Not Cool Rolling Stone: A Teacher’s Response

Rolling Stone Senior Editor Christian Hoard needs to go back to class, and get some class.

The picture used for the cover of the July 17, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine was an unashamed bit of marketing. It showed the best side of a young man who terrorized Boston, and points well beyond. I’m not one for censorship, at all. The use of the alluring photo of the alleged bomber was a questionable choice, however.  I feel for everyone affected by the bombing, which is everyone, but particularly those still in rehabilitation and mourning, who have to endure Rolling Stone’s miscalculation. Sergeant Sean Murphy, a Massachusetts State Police tactical photographer, must have felt the same and released the not-so-glamorous photo of the alleged bomber we have now. It’s quite a contrast to the Rolling Stone cover.

Out of all the photos available of the alleged April 15 bomber, this was the most rock-star worthy, one I had seen on the internet prior to the cover and cringed at as fan sites were popping up around it. If I could spend 5 minutes on Google and be aware of the great potential this photo would have to inspire support for the bomber, surely Rolling Stone editors could have as well. They make the point that the article was published after months of investigative research, so they had months to pick the photo and consider its impact. Chances are we won’t hear what really happened when the photo was selected, and what salivating went on when it was discovered.

Worse, it’s the cover of Rolling Stone, which elicits the aura of Shel Silverstein’s catchy lyrics: “We take all kinds of pills, that give us all kind of thrills but the thrill we’ve never known/Is the thrill that’ll get you when you get your picture on the cover of The Rolling Stone.” Don’t deny Rolling Stone that you’ve capitalized on that aura. It’s a magazine of rock stars, but the current cover does not depict a rock star.

Rolling Stone senior editor Christian Hoard was so unashamed of the photo, he shared an unintelligent response which he had to excuse via his equally unintelligent Twitter feed. Rolling Stone editors don’t see the harm in trying to make the kid look normal. They’re scratching their heads wondering what the big deal is. I wonder if their PR department has explained it to them yet.

The big deal is people were killed and terrorized. A bit of American life was killed, a bit of future terror has had a path paved for it, and you found the best picture of the kid you could find to show him looking like a modern day Jim Morrison. That’s going beyond the face of normal. I don’t want to engender malice toward Rolling Stone editors, there’s too much of that already in the world. Let’s be united, however, around the simple act of not sensationalizing violence, or not being the news but rather  reporting it.

The article, written by journalist Janet Reitman, provided a thorough rendering of the life circumstances around the alleged bombers and their family. It is informative, but drawn-out and uninspired. They went journalistic in a publication that is more commercial, with an editor that is not so editorial. This whole piece is about getting the picture on the cover. It’s about marketing, as in bad marketing is good marketing.  If it weren’t about that, then Christian Hoard’s response to the photo fury would have been more informed and sensitive. Some vague defense of ‘the magazine is for young people, the alleged bomber is a young person,’ is cropping up. I don’t get it. Most young people have far greater depth of understanding than Hoard is demonstrating.

I wonder where Christian Hoard was on 9/11 (I wonder where he was at all this year, a year of too many acts of attention-seeking violence). On 9/11 I was a young Social Studies teacher charged with guiding my students to understand the world around them. When the first plane hit I was directed by my out-of-breath administrator to bring my students down the hall to the one classroom which had a television in it. We witnessed the second plane hitting the tower. One very uninformed 12-year-old girl yelled out “Cool!” when the building erupted into a cloud of black smoke. She needed me the most, to explain it was not cool, that thousands of people had likely just lost their lives. Today, we are growing even more sensitive to increased images of heinous crimes around us, which are becoming all too common, recognizing that the attention will engender future violence. In school, we teach tolerance and hope to prevent future violence.

I haven’t directly mentioned the suspect’s name, because I just don’t want to give it more attention. What I want is to encourage others to understand that in school teachers talk about these matters knowing the young people in their care, understanding their home lives and community needs. Teachers strive to tolerance and hope for a better future, regardless of what someone looks like and by drawing on lessons learned from the past. Teachers live with violence and try to prevent it. I hope Rolling Stone has learned a lesson and does not show off alleged terrorists with their best side, because the kid who yells out “Cool!” may just see it and think it is.

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So You Want To Be A Teacher?

It’s July, and you want to be a teacher. Maybe you have a position, maybe you’re still searching for one. Whatever brought you to this point, you are undoubtedly passionate about getting into your first assignment. You’ve passed the first hurdle, completing your licensing and training requirements, and now it’s time to put up the “Welcome Students” board and execute the lessons you’ve worked so hard to create. Wait, there are a few things they didn’t tell in your training program.

You will need band-aids, lots of lots of band-aids. Don’t run out, you will feel like a failure. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how late you stayed up planning your lesson, how many people you beat out to get your first job. If you don’t carry band-aids, you just don’t know what you’re doing as a teacher.

