I had the pleasure of meeting Christopher‘s 4th grade teachers during the first parent-teacher conference this year. The students in his class work with one teacher for language arts and another for math. Both his teachers are currently reading books on autism with a desire to better understand his special needs. They obviously LOVE this kiddo! No wonder he still has energy for tutoring after school.
The conference was memorable because of their openness to strategies which have proved effective with Christopher. As an “outsider,” I am sensitive to classroom teachers’ uncertainties and (too frequent) reluctance to accept advice. Often, I find myself in the midst of a balancing act between the special needs student and the classroom teacher’s rigid adherence to “the way we do school.” I am loathe to share my qualifications, as I’ve found that makes some folks wary or defensive. I’m aware that a classroom teacher has her hands full with 22+ students. The class cannot revolve solely around Christopher’s needs, but unless he is provided some key modifications, his needs will start to usurp effective instruction. What a huge relief when regular education teachers are genuinely willing to listen and accommodate special needs kids. It’s a balancing act for them, as well, and I am grateful for Christopher’s special classroom teachers!
This month’s Teaching Children Mathematics features an excellent article entitled “Learning From the Unknown Student.” What’s that about? The idea is to expose students to effective strategies and prompt analysis of others’ mathematical reasoning by using “anonymous scholar” work. The unknown student provides an avenue for sharing an alternate problem- solving approach without leading students to believe it’s the Teacher Way of doing math. I typically employ a variation of this strategy in writing and social skills, but it is equally effective in math.
Let’s say I want a student to recognize a common error in her writing, perhaps an abundance of incomplete sentences. But this kiddo does not see those mistakes and is already hyper-sensitive about correction. That’s when I introduce “a student from last year” whose writing is replete with the same errors. Now my student becomes a helpful editor and delights in using effective strategies to catch those errors, such as reading the sample out loud and using a rubric or checklist. I have found that students are much more relaxed about revisions and editing when they have sliced-and-diced someone else’s work. Where do I find these student samples? Some are actually students from last year. Others are copied from Google images or a search such as “writing samples, grade 2.”
For those students who struggle to add a specific feature to their writing, such as an effective opening sentence, I will use commercially-prepared mentor texts (Empowering Writers is a good choice) and graphic organizers with built-in prompts (usually created by me). There’s no point in replicating my students’ dismal classroom experiences, where other kids seem to write effortlessly. Those scholars are not anonymous.
In social skills instruction, I tell anecdotes or write social stories about anonymous scholars who struggle to make friends or follow directions. I have also referred to “a student at another school, but I can’t tell you his name.” It’s amazing how my students immediately verbalize highly effective strategies for dealing with these issues. For the younger set, we watch puppets literally wrestle with familiar social and academic glitches. Sometimes I wonder what kind of teacher I am, since Rocky the raccoon and Sandy the pup never learn to take turns, listen to others, or manage their frustration!
In the examples I’ve shared, there is a downside to using anonymous scholars. A student with very low self-esteem may attempt to build his confidence on the back of that pitiful kid who can’t add 1 + 1. However, I think that is more easily managed than erasing 50% of the answers on a math page, then telling the kids they are improving. Who would believe that?
A stair stepper donated to me by a family who also used this as a calming tool. You can find these at thrift shops or on Craigslist for reasonable prices.
This post is another in a series about my work with Christopher, A Seriously Sweet Dude on the autism spectrum. At eleven years old, he is a poster child for “practice makes permanent.” It is only in the last year that he has had limits placed on his video obsession, been encouraged to eat vegetables, and experienced effective intervention in social and academic skills.
Although his rate of tantruming has been markedly reduced, Christopher still “entertains” the neighborhood with manic episodes of frustration and agitation. What to do with all that wild energy? A stair stepper is a useful tool for replacing random running and pacing. It must be part of a system for calming, with rehearsal in its use before Christopher reaches the point of no return. That calming system, best presented through social stories, is more effective for him with some payoff for making a better choice. He also responds well to a cost-reward system where he might lose some perks for tantruming. Eventually, self-control will replace the wild-child habits.
