Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Successful Inclusion Program

Recently, my co-teacher, Christine Southard, and I found out that all of our AIS reading students tested out of reading for next year. Each one of them! I have been teaching for 23 years and have never had that happen. In addition, 2 classified students improved reading scores so much that comprehension skills are no longer a part of their IEPs. When we tested the class ourselves with IRIs, using the Fountas and Pinnell levels, we found each child made at least a year's progress but most made much more. And 17 out of 24 students leveled out of the test, achieving an equivalent comprehension score of grade 6 or higher (level X or higher).

So this, of course, begs the question - How did this happen? What was it about our program that enabled these students to improve to such a large extent?

First, I need to tell you that I have been an inclusion teacher for many years. Although I teach regulary education, I do have my Masters' in Special Ed and have always believed in differentiating instruction to help all students succeed. I truly believe that a perfect classroom is one in which two teachers work toward a common goal. So I have had many co-teaching situations. Two have been quite successful, most have been very unsuccessful.

In examining the successful ones, I realize it all has to do with philosophy. And certain rules need to be followed.

Some co-teachers (both regular and special ed) believe that "you have your students and I have mine." I have worked with a teacher like this. She would come to the room and say, "Ok, my students come with me." I would then watch as the children, with mortified looks in their eyes, would slink out of the room.

Rule #1: Do not separate the children. They should not stand out for being classified. Remember: inclusion means to be included, not separated.

There's also that belief that we should be so private as to not speak about the needs of the children. Don't embarrass Johnny by telling him to put on his glasses, hearing aids, etc. Don't make Susie feel bad by handing her a fidget toy to play with so she can pay attention. In our classroom, fidget toys are in a box for all the children, glasses are mentioned frequently, students are encouraged to move to the front of the room, grab a spell checker, use the computer or alphasmart, pull out the E.Z.C. Readers, etc. The difference? These tools are demonstrated to and available for everyone. (Well, not glasses or hearing aids but you get the point.) So when a lesson begins, up jumps the classified student along with the gifted student. They both gather tools they need to be successful. So..

Rule #2: Don't hide special needs. Point out that we all need assistance at times. Make it available to everyone.

Then there's the idea that a special educator is only there to work with the special ed children. This leaves a lot of other children behind and makes the classified children really stand out. We believe that we both are there to teach all of the students. We group children for various subjects and rotate who teaches the groups. When class tests are given, volunteers leave the room with one of us to go to a more quiet setting or to have tests read to them. Amazingly, the children, all of them, really do choose what they need. Some leave the room for the novelty but most choose the setting in which they work best.

Rule #3: Mix the teachers up and allow students to choose their style of learning.

This year, we also eliminated reading pull-outs. Students remained in class during reading and ended up receiving much more reading service time than they would have in the pull-out program. And keeping students in the classroom as much as possible is helpful for having them not miss content. Next year, we are going to do the same for math pull-outs. Note: This was not an easy goal to achieve. Reading and resource room teachers may feel it threatens their jobs. If necessary, try to make your pull-outs push-ins instead.

Rule #4: Keep students in the classroom as much as possible. Eliminate as many pull-outs as you can.

Of course, other aspects of our program have not been mentioned here. Christine and I spend a great deal of time reading and writing in all subjects. With blogging as a large part of our program, it was inevitable that progress would be made. We also believe in a project-based learning program. This method of differentiating instruction allows all of our students to find success. But I really believe it was a combination of the technology and the philosophy that made it all work. I can't wait for next year!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

When Does My Off Switch Turn On or When To Say No

Cathy Nelson started me thinking with this question - When does your off switch turn on? She created it as a meme but this question means so much more to me than a simple answer-the-question-and-tag-your-friends blog. So no tagging, no meme. Just some thoughts.

