Monthly Archives: September 2010

Interesting or Useful Web Sites for Educators or Parents


These are a few of my favourites and I expect to add to them from time to time.  Please let me know if you have come across particularly useful books or web sites in your travels.  I would be happy to check them out and add them to these lists.

http://www.beingsmart.ca/

Go to the Links section for notes from the authors’ presentations and links to excellent sites on gifted children and adults.

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/

Information on policies, publications and laws.  Some publications are free to the public or parents. Some are free to teachers if ordered through the schools.  Teachers can download  publications and instructional videos .  Other instructional DVDs will be sent free.  Great if you missed the latest initiative.

http://www.nfb.ca/

Our beloved National Film Board offers the opportunity to watch its films free, on-line.  This is a good way to preview films that might be suitable for your class.  While the films are free for individuals, schools must take a subscription.

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/start-debut-eng.html

Statistics Canada.  Stats can be very difficult and dry to learn how to use, but fascinating to read.  For example, did you know that Montreal and Ottawa are both 60:40 bilingual?  The difference is that in Montreal, the 60% represents the francophone population, whereas in Ottawa it represents the Anglophone population.

Stats Can is happy to share the joy with teachers.   Explore the web site and look out for publications specifically aimed at schools.  Math and geography classes can be a whole lot more interesting when there is real world information to discuss.  There are even lesson plans.

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

Put the CIA to work for you.  You can find the basic vital statistics for all the countries of the world here in their World Factbook.  Select a country and find information on the economic, political, social and physical geography.  It is important to remember the source.  For example, Palestine is not recognised as a country.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2qi9SD/www.sciencegeek.net/lingo.html

For teachers whose principals are only impressed by a liberal sprinkling of jargon, here is a generator to raise a smile for those weary moments in a staff meeting or in co-creating a report.

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm

Lots of great information about Canadian history, geography, literature, sports ….

http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca

This is the web site for the McCord Museum in Montreal.  Naturally, it has its own perspective and so is an excellent complement to the Canadian Encyclopedia.  The museum itself is worth a visit, too.

http://www.flylady.net/

A website for people who problems with organisation and want to get some control over their lives.  If you need to bring some order into your chaos, check it out.  She addresses the issues of teachers, students and office workers, too, but her main focus is running a household in a minimum of time with a maximum effect.

Interesting or Useful Books for Educators or Parents


These are a few of my favourites and I expect to add to them from time to time.  Please let me know if you have come across particularly useful books or web sites in your travels.  I would be happy to check them out and add them to these lists.

“Could Do Better”: Why Children Underachieve and What to Do About It by Harvey P. Mandel and Sander I. Marcus (Hardcover – Sep 8 1995)

We look at our underachieving students and write them off as lazy – or wonder if there is any way we can help.  Mandel and Marcus reinforced my sneaking suspicion that there is no such thing as a lazy child.  Well worth reading for parents and teachers alike.

Being Smart about Gifted Education: A Guidebook for Educators and Parents by Dona J. Matthews and Joanne F. Foster (Paperback – Aug 2009)

An excellent guidebook.

Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom: Strategies and Techniques Every Teacher Can Use to Meet the Academic Needs of the Gifted and Talented by Susan Winebrenner and Sylvia B. Rimm (Paperback – Nov 1 2002)

I have used the two Winebrenner books on this list and found them so useful, I would be inclined to try any of her other books.  We hear about compacting the curriculum for gifted kids; she shows us how to do it with a minimum of work and maximum impact.

Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom: Strategies and Techniques Every Teacher Can Use to Challenge and Motivate Struggling Students by Susan Winebrenner (Paperback – Nov 1 2002)

The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Recognize It, How to Manage It, and How to Avoid It by Maggie Mamen (Paperback – Oct 5 2004)

Highly recommended for both parents and teachers.  Parents sometimes worry or are even fairly sure that they are indulging their children a bit much.  This book explains the consequences and what to do.  It is also useful for teachers who receive pampered children in their classrooms.

Mismeasure Of Man by Stephen Gould (Hardcover – Jun 26 1996)

An fascinating account of the origins of IQ tests.  Worth the read but you will never take an IQ test too seriously again!

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf

An excellent book about reading and the process of reading from a potted history to a careful explanation of the neurology of the reading brain and the dyslexic brain.  You will never look at dyslexics the same again.

Unless you have a good understanding of the construction of the brain, you may need to slow down, study the diagrams and find an app that shows a 3D model of the brain.  It took me a while to get through the last chapters with reasonable comprehension and I will probably go back to them again.

Acronyms and Abbreviations for Educational Terms


There is more to come, but this is a start.  If you find other terms you would like explained, please let me know.

Education students, a caveat – these are informal and opinionated definitions!

