Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Response to Intervention (RTI)

RTI is a process that helps bridge the gap between general and special education in a way that promotes learning.  At the heart of RTI is a process that seeks to first test the effectiveness of curricula and then provide supports aimed at scaffolding the learning of students who experience challenge.  RTI is preventative, rather than reactive, in nature and through the process looks to mitigate issues that could, and often do, affect student learning.  RTI is positive education as it first certifies the curricula as appropriate and secondly identifies students who need extra support as well as those with disabilities whom curricula is leaving behind.   The earlier we can address situations that affect student learning as a whole, as well as individually, the stronger our responses will be as interventions are implemented that are designed to change outcomes which are undesired into those that are desired.
Our first goal as educators is for our students to become successful learners.  In order to do this we must implement processes into our educative environments that ensure the fidelity of curricula while guaranteeing those who are experiencing problems are supported in a way that is best for them as an individual.  Too often the gap between general and special education is treated as an un-crossable chasm, which is too wide to bridge.  The true beauty of RTI is embedded in its ability to span that gap.  It is only through synergistic energies that are created through collaboration, and use of strategies, that the strengths of the student will be supported while challenges mitigated.  RTI is as an opportunity for student success as student challenges are identified and strategic interventions implemented that are squarely focused at facilitating not only whole class, but also individual student learning. 
Much like UDL, response to intervention (RTI) is an inclusive strategy that when appropriately implemented seeks to, at its heart, open up the learning process to all learners. RTI promotes learning as something that should be available to all and seeks to use current, while creating new, strategies aimed at supporting not only all in the gen ed environment but also those individuals who need additional support, both in and out of the general ed setting. 

What is good for the one can be good for all but what is good for all is not necessarily good for the one.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ok, I have been really busy with my program at Purdue, but since I was asked, more like prodded, I am going to start sharing some of my writing...


When considering this topic, I utilized Gergen’s philosophy of social constructionism, as the agreement that what is real is a construct of society, or reality is defined by society. Starting with the basic notion that societal reality is a construction of the people who make up the specific society and is a joint understanding of the society based on the shared assumptions and experiences that are defined by the culture of the society as what is and is not acceptable in said society.  The question of “how might culture influence perspectives on self-determination is challenging, especially when it comes to persons with severe disabilities.  Defining self-determination as the process in which a person controls his or her own life and culture as the cumulative beliefs, customs, values and attitudes of a specific society are important components to the discussion.  If the goal is for any person to control their life it must be balanced with the expectations and determinations of the culture in which they live.  If we assume that human life is as it is, based on the societal and interpersonal influences (Gergen, 1985) then self-determination is a construct of the culture of said society and is defined as successful only when it meets the expectations of the culture from which is constructed.  The very basis of self-determination is constructed by the society itself and is a tacit agreement of how things are and how they should be based on the culturally constructed values of said society.    
The goal of self-determination is derived from social constructs, which is a result of the specific culture of a society and those who are in a position to influence the ways in which society works and perceive what is “good”.  The definition of success and independence that are supported through the goals of education are maintained by the constructs of said society.  The people making the decisions are making them based on what they believe is the right way for things to happen or simply the way they should be.  They are based on values that are representative of a dominant able-bodied culture.  Basically, everyone should be like “them” because they feel that is the best way to be.  The issue at hand is it discounts other ways that one can live and be happy. 
By attempting to provide the person with severe disabilities agency in their own life, we are impeding their ability to actually have agency in their own life because we are basing agency on a dominant able-bodied culture.  We discount the perspective of someone who has a disability, especially those with severe disabilities, and refuse to take into account their ability to perceive their reality differently, or not like an able-bodied person.  We are providing the illusion of choice based on our reality, which most likely is not theirs.  We are limiting their options by limiting their choices, assuming what we have determined is “good”, which will make them happy as well and thus fulfilled.  Goals and independence should be developed based on actual student desire and not what we believe they should want.  The belief that, “this is how we want you to live because we believe this is the best way to live” is the embodiment of taking away their right to self-determination, in the literal sense.   Who has the right to determine what another needs, wants or should do based on what they believe is what they need, want or should do?  It is a big presumption to believe you are helping someone by making them like you. “Of course they want to live in an apartment by themselves because that is what I want to do”, is an example of the over handedness that presumes persons with severe disabilities are not happy unless they are just like me, and or we.  There should be no default setting; this needs to be a case-by-case situation.  Persons with severe disabilities can not only desire some, if not all, of the things those without disabilities have, and can live on their own as well as hold jobs and get married and have children.  However, it does not mean that is what they truly want.   In our society, we tend to be very rigid about what people can and cannot do.  There is always someone there to tell us what is and is not appropriate.  The over-riding and prevailing sentiment seems to be, everyone should be a certain way and that we will develop a system that will get you to a certain level so that you will be happy, is, I would argue, wrong. 
I am reminded of the story from the text, Equity and Full Participation For Individuals with Severe Disabilities, of the little girl who seeks to be like every one else but wishes for a best friend just like herself.  She is mimicking, a stated skill, the desires of society to be part of the whole while truly wanting to be with someone who understands what she is going through and who she is through shared experience, not social construct. 

