Sunday, August 12, 2012

Day 5 and Final Day of Re-ED training

We ended the final day of Re-ED training exploring the world of Meaningful Collaboration. One of the 12 Re-ED principles states, "Communities are important for children and youth, but the uses and benefits of community must be experienced to be learned." So, not only is the group essential to learning, but the larger community itself plays a role.

We looked at bringing parents, caregivers, community organizations, primary service providers, state and local agencies, and other professionals in our buildings to the table to provide support for our students beyond school walls and to help students and families interact with and become familiar with community opportunities for engagement and support. Here we spent some time discussing the communication pitfalls these types of teams might encounter. General guidelines for forming and maintaining these types of teams include a strength based focus (building on student strengths), proactive and comprehensive interventions, use of “natural supports” (the community supports that already are in place), partnerships between families and direct service providers, and goals that aim to create meaningful life-long outcomes. For our students who might struggle to see a place for themselves in a supportive community environment, it is our job to help them create that vision, while we support their development.

At the beginning of the training when we looked at the statistics describing students classified with emotional and behavioral disorders, I think it was difficult for participants and trainers to avoid seeing a mythical culture of poverty that produces our students with their various complicated lives. Many are marginalized by social and institutional structures that have been historically oppressive. That said, when we build stories for ourselves about our students and their difficult experiences, we risk blinding ourselves to those “natural supports” that students and families already rely on. We also begin to blame parents and particular communities for our student’s challenges, while averting our eyes from the social, structural, and institutional inequities that fall disproportionally on the shoulders some students.

The principles of Re-ED include; all kids need joy in their lives, being part of a group is important, self-control can be learned, trust between children an adults is essential to learning, relationships play a key role in education and in life, life is to be lived now, competence (being able to do something well) makes a difference, time is an ally, feelings should be nurtured, cognitive competence can be taught, the body is the armature of the self, ceremony and ritual give order, stability, and confidence, and the community is important.

It all seems overwhelming, yet doable! It’s going to be quite a year.

Day 4 Re-ED Training

Day 4 began with Behavior Management and ended with Groups and Group Process. I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by day four, thinking about all the things I wanted to do in my class and not knowing what my day will look like and with no information about my students. Only three weeks until the first kid day of school!

The Behavior Management training looked closely at stage two, limit testing, and stage three, active resistance. We brainstormed antecedent, behavior (in the moment), and consequence interventions. I thought about applying the ABC interventions to my formal lesson plans and classroom norms so that I am thinking and planning for the behaviors that complicate learning. Antecedent interventions are things like cues, prompts, and self-management strategies (including data collection that the student collects themselves). Behavior, or during the behavior interventions include things like teaching replacement behaviors and self-monitoring. The application of positive reinforcement through praise, group contingencies, and differential reinforcements (token economies, contracts, etc.) are examples of consequence interventions.

One of the principles of Re-Ed is that the group is important. Students classified with emotional and behavioral disabilities have often experienced life on the outside of groups because they have been removed or kicked out. Re-ED philosophy looks at problematic behavior like we would look at an academic or learning roadblock. The assumption is that the student is not successful because they haven’t learned the skill (the social skill or school skill) and they can be taught self-control. The group and learning how to be part of a group is essential to this instruction.

During the training we discussed group development; the forming, storming, norming, and performing process. We looked at full value participation contracts, and various types of meetings and their structures (goal-setting, check-in, goal review, planning, problem solving, and “positives” meetings). The experiential activities that teachers provide, as part of the Re-ED approach, help develop group cohesion, collaboration, and provide students with protected environments where they can practice how to negotiate conflict. The Groups and Group Process section of the training helped me to contextualize the experimental education aspect of Re-ED. Before I was looking experimental education in terms of hands-on learning, however, its really about building groups and providing opportunities for students to practice social skills, problem-solving strategies, and cooperative learning.   

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Day 3 Re-ED debrief

The focuses of today’s training included experiential education and social skills instruction.