Acronyms and Abbreviations

ADD = attention deficit disorder

ADHD = attention deficit hyperactive disorder

CCAT = Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test

EFI = early French immersion

EFTO = Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario

FI = French immersion

LD = learning disability (disabled)

LST = learning support teacher

IPRC = identification, process and review committee

IQ = intelligence quotient

IEP = individual learning plan

IB = international baccalaureate (programme)

LFI = late French immersion

LST = learning support teacher

MIDI = Musical Instrument Digital Interface

MFI = middle French immersion

OSR = Ontario student record

SES = Socio-Economic Status

TIPS=Targeted Implementation and Planning Supports for Revised Mathematics

WISC = Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children

Concerning Comments From Readers


My policy is to post all comments from readers provided that they are not abusive, illegal or fattening.  I do have one other constraint:  I am not comfortable in posting comments which refer to specific teachers, children, parents or schools by name or in a way that makes it easy for the general public to identify any of them.

You may have noticed that my criticism about education has largely been about ineffective systems which either cheat our children of reasonable educational attainment or load their teachers with demands that make them less effective in teaching our children.   I do try to temper my annoyance with leaders in education who buy into these systems because they are more interested in their careers than the education of children.

After twenty years in the system I still believe that almost all teachers have the interests of their students at heart and do their best to act in those interests.  I might disagree with their means but I rarely quarrel with their sincerity.  Some teachers are so tired either because they are overwhelmed by their teaching situation or an extra-curricular problem or illness, that they must reduce their efforts in the classroom if they are to survive.  Few teachers last long in the classroom if they suffer from any serious health problem.

It is tempting sometimes to pillory a teacher who has got up your nose in some way, especially if your child is involved.  Before you throw the first stone, however, ask yourself what stories might be put about if 30 pairs of young eyes watched you at work for six hours a day, every day.  Then imagine the mouths taking home stories about what they had seen and heard you do during the six hours.   Ask yourself if you have ever seen a child slant a story to get out of trouble, to show herself in a good light, to illustrate her personal biases or just for the excitement of making it bigger than it is when she shares it with her friends.

Then pillory the teacher if you can.

Schools can be very small communities so naming a school can make it very easy to identify the people involved.  Since critical comments often involve events which happen quickly in response to an incident, I am reluctant to embarrass people who are doing the best they can with what they know at the time.  When it involves policy, the policy is often dictated by the board or agreed upon by the school council.  It is never as simple as it sounds.

All this to say, I will not publish comments that name schools, children, their teachers or parents.  School boards and their policies are fair game; they have consultants and lawyers and all sorts of people to help them get things right; when they don’t, it is usually not for lack of knowing what the best choice is: it is usually because the people who are ultimately accountable, the elected trustees, do not have the backbone to make that choice.  Weak spines are contagious and will eventually infect all the administration in a board.

Neglecting the Education of Children with Learning Disabilities


7th grade geography activity

7th grade geography activity

7th grade geography activity (Photo credit: Kentucky Country D

Who Benefits From the Inclusive Classroom?

Can a Classroom with a Large Majority of Special Needs Children also be an Inclusive Classroom?

Would you want your child to be in a grade seven class of 30 students if 25 are identified as having special needs?  Would you want your child in that class if she is identified as having special needs?  Would you want her there if her first language is not English?  Would you want her there if she is a regular, ordinary student?

A colleague recently observed one intermediate school where the two grade seven regular-English classes were predominantly Special Education students.  By[SDS1] predominantly, I mean roughly 25 out of 28 or 29 in one class and half the students in the other class had been identified or were about to be identified as students with special needs.  By special education students, what I mean is students with learning disabilities or behavioural problems.  Gifted students were not included in those classes.

Melissa visiting the Gifted Education Centre4

Melissa visits the Gifted Education Centre4                                      (Photo credit: nznationalparty)

The students in these two classes receive some support through a Special Education teacher joining their class on a regular basis, usually for Language Arts and math.  This teacher is intended to support more than the grade seven classes, probably both the grade seven and eight classes, so she is not available full-time, half time or even quarter time to support the students with learning difficulties.  For many students, the support time may be sufficient; for others it won’t be.

Do These Classes Serve The Needs of Identified Students?

Consider a class where 25 students need Special Education support.  Yes, with two teachers it is less daunting, but there are 30 students.  The classroom teacher has responsibility for the five regular students as well as the rest.  What would this class would be like.

Remember that each child identified has been identified as having a particular need; this is why they are called special needs children.  In the 25 may be students with students with ADD, ADHD, personality disorders, behavioural problems, physical disabilities as well as gifted students and those with learning disabilities.  Not only does one size not fit all, but each child has an appropriately individualized program the teacher is required to follow.

Now try to imagine what it is like when the subject teacher is alone, trying to teach geography, complete with graphs or history with the need to learn to read non-fiction.  Where will the support be then?  How will students respond?  Will they be able to learn in a class of that size with so many other students competing for help?

