Sunday, October 14, 2012

Inclusive Education: It's Great if You Can Get It


Here is a recent post I wrote for Ollibean. I was thinking about Henry Frost, a boy who is being told by the school district in his community that he can not attend the school across the street from his house. 

Inclusive schools need to become a reality for all students across the nation regardless of abilities, socio-economic background and geographic location. Unfortunately, many school districts do not see the inclusive classroom as the Least Restrictive Environment and an appropriate placement for children with special needs. Thus, what one child has free and appropriate access to, another one doesn’t. And then inclusion, which has been proven by experts to be the gold standard of special education, becomes an ideal situation…if you can get it.

The lack of universal practice of inclusive education in our school system creates an overall discord in our social value system and risks the overall future success of our students.  While one school teaches respect and tolerance, another models segregation and exclusion.  While one school welcomes students of all abilities with open arms, another turns away a student who lives across the street.  While one student has access to assistive technology, another is removed from the classroom. Children are constantly receiving mixed messages of.............CLICK HERE TO CON'T READING

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Growing Up as a Student with Learning Disabilities: "I Was in Special Education"


The Inclusive Class Podcast recently interviewed Lachrista Greco, M.A., a feminist writer and advocate. Lachrista talked to us about her experiences as a student in special education. With her permission, here is a reprint of an article she also wrote about growing up as a student in special education. 


I was in Special Ed all through elementary and middle school, and all I learned was how to eat pizza -- lots and lots of pizza. 

In third grade, I was diagnosed with two learning disabilities: dyscalculia (the common math one), and language processing (I have trouble recalling information or retrieving words to express something). This diagnosis was absolutely horrifying to my third-grade-curly-haired self. From the way it was presented to me, I knew it was something negative; something no one wanted.

Immediately, I was placed in Special Ed, because that’s what people do with you when they can’t figure you out.



It was fun for a while. I got to leave certain classes early to go hang out with the other “slow” kids. It was the one place I could be myself, because there were no popular kids around to intimidate me. We also would get snacks all the time. It was similar to being in kindergarten and having a milk break -- except, we had pizza breaks.

All through elementary school, I felt different and extremely stupid. In fact, I had many teachers who actually said things like, “You’re not going to be able to do things like other kids,” or “We don’t expect you to do this that well, because you’re not as smart as the others.” Literally.
Or, some teachers would say, “Oh, that’s just a crutch.” No, it’s not a crutch -- though, if I want to use it as a crutch, that’s my damn right.

I had one really amazing teacher in Special Ed, named Ms. Conaway, but she was the only one who actually taught us anything. The other Special Ed teachers didn’t do much. Even my third-grade self questioned why they were the ones in charge. We would sit around, talk, stare at the walls, some people would be drooling -- you know, that kind of thing.

Did I mention we ate a lot of pizza?
This is, of course, the problem with Special Ed. (I hear much hasn’t changed from when I was in it 12years ago): No one knows what to do with you, so they take you out of your regularly scheduled classes, and put you with kids who are maybe, kinda-sorta like you in one large room, and let you sit and think about why you’re there.

It all ends up feeling like “The Room for the Unwanted.” You, as a kid, inevitably feel like you’ve been bad. This is where “bad” kids go -- and not even “cool” bad kids.

It’s really difficult to be a girl-child in general, but to be labeled “disabled,” and be a girl in this society is a lot to handle. I knew other girls like me in school, but I didn't want to associate with them because I wanted so badly to fit in and to be considered “normal.” Even though my disability can’t be seen, I felt like I wore it on my sleeve.
I hate that word, “disabled.” It makes me feel like I can’t breathe -- like I’m “slow” and “different,” and it’s always used in a negative way. Perhaps this is why I still have trouble telling people, even my closest friends, that I have a learning disability. I worry they will look at me differently. I worry they will pity me.
Leaving my regular class to go to Special Ed was always humiliating. I would have to leave in the middle of class, and one of my teachers -- who was terrible and obsessed with pigs (whatever) -- stopped the class once to ask me and the other girl who was leaving, “Where are you two going?” I remember thinking, “Like you don’t f****** know.”
This was just a way for my teacher to feel in control and to embarrass me in front of everyone. My soft voice (I had a much quieter voice at the time) would say, “Um, we have to go to Ms. Conaway” -- I remember pleading with my teacher, through my large eyes, not to make me say “SPECIAL ED.”
The teacher finally responded: “Oh, that’s right. OK.” Phew, I thought.

