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 the first part of April.
What's Really Worth Learning? I have always felt that how someone learns an academic subject like physics is ultimately more important that what specific laws or concepts have been learned, at least for the non-science majors among us. This idea was reinforced five years ago while watching a video clip about a physics teacher, Mr. Wright. His students commented that they learned about life, working together, asking good questions, etc. while using physics as the vehicle for this learning, not so much memorizing or wanting to pursue physics as a post-school goal. I think Mr. Wright is on to something. He has a passion for physics and the students are taking his course to be introduced to some important information in this content. However, how much of what is learned will they remember in five years, ... ten years, ... twenty years? Mr. Wright shared aspects of his family with his students and that included a son with significantly severe disabilities. He learned about them and their families, as well. He created a caring community of learners who were discovering how to be a better person as they are learning something about physics. In my best of all worlds in education, this would be a model for all to follow. Perhaps Habits of Mind become the central focus and students develop these habits via their academic coursework.
Thank You For Thinking of Us First. One time, at the airport, after I dropped off the car, I asked the driver of the shuttle bus to take me to Continental Airlines. I then went up to the ticket agent, gave her my ticket only to hear her say, "You're flying Northwest - but thank you for thinking of us first." She handled an embarrassing situation on my part quite gracefully. I wonder what the equivalent situation might be when I can react in a similar manner. There have been times when, on the very first day of the semester, a student finds that my classroom [course] is not the correct place where he should be. Or, a student could arrive at my office on a different day than what I have on my schedule. Can I respond in a way that allows the student to maintain his/her dignity?
Hole In the Wall Gang Camp. Nearby, about 20 miltes from my home, is the camp that Paul Newman built and appropriately named Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. I share a video clip in my courses that features Natalie Merchant singing her song, Wonder, with the campers as we get a glimpse of what the camp offers individuals with a diverse set of challenges including cancer. As a result, I have received feedback from students who have applied for jobs as counselors or remember a high school community service project where they cleaned up the cabins prior to the summer season and more. Personally, I don't mind paying a little extra for Newman's Own products when 100% of the profits go to his continuing charities. I raise the following quesiton to my students: why can't going to school look more like going to camp?
The IEP (Individualized Ernie Plan). As most of you know, students who receive special education supports and services have an IEP (Individualized Education Program). This IEP is developed jointly between representatives of the school and parents / students that results in an "appropriate" education under various interpretations of what exactly "appropriate" means on a student-by-student basis. I have been in discussions over the years with friends and colleagues that ALL students should have the equivalent in name to the IEP, although different in content and degree of supports inherent in an IEP for students who receive special education supports and services. Since my initials are already "EP", my individualized program would still be an IEP. I have not worked out the details, but my IEP would follow me from Kindergarten to post-graduation and stay within my possession. My family and I would determine some broad goals and corresponding objectives that would influence the type of guidance and supports I would receive at school. Perhaps some of you have ideas about what shape and form this IEP (input your own initials to replace mine) would take. I think the discussion would go a long way to personalize the educational experience for ALL students and result in a more meaningful set of outcomes.
Jeopardy and Dylan. I felt quite smart last night when one of the Jeopardy categories was "Bob Dylan". I was a little slow recognizing the question to one response but readily new two of the statements and none of the contestents rose to the occasion. I think I could do quite well if all the categories were related to Bob Dylan! Jeopardy reminds me of the high-stakes assessments many of the students must endure that supposedly measure their knowledge in specific areas that are deemed important by test makers and professionals in charge of such assessments. Personally, I believe that formative, ongoing assessment serves a much greater purpose: information about how good a match there is between teacher strategies and learner acquisition. Formative assessment measures the degree to which current strategies should be modified if projected learning is not occuring. Summative assessment merely provides a snapshop of life amid the stress of time, pressure to do well, awareness of what you don't know as opposed to measuring what you do know, etc. There are more prominent educational reformers than I who have eloquently expressed the "harm" in the decisions that are made based on high-stakes assessments. Let me just say that if I took the same summative assessment in a content area 6 months after completing my study in that content area, my score would drop significantly. So - - - what are we actually measuring?
