Friday, 14 March 2014

How Can a Friday Be This Great??

What an awesome, awesome day!  I went out to one of our district ISP (Individual Support Program) classrooms for the afternoon.  It couldn't have been a more perfect end to the week.

When I arrived just after lunch, the students were playing with their new Wii system that was donated to the class by my young grandsons (their mom is teaching them about sharing with others when they have so much).  Every student in the class was engaged.  One of the students came running up to give me a thank you card to share with my grandsons and then proceeded to tell me how he won the sports game he had played. He was so proud.  Then another girl from the class came to share a thank you card also.  She was highly engaged and it is often difficult to get her engaged and smiling and she was doing both!.  This gave students a motivating way to move and stretch and get some exercise as they bowled, played golf, boxed and hit the baseball.  Now we just have to figure out how to get the kiddos with limited movement involved and playing (although I saw more smiles than I have seen in a long time!)  I think that the fact the students were doing an age appropriate, "cool" activity contributed to the engagement and excitement.  I hope they have many hours of fun with the Wii.  My next suggestion will be to invite students from the regular program to come in and play with the kids in ISP.  Should give them some "cred" with their peers and offer a bit of reverse inclusion for all of the students as only a couple of students are included in other classes throughout the week.

Now if that wasn't enough, the OT on the classroom Inclusive Learning team and I created an eye gaze alphabet stand for a student in the class who is in a wheelchair and has no voice (YET).  This is the stand we created to start the process to help Tim learn to read. Yes, we hope to see him read. His mom is not quite ready for a video to be posted for all to see, but I am confident she will want to share with the world eventually.  We based this process on work done by Karen Erickson at the University of North Carolina to create the stand.  More information on the particulars about how this works can be found here.
So we started by letting Tim "scribble" because we always let emergent readers and writers play and this student is no exception.  Until he has learned to play with letters, we cannot expect him to know and we certainly won't teach him with flash cards over and over again.  This doesn't work with our typical kindergarten and grade one students, so why would we expect anything else from a student with significant learning challenges.
We played and followed Tim's eye gaze to choose letters.  He was engaged for the short time we did this. The big excitement came when I read the letters he had written.  HE WAS SO EXCITED, he almost rocked out of his wheelchair.  On the three occasions that I read his work, we got the same reaction.  He was genuinely excited about his work I believe!

Another win for today was the fact that his mom walked in while we were writing and SHE was excited too! I explained what we were doing and her response was, "Where have you two been for the last twelve years?"  Brought tears to my eyes because she was so excited that someone could see the light in her son's eyes. I am so glad I was able to attend the recent PD with Karen Erickson so I can share this information with all of the ISP classes I work with in the very near future.  I think I will be quite adept with the hacksaw and PVC pipe.  For other ideas to use PVC pipe to support students, check out this link.

Not only was mom excited, but staff were excited to be doing this work too.  They were surprised at his response because it can be difficult to engage him in class.  So they were excited (and it is a Friday) and when I told them next week I would bring out an alternate pencil for another student that was slightly different, they were excited still.

Even the Assistant Principal who had limited expectations for the class was excited about what was happening.  If we can get this many adults excited about moving the literacy skills forward in this class, it is an amazing day and I couldn't ask for more.

All the way home, I was on cloud nine because the grownups in the room were excited about meeting the literacy needs in this classroom.  If it only takes a couple of people to share their enthusiasm to get others excited, then I guess we should be genuinely excited about our work so it will become contagious.

For some more great information on using Alternate pencils, check out Monica's blog: Eliminating the Box

How can we top this next week??

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Alternate Pencils

I found this super video about Alternate Pencils when I was searching for something simple and effective to share with the classroom I will be in Friday.  This video offers a clear explanation for the rationale and process to use an alternate pencil.  I am off to Home Depot to pick up PVC pipe to create the stand for an eye gaze alternate pencil.

I am so excited to see this in action!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Differentiation for Staff #SAVMP

It has been a while that I have really thought about SAVMP. Sitting down while watching the Oscars, I was inspired to thinking about how hard people work at their craft in their own way to create a film that we can be inspired by, or challenged by.  They are allowed to bring their own personality to the table and add their "flair" to the role they take on.

In our work, we are expected to find ways to engage our students, to meet their needs and to ensure their success.  Do we allow our staff to find their way?  Do we let them use their strengths? Or do we impose the "rules" or our way to get things done?  I am sitting here thinking that maybe sometimes we need to fit into a program that is good or I feel is right for students.  I pride myself in thinking that I have the students' best interest at heart.  However, I feel somewhat conflicted that I have expectations for staff, but I want the best for students.  Can the two coincide?  Can I differentiate AND expect the best for students?

If we expect quality teaching, we will get what is best for students.  We can make space for teachers to express their strengths and bring their own personality to the craft and to their role as teacher, all the way making sure they are doing what is best for students.  This must be the bottom line - student success must be at the forefront of all we do in the classroom, in the school, in our community.

In thinking about this, I can see that as a leader, I still need to have high expectations for staff, but I need to let them bring their personality and strengths to the table.  Together, we can do the most important task - ensure our students are successful in their own way.  By differentiating for staff, we can expect staff will differentiate for students.

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.