The purpose of this blog is to keep past and current students updated on different resources I present in my courses. I hope you find the entries thought provoking. I intentionally keep my comments brief and often have a visual / graphic / poem to supplement those words.
There was a glitch in the recent postings and I need to recover blog entries from March through April 13th.
Bob Dylan is 76 Today. I will be seeing Dylan in concert on Father's Day in less than a month. Today, he celebrates his 76th birthday or, I should say, many people thorughout the world are celebrating his 76th birthday. I often wonder why I am fascinated by the output of Dylan's work and I will put it in as simple a set of words as possible. Dylan stretches the boundaries of his craft and is not held in by the constraints of the expectations of others. People learn more about themselves by listening to Dylan's lyrics sung in his own voice and covered by hundreds of other musicians. I honor his presence by listening to him play live. I have used his tunes to organize my own thoughts and write lyrics that relate to a topic about which I am passionate. He stumbles. He has his faults and limitations. He brings out the best in those who are fortunate enough to accomapny him. He has no answers to life's challenges but he brings elements of those challenges to our attention that need to be addressed. His works have enriched my life. His presence has made my life more satisfying.
Letter to the Editor from 2_9_14. While reviewing some past files, I noticed a Letter to the Editor I submitted to the Hartford Courant from 2014 on the topic of the harm being inflicted on today's students via the high-stakes assessments in our public schools. I share this expression of my thoughts and feelngs on this topc with students when discussing the current state of affairs on schoolwide assessment practices.
Personal Profile Questions. At the beginning of one course, I request students to complete a personal profile questionnaire and introduce themselves to others by providing the answers to 10 of the possible 30 statements. This typically results in some interesting conversations among students and tips them off to the style of a profile that students in special educatiion may need to best introduce themselves to members of their planning team.
Your Work is Superb! After I reviewed 3-4 assignments from one particular student, I wrote her feedback that I could have also framed for many other students in each of my courses. I believe the the choices I offer for assignments and projects bring out the creativity in my studets and I let them know that this trait will carry them far as a beginning teacher.
ENGAGEMENT. I used a visual organizer – ENGAGEMENT – to summarize a discussion I helped to moderate among candidates for the professional program in elementary education. I posed the question about the role of “engagement” in the preparation of lessons by the classroom teacher and I summarized the key words that entered into the conversation.
Name Card Descriptors. I was reviewing my journal entries from 1975 (42 years ago) and found a name card set of descriptors used in a graduate course. I was curious to discover what words I used then to respond to requests of where to place words on this name card. I use various take offs from this means of sharing information with others in my current courses.
Stay With Me. I was looking for something I had written a couple of years ago and finally located it today. In November of 2015 I went to a concert in Philadelphia with my daughter and son-in-law at eh Academy of Music. We attended a Bob Dylan performance. I wanted to write my review of the songs in a novel way so I search through the lyrics of each sone that Dylan sang that evening and interspersed parts of the lyrics into a poem. Here is the result of those efforts: page 1 / page 2 / page 3.
Peter Leidy. Of all the people who provide in-service training and consultation for those who work with individuals with disabilities, I would put Peter Leidy at the top of the list for creativity, humor, respect and one who has a strong sense of values. When I taught a course centered on developmental disabilities I often used one of his DVDs - Doing Our Best Work: 10 Ingredients of Quality Support. Visit his website. You will not be disappointed.
Are You Smarther Than a Red Sox Fan? To add some creativity to a review of content from one of my sources, I used a Jeopardy style format common in many classrooms when teachers and students review mterial in preparation for a test. This specific rendition adds a slice of humor, connections to the instructor's out-of-class interests, important facts ... and a snese that the amount of points a person earns during this reivew is arbitrary and nonconsequential. At times, a few students take me serously with regard to some of the questions. What might your review look like in the tradition of this sample?
Bob Dylan and Dr. Who. Earlier today, during a student teaching celebration luncheon, the faculty were requested to impart some wisdom to a new group of soon-to-be-teachers. I took this time to emphasize that teachers need to help students make connections between what they are learning and their out-of-school interests / environments. One of the keys to active engagement is such a connection. I mentioned that a connection I thought about that morning originated from my recent interest in binge-watching recent episodes of Dr. Who. [After all, I am a doctor, but I realize I am not THE doctor.] I am beginning to notice a parallel in the Dr. Who episodes and the lyrics of Bob Dylan. My thoughts have not evolved to an actual essay yet, but I am fascinated by the use of imagery, time, characters and kaleidoscopic points of view. I am sure I will have more to write about this relationship in the very near future.
