Sunday, 2 March 2014

My Cup Runneth Over!

My cup has been full!  Full of learning, full of changes, full of new ideas AND so exciting.  I am usually a cup half full kind of person, but there has been no reason to think otherwise this past month.

I had the good fortune to learn from Karen Erickson out of the University of North Carolina this past month.  Her work with the Centre for Literacy and Disability is inspiring.  As I sat and listened, what I thought was pretty progressing thinking on my part was challenged many times in the day.  Not only was my thinking about picture exchange challenged deeply, but many of the practices we have held dear were challenged.  I had always thought the picture exchange was an adequate method of communication and we should be happy if we get a student to communicate in such a way.  Karen challenged us to think that while pictures are a good start, they are an inefficient method to communicate because much is left to guessing.  She believes and I agree, if students are able to spell what they need, communication can be much clearer.  While she was inspiring in her delivery, she had much research and evidence to back up her claims. We watched as a student, Whitney, who many would have written off as a student with little potential because of his disability, learned to spell and read simple words!  It was amazing to see him use an "alternate pencil" to spell out words with his teacher by using his eyes. I can't wait to introduce this to some of my classes.
We watched as a class of senior high students learned the names of items used in the garden, created sentences with those new words and then created books that are shared on the Tar Heel Reader website because they were authors!  This great website is filled with books written by students that are simple to read but interesting.  As a teacher, you can upload your own student books or look for books that your students can learn to read.
Karen shared her website, Dynamic Learning Maps, with many wonderful webinars that are freely offered to support work with students with significant disabilities.  These are certainly worth the time to listen to.  At this time there are 15 videos, but by the end of August, there promises to be 50! While this website is dedicated to an alternate assessment to standardized testing in the USA, it offers tools for Canadian classrooms as well.

Much of the work Karen does is really good teaching around emergent literacy, incorporating great Balanced Literacy practices such as making words, and sort and transfer.  As well, the wonderful guided writing that we do with emergent writers.  The only difference is this work she is promoting is with students we do not normally give credit to as being possible.  We have to presume competence!
I look forward to working with a classroom this week to begin this work and get some literacy happening for students who ARE able to learn if we give them the opportunity.  We must give them the opportunity to share their wants and needs through words.  I believe this is possible and I look forward to seeing a change in the classroom.

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