Making sense of multi level special ed teaching

Probably around the time of my last post I was given an added challenge. I now teach my Bridges group (6 strong!) at the same time as I teach an 8 student learning centre group.

Yes, at the same time.

I am teaching in the original one room school house, with ages ranging from 12-19.

8 periods of the cycle I have the Bridges group on their own and 3 of those periods are on the same day, which happened to be yesterday. I arranged that so that we could have a day reserved for travel training. It is also a fabulous chance for us to bond as a group and for me to create connections with them, my most vulnerable of all of my students due to their age and literacy levels – Bridges students range in age from 15-19 and are all at risk of dropping out of school because of their literacy levels.

We had SO MUCH FUN YESTERDAY! We took the bus and the metro to an area in Montreal called The Plateau (“it’s just like New York, eh, Miss?”) and then walked over to Mont Royal where we hiked up to the top and saw panoramic views of Montreal. We coached one of our members up the steep steps at the end of the hike – he’s afraid of heights – and I was so proud of how empathetic the others were to his fear.

We then rolled down part of the way – got covered in mud and banged up a bit but we were laughing the whole time.

Today I will be back at work multi-planning and multi-teaching and multi-caring. It is definitely difficult for me to try to create this program at the same time as manage the work and classroom management for 14 students with the range of special needs that mine have. I am worried that I am not doing what I had planned, or even planning what I am doing sometimes!… for the Bridges group. I’ve started to use some tools to help me keep organized though.

Bridges Moodle

for long-term planning. I am basically filling it in with bits of curriculum as I go. I see it more as a place to store information and thinking for years to come. I am trying to match the curriculum they need with QEP (Quebec Education Program) competencies. My goal is to create curriculum for students who fall into Bridges programming (and not off the bridge…) that is recognized by the government and allows them to qualify for something! It is pretty bare bones for now, but it is a start.

Room W125 Blog

 to communicate with all of my students, to promote the use of blogging tools for reflection and connection.

and most recently
Room W125 Wiki

which so far seems to be a good place to organize individual student work assignments as well as to put assignments that are more collaborative.

Powered by ScribeFire. and organizing Bridges ideas

I’ve realized that I need to organize my thoughts about this whole thing and in doing my favourite procrastination technique did some research…and found, an online office application.

So far I have only played with the presentation (Zoho Show) and, though there are some glitchy parts (like no undo or spellcheck!) it is quite easy to use. It offers an embed URL for blogs and websites though I can not seem to embed it here. That is an issue I have had repeatedly with WordPress, and not only with this application.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has played with this application.

In any case, here is the presentation I created today with Zoho Show!

Building Bridges for Special Education: Mashing up Appreciative Inquiry, Emergent Design, Jazz Improvisation, Brain-Based Learning, Web 2.0, and Action Research

Sunrise on a bridge as a metaphor for emergent design in education

sunrise on bridge

Dom Luis Bridge at Sunrise, Santarรฉm, Portugal
Originally uploaded by bridgepix

I love the imagery here of the sun rising mid-bridge. It reminds me that while the destination is the ultimate goal, crossing the bridge – the journey – is what makes it meaningful.

It is very much in keeping with the design principles I am using for this program as well as my image of education. Marg O’Connell of ed(ge)ucation design asked me for my thoughts on emergent design process. Here are some.

Like with the bridge, the starting points and objectives are crucial. I need to know where my students are now and where they need to go, but what we do with what they already know and can already do and how we do it is where the beauty of education lies for me.

It’s learning how to negotiate in ambiguity that is the secret for success in teaching in a way that harbours true success for all participants.

When I say negotiate in ambiguity, I don’t mean to clamber around in the dark! I mean to have a good sense, a very good sense, of the competencies I want my students to acquire and how I will assess that they have acquired them. And to have the same good sense of my students’ abilities, interests, and learning styles. The ambiguity lies in allowing those two sets – essentially curriculum and students – to interact and create learning situations that are meaningful, purposeful, and fun for both student and teacher.

It is emergent because the design emerges dependent on the variables in the two sets – the specific curriculum and the specific group of students, the latter of which changes throughout the year as interests, abilities, and styles grow and change with the students.

That is the beginning of my take on emergent design, Marg. I will be returning to this idea many times this year, I am sure ๐Ÿ™‚

mind maps, emotional intelligence: the learning begins

Emotional intelligence mind map, the 1st

I will eventually set up some kind of cooperative learning program for my students, peppered with some academics like reading, math, science, and personal development all rolled into project-based learning activities.

Until then, we are learning strategies to organize our thoughts and regulate our emotions – both of which I am discovering are key areas we need to work on.

I refuse to believe that any student has ‘plateaued’ or can’t learn.

One of my students has come to 3 of the 12 periods we have had so far this year. I need to find a way to get him to stay so I can work with him and convince him he can achieve success at school – he hasn’t had all that much of THAT in his past. I’m meeting with him, his mom, and our administrator later this week.

Good vibes accepted from any who wish to send them ๐Ÿ™‚

Oh, as well as any info on cooperative learning programs, where students learn job skills while they complete stagesย  ๐Ÿ™‚

Allowing curriculum planning to remain curious

I’ll be meeting my students tomorrow. All 3 of them. There may be 4, but most likely 3. There also maybe a few more before the next month or so is over.

