He might even like writing all because he was provided with a tool that supported him in the classroom and allowed him to be successful. 

Now teachers are giving students the choice to use Word Q and that is what Universal Design is all about.  Offering tools to all that can be chosen to be used as the student needs it.  Something so simple can contribute to the success of our included students. 

We share our computer lab with the Junior High across the field so their students can all access Word Q for written tests.  They have had the same result.  Students are writing more, writing better and exuding confidence just by using this simple tool.

The very cool thing about Word Q is that is has a German component so our German grade 5/6 teacher is using it for her students' written work.  Not only is it helping the students write, but she finds it so much easier to grade because every second word isn't misspelled. 

Check out the CAST website for more great ideas to implement Universal Design for Learning so we can see more students finding success based on their strengths.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

It Just Keeps Getting Better!

My little grade one guy got a birthday invite. Yes, a real, live birthday invitation from one of his classmates!  I didn't tell the boy he had to invite everyone, in fact, he may not have invited everyone, but he did invite Noah. It is interesting that this invite should be a big deal, I mean, grade one kids go to birthdays all the time, but our community is hesitant to let others in who are different and my guy is different for sure.  Oh, and by the way, he has not been wearing diapers since last Thursday. So many great milestones that my head is spinning.  What is next?  What is in store for this amazing little person?  I can only imagine. . . I get all choked up when I think of the possibilities for him and for our school community.  We are on the edge of something big. . .  a change for the better. . .  a change where as one student said the other day when we were talking about the challenges another student has and how we can help him, "Different is normal, Mrs. G.  We are all different somehow." And that is becoming okay here.  I get all choked up when I hear students caring for others and when the grownups start to feel the change too.  Indeed, it is a good day.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

I Had to Look Twice

I got a text message on Friday from one of our educational assistants. This isn't unusual.  If they need a break or some help, they have texted me from time to time. But this text was different. This was a series of three videos of one of our exceptional kiddos. The student in the video is one of my guys with Tourette Syndrome.

This is not his only challenge but he has some significant issues with loud sounds. Because of this in the past two years, he has always done his daly physical activity separate for his class.  We have invited him to take part on many, many occasions but he says, "No thanks" and we respect his choice. He still does exercises but this past Friday was different.

 We have started to prepare him for his transition to next year's class by having him visit three times per week. Before his visit, we prepared the children and helped them understand what it meant for this student to have Tourette Syndrome and anxiety. They asked some poignant questions and shared how they had also had periods of anxiety and how it made them feel.  They were so understanding and when they saw him Friday, they welcomed him as a long lost friend. He warmed to the welcome.

When it was time to go to the class, they were having gym time.  The EA was worried , but our guy headed back to class where I was observing a young student teacher. I asked him if he was done visiting, he said, "No, I just need my stupid headphones."  He collected his headphones ( we have headphones available for all students who need quiet and less distraction in the class) and headed back. He put them on and went into the gym. He stood by the wall for a time while the students played a skittle game with rolling balls. Then he started kicking the balls back to the others.  Not but a short time later, he was moving to the middle and playing the game. I had to look twice at the video because I wasn't sure this would ever happen.

We were talking later in the staffroom and many staff were discussing what a change they have seen in this student. It wasn't but a year ago that he spent many days screaming his fears and needs and we could not understand them. Now with time and patience on our part, we have learned what causes his pain and what we can do to alleviate this pain.  As a staff, we have learned not to judge this child, but to understand his needs. Did this boy have to change? No, it was up to the grown ups to make the necessary changes. We needed to understand.  We needed to take a second look at our understanding.

If we hadn't done so, there is no telling where this little person would be. But now, we are so excited as to where he will be with compassion, understanding and intentional planning for his needs.