Thursday, August 21, 2008

Feeling Like Indiana Jones

Sometimes teachers have to be detectives as well as educators or maybe we can pretend to be Indiana Jones on an adventure looking for the hidden treasure. In the article CSUN/ A Toolbelt for a Lifetime, the author writes:
“Services to those labeled "disabled" are far too often presented as "gifts from concerned people," the style is, of course, medical, with evaluations, and prescriptions, and implementations set up by professionals. None of this builds independence. None of this builds life skills. None of this prepares students for life after school. And, truly, none of it is realistic because it all pretends that one defined, professionally chosen, solution will solve all of a person's needs forever. And, obviously, that is as ridiculous as it sounds.
Toolbelt Theory is based in the concept that students must learn to assemble their own readily available collection of life solutions. They must learn to choose and use these solutions appropriately, based in the task to be performed, the environment in which they find themselves, their skills and capabilities at that time, and the ever-changing universe of high and low-tech solutions and supports.”

The author continues to talk about the steps in order to determine what tools are needed. This is a great strategy to teach our students. We tend to think only the disabled students need tools when in actuality all students need to know what tools they will need in order to achieve the goals they want. Too many times as teachers, we tend to think that since we have a college education, we know exactly what tools the students need and how they should use it. The problem with this thought is that all students are different, need different tools, and may even use the tools differently. As long as it helps the student achieve the goals, we shouldn’t care what they use or how they use it as long as it works.

One year our school decided as a whole to emphasize writing in all classes. They expected us to do writing every day in our classes with dire consequences if we didn’t do this. My high school students had all different disabilities but I decided that I would have them start each class by writing a paragraph. After checking their reading test scores from the previous year, everyone seemed capable of writing a short paragraph. I would give them a topic but started out with the rule that spelling didn’t count as long as they were able to communicate with me in writing. If I couldn’t read it, they just had to come up and read it to me. It sounds easy, right? Wrong. I had this one student that was extremely resistant to this assignment. I called home, he was punished. I tried to bribe (I mean motivate) but that didn’t even work. I even offered the use of the computer instead of handwriting but that didn’t even motivate him. Finally I stopped, sat down with him and said that we had a problem that we needed to solve together. He was shocked that I would even ask him. Finally he said he didn’t know how to start writing a paragraph and didn’t even have a clue how to start. Now this took a lot of trust on his part considering the past four weeks was nothing but a hassle for him and for me involving punishment and frustration. I saw in his eyes that he really wanted to do well but didn’t know how to do this. I suggested that he record his answer verbally (which he said he could do) and that we would write his answer down on paper together. For some reason he couldn’t process the spoken word into the written word. Then we found out he had dsygraphia and had extreme problems with writing so I moved him to the computer to write out his verbal thoughts. Using the Wynn program, he was able to hear his response read back to him to see if that is what he wanted to say. After about a month of doing this every day, he was able to do this independently. I don’t know how he made it to 9th grade without writing but what a difference this success made with him. He became a happier person with a huge decrease in behavior problems. Sometimes I would see him answer science and social studies questions by answering by moving his mouth and then writing. But that was fine with me, so I moved him to a quiet spot where no one would be disturbed by his murmuring and he would feel more comfortable. By the end of the semester, his Fs turned into Cs and finally Bs. It took a lot of extra time on both of our parts but we were persistent and it paid off.

By sitting down with the student and trying to find out his needs, we were able to find what tools he needed to achieve success. If this tool didn’t work, we would try others. Once we were able to record his thoughts, we were able to find out what other tools he needed but we had to move one step at a time. I think he was so frustrated and had such a low self esteem at this point that he felt paralyzed to even help himself. I think that all this time of not doing work was like a cry for help and hoping to find a teacher who would help him. Instead many teachers just looked at the symptoms and wrote him off as lazy and uncooperative. This in turn just feeds the cycle so as a teacher, I needed to break this cycle. Once I did, he gained momentum and started to learn, participate, and cooperate.

I really like this Udl Toolkit that gives suggestions for students with all different learning styles and subject areas. These would be useful to explore with the student. By doing this, the student would know that you are really trying to help him succeed and giving him some control over this. So, I hope that when you come across a student like mine, you put on your Indiana Jones hat and see it as an opportunity to join him in the quest for success.


Anonymous said...

Call it whatever you want tool belt theory sounds like a new name for exactly what good special educators have been doing and have been trained to do for years...providing students with a mix of useful strategies, be it technology or other methods, that are geared towards their individual needs and learning styles. It's good that you were able to reach this student and he was able to develop his own strategy bank with multiple strategies or tools for future use. Sometimes finding just the right key to get the door open is the hardest thing.

M-Dawg said...

The IEP doesn't always tell us everything we need to know about a student's learning style or ability. So sometimes it seems like a "treasure hunt" figuring out what will work for the student and their learning style.

You did a great job with that student and figuring out what would work for him.

Feel like coming out to MA and co-teach with a very open minded 9th grade World History teacher that desperately wants her students to do well in class??? :-)

loonyhiker said...

gina: It is amazing at the new terminology that is coming out for many of the same things we did for years. At first I was intimidated by some of the new terms until I realized that I knew how to do it already.

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: I'd love to come to MA but I don't think I could talk my husband into leaving the south for your cold snowy winters.