Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Junk in my Trunk

There is a young woman in my church who is about 19 years old. Very gentle. She has had a number of difficult to diagnose health issues and an unusual pattern of learning disabilities...so I of course immediately warmed to her.

She is coming to my house two afternoons a week now to help me with the boys. She can sit for them if I need to run out or can listen to one read while I spend some individual time with the other.

I figure this gives me a 1:1 student to adult ratio those afternoons...combine that with the fact that we also offer a 1:1 student to computer ratio and I'm thinking my little school sounds all manner of elite and marketable...

Yesterday the four of us went for a hike at Connetquot State Park. During one of our breaks, we discovered that Claire is particularly interested in Egyptian history and artifacts. She offered to bring over some of her favorite books and show them to the boys.

"What are some of the things you find most interesting about Egyptian history?" Ben asked.

"Well, they worshipped cats. They had all sorts of gods and goddesses that are different from our God. And when you died? You got buried with the things you loved most so that you would have them in the afterlife."

This led to one of my all-time favorite types of conversations: what would get buried with you?

"Mom would get buried with her laptop," Ben said immediately.

"There are no pop-ups and free wi-fi in the afterlife," I agreed.

"Well, if you're good," James chimed in.

"I'd get buried with my Wii and with my shark collection," Ben offered.

Claire would get buried with her favorite CD's: John Lennon, The Donnas, Mariah Carey. James would get buried with his Lego Aqua Raiders. And some chocolate. And a fuzzy blanket for if it got chilly. And the PlayStation II--since he planned on dying after Ben, so the Wii would already be gone.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Teachable Moment

Ben is sitting in the study, ostensibly working on thank you cards for the Wii he received for his birthday. He's also snuffling quietly.

We went down to Nashville last weekend, visited family, celebrated the high school graduation of a cousin/niece. "We" of course is a group defined as mom, dad, boys and favorite pelagic stuffed friends--Willy the orca, Hamtoro the hammerhead shark, and Phil the tiger shark. (Yes, we are singlehandedly keeping the Riverhead Aquarium afloat (pun intended) via gift shop purchases. And your point is???)

There were a great many people staying at the house--makeshift beds and air-mattresses everywhere upstairs. And, of course, part of the fun in a situation like this (did I mention that there was also a triple bunk bed) is to sleep in a different spot every night...

Well, all we know is that by Sunday we couldn't find the much-beloved Phil the tiger shark. We looked in every room, under every bed, in between every set of sheets and inside every duffle bag. No Phil.

Was foul play involved? Maybe. Ben is the youngest in his tier of cousins: the rest are tweens and teens who might have gotten tired of hearing about the ecological plight of our cartilaginous friends. I dunno what to think. They're good kids in this family...but they are still kids. Sigh. Phil was really well hidden, if that is the case...

Ben came up with the idea of making a poster of Phil using FD's Toys and emailing it to the family. If Phil did disappear under nefarious circumstances, maybe the poster and reward will warm a hardened heart enough to bring him back to us. (If not...I've got to get out to the aquarium within the next couple of days to buy a new Phil and dirty him up just a little without anyone else noticing.) Ben made the poster himself using the "motivator" tool at Fd's and we sat down together, his first real foray into email, with the family's addresses to send them off when he was done.

It kills me, though. I know Ben is eleven. HE believes that he is too big to cry over something like this...but every once in a while, the emotion just catches up with him and it's heartbreaking. He tries to be stoic ("No, I must have gotten something in my eye--I'll be better in a minute, don't worry" [he comes from a long, proud tradition of wussy liars]). It's that struggle with his sadness and my inability to help him feel better that are making me antsy.

I guess I should get a little used to that concept. He's growing up.

We learned today that Roman women were considered legally marriageable at age 12 (though most waited until the ripe age of 14)...Ben's almost there now. And, obviously, he will experience hurts worse than this where I will be even less able to intervene.

Hate that, though. Absolutely hate that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Clearly, We Have Not Yet Entered the "My Mom is a Fool" Phase of Development...