When I got to middle school, Special Ed was even worse. There was even less for us to do, and I was becoming a dreaded teenager, so I had crushes on boys that were never reciprocated. Leaving in the middle of class during this time was agonizing. My sexuality was budding, and I remember thinking, “No boy is ever going to want me, because I’m disabled.”
Even back then, I felt like having a learning disability would keep anyone from sexuallly desiring me.

I finally stopped going to Special Ed in high school, even though I still had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan -- all us LD people have them). My IEP seemed to signify to shitty teachers, “Hey, don’t expect too much from this kid -- she’s not right in the head.”
I also feel like it lets a lot of teachers off the hook (those that are looking for an easy way out), because it tells them, “Look, you can’t possibly teach this kid anything, because their brain is messed up, and that’s not your fault, so if you fail at teaching them no worries!”

One teacher asked me, after I had done poorly on a test: “So what happened? Does the word ‘test’ scare you?” I was incredulous. No, you crazy bitch. Words do not scare me. What scares me is people like you who have somehow managed to be a teacher, and not give a shit about students who learn differently from the majority.

Many scenarios like this occurred at an alarming rate.

My time in Special Ed wasn’t all bad, but it seems as though some education professionals still have no idea what to do with kids who have disabilities of any type. Not to mention, the stigma is ever present.

I had some damn good pizza, though.
Click here for more information about Lachrista and her work!

Friday, August 24, 2012

10 Websites That Will Help Your Child With Homework!



Here is an updated list of 10 Websites That Will Help Your Child With Homework!  Some of these sites are designed to support the concepts of Common Core.  In addition, I have included not only sites that offer homework assistance but sites that have information and tools to help students complete their work. These sites of useful for students of all abilities and ages. 



1. LearnZillion - this is a fantastic resource for students who need help understanding the new Common Core concepts. Short, video lessons reinforce learning from various curriculum areas. 


2. Khan Academy - Learn almost anything on Khan Academy's website! Videos help explain and reinforce curriculum topics from math, science, art history as well as test prep.


3.  BJ Pinchbeck's Homework Helper - This is a curated website of dozens of online resources to help students, parents and teachers with homework.  It is geared for students of all ages.


3. The Homework Guru - Susan Fitzell lists strategies, resources and ways to work with your student's learning style in order to get the homework done! 


4. SparkNotes - Designed for older students, SparkNotes is a resource students can go to in order to give themselves a better understanding of the books, coursework and assignments. 


6. Discovery Education - Suited for all ages, Discovery Education offers a Homework Help page with videos, webinars, activities and webMath (an interactive tool that helps students understand math problems!).


7. Ten Special-Needs School Tools - This is an site with information for parents and teachers. Terri Mauro, from  Parenting Children with Special Needs lists her ten favorite items for helping students complete school work with items such as pencil grips and fidget toys.


8. US Dept of Education - Helping Your Child With Homework  - Here is another site with information and resources for parents about homework. It offers ways to help your child with homework, explains the purpose of homework and suggests ways to talk to your child's teacher about homework.



10. Graphic Organizers - Using graphic organizers is another way of helping students visualize what they learn. Graphic organizers can also help them organize for writing. There are many types of graphic organizers to choose from depending on the type of assignment and your child's learning style.



Hope you find this list helpful!  Please comment if you have any other sites that are great!





Monday, August 13, 2012

Parents, Be Prepared for the New School Year

Preparing for a new school year brings up all kinds of emotions for parents. Hope (for new beginnings), joy (that your child is getting older), sadness (that your child is getting older), anxiety (in anticipation of this year's teacher) and sometimes dread (will it be the same as last year?). Maybe it was because I had such an unusually busy summer this year, but I did not think about my children going back to school until last Tuesday. And, school was set to begin the following day.


This school year, I was completely unprepared for the first day of school (both mentally and material-wise) and unfortunately I did not take the time to prepare my kids either. Whether it's a missing supply or a forgotten lunch, we are still catching-up to that first day back. In addition, as I put my daughter to bed tonight, she let me know that everyday since school started, she has been feeling stressed about being at her new school (she started middle school this year).  It has been a completely overwhelming experience for her and I regret not taking more time to help her transition. I know that we will be able to talk her through anxiety she feels. But, in the meantime, I am kicking myself as I should have taken my own advice that I tell parents at the beginning of every school year. BE PREPARED!

To help you avoid the several glaring mistakes that I made as a parent this past week, I wanted to share a few resources to help you (and your child) be prepared for school start-up. 

To begin with, you can start by checking out some tips and advice on preparing your child with (or without) special needs by reading How to Prepare Your Special Needs for a New School Year or Parent Primer: Placing Children with Special Needs in the Inclusive Classroom. Once you have read those, head on over to What You Need to Know: Preparing Your Child with Special Needs for the Inclusive Classroom for some tips that both parents and teachers can use. 

