Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Lighter Side of Things

School has started and with that, my schedule has gotten crazy. Not really an excuse not to post, but it is my reason why. But in these last 2 weeks many good things have happened....

- Near the end of summer I began working with a student who was resistant to writing or doing homework last school year. Friday we sat down and made a plan for his weekly homework packet. He was so excited to get it done, that he completed it last night and turned it in to his teacher today. Mom reports that he didn't even ask for help on the writing part but just persevered through it on his own without a single complaint!

- The student who completed her summer homework before school started, was ready to turn in when it was collected yesterday. Still "very few" others turned it in according to her and her teacher's did recognize that she did her part.

- IEP meeting date set for a student whose school admitted the IEP was inadequate and they weren't even following it last year.

- I set my schedule for classes this fall and will be officially graduating BEFORE Christmas!

- An adult student who some said would never learn her numbers was reading numbers from 1-50.

- A new student is getting comfortable with the remediation program and is already making progress.

- First tests are already being taken and the resounding sound of "I got an A" is ringing in my ears.

Share your good experiences these last few weeks as we all want to congratulate your child on their accomplishments!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Summer Controversy

Summer is over here. The kids went back to school earlier this week. Everyone is excited to meet new teachers and friends and get going with a fresh start to a new year. But yet, already I see some of the disappointment in some of my students, after only 2 or 3 days back. The reality of school work sets in and their self-esteem is already suffering.

For instance, a student who worked hard with me all summer to complete her summer homework on time is not praised for doing so, but rather told that the work will be collected next week because too many other students hadn't completed theirs yet. Another student who is excited to do geometry loses his excitement when he finds out that they will be reviewing algebra for the first two weeks, a class in which he battled with for most of last school year, unsuccessfully. Not all the stories are bad, but enough to frustrate me when I hear, yet again, the push for longer school days or school years.

I am sure some of you will be surprised to hear that I am a proponent of year round school, if it is done effectively with breaks between units or quarters that would still entail the same number of days off the students currently receive. I think it would be beneficial to not have such a large number of consecutive weeks off for students. There is regression for down instructional time and I can't ignore that. Your brain needs to be used continually and when you take time away from practicing something like multiplication or writing, it becomes a bit rusty and difficult to get moving again.

However, I also know that summer is a time for a student to recharge, especially those with learning disabilities that struggle in the classroom. It is a time for them to do things in which they excel like summer camps for their interests, watching neighbor dogs, baby sitting, or even just exploring the neighborhood pond looking for bugs and frogs. All of these are learning experiences of their own and I believe of great value to our kids who spend 6-7 hours a day sitting in a classroom without much real world interaction. (I seem to remember taking many more field trips as a child than the students of today are afforded.)

So, when Time Magazine prints a cover article such as "The Case Against Summer Vacation" I shudder. Especially when the print version of the article includes graphs that don't necessary support their case. In fact, it showed that the number of hours our students spend in school was very high when compared to other countries in the world with higher achievement rates. So what does that tell us? According to this research brief put out by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), "Changes in instructional time do not generally increase or decrease student achievement, unless such changes go beyond unusually low, or high, amounts of time. Curriculum and instructional quality appear to have a much greater effect on achievement than do total hours of instructional time." (ASCD, 2005).

Wow, from 2005? So this research has been around for 5 years and we are still talking about increasing instructional time? Yes, and I would again suggest that it has more to do with money for the teachers, administrators, and the unions than it has to do with educating students effectively. But it seems that no one is listening, so the controversy will continue on and those who want longer school days/years seem to have the loudest voices and the highest positions to affect change, even if it isn't in the best interest of our children.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More Inclusion

Once again Boulder Valley School District is in the news discussing changes to their special education policy. Boulder public schools work to provide more special-ed in regular classrooms - via the Denver Post

BVSD held a special training session for all their general education teachers. This was to train them to keep special education students in their classrooms. According to the post "hundreds" of teachers were in attendance. I don't know about you, but the last time I was taught or trained in a room of hundreds of people, I came away with very little knowledge that I found applicable for my own personal situation. Secondly, having done my undergrad in teaching and currently working on my master's in special education, it will take more than just a few hours to train teachers how to work with kids with special needs.

Furthermore, I might remind my readers who are unfamiliar with the law, but there is already inclusion or mainstreaming, as some call it, in our schools. It was required by IDEA law, long ago, that school's provide the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for student learning. However, the regular classroom is not appropriate for all students all the time and I would contend that even for some student's, ever. It is a relief that BVSD does recognize that LRE does not mean only the regular classroom , yet in the article a representative from the district mentions that special instruction can be done in the regular classroom. I agree that some special education can take place in the regular classroom, however that takes additional resources. The last time I checked, BVSD was "firing" teachers and aids, not hiring more. BVSD is reducing the special education budget for 2010-2011 by over $1 million dollars, according to page 34 of the proposed budget, including the reduction of 5.815 special education teachers and 4.5 paras.

Finally, I wonder how much money BVSD spent to have these specialists come in to train regular classroom teachers. Could that money have been spent to hire additional aids or paras for the classrooms themselves? Will it all be worth the expense or just another thing we tried in the name of reform? The new system will be tested this year and I hope that parents, teachers and others concerned about the state of education will hold these schools accountable to providing the best education choices possible for each student and not just create a system of inclusion for the sake of saying that they do it.