Monday, 14 April 2014

Teaching to Diversity by Jennifer Katz

All of our staff in Inclusive Learning received a copy of this book by Jennifer Katz: Teaching to Diversity.  In order for our staff to understand what many teachers in the district have been studying, I thought it would be to our advantage to host a book discussion.  So tomorrow, staff who wish to take part will meet over a meal to discuss the first three chapters of the book.  Staff who are unable to take part are invited to add discussion to this blog.

Chapter 1: Diversity in Education
1. Katz gives a definition of diversity on page 3.  What resonates for you regarding her definition?  Is there more you would add to the definition?
2. Katz discusses emotional learning beginning on page five.  What are the components of emotional learning?
3. What does she mean by social inclusion/exclusion?
4. What does she mean by academic inclusion/ exclusion?
5. Why are these terms important for our students? classrooms?
6. Did anything else stand out for you in this chapter?

Chapter 2: Framework for Teaching to Diversity
1. What are the components of Universal Design for Learning? (see page 14-15).  Is there anything you would add or take away?
2. Katz talks about the 7 Ramps to learning?  What is meant by a Ramp?  (see page 17-19) How are these important to diversity?
3. Katz refers to Multiple Intelligences?  Do you agree these are important?  What about recent controversies stating it is unnecessary to "teach to the intelligences"?  see here and here and here
4. The 3 Block system is listed on page 25.  Comment on this system.

Chapter 3: Social and Emotional Learning
1. There are a series of lessons promoted on pages 35-45.  What do you think of these lessons?
2. "When soul enters the classroom, fear drops away" page 49.  What does this quote speak to?
3. Katz talks about "democratic classrooms."  From her description on page 53, do you think this is possible in the classroom?
4. What are the pros and cons of social emotional learning from your perspective?

Next month we will read Chapters 4, 5, and 6.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

I Think Being Positive Helps

A couple of weeks ago, the Reading Specialist and I were a bit disappointed when the material we had taken to a classroom had been sitting in a bag since the day we took it there.  While the teacher had indicated some "interest," nothing had been done.  The books sat in a bag beside the desk the entire time.  We left before spring break feeling a bit defeated that we had provided the fantastic material, Meville to Weville and nothing had been done.

So we put on our thinking caps and tried to come up with a plan that would help move along our plan for literacy in the classroom we were working.  We decided to model a lesson from the material and set everything up for success.  We created lesson plans, materials and gathered everything we would need.  

The day came to deliver.  We modelled a lesson that was enjoyed by many of the students (okay, not all but most...).  The staff could see that the students were engaged and the lesson was simple but effective.  We were enthusiastic and engaging.  We left, exhausted, but happy because we knew we had hit a home run. We left the material open on the teacher's desk so she could see 
where we left off.  Now we wait... We suggested that the lesson be repeated daily for the week and then they could move on to lesson two.  We plan on going back on the 25th to see if the baby steps we left have been practiced and with a second lesson to share. Fingers crossed!

I did leave some great IPP comment lists with the teacher.  But, I realized that without support of the administrator nothing will really change so I left him with the same material.  However, in a larger school, that may just be another piece of paper on his desk. I am not sure what next steps to take in this situation.  As a district, we have publicly stated that we are inclusive but until we start to really live what we say, it will be a long and hard journey to truly offer an equitable education to ALL students. At this point, it is so easy to plop our most vulnerable students in a classroom with little or no real education happening because nobody is complaining.  AND as long as no one is complaining, we bump along offering very little in terms of equitable education to our students with severe disabilities.  

Just seeing the excitement and engagement of these students and others I had shared literacy strategies with causes me to continue my work.  However, to be fair to staff, they have not had the opportunity to learn about the possibilities for our students.  For example, one little gal who is on the Autism Spectrum and is non-verbal actually sat through a session to "write" the alphabet through an Alternative Pencil for nearly 15 minutes.  Her EA was in shock that she was engaged as long as that with the activity.  This is the problem!  We underestimate these students over and over again.  We don't even have an idea of what each child is capable of if we only look at their deficits. We must look at the strengths and the possibilities and it is only then, will we see just how far our students can go.  
Being positive is the only way we will affect change and avoid disappointment.  So, I will don my cheerleader costume and cheer on staff as they recognize the possibilities!