And finally, be sure to check out The Inclusive Class Podcast "Back to School" Series on Blog Talk Radio. On Friday, August 17, 2012 at 9 AM EST Terri Mauro and I will be talking about school supplies and materials that parents can buy or prepare for children to use at school. These materials have been hand-picked by Terri for their ease and ability in accommodating special needs. Join us again on Friday, August 24, 2012 when teacher and homework guru, Susan Fitzell discusses homework strategies for families. She always offers valuable insight and advice in her interviews!

Well, best of luck with the start of the new school year for you and your family! Let me know if you have any tips or strategies that work for you!





Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Would We Want Inclusive Education?


Why would we want inclusive education? Why wouldn’t we want it? Why wouldn't we want to ensure that every child had the same opportunity to be a child? To play with peers, eat lunch together, learn together, attend the same field trip, and hear the same stories? Why would we separate, segregate and alienate children from one another while at the same time teach them to look after the world around them, respect differences and take a stand at injustice.  Ironically, in many schools, injustice happens right before our children's very eyes. Why would we want that?

The successful inclusion of children with disabilities and special needs in our school system relies on the belief that all children have equal access to a quality education. Inclusive education isn't a program, a place or a classroom. It is a way of understanding and living in the real world. Because, in fact, this is a world that has people of all different sizes, shapes, colors and abilities. Inclusive education embraces those differences and has a system that welcomes and supports the needs of children with various abilities. It encourages growth and values diversity. Inclusive education encourages participation and allows for choice. And, Inclusive education benefits...Click to Continue Reading

Sunday, June 10, 2012

10 Ways to NOT Include the Special Needs Kid in a Graduation Ceremony


1.  Sit the kid with special needs away from the graduating class.

2.  Present the graduating class with their certificates. Do not include the kid with special needs.

3.  Have the graduating class remain on stage as a group for a photo. Do not include the kid with special needs.

4.  Finally announce that there is a "special" student graduating this year as well.

5.  Explain to the audience that this "special kid" is in a "special class".

6.  Tell the audience that this kid has "special skills" and list a few non-descript accomplishments.

7.  Ask the kid to walk up to the podium, all by himself, to recieve his promotion certificate.

8.  Then ask the kid to stand all by himself, in the center of the stage, and hold up his certificate.

9.  Tell the mother of this "special boy" that she can come up to the stage to take her son's photo.

10. Have the audience politely clap, while wondering at the same time, "Who is this boy and where did he come from?"



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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

25 Easy Ways to Improve Executive Functioning Skills


How do we help our children or students who are perpetually losing things, often running late and seem completely disorganized? Do we reprimand them for being lazy? Do we keep them in at recess because they forgot to do their homework? Do we let our frustration and angst get the better of us and completely give up on helping them with anything at all?

Or, do we wonder if there is a reason as to why this child just can't seem to pull things together? Instead of labeling the child or student as lazy, forgetful and inattentive, consider that perhaps they are struggling due to weak executive functioning skills. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, "Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space." (National Center for Learning Disabilities, Dec 2010)

Teachers and parents often spend an inordinate amount of time supporting children with weak executive function skills. Just as importantly, this wasted time is to the detriment of the other children who are left sitting and waiting while there is a tear-down of the desk, a hunt for the pencil or a search party sent out looking for lost homework. 

However, in a carefully planned and organized school day, there are 25 easy ways for teachers and parents to help strengthen weak executive functioning skills in kids:


1. Have students take homework and planners out of their backpack and place it ON their desks at the beginning of the day (homework should never see the inside of a desk!).

2. Teacher makes time to check-in with each child to see if homework is completed and planner is signed by parent.

3. All homework is put into a "Hand-In" bin.

4. A Daily Schedule is posted in the class and the teacher reviews the plan for the day.

5. Older students keep materials such as pencils, erasers and markers in a pencil box inside their desk. In younger classrooms, pencils are kept in containers which are passed around or kept at group tables.

6. The tops of desks should be kept clear. If it can't fit into the desk, find a shelf in the classroom to house large items.

7. All work is kept in a color-coded folder according to subject. The folders are kept in separate bins on a shelf in the classroom. ie. a blue folder is for Math

8. Lessons are kept in age-appropriate chunks of time and students are cued when a transition is about to take place. i.e. "You have 10 more minutes until Math begins."

9. Countdown students before instruction is about to begin. For example, "You have to the count of 5 to stop, look and listen."

