Category Archives: goals

Update: Emma, still climbing at two


Image

Emma’s dad reports that she did all the work.  There were a few missteps.  He took her off the platform and carried her down.  The thing that looks like a scarf on the left may be one of the many slings he and Emma’s mum use to carry her.  He may have used it to partially secure her for the descent.

Just a reminder that Emma’s parents don’t push her to do anything like this.  However, if she is keen and they think she can, they encourage her and spot her to ensure it is done safely.  I suspect that it may be safer, on occasion, to support these deeds of derring do than repress them and take a chance on Emma trying something when they aren’t looking!

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Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching?


Having just posted a number of charts based on Education for All, (See For Teachers: Some Charts Based on Education for All) I find myself appalled at the amount of paper work a teacher deals with. These charts add to the already increased load of paper a teacher might find herself dealing with in the course of the year.  If it improves learning in the classroom, I am all for it; the question is does it improve learning?

First let’s review some of the paper a teacher deals with in the course of a normal year:

1.     Set up marking records

2.     Collect tombstone data about students and pass on to the office, recording relevant information for own files beforehand.

3.     Reviewing students’ OSRs  (Ontario Student Records) for information about the children.

4.     Collect and record money – school fees, Scholastic books purchases, milk for lunch, hot dog day fundraisers, school field trips, photographs; it is expected that the teacher add up the money, record who paid what and record the amount of change, dollars, cheques & totals before submitting it to the office.  Often she is expected to hand it in to the office on a daily basis for safekeeping.

5.     Write a detailed description (after researching and reserving activities and possibly buses) to apply to take her class on a field trip.  Her principal and superintendent review this; if either of them wants a change, it must be rewritten and resubmitted.  This means that the teacher does every thing she can to speed the approval process along, as she is anxious to have approval quickly to retain her spot and bus.  Field trips include anything outside the school grounds which means that even a walk around the block must be written up and submitted for approval.

6.     Locate, price and write up an order sheet for textbooks for an application to the principal to purchase on the off chance the money is available.

7.     Record sufficient notes about behaviour and academic performance of each student in the class so she can support her comments in any interview with a parent.

8.     Write up her notes for the next day’s plans in a clear fashion with reference to textbooks etc. so a supply teacher can take over her class in event of illness or accident.

9.     Prepare materials for lesson plans manually in the event suitable textbooks are not available.

10.  Do attendance at least twice a day and see that it is sent down to the office.  No, students may not do the attendance.  A mistake can wreak havoc, either worrying a parent or not alerting the school & parents to a child’s absence.

11.  Notes from parents about children’s absences.

12.  Everyday memos from the board, the union, the parent council, colleagues and the school, catalogues and flyers end up in a teacher’s mail slot; some require action, some request help, some are merely informative.  I have a bumf file and put everything in it in case I need a memo later on.  At the end of the year, I can usually throw the whole lot in the recycling.  Still, some of them are important so each must be scanned and the key ones dealt with, responded to, pinned on the bulletin board, information provided, door decorated, children informed or taught, time allocated or lesson plans changed.

13.  Report cards are largely done on computers these days.  The programs change yearly or every two years, mainly in response to bugs in the previous programs, but each new version requires time spent learning.  In some schools, the teachers print them, in others it is done by the office personnel.

14.  Report cards – sign, fold, put in envelopes, give to children; Make sure all the comments sheet with parental signatures are collected from children the following week, then filed with a copy of report card in the OSRs – every term

15.  Write IEPs for every exceptional student in the class, copy filed in the OSR and a copy is sent to the parents – by the teacher, every term

16.  Record number of hours each child has spent in French class updated on a card in the OSR in June – by the homeroom teacher.

17.  Photographs of each child in the class stuck in place in the OSR and dated

18.  Tidy contents of OSR into a specific order in June

19.  If the students are in a class that is leaving the school in June, bundle the students’ OSRs according to which schools they will attend.

20.  Of course, teachers photocopy their own material, create or buy signs, posters and other decorations for the classroom.  If the equipment is available, they also laminate them.  If they are lucky, money is available for decorating the classroom.  Either way the classroom is empty when they arrive and they are expected to decorate it appropriately.