Celebrate birthdays. It doesn’t matter how old they get, kids love a party (and expect one), and the older they get the more they love party games like pin-the-tail-on the donkey. Pick a plan and stick with it. After elementary school, there is no designated birthday celebration program. You will need to come up with your own if you teach secondary. Decide in the beginning of the year if you will celebrate everyone’s birthday for the month on one day, or each kid’s day with a special token, such as a free hall pass or ring the bell celebration. Try to do fun things that don’t cost a penny. Beginning teachers spend a fortune in their early years. Don’t do that. Money cannot buy success for teachers. You have resources greater than money all around you.

They are all still kids. The oldest, biggest, most adult-looking student in your school district is still a kid who worries what the teacher thinks, is shy to talk to his crush, worries about getting in trouble with his parents and is innocent about the world. They see you as a continuum of all the teachers who were the big people in their lives, who taught them, disciplined them, cared for them and nurtured them. Don’t let them down. Remember they’re kids, even when they look like they’re too cool, because they’re not. They’re kids.

Make them think it was their idea. Adjust your plan if you have to but make them think it was their idea. You are about to embark on the most grueling job on the planet, you will be crunched for time. When you find you have not seen daylight all weekend from correcting and planning, you are seriously ill and you just can’t correct 86 quizzes tomorrow on U.S. History (with one-page essay responses-boy you were adventurous planning that) allow them to think they convinced you to give them another day to study. Warning: don’t ever, ever, ever let them think you are easily sidetracked.

Get their attention. Find out what the attention-getter was in their younger years. There was a clap, or a hand-signal. It’s not silly, it’s useful. Spare your energy and use it or come up with your own.

No head-butts. Do not get into power plays. Say “We can discuss this another time,” and allow the child an opportunity to back down before discussing your point. In power struggles you lose, even if you win. You will exhaust yourself demanding respect. Command it instead.

You don’t exist outside of the classroom. This is a tough one. While you want to connect with kids, you sense that telling them about that awful thing you did in 8th grade may have just weakened your ability to perform your duties. It did. Try to connect with kids in a teacherly fashion. That means you may share yourself and be honest, as long as you are mostly discussing them and what they need. As far as they are concerned, you don’t exist out of the classroom. Your purpose on earth is to teach them and you’re not a real person. Don’t worry, there’s no need to look like a robot. Just be a good example and talk to a counselor if you need to air out your own needs. It’s ok to be interesting, I’d stay away from intriguing.

There’s not enough time. As long as you will be a teacher, you will never have enough time to get it right. You may stay up late, work through the weekend, skip your 20-minute lunch and there will still not be enough time, ever. Get used to that idea and do your best. You will build experience and that takes time. Even when you are experienced, you will still feel stressed that there is not enough time.

Stay out of the teacher’s room. There is a lot of complaining that goes on in there. Stay away from it.

The secretary is running the show. Be nice to the school secretary and maintenance workers. You need them more than anyone and they are running the show. They will be around long after the next few principals come and go. Bring in baked goods for maintenance and bake them yourself.

Grade every week. Before the weekend arrives, enter your grades every week. Make it a priority and do not take on some other task unless that is done. I’ve only known a few teachers to ever do this, and they were among the best teachers. Just do it. Do not drag all of your big tasks into the weekend, altruistically saying to yourself (or others) you will get it done on the weekend. You will want and need rest and you won’t ever get to it. It won’t get done, and you’ll just add to your stress level, returning to work in poor shape on Monday.

Good luck, and enjoy. You’re going to love it!

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Summertime (or Anytime) Best Learning Apps for Learning Disabilities

Kids want to play games. Parents want kids to learn. For the adolescent crew, here is a start-up list of some of the best learning apps I’ve encountered for learning disability that will surely bring about a great meeting of the minds. We’re talking up to middle school age, so it’s not too babyish. Apps listed include itunes preview links, but if you’re not using Apple products, you should be able to find them in your operating system’s app store as well. If you want your kid to have fun while practicing basic skills, try these low-cost, teacher-tested, fun apps. They will provide immediate feedback in a way that just makes technology superior for sneaky self-practice. In other words, worksheet…move aside! You’ve been replaced by…

Mathmateer (Formerly Rocket Math) $0.99: This app is justification for buying a tablet if you have a kid who struggles with automaticity of math facts. It just doesn’t get any better than this gem. Basically, the player has to solve basic fact problems correctly in order to earn money to buy cool things for the rocket, which make it more fun to send the rocket into space…and solve more problems! It’s not rocket science, this is the smartest thing to happen to kids with math challenges (or not) since the calculator. It’s meant for basic math facts, but I occasionally pick it up and enjoy it, you will too.

Long Division $3.99: Don’t let the awful title and more awful price turn you away from this stroke of genius. Long division is a contrived concept that just doesn’t exist in the real space and time continuance. That’s how your kid feels if they have a learning disability and think in a very, very concrete way. All that talk about “carry the number” and borrow it ” leaves a a concrete thinker wondering what you’re carrying where and why…because it is, in fact, not real. However, after years of listening to this abstract construct, hoping it will just end because it just doesn’t make sense…watch your child stare in wide-eyed amazement as they perform multiplication and watch the product float to the spot in the long division problem where it belongs! Imagine the look on your kid’s face if you told them they could have the keys to the car five years before acquiring their permit and you wanted them to take some money out of your wallet too, just because. That’s the look they’ll have as they see, with immediate feedback NO lesson could ever provide, what long division is all about. The same developer has multiplication, etc. Check them out.

