Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Smarter than Me!

It can be a bit humbling when your student, who is considered to have a severe cognitive disability, proves to be smarter than you. Let me set the stage. In our classroom we have been doing some market math worksheets that encourage the use of the calculator to complete the problems. Students complete problems by referring to a page that has prices from a grocery store. They take these prices and add them together to find out the total cost of combined items from the grocery store using a calculator. 

A couple weeks ago when we were starting these pages, I was working with a student. He requires a hand helping hold his pencil steady when he is writing, but he does the actual movement. We were on the easiest sheet which just required reference the price page and writing down the price for items. He would start writing down the next price without even looking at the page. At which point I would stop him and make him find it physically on the page. However, this caused great frustration. It started to dawn on me that maybe he had memorized the page and was doing it from memory, so I tried to keep up. Later my instructional assistant was finishing up the same page with him and told him "I can't find it as fast as you." So, he started pointing to the menu price with his left hand, while writing with his right hand as if saying "here you go ... I'll help you find it since you're so slow."

Fast forward a few days and we were on to problems that required adding two items together. Most of us would look at the price list and put the prices in the calculator one at a time until we got the total to write down. This student just started writing on the answer blank. Of the 10 or so problems, he got 9 correct. All this without using the calculator and periodically referencing the price page (when he had forgotten a price). However, when we tried to video tape him doing the same thing for his parents, he got every answer wrong. He is one who will not perform for anyone else which can be ridiculously frustrating.

The lessons I am continuing to learn:
1. When a child refuses to look at the paper after a quick glance (price list, reading assignment, etc.) it might be that they have a photographic memory and are reading the list in their heads while looking into space.
2. When a child is frustrated, maybe it is because I am the one holding them back.
3. Forcing a child to use a calculator when they can do the problem in their head is ridiculous.
4. Don't be afraid to admit to a student that they can do the work faster and better than you can and ask for help.
5. When a student doesn't complete work successfully, it might not be because it is too difficult.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Blown Away

This week I have been blow away by several of my students. When I think about where they have come in just a few short weeks of school I am both excited and overwhelmed. I am excited because there is so much potential and some of my students are finally showing a desire to learn and interact with those around them. I am overwhelmed because my task of trying to unlock that potential has increased in difficulty considerably. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the responsibility that has been given me. I have three short years to try to unlock as much potential in these students as possible. I am thankful that this responsibility is not mine alone, but is shared with staff in my classroom, others in my school, student families, and friends.

Yesterday I saw a joy that is beyond the joy I usually see in my classroom. At one point, a student was running around my room, clapping his hands, and smiling in a way that lit up the entire room and had the adults in the room fighting back tears. All this from a text to mom .... here's the backstory.

I have spent the last several weeks completely frustrated by this student. He is so smart, yet chooses to pretend he isn't. For example, on day one of school he indicated he wanted to change from wearing pull-ups to underwear. This is not something we usually do on day one ... but we figured we would honor his wishes. Well, he stayed dry all day! Then in the coming weeks he would go into the bathroom right before lunch (multiple days) and choose to urinate in his pants while standing by the door in the bathroom.

He wanted help with everything and would act like he wasn't capable of doing anything on his own. I knew this was not true, as I had been in his elementary school classroom and spoken to his teacher. He seemed to thrive on the attention he got (negative or positive). When frustrated, instead of pushing through, he tended to just give up. One of the most frustrating things for us was seeing that he likely knew more than he pretended to know (he acted like he didn't know the alphabet or his numbers), but having a difficult time getting him to actually be willing to show us what he knew. 

To compound his challenges, he is non-verbal. Even so, he has an uncanny ability to express what he wants through signs, facial expressions, etc. He has started carrying a classroom communication device with him everywhere he goes (including taking it home in the evenings). He is quickly learning new words, of which his favorite are bike, mom, help, granola bar, hot dog, chocolate milk and bathroom. Each day seems to add at least one word to his expressive vocabulary.

This week has seemed to be a turning point for him.  We figured out that his greatest motivator is his mother. He loves to share things he does with his mom and is willing to work to make her proud. He will point to our cell phones when he is working to indicate that he wants us to send a picture to mom via the Seesaw app that we use in our classroom. His second greatest motivator is the exercise bike. He loves riding it and will work to earn classroom dollars for a chance to ride.

We work on spelling and dictation in small groups in our classroom. Up until yesterday, he had refused to participate. However, yesterday he sat at the desk and as I said letter sounds, he wrote the letter that made the sound. Due to physical challenges, he has to have someone provide some support over his hand when he writes. However, my instructional assistant providing the support was not the one moving his hand. He wrote every letter correctly. We then moved on to spelling words. He wrote each word that I said correctly as well. 

