Category Archives: special needs

Joint ventures and classroom projects

Cutesy or clear? rows or seats in teacher prescribed groups? lecture format, flipped classrooms…either or/- or a little bit of “everything” to not merely allow for each “type” (are we still discussing “types”) but to put personality back into a teaching “formula” and to allow each instructor, parent, educator, to share key concepts, and to remember that be it in a one room school house ( these still do exist ) or a couple thousand strong – formal learning environment, we ARE after a similar set of goals- how to share a concept so that learners of all ages want to make it their “own”.

Working with a variety of learners has “proven” one thing to me; thinking in action, changing direction, and being able to make time for student led questions, student led “experiments” does not mean “hands-off” in terms of teaching but the opposite- clear directions for open-ended results, open ended directions for further inquiry, and the expectation of change occurring when a student begins to believe that there is a purpose to an action.  Having said that, my next comment might surprise people- for indeed sometimes the purpose is to prepare for a quiz; sometimes we practice something to make it a “habit”.

If independence of action remains a goal suggested by the “some day” to be earned diploma, then testing continues to hold value as a means of demonstrating some form of learning- we are encouraged to “test drive” a car before selecting, shouldn’t students be allowed to test themselves at higher levels of challenges?  The problem I have seen from some test results is the subsequent labellings of a student, labels that often do not take into consideration the growth that is taking place within our young, daily.  While I favour ongoing assessments, formal and informal, I have seen students respond with excitement to the idea of an examination- formal term applied.  And to the cheering that is also part of an educator’s role, when we recognize even “basic” accomplishments; learners of all ages do want to know what a test is examining, how to tackle it, and in what areas could one improve.

Classes for many resume next week 🙂 – teachers are rarely blase about the prospect knowing that introductions can set a tone; I think of how many good stories I may have not completed reading if I hadn’t encouraged myself to move past the first two chapters, and get into the true focus of the story. Realistically, characters grow on readers as we join them in their adventures- It is ok to be a bit of a character to the students as long as we remember to stay curious ourselves; then learning is not merely an adventure, but a joint venture.

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For home, school, in the car…

Preparing for September?  Now I teach year round, (private lessons are open at the student’s request) but still get a soft spot for the month of September.  And I love the combination of poetry and song to get me in the mood for fuller classes.  Super favorites with children of all ages include all the books by Shel Silverstein, but I have a special space for the poems he wrote, or shared, which have a musical component.

Did you know that The Unicorn“* began as a song first recorded by the Irish Rovers in 1962?  The beauty of folk songs was that they became “singable” for everyone (Bob Dylan didn’t create the genre) 🙂

And what folk songs offer is the initiation into the importance of rhythm and cadence to help move both a song and a story along. We sing lullabies to our children regardless of what language we are speaking in the home; we coo, and murmur, and if someone has a set of words to go with these coos- then so much the better.  With these interactions we are starting the process of literacy.  So please, coo, murmur and hum to your children, plus if you can find them, put on the music and let the children ( join in too; they won’t mind if you are off key!) belt it out.

Here is a sample: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EPsuOEH1fY

–  “those green alligators and long necked beasts” will have the kids jumping up and down- and you can be sure and find others that offer the same tongue challenges while giving everyone a chance to PLAY!

To add to the process grab some chalk and see if the children can draw the images -( one of the better uses of sidewalks- but be aware, children often enjoy hearing something again, and again, and again….

https://mytutoringspace.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/faa6a-wherethe.jpg  Shel Silverstein: collection of poetry for children – Full lyrics to the Unicorn may be found in his book

 

SAMPLE: Lesson Plan and Why it works :)

What is “Higher Order Thinking” that is all the rage to chat about and to “enforce” (word chosen deliberately) but that many parents and students question is actually taking place?

As educators we read a lot about “asking open-ended questions” – HR personnel would be given the same advice. What then might it mean to truly encourage a student to move beyond the basics and to begin the process of not merely placing an opinion into an essay in the right spot (close to the end of paragraph 1- so the directions tell) but to actually have an opinion beyond -“it was good” or  “I didn’t like it”?