Gergen, K. J. (1985).  The social constructionist movement in modern psychology.  American Psychologist, 40(3), 266-275.
So, I was asked to respond to a speech made by an amazing are my thoughts.

First, let me say the thought that IDEA is a promise made to those with disabilities not only made sense to me, but resonated as well.   After all, equality of opportunity, full participation, economic self sufficiency and independent living are the bedrock of what our society has deemed necessary in order for one to lead a happy and fulfilling life.  It only makes sense that these results/outcomes should be available to all.  However, I was particularly struck by what I would argue is an extraordinary inconsistency of belief laced throughout the presentation.  It appeared the underlying argument that obligation of care for persons with disabilities fell to society, as a whole, rather than a responsibility of the parent and or family.  Turnbull lamented, we were working two jobs, had two more kids and we were tired.  We didn’t want to spend the next 75 years taking care of him…the system was not doing its job.
While encouragement and support were seminal themes of the Turnbull speech it appeared that the underlying tone was centered on the responsibility of society, in this case through governmental support, to in fact be responsible for those with severe disabilities throughout the entirety of their lives.  Now, do not misunderstand my stance.  We are an advanced and wealthy society and I truly believe we not only can, but also should, help those who need assistance in navigating the societal constructed norms by providing tools to those with severe disabilities that are designed to enhance their opportunities for success.  
I have often argued the first and foremost authority of who the person with disability is, what they require, and how is the best way to help, must be first the parents and second the family.  It is only through a supportive family unit that those with severe disabilities can and will be successful to the greatest extent possible.  Throughout this course, every example of a successful person with severe disabilities stems not from the educational system, or even teachers, but is instead a result of family intervention and advocacy.  I am not maintaining that teachers are not important, for they are, and I would argue the best ones are just too few to truly be the reason for students’ successes.  This does not mean they are not out there, just too often the teaching pool is created from those who see teaching as a second choice career and special education in many cases is a fallback from a teaching job.  Special educators must be the most highly trained and the best of the best when it comes to teachers.  Their jobs are not easy and require toolboxes that are many times, or even exponentially, larger than that of the general educational teacher.
But I digress.  The responsibility for the person with severe disabilities must fall squarely on the shoulders of the family.  Yes, there should be societal assistance, but only in a tertiary manner, parents, family, society.  To expect society to do what is best for what in many cases is seen, to the layperson, as parasitic in nature makes zero sense and to expect success is wishful at best.  A simple example is wages in which remuneration is based off of perceived value.  Instituting a minimum, or living wage, because that is what someone needs to survive is the antithesis of the economic values on which our society was founded.  In this country, you can spend upwards of 30 years increasing the value of your labor through the building of skills through education. The more desired skill, a product of education, one has, the more valued their labor is, thus higher pay.  When dealing with persons who are challenged to provide the desired skills by coercing higher pay for their undesired labor they are in fact being marginalized, and in many cases simply discarded.   The lessened opportunities of a person with severe disabilities to gain useful “on the job training” again limits their ability to realize the promises of IDEA.  I would argue the reason those with severe disabilities tend to be underemployed, or even unemployed, stems from the misguided belief they deserve or should be paid more in order to achieve the goals of IDEA. 
Instead of focusing on supplanting the family as the main longitudinal support, typically advocated, society should focus efforts and resources toward supporting those, family, who are doing their best to support those with severe disabilities.  But society must not, and cannot, replace the obligation of parents and or the family of persons with severe disabilities.  Group homes tend to end up being horrible places because those who need help the most are pitied, felt sorry for or in some cases reviled.  Their discounted wellbeing is seen more as a paycheck rather than a sacred duty of care.  What those with severe disabilities need the most is to be loved and supported, and as we all know, no one loves and supports their children like their parents or their family.
IDEA promises to help through the establishment of expected results and or outcomes. But unfortunately, it seems the most desired outcome is for someone else, through societal normed governmental programs, to do the heavy lifting.  I found it interesting that Turnbull and her husband wanted to start a home, segregated, for persons with severe disabilities that provided real work, real friends and such.  Interestingly, while fighting against segregation based on disability she and her husband were determined to create an environment that segregated in order to better serve those with disabilities.  When I was in my early 20’s my grandfather was deteriorating quickly.  At the time, I was able to move from Virginia to Georgia and it was decided I must do that, family responsibility.    For the last year of his life I lived with him and did my best to take care of him.  We had supplemental help throughout the day, but at night and on weekends, I was his sole support.  It was hard, very hard, but it was what my family not only did, but does. 
Responsibility is the foundation of my classroom.  Everyone involved has certain responsibilities and must not only meet them but also is held to them.  I am responsible, as the educator, for teaching my students and preparing them to the greatest extent they can be by providing access to the tools that lead to opportunity.  My students are responsible for learning as best they can the tools that they will need in order to take advantage of the opportunities that will become available to them.  Parents/family are responsible for supporting their students, both in and out of the educational system and throughout their lives, ensuring they take advantage, as best they can, of the opportunities that come their way as they quest for happiness.  In the final analysis, if all meet or exceed the expectations of their responsibilities the student with severe disabilities will be successful.