Welcome to the Smorgasbord. In my syllabus, especially in the introductory course in special education, I alert students that they will receive a smorgasbord of resources from which to choose to focus. In a typical course I may have students with a focus in educational leadership, school counseling, marriage and family therapy, teachers at the elementary or secondary level and teacher candiidates at different levels of their own understanding of interacting with students with disabilities. The image of a smorgasbord appeals to me.
Dylan Concert #28.
My 28th Dylan Show did not disappoint. The highlight of the evening was a new rendition of Summer Days featuring Donnie Herron on the violin. A sedate crowd with a median age of 50 to be my best guess. Very tight security as mentioned on the Jimmy Fallon show a few nights ago from his trip to Port Chester. No intermission on this leg of the journey. Dylan plays a role as part Rudy Vallee and part Charlie Chaplin during his crooning to the oldies tunes. He appears to be having fun! I wonder if I will have his energy at 76! He also managed his way through a couple of malfunctions: wobbly mic stand and faulty stool. Earlier this week I thought of an apt comparison on the Dylan I have come to know: Dr. Who. Dr. Who has his T.A.R.D.I.S. and Dylan has his Cowboy Band to take us back and forth through time. Dr. Who regenerates himself so that his 13th version is currently airing on BBC America. Dylan has gone through the regeneration process a variable number of times depending on the observer. The scenes from his songs [Desolation Row & Highway 61] could take place in distant galaxies many light years away. Dr. Who is “The Doctor” – Dylan is … well, he is “Dylan.” [In honor of Father’s Day, I thought it would be a great touch if Jakob Dylan had made an appearance. Perhaps he was there somewhere in the audience. It was 20 years ago (my 2nd Dylan Show) at this site that Rick Danko came on stage for a wonderful version of This Wheel’s on Fire.]
You Will Succeed
If you need to succeed to read,
I'll discover another idea to uncover
a way to say today
what is tough and rough and gruff.
You will succeed. All I need
is to find the kind of rhyme
that makes sense - not too dense -
as you show that you know how to grow
into the best - like the rest
of us here. Is that clear?
Quotes From Two Books From Off My Shelf.
Soli, let me tell you. The most important thing about a person is always the thing you don’t know. Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna, p. 218
We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly – as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth – the same sudden way we lose people, who once seemed they would always be part of our lives. John Irving, Last Night in Twisted River, p. 552.
Graduation Poem. This is the time of year for high school and college graduations. On one such occasion for one of my daughter's graduations, I composed the following tribute:
The Student With the Most Challenges
There will always be a student with the most challenging set of needs for which the teachers and other professionals are baffled by how to respond.
When the student with the most challenging set of needs leaves our school, another student takes his/her place and now has the most challenging set of needs in our school.
When we brainstorm and seek to support a student with the most challenging set of needs and are unsuccessful, we ready ourselves for success to deal more effectively with a student with a slightly less challenging set of needs.
Exam_ination of Content. Fourteen years ago I wrote:
When teaching an introductory course in special education, publishing companies often produce a companion set of exam questions to accompany the text. Typically, the data bank of these questions is composed of multiple choice questions or true/false statements. Because many sections for these courses contain 25+ students, this method of assessment appears more manageable and attractive to the instructors.
Last summer, I reviewed the exams recommended to accompany the chapters of the text I was using at the time. The multiple choice exams were online at the website of the publishing company. Prior to reading a chapter, I decided to take the exam. I scored 65%. I took another test from a chapter that contained information that represented the majority of expertise I have in special education. I scored 75% on that exam. I wondered. Is it me?!? I am a successful professional and, in fact, the instructor of the course. How could I score so low?