The Inclusive Classroom: More Motto than Pedagogy

The school cited states that these children’s need are met following the inclusive model set out by the 2006 Expert Panel report on Special Education, Education for All.  For my comments, summaries and charts derived from Education for All, go to the tag or category marked Education for All on this site.  The point of the document was that by following the concept developed by the architectural community of universal design, almost all students can be taught in an inclusive classroom.

The point of the inclusive classroom was to integrate children with exceptional needs into classrooms of regular children.  Instead, in this example, regular kids are being integrated into classrooms of exceptional children.  Only those students who are gifted are exempted from being integrated with regular students or having regular students integrated with them.

Why Are There So Many Special Needs Students in 1/3 of the Grade Seven Classes?

This particular school states that it has a “Junior/Intermediate system LD class for students who have been identified with severe learning disabilities.”  This would account for the larger percentage of identified students in the regular classes. In this school  there are six grade seven classes , a normal sort of number for a middle school.  You are probably wondering why there are so many identified students (teacher talk for students with special needs) in the two classes.

A special education teacher assists one of her...

A special education teacher assists one of her students.                                                   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the six classes in this grade seven cohort, only two can possibly have students with learning difficulties integrated into their class .  Some of you may doing the math:  If one assumes that each classes has 30 students and there are 25 identified students in one class and half of another class is identified i.e. 15, students, that makes 40 students out of 180 who have learning difficulties of some sort or another.  (Not speaking English does not count as a learning disability although it does disqualify you from being gifted.)

So 40/180 means that 22% of the students in the grade seven of this middle school have been identified as having special needs (if you ignore the gifted – and they are seldom ignored).   Depending on which studies you read, learning disabilities range from roughly 5% to 12% of the population; both those figures are from studies cited by Statistics Canada.  It does seem a bit of a stretch that 22% in one grade in one school would be identified, especially if we were not including the gifted.  You need to remember that this school has a system Junior/Intermediate class for students with severe LD;  it is fair to assume that even these children with severe LDs have been integrated into regular classes.

So why do only two out of the six grade seven classes have identified students integrated with them?

French Immersion, Where Everyone Can Learn But Only The Unidentified May Stay

First there are three French Immersion classes.  Students can’t expect special education support in Ontario’s FI classes; for some of the reasons, please see my post: French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students? There are no special education teachers certified to teach in French and therefore there is no support or, more accurately: there is no support provided for FI and therefore there are no special education teachers certified to teach in French.  I am sure the school boards will say there is no money for it.  To find out where the money isn’t going, see my post: Is French Immersion a Money Maker for School Boards?

Students with learning disabilities and their parents are likely to be told by their grade six teachers or principals that these educators will not support the child going into French Immersion.  This is counter to the principle that ANY child can succeed as well in FI as they could in the regular program IF they have the same level of support as they would in the regular program.  As I have pointed out before, in most boards across the country, support for special needs students in French Immersion is not provided.  French Immersion students must succeed, move into the regular program or their parents must pay for tutoring.  Not only is the support not provided, but parents need skill at reading between the lines to appreciate that it is not going to be available.

Gifted Students AKASpecial Needs Students Who Are Exceptions to Inconvenient Rules

The fourth class of the six is the academically gifted class.  Two or three students in the gifted class may have learning disabilities or behavioural problems, but as long as their primary exceptionality is giftedness, they are eligible for the class.  These students traditionally do not get any support outside the class since the assumption is that as the teacher is a specialist in special education, she will undoubtedly know how to handle other exceptionalities.  And she usually does or learns very quickly.

I have pointed out in earlier posts Gifted and “Education for All” and Commentary on “Education for All” that although the inclusive classroom is mandated as the default placement for all special needs students, somehow administrators processing the gifted have missed the memo.  Please see Education for All:The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

Why?
One or two classes in a school system or a province are not proof of systemic problems.  However, they can be an example of what can happen and has happened when every child’s education is not a priority.  I am not sure what it says about the children, their parents, their community, their school or their teachers.  I do know what I think it says about our school system.  It says that our school system is about appearance, not pedagogy. One has to question the thinking of administrators who allow system classes  if the children are going to be integrated into regular classrooms.  When they do the math, isn’t it obvious that what will happen is essentially reverse integration i.e. the integration of regular students into classrooms of identified students among who are children with “severe” learning disabilities”?
Not an Aberration

This is one example but I doubt it is an exception.  The problem is probably less severe in the primary grades before students are siphoned off into the gifted program and when only some students are segregated in the French Immersion program.  In the primary grades there will be a smaller learning gap between regular students and those lagging developmentally or with learning disabilities.  As the children grow, however, the gap in learning grows until some students will fall as much as two grades or more behind.  A regular grade seven teacher will inevitably be facing a class with some students working at levels as low as grade five.  There may also be English as Second Language students whose math may be at a grade seven level or above but are not yet able to read, write or speak fluently in English.