Ben: Hey, mom: did you know that as a snail consumes its prey, its jaws work like a conveyor belt...much like the helicoprion, actually! I just heard that on Animal Planet's "Most Extreme Appendages."

Me: No, I hadn't heard heard that...you mean the snail's teeth move?

Ben: Yeah, I think so...I think that's what they meant. I'm surprised you didn't know that!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More From My Universal Design for Learning Paper

...However, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer article previously mentioned, the philosophical tenets of UDL are now being combined with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences with promising results. Additionally: the UDL/multiple intelligences juggernaut is positively affecting not just atypical learners, but general education children, as well.

"Students who put their heads down on their desks in the past got up and participated," asserted a principal in an elementary school that used UDL in all of its classrooms (Kleinerman, 2006).

This is because, just as architectural universal design promoted better physical accessibility for all to public structures, UDL provides intellectual accessibility to content for a broader range of the population. Student assessment is not limited simply to book reports and multiple-choice exams, as has occurred in the past. In UDL, authentic assessments—graphs, pictures, plays, songs, oral reports, and power point presentations (to name but a few of the many possibilities)--offer students the opportunity to show that they have internalized content. What is more, by allowing students flexibility in how they present acquired knowledge, they are encouraged to manipulate the information in their preferred modality (artistic, kinesthetic, visual, scientific, verbal, analytical, etc.) where they are going to be more comfortable stretching with the material and even, possibly, going farther with a lesson than their teacher could have predicted.

"I see higher levels of thinking emerging, not just rote facts," one teacher proponent in the Cleveland School District stated. Development of these “higher order thinking skills” (those that appear in the second half of Bloom’s Cognitive Taxonomy: analysis, synthesis, evaluation) is highly sought in today’s schools and from today’s parents, administrators, and politicians. Unfortunately, the recommended avenue for development of these skills currently focuses only on tweaking or revamping punitive, written-language-based, “high-stakes” standardized tests that critics claim do not provide an accurate assessment of student capabilities and actually stifle any other classroom activity beyond “teaching to the test.”

According to Margo Izzo, a strong proponent for UDL and a professor at Ohio State University, approximately thirty percent of learners excel with auditory presentations while just over seventy percent prefer visual. Yet many teachers still depend heavily on lectures as their main form of transmitting content to students while standardized tests rely completely on a language-based model of assessment (Kleinerman, 2006).

In light of Professor Izzo’s research, shouldn’t educators be searching for methods of content transmission and assessment that work with students’ preferred modalities of learning? Otherwise, don’t our public schools then become, as John Goodlad has asserted, nothing more than “sorting mechanisms” that filter out a minority group of students and label them “successful” while leaving the majority of students—including most special education students—with the belief that they are somehow inferior? If our goal as educators is not to “sort,” but in fact to create a population of life-long learners, shouldn’t the act of learning be intentionally designed to be a rewarding experience for as broad a cross-section of the student populace as is possible (Goodlad, 1994, p. 72)?

Additionally, literacy specialists and those that work with English Language Learners have long asserted (and empirically proven) that true written and oral fluency in a second language cannot be achieved until they are first firmly established in the primary language (Rief, 1996, p. 182). Would it not, then, be logical to also conclude that students might not comfortably manipulate content in their weaker learning modalities and reach for those higher-order thinking skills before their preferred learning modalities are fully up and running? What is more, if this is true, then wouldn’t the demand that teachers and students spend more and more of their class time preparing for more and more high-stakes tests--tests that will only accurately reflect the abilities and preferred learning modality of (according to Professor Izzo’s research) thirty percent of the student population--be an exercise in futility, and, in fact, result in boring and alienating the majority of our students instead of educating them?

A caveat: rewarding should not be interpreted as meaning the same thing as easy. Certainly students should be encouraged to stretch in all of the learning modalities, and as the verbal intelligence, in particular, is so valued in our culture and is associated with many of the most desirable careers, it should certainly be fostered and emphasized in any public school curriculum. However, the methods we are currently using to hone these verbal skills may possibly be counterproductive in that they may currently be doing more emotional harm than intellectual good.