May the 4th Be With You. Here is a great way to combine my interest in both Star Wars and Bob Dylan: http://nobodysingsdylanlikedylan.com/video/cover-video-s/subterranean-homesick-blues-luke-ski
License Plate Prompts. I have been putting the finishing touches on a chapter that features the use of acrostic style organizers to enhance the engagement of students in preparing for assessments on recently covered content. I concluded the chapter with a series of license plate prompts that I use in my courses relative to a chapter from our text. I share this strategy with the reader of this blog in the format I have been using for a series of professional development in-service activities. Enjoy.
Summarizing an Article. During one of my courses, I requested that students read an article about student participation in sports when those students have a disability. Then I developed an acrostic organizer using the theme of the article as the center column. Next, I requested students to look through the article for salient terms / ideas / concepts presented by the authors and place them on the acrostic. My sample from this work resulted in some key areas from the article being highlighted. I used this method because if I really liked the article and made copies to put in the mailboxes of my peers, I doubt anyone would read it. But, if I put the one-page acrostic summary of the article, I might have an interested peer or two be influenced to read the entire article.
Notes to My Students. Over the course of my teaching, I feel that the notes and comments I make to one student can also be of benefit to others in the class, as well. On occasion, I share my notes on a specific assignment with all the students to let them know how much I appreciate being made aware of new resources and that I notice how they respond to course material both from the text and my presentations. One sample of these notes is presented to the readers of this blog.
Who Am I? During a course I taught one summer, I used an acrostic organizer as a way for students to identify something about themselves and others in the class would try to make an association between a statement and who that statement belongs to. During the first meeting, I asked students to write something about themselves that connected to one of the letters and/or numbers. If you were assigned the letter "C", for example, your statement must contain that letter. Then, I took the statements and developed a master set of all statements without anyone's name attached. People then had to guess which statement belonged to one of their peers. This was a fun, light hearted way to get to know each other.
Was That a Good Question to Ask? In one activity, I show a picture of the American flag on the screen for about 30 seconds and ask students what type of questions might be appropriate for a fifth grade group of students. I then turn off the slide and ask for their questions. Typically, the questions range from how many stars are there and what do they represent? To what do the stripes refer? What is the proper way to hang a flag? Then, I tell them that I will give them 30 seconds to draw the arrangement of the stars on a piece of paper. Although they know there are 50 stars, they typically do not identify this as one of the potential questions that may be on a quiz. Many students would not be able to answer this question correctly. I use this exercise as a way of letting them know that students are learning information for the first time and may not realize what the teacher thinks are the most important parts of what they are learning. A study guide or general areas of concentration is warranted that focuses the student's attention to the important dimensions of the content.
Bulletin Board for a Course Session. At the beginning of each class session in one of the courses I teach, I offer a visual display of what will be incuded as highlights of that session. A sample bulletin board prior to Session 6 of the Introductory Course in Special Education is provided for your review.
Books in Recovery. Periodically, I record the sequence of books I read to reflect on the variety of authors and circumstances surrounding my reading. On one such occasion, I was recovering from surgery and noted a particular sequence of books that I had read during the early months of 2007. Looking back, I know they helped me a great deal to pass the time in my recovery, but the true richness of what they offered could not be distilled in a factual recall of what was contained in each one. I vaguely remember the plot to some of the books, while others I was reading for a second time [i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird]. I also noticed several Alice Hoffman books that could be read quickly unlike Elizabeth Gaskell's North/South. I wonder, at times, if the current method of reading comprehension takes away from the pleasure of reading for entertainment, comfort and to take one's mind off currently unpleasant circumstances. The Harry Potter collection comes to mind. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to each book on tape as I read along with the extremely skilled narrator. However, if you tested me on the minutia of information contained in one of the books, I would fail miserably. What I derived from this reading experience cannot be captured in a traditional assessment of content.
Chapter Summaries. Over the past few years, it has been a practice in one of my courses for students to review content from their text in novel ways. I aim for a different method of summarizing one’s notes for each of the sessions. A page of the syllabus that describes this process is included for your review.
It's All About You. During the final session of an introductory course in special educatiion, I display a visual as the opening slide. The acronym SPED becomes Students who Produce Exciting Discoveries. I do think that when we look at the differences in others and develop strategies to facilitiate their learning, we are, in fact, coming to a better understandng of the unique way we each learn new information. We can be the ultimate beneficiaries of our search for ways to assist others!