As shared by Turnbull, “No matter how far down the wrong road you go, if it’s the wrong road, turn around.”  I would argue we are going down the wrong road and we must turn around.  The promise of IDEA cannot be truly realized by persons with severe disabilities in the current climate and it is imperative the equilibrium between support from family and society be reexamined and rebalanced.  Turnbull exerted they were finally free from the “shackles of the system” yet still wanted the system to take care of their son.  However, it is only through a desire that the system “take over” or “take care of” that one can be shackled in the first place.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is there such a thing as too much technology, not only in our lives but in the classroom as well?  An interesting read.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Onto the next adventure...

Well, I am finally back to blogging....I am not back in a classroom as of yet, but I am working on my master degree in Special Education from the Purdue University.  I am really excited and very much enjoying my classes.  I will be posting some of the writing I am doing here to share.

First up...An answer to one of my cohorts reflections on our readings...

“If you add the term rigorous to curriculum you add a deeper meaning.  It implies a higher level of quality for both the teacher and the student.” 
Rigor and rigorous appear to have become the new darlings of the educational vocabulary.  The implications are without rigor, or not rigorous, curricula we are somehow failing the student(s).  So much so, that Ainsworth examines rigor, provides outside support and creates a definition.  But is he correct in his assertions?  I would argue the inclusion of rigor in education is misleading at best. 
When parsing the meaning of rigor it is important to examine exactly what it means and what implications are present.  If something is deemed rigorous, typically, we think it is hard.  So, does hard mean good or higher quality?
Using the complete definition of rigor and rigorous, I am attempting to understand exactly what is being implied.  Synonyms include: meticulous, conscientious, careful, diligent, exact, precise, thorough and my favorite, persnickety.  All the former can be considered to be mostly positive in nature.  However, as we investigate further we discover the, for lack of better, the dark side of rigor: strict, severe, stern, stringent, tough, harsh, ridged, relentless, unsparing, inflexible, draconian and uncompromising.  So why is this important?  Can we not pick and choose that which best matches up to our goals and objectives?  Simply take what is deemed the best and leave the rest?
I would argue, no.  Simply stated education is about learning and learning is about making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and discovering new ways to accomplish, answer or simply understand.  Learning involves drawing outside the lines, getting your hands muddy and making wrong choices.  If we do not know what is wrong how will we know what is right? Rigor implies something is hard (strict, uncompromising) and because it is hard, is good or of higher quality?  It was a rigorous journey to the top of the mountain, but what was learned?  I would argue, that it was hard to get to the top.  After all, education cost money and in order to generate funding we need to prove we are getting our money’s worth, validation.  Continuing, I would argue making something hard for the sake of making it harder adds no additional meaning or value, other than it was learned it was hard to accomplish.  
When I was younger and taking physics in high school, we had to learn the squares and square roots of numbers 1 to 100.  Believe me, it was rigorous, and really hard; I still have nightmares, and actually do remember a few.  Oh, did I mention we were tested in front of the class as well?  Did being tested, on and like that improve my understanding of physics in any way?  Not sure, it was a tough class and I am not a science guy, but I still stand by the example. 
Ainsworth writes, “A rigorous curriculum must remain flexible, adaptable to the diverse and continually changing learning needs of all students it serves.” Hmm, I am confused.  Ainsworth is using terms such as flexible, adaptive, diverse and changing, did the definition of rigor change and no one inform me?  Someone get Webster on the line!  Or has the term rigor simply been added to sell the product and or attempt to add relevance?  High school diplomas are hard to earn, validation!  Again, by making it harder, are we in fact making it better?  Is the thought process, if the rigor is increased, it adds value therefor it is better?  
I had an ongoing, I will call it a discussion, with my teacher assistant about the high school diploma.  She was always upset because I differentiated instruction and assessment for my students.  In her words, not mine, “dumbing it down.”  Having eight students made this somewhat possible, although it was rigorous to keep on top of it all. It was a self contained EI/EBD room of high schoolers.  They were basically mine all day.  For me the goal was increased work effort, and the pacing guide was the same I would use in a general ed class setting, for each of my 14 content areas.   I used negative reinforcement, allowing, based on the amount of work accomplished, lessons to be “skipped.”  By allowing them to get away with, in their minds less work, they actually worked harder.  I never intended for them to complete the same level of work as general ed students, after all, the had IEPs, emphasis on “Individual” part, but I was teaching first the importance of work, and second the skill of how to find information.  Rigor was not in content, although state test scores increased for them all, but rather in work.  For me, if they worked hard, which is rigorous, were able to find the answers, and could prove findings, they earned success, i.e. grades.   As Ainsworth posed, they were being prepared for the “test of life.” 
Does an emotional impaired learning- disabled student really need to memorize the melting point of different minerals?  I would argue, no.   But just in case, he does need to know how to find it.   In the end, the high school diploma could mean the difference between digging ditches or working at McDonalds, or something comparable. 
When we purposely make something hard, rigorous, to make it harder, value is not necessarily increased.  I would argue those learning tend to not respond well to harder, if they see no relevance or reason.  When you make education relatable and fun, students intrinsically motivate themselves to accomplish and learn.  If the point of the educational system is to prepare students for the “test of life”, is that actually accounted for in curricula that is more rigorous?
 My question to you is how does introducing “harder” lead to higher quality, especially in an educational environment?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why I left...