Scribblenauts Remix $0.99: This has in-app purchases but I’ll let it slide to gain a noteworthy spot on my list because they aren’t endless, and this app gets kids spelling. The in-app purchases provide sheets of characters such as Goodies and Baddies or Historical Figures to inspire fun scene combos.  If your kid can spell it, it lands in the scene they’ve created. Picture Santa and Abraham Lincoln flying in to a beach scene on a pirate ship, eating cotton candy. It’s kind of like magic. There are no spelling assists, so I recommend using Siri or your phone’s autocorrect to find the correct spelling, then enter into Scribblenauts Remix. Sounds cumbersome, but looking up a spelling of a word in this joyful atmosphere will teach a little technology-savvy word research with low frustration and lots of reward.

Boggle $0.99: The classic pop-up letter word-search game costs about $17.99 for the box game. While I highly recommend real-live, 4-Dimensional games for good ol’ interactive family fun, kids with learning disabilities need more practice, and more fun, than you can provide on game night alone. Give it to ’em. Through the years, I have observed through lots of scholarly research that kids need more Boggle. Not buying it? Ok, here’s the truth. I’ve noticed, kids who have serious spelling challenges are often whizstorms at Boggle and it’s humbling facing them in this spelling classic. Anytime you can highlight something they’re good at and make them feel like the hero for a change, that’s a good thing. If this describes your kid, you need this. At the end of the round, Boggle provides a boggling list of correct words for them to check theirs against…instant, awesome, spelling feedback. They won’t even know it’s like school. Warning: gloating may follow enjoyment of this game.

Talking Tom Cat for ipad FREE: Talking Tom, and his league of similarly talking apps, are all just silly nonsense getting a cat to repeat your words, and sometimes even be a little rude. Kids with learning challenges are self-conscious. They’re afraid to look silly or wrong (really) and this loosens them up a little. They forget themselves and get lost in their own giggles. If they want the cat to talk back, they have to speak up and speak clearly. It works to banish the mumbles and the stage-fright too many years of being wrong can induce. Beware of in-app purchases and wanting to buy more talking apps, although Talking Tom and Ben News is a good time for gigglers who need to express themselves and have a good giggle.

Alarmed ~Reminders +Timers FREE: Habits are everything, and anything that helps teach structure to a kid who struggles enough is better than any Martha Stewart good idea. Tired of telling your kid it’s time to go to bed? Have them set a lights-out timer on this app. Want to limit summer-time gaming? Teach them how to structure their time by setting the timer when they sit down to play. When the alarm goes off, it’s time to do some chores (or vice-versa). These non-verbal reminders will free their thinking up to plan your favorite breakfast-in-bed menu item next Saturday morning. Yes, there’s an app for that, it’s a timer whose name is not mom or dad. It’s Alarmed~Reminders+Timers.

Pocket Pond HD Free: You will want the creature pack and/or pond packs for $1.99 each, but that’s ok. This amazingly soothing, incredibly real pond game is a little bit of kid Zen. Relaxation is important, and how often do we teach that? Who needs it more than a kid who experiences frustration? Don’t let Attack of the Warring Zombies on the game system be your kids’ only choice for relaxation.  Let them relax, I assure you they’ve earned it. Going through the day with a learning challenge takes a lot of energy. Restore it with a Japanese pond landscape.

This is not the best or longest list of apps to teach basic facts and skills. It just comes with a guarantee, from experience, that kids will love each app on it.

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How I Successfully Learned to Teach With Technology

by Cathy Herrick

As a middle school teacher learning assistive technology, the walls were closing in. I was like Princess Leia trapped in the garbage shoot. Better find a way out before the garbage monster sucked me down or the compactor walls left me flat. When I was handed my first Ipad its was sink or swim time. I swam, hopped out of the compactor and championed the cause. Here’s my cautionary tale.

SMART Board Class

SMART Board Class (Photo credit: CSD’s Learning Division)

It wasn’t like I didn’t have a clue. I’ve been using computers from the time of Apple to PC, back to Apple, PC, Apple. I am trained in  assistive technologies, but I felt that they weren’t making it happen for students with special needs to break down barriers to participate in school. I felt the pressure of those compactor walls and wanted the New Hope.

I went to my first Smartboard presentation ready to learn and know everything there was to know, to return as the technology expert my general education colleagues needed me to be. In my fantasy, I created pathways for overworked kids and  teachers to achieve more, to fully include special education students alongside their peers in general education classrooms., at the board. Hmmm. Did I get the room number right? Two hours later, all I knew was that there were multi-colored pens with no ink to write on the board, and a bank of teacher-created materials to make your lessons better, but not much else. At least I had furthered my knowledge of technology. I had hoped the next training would bring more clarity. It did not.