Infusion of the Arts. As I review various styles of curriculum and the platforms that form the foundation of such curriculums, I am fascinated by the way in which the arts can be infused in most academic content areas. I believe that the arts foster engagement and allow students to find their voice in how they document their competence with a subject. I am reminded of a video clip that I use in class about the concept of "pi" in mathematics. In this clip, a student demonstrates what pi sounds like by linking each digit to a note on the scale or a chord and then plays a tune to the digits of pi to x number of decimal points. When I shared this with students, one person said, "I wonder what pi looks like in art!" She then painted a quilt of small squares with each square being a corresponding color as she completed her pattern throughout her quilted painting. Another student could inquire, "I wonder what pi feels like!" I believe that each student has a greater appreciation of this irrational number when able to connect this concept to an artform with which they are familiar.
Building Up Versus Taking Away. As I was commenting on a student's documentation of engagement reflections this morning, I emphasized the motivating effects of seeing one's points increase based on demonstrated competence versus seeing points being taken away from a mythical 100% and noting a declne in earned points. I say mythical 100% because no one knows 100% of a content area. And, the assessments that are used often don't represent what a student has leanred; rather, it measures what the student doesn't know or fails to memorize. This is not what the learning process should be. The teacher's role is to present strategies to struggling learners that facilitate that student's understanding of a concept / area of focus. The student should see the progress toward accomplishing a prescribed obejective even though it may take longer to get there. I wish that there were not established standards to which each student must attain but an individualized sense of what goals best fit into a personalized learning plan for each student and one student's sense of success does not have to be another person's final outcome. Remember, when running the marathon, some runners consider it a failure not to be in the Top 10 while other runners consider it a victory just to finish the race!
Your 10 Step Program. Most people I know want to lead a healthy lifestyle and this may be individually defined for each person. My own prescription for such an endeavor is to observe and/or ask others what they do to achieve satisfactory outcomes that include being/feeling healthier. I suggest each person take out a blank sheet of paper and write their name followed by 10 Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle. Within the arena of what being healthy means, start identifying 10 areas of improvement or commitments and make them the ingredients of your 10 Step Plan. These steps could range from signing up for yoga classes to not stopping at the local Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to work. At the conclusion of this activity, you have your 10 steps that will not look like anyone else’s set of steps. No one makes any money by selling you anything and you are free to change any of the steps at any time. However, you must realize that each step increases your chances to lead a healthier lifestyle by 10% [not really – but it’s a non scientific way to hold yourself accountable to following the steps.] Good luck!
Change From Within. The topic of a recent class session was on the transition process for individuals with a disability as they prepare for the experiences of young adulthood. If an expert from outside a school delivers a curriculum for this process without input from the teachers / parents / support personnel, there is less likely to be a commitment and buy in for the supports and services to foster such a transition process. However, a consultant could meet with school personnel and facilitate a discussion about the transitions they have experienced, what advice they would give to others who are experiencing a similar transition, and how that advice can be translated into generic statements. Then, a few weeks later, the consultant could produce a set of supports and services that evolved organically from his interactions with school personnel and be presented as a joint document that originated within the school and fine tuned by the consultant. This is the approach I would take as an outside collaborator on a topic such as the development of transition supports for students at that school to better prepare them for the transition from school to community environments including work, home living, recreation, social networks, etc.
Special Education Paradox Blues. I enjoy my interactions with students when they bring some of their talent from an area of interest and expertise into our discussions about topics of relevance in special education. On one such occasion, Rocco Mancini, when he was a teacher candidate, created an excellently constructed parody on a Bob Dylan tune - Subterranean Homesick Blues. His apt title was Special Education Paradox Blues. Rocco is now a English Language Arts Teacher in Hartford. Thank you, Rocco, for allowing me to share your creative work.
Ramblings 01. Teaching is more about what is happening to you as a person than what the student learns as a result of your instruction. Someone else could be in your shoes and be just as efficient a teacher for that student. Instead, teaching is a craft that allows us to learn about ourselves as creative problem solvers, collaborators with colleagues and how we grow in our depth and breadth of skills to handle challenges of greater proportion.
I view teaching as a great opportunity to improve upon the various drafts of my strategies to bring out the strengths within the students with whom I have contact. Every time I struggle to figure out how to help a student overcome a particular challenge, I am also repositioning myself to work from a better perspective for the next student whose challenge may be equally perplexing. We are continually fine-tuning our detective skills at discovering what combination of supports and services will match best to the challenges each student brings to our attention.
I hope that your participation in this course helps you evolve into a person whose life is enriched and enhanced through the vocation of teaching.