10Give instructions in short, simple steps.

11. At the end of each lesson, have students hand-in unfinished work, as well as finished work. Again, paper should not go into the desk! 

12. Create a checklist of daily activities for students to keep at their desk and check off when items are completed.

13. Organize class into groups. Give instruction regarding movement and change according to groups. For example, "Can the Blue Group please line-up at the door."

14. Make a seating arrangement when students are sitting at the carpet. Learning takes place here as well as at desks, so give this area just as much thought.

15. Consider having the students turn the desks around (so that the opening of the desk is facing the front of the classroom) to prevent loose papers from being placed inside.

16. Model the activity or behavior you expect from children and then have them practice it.  Repeat if necessary.

17. Create a Homework Board. At the end of the day, set aside time to review the homework for the day. Then have all students copy homework into their planners. Accommodations can be made if the student has trouble writing from the board, (ie. the student can take photo of homework board with a digital camera, a buddy can write out homework etc.). 

18. Guide students as they gather their homework, planner and materials to take home. 

19Have students place their homework and materials immediately into their backpacks.

20. Some students may benefit from having an extra copy of text books to keep home.

21. Use the school website to post assignments, announcements and communicate with parents, as well as paper documents.

22. When the child arrives home, unpack the backpack right away!

23. Help the child lay out homework and materials in a quiet work space, where an adult can check-in and oversee progress.

24. Check to see if all homework is completed and then sign the homework planner to indicate that the homework is done. 

25. Have child pack all homework and materials into his/her backpack as soon as everything has been completed and leave it by the door for the next day!


Want more tips and advice? Go here to learn more ways to support your student's executive functioning skills!



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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Top 10 Websites for the Inclusive Classroom

Teachers love a great resource! Especially a resource that is free and at their fingertips - literally.  That's why I put together a list of 10 outstanding websites that teachers can use in the inclusive classroom (or any classroom, for that matter!). 

It was difficult to narrow the list down to 10, given all the websites that are available on the internet! However each site listed was chosen for content that I feel is unique or more substantial than what others had to offer. 

And, finally, these sites are in no particular order. They are all excellent and will provide teachers (and parents) with the resources to provide the best possible education for learners in the inclusive classroom.

1. BCTF - Teaching to Diversity - this website has both American and Canadian content. It offers resources that cover all aspects of the inclusive classroom. The resources vary from articles to checklists to worksheets. It also covers children who are gifted or have a second language. This site stands out in its effort to provide support for parents. There are numerous links to information, advocacy, and support groups!


2. Government of Alberta Special Education Resources  - here is a website that offers very thorough and comprehensive information on ways in which teachers can support different types of behavior and/or medical conditions in the classroom. It also has a digital resource that provides strategies to support students in social situations while in school. Other online documents include information about transitions, individual education plans and ways to include indigenous populations in the classroom. 


5. Do 2 Learn - you can spend hours looking at this site! It provides thousands of pages of social skills, songs, behavior support, cue cards, academic material and transition guides for employment and life skills. It is easy to navigate and free. Resources are designed by educational and clinical experts that are evidence-based and proven to work!


6. Inclusive Schools Network - not only is this site useful for educators and parents, but for schools as well! It has a unique self-assesment tool that allows schools to identify the success of their inclusive practice. In addition, the organization sponsors a national Inclusive Schools Week in December and provides ideas and materials (Celebration Kit) for schools to use. 


7. National Center for Learning Disabilities -  This site has become a leading resource for parents, students and teachers wanting to know more about learning disabilities.
 It  features articles, assessments, podcasts and more that provide up to date information about learning and related disabilities with best practices for support. 


8. CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) - this website is home to information and tools to implement Universal Design for Learning in the classroom. In particular, the Learning Tools section has an interactive feature that allows users to create their own books and lessons that meet the needs of various types of learners. An extremely helpful resource for differentiating your instruction.


9. The Organized Special Education Teacher  - there are not many websites that I have seen that are this organized! An American-based site, it is home to a plethora of resources for teachers. In addition to an excellent section on accommodations and modifications, it also has links to American Special Education laws and the Department of Special Education. 


10. EdTech Associates - where can you find the latest and greatest information on assistive technology? On the EdTech Associates website there are links to education web tools, research and digital text books. Also, you can sign up for a newsletter that announces the "Best of the Web" where teachers can get information on how to provide their students with applications that can enhance learning and "level the playing field". 


Do you have any to add to this list?