Thinking is work- even when the thoughts are pleasurable.  Our brains require a form of question response stimulus to actively be engaged, curious and participatory.  Long a proponent of enrichment for everyone I was recently asked about how enrichment and gifted education might differ, and how enrichment could become the norm in classrooms; special education as a program that, while remaining distinct for specific reasons (to be looked at in another posting), becomes recognized and understood as necessary for all educators’ learning.  Within the umbrella listings of Special Education is the basic recognition of differentiated teaching, individual communication, direct instruction and hands on experiential project assignments. The Special Education instructor is expected to be aware of how to “de-mystify” or make clear expectations, often one step at a time.  In addition, the Special Education teacher is encouraged to become aware of how to and when to pivot, changing direction within a lesson even without waiting for “teaching moments”.  This requires taking cues from the student or students and recognizing when a different approach, or even a mini break might be necessary to reengage students in the project at hand- in the ideal situation all students become gradually self aware, and more conscious of their own special interests, abilities, and dreams- yes – dreams- not just goals, for big picture expectations are also necessary within a school setting that moves from K-12 and up.

Children have opinions.  Given the chance, children from the youngest up will wax enthusiastically about a topic of their choice that doesn’t seem to be school oriented– the latest cool toy, game, food, professional sport player, doll, how to play an activity that they feel is “fun”.**  Now have them write that down.  No grammar, punctuation or spell check- just free flowing commentary.  Collect all the papers or use recipe -index size cards.  Either way, collect them and shuffle them up before extracting a couple.  Randomly read the piece out loud and gently correct the grammar or punctuation as necessary so that the student is the only one to hear the corrections while recognizing his/her idea being shared*- for it is about the ideas, not embarrassing a student- from the youngest up children recognize their “lack of” when it comes to school structure/expectations, and the purpose of the exercise is to engage students in discussing the ideas- grammar, punctuation, and style of expression are for the final drafts – this process is to allow even the youngest to begin to recognize and to defend the opinions shared.  Create a T bar on the board or overhead and add to the idea while questioning if some agree/disagree; informal debating with opinions moving back and forth.

The next day have prepared 1/2 dozen samples of opinionated writing specific to the age group and level of the students.  Please select some writing where opinions are clearly expressed and other writing where a reader has to search for the opinion (learning to infer at the same time).  Also share some examples of less than stellar strong writing and have the students in small groups add to the “unfinished” samples.  Often the examples shared by test administrators, the ones we as educators may have originally dismissed, become good to use for group work on improving the writing itself  (in a test preparation sample packet are the exemplars, lower level exemplars minus any commentary may be used to spark student engagement when the students decide what was missing in the writing).  Bottom line- students are practicing peer correction but not on their peers- no student made uncomfortable by a classmate’s noting of his/her mistakes. Again – it is the IDEAS that become central to the exercise as a whole, and the opportunity for the students to recognize for themselves why they felt something they were reading was incomplete. 

Can everything be proven? NO! and sometimes students need to recognize that it is part of the learning to be able to recognize that more understanding may be necessary. Higher order thinking is actually a “fancy” formal name for questioning- to learn to question “why” = to learn to wonder how something was composed and / or what something is made of. Granted we aren’t all curious about the same things, but if we as educators are to be developing higher order thinking skills, then we must become curious and learn what our students think and wonder and worry about.

*please do this correction as part of the silent reading before sharing aloud- one of the reasons teacher shares- not passing papers or index cards to classmate  

** for older students world issues and recent local events…

All About “Titles”

TITLES: we use them all the time, automatically addressing each other by first name or simply adding the title as a courtesy gesture. With Literature analysis I find so many students ignore the title of the piece of writing they have been asked to read and search, sometimes with a hint of desperation, for “clues” to the understanding of a “theme”. An Author’s choice of a Title is not only to grab readers through “curb appeal” (fancy cover, shocking picture- great title…etc.), it will also give insight into some major purpose behind the writing itself.

Take for example the Charles Dicken’s classic, “A Tale of two CIties”; the underlying comparison between the passionate French at the beginning of the French Revolution and the implied cooler British, the Lawyers and the Bankers, with the two principal characters lawyers, and a secondary character, the Banker, a Mr. Lorry, to change a system from within, without heads rolling – literally on the guillotine-

But heads do roll, as the drama unfolds. The Title takes on more meaning when the parallel legal courts try the same man- first in England then in France- for a form of treason, and the concept of identity and how it is imposed comes to the fore. With the very famous closing lines, Dickens as narrator gives to the concept of “Cities” further meaning- the city before the Revolution and the city that “hero” Carton envisions will rise up once the change is complete. Equally important is the change of name – three times for a main character, and with each name change though same person, a different obligation imposed. Titles – how someone or something is “called” – but I will save the multiple meanings in the use of the word “Calling” for another time.

“He Didn’t Knock”

The lines in the title for this post come from a 1995 movie Dangerous Minds. “He didn’t knock” repeats the character of LouAnne Johnson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNLZjVmcHh8 – wondering at the amazing disconnect between the principal at the school, and the students the teacher had come to know and care for. As mentioned, the movie came out in 1995- I wish I could write that things have changed, that such a scene in varying degrees couldn’t possibly continue to be played out in real schools today.

