Tuesday, 28 July 2015

How Can All Students Have Access to the Curriculum?

“One of the arguments I often hear from teachers is “Why are we wasting our time teaching Romeo & Juliet when they need to learn basic life skills?” Don’t all students have the right to learn about the world around them and find their place in it? I have seen remarkable things happen once we started exposing our students to general education curriculum – better communication, interest in the world around them, more acceptance by peers, and participation in the general education program. In other words, becoming a full member of the educational community instead of someone in a totally different curriculum housed in an educational building.”                                 Juanita Pritchard

Free Image: Dreamstime

                e) all students can learn, albeit at different rates and in different ways.  They [teachers] know      how (including when and how to engage others) to identify the students’ different learning styles and ways students learn. They understand the need to respond to differences by creating multiple paths to learning for individuals and groups of students, including students with special needs;
                                                                             (Government of Alberta, Ministerial Order #016/97)

Therefore it is incumbent upon all teachers to find ways to include all students in their classes. The decision becomes whether the student needs an adaptation or a modification to the curriculum being presented to the class.  From the ” Standards for Special Education, Amended2004” the terms are defined as:
                “Adapted programming” means programming that retains the learning outcomes of the Program of Studies and where the adjustments to the instructional process are provided to address the special education needs of the student.  “Modified programming” means programming in which the learning outcomes are significantly different from the provincial curriculum and are specifically selected to meet students’ special education needs.
            (Information Bulletin on the Standards for Special    Education, Albert Education, 2007, p. 3) 

A student’s IPP must reflect either the adaptations (based on curriculum standards) or modifications (based on alternative formats, specialized equipment and other services and supports as required).   

Teachers need to be intentional about planning for students with special needs in their classrooms.  In order to make this process accessible and easily facilitated for teachers, there are tools that can be used to ensure access for all students.

One such tool is a planning matrix that lays out the day for the entire class and then addresses how each student with special needs will meet the plan for the day.

Another tool would be a plan sheet for each individual student including the expectations for each subject area, the indicators that will demonstrate success and the strategies that will be used.  This would be an excellent over-arching planning tool once the IPP is completed.
Each tool is demonstrated below:

Daily Planning Sheet
Class/ Subject
Objective being met for all students:
Activity to meet objective
How students with special needs will meet the objective
Block 1:


Block 2:


Block 3:


Block 4:

Example for a grade 6 class
(Two students included: Joey – significant cognitive delay/ fine motor delay/ communication delay- expressive only  and Susan – Learning Disability in reading and writing)
Class/ Subject
Objective being met for all students:
Activity to meet objective
How students with special needs will meet the objective
Block 1:
Language Arts

Construct meaning from texts: observe and discuss aspects of human nature revealed in oral, print and other media texts, and relate them to those encountered in the community
Students choose to write a character profile of Nikki from novel study, “Dragon in the Clouds”. The student describes how and why Nikki’s attitude toward her cousin changes and how Nikki is like someone she knows.
Joey:  uses Kidspiration to complete a character profile of Nikki using pictoral representations when presented with choices by the EA.

Susan:  draws her character profile and then tells the how and why to the EA/ peer/ teacher.

Block 2:

Demonstrate an understanding of place value, including numbers that are: • greater than one million • less than one thousandth
Using a place value chart, create a number line of all numbers provided on the worksheet
Joey: using manipulatives, demonstrate numbers greater than and less than up to 10
Susan: completes the same activity as the class

Block 3:

Component 3
A. Artistic style affects the emotional impact of an artwork. B. An artwork can be analyzed for the meaning of its visible components and their interrelationships
Students look at a variety of art books.  Choose one piece of art and answer the questions:  Why did you pick this piece of Art? How does this art make you feel?  What do you think the artist is trying to say with this art?
Joey: Choose a piece of art that he is interested in?  Using his PODD, tell what emotion he is feeling.   Encourage him to choose several pieces of art and express the emotion he sees in the art.
Susan:  Orally share her answers to the questions with a recording device

Block 4:

Construct devices that move through air, and identify adaptations for controlling flight.
Conduct tests of a model parachute design, and identify design changes to improve the effectiveness of the design.  In partners, create a parachute, recording the flight in relation to a modification using pictures/ words/ measurements
Joey: partners up with a peer.  He launches the parachute created by his partner and the partner records the results – sharing them with Joey who puts them in his duotang
Susan: works with partners. She does the pictorial recording and partner does writing.