Last, But Not Least, A Look at The Numbers       IMG_1854

Below is the section of the Ontario Education Act that deals specifically with the maximum number of students who may be in any Special Education Class, including the gifted classes.  The ceiling ranges from six to twenty-five.  The unlucky souls integrated into the inclusive classrooms under the flags of equity and political correctness are in classes exceeding the 25.  In fact, regular intermediate classes have almost always been larger than 25 in spite of the fact that even 20 years ago teachers and administrators knew that these classes were heavily larded with students with special needs, behavioural issues or carrying the extra load of learning English as a second language.

That these identified students, some with severe learning disabilities, are being taught in classes larger than allowed for the gifted is a disgrace.  It is more than a disgrace.  If you analysed the makeup of race, gender, socio-economic class and religion, you would find it very different from that in French Immersion or Gifted classes at the Intermediate level.  It is discriminatory.  It is laziness and cowardice on the part of administrators who prefer to do the politically expedient thing rather than the pedagogically sound.

Those Parents Have Not Complained

Why is nothing done about it?  As a principal said to me in a similar context:  “Those parents have not complained.”  And that, gentle reader, is the essence of how many if not most educational decisions are made.

IMG_1861

Education Act

R.R.O. 1990, REGULATION 298

Consolidation Period: From May 31, 2009 to the e-Laws currency date.

Last amendment: O. Reg. 206/09.

OPERATION OF SCHOOLS — GENERAL

31. The maximum enrolment in a special education class shall depend upon the extent of the exceptionalities of the pupils in the class and the special education services that are available to the teacher, but in no case shall the enrolment in a self-contained class exceed,

(a) in a class for pupils who are emotionally disturbed or socially maladjusted, for pupils who have severe learning disabilities, or for pupils who are younger than compulsory school age and have impaired hearing, eight pupils;

(b) in a class for pupils who are blind, for pupils who are deaf, for pupils who have developmental disabilities, or for pupils with speech and language disorders, ten pupils;

(c) in a class for pupils who are hard of hearing, for pupils with limited vision, or for pupils with orthopaedic or other physical handicaps, twelve pupils;

(d) in a class for pupils who have mild intellectual disabilities, twelve pupils in the primary division and sixteen pupils in the junior and intermediate divisions;

(e) in an elementary school class for pupils who are gifted,

(i) twenty pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the primary division,

(ii) twenty-three pupils, if the class includes at least one pupil in the primary division and at least one pupil in the junior division or intermediate division, and

(iii) twenty-five pupils, if the class consists only of pupils in the junior division or intermediate division;

(f) in a class for aphasic or autistic pupils, or for pupils with multiple handicaps for whom no one handicap is dominant, six pupils; and

(g) on and after the 1st day of September, 1982, in a class for exceptional pupils consisting of pupils with different exceptionalities, sixteen pupils. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 298, s. 31; O. Reg. 191/04, s. 10; O. Reg. 29/08, s. 4; O. Reg. 297/08, s. 1.

See also:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005


Once More Into the Blog, Dear Readers


The Remains of the Dock

Events have rendered me unwilling to think about education and despairing of teachers in Ontario ever being treated as more than technicians in the near future.  I have not written about education for many months now, but the little girl next door is leaving her Montessori school to start grade one at our local school.   My niece is half way through high school and two young cousins are returning to the francophone primary school.  We talk about school:  what their parents like; what works for the children; the inequities; the little miracles wrought by their teachers; the rules, ridiculous and important; the children’s biases and prejudices.  For the most part both the parents and children recognise that compromises have to be made in what is essentially still an industrial model of education but sometimes I hear frustration in their voices.

I am surrounded by teachers, too.  Primary, Montessori, kindergarten to grade 8 French, high school language, supply, university psychology, adult ESL teacher trainers, graduate supervisors.  They all have their delights and concerns as they return to the classroom.  Sometimes one or two will honour me by turning over a problem with me or asking my advice and I get some insight into their particular corners of the teaching profession.

All of us see things which don’t make sense, which hinder teachers in their teaching, students in their learning and parents in their support of both.  So inevitably I want to write again to point out the illogical, the wasteful and the effective events taking place in our schools.  I want to talk about what does work, especially the simple easy techniques.

I have been looking over the many thoughtful comments I have received from readers.  Please keep them coming; even when I disagree with you, they provoke me to think and consider other possibilities.  Writing in a vacuum is a dangerous thing as the writer may begin to believe everything she writes.

Watch this space for more about equity for the learning disabled, sense in teaching second languages and reflections on morality.  I hope to eventually have some comments to make on university teaching, too.  One might say that teaching is a new discovery in all university faculties, except, perhaps the education faculties.  And I am not too sure about them!

Rebuilding the Dock