Upon careful examination of the questions, the answer became obvious. The questions were related more to the specific way in which the authors described the content rather than in the content itself. For example, a question might be phrased: What factors caused Rachel’s parents to be passive observers in their daughter’s PPT? You had to read the chapter to know something about Rachel’s story. So, I thought that once I read the chapter and took the test again, I should do much better. I did, but only to 80 – 85%. That would give me a “B” for the course. I investigated further at some more of the questions: Individuals with learning disability represent what percent of the total number of students in special education? The choices were a) 40%, b) 45%, c) 50 % or d) 55%. This is not relevant information form my point of view. If a student does not know this answer, s/he is penalized by having points taken away from their eventual final grade. How ridiculous!
I will not use these types of questions again - - ever! What’s the alternative? I do require exams in my courses. But, I rephrase them as exam_inations of the content. I offer questions in such a way that the students’ responses help me determine if they have made meaningful connections in my class to their content discipline. For example, in one course the final exam_ination of content was for students to develop a cover page graphic that relates to their discipline. One student presented an enlarge image of the parts of a cell. Next, tell me how parts of that image connect to this course. In the example of the cell, the student labeled the nucleus as “inclusion” and pointed out how this concept was the central most valuable part of the course. She went on to describe the relationship between the other parts of the cell and aspects of the class that she valued. The students are not penalized for what they don’t know. Rather, they are reinforced by providing evidence of what they do know. It makes all the difference in the world to me.
Tomlinson's Quotes. Below is an update I included in my current course that I will also share with the occasional viewer of this blog:
What I like about summer courses is the freedom to look for resources and bits of inspiration in between my review of current student work. Today brought me to a link with 10 quotes about differentiation by Carol Tomlinson. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.
Neurodiversity. This morning in the Boston Globe, I read an interesting article that has relevance to a current course in which I am the instructor. Specifically, the article was about George Church, en eminent Harvard professor and scientist, who also has narcolepsy. One paragraph that I extracted reinforces my thinking on a theme in this course:
His condition has persuaded Church of the benefits of, even the need for, neurodiversity, meaning brains that work differently from most others. The world needs people with high-functioning autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder and, yes, narcolepsy, he has come to believe.
My 20th Dylan Concert. As I get ready to attend my 27th Dylan concert (give or take a concert), I reviewed some of my reflections from previous concerts and decided to share some thoughts from my 20th attendance at a Dylan concert. The next time I will be in the presence of this Nobel Laureate will be on June 18th in Wallingford, CT.
50 Ways to Learn From One Another. I like the rhythm and rhymes of the Paul Simon song "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." At times, I have used this as a summary activity challenging the students in my course to develop a rhyme with their own first name (or nickname) that goes along with a chorus I write for the theme of that course. Here is one summary of the results of this practice. In another class I chose more of a poem format using the same practice of trying to include student names from the course.
Little Known Facts About Presenting. During my time as a presenter at conferences, in-services and my university teaching, I have compilied a list of "little known" facts that are associated to this occupation. You can certainly add to this list based on your own experiences as a presenter or as a participant.
Labyrinth Sumary Organizer. I have been fascinated by the image of a labyrinth path. One summer I wrote key words for each class session on a large blank labyrinth organizer and as the course progressed, more and more words surfaced to form our collective path as a group. Then, at the conclusion of the course I used the beginning letters of each member of three in-class teams to form an acrostic poem and the message I wanted to leave each of them as a parting reflection. The three groups named themselves Wishfull Thinking, EH!, and 6:30.