I know of a school where many of the teachers actually do “teach from the heart” and so can see their students as individuals – looking beyond type to real character. Such teachers are not unique, however they are at times hobbled by a system that would neglect the child in favour of a “rule” – I have said it before and I will say it again- people make mistakes- and children are people. And each child’s transgression ought to be viewed independently and in light of the whole environment in which an action took place. When I hear or see an administrator who is so bound up in punishment and whose attitude has demoralized staff I know that politics has taken over and the kids individually and collectively will suffer. When students attending a school function spontaneously chant the name of a former principal they are sending a strong message – when that same principal- who cannot punish everyone – decides to make a scapegoat out of one child in reaction, a child who wasn’t even involved in the chanting but who happened to be aware of the event- that principal oversteps the bounds of the job.

Teachers are continuously encouraged to be “life long learners”; to continue to learn and grow, and to take seriously their responsibility to the students in their charge. Do we really not expect as least this much from the administrator? To be able to demonstrate flexibility in relation to situations may stave anarchy; to be rigid and cruel is to practice behaviour associated with the term demagogue. Sadly, the “He didn’t knock” syndrome isn’t restricted to characters in film. LouAnne Johnson, whose text School is Not a Four Letter Word notes “too many rules can impede a child’s progress”; the wrong restrictions do damage. Principals needn’t demonstrate the overwhelming ignorance of “He didn’t knock” – such characters are modeling only one thing- power.

I have been on a soapbox today having recently met a “He didn’t knock” style principal. Have readers any advice how to awaken such a closed mind- the truly most dangerous kind?

What might really help?

I remember when the concept of distance education was being discussed in graduate school only from the potential to aid students in rural areas or students who might not otherwise have had access to teachers.  Many an hour was spent debating the merits of this “future form of teaching and learning” and this was only a little over a decade ago.  Today we take for granted the relative simplicity and beauty of communicating over distances thanks to personal technology. But with this growth in on-line learning has developed a new breed of student- the student who will buy a credit without doing the work. Of course, not all students who sign up for distance education plan on cheating, in fact, I think many do not even realize that this is what they are doing in asking a tutor to “just sit beside me and answer the questions when I take the test”.  Or am I still being willfully naive?

     A recent rash of requests to do just that – to either write the paper for a student, or to take the test for a student has made me wonder.  Though not yet an epidemic, is this the future of education?  And I know that there are “tutors” willing to do the full work for the student which says something else about the education system- too many underemployed.   

  Yes competition can be fierce. Today’s student is growing up tech savvy and a student’s discovering ways around a system is not something new.  What to me is new is that adults are often behind the student and encouraging the practice.  When we as tutors share knowledge in such a way that students, regardless of age or background, can feel empowered and able to use the skills and move beyond the basics to create their own set of “personal, practical knowledge”  then as tutors we will have achieved a basic goal of education: to encourage curiosity in others, to facilitate growth.  “Character education”, “problem solving skills” “lessons in empathy”, are the new buzz words and hardly a curriculum can be found that isn’t touting these phrases.  What might really help? Reading skills everyone, comprehension practice, readings from the literature of other countries/ other cultures/ other time periods.  Learning by doing happens when the words on the page have an effect on the reader and affect change.  Change is good – it is a part of growing.  I challenge you to find a classic, modern or traditional, or one of today’s “best sellers”, that doesn’t, in one way or another, through the story, further the development of all three.  Active reading is a wonderful key.

Two weeks into this school year…

But who is counting? Well, I am…

That first week for many is so confusing and I always enjoy recognizing when a return to routine and a little  bit of order appears to have entered; students grow visibly calmer- and their parents- sometimes the relief is tangible.

Both a mom and an educator I am privy to the early morning hustle, the rush out the door with that wonderful mix of hope and determination that students can exude.   And thankfully, I am occasionally at home at just the right time to listen to what did transpire during their day.  Only occasionally though, for as a tutor, my time in the early evenings may be spoken for and occupied with students.  I have learned the real meaning of quality time, and how to stay put as one or the other child opens up and shares knowledge of who he or she is becoming.

Third Year University and Grade Twelve- amazing- and they look at me and ask me if I feel old…Older I say, and realize yet again, that the best part about being an educator is being curious to learn more about almost everything, and to have students who are willing to share ideas that may be very different from mine and therefore definitely worth discussing.

Today was my birthday- how exciting to look forward to the rest of the year.