Smartboard technology does come with cool tools, such as grid paper, that kids could write on, and that would seemingly invite participation. You could save a lesson for absent kids, print it, hand it to them when they returned and voila, you’re the greatest thing since the walkman. Let’s dial the story back just a few clicks. My request for a Smartboard was turned down years ago. A few years after that, I managed to acquire a projector, no Smartboard. Finally, I got myself to the Smartboard training and realized, once I had sat through it, that I could support specialized instruction in the general education classrooms by sharing hands-on lessons I’d developed through the years, and focus my energies there. Content teachers had their Smartboards installed in their classrooms, and maybe they were already outdated.

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s when it hit me, schools will buy anything this particular piece of technology might have been exciting before touch screens became common place, and now it’s not. Tablets and phones with touchscreens were in more kids’ pockets. The Ipad incorporated many assistive technologies better than we’d seen to date. Need a video phone for sign-language? Got it.  Voice recognition software that worked? Check. Icons for visual learners? It’s in there. Ipads are becoming more visible technology. Yet, every single experienced teacher it seems in North America (and the world maybe) has a Smartboard or wants one mounted in their classroom, with great investment from schools. A teacher standing next to a Smartboard is the epitome of modern day teaching and learning…right? Haven’t we seen glimpses of impoverished third world countries with grateful children and teachers learning with the use of Smartboard technology? Doesn’t everyone need this to stay current in the modern era of technology or perish with the chalkboard? I’ll keep my projector, thank-you.

When I want to get kids’ attentions, I like to do it with the whole wall in all its 200 inch glory, rather than with the small rectangle in the front of the room. The same effect can be produced with ye ol’ overhead projector as well. It may not however connect to your computer, at your desk, where you sit, zzzzz. Wake up teachers! The purpose of technology isn’t to improve upon the stand and deliver model of instruction.  Even if they come to the front of the room to poke the Smartboard, they are doing it orderly, when called upon. I like it when kids work together, move about the room, learn and question and get that “they just can’t help themselves but learn” look which every last one of them gets when you’ve hooked ’em. I’ve really not heard anyone rage on about the Smartboard the way they do about Apple products, apps for learning. What’s missing in our classroom and why have we allowed this overpriced whiteboard to fill the void?

The kids are missing, that’s what we forgot. All day long, these kids are connecting with each other through technology. They think in flashing pictures and 140 characters or less. We say we want them to connect with each other and yet we don’t often facilitate connections. Very few classrooms embrace technology for connecting ideas. The kids are publishing their writing and pictures on their own, without our help (or guidance – it’s time for that) Publication would be a noble goal in our hallowed halls. They’re finding the answers on their own when they have a question, that’s also good. So why aren’t we harnessing this advent of powerful, connected technology? One reason…privacy and traditional boundaries in the teacher-student relationship. In the right set-up, privacy and boundaries can be maintained while connecting to students digitally. I enjoy talking to kids and harnessing the power of technology, via books clubs, for example. At long last, here’s I do it, and how I would like to do it better.

If you’re lucky as a teacher, the building you work in provides time and training to get your classroom webpage up and running. I was lucky enough to work in a building which gave me one whole day of in-service training and access to our technology teacher in order to build my webpage. I spent every second of the subsequent weekend building and tweaking and went live on Monday with my students who were thrilled. I had kids checking in to see what they could do for work in-between classes and completing it before we met as a group. I would pose questions online and the quietest kid in the room gave the most poignant, thoughtful responses. They demonstrated a mature sensitivity to each other’s needs in conversation around literature discussion questions. Kids who were out of school for various reasons (rehabilitation, court and jail appearances, Disney World) continued with their assignments, and connection to school, via my online classroom. No late work, no disrespect, no nonsense. It was magic. In my next school building, it took one entire year to get a secretary to link my name on the school website to my Google site. That administrator didn’t ask that everyone create a webpage and so technical support did not exist to get the sites up and running, although it was a service the district had paid for. After years of limited one-hour meetings in which parents were told their child was diagnosed with such-and-such disorder, and provided very little follow-up time to understand what to expect or do, I created a parent support page and provided resources around the various disorders. When they asked questions and our time was limited, I could point them to additional resources on my page. The compactor walls were closing in. There was less time to support more needs. Technology helped me to help families. It was great, but without an administrative push, I languished in the ethernet for a while. When this becomes our culture, we will have a better connection with students, who are digital natives.

During this time meantime, thanks to an overflow of stimulus money, I was handed an Ipad. I’m a pretty good typist, I’ve managed to stay current with technology, but modern day pressures of teaching don’t leave a lot of room to learn a completely new way of doing things, and that Smartboard business didn’t really pan out. I was showing signs of teacher fatigue. Teachers can’t afford to waste time. The needs are great and we’ve got to keep things running smoothly. There are lots of initiatives to get on board with, too. So, I broke a rule and let my then 5-year-old play with the shiny new Ipad and watched over his shoulder with wonder and awe as he demonstrated a child could type, add, read, research, disect frogs…you know, usual high school stuff. I was hooked.