Spelling Quiz - Variable Scoring. Toward the begining of one of my courses I present a spelling quiz to students. The object of the quiz is to determine how many English vocabulary words of different colors students can correclty spell in Spanish. I then present a list of correctly spelled Spanish words the the English equivalent names of colors. I request students to score their work in two ways: all-or-nothing vs. give credit where credit is due. In the "all-or-nothing" means of scoring all of the letters must be spelled correctly to earn 10 points for each of 10 words. However, for the "give credit where credit is due" means each word contains as many points as there are letters in the correct spelling of the word. In other words if a student spelled the Spanish word for green as v-e-r-d, no points would be awarded in the "all-or-nothing" approach but in the "give credit where credit is cue" approach the student could earn 4 out of a possible 5 points. I provide an example of how a student's score could range from 20% to 86.9% depending on which method of grading was used. It would be quite defeating to study for a quiz and only get 20% for one's efforts.
Insights Into the Learning Process. This list was written twenty years ago and I think each one has withstood the test of time.
- You always learn more ... you don't learn less from either a positive or negative experience.
- Each setback and success places you at a new starting point for your next challenge.
- Commonsense is uncommonly followed.
- Something positive can evolve from most setbacks - not always immediately, but with time.
- Setbacks are stepping stones to success.
- The positivity of your own thinking and mood increases the possibilities of positive outcomes.
- There is seldom one "right" way but many alternatives and options from which to select one that appears to fit the current set of circumstances.
- Biographies are power tools to learn how others have faced adversity and triumphed. We incorporate other people's best strategies into our own style of decision making.
- Looking at situations as a set of relationships to understand is more important than trying to immediately solve a problem.
- Keeping a journal is a powerful self-improvement activity to help clarify our thinking and advance our learning.
A Different Way to Sum Up My Experiences
During a summer course I taught during a particularly hot number of weeks, I captured my overall experiences in the following manner and sent a note to my students:
I did not enjoy the heat, but I did enjoy the warmth of the students.
I did not enjoy the time [starting at 7:30 AM], but I did enjoy the timing.
I did not enjoy the classroom but I did enjoy the room of class.
I did not enjoy the drive to work, but I did enjoy the drive to work.
I did not enjoy the pages of reading, but I did enjoy the reading of pages.
Your Course Was Too Easy! At the beginning of each summer, I look over the feedback from the previous semester in order to return the feedback to the students and also to gain insights into any changes I will make for the following semester. As I reviewed the opinion surveys and written comments from 15 students from one particular course, I was quite pleased with the general feedback with all but one student's ratings and comments. The one dissenter among his/her peers stated that my course lacked rigor and that the assignments were too easy. I wonder what the expectations of that student could have been. Perhaps s/he was looking for exams that required a regurgiation of facts meant to trick students into responding incorrectly. I'm not sure what is meant by not enough rigor. There was a vast range of choices offered students for how they could earn points in the class and someone could complete assignments in a very non challenging manner and respond to material about which they already knew quite a bit. However, they could also compose essays about controversial topics in the field, question the values that I was promoting, and/or add their talents to an on-going project to which I could negotiate a replacement of existing assignments given my approval and recognition of the worth of this alternative assignment in their ongoing growth as a graduate student. Oh well, I guess there are more important things to be concerned about, but I will share this anonymous student's remarks with future students and urge them to supply their own rigor - - - or at least, let me know how they are defining this term. I once heard a distinction about this term. Rigor is not so much about difficulty in assignments, but more to do with the complexity and depth with which a topic is investigated.
Anonymous Anonymous. Newspapers contain many gems for promoting creative thinking. I was thumbing through such a source of inspiration in Albuquerque, New Mexico one Sunday morning and happened upon a full page of support groups, each of which had the word "anonymous" in the title. A sample of such groups caught my attention. After finding some more, I decided to have some fun and anticipate groups to which I could have a kinship and therefore become a new member. I then thought to myself that there ought to be an Anonymous Anonymous. Anyone could attend and be supported by anyone else who is at the meeting and the speciic challenges in that person's life would not be required for attendance. I know that I could certainly join Messies Anonymous and perhaps be a lfie-long member. But, I could also benefit from the mutual support of colleagues and friends who all might bring a current challenge to the group and seek strategies to assist them in oercoming that challenge; thus, Anonymous Anonymous.