A final point: A recent clinical research paper from the American Pediatrics Association emphasized just this point. Empirical evidence performed by the APA indicated that physical activities such as walking and running stimulated activity in the hippocampus of the brain, which in turn actually improved students’ abilities to read, write, retain content, and pay attention—all while simultaneously lowering anxiety levels. Furthermore, the rate of physical activity was directly proportional to the rate of task improvement (Ginsberg, 2006).

Unfortunately, in education’s efforts to boost standardized test scores, many school physical education programs have actually been cut or down-sized in the last decade—are often seen as the most expendable programs in our schools--to allow for more “time on task” in reading and math. Ironically, the noble goal of improving the quality of education our children receive may have actually resulted, instead, in providing them with less opportunity for constructivist connections and personal growth. This narrowly defined use of learning modalities within the classroom stands in direct contrast to the diverse content transmission and assessment opportunities advocated by both multiple intelligence and universal design for learning advocates.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A La Carte

I've been going to lots of meetings lately. Most recently I attended one meeting for the new LIPC (Long Island Parent Center)--a state-funded parent and child advocacy and outreach center designed to connect members of the special education community with the knowledge and services it requires, it is set up under the auspices of VESID (Vocational Education Services for Individuals with Disabilities--a New York State educational bureau). In these days of tight budgets, knowledge absolutely is power and help from the state is always appreciated...

Then, a couple of nights later, I attended an organizational meeting to start up a homeschooling Waldorf collective here on Long Island.

And I came away from both meetings a little exhausted. Everyone's got an agenda and but no one shares miiiiiiiiiiiinnnnne!

One of the most challenging aspects of raising an atypical child is all of the extra choice and decision-making involved. If there was just A RIGHT ANSWER, you could do whatever that was and go to sleep at night thinking, "well, we've done it." We are on THE RIGHT TRACK. We are doing THE RIGHT THING.

Instead? There are choices. This is tough. Particularly for someone with perhaps the extra unresolved control issue or two. When I was pregnant with Ben I remember spending a couple of hours choosing just the right DIAPER BAG for him, for pete's sake. Changing pad: removable or attached? Insulated bottle holder: necessary? Backpack or over-the-shoulder styling? I like to research. Like to know all of my options. I can be PAINFUL to go out to dinner with. Big menus: how do you choose? How do you have time to read over and imagine all of those options before the waiter comes back with your drinks and asks for your order? BUT IS THE BRUSCHETTA MADE IN-HOUSE?????? Okay...well WHAT ABOUT THE VINAIGRETTE???

And that's just one meal. When it comes to my kids??? I want to, need to do what is best for my guys. Mistakes cost time. Affect development, self-esteem, opportunities for relationships and personal growth. Each choice echoes with that ticking clock that closed segments on 60 Minutes all those years ago. So I research. I go to meetings. I mingle. I listen. And then I sift through all of the options and perspectives. That's where I am now...sifting--with the clock ticking behind us.

Waldorf has some great ideas and methodologies. I like that in the schools teachers and students and parents come together as a family. Religions of the world are all introduced from a cultural literacy perspective so that students can ultimately be citizens of the world with tolerance for and understanding of others who are different from themselves. Teachers in Waldorf schools try to stay with their students for seven years, through an entire course of one of Rudolf Steiner's developmental phases. Students work in six-week modules where they are provided with the opportunity to do a deep-dive into the material they are learning. No textbooks or dittos--this is meaningful work because the assignments and textbooks are created by the students under the gentle direction of the teacher. Waldorf classwork is, by definition, multi-modal: there is drawing, dancing, music, movement, sculpture incorporated into all lessons...

However, Waldorf schools are also notoriously anti-technology. Children should not watch television AT ALL. There is no difference at all between the Planet Earth series currently on Discovery Channel and the latest installment of Ed, Edd and Eddie on Cartoon Network in these peoples' eyes. Computer use is severely frowned-upon before high school. And even then, it is considered antithetical to a student's development and whole-heartedly de-emphasized.