The Ipad became the differentiated lesson and the reward, I officially said no-thank-you to acquiring a Smartboard. I just projected what we wanted to view from the Ipad (rudimentally you can use a document camera, or purchase a VGA cord to connect to your projector, or wireless…true death to the Smartboard). Some schools provide Ipads to all kids and that just makes total sense to me, regardless of whatever obstacles exist to purchase or manage. With this type of technology, assistive is no longer different, and that’s good for all kids. I’d heard of entire states years ago providing laptops to every single student in the 7th grade, an innovative idea, which could now be moving to Ipads. Too expensive? Here’s my proposal, and it’s risque so cover your eyes if you’re quite traditional. Use the kids’ own technology, supply extra technology in the room if a kid doesn’t have one. It’s not a great plan, but at least it acknowledges where the kids are at and meets them there.

Frog dissection in G4 #366/338 #uwctech #edapp

Frog dissection in G4 #366/338 #uwctech #edapp (Photo credit: klbeasley)

Why? Money is an issue and kids are already carrying around enough technology to run a successful business, read a paper in Europe, and look at a satellite image of China. They like to play Minecraft with this fabulous technology, and they need guidance to step it up. Whether we use theirs or ours, it’s not being fully used. Let’s look at technology through the simple lense of frog dissection. The frog dissection app looks real, teaches the concept of dissection with unparalleled precision as preview or reinforcement, and can be used assistively for special needs and enrichment, as well. That’s everything any teacher could ever hope for in a lesson, period. But wait, there’s more. Using technology, teachers can share photos and data with students to capture their interest and get them thinking about the plight of the modern frog, assign research topics, ask them to discuss frog current events with class members for homework, have them build photo journals and video projects of their field work utilizing their cameras, insert maps and links in presentations, respond to questions, work in differentiated groups, grab a calculator, and never miss taking a note without a pen. You don’t need Apple technology to get all of this done, you just need to use technology, and really use it to its full potential. Apple does some things in a class by itself, however.

What’s the hold-up to all this teacher-kid connection? Too much work and fear. Forward thinkers in some buildings post homework assignments on their pages to assist kids and parents to know what is due. Attempts have been made to streamline this effort, but we’re not completely there, bridging old systems and new ones. For example, most grading programs allow a portal for parents to view their child’s gradebook. Not quite Facebook, but we’re attempting to communicate. A webpage or portal program are great places to start, if used. However, teachers are busy. Getting in quality teaching is a challenge, staying current on technology nearly impossible, and talking to kids online is instant death. Once I jumped in, I discovered I found time. Using technology may be time-consuming but it has boundless returns in time and progress. The whole world is talking to each through technology, some wasting time, some finding it, but that is the state of our world. How will we ever prepare young people for a technological world if we don’t engage with it ourselves?

Projector and Smart Board in Classroom

Projector and Smart Board in Classroom (Photo credit: Duplicom)

Here’s the state of affairs in technology education today. We think using a 77 inch Smartboard screen will fascinate kid, when they now have the same size screen at home in their bedroom, and a personal screen in their pockets. We imagine grabbing their attention with digital ink for scribbling on math problems, but technology can be used to vastly expand their horizons into research, inquiry and practice with immediate feedback. Here is what we have correct: kids like screens and color. They do enjoy a good scribble. Be ready to expand and try something new, and you’re teaching will be inspired, much like mine was.

Necessity is the mother of invention. I needed more hands and time, so I invented it. Kids were coming to me, a special educator in the 7th grade, with 2nd grade reading levels. We did not have time to immerse them in every lesson that should have been learned in 4 years. We had advanced math and science reading to keep up with, and the dreaded outside reading book. I needed to teach them the basics and keep them current on-grade-level. Sometimes I needed to teach reading and math at the same time, talk to parents and complete paperwork. I was losing my hair and my youthful vigor. They handed me the Ipad and I handed it to the kids, then another, and another until I was floating them throughout general and special education students.

student_ipad_school - 031

student_ipad_school – 031 (Photo credit: flickingerbrad)

While I worked on Greek roots with one group, another enjoyed rapid-fire games identifying which spelling word looked correct. Another kid in the room was allowed to listen to an audio book (on an Ipad shuffle, I have developed a bank of those as well) because there was just no way he was going to get all of his homework done, including the free-reading book, and have time to do a lesson with me. Amazingly, a transformation took place. Kids enjoyed reading along with the printed page while they listened to the audio and their reading levels jumped two grades at a time. Kids who were behavior problems were being good for a chance to use the Ipad and work on their spelling. I had time to talk to them, to connect, communicate. Technology is an amazing thing, if you use it without fear and trust the kids want to learn more than they want to get into trouble for googling off-topic. If class is interesting, maybe you won’t have to tell them to get off their phone, maybe you’ll want them on it so they can keep up. This is a paradigm shift in our approach to teaching, one that needs to ahppen to meet the kids where they are and meet the needs of a world with increasing educational needs and demands.