Often when I think about experiential education, I think Outward Bound and “hands on” learning and it’s true that these things can be experiential opportunities. However, what defines experiential education, especially in a setting led by the principals of Re-ED, are the briefing, planned sequencing, experiencing, reflection, and debriefing components brought together in a complete activity. In my secondary setting, I would sequence activity, with my specific students in mind, over a period of time to allow students the opportunity to interact as a group, build trust, practice and grow communication skills, and solve problems. Small classroom experiences/activities can help students grow their social competence by giving them frequent opportunity to practice. Certainly, there are a lot of examples of experiential education that go beyond the walls of a classroom, but I think there are plenty of inquiry lessons that could have an experiential component within the walls of the school.

Instructional Resources for Experiential Education:

Our discussion around social skills instruction highlighted the Re-ED principal that self-control can be learned. Additionally, when educators see a student struggle with an academic problem, the assumption is made that the student needs to be re-taught the skill. If the student still doesn’t master the skill other interventions are often explored until the student finds success. When educators see a student struggle with a social skill, an assumption is made that the student is purposefully acting that way or that they could do something different if they chose to, educators fail to see that the social skill has yet to be mastered and therefore do not teach and re-teach the skill.

In effective social skill instruction, educators identify or name the skill they are attempting to teach, teach when and when not to use the skill, operationalize (task analysis or break into steps) the skill, model the skill, practice the skill, review, test, collect data on the effectiveness of the instruction and implementation, and then try to generalize the newly learned skill into other areas.    
We teach social skills everyday, whether we are deliberately planning for it or not, therefore if we integrate social skills teaching into our lesson planning and instruction deliberately we will positively impact future behaviors in our classrooms.

Social Skills Instruction Resources:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Beginning a New Year and a Different Focus

I am beginning a new school year working with students classified with emotional and behavioral disorders in a high school setting. Right now I don’t know what my day will look like. It could be a self-contained setting where I co-teach with another EBD teacher or it could look like a mixture of co-teaching with general education teachers, co-teaching with another EBD teacher, and a self-contained period where I am the only “teacher” in the room with support staff. I am waiting to hear from my new principal and/or assistant principal what my schedule might entail.

This week I am attending a weeklong training given by WAREA, Washington Re-Education Association, entitled “Effectively Serving Children with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities. Yesterday we focused on what is Re-ED, the nine stages of Re-EDucation, and structure and predictability. Today we focused on effective instruction and conflict to coping skills.

My take-aways from day one include the importance of having a philosophy (district, building, and/or classroom) that guide an EBD program. A lot of the presenters working for WAREA also work at Renton Academy, which is a therapeutic public EBD school in Renton, WA. I have visited this self-contained school and their district and school have adopted the Re-ED principles as the districts philosophy and approach to dealing with students classified with EBD.

The twelve principles of Re-EDucation include; trust between child and adult is essential and foundational, life is to be lived now, competence makes a difference (children and adolescents should be helped to be good at something), time is an ally (work on the side of growth), self-control can be taught and students can learn to manage behaviors, cognitive competence of children and adolescents can be enhanced through skill development, feelings should be nurtured, the group is very important and should be a part of instruction, ceremony and ritual give order, stability and confidence, the body is the armature of the self, communities are important and benefits of community must be learned and experienced, and children should know some joy in each day.

The nine stages of Re-EDucation refer to the stages that a child goes through as they learn to manage their own behavior and make connection with adults, other students, and their school community. Here change looks likes child development stages, where students progress and regress as they move through stages like limit testing, active resistance, and beginning stages of trust. We spent the afternoon talking about preparing for our students, creating structure and predictability from the start, boarders or boundaries, that will help students move through the nine stages feeling more safe and secure.

Today, we spent the morning practicing and reviewing research based literacy and math interventions, emphasizing that our EBD kids have years of experience dealing with behavioral interventions, but less experience with teachers addressing academic deficiencies. Not a lot of surprises here, behavior is linked to past academic and/or school failure. Finally, we closed the day looking at the conflict cycle. Are we reinforcing the “irrational thinking” that leads kids to feelings and problematic behavior? Or are we interrupting the cycle and helping kids to interrupt their own thinking, maybe even help them change their thinking.