Individual Planning Sheet
This student is in grade one and has the following needs:  hearing impairment/ limited mobility- uses a wheelchair and standing frame/ cortical visual impairment – wears glasses/ feeding is by gastrostomy tube/ toileting assistance needed/ communication- both expressive and receptive/ requires range of motion exercises/ needs opportunities for relaxation throughout the day
Language Arts
(Student) will participate in language related experiences.
Student will experience language generated by peers and teachers in natural school environment; classroom, hallway, lunchroom, playground
-Student will respond by moving his lips to a yes/no question
-Student will anticipate functional activities
-Student will listen to audio tapes.
-Frequent opportunity to hear spoken and see gestural communication.
-Frequent concrete hands-on learning experiences
-Incorporate “signal movements” for anticipation of activities
-Use of paired stories
-Pair older children with student for reading.
-full access to the alphabet
-shared reading
-predictable chart writing
-alternate pencil use for alphabet (flip chart/tactile)
-word wall -use of some kind of book creator (eg.TarHeel Reader or Co-Writer) to created assignments

Student will interact appropriately with peers in small groups and with teachers.
-Student will cooperate with others in small group discussions.
-Student will show and tell items with help of peers.
-Peer models
-Student must be really close to readers/ story books/ auditory tools (present stimuli to student’s right eye)
Student will use concrete strategies to explore problems
Student will use manipulatives to explore problems
-use of manipulatives
-light box
-EA/ Peer assistance
-use suction cup handle on manipulatives
-use of computer

Student will participate actively in learning of mathematics
Using the light box and accompanying materials, Student will observe differences between geometric shapes
-light box
-EA/ Peer assistance
use suction cup handle on manipulatives
-use of computer
Social Studies
Student will demonstrate citizenship in the classroom
Student will participate in regular class duties.
Student will listen attentively when others are speaking.
Student will demonstrate he can work cooperatively with a partner or group.
-daily partner to help him during the day
Units to cover: The School/ Family/ Canadian Families
-emergent literacy strategies as listed in the LA section.

Student will promote positive self-esteem within himself and his classmates.
Student will demonstrate the important aspects of his own life.
-Peers will help student show and tell things he brings to school
Student will use appropriate sense in making observations
Student will experience a variety of sounds, scents, color and textures.
A variety of materials smell, touch, hear and see will be presented to Student in connection with the unit studies.
Physical Education
Student will take part in physical activities in all dimensions of the program
With assistance, in either wheelchair or standing frame, student will use a variety of phys. ed. Equipment
-with EA or peer, use of nerf ball, ball and scoop, Velcro ball and glove.

Student will experience success through participation in physical activities
Student will participate in activities designed to meet his individual abilities
-with help  from EA and partner, student will complete gross motor activities
Student will participate in the different musical activities
With assistance from EA/ peer, student will do different actions for songs/ poems.
With assistance student will keep a rhythm or beat with body parts.
Will listen to music either live or on an IPad.
Student will use rhythm instruments will assistance as needed.
- A variety of music on the IPad.
-various rhythm instruments
-variety of action and rhythm songs/ poems
Student will take part in the different art projects
Student will be given the opportunity to experience drawing, painting, coloring, or clay/ playdough/ plasticine projects
-use of Velcro on a glove to attach tools as needed
-different materials: paint, crayons, clay, plasticine, or other tactile materials
Adapted from Inclusive Education Stories and Strategies for Success, Raymond, H., http://dascentre.educ.ualberta.ca/inclusive-education#Acknowledgement

This type of planning could be done at the beginning of each unit and then the daily plan sheet could include specific ways the students will be included by intentional choosing a specific activity.  It is important to always presume competence and offer more to the student rather than less.

