I can divide my career into two distinct segments: pre-parenting and post-parenting. Before I was a parent myself, I did not understand that the world of home and the world of school are separate universes. (Kudos to homeschooling parents who bridge the gap!) Staying up all night with a sick child, coming home from work exhausted but still “on?” Waking up before the crack of dawn? Understanding algebra homework? The worst was explaining that our puppy ate the take-home book. TWICE!
My post-parenting advice differed primarily in the area of behavior management. My “teacher” ideas of reasonableness evaporated as I attempted my own reward systems with two mostly compliant kids. Where did that effective emotional distance go? What happened to my ability to say no? Could you say “No more!” to this cutie? Fortunately, my dearest widower helped steer us safely through the parenting channels.
As a longtime teacher of kids with emotional and behavior disabilities, I did see my share of students with a clinical diagnosis of ODD. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is more than crankiness or ‘tude. It is characterized by at least 6 months of a frequent and persistent pattern of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness toward others.
I found that these kids usually struggled with ADHD as well. More than that, their parents were harsh and inconsistent, often neglectful and abusive. Many of the parents were at least as oppositional as their kids, and occasionally, both kids and parents were acting out at school. And with relatives. And in the neighborhood. And with the law. These families were frequently shattered and poor, with substance abuse issues and limited education.
Genetic or environmental? Both probably. It didn’t really matter. I was occasionally successful in forming alliances with parents to improve their responses to kids, but mostly that was a wash. Instead, I focused on my relationship with these kids. What did I do?
- Set clear and consistent boundaries and expectations. My classroom management system was overloaded with positives and a predictable, calm response to misbehavior. It cost me a small fortune to keep my classroom “store” stocked with goodies; I also spent a lot of time with kids out of school in mentoring relationships.
- Created powerfully engaging projects, an abundance of field trips, and a classroom of pets (those were the days before school boards outlawed critters in classes). I also encouraged kids to participate in woodworking and other projects from which they would normally be excluded. What? Give these kids a saw? Oh yes. And take them everywhere, publicly? Yes! I wanted them to empower them, to help them become fearless without hurting others.
- Taught social skills all the time and enlisted kids from other classrooms to serve as buddies.
Was I successful? A lot of the time. By the time they were aging out of my class, they usually looked terrific at school. Unfortunately, leaving my class was traumatic for those who had become especially close to me and my assistants. The kids were still living in those desperate environments. They had been slow to trust me and now had to start afresh with new teachers. Some of these kiddos still stay in touch with me and have started their own, more successful families. Some are in jail. I loved each one of those kids except the one I thought was on his way to becoming a serial killer. And that’s another story altogether.
I’ve been sick and am slowly on the mend. I ran out of scheduled posts and haven’t had the energy to start my computer, much less read all the terrific blogs out there. My dearest widower has been supportive as always, once he got on steroids and off crutches. We are quite a pair!
Raise your hand if you like people to tell you NO when you really want something. What if you ask very nicely? What if you plead your case? What if you whine and stomp your feet? What if you won’t be their friend any more? It doesn’t take much time around kids (and adults) before you learn that NO can bring out the worst in human nature. The trouble is, NO can be endlessly confusing for some kids.
The fuzziness of NO is especially tricky for autistic kids. NO can mean No, Not Now, Never, Maybe, I’ll Negotiate later, or OK If You Leave Me Alone. There are many factors which can change NO into something else:
- Environment: NO, you can’t run around and turn off all the lights at school, but if I’m in a good mood, you can do that at home. NO, you cannot buy that Lego set, but since everyone in the mall can hear you screaming, I’ll buy one just this time.
- Manipulation: NO, you can’t eat another piece of candy, but when you look me in the eyes and smile, YES, I have changed my mind.
- Guilt: NO, you may not stay up to watch that show, but look how precious you can be, no matter what they say at school/ in the family/ in the neighborhood.
- Energy: NO, you may not watch that cartoon, but I am going to fall over if I don’t take a quick nap.
- Social mores: NO, you cannot kiss every girl in kindergarten, even though it was cute in preschool.
Is all lost? NO! Social mores are the best place to start because they aren’t based on your energy level, anxiety, or kid manipulation. Start with two categories of NO: ALWAYS NO and SOMETIMES NO. Aggression, bullying, teasing, victimization, and destruction of property are ALWAYS NO. SOMETIMES, kids can ask for their preferred activities and objects and get them. The fine art of negotiation is not lost on autistic kids, but many have to be taught how to ask, when to ask, and how to accept a NO. Responding to NO appropriately can be rehearsed and included in rubrics for kids at home and school. For kids with serious language/processing issues, you need to be sure that NO isn’t a substitute for HELP (like “This class environment is killing me”) or HURT (“I am going to throw up if I do that!”).
I am a sucker for shiny teacher catalogs. Boy, do those companies know how to merchandise teacher goodies! There are a multitude of items I never imagined purchasing until I saw those impeccable, clutter-free classrooms. Better yet, have you seen the kids that come along with the products? They are perfect. Smiling, unmoving, fascinated with teacher ware- what’s not to love?
OK, I admit that sometimes merchandising can be a little slippery. For example, I bought this handy dandy Smithsonian Rock and Gem Dig. Perfect for a 4th grader studying rocks and minerals. And look what’s included! All the tools you’d ever want for digging a tiny brick of sand. This oversized box could hold SIX of those little bricks, believe me.