I've got a HUGE problem with that. I look at technology as the saving grace of education, the tool through which all students can be reached and taught to problem-solve.

Whenever you leave the purview of public education and delve into one of these alternative educational philosophies, there is another factor that comes into play--however subtly: If you don't like our philosophy, you can leave.


We're not here to educate everyone. We're here to educate people like us.

It is inspiring to observe a dedicated Waldorf adherent until you start to disagree or question their thought processes or philosophy. Then you become a full-fledged member of the 'losing battle' club. There is no reason for adherents to change what works. FOR THEM. And if something isn't working, it is the fault of the pupil, not the philosophy.

I've got a problem with THAT, too. Education is for the benefit of the child. If education is not working for the child then it is incumbent upon THE EDUCATOR to change the methodology to meet the needs of the child.

I can't help but think that the best methodology will take bits and pieces from a variety of philosophies and shape them so that they are deliverable to typical learners and special education students in a public education venue. And that this methodology will be a malleable, evolving school of thought open to evaluation, analysis and criticism.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

They Get Their 'Cool Heads in a Crisis' From Me...

Understand: In many ways, the boys and I are brave, stoic, resourceful types. You want someone to stand up for what is right and good, beneficial to both mankind and mother earth? We will COME to your peace vigil. We will MARCH in your rally. We will make and carry concise, insightful signs that will bring the brotherhood of man to its collective knees in a glorious, communal EPIPHANIC understanding of JUST WHERE THINGS WENT HORRIBLY AWRY! We are also, to the last, very, very good at regaling peers and loved ones with well-constructed tales replete with credible story arc, fresh imagery and topically relevant soundtracks!

But bugs. We are not so good there. MmmmMMMmmm!

To illustrate my point, one of my all-time favorite fraternal exchanges:

James, aged 4: ISAWASPIDER! ABIGBLACKSPIDERWITHHAIRYLEGS! (scrambles up the couch)

Ben, a very sage 7: (dismissively) THAT is a daddy longlegs. You've been reading too many books about bugs. You are developing a phobia.

James: I DON'T have a phobia!!! I'm just scared!!! (author's note: pronounced 'sceh-wid')

Ben: You do have a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. Like my irrational fear of boat propellers.

James: Well, I don't have a phobia of BUGS. Just ARACHNIDS.

Although, for the record, both children AS WELL AS THEIR MOTHER have always gone certifiably berzerk in the face of anything with segmented leg-pairs or waving antennae. Personally? I like to think of this as PART OF OUR CHARM.

So, you can only imagine with what chagrin one nest-building hornet-ish looking thing in the southwest kitchen window was then greeted the other day. With the above-mentioned stoic resolve and speedy reflexes I closed (and locked!) the window, moved lessons out to the couch (just to be safe!), and announced that Dad would most certainly take care of the issue when he got home that evening.

Which he did. Dad dutifully waited until nightfall, carefully slipped off the screen and storm windows, and hosed our little friend and her papery starter-home into the winged hereafter.

"Wow, she was really BIG!" the husband noted, subsequently gazing at the soggy, lifeless VERY LARGE form on the ledge. "What should we do with her?"

And here is where I had...what in literary circles is oft referred to as a moment of 'tragic hubris'. I'd just that afternoon read a WONDERFUL article to the boys from the latest edition of Home Education Magazine about a home schooling mother who decided to end a unit on Egyptian history with an attempt to mummify an oven roaster--with, of course, disastrous and unexpected results. Logically, this made me say:

"Let's keep her. Maybe the boys would like to take a closer look at her tomorrow. Maybe they'd be more comfortable around bugs if they understood them a little better. We'll just put her in a resealable bag to keep everyone safe." (See, the mummifying chicken in the article ("king cluck") was stored in a resealable baggie...)

Well. Holy chitinous exoskeleton, Batman! Guess who was alive and doin' the Texas Two-Step next to my vase of Mother's Day flowers this morning?