 Some Other Excellent Resources to Support Inclusion and Access to the Curriculum

The book, “Quick-Guides to Inclusion: Ideas forEducating Students with Disabilities” by Michael F. Giangreco and Mary Beth Doyle provides many simple, yet important one page guidelines to address 
the inclusion of all students.
·         The British Columbia Ministry of Education provides an excellent chart to decide whether one should adapt or modify: https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/docs/iepssn.pdf#page=83
·         JPDas Centre on Developmental and Learning Disabilities http://dascentre.educ.ualberta.ca/inclusive-education#Acknowledgement
·         Centre for Literacy and Disability Studies http://www.med.unc.edu/ahs/clds
·         Take Ten Spotlight Series http://canlearnsociety.ca/resources/take-ten-series/
·         Alberta Education: the Inclusive Learning Library http://www.learnalberta.ca/content/ieptLibrary/index.html
·         Diverse Learning Needs: Albert Education http://education.alberta.ca/admin/supportingstudent/diverselearning/
·         Think Inclusive http://www.thinkinclusive.us

Who is Watching You?

Today I was reading a book we are doing for a book study in the fall, Well Aware: Developing Resilient Active and Flourishing Students by Patrick Carney.  The first chapter discusses the importance of positive mental health.  I know this.  We probably all know the need for this in our classrooms.  It is the second chapter that really hit home for me when the author said, "As a teacher, you are also a role model for behaviour" (p. 20).  How does this fit with inclusion?  Oh, it is everything...

How do you welcome the new student to your classroom who has a visible disability?  Do you give this student a "special seat" somewhere at the back of the class with his Ed Assistant sitting right beside him?  Do you insist this student does his work outside of the classroom because he makes "noise"? Do you announce his "special project" to the class that is very different from the rest of the students (because you are pleased with your "super" idea)?  Do you get the class ready for their work and then add "Oh yeah, he can watch a video on his IPad for this" (because you forgot to plan intentionally for this student)? Do you presume he can't read or learn to read because he can't talk and avoid teaching this important skill, preferring for him to hand out papers, take stuff to the office, work on endless printing sheets (because the sheets are alphabet, after all?)? Do you feel good at night because you "let" this student sit at circle today with the others (at the edge with his EA of course)? Do you stress about his "overbearing" mom who will insist he takes part yet again?  Do you avoid seeing her at all costs, instead letting the principal interact with her, because she says the "same thing over and over again"?

Who is watching your actions?  EVERY. SINGLE. STUDENT. They are all watching how you interact/treat/ behave with this student.  AND your actions will affect how they treat this student; how they accept this student; how they welcome this student; how they will treat other people with disabilities as they grow up.  Your actions will either change our society positively for people with challenges or your actions will cause students to continue with the status quo; people with challenges can keep to themselves, have to fight for real jobs with real income, have to fight to be accepted for their diversity.

Patrick Carney states, "We have students in our schools for approximately 1000 hours per year, over the course of 14 years" (p. 20).  Wow, that is a LOT of time. During this time, we have a responsibility to model acceptance for diversity and a welcoming attitude for every single student who walks through our door.  Every student deserves a teacher who will presume their competence, who will expect them to do their very best and who will guide them with a loving hand to do the best they can.

If we truly want to see change in our world, we can begin in our classrooms.  Remember, your students are watching you and your interactions.  Give them a positive role model.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

How is This for Homework?