This past week has been difficult. I have spread myself way too thin and it seems like everything is coming to a head now. Just a few things on my plate:

1. I am on the Multicultural Committee in school. I have created a wiki for members to share resources and valuable information about the very multicultural community we service. This week, we met once again to review what was added to the wiki. And once again, a discussion ensued about whether or not to print out the information for the staff. Yes, print out the wiki information. I find these conversations exhausting. Why put it all online if we are going to print it out? Why did they ask me to waste my time creating a wiki and monitoring a wiki if it will all be printed out? And why are we assuming the staff is so limited in technology skills that they can't click on a url and read wiki information? Why didn't I say no when I was first asked to create the wiki?

2. I am also on the Health Committee for the district. This week we presented our new, revised family life curriculum to the parents of fourth and fifth graders in district so they can decide if they want their children involved. Guess who created the fifth grade presentation and polished up the fourth grade one? Guess who found the videos and downloaded them for the SmartBoard presentation? Guess who presented the information to the parents at an evening meeting? And guess who fielded the questions from the parents about how we really will be discussing intercourse? You only get one guess. For this one, I did urge my principal to allow another teacher to present. She urged me to do it. Guess who won?

3. I wrote and received a grant, along with my school colleague, to create a video studio in our school. So each morning, the morning announcements are broadcast live throughout the school. Raise your hand if you've already guessed that I do the broadcasting each morning. Don't forget that I have a class to teach and, instead of working with my class, I am running the video studio. Are there people in the building who don't have classes first thing in the morning who could broadcast? Yes. Do they? No. Why? They know how to say no. (I actually think my wonderful, spectacular librarian is going to take this job over for me next week. I hope it all works out.)

4. I am teaching two classes for the Teacher's Center at the same time. Okay so only one week overlapped. I completed my beginning SmartBoard class on Wednesday. Monday I started my 21st Century Classroom class. For the SmartBoard class, since I told everyone they would be sharing the last day, only half of them showed up. I wish I could have stayed home, too. But I love working with teachers. So I went. I taught. I asked if they felt ready to use the board. They were nervous and shaky. So, at the end, I said, "If you need anything, any help, any me, email me. We can meet before or after school." I know. I shouldn't have said it but, in case you haven't figured it out yet, I can't say no.

5. My daughter is doing a play with a local theater production company. And, silly me, I volunteered, as I always do, to organize parent volunteers to work backstage during the three shows. I need about 10 parents per show. Right now, for Sunday's show, I have two (I am one of them). So now I have to beg people I don't know. And, amazingly, these people have no problems saying no. Oh, and did I mention that, during tech week, parent volunteers have to come at least twice to run through the show with the kids? 6:00 - 10:00 at night.

Now there were some good things that happened this week.

6. Dennis Swain came to school to give my co-teacher, Christine, some prizes that were supposed to be given out at the big DEN event on Tuesday. He didn't make it on time to the event but brought the prizes the next day. And, he took us out to lunch. While we were at lunch, he kept talking about all we were doing in the classroom, how exciting it all is, and we should blog on the DEN about it. Are you seeing where this is going?
7. I found out that I won 2nd place for the ISTE Sigtel Online Learning Award for my Harris Burdick Writing Project. Apparently, they have been trying to tell me for weeks. But I kept deleting the emails. The message line read, "Congratulations! You have won!" I receive about 10 of those a day. All spam. So...Finally, Yvonne from ISTE called me at school, during class, to inform me that we won and, by the way, she needs pictures and forms filled out by...well everything was due April 27th and it was already May 7th. So this lead to a frantic undertaking, while trying to teach, to get everything together. This included having to call Brian Crosby in Nevada (no easy feat as I didn't have his phone number. I did get to have a nice conversation with his secretary. Want to know how I got entered for the award anyway? I thought I was filling out a form to present a simple posterboard session about the project at NECC. Thought it would be fun. Thought I'd have the time. Thought...alright, I saw the invitation from ISTE and couldn't say no.

By Friday, I was tired, really tired. Near tears...okay past tears. Came home, went into my room, and cried. And slept. And vowed to myself that someday soon, I would learn to say no. Then I got up and went, exhausted, to my last night of bowling where I was talked into going to the big bowling dinner on Saturday night. Sigh. I have to end this blog now so I can go get ready for dinner. I really hope I learn how to say no soon.