COLLEGE STUDENT. When discussing the topic of transitions in the lives of students with a disability, especially the transition from school to post school environments, I have current students develop a set of skills/advice for how to be a successful college student. This information could be of value for incoming Freshment duirng their orientation time as they heed the advice from students who consider themeselves to be currenlty successful college students. This process also connects to a general principle in special educatioin to look at future envrionments and the requirements in those environments as you help students transition to those settings.
Developing a Portfolio of Options: I like the flexibility of the choice / options format to assignments / homework / follow-up as part of the formative assessment process. I wonder how you could adopt this format for the content area in which you specialize.
A Conversation with my Students. I have, perhaps, a unique system of assigning points toward a grade in my courses. Essentially, I provide the structure (rubric) in which assignments are to be submitted by students. For example, I may require that a student respond to some writing prompts (i.e., a connection I have to the reading is _____________, An experience I have that relates to the contents of the chapter is _____________, etc.) I don’t grade the responses. I award points based on the completion of the assignment and respond to what a student wrote as a continuing conversation throughout the semester. Because of the diversity of backgrounds of students who are in my courses (teacher candidates, currently working teachers, school counselors in training, future marriage and family therapists, educational leadership students, etc.), I provide a wide range of resources for each session from which students can choose what connects best to their disciplines and content areas. I am continually on the lookout for topics in art education, music, STEM, special education, etc. that alert students to current issues in their fields. My approach appears to work well with on-line courses in which students have a diverse set of choices for how they earn points in as creative a manner as they want, given the parameters of each assignment.
Getting Started. As I reviewed some excerpts from my journals from 1988, I happened upon the quote:
”If you don't start putting one foot in front of the other, you'll never get started.” I believe I picked it up while attending a presentation at a conference on supported employment. This quote certainly has application for the many projects that I have left on the back burner, lately. One, literally, is putting one foot in front of the other by reacquainting myself with an exercise routine; especially walking on the treadmill once again. I have been off on a mini-vacation for 10 days and getting back into my typical routine has been hard to do. I hope to provide an update in a month about the positive state of my physical well being. Getting started is more difficult than finishing up with a project or assignment.
Thoreau Quote and Reflection. In my twenties, I was fascinated by the writings of Thoreau. I wonder now, forty years later, how differently I might reflect on some quotes that I had extracted from his work. For example, I reviewed the following quote:
Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation.
Surface meets surface ... In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more
constantly and desperately to the post office. You may depend on it,
that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters,
proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.
In the age of e-mails, twitter, iphones, snapchat, etc., are people having internal conversations and reflections? In a manner of speaking, these blog entries are conversations I am having with my internal voice and sharing that conversation with others. Thank you for listening.
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.
They Haven't Met You. No two people have the same path to their current teaching position. No one has exactly the same experiences as you do. No one has been to all the places you have gone. No one has read exactly the same books you have read. So - - - when you hear from a fellow teacher about how no one has been able to work with one specific student - - - remember, that student hasn't had you as a teacher, yet!
Gunnar Dybwad. One of the advantages of having "piles" of stuff in my workroom and file cabinets is what I will pull out on any given day placed in that pile months - - and even years - - ago. One such resource surfaced: A Tribute to Gunnar Dybwad on the occasion of a celebration of his life on November 4, 2001, at which I was present. I read through many of the statements from his colleagues, friends, admirers, family etc. and chose to capture some of this great person's life with samples from this booklet:
And he could develop strategies for dealing with reality -- deftly, sometimes quietly, sensible, creatively.
If a person didn't know the significance of Gunnar's contributions to the field, he wasn't about to tell them.
My older daughter (as related by Denise Humm-Delgado) chose to interview him for a paper she had to write on a role model. ... legacy of kindness, decency, and generosity of spirit ...
His definition of a diplomat was the ability to tell someone to go to hell and they would look forward to the trip.
.. freindship is in the detail.
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.