I ALMOST DIDN'T SEAL THE BAGGIE!!!! Me! The woman who once spent six hours alone in a garden apartment bedroom in central Florida waiting for her spouse to return from his traditional sixteen-hour work day, because a palmetto bug had flown into my living room AND IF I'D LEFT THE BEDROOM...well, then, it could GET ME.

It goes without saying that the door was also locked with a towel from the laundry shoved into the crack beneath the door...

"What do you think, now?" the husband dubiously asked this morning.

And James and I, in unison, agreed: kill it, KILL IT, KILLLLLL ITTTT!!!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Littlest Docent

A home schooling friend (and mentor) had at one point suggested that as Ben got older, if the shark fascination continued, I should look into possible intern programs at an animal shelter, museum or aquarium for him...that she knew of other home schoolers who were able to work out individualized opportunities for their children...

Yesterday, at the Atlantis Marine World aquarium in Riverhead, I had to remember that conversation and laugh. We arrived in time to feed and pet the stingrays before heading up to the shark deck to hear the afternoon shark lecture. The aquarium houses about four sand tiger sharks and as many nurse sharks in it's largest tank "The Lost City of Atlantis Shark Exhibit." (There is also a 300-pound loggerhead turtle named Jaws in the tank, who, according to our lector, rules the watery roost!)

When the shark lecture was done, I urged Ben to go up to the lector and ask HIM all of the questions he tends to bombard me with at 11:30 at night when reasonable children ARE ASLEEP.

"Maybe he has a good working theory on why steccocanthus died out, go ask HIM!" I said encouragingly. "This is your chance!"

But instead of asking any questions, Ben started pointing out possible problems with the guy's lecture.

"You know, you were wrong when you said that aquariums have never housed a Great White...the Monterey Aquarium in California had a great white for three months, but unfortunately had to let it go because it was eating its tank mates."

Poor Dave. The nervous-looking, college-aged lector. You know that all the guy wanted to do was a little quiet professional research away from the public, but that this speaking bit was somehow tied to his internship or grant money.

"Well, yeah, that's true, actually," Dave conceded. "It's just easier to explain things the way I did."

"Mmmmmmmmmm," Ben replied critically. This is a child who never sacrifices truth on the altar of brevity. Still, in this case, he was clearly willing to give a fellow scientist the benefit of the doubt.

The six-foot plus Dave and my prepubescent 11-year old son spent the next couple of minutes quizzing each other on shark knowledge. I'm not sure if Dave was surprised, impressed or deeply shaken by the results of the conversation. And, to add to Dave's already palpable tension, Ben was videotaping all of Dave's responses.

"Hun, I think you're making Dave uncomfortable," I finally whispered, and motioned that he put the camera away.

"Oh," Ben replied, looking at Dave and then his video camera in a bemused way, "sorry dude."

Later, while we were waiting for our lunch to be deep-fried, Ben went back over to the shark tank. When I ultimately went to retrieve him, he was lecturing a four-year old boy and his mom.

"Now, these sand tigers may look ferocious, but remember: in reality, they very rarely attack human beings. You are much more likely to be injured in a car accident or struck by lightening than you are to ever be attacked by a shark of any kind."

The boy and his mom thanked Ben for taking the time to talk to them as we left.

"I like doing that," Ben explained to me as we walked back to the cafeteria. "It's my way of sharing what I've learned. And I like to talk to kids because they're going to be making the decisions of the future."

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Life Skills 101: Don't Let Your Uncle Marry Your Mom

This right here is a wonderful article. Happiest, best, most positive thing I've read...um...definitely this week. And it's been a nice week. No complaints vis a vis the week thus far. But, still!

Here, let me read you a bit:

PEABODY - Crystal MacLarty stands at the front of the class with a sword in her hand. She is lecturing on "Hamlet" and uses all the tools of the trade to relate one of Shakespeare's most memorable plays - even brandishing the plastic prop.

On the computerized white board behind her, she beams a slide presentation full of story bullet points. A student at the front of the class uses cutouts of the main characters on a small felt board to help him understand the story. He follows along in a version of the play that has been translated into helpful word symbols.