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Multiple Intelligences In the Classroom: Don’t judge a Book (Kid) By The Cover (IQ)

English: Multiple Intelligences

English: Multiple Intelligences (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among my favorite experiences as a teacher, and there have been many, is highlighting a student’s shining ability. Regardless of documented IQ , each student is assuredly gifted in at least one area. Everyone has a gift, without exception. Students with Intellectual Disability, who struggle with academics and functional life skills, are identified for services in part with a lower “IQ” score. Read the psychologist’s report from the evaluation and match it up with your own experience with the child and you will see a gift in at least one area. Perhaps it is Verbal Ability (excellent communicator),  strength in spelling, or they are exceptionally bodily-kinesthetic (physically coordinated). Whatever it is, it is their special skill. Highlighting and celebrating it visibly in the classroom will improve that student’s peer relationships, sense of personal worth and future outcomes. Parents and teachers can advocate for and find those strengths.

English: Stephen Wiltshire receives his MBE aw...

English: Stephen Wiltshire receives his MBE award at Buckingham Palace (Copyright: The Stephen Wiltshire Gallery http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I knew a boy who could draw without looking at the paper, while listening to classroom directions. His accuracy was amazing, much like that of  Stephen Wiltshire, an artist with autism, who could recall whole cities in his mind’s eye and recreate them in vast drawings. I knew another boy who knew the name of every single person in school and would address others with genuine interest, bringing joy to all he encountered. There is a meaningful place in the world for theses skills, even though language or basic skills may be challenged.

Learners with dyslexia in classrooms without differentiation struggling to read out loud or write on demand without technology may appear unintelligent to their peers. However, they can be masters of debate, comprehension, visual thinking and group work. If allowed to delve into deeper learning, dyslexia is a gift. The settings in which they excel more closely resemble today’s employment settings. I’ve also encountered young people who would barely speak out in a teacher-led class become leaders of their peers in outdoor challenges. The point is clear, everyone has an area in which they are gifted and if we are to teach for the “real world” we need to deliver and prepare for it in the classroom with varied opportunities. Parents can help too by valuing and encouraging their child’s unique talents and confidence. Teaching to Multiple Intelligences builds that confidence and allows each student to shine, with improved peer relationships and respect for each other. Students learn to lean on each other and build on their future work skills, seeking out experts when needed and having time managers and leaders, just to name a few roles that are valued in the work world.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010.

English: Temple Grandin’s talk at TED 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cookie cutter approach will yield the usual results, some on top, some on the bottom, most in the middle. However, that won’t teach a community of learners that they have something special to offer, or give hope for future opportunities. The well-known autism speaker  Temple Grandin tells the world her accomplishments derive from teachers who brought them out in the right settings.

Ms. Grandin was fascinated by livestock corrals and that fascination led to solving problems in the livestock industry of production and humane treatment. In the wrong setting, Ms. Grandin’s special talents could have been laid to waste, illustrating the importance of recognizing and valuing different types of thinkers. Watch her Ted Talk for a fascinating and useful insider’s perspective on thinking in pictures: http://tinyurl.com/GrandinTedTalk. In her talk, she frequently references the importance of her art education and the science teacher teacher who encouraged her special skills.

General education teachers have opportunities to support students who think differently, such as students with autism who may think in pictures, by allowing for choice in the classroom. Special educators ensure students have the specific supports needed to progress alongside their peers. Ms. Grandin’s teaching tips highlight the need for differentiation and specialized supports, including visual tools for grasping mathematical concepts and the use of assistive technology to support writing.

In the differentiated classroom, all students may be asked the same inquiry question, but allowed to answer through a choice of mediums such as art, music or performance. All students have a better chance of achieving higher-order thinking  and showing off their reasoning when given this opportunity, rather than being held back, for example, by a specific learning disability in writing.  Writing of course needs to be worked on, but there can and should be times when it is not the only avenue of expression, and when assistive technology supports allow for the flow of ideas onto paper.

Parents may contribute a great deal to the success of the student by promoting their student’s confidence in themselves and their abilities, which may be neurotypically different. That’s something to remember when hearing the report on your child stating they have a disability and need for services. Listen for the areas of strength and high performance and build on them for the future. You never know, your child’s love for social interaction or telling long, incredible, stories may make them the next big thing.

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Eye Test of Empathy

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This is just interesting. A person’s ability to “read” eye expressions may be correlated with their capacity for empathy, a theory which has interesting implications for education and knowledge of cognitive differences. University of Cambridge professor Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen suggests a person with autism cannot recognize a feeling on the face of another person if they have not experienced it themselves. I would suggest, strictly from personal observations, that a person with autism may not be aware of an emotion in themselves or others, which is distinctly different from having never experienced it themselves. I choose that wording carefully as it is a subtle difference with significant implications for understanding and accepting the research. In my observations, a person with autism may have experienced the emotion, however lack the ability to respond. One valuable result of Baron-Cohen’s work is the idea that training in recognizing and responding to facial expressions can lead to better outcomes for people with autism.

