Month: March 2011

Inclusion: Support in the Deep End of the Pool

If a child is not a good swimmer yet is in a swimming class that takes place in the deep end of the pool, how should this be handled?

I would imagine that a swim instructor would have to stay very close by, making sure that the child does not go under. (Of course, one could question why the child is in the deep end of the pool, but let’s save that question for another time.)

If a child is classified in special education, often what I hear is that he/she is receiving “Inclusion Services.” Inclusion can take many forms, but on average it means that there is a special education teacher who plays a secondary, supportive role to the primary teacher in the classroom . Certain children are assigned to the inclusion teacher and are on her caseload. Typically, she helps the children assigned to her with the material that they are getting in class. The inclusion teacher will make sure the kids are on-board, offer pointers, and see to it that the children are basically keeping up with the class.

I am not knocking inclusion by saying this, but understand that inclusion is the equivalent of the instructor in the deep end of the pool. Inclusion is fundamentally different than direct instruction.

Direct instruction means that specific skills are taught within levels where the child is reasonably comfortable (e.g., the four foot water, as opposed to the deep end).

If you are the parent of a child who is classified, it is essential that you are clear on the difference. Inclusion is supportive, drowning prevention, while direct instruction is targeting specific skills to be developed, effectively helping the child be a better swimmer.

Both inclusion support and direct instruction are important, but too often the child is only getting one of them.

Without getting sufficient direct instruction, the child will always need to have someone close by to make sure he/she does not drown.

Killling the Rainforest One IEP at a Time

Professionally, one of the things I dread is when parents come in to my office to consult with me and they have folders loaded with one IEP (Individualized Education Plan) after another to review.

I know I have some kind of comprehension problem, because after all of these years whenever I start to read the IEPs my eyes glaze over and I can’t understand them. They all seem the same to me, and there certainly a lot of pages.

When I was a young special education teacher, IEPs were supposed to be liberating for those with disabilities. As I recall, the intention of the law was that there would be an individualized plan drawn up for each child. It seemed to be a great notion.

I could be wrong, but I didn’t think the IEP was supposed to be a template of items checked off on a list, with pages upon pages of checklists.

I know I’m dreaming, but I think I would rather have a one page “IEP” that had a few very specific goals established for the child rather than all of the checked items.

Wouldn’t three or so very specifically targeted goals be better than 20 some odd pages of checklist upon checklist?

Come to think of it, we would also save some trees if psychological and other professional reports weren’t so long, with their myriad of recommendations (often templated or computer generated), many of which are completely unrealistic.

If there are 10, 20, or even 30 recommendations in the report (which is often the case), the school will have a very tough time implementing any of them.

Instead, keep asking what are the two or three things that if faithfully implemented would make a difference in an individualized plan. The same applies to 504 Plans. What are the two or three good accommodations that would help “level the playing field” for the child?

We certainly would save some trees in the rainforest.

How High is Your “Parent Over-Investment Dial?”

Is your Parent Over-investment Dial (P.O.I.D.) set too high?

Parents are often in pretty deep with their kids’ school work. However, by the time the child has reached middle school the typical message from the teachers is, “Parents – It is time for you to bug out. They are big boys and girls and should be doing the work on their own.” This puts the parents in a quandary.

For many middle school children such wisdom is fine. Probably about 60 percent or so of the children in middle school are able to manage their own school affairs without too much parent involvement. For the remaining 40%, the ones that have trouble staying organized, getting started and sustaining their mental effort, they tend to need more parent input.

The difficult part is knowing how much parent involvement is too much.  A guideline that I find helpful for parents is the suggestions that they should be 10% involved, as a general rule. 

What does 10 % involvement look like in real terms?

It means that the child is largely responsible for managing his own school affairs. The parent would help the child in terms of orienting him to the task, cuing him in and guiding a bit so that the child is on the right track and not floundering around aimlessly.

The 10 % solution means you turn down your Parent Over-Investment Dial. You know your dial is set too high when you are swirling around and worrying about your kids’ homework, while your child has barely broken a sweat.