I’m wondering a little bit what exactly we will do together all day long ๐Ÿ™‚

Things I am planning:

An academic curriculum, steeped in their goals for the future.

The students I will have are from 16-19 years old, have very limited academic skills, a diverse range of language ability (from Anglo to bilingual), and need to learn basic life skills.

Some may ask – why an academic curriculum? I call it academic, though life skills will certainly play a large role. I respect my students too much to not keep my expectations and goals for them rigorous.

Our first unit will be on the theme of Bridges. We’ll explore imagery, poetry, construction, social skills, personal goals…all kinds of things can be explored around bridges.

I also want to use photography. For those who don’t find words to come easily, we will still develop sequencing and story-telling skills through visual essays. VoiceThread should be helpful here.

We will also develop vocabulary – in both English and French. I will be incorporating a word wall into our classroom for sure!

What else…

Possible landscaping. There are these courtyards throughout the building that are filled with overgrown plants and some weeds. But we won’t just be weeding and cleaning up. I’d like to see them possibly design the areas into usable space. There is a greenhouse in the school, so we can do some work over the winter as well.

Morals and Ethics – learning how to take a considered opinion, how to gather data in order to do so – both internal (emotions) and external data.

Math to do with travel, cooking, planning.

But a lot of my planning needs to be done after I meet these students. The curriculum is up to me. So I will be basing it on their very specific needs, interests, abilities, and styles peppered with my own ๐Ÿ™‚

So, while I have some great ideas brewing, I need to focus on being curious about my students first.


What I know about my new job:

  • I will be doing something new for the school
  • I will be designing a program that exists in the middle school, but for a different context
  • I think I will have about 9 students to start
  • According to the principal these students are not expected to graduate
  • I will need to explore options…one of which being graduation ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • The students are coded at around 24 and 34

    • 24 – moderate to severe intellectual impairments
    • 34 – language disorders

  • The school is large – about 1100 students and has many programs to serve different needs
  • I will know some of the students at the school – they were at my old school which recently closed (nice to see some familiar faces!)
  • I know that I will find out a bit more tomorrow morning, when I go in for a welcome/orientation breakfast for new staff members

Here are some of the things I am reading to prepare myself.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Developmental Designs for Middle School. … creating middle schools with students engaged in
learning in the context of caring, supportive community. Our goal for
them … responsible independence in the pursuit of excellence.

Complicity: An international journal of complexity and education

Smith, M.W. & Willhelm, J. D. (2002) Reading don’t fix no chevys: Literacy in the lives of young men and (2006) Going with the flow: How to engage boys (and girls) in their literacy learning

Prashnig, B. (2004) The Power of Diversity: New ways of learning and teaching

Tomlinson, C.A. & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting content and kids.

Henry, R. (2003) Leadership at every level: Appreciative inquiry in education

Elona Hartjes’ blog Teachers at Risk

Safe and caring schools in a complex world: A guide for teachers (2004)

Davis, B., Sumara, D.J. & Luce-Kapler, R. (2000). Engaging Minds: Changing teaching in complex times

Davis, B., Mahwah, N.J.
(2006) Complexity and education : inquiries into learning, teaching, and research

The New Frontiers School Board’s Reports and Policies on Special Education

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Getting Started

On Tuesday I will go into my new school for the first time since my interview last spring. The school has organized an orientation morning for the new staff, which is nice. The following day will be the board-wide PD for new teachers. But the official first day of PD with my new school community will be on the 27th.

It’s exciting to be starting something new – and I’m a bit nervous as well. It is the first time I will work in such a big school and I will be starting a new program as well. I have done that before and I know how anything new can be viewed in a school – welcomed by some and, er, not so welcomed by others ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

I feel hopeful, useful, and nervous – all at the same time!

Christian Long at think:lab posted a fabulous ‘note to self’ the other day as he begins at a new school as well. It is no longer on his blog, but he has given me permission to cite it here. I dedicate it to all of us teachers who are transitioning into new schools and positions this year.

Note to self:

The school has seen something in you that they value. Likewise, you have seen something even more impressive in them that you value…

The school has invited you to become a part of their lives and families. Likewise, you have invited them to become part of your life and family.

The school has entrusted you with the academic and social well-being of their most precious resources: their kids. Likewise, you have agreed to take this responsibility on without fail.

The school — long before you were interviewed — had been successfully creating a culture of academic rigor, respect/empathy, and life-long relationships. Even if you never came around, they’d still be doing it tomorrow and many years into the future. They invited you to play a small role within their larger family. You have accepted a small role within their larger family, and look forward to following their lead along the way.

The school hires new team members because they believe that they be able to bring additional ideas and resources to them over time. What they need from you early on, however, is to listen to, learn about, respect, and celebrate the academic world that they have already built and committed to long before you arrived’. You have plenty of time to share new ideas, but listening, watching, and respecting is the first rule of business. Listening and watching is your best trait going forward in this first year.

The school expects you to do great things on their behalf. In the meantime, they will ask you to do the ‘small’ things first. Likewise, you hope to do great things on their behalf. In the meantime, you will embrace the ‘small’ things with dignity and enthusiasm (and know that many of the ‘great’ things start there, by the way).
Now that you have that cleared up, go have an amazing time!

Christian Long, August 2007

He has reposted it! Here it is: Note to Self.

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