Try the 5-min test to determine how well you read eye expressions.  Baron-Cohen’s research findings appear in the Journal of Child Psychology, 2001.

The presence of empathy cannot be teased out with a 5-minute test. Empathy is a complex concept and correlating cognitive differences by gender or disability is potentially egregious. If you read the results of the larger sample, the research provides an interesting indicator of norms among men and women (women tend to do better on the test) and glimpse into the effects of cognitive differences on social responses in people with autism. So little is known, but with the increase of autism prevalence and research we hope to gain knowledge that will lead to understanding.

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To Medicate or Not to Medicate

Any decision to medicate your child should be made in consultation with your doctor. This is the statement educators are allowed to say, in meetings, with parents. Beyond that, suggesting the child needs medication, or which one he or she should be taking, is not the educator’s domain.

Teachers may share their observations of the student and strategies they have employed.

When a student experiences ongoing academic struggles, parents or teachers can recommend the student be referred for evaluation for special education services. Before that occurs, the team of teachers needs to meet as an Educational Support Team to consider and review the student’s strengths and challenges, and what strategies they have tried, which have been successful or not successful in helping the student. When this logical first step has occurred and the student is still experiencing adverse effect in school (poor grades, testing scores, etc), teachers or parents may recommend the student be evaluated for special education services.

An evaluation begins with an Evaluation Plan Meeting. Team members convene and discuss what they are seeing and which areas they would like the evaluator (school psychologist) to review. Two months later, after the school psychologist completes a lengthy process of testing the student, surveying parents and teachers and compiling the results based on their professional expertise, the team will reconvene to review the results at the Eligibility Meeting. Perhaps the parent had provided documentation of an existing diagnosis, and the evaluator and team’s purpose is to review the affect on the student’s progress in school. If the student is found to have a disability which has an adverse effect on their educational progress, an Individualized Education Plan will be created. The team will detail the strengths and challenges of the student, abilities and disability, learning goals, accommodations and special education services.

The parent may address medical needs in consultation with their physician, and this may occur before or after a comprehensive school evaluation is conducted. Depending on the age at the time of the diagnosis and progress in school, the  parent may already have a medical treatment plan. In the rare instance the school suggests the need for medication, they will be expected to provide and pay for it as a treatment.

You may encounter the teacher who says, “In my many years of experience working with children, I can see clearly this child needs medication and would benefit from it.” Or, “This is the most ADHD kid we’ve ever had here. His life would be so much better on medication.” Perhaps you agree, but a medication treatment plan is handled medically, as are its side-effects. If you’re having a conversation with a teacher about medication, it’s an opinion, and they’re really not supposed to share it as their expertise is around instruction, not medicine. Seek your doctor’s advice and become educated around ADHD medical treatments, as it’s a field with continuous research and developments.* The Children and Adults with Attention -Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(CHADD) advocacy groups suggests pharmacology treatment may be successfully followed up with behavior therapy, offering a longitudinal look at medically treating ADHD through a person’s life.

If you’ve tried medication for ADHD, and the side-effects were so awful you’ve abandoned medicine completely, yet the teachers are clamoring for a solution and asking you to consult your child’s physician, you have two options. One, consider that advances have been made in treatment for disabilities and perhaps a medicine could be found to benefit your child with as minimal side effects as possible. Two, maintain your ground against medicinal treatments and prepare yourself by knowing what alternative strategies can help your child and use them. Ask the teachers what they have tried that has helped your child be successful. The American Academy of Pediatrics research findings indicate psychotherapy is a necessary first-line treatment for depression in children. The research details the potential benefits and drawbacks of FDA-approved prescription treatments.

This is a brief overview of the basics when determining whether or not to prescribe, especially when a diagnosis of a disability becomes a school discussion. There are many more specifics to consider based on the child, circumstances, diagnosis and so on. It is never an open-and-closed conversation, and you are a key player on the team in determining how to treat. Keep your mind open and learn of reputable organizations dedicated to education and research. We have a great deal to learn about medical treatment of autism and bipolar disorder.
(*Please note, the link to the CHADD article on ADHD medical treatments references Strattera, a non-stimulant medication for ADHD which has mixed reviews. As mentioned, please keep current on the research into benefits and side-effects of medication you consider including in your medical treatment plan, in consultation with the prescribing doctor.)

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Healthy Choices Game

Healthy Choices Game Snakes and Ladders

A fun game to help kids learn about and remind them they can make healthy choices. A great conversation piece to play in the morning over a healthy breakfast and get the day started right. You can cut out the tokens on the page or use your own special mini-toys or coins for playing pieces. You will need die to play. Can be coupled with a larger, floor-sized version using chalk or paper pieces and a large foam cube.