This past year my sister was a first year teacher in a grade 2 class.  On the first few days, the students wondered when they would get "homework."  We talked about the need for homework for young students.  We looked at some of the current debate on the subject (here, here, here and here for a few).  We discussed the need for children to read daily with their parents, and maybe not just to practice reading but to be together.  We talked about "big projects" that are often sent home that take up great amounts of time for the family and cause undue stress on parents to afford materials and time to create an amazing product.  We talked about how these projects often become the parents' project and not the students'.  I gave the example of a bridge project in a grade 3/4 class.  The bridges that were returned for grading were amazing feats of engineering hardly completed by 8 and 9 year olds.  While these bridges were amazing and may have contributed to "family time", they were NOT projects solely completed by the students. Even so, these grades became part of the term grade for the student.  One little bridge that came in made of lined paper and glue and string was very obviously done by a youngster on her own.  This bridge received a poor grade and in reality was likely one of the only ones made by a student!  
Enough of my rant...

So the two of us came up with a plan to have "homework" as requested by the students and parents, but to make it authentic and useful.  So this is the list of homework we came up with:
1.Go on a nature walk with your family and collect 5 things to share on the 100s carpet.
2. Ask your parent for permission to write in a magazine and circle all the words you know.
3. Survey your parents about your name - where did your name come from? (to be used in class later).
4. Play a board game with your family.
5. Survey your family about their favorite drink.  Bring the information to school for graphing.
6. Count all the electrical sockets, light switches and lamps in your house.  Make a graph of the information.
7. Play outside with your family.
8. Find all of the things in your house that start with the letter A, B, C, etc.
9. List all of the people who live in your house and their ages.  Compare each of their ages to your age.  Who's age is greater than yours? Who's age is less than yours?
10. On your computer, go the American Art Gallery and use the collage maker to create your own masterpiece.
11. Write about yourself  as if your were introducing yourself to a stranger.
12. Take your word wall words home and make as many sentences as you can.
13. Make a grocery list and convince your parents why they should use your list.
14. Write down all the times you eat at home.  Compare the length of time between each time.
15. Sketch a tree in your yard.  Write five interesting things about that tree.
16. Write a letter to a grandparent or other favorite adult.
17. With a parent's help, make a dessert for your family.
18. Come up with an idea for a special day at school complete with activities for your classmates to complete.
19. Build a fort and read a story book in your fort.
20. Organize your toys into categories and count them.  Figure out which category has the most toys in it.  Why do you think this category has the greatest number?

This was a start.  What ideas would you come up with?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A Couple of Great "Wins" for the Year

This last week of school has revealed some great edu-wins for emergent literacy and students with significant disabilities.  I had some proud educator moments...

First of all, I was very excited to be invited to a school to begin planning for next year for their students in segregated classrooms with regard to emergent literacy.  We talked about having a common timetable so they could have fluid groupings in between classes.  I mean, we do this for our "regular" classes, so why not in these classrooms?  The idea was met with some enthusiasm and one quite reluctant teacher even joined in the conversation.  It was great to see these folks collaborating to ensure our most vulnerable students get to take part in the curriculum and have full access to the a literacy program! 

Then, I was so pleasantly surprised when I got to read some IPPs from another school.  Not only did they have excellent literacy goals (thank you Karen Erickson: to see IPP ideas, click on the link), but there were some good reviews with strategies and real life examples for individual students!  I definitely got all teary-eyed when there were NO behavior goals and ONLY literacy goals.  They had done some excellent work with the components of the program we had demonstrated. Now to spread the IPP word...

Finally, a group of us have been part of a Literacy for All community of practice, and as part of this program, we are planning a project to promote literacy for all in our district.  We landed on an Emergent Literacy 101 for administrators so they could learn what a good literacy program would look like in their contained classrooms.  Currently, administrators may know what to look for if they have worked with students with significant disabilities in their former teaching years, but many do not really know what to look for when observing these classrooms.  Our goal is to provide them with the tools to adequately observe programming for students in contained classrooms.  When this was presented to various principal groups, it was well received.  Principals were interested in acquiring these tools for their schools.  We can't wait to share with them!