Researchers (and many parents) are concerned that extrinsic rewards undermine motivation and effort. In my experience, students like Christopher have not yet experienced the intrinsic joys of self-control and peaceful negotiations with adults and sibs. He has not normalized his behavior independently; peer role models and parent/teacher directions been ineffective. Christopher is a rule follower and eager to please, but operates according to an idiosyncratic set of goals and a rigid definition of fairness which are not shared by his family or classroom teachers. As Christopher is rewarded for doing what we hope will become internalized behavior, social stories and graphs will assist him in charting his emotional growth. We are capturing his attention, so to speak, by providing incentives to overcome habitually inappropriate behaviors. The potential payoff is great.
You could call these “rules to live by.” In this spirit, we can all be Olympians.
Being a hero isn’t about killing yourself. It’s not about crazy persistence and unhealthy stubbornness. These qualities may lead to outstanding achievement. But often consume and destroy one’s life. Long-term success is about being kind to yourself. And others. Olympic values guide us on the way to becoming a hero in our everyday life. (1) […]
via How to Become an Olympic Hero: 7 Golden Rules – By Elena Verigo — Kindness Blog
“It’s that most wonderful time of the year….” La la la! As the last day of school approaches in my neck of the woods, teachers are running and stumbling to the finish line. For most of them on a “traditional” school calendar, the last quarter has been all about testing, and in the past couple of weeks, stripping the classroom bare. Kids’ projects and paperwork are filed in grocery bags outside classroom doors. Some teachers are ready to lock and walk. Others, like me before retirement, aren’t even close.
If parents have been smart (and have the resources), they’ve already lined up camps, tutoring, home schedules, babysitters, and vacations. Many special needs kids need their summers carefully orchestrated, from being free of all school work to engaging in a steady schedule of predictable and interesting activities. All kids should read and practice math facts during the summer. Lots of schools provide year-round access to familiar learning sites, with links from their media center’s website. Many excellent online resources are free, such as multiplication.com and ABCya. Your local library may be a refreshing alternative to muggy summer days. Audiobooks are a perfect resource for longer car rides or relaxing before bed.
Want to help? Check out your community for opportunities to provide food for low income families. Without school meals, kids may go hungry. Some communities also offer opportunities to volunteer as a reader to students who might otherwise lack access to books during the summer. Since stores usually start stocking school supplies early, buy extras this summer to donate to families who can’t afford that growing list of required supplies.
Enjoy your summer!
The flipped classroom and flipped learning have been around for a while now, but those terms continue to generate some confusion. The flipped classroom has been somewhat controversial in that students watch videos or read online info at home and then participate in classroom activities which require that knowledge.
The rationale for this model of the flipped classroom is that school time can then be spent in creative applications of knowledge instead of its acquisition. Sadly, the brain doesn’t work that way. Front loading a stack of information is a sure way to overload the brain. And for struggling students, attempting to assimilate new information after a LONG day at school is mostly futile. Many of our at-risk students don’t have access to a computer or tablet. One variation on flipped classrooms is for students to produce these videos for classmates to watch, a kind of “jigsaw” cooperative learning process. Again, if the watching and learning process must occur after a long day, it’s usually counterproductive.
On the other hand, the flipped learning model is, to me, another way of describing authentic project-based learning. Teachers establish content and appropriate materials but create a flexible physical environment for group and individual endeavors. Students are provided rich opportunities for exploration and self-evaluation. In this role, teachers are facilitators, not lecturers. They must allow students to explore content by working with others (which can be noisy), provide continual feedback to guide the progress, and establish suitable evaluation procedures. This kind of teaching requires skilled and experienced educators who know where their kids must be going and can support unique ways for them to get there. I’ve seen this flipped learning modeled in classes of National Board certified teachers. Flipped learning is no small task for teachers or students.
This dog trainer is an inspiration. I snapped him doing clean-up as his “students” patiently waited for directions. Researchers at Duke University are quantifying the amazing social skills of dogs. Many of us already knew canines are quick studies of human behavior. My Sheltie always focused on my facial expressions. If I pretended to be upset with him, Luke would be instantly miserable. It may sound politically incorrect, but teaching pups and teaching kids share some similarities. No, I did not say that kids are dogs or should be treated as dogs, although some dogs ARE treated better than some kids. I know that from personal experience.