"Put yourself in Hamlet's shoes," MacLarty declares.
MacLarty asks the 18 students to draw three squares: one for their mother, one for their father and one for their uncle. She tells them to cross off their father's name and draw a line from their mother to their uncle. "This is the situation Hamlet found himself in," the teacher announces. "His father died and within a month, his mother married his uncle." Peals of "ewww" and "that's gross" carry through the first-floor classroom.

Welcome to Peabody High's Life Skills class, where MacLarty harnesses a teaching method called Universal Design for Learning. It's an idea gaining acceptance in special education classrooms like Peabody's. Universal Design taps technology to help teachers and students adapt materials to their varied needs and skills. The idea sounds simple enough, but until computers and the appropriate software were developed, students had to rely on mass-produced materials and textbooks.

"There are so many new resources," said retired special education teacher Sandra Ring. "You don't have to read to understand concepts."

Ring, who helped introduce UDL at Peabody High, said the Life Skills classroom is a model for the state.
"It's about a whole high school change," Ring said. "It's here, my dream. Technology, that's the key."

Here's what I love about the effective use of technology in the classroom: it can stop schools from being (in the words of educational theorist John Goodlad) "sorting mechanisms"...places where a few students are picked out and held up to everyone else as "good and worthy." Places, for many, then, of shame. Places where the individual very often just doesn't measure up. That is not what education should be about. Certainly not taxpayer-funded, public education. How dysfunctional would that be? To be legally required to pay into a system that labels almost everyone (including you and your family) as somehow 'defective'?

I laughed when I read about the student that uses character cut-outs to help him act out the plot points of Macbeth...Ben does that. With James watching his every dramatic nuance: Every night, when I read to the boys before bedtime, Ben gets out his collection of 'pelagic friends' (yup, his words...) and physically acts out with his toys whatever I am reading.

How brilliant is my child? That he came up with this idea, his own personal comprehension aid, all on his own?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Buddha 101

I get a chatty, philosophical email everyday from Brian Johnson of Zaadz. Usually a quote to urge me further down the path of the examined life with a bit at the end elucidating further on the life or ideology of the quotee. It's like a little slice of crunchy California sunshine every morning...

I've started to read and discuss some of these quotes with the boys. Today's quote was from Buddha:

"One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand on the battlefield."

"What do you think is meant by 'one who conquers himself'?" I asked first.

Glum silence of disinterest.

"Well, what does
conquer mean?" I continued.

"To FIGHT AND KILL AND DESTROY!" the second-born shouted in a most un-Buddha-like manner, suddenly enthralled by today's lesson.

"Okay, those are some examples of conquering," I agreed. "But would you do those things to yourself? Do you think that Buddha wanted people to...hit themselves with a big hammer over the head? Would that be better than conquering a thousand times a thousand people on the battlefield?"

Upon deeper consideration...about five minutes worth...with re-enactments...and sound effects...we decided that no, that's not what Buddha was after. We decided that Buddha wanted us to look at the things we most wanted to change in ourselves.

And that's when things got good.

"I wish I weren't so quick to yell," Ben said. "And I wish I didn't argue so much with Dad."

"Kinda feels like a battle, right? Fighting against those habits?" I asked.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Absolutely."

"I wish I weren't so wiggly," James offered then.

"Do you think there's stuff that mom fights against, too?" I asked. "Stuff I'd like to do better?" We agreed that mom most certainly had her own internal struggles...rarely such unanimous assent here at home school high...

Afterwards, the boys drew pictures of some of the habits and traits they battled. I'm gonna work on my drawing later, after the boys are in bed...

Monday, May 7, 2007

Look Kids! Parliament! Big Ben!

I had to drop off some paperwork at the home of a prof out in Nassau County this morning...sooooooo, it seemed like a perfect day for a beach field trip. Ever since our trip a week ago with LIGHT to the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, the boys have been asking to go back and walk on the beach. Ben wanted to see if he could find shark's teeth (more challenging than expected, as it turns out...) and more shark egg cases, while James wanted to prove to me that the water was NOT too cold for swimming.