One other bit of information-  A group of 5 consultants (including myself) are heading down to Camp ALEC in Michigan in August to learn even more about working with students with significant disabilities.  We look forward to bringing more ideas to share with teachers and administrators as we strive to see ALL students having access to a strong literacy program.  Can't wait to share my learning here as well.

What a way to end a school year!  I can't wait for schools to get back as we continue this work. 
Have a great summer everyone! 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Independent Writing

We have been working in several classrooms and while everything is not perfect (I know, small baby steps!), progress has been made.  This young lady was so proud of her independent writing and pleased to show us her whole writing book.

There are little pockets of work being done, but I am not sure how to get this going in its entirety. I am not sure how to impress upon staff that this is a moral imperative and these students won't have a second chance.  As a team, we recognize it is hard work to get everything going, but this work is so necessary. The gal making the work happen in the classroom in the picture is an Educational Assistant. She gets the big picture and wants to give these students a means of communication.  However, she can only go so far if the teacher is the barrier and administrators don't support the program (mostly because they don't understand the need).

With that in mind, our team has thought about providing administrators an opportunity to learn the basics.  I know they are not going to be teaching the students, but it is important for them to know what SHOULD be happening in their classrooms.  To that end, we are thinking about an Emergent Literacy 101 for administrators in the fall.  You know, everything you needed to know in three afternoons.  Our hope is that with this information, support for moving forward will be more obvious and teachers can rely on administrators to help them move it forward.

As well, our final PD for the year is coming up next week and part of that PD will be discussing the barriers that exist, whether they are created by ourselves or for other reasons.  We will share an accountability tool that we learned about at our "day 6 of the our emerging literacy training" last week.  Just by marking down the times we work with each student on an area will give the classroom an idea of what is or is not happening.  I believe teachers want the best and think about how they will do the work.  Then the day gets away with them and another day is gone without any literacy instruction.  For example, my sister teaches grade 2 is an is a first year teacher.  She said she knew the students needed guided reading but it wasn't her best skill (she was just learning about it) so she "wanted to have it daily" but then the day would end and guess what?  No guided reading.  So she was determined to do better and decided every day after recess would be guided reading.  Simply by being intentional, the guided reading has been happening.  We need intentionality in our classrooms for students with significant needs ALSO.  We just can't let the day float by with NO learning happening.

As Shanker stated in his book, "Calm, Alert and Learning," we have to remember to always presume that the "upward trajectory in learning will continue, no matter how elongated it may be" (p 133).  We must presume competence and pursue an intentional learning program for all students, including those with complex needs!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Prosocial Domain

image via PicturesNew

We continued our book study of Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning in February.  The key points made included (p. 93):
-Students will have the ability to regulate others and co-regulate with others.
-Students will have a sense of honesty with themselves and others.
-Students will have empathy (really the big key in this chapter!) and care about the feelings of others and help them deal with their emotions.
-Students will learn to put the needs and interests of others ahead of their own when needed.
-Students will desire to do the "right thing" at the right time.

Discussion produced the following thoughts for the group:
1. This would be the hardest domain for students to learn because you have to think about the others rather than yourself.
2. There was wonder about how a teacher could teach about empathy if they were not empathetic themselves.  Teachers likely weren't taught empathy as a student and if they do not have empathy, how will they see this as a need?  What would the principal do in this case?  How do you "make" a grownup feel empathy?
3. What about cultural differences in the meaning of empathy?  Is empathy viewed the same in every culture?
4. Social emotional learning must be a part of a school culture.  It would difficult to teach it as an add-on.
5. It would take a very creative teacher to infuse this concept throughout the curriculum.  Teachers have a tough job!
6. Are our students desensitized to wrong doing and harmful behaviour because of television, video games and perhaps even modeling at home?
7. Students would need a very intact sense of self-identity and would need to learn that everything is "not all about me."
8.  We liked the idea of caring for pets (p. 110) but there are very few pets in schools anymore due to the fear of disease and allergies.  One of our social workers has a service dog and sees the value of "pet therapy" with students.  This has been very positive.  Here are a couple of articles about her work: here and on p. 24 of this publication.
9. Shanker lists the Roots of Empathy program that has had success in classrooms. Students interact with a baby and watch as it grows in their weekly visits.
10. Shanker also brings up the point that we can't focus on anti-bullying as this has limited success but instead should focus on belongingness (p. 96).  Schools should concentrate on what you should do instead of bringing focus to what you shouldn't do.
Finally, it was noted that students need to understand the true meaning of feeling words.  What does it really mean to be sad, happy, angry, etc.