I felt like talking about the conflict cycle was a perfect opening for discussing cognitive behavioral interventions and cognitive academic interventions. If our kids’ deficits center on metacognitive deficiencies then work around thinking and evaluating information is a great next step. 


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Inclusion - Third Installment

A significant amount of effort is spent on advocating for students to be included and shifting how the institution works to make this possible. After we get the students in the room, then what do we do?

Inclusion is more than admittance. We must modify and change the instruction to make it both accessible and challenging. Sometimes we even need to reframe for ourselves what it is we are teaching. If the middle school learning goal is to analyze recurring themes in literature, then we might need to deliberately teach how to build knowledge as a student reads – not only what questions we might ask.

For instance, it might feel instinctual to invite students to identify the motivations of the characters, reactions of the characters, conflicts in the story, and themes the author touches on. And there are many instances where a teacher has to teach and reteach what these things are… theme, conflict, characters, etc. However, we can help many students by breaking down the thinking that is involved in analyzing and showing students how to organize this mental information. This might look like character maps that helps students make visual connections between characters and space or characters and other people and/or helping students predict all the possible unwritten things the character could be thinking. For many kids accessing their mental process, “I read________. I think ___________. I connect___________. I ask___________.” is incredibly challenging and teaching what happens at each step VERY DELIBERATEY is, at minimum, a first step.

Collaborative teaching allows for great teaching opportunities. My favorite collaborative teaching model this week is Alternative Teaching. Here one teacher teaches the lesson one way and then the other teaches the same lesson a different way. With aides in the room you could even modify this to  repeat the same lesson again or break the lesson down into smaller parts for a few students. The trick with all this is to keep the instruction hemmed in and brief. Maybe one teacher would start out with a 5-7 minute lesson, then the students would work for 20 minutes, followed by the alternative 5-7 minute lesson and ten minutes or more of work. I think it would be great to lead with the lesson the teachers deem “most accessible” for all their students.

We are still figuring out what to do once we get them into the room and sometimes we are struggling to keep them there once they are included. I will continue to ruminate on inclusion, graduate school, and learning. Until next time…

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Inclusion - Second Installment

I used to think an inclusion setting was not ideal for my kid. He has this double whammy of deafness and Autism that make sensory integration a huge challenge, plus he had an early history of hiding underneath tables in a more “typical” deaf preschool setting. The thing about our guy is the signing itself can be overwhelming and layer on the inability to sit for longer that five or ten minutes, truthfully advocating for inclusion at times seemed like advocating for hell. But then I started to work in schools, more specifically to work in special education settings and I had the opportunity to meet reality.  

Plain and simple, both in schools and in society, separating “typicals” from “non-typicals” is counter-productive (whatever typical and non-typical mean anyway?). If we are all going to live well in our communities together, these interminglings must begin early. Often parents of differently-abled kids feel isolated, disconnected, and in their worst moments hopeless as they try to care for their children.  Schools can and do perpetuate this isolation with self-contained classrooms and a lack of student expectation. In my own employment and when I substituted in my urban school district, I witnessed the degree of isolation teachers of special education and their assistants can be within school communities. They are often working outside of state standards and their students have questionable access to grade level curriculum. Administrators and other teachers often fail to include these staff members and students when they focus on improving student learning and teacher instruction.

How can self-contained classrooms meet student’s individual needs?

Self-contained classrooms in theory can insulate students from large class sizes where their specific academic goals and instructional needs may be glossed over in the sea of other faces. These classrooms reduce the teacher-to-student ratio and often pair the teacher with at least one instructional aid. The self-contained classroom can provide more direct instruction with some extra room to deal with behaviors that are challenging to navigate in a general education setting.  Self-contained programs, deaf and hard-of-hearing programs, Autism programs, and programs designed to meet the needs of medically fragile students are usually created as an attempt to meet the specific and unique needs of the students being served.

What can be problematic about self-contained classrooms?