At the end of the day, he took his spelling paper out of his folder and stuffed it in his backpack. I then told him how proud of him I was for his work and proceeded to text his mom. As I was typing the message, I was reading it aloud so he knew what his mom would be receiving.

The message I sent included ".. worked great today. He wanted to bring home a paper we did today. ... As a result, we are realizing he knows how to read and spell." When I got to this part, he clapped his hands, got a HUGE grin on his face and started running around the room out of sheer excitement. I pulled him over and told him that we would continue trying to find out what he knows and making it harder so that he could keep learning. He took off running around the room again. I'm hoping he continues his quest for learning and doesn't go back to wanting the easy way out.

This was just another reminder of the power of positive reinforcement and not underestimating the potential of my students. Some of the hardest (and most rewarding) students I get to teach are those who refuse to do work if it is something they already know. It makes it extremely difficult to figure out where to start and what to work on next. Although I am overwhelmed at times, I am also really excited to see what this school year will bring in our lives.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Voice for the Voiceless

Wow, I just realized I have not posted on my blog for a really long time (almost a year). Oops, I need to get on that more often.  It's been a rough start to the year, as I was sick for the last month. I got the flu and it has taken me three weeks to finally get my strength back. I am thrilled to be back at full strength and looking forward to what the rest of the school year holds! 

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know I have a specific passion for students who are non-verbal. Currently, I have five students who have limited speech. For these students, we introduce the use of a communication device for different aspects of communication (based on individual needs, strengths, and challenges).  

Last fall I attended a conference. During that conference a quote was shared that really touched me.  "If AAC learners only see symbols modeled for communication twice weekly for 20-30 minutes, it will take 84 years to have the same exposure to aided language as an 19 month old has to spoken language."  This really saddened and challenged me as a classroom teacher. I look at my students and don't want them to have to wait until they are 84 years old before they have the communication abilities of a 19 month old. As a result, I have been slowly trying to implement things in my classroom that will allow them to have practice, but also modeling from staff and other students, on a daily basis. 

I have created a Donor's Choose Project that would allow us to focus on communication in a couple different ways. First, it would allow us to really increase the modeling we do as staff in the classroom. Second, and even more important, it would allow students who don't have personal devices (or whose personal devices break) to have an iPad that is dedicated solely to their communication needs throughout the day. 

We have 9 days (until February 28th) to raise the additional $5600 needed. Please consider donating or passing this along to anyone you know who might be in a position to help and has a passion for students being given a voice.  Thank you! 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Surpassing the Teacher

One of my students continues to surpass me in his knowledge of his communication device. Last year, at the beginning of the year, he was limited to 84 words. There is a setting on the device that prevents anyone from making changes without a password. Until recently, we activated this setting because we were afraid of what he would do to break his device (as this has happened in the past).
However, he has also recently learned how to add words to his device. He especially enjoys adding science words from the general education science class he attends each day.  One time when we were adding words, I forgot to lock his device again.

This gave him the opportunity to play around with the settings. He changed the location of a specific button. Recently, I have found him switching between several different "languages" in the device. He likes the jokes from one, the pictures from another, the words he already knows in the one we use mostly in class, the extra number of words available in a more complex interface, and the word prediction in another. He keeps switching back and forth between interfaces as he communicates.

In April, a consultant, from the company who makes the device, is going to come to our class and help us customize his device. Her knowledge of the device far exceeds my knowledge. We are going to try to give him access to the parts he likes and the possibility to add words, without the ability to delete the settings we customize. I am really looking forward to being able to have his device meet his needs even better than it already does. I am trying to get as much of this done this year, as he moves to the high school next year.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Chance to Catch Up

One of my students has autism. Although he has trouble staying focused and is missing some social skills, he doesn't have major communication or sensory issues that impact his learning. This is his second year in my class. I keep finding that my assignments and activities are not challenging enough for him. He finishes work quickly and with ease, as long has he remains focused. 

I use technology a lot to meet the needs of individual students. One website we use for reading, Moby Max, progresses students through grade level material. At the beginning of the year I began all my students at a kindergarten level in Moby Max. I figured it would give students the opportunity to experience initial success in learning. 

A month ago this student maxed out Moby Max Literature. It showed him reading at an 8.8 grade level (although he is only in 7th grade). This level of reading is easily comparable to his peers in the general education setting. 

In speaking with his mother and my administrators, we decided to give him a chance to attend some general education classes. Starting the day after break, he will be attending a general education English, Math and Social Studies class. He is going to have to get used to having some homework. He is also going to have to get used to being challenged and maintaining focus. He will have to read for understanding and produce something related to what he has learned. I look forward to seeing how he does with these new challenges. I am really hoping he succeeds and can continue to be challenged more in the future!