Listening to Families: Over the years, I have forged alliances with parents who have a son/daughter receiving special education supports and services. I have learned some lessons from my interactions that I pass on to teacher candidates and other students seeking professional licensure such as school counseling, marriage and family therapy, etc. Here is a summary of this advice: Slide 01 / Slide 02 / Slide 03
Celebrate - Don't Replicate: One of the principal statements of natural supports is to celebrate the accomplishments of others but not to try to replicate the way the event unfolded. One example was found in a newspaper account [several years ago] of an experience at a Dunkin' Donuts in Meriden, Connecticut. The article was about a group of individuals who met together to communicate using American Sign Language [ASL]. This originated when one person noticed two other customers using sign language and asked to join their conversation. This continued to build until a small group of deaf individuals began to meet weekly. They taught the workers at the restaurant the different signs for sugar, coffee, more, etc. Also, they would buy their refreshments to celebrate birthdays and other celebrations at the Dunnkin' Donuts. Students from the local American School for the Deaf would even send interpreters-in-training to the restaurant to practice their observation skills. This article traced the development of how a group of people who use sign language met to discuss the events of the day at a Dunkin' Donuts. It would not be effective to go to our local Dunkin' Donuts and create a similar experience to replicate the Meriden story. Instead, we need to recognize the occasions in our own life from which we can build based on the circumstances presented to us. The organic nature of the experience needs to be studied and celebrated - - - but not replicated from an artificial foundation.
Mindfulness in Practice. i am becoming more aware of what mindfulness means in my daily work. A few days ago I inadvertently erased two months worth of blog entries without a sufficient back-up. As soon as it happened, I was curious to discover how I would react to this "lost" work. Calmly, I decided that I could rewrite each entry, locate the visual used for each date, and have a better product than the one that I had originally written. Several years ago I would be quite upset and be down in the dumps for days. I need to remember this feeling when a student experiences a similar fate - - - as happened in the past. I want to react with compassion and empathy and work out a suitable solution for the recovery of points from the student's lost work. Because of other commitments for the next 4-5 weeks, my venturing back to February and March to rewrite earlier blogs will take me well into the summer. To all my relatives and small group of friends who may venture to this site, I implore your patience in waiting for the "lost files."
Disabilities from Two Perspectives. During a course on exploring different syndromes often associated with developmental disabilities, I had students pick a disability and form an acrostic organizer for two specific purposes. First, they were to research specific manifestations of that syndrome that would cause a person some challenges. Secondly, they were to use the acrostic organizer to research various supports to help the person acquire skills and outcomes. I found the two contrasting visuals quite interesting to look at side by side: a focus on the disability and a focus on the supports for the person with that same disability.
Asking the Right Question. This past Tuesday was a spectacular spring day with the temperature up in the mid eighties for the first time of the year. I anticipated that a student might ask, “Can we meet outside today?” So, I decided to make this into a lesson about a truth in securing special education supports and services: sometimes, you only get what you ask for, not necessarily, what you need. There are conflicting points of view, at times about what the word “appropriate” means in one of the key tenets of the special education law, FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]. At times a school administrator may offer a specific support only to discover that a parent requests additional supports with a justification that the administrator had not previously considered; i.e., an evolving curriculum option that could be available via a local university at no-cost or little additional cost. Back to my classroom situation, I did hear the anticipated question and I responded with a “Yes, we can! I prepared a 45-minute, in-class explanation of five areas of content for today’s session and I have expanded the typical 20 minute, in-class discussion period to an hour, which can be conducted outside in the spectacular, spring sunshine.” I had fully intended to conduct the class inside if I had not been asked the critical question. I am reminded of a sweltering summer day at the beginning of a course when I asked the person in charge of scheduling rooms, “Is there an air-conditioned room I could switch my class to?” She replied, “Yes, I can make that switch.” The room was wonderful! I told the students that I could have stayed where I had been scheduled and we would all be miserable. And, I wondered why the teachers who were still in the miseries of the sweltering building had not thought to ask for a change in venue. Again, if you don’t ask, you live with what has been offered. The worst that could happen would be a “no” to any such request.
I’ve Been Dreamin’. On the first day of class while engaging in a “getting to know you” session, I sometimes request students to identify one of their dreams on a post-it note. Then, I have them put the post-it note on the top of a piece of paper and go around to their peers and take notes on what people have to comment about regarding their dream. Comments could take the form of “Oh, I did that and this is what I found useful!” or “Please clarify more about what you mean.” Or “I have a friend who might be able to help you.” Seldom, if any, do I hear someone say “That's unrealistic!” I then comment to students about the dreams that parents have for their sons/daughters both with and without disabilities. We need to honor their dreams just as we want people in our lives to honor our own dreams.
ORGANIC Curriculum. When teaching a course on instructional strategies and program development for special educators, I empahsized the development of an "organic" curriculum: one that evolves out of the student's natural enviornments, both at school and in their community. One visual developed by students in a section of the course incuded entries from an Acrostic Organizer: ORGANIC.