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May 23, 2013 · 12:52 pm

First Things First: Coming To Grips with a Disability Diagnosis

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You suspect your child has a disability, or perhaps you’ve just received the diagnosis. Maybe he or she is a little more active than other kids, isn’t hitting the benchmarks the same time as the other kids, or you have discovered in utero you are facing a major difference with your unborn child. You are stressed and worried he or she will be different, will be picked on, will need you until the day you die. The first thing I would say to any parent is…take a breath. It’s going to be fine.

The so-called “normal” child will have strengths and challenges, will put parents through their paces just as much as any child with a “difference.” All children have value, all have a special contribution to make. So many times I have thought, “If only this parent would accept their child has…autism…adhd…..behavior disorder…then we could really get to work.” In those moments, I attempt to share the idea that if we push them through everything they will be up until midnight doing their homework and missing opportunities for socialization. If we tell them they need to keep working on their long-division even when other kids are using calculators, we are setting them up for misery and failure.

You accept it, but you want the school to make sure they’re succeeding, right? You want your child to look normal, just like every other kid. You want them on the honor roll. You want all their homework done. Here’s the thing: all kids miss their homework sometimes. All kids give their parents attitude sometimes. All kids want to learn, they can’t help it. Let it happen. Every kid an area in which they are incredibly talented. Let them be “normal,” be a kid, be a star.

I’ve known students with learning impairment who were so proficient in one area, it would knock your socks off. Listen when your child is evaluated. Read the report. Your child has strengths, let them pursue those interests and strengths, fight for that. The honor roll will come, if that’s what matters to you. In my career, I regret each missed opportunity to work on a student-centered skill for the drive to achieve “normalcy.” I have had countless conversations with parents about what works for their child, and their special talents. Most listen, and it’s an enjoyable part of the work, to know you’ve provided an opportunity for a child to grow and flourish, to relieve the pressure and learn at their pace. For the parents who want their child to be “normal,” to achieve the honor roll, to look just like everyone else, this message is for you. Your child is not like everyone else. Your child is different, and that’s ok.

You have every right to demand the best, to expect all the support and help and educational opportunity entitled to each child. Special educators and service providers will go the extra mile to support your hopes and wishes for your child. We will teach them their basic skills and help them keep up with their same-age peers. We will make sure they have their lunch money and know the new schedule. We will get their special reading book and talk to them about their fears. Not of that is required, and we do it happily. However, this is where I would like to draw the line. The purpose of special education is not to ensure your child makes the honor roll. It is to provide for your child’s unique needs. Children and special educators are successful when parents do one thing: accept the disability, really accept it and your child for who he or she is. That does not mean have a lower standard. Really, the same message could be sent to every parent. Accept your child, support their dreams and fulfill their needs, not yours.

There’s nothing wrong with having ADHD. It’s inconvenient in a school system which demands quiet rigor applied to sitting, completing worksheets and listening to a one-way dialogue. Lots of amazing, famous people have ADHD. Look it up. Autism is challenging, but it’s becoming more prevalent, with more knowledge and services available. You will get help, you will love your child for his or her personality.

We who have known scores of students with differences can tell you we love and value them all. The disability does not matter. Perhaps we came to this conclusion long before we chose to work with special needs, perhaps we’ve learned it over time. Hurrah to the parent who learns it and chooses to accept it. There are plenty more examples of a changing world which requires a changing attitude. Dyslexia, for example, was a serious problem in a world which judged you based your worth on your ability to write polished products unassisted. That world is gone. Education is not keeping up, and you’ll know that when you see kids doing anything you remember doing in school. You were preparing for a world in which each person did not have their phone, contacts, camera, music, books and GPS in their pockets. You could not reach in your pocket and read a review of a car you wanted to buy. A person with dyslexia will be the modern genius in the new visual world, with their visual-spatial abilities and conceptual strengths. Assistive technology, which was cumbersome and inaccessible to the mainstream, is now commonplace thanks to advances in technology. If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, you have the ability to video conference and use voice recognition software. It’s a new world, allow your child to find his or her unique place in it.

The future is here. It won’t matter if your child is able to sit quietly in his bedroom and answer 7 questions on lined-paper using complete sentences. It will matter if he is able to work in a group, picture a solution and use technology. If your child enjoys drawing and isn’t a great speller, that’s ok. The world is looking for artists, it has a spell-checker and it’s not afraid to use it.

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Welcome to Education Matters for All

Welcome families and educators to Education Matters for All. In this series of publications, I hope to share my experience in education so you may feel you are informed and getting the most out of your educational opportunities. In the field of special education there is one constant, and that is everything changes. It’s a challenge for most service providers to remain current and true to their practice, and certainly families need a simple, effective source for information.

In this source you will find articles that support and inform families and educators around disability categories, special education procedures, strategies and expectations. I am a licensed special educator with a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Special Education. I have 15+years classroom experience involving intensive needs, alternative classroom instruction, adaptive skills, mental illness, autism and co-teaching in the general education setting. I understand the needs of today’s family and the school demands.

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