                                            

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Inclusive Class Podcast


The Inclusive Class Podcast is hosted by Nicole Eredics & Terri Mauro on Fridays at 9 AM EST on Blog Talk Radio



Nicole is parent, special education advocate, and an elementary educator who has spent over 15 years teaching in an inclusive classroom setting. Through her experience, she has solutions and strategies for supporting the inclusion of special needs children in the classroom. Look for more resources and information here on her website,  www.theinclusiveclass.com! Nicole also has a page on Facebook called The Inclusive Class and you can follow her on Twitter @Inclusive_Class.






Terri Mauro is a parent and one of the most recognized experts on special education and special needs parenting on the net. She is the author of 50 Ways to Support Your Child’s Special Education and The Everything Parent’s Guide to Sensory Integration Disorder. She is also the About.com guide to Parenting Children with Special Needs on the net. You can also follow Terri on her website, www.mamatude.blogspot.com and on Twitter @mamatude.



Together, Nicole and Terri will explore the issues around the promise and practice of inclusion with recognized experts in the field of inclusive education.  Educators and parents to gain a better understanding of what inclusion means, strategies for successful inclusion and the role of parents in inclusive education. The Inclusive Class Radio Show will give listeners the information they need to help provide the best possible education for their child with special needs.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Preparing Students with Special Needs for the Inclusive Classroom




When I first started teaching more than 15 years ago, I used to spend my entire summer vacation preparing my inclusive classroom for the new school year. A hefty amount of time and money would be spent creating an effective classroom program that would welcome the variety of learners that were coming my way. 

Like most teachers however, the more experienced I became, the more efficient I was at getting prepared for September. Now, instead of 8 weeks preparing for new classes, I have it down to 2!

The point is, that it does take preparation and planning to effectively teach in an inclusive classroom. And, as I have also learned over time, that the preparation not only rests in the hands of the teachers but the parents as well.

Here is an overview of the role of teachers and parents in preparing a student with special needs for the inclusive classroom. (Actually, I do this for ALL my students!)


Teachers:

1. Gather Student files and Individual Education Plans.

2. Meet with previous teachers/paraprofessionals/co-teachers to discuss student's strengths, weaknesses and health. Create a profile of student and place in a Student Information Binder. See http://www.intime.uni.edu/model/teacher/teac1.html for examples of questions to ask and http://www.teachhub.com/organized-teacher-binders for samples of student binders.

3. Meet with parents to gather information about child. Together, work through an interest inventory that allows the parents to identify their child's strengths, weaknesses, areas for development and what works at home. These two links will show examples of interest inventories for lower and upper grades: http://www.sanchezclass.com/docs/student-interest-inventory.pdf  and http://www.scribd.com/doc/19480425/Get-to-Know-You-Survey

4. Start collecting resources and materials to support student's IEP and inclusion in the classroom i.e., assistive technology, lesson plans, social programs. SET BC is an excellent site for suggestions and ideas.

5. Create a classroom environment to include students with special needs. See my article, Arranging a Classroom to Create an Inclusive Learning Environment for ideas. 


Parents:

1. Attend all end of school year meetings. Take notes, names and contact numbers. 

2. Create an Information Binder about your child's strengths, weakness & health information. Check out How to Assemble a Teacher Information Package.

3. Use social stories to help your child transition into the new classroom. For resources, suggestions and ideas go to http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories.

4. Try to arrange a meeting with next year's teacher before end of the school year. Give the teacher a copy of information about your child that will help the teacher plan for the upcoming school year. 

5. Look for summer learning activities for your child to reinforce skills that have been learned and prepare for new ones.



Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Visual Representation of Inclusive Education


Inclusive Education, as defined and described by education experts, is a philosophy. It is not a program, nor does it happen in isolation. It can't happen in one classroom and not the other. The successful inclusion of special needs students requires the shared value system, resources and collaboration of the state/province, school district, home, school and classroom. 

Because the nature of inclusion requires so many components to it's implementation and success, it is often discussed by breaking it down into its topics and sub-topics. For example, we talk about co-teaching, differentiated learning, home-school communication, and IEPs. It is easy for people who are familiar with inclusion to know how all these pieces fit together to form an inclusive environment. However, for others, it still a mystery...a puzzle. How can a teacher with 30 students differentiate learning? Who is a co-teacher? Why does the entire school need to support inclusion?

At the suggestion of my radio show co-host, Terri Mauro, a chart depicting the components of inclusive education might be quite helpful for many of our listeners (and readers of this blogpost) in putting the pieces of the "inclusive puzzle" together. It also helps meet the need of our visual leaners :) Please keep in mind that this chart is an overview, a work in progress and you will likely need to enlarge it for reading!