If you’re doing 60 – 70% or more of the worrying, why should the child? If I were a child in such a situation, I’d be thinking, “That’s a good deal, keep going. Thanks, mom for doing the worrying for me.”

It’s human nature, no? Who wants to do the homework anyway?

So, put your feet up, pour yourself a glass of wine and turn down your P.O.I.D.  to 10%.


Two Roads

You know what Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”
Lately I’ve been explaining issues of struggling children in the metaphor of two roads.
About 50 – 60% of the population has a relatively smooth ride when it comes to school. Sure, there are some pebbles, rocks and a few potholes in the road, but in terms of the big items – academic and social functioning – the kids on this road get a relatively smooth ride. 
Then there are the other kids. These kids travel down a bumpy road filled with potholes.   For a whole host of co-mingling variables it’s not an easy ride for them
Children are not car engines.  They aren’t broken.  There’s no fixing.
What we can do is make their bumpy road a little smoother.
Smoothing the road a bit can take many forms. A lot of it is turning down the heat and curbing all the yelling around and teeth gnashing related to school. 
Maybe tonight instead of all the homework stress, play a game of Uno. Maybe your child likes drawing or building a Lego model. If your kid is older, have her play some music for you that she’s been listening to on her IPod (that you have no idea about). How about you go for a walk together?
 Let the child take the lead. 
One rule, though – you’re not allowed to bring up school during that time.
You’re just trying to smooth the road a bit, one pot hole at a time.


The Game Changer: Logan Elementary School

For me, Friday was the game changer. 
Having been invited to speak in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Ocean Reef School in Key Largo and the Highlands School for learning disabled and dyslexic children in Maryland, as well as being featured in a variety of public schools such as the East Rutherford School District, I have had many exciting experiences since the publication of The Shut-Down Learner brought me beyond my local fish pond.
As great as those experiences were, it was the Logan Elementary School in Logan Township New Jersey (back in my local fish pond), that changed everything. 
When I wrote The Shut-Down Learner, I was primarily aiming to help parents who are having trouble finding good private schools in jacksonville fl or even in New Jersey, for that matter. I also wanted to help parents gain a new perspective on their struggling children. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that a school district would revamp its curriculum based on concepts from the book.
On page 60 of The Shut Down Learner, it states:
The normal curriculum does not work for these children. Most subjects such as social studies, science, language arts, and math leave them depleted.   Yet we persist with these largely because the curriculum is the way it has always been.
As a result, by the end of their schooling, these children are worn down, angry and not well-educated. In effect, they are resistant or immune to traditional education. School represents a dead match between the demands of the school curriculum and the neurological and personality makeup of the child.
To avoid becoming angry, depleted frustrated members of society by the time they’re sixteen years of age, SDL’s (Shut-Down Learners) need a very different type of school experience.”
Dr. Fisicaro, the school’s principal, took those words to heart and with the support of his administration, staff and parents, set out to revamp the school’s curriculum by instituting “Flex Time,” where children could choose from an array of hands-on and more creative experiences as a part of their day.    Perspective Drawing, Music (guitar and piano), Movement/Dance,  Technology (Lego Engineering),  and Puppety  were among the Flex time classes that the second through fifth graders chose for themselves.   
      (Mr. Jace Dutweiler works with group of students at Logan Elementary in Flex Time activity.)
The school still must adhere to the state established “standard’s based curriculum,” but Flex Time gives the kids a battery charge of motivation that seems to carry them through their day. The school is looking to expand the program for the middle school grades, as well.
Keep in mind that Logan Township Elementary is a public school, not an elite private school where there typically is more opportunity  to develop  a child’s creative side. Also bear in mind that the state of New Jersey is under a severe budget crisis in education. Flex Time did not stress the district financially.
I believe the success of the program is that each child brings forth his or her unique personal gifts into the public forum of the classroom, something they had rarely been able to do previously.  Discouraged learners became energized and enthused learners. 
As third grade teacher Teresa Tenyila noted in a recent newspaper article featuring the program, “Schools at the elementary level have become extremely academic and there’s not much time for other types of intelligence to be recognized. This gives the students a chance to experiment with a creative curriculum and the kids really look forward to it.”
A game changer, indeed.



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