After forcing the boys to repeat the words, "I understand that I am not going swimming today and will not continue to torture my mother with additional requests," (no, really, I made them say it) we were on our way.

Woo-hoo! Mapquest safely gets me to the the home of the prof! Then: Jones Beach Bound! I grew up as a Wantagh Parkway girl, personally--but who am I fooling? I didn't learn to drive until I left the Island, after I was married. So there I am tooling down the Meadowbrook Parkway...the boys are quizzing each other on subtraction math facts from the back seat because I AM JUST THAT ORGANIZED and have provided them with work during the ride...

Really (I ask myself at that moment), how do I manage to do it all so well? Pshaw, I explain to myself (as if I'm giving a red-carpet interview), nothing replaces God-given talent and sma--

"Oh, no..." I mutter softly.

"What, what?!?" comes the immediate response from the back seat.

"How am I going north on the Meadowbrook?" I ask myself. "We were going south a minute ago...before that Loop Parkway bit..."

"Mom, mom!" the first-born points out (because we just went over this last week in a lesson), "the beaches are on the south shore; you're going the wrong way!"

"Oh, look! There's a turnaround up here! We're fine, fine! Anyone want to tell me what kind of plant life they're seeing outside the window?" I ask, putting us firmly back on home school terra firma.

"Pine trees and bushes?" the first born responds.

"Any maple trees or oaks like back in our neighborhood?" I query.

And then: "Oh, drat." The turnaround doesn't get me over there! Where I want to be! I can see it BUT I CAN'T GET TO IT! ARGGGGGGH!

"Don't answer her! She needs to CONCENTRATE!" the second-born shouts out. For the record, yes: this is something I tell my children while we're driving, on a fairly regular basis.

"No, no!" I respond. "I appreciate you looking out for me, but really! This could be a great teachable moment!"

"No, mom! You're cut off! No teaching time minutes until you're in the parking lot! Capiche?" my shy child remonstrates.

I realize he's probably right. Oh, hey! Another turnaround! Woo-hoo! This one is working!

"All right. Capiche," I agree.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Universal Design for Learning Assistive Classroom Modifications

A segment from my UDL paper:

The following is a list of assistive-technology equipment, hardware, and software that can be used to help students with specific disabilities and challenges.

Personal FM Listening Systems: Teachers can use wireless microphone systems similar to today’s Bluetooth telephone headsets to transmit lectures directly into the ears of hearing-impaired children via the child’s radio receiver. This technology is also occasionally used to help children with auditory processing issues who have difficulty with aural focus. Industry examples include: the Easy Listener, the Hearing Helper, and the Personal Assistive Listening System.

Audio Books: Students who are dyslexic or blind are still able to progress independently through course curriculums by procuring oral recordings of their textbooks on tape or compact disc (Shaywitz, 2003, p. 319). Industry examples include: Audible.com, Bookshare, and Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). Additionally, MP3 audio files readable on either a personal computer or portable MP3 player like an iPod are becoming progressively more popular now that many university and local libraries are subscribing to an online service called Netlibrary.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR): With this technology, a visually-impaired or dyslexic user is able to scan printed material into a computer or handheld unit. The scanned text is then read aloud via a speech synthesis/screen reading system. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is available in a variety of format options including stand-alone units, computer software, or a portable, pocket-sized device. Industry examples include: Kurzweill 3000 and the Quicktionary Reading Pen.

Speech Synthesizers/Screen Readers: These assistive technology systems can display, enlarge and read aloud text on a computer screen--including text that has been typed by the user, scanned in from books or letters, or that appears on the internet. Industry examples include: aspireReader, Read and Write Gold (mobile), WriteAway, and WriteOutLoud.

Typing Software Programs: Before students can take advantage of many technology options they must become adept at the physical skill of keyboarding. Industry examples of keyboard instruction computer software programs include: Sponge Bob Typing Tutor and UltraKey.

