Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Finding Our Urgency...

Tonight President Obama spoke the phrase "Win the Future" quite often. Regardless of individual politics, it got me thinking.

-The "Future" begins with the now! What CAN WE do now to create the future we speak of?

Reminds me of the Lao Tze qoute which bears similarity to this: "Beware your thoughts for they become words. Beware your words for they become action. Beware your actions for they become you."

We need to find & embrace an urgency for the now.

How will WE act to build what we desire? The future is sitting out there......waiting. The future is now.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Learn, Reflect, Build & Discover...

If it's about the learning, if it's about what's best for kids, our teachers need tools to apply practical, effective intervention in the in the classroom. Looking at a set of student test scores should not indicate intervention placement.
When we support these decisions by saying... "It's about the learning, it's about what's best for kids."
 How do we really know? Is it best for every kid? What are we saying about the way we look at ability? 
 This somewhat benign statement, along with the only slightly more infamous; "This is how we have always done it", has been the foundation of exclusion for years. Our placement decisions and intervention options may be the best our system can do right now, but that doesn't always equate to what's best for kids.
In comes RtI to "fix" the problem. Except for the fact that without a system to support the translation of RtI theory into practice, we've just found another way to exclude.
For example, lets take a student with a primary disability of SLD & a secondary of EBD who's achievement has fallen 2 grade levels below expected performance benchmarks for both math & reading. Both areas of learning have highly sequential and ordered task requirements in demonstrating proficiency, yet instead of providing intervention in the classroom to build logical models/competencies of processing and expressing we find a "program", a research based curriculum to target the deficit. 
Is it because of the behavior of the student? Is it because of the research behind the intervention? Is it because of limited capacity educate children in the classroom setting?
Meanwhile,despite the questions above, in order to be a part of this intervention this student must be pulled from class for "specialized instruction", pulled from class altogether and placed into an "course replacement", or....
WE MUST STOP placing students in full replacement courses. WE MUST STOP exchanging elective classes for a targeted math and reading intervention, etc. These are reactive, and poorly planned & intervention options. This kind of reactivity to intervene (because the intervention is there, it has 10 spots, so let's try it) is not what's best for kids. This "hit-and-hope" style of planning makes it about the intervention and not about the learning.
Teachers should be experienced, possibly, dare I say, expert learners. So in this fashion I again challenge all educators to learn. Learn about their students & their profession. To reflect. Reflect upon their practice, their interactions, their experience, the experience of their students. To build. Build with those who can lead, challenge, energize, inspire and excite. Finally, I challenge teachers to explore. Explore the dreams of their students, explore the possibilities of imagination, and to explore new ways to learn.
This is where intervention must begin.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Creating Functional and Sustainable Systems of Ed: Expanding Our Comfort Zone

Being conscious and open to the possibilities of each person, to the potential of each person is often difficult. Our previous experience and exposure often dictates the amount of patience, understanding and willingness to remain open we allow ourselves to provide for others. It's easy to question our own kindness and flexibility when there is no change in how others respond to it.

So...Where do we draw the line? When do we begin to close off? How do we justify our purpose in doing so? What do we hope the result will be to the decisions we make? I believe that we must be true to our belief in others, to the greater goals of schooling. THIS is our purpose. This is what I read in pieces from leaders like Tom Altepeter (@TomAltepeter), George Couros (@gcouros), Harold Shaw (@hshawjr), Diane Lauer (@MrsLauer), and so many others.


As a special educator I try to reflect and reassess the way in which I interact with different students, at different times, and in different environments. A seminal article in the special education literature by Doug and Lynn Fuchs (1997) asked the question many still discuss today. What’s Special About Special Education?

The uncertainty in quality and effectiveness of special education programming has lead us to where we are today. What does identification do to improve the outcomes of those who are identified? Once a student is identified with a disability, what happens next? How does Placement and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) improve an individual’s education?

I believe that it is important to place these questions within a context relevant to our current struggles within education as a whole. Special education services should not be a “catch-all” solution for students who struggle. Our school programs cannot be expected to function in isolation. An integrated framework must be adopted in order to meet the contemporary needs of students.

General educators must adapt and modify practices. Special educators must do the same. The current emphasis in special education service delivery is on unified and integrated service programming and delivery. However, if the system does not function in concert, student outcomes will not change.

In order to change outcomes for students with and without disabilities educational reformers have been forced to critically analyze measures of accountability to determine their effectiveness and validity. In conjunction with the use of Response to Intervention (RtI) for identification, integrated programs must be compelled to implement primary, and proactive programmatic opportunities that consider risk at an individual level and emphasize resiliency development.

Combining these efforts with the conceptual belief in all students’ ability to succeed can address the needs of those students who are perceived negatively but aren’t given the chance or opportunity to be successful because the system neglects (willfully or unintentionally) their needs, desires, goals and dreams.

Before we refer students for special education identification, we owe it to ourselves, to our students, to find ways to expand the capacity of our teams, our schools, and our districts, by remembering that special education is not always the answer.

True opportunity for individual student successes and increased positive outcomes for students with and without disability will come from a combination of legislation, policy and practice; none of these can influence change in isolation.

It is my duty as an educator, not a special educator, to expand my abilities, my influence, and my knowledge, to collaborate and share effective practices and to learn from my successes and my failures.

Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, L.S. (1997). What’s special about special education? In D. Podell (Ed.), Perspectives: Educating exceptional learners (pp. 39-48). Boulder, CO: Coursewise Publishing

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reading Begets Readers

Spencer's Scratch Pad: Silent Reading
So, here's how I do our silent reading:

  1. Students pick their own books.  The only rule is that they have to complete at least one fiction and one non-fiction book a quarter.  Some of them read part of a book and switch.  That's okay to me. Eventually they find a book they enjoy.  By the end, most students complete about about a book a week to a book every two weeks. 
  2. Students have the option of doing a creative book review (a video, podcast, slideshow) or an interview with me after they finish a book. 
  3. I allow students to read multiple books at multiple levels.  One of my highest readers chose The Giver, Technopoly (a great Neil Postman book), Brave New World and Harry Potter. He began making creative connections between technology, the concept of magic and illusion.
  4. We work on one reading strategy a day.  It might be visualizing, asking clarifying questions or making inferences.  I have no accountability for this, either.  I just trust that students will use these strategies. 
  5. There is very little monitoring of progress.  We don't do reading logs.  Instead, students have a short conversation with a critical thinking question, such as, "How has the setting in your story shaped the personality of the protagonist?" 
  6. We do silent reading every day, including the last day of a quarter, testing days and field trip days. It's not an option. 
  7. I join them in reading.  Toward the beginning of the process, I walk around and check to see their progress or read their body language for signs of frustration.  However, by this time in the year, I'm reading as well.  I think there's something powerful in students knowing that their teacher loves to read.

So I was trolling through the twitter feed tonight and spotted a tweet by @techfacil re: silent reading practices in the classroom. The link within took me to this list from John Spencer, author of Spencer's Scratch Pad. I thought it was worth sharing