I left my position as a special ed teacher dealing with emotional impaired kids...a job that I absolutely loved and totally has been a very rough couple of weeks since, but I had no choice.  I was in an environment that focused on exclusion rather than inclusion...not in the traditional sense, but rather more dependent on punishment rather than understanding.

I know my kids were tough, but honestly, that is what made them so much fun to work with...there was no cutting corners or getting by, they demanded the best from me and I always tried my best to meet their expectations.  I never missed a day, unless I had some sort of professional development, simply because I always looked forward to working with them.  Right now, one is in jail, another may be on his way, the rest either don't show at all, or rarely, and their education suffers.

I truly had no choice because I know myself and I know the environment I was in was bad for me...I am a collaborator and a fixer, and I love learning.  I didn't fix my kids, they did that themselves, but I did create an environment of honesty, truthfulness and self-responsibility that promoted positive educative outcomes....they responded...but I am saddened everyday to not see their faces and learn with them...The are tough and they push every button they can, but in the end, they are all great kids!

I miss them...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why do kids cheat?  Could it be they have not been adequately prepared for what is being asked of them?

Obviously, a large portion of being prepared falls on the shoulders of the student, but still, has the educator done enough...has the correct environment been created that the student feels safe enough in to  seek additional help if they don't understand, comprehend or basically feel that they can in fact search

In the new and very fast paced world of public education, huge amounts of pressure are placed on these young adults.  You have to learn it now and we will be moving on to something new have to get good grades or you will be ranked low....and possibly not get into a "good" college...or even the educator that is teaching from the exact same lesson plans they have used for the past 20 to 30 years...

Through the years of elementary, my kids were taught how to do basic math in several different ways...chicago, new etc styles were the rage...does anyone remember lattice math...ugh, I still have nightmares...then off to middle school and they start to bring it back to the old styles and finally high school where adding meant to lined them up and added them special tricks...just do it...

I remember using encyclopedias and they were great.  However, to get more information, deeper meaning, you had to actually read a book or six and then write a paper.  Today, everything is at their fingertips and on that powerful computer called a cell phone.  The kids know they can find anything on there, as do the educators, so they allow them to use it, look it up and then answer questions...except on tests.  Now they must memorize it and write it out to prove they know it.  Is that truly what is important about learning...rote memorization?  Does a student truly need to know the melting point of minerals, or should the student know where and how to find that information when the actually have reason to need it?

I would argue we are setting the kids up to fail with our current system then allowing them to use the tools that will help them be successful and penalizing them in the end.  No wonder kids don't like school...we have set them up for failure and they know it...