But take a look at this guy’s class. You’ve got your leaders and followers, your distracted ones and your “what are you looking at?” students. You’ve got a diverse group that wants to do their best. They are patient with teacher foibles and even internalize them. And with structure and consistency, you help them achieve their goals. The tone of our voice, the expressions on our faces, and our “unconscious” behaviors affect our students in ways we cannot imagine. They go home and tell their parents The Truth According To My Teacher. Imagine what happens when we dump our prejudices about race and income on this vulnerable group. Think about their hearts, their eagerness, and their naivete. Let’s resolve not to crush these precious spirits. Let’s cherish each one.
One more thought: Not one of them dashed to the fire hydrant. So much for preconceived notions!
The Chapel Hill High School swim team has a strong record of success. Their student athletes are talented and I’m sure their families savor their winning performances. However, several hours before their meet this evening, a different team of Tigers were swimming in the same lanes. The Tigers who swam this morning earn a different kind of honor. These morning Tigers are special needs teens who walk, splash, and cavort their way down lap lanes and across a rec pool. They are accompanied by an equally delighted and passionate staff who cheer their best efforts.
I’ve been swimming next to these kiddos for weeks, enjoying their accomplishments. I actually saw some of them take their first uncertain steps towards the huge pools years ago. Many are still uncertain while others paddle with glee. One kid can walk down the lane faster than I swim!
Just as the “official” Tigers’ swim team is grateful for excellent coaching, these other Tigers have equally proficient support. Their chaperones aren’t sitting idly by while the teens swim; they are calling out encouragement and challenges.
I also see what goes on behind the scenes, how gently and respectfully these Tigers are treated in the locker room. Talk about patience! Today I wanted to hug the staff member who managed to get her anxious kiddo headed toward the pool. That youngster was concerned about crocodiles and other sea monsters, but her personal coach was awesome in reassuring her that the water was safe.
So to both teams of Tigers (and coaches), congrats on your success! How sweet it would be to see you all together in the pool some time! @chccs
In a previous post, I addressed four common scenarios I’ve observed in families raising autistic kids. From an educator standpoint, what are the most helpful ways to respond to the three scenarios which are more problematic? First and foremost, if we are not willing to admit our own predilections, there is no way we’ll have an impact on anyone. Assuming we are not playing God, here are some suggestions.
- Home visits go a long way towards building trust and better understanding of family dynamics. You may think the child is treated as royalty until you see family life in action. You may recognize that it’s one thing to establish consistency at school, but quite another at home.
- If kingship has been conferred on a child, behavior interventions may be helpful. The family is walking on eggshells, hoping to avoid catastrophic events. It makes sense to use a child’s interests to improve compliance. See if you can adapt successful school strategies for the home environment.
- For insulated families, help set up playdates with another child from the class, preferably a “typically developing” student. I’ve found that lunch bunches offer opportunities for kids to develop relationships with peers. Provide suggestions to make that playdate more likely to succeed: keep it short, focused on a specific activity, and carefully monitored.
- For families in denial, be patient. You may no longer serve the child when the family finally accepts their child’s disability. Autistic kids sometimes get labeled Other Health Impaired or Learning Disabled. They may also be twice exceptional. At least they are getting successful interventions. (Or should be!) Let’s face it: the era in which we live has determined how we “define” kids. A label is less important than how we help kids succeed.
- When dealing with parents in conflict with each other about labeling, be cautious and recognize your limitations. I have had parents ask me to “convince” their spouse that the kiddo is autistic. No one can really do that. SImply describe what is observable and measureable. Eventually (or not), parents may grasp their child’s differences. I try to get support for specific goals, not a label.
- Parents who have acknowledged their child’s differences and somehow manage to keep all their kids AND their marriage intact are amazing. It’s a temptation to ask these poster parents to serve on every committee, talk at every parent event, and overall, add to their load. Resist that temptation. Help them find good, free resources. BE a good, free resource for them!
I now step off my soap box! Thank you.