Students in self-contained classrooms receive fewer opportunities to interact with typically developing peers and grade level curriculum. Sometimes skilled grade level instruction is also a missed opportunity. Students in these classrooms vary in their ages and grade levels, at times to extremes. The range is often disproportional to a range found in a typical classroom setting. A teacher may be modifying a math lesson where every one of his/her students is working at a different grade/ability level, from prekindergarten to algebra.  Realistically, day-to-day instruction suffers, as instructional trainings for differentiating curriculum lag behind their need.  Teachers and instructional aids in self-contained classrooms are isolated from the school community, their peers, and school wide instructional improvement plans and goals. They are not visible enough and sometimes the insular setting allows teachers to believe they are doing more than they really are.  There is a lack of instructional oversight and expectation.

How can inclusion classrooms meet student’s individual needs?

In inclusion classrooms typical and non-typical peers have access to one another as peer models. Students of all varieties regulate their behavior in the presence of their peers. Students model different learning styles and strategies and have access to the make-up of their whole school/world community. Often different ways of moving around in the world or dealing with stress that call attention to some students in public are ignored or become normalized in an inclusion setting. Non-typical behaviors are less distracting and they are accepted as day-to-day occurrences. In a full inclusion model, instruction is modified so that all students have access to the curriculum, teaching strategies take into consideration the varied learners in the classroom and this attention to differentiation benefits all students.

What can be problematic about inclusion classrooms?

Full inclusion usually translates into more adults in a classroom. Figuring out this working relationship can be chaotic at times for students and teachers and perceived power imbalances tend to stress the more sensitive students. Whether co-teaching or supervising instructional staff, teachers in inclusion classrooms have to skillfully manage student and adult relationships simultaneously. Additionally, in the inclusion settings it may be harder to address specific education goals for individual students and track incremental student progress. Sometimes meaningful student work may suffer to include a wider range of learners. Usually, it is those students at either end of the spectrum that lose out. 

When my stepson entered middle school instructional intervention started falling away because the adults in his school communities stopped believing in what was possible for him.  They concerned themselves with accepting him “for who he is” and his limitations. An inclusion setting offers a thin shield from this type of thinking. Even when these protections are the standards and expectations teachers and communities have for more “typical” students.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Inclusion – First of Three Ruminations

Inclusion is a complex and yet simple vision. It is a process, a way of living, learning, and teaching, but sometimes is misunderstood as a goal or a place to get to, instead of paradigm shift or a way of being.

I work with and parent children that would be considered “low incident,” another way of saying complicated and not many kids with their particular challenges out there. They are outliers even in groups of students being served by Special Education. Because they are complicated and some of their parents happen to look like and sound like those who are almost about to sue, they receive a lot of attention and some “extra” services. And when educators talk about “full inclusion” they aren’t talking about these kids – they cannot even wrap their brains around what it might look like.

They have intense sensory needs, they struggle to access language, not to mention curriculum. They have been known to flap, scream, fail to sit in a chair for longer than five minutes, have little expressive communication that doesn’t touch on their own specific needs, and they get stuck in their own feedback loops. Often educational institutions respond to these students by providing one-to-one support and/or “self-contained” rooms for specialized instruction and intervention. We refocus the lens on behavior modifications and marginalize these students’ access to grade level materials and teaching. 

I think institutions should reconsider. Most of the time inclusion is appropriate for students, and separating some students out from larger student populations fails to provide all students with an accurate understanding and picture of their whole communities.  Plus, when you contain a population of students you “contain” their families, their teachers and their assistants. Inclusion is a hard process, I get that it is not a magical solution in the struggle to meet an individual student’s academic needs. It’s easy to say full inclusion and harder to put meaningful inclusion into practice. Inclusion not only means a seat at the table or in a desk, widening a door or putting in an elevator, but it also means modifying instruction and curriculum, recreating class room norms, and encouraging patience in ourselves and others. It often requires teachers to work closely with other teachers and assistants, which can be challenging in itself.

Next time I would like to touch on what I used to think would work best for my deaf stepson who has Autism and a host of other quirky disabilities, and what I think now after working in schools. It won’t be pretty.