Throughout this chapter, a great example of the positive work of a teacher was detailed with great ideas to use in the classroom, using literature and movies that the students are familiar with and could identify with. Rather than always looking to a canned program, there are so many ways to work within your classroom with tools readily at hand.  Without making this an infused part of the school culture, it is unlikely to make impact, however.  Every teacher and administrator needs to be a part of a culture of empathy and caring.

By the way, Stuart Shanker is making an Edmonton appearance again at the end of May.  Register here if you are interested!

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Social Domain of Self-Regulation

As we continue in our book study on Calm, Alert and Learning by Stuart Shanker, we focused on the social domain.  We learned the key attributes in this domain include understanding feelings and intentions of themselves and others, responding appropriately to these understandings, monitoring the effects of their actions, demonstrating a good sense of humor that is free of humiliation of others, communicating effectively and recovering from breakdowns.  When you read all of that you realize, it is a tall order to be self-regulated in this domain.  It is clear we cannot expect young children to walk into our classroom and be self-regulated without any instruction in all of these areas.

School is the ultimate social environment where students need these skills to be successful.  Students who already find difficulty regulating in the physical and emotional realms, will find even further difficulty in the social domain.

I loved how Shanker described the skill of understanding others as "mind reading" (p. 74).  It truly is a feat to be able to read the mind of others in order to function socially.  If a child does not possess this skill, large groups can cause great anxiety, thereby causing either hyperactivity or hypoactivity to deal with the anxiety (p. 75).  He also describes this domain as a "dance" (p. 76-78) and if this dance isn't choreographed beginning at a young age, the child will experience difficulty.

One big AHA moment for me was the story around ice packs (pp 84-85).  I am sure you know the students who are always down at the office needing an ice pack for something or other.  You might wish they could just 'suck it up' or you might bemoan the fact that they are attention seeking and we should ignore them.  WELL, Shanker says we need to ask why the child needs this ice pack.  Ice can be very calming on the nervous system and perhaps the child is using the ice to down-regulate due to hyperarousal.  Why the hyperarousal?  Finding the answer to this question may be what you need to work on with that child.  At my former school, the student who requested ice packs the most had a chaotic home life with parents who were separated fighting over every single detail.  It all made sense to me after reading this?  She was down-regulating in the only way she knew how.  The next time someone comes asking for ice, consider it a regulation moment and complain less but be happy the child is looking for ways to do this.

It is essential that we look at students through a different lens, to shift from thinking in terms of behaviour management to figuring out why we see certain behaviours and what can be done to help these students learn to self-regulate (p. 85)

What an important quote for all educators.  We definitely need to be less reactive and more proactive with our students. In our study session, one colleague reminded us that students who are English Language Learners need to work even harder at this because their social domain will be culturally different.  Another key concept to remember for educators.

We were reminded also that much of what Shanker speaks to is included in Jennifer Katz' first block of her three block model (our book study from last year- don't you love it when you can tie things together in your learning?).

Another key concept pointed out by staff is this must become school culture.  Pull out social skills groups only function to give ideas but actually playing it out in the classroom with discussion is much more useful.  Moving from classroom to classroom should not be an experience for a child to "figure out" what this teacher wants.  If all teachers live the culture of the school, moving to new classrooms should not put added stress on the students.