Look again. See the hammer and chisel? That’s how big they are. See the tumbled stones? In reality, they are a microcosm of that size. (Yes, the box does indicate that minerals are enlarged for viewing purposes.) What about those safety goggles? The ones that might fit a 5 year old? If you read the box cover carefully, you’ll see what I missed!
Actually, there was one more fascinating feature: all the miniature minerals were clumped in one spot, in the very center of that small brick of sand. Hmm, a student blogged that his arm hurt after excavating. Well, that’s merchandising for you!
Listening in a large group is a crucial skill for students. There’s a wide range of developmentally appropriate levels of listening. Current research suggests that we have been guilty of bombarding the brain with much more than it can successfully process. Why hasn’t that been more obvious? I think these limits on listening have been partially camouflaged by compliant behavior; many kids look like they are paying attention. The listening process can be supported by visual cues which extend the learner’s ability to track verbal information. Teachers who help students make effective connections can also stretch that window of opportunity. The timing of lengthy periods of verbal instruction is also a factor that influences how much the young brain can absorb.
Teacher behavior can short-circuit the listening process. Teachers who maintain a constant flow of dialog, with directions lost in the midst of random comments, can make it difficult for students who want to listen. Some directions are overly complicated and students may only catch the first or last steps. Sometimes, teacher talking becomes a white noise that kids only “hear” when the volume goes up or their name is called.
Even the most proficient teachers are daunted by some kiddos with listening weaknesses. Students with language processing issues, which can include a wide range of identified disabilities, may be trying to listen but find it too difficult. For kids on the autism spectrum, written/visual information is usually more easily grasped. Students with attention challenges are often distracted by “irrelevant” classroom sights and sounds; for this population, they may struggle to determine what is relevant. (Check out the attention simulation on Understood.org for a glimpse of how this feels.) Gifted kids may be inattentive due to boredom. Twice exceptional kids may be anxiously preparing themselves for the next classroom challenge.
The most interesting non-listener I’ve ever taught (a student on the autism spectrum) simply could not “hear” the teacher in a group setting, despite numerous interventions. He was bright and cooperative, but could not isolate the teacher’s voice, even in a quiet room. Finally, using an earbud wirelessly connected to a teacher microphone (typically used by hearing impaired students), the teacher’s voice was amplified and this student learned to listen in 2nd grade. It was a remarkable “aha!” experience for him. And me! Another autistic student needed a clipboard and graphic for recording specific components of a lesson, based upon his weaknesses in participating and listening to peers. After a month or so, he no longer needed that visual support for listening in a large group.
I’m sure all of us can identify with kids who seem to be listening but have no clue what was said!
I have been using a free trial membership of Kidblog for a couple of weeks. It took me a bit longer than I expected to set up this classroom blogging platform but it was worth it.
What kids get: Kidblog provides a safe internet platform for writing to an authentic audience. The kid benefits increase exponentially when teachers purchase a subscription (see below). Either way, students can log in and blog without an email address. Even in the free version, there are many adorable/cool avatars from which to select and it’s easy to upload most images from their computer. Without the paid subscription, all images don’t fit neatly into the allotted space. With teacher approval, students may allow guests (“connections”) to access and comment on their posts. Kids’ posts will not appear by any logical grouping unless the teacher pays for it.
What teachers get: I’m using a free trial right now, but for only $36, a teacher may purchase a year’s subscription for unlimited classes and students. A school or district-wide membership is also available. A feature worth paying for is the ability to divide students into groups; right now, every post appears in single long chain. That subscription will also allow you to embed videos, connect with other classes using Kidblog, provide access to more personalized student posts, and create a connection to Google Drive. The paid subscription also gives teacher access to lesson plans and resources. Paid subscription or not, teachers can require approval before anything is posted and before sharing with others is permitted. Teachers create join codes so families and friends can log into Kidblog more easily. It will take time to review and approve all those student posts and the many comments that accompany them. Teachers may not only comment on student posts but create their own posts, too, which allows students easy access to online assignments and rubrics.
Bottom line: If you buy the yearly subscription, Kidblog is well worth the money.
My rating: 3 stars without the paid subscription, probably 5 with it!
To follow up on my post of K. Renae P., here’s one of her classics. We all use Wikipedia, right? Here’s a balanced (and humorous) look at the pros and cons. Learn and enjoy!
K. Renae P. is another of my favorite bloggers. She does it all! Her blog is primarily focused on teaching and learning, where she demonstrates an insatiable desire to spread info about so many topics that my head spins. She has a stack of awesome free teacher resources. And 16 cool categories including “I Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” “Video Clips” and “Primary Documents.” She writes with refreshing clarity and humor and has some serious information packed into her site. Five things you didn’t know about polar bears? Fourteen grand engineering challenges? And Renae is connected. You’ll find her buzzing from conference to conference, sharing information and taking the time to chat and enjoy herself. She’s a blogging dynamo! Did I mention she finds time to watch TV??
Her Gravatar page gives you some insight on this remarkable woman’s achievements:
Elementary Science Specialist, Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science Teaching, Educator, Blogger, Member of the National Academies of Sciences Teacher Advisory Council, and Champion of Science Education for Young Children.
K. Renae P. is in a class of her own, but she invites us on her learning adventure. Join the fun!