Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Calm, Alert and Learning: book study

Our team is completing a monthly book study on Stuart Shanker's book, "Calm, Alert and Learning."  Today our focus was on chapter one: The Biological Domain.  I asked staff to read the chapter and then in small groups, discuss what stood out for you?  What surprised you? and finally, how can this knowledge impact your practice when you are in classrooms?

This is a collection of their thoughts...
What stood out for you in this chapter?
1. The need to "de-clutter" classrooms.  A great deal of visual stimuli is not always helpful.  It can over stimulate students.
2. The concept of up-regulating and down-regulating.
3. There shouldn't be a "one size fits all" approach.  Students are all different. What gets some students going may be too much for another student.
4. We need to give teachers the understanding and the background tools to understand students are not ever "bad."
5. As I write reports, I need to self-regulate.
6. The analogy of self-regulation and cars
7. The Biological domain is included in self-regulation.
8. Shanker includes good, practical ways to explain this to teachers.
9. The more you work toward teaching students self-regulation, the deeper you can go and then children will be better able to understand the nuances and differences in their own self-regulation.
10. The Alert Program is similar to the Zones of Regulation.
11. This would be a familiar starting place for teachers.  The book offers general ideas for teachers or a more structured approach as needed.
12. Activities like soccer or other gym activities take time for down-regulation.
13. We need to take notice of what students are using currently to self-regulate.
14. Look at the environment, the task demands, and then the child. You can never just look at the child.
15 Arousal is not always under the control of the student.

What surprised you?
1. Kids are not bad, you just need different strategies.
2. The more dis-regulated a student is, the more difficult it is for them to become regulated.
3. The assertion that "self-regulation" is going to be the 21st century intelligence quotient concept.
4. That teachers don't all see students as individuals and then plan proactively.
5. Students need a calm and not over stimulating environment.
6. The environment affects the child's regulation.
7. Getting to the right level of arousal takes a great deal of energy from the student.

How will you use this in your work in classrooms?
1. Use this as a reference back to the "why" we need to adapt for students.
2. Remind that visual distractions can contribute to lack of self-regulation.
3. Create "tip sheets" with the summary information at the end of chapters.
4. Help teachers understand that "less is better" in classroom decorations.  Could help to take one thing off the teacher's plate if they didn't feel the need to decorate so much.
5. Give ideas for testing situations.
6. Take note of student needs and point these out to teachers.  Eg. student in class who could not regulate.  Suggestion given for him to put on his coat because he was cold.  Regulation occurred!

What a rich discussion and opportunity to meet together to think about how we can put this material and understanding in classrooms.  I look forward to future discussions as we move forward in this book.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Collaboration is Powerful

What a fantastic opportunity for teachers, educational assistants and consultants to get together and discuss the approach we are taking in literacy for students with significant disabilities. During the summer, we took a group of eight staff to Detroit to learn from Karen Erickson.  We took two teachers with the idea they would become "show classrooms" for other teachers to learn from.  Last year, my team began working with another self-contained classroom in the district.  This classroom was not doing anything around literacy and basically was a custodial space for students to be in for the day.  We worked very hard to bring in little bits of information that would support our grand design down the road.  BUT mainly, our focus was to build relationships; to show the staff we would work with them not just drop in and tell them what to do and then leave.

yesterday this class and the two teachers who accompanied the group to Detroit shared what they have been doing and what worked in their classrooms.  It was amazing to see their excitement in sharing the information they had and the LITERACY activities they had been doing.  The educational assistants were excited to share their parts and it was clear that they were all partners in literacy.

The best part of the day was when our speech pathologist shared a demo video of shared reading.  The teacher of these students had been on sick leave and said, "Who picked these students?" when she saw the group.  Then I think her jaw dropped when she saw their incredible engagement.  I have to say the students in the group included a student who simply spins all day, a student who usually either bangs his head or wheels his wheelchair into things all day and a student who just sits on the fringe.  But during this time, they all interacted with the "reader" by answering yes-no questions, pointing to parts in the book, turning pages, and exclaiming joy.  She was AMAZED!  We all learned good lessons in wait time because she needed significant time to wait for their response.  So many times we rush a student who may need more time to process the questions.

We also looked at the Tarheel Reader as a resource for shared reading and independent reading material that is free and available. Teachers were excited to go back and make storybooks for their students. Finally, we looked at the new IPP templates (these have to be opened in Explorer). I can't wait to read the IPPs from these classrooms this term as we focused on writing goals that were about literacy NOT fine motor, gross motor or speech.  While these are important pieces of the work to take the barriers to literacy away, they are not the focus of the IPP at school.  Teachers committed to writing IPPs free from behaviour goals as well.  We will offer them another tool (Positive Behaviour Support Plan) to address behaviour but the IPP will focus on literacy.  Hallelujah!

Our next steps include figuring out how to get this literacy information to all of our teachers.  We are planning an information day on the next PD day and look forward to making a difference in all classrooms.