Word Prediction Software: Students with (for example) autistic spectrum disorders, mild cerebral palsy, or paralysis concurrently suffering from dysgraphia (weak muscle tone in the hands) are provided with word recognition software and portable word processors so that their written content accurately reflects the level and detail of content knowledge the student actually possesses (Moss, 2004, p. 20). Industry examples include: Aurora Suite, Text Help-Read and Write Gold, Quillsoft, EZ Keys, and WriteAway. Industry examples of portable word processors include: AlphaSmart and QuickPad.

Electronic Text: Once a mouse-savvy student has downloaded electronic text (via Adobe Acrobat PDF file, for instance), the student can then use a color-coding system to highlight important names, dates, and events in a history article, by changing the color of the text through word processing font manipulation. This skill-building task can substitute for taking notes by hand for children with dysgraphia.

Speech Recognition Software Programs: For students whose verbal abilities outpace their physical ability to write, speech-recognition software programs (in conjunction with a personal computer or portable word processor) can turn oral dictation into text on a screen. This can reduce student stress and task-anxiety and accurately portray the student’s true working capabilities. Industry examples include: ViaVoice, iVoice, Simply Speaking, and SpeakQ.

• Graphic Organizer Software: Students with executive-functioning deficits (ie: innate inability to prioritize and organize information or a physical environment), a key day-to-day issue in many mild learning disabilities—particularly AD/HD and Asperger’s Syndrome—can be provided with organizational and analytical strategies via software “prompts” designed to help these children structure complex written responses appropriately and independently (Whitney, 2002, p. 15). Industry examples include: Inspiration, Kidspiration, and DraftBuilder.

Proofreading Software Programs: Students with executive-functioning deficits and/or dyslexia often fail to intuitively grasp the mechanics involved in grammar and spelling. Most contemporary word processing software programs now automatically come packaged with spell-checkers and grammar-checkers. However, students that require additional help may benefit from the use of a Talking Spell-Checker. These talking devices “read aloud” and display the selected words onscreen so the user can both see and hear the misspelled word. Industry examples include: Clever Keys, Word Web Pro, and Yak Yak.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

No, Really! This is What He Said!

Second and third grade children playing baseball is really a sight not to be missed. Much more exciting to my mind than professional ball. When a 7-year old catches a fly-pop? I don't care how jaded you think you are, you WILL jump up and shout! A big part of WHY you will do this is that it will happen perhaps once per game. It is AN EVENT!

And, anyhow: what is not to like about a sport where games end with scores like 18-15? Where there is almost no such thing as striking out? Where the star of the team hits a homer because the opposing side commits three consecutive errors? This is THRILLING STUFF!

We headed on over to the snack shack post glorious victory to get a celebratory tootsie pop.

"You know what part I like best about baseball?" the boy asked me.

"The fabulously good-looking and yet supportive fan base?" I ventured.

(eye-roll coupled with a giggle) "No. The part at the end when the team huddles together and shouts out, 'Go Bulls!'" (the team name). The boy nodded then. "That part makes me feel happy and confident."

(just me makin sure) "That's your favorite part, huh. What do you mean when you say confident?"

"Proud," the boy replied. "Proud to be a part of something."

Friday, May 4, 2007

You Know: When I'm Old, Maybe Shaving...

Jay got a letter from the pastor of our church today.

"You know, they are still asking you to join the children's chorus," I pointed out as neutrally as someone home schooling her children somewhat on the fly (and who needs to come up with a music curriculum) possibly could.

"The church music director thinks you'd be a real asset to the group. Are you sure you don't want to give it a try?" I continued, trying to maintain that nebulous tone between perky and panicked.

"...and I think you'd be great, too. You've got a wonderful sense of rhythm and a nice voice...it would be a way that you could give back to the community...by being generous with your talents..." (Too much? I'm going for subtle manipulation where the child doesn't realize he is being steamrolled. It's tricky...both of my children initially react to the novel with 'no'. There's a surgically-delicate emotional massage required to get past no to the world of "I'll think about it." If it's not done just right, I get the cognitive-emotional equivalent of the Berlin Wall.)

"I really don't want to mom. I'm shyyyyyyyy," the boy replies. "Church is just going to have to wait until I'm older and my shyness disappears."


"Well keep us all posted on that, kay?"