Now add the documentation from Education for All

So what is all that paperwork for?  The two main reasons are records and accountability.  When you think of it, they overlap in spots: report cards both record and account for student progress and marking records and teacher’s notes support the more formal report cards.  Even recording hours of French is necessary given the number of different programs.  It wouldn’t be sufficient to record the program as students frequently drop out into other programs. (See French as a Second Language is not Taught in a Vacuum; How Do We Teach All the Children?)  Recording hours of French is a form of accountability although it is not related to the teacher recording them.

The question is, how much paperwork is necessary to provide sufficient record keeping for the sake of accountability?  Just looking at the incomplete list above, you can imagine what proportion of a teacher’s time this requires.  Which of these activities would be better replaced with planning, helping children before and after class and assessing the students’ work?  I can list several items of which all or part are not directly related to teaching:  #2, 4, 6, 11, 13 to 20.  As you can see, much of it involves filing.

When I first started teaching, my principal believed that teachers should have goals for their students written down.  This only came out when some teachers were evaluated and expressed their indignation at what was an unusual expectation.  Most teachers have goals for their students tucked in the back of their mind, goals that change as the child changes, but few think of writing them down any more than they would write down the criteria that determine where they seat a child in the classroom.  Believe me, that can be a long list, including sight, hearing, behavioral and learning factors, friends, distracters, need for cues from the teacher and so on.

As a new teacher, I was also being evaluated, so I quickly jotted down my thoughts on my students and casually stuck the page behind the half a dozen pages that formed my notes supporting my plans for the day and week.  Naturally, when the principal went through my day plan, he found them and I earned brownie points.

The thing is that writing down my goals for my students hadn’t created them; they were there all along, otherwise I couldn’t have hastily written them down before the principal’s visit.   The most that writing them down had done for me (besides improving my evaluation) was to clarify them a little.  Within a week or two, the goals were no longer accurate because the child was changing, showing new strengths or weaknesses or I was gaining greater insights.

Where writing down observations and goals did help was when I had students whose difficulties seemed beyond help in my classroom.  Then, I worked to write them down accurately and clearly because I was going to turn to my colleagues or principal for help.  If they did not know the child, then I was going to be the sole source of information.  At that point, the information garnered through the Education for All Charts would be useful.  Virtually nothing is left out.

Is it necessary to fill out all the charts on literacy and numeracy for every child?  Most teachers are very aware of the basic academic and learning skills of each student in their class by the end of the first term and many have them pegged much earlier than that.  As long as each child is learning well and assessed accurately both formatively and summatively, is a learning profile worth the cost in time?

To explain:  formative assessment is evaluation used to figure out how much the student has understood.  This helps the teacher determine how to teach the next section; it also helps the student understand what needs reviewing.  Summative assessment is used for final evaluation i.e. marks.  In theory, these are separate assessments; in practice, they may cross over as when a teacher allows redoing assignments for mastery or when the most recent, highest marks in a unit are used for final assessment.

Returning to paperwork: time is most effectively spent on learning profiles when a student is struggling.  At that point, a thorough understanding of strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as a starting point in determining the next steps in helping the child.  Time spent observing, reflecting and writing down the points in each part of the learning profile may provide the basis for useful insights.

A learning profile as an aide memoire in preparation for report cards or a guide for planning units may also be helpful.  The danger is that principals who don’t trust their teachers to use their professional judgment may jump on the Education for All bandwagon and ask that all these forms be used.  It will look like accountability, but it will be no more accountability than asking teachers to sign time cards.

Am I saying teachers shouldn’t do any paperwork?  No.  I am saying that before teachers are asked to do any paperwork, the usefulness of the paperwork as records or a measure of accountability should be weighed against the usefulness of the teachers’ time spent teaching or planning or assessing or consulting with colleagues.

For More Information:

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

Gifted and “Education for All”



Part 4:  Education for All
and the Academically Talented Child

Before I start, I would like to comment on the notion that many people hold – even some teachers – that gifted children will do well no matter what and do not have special needs.  A child who is capable of working two years above her chronological peers will be bored in a regular classroom and may look for ways to alleviate her boredom.  One may be to see how much she can get away with in terms of poor behaviour or not doing homework or beating the system.  Another might be to challenge the teacher on knowledge, procedure and any minutiae of school rules.  Some students will take pleasure in figuring out how to be absent as long as possible without being caught.  This may include everything from day-dreaming and reading books under the desk to playing hookey, disappearing off to the washroom and working the holes in the absentee system.

The students who decide to play by the rules may do their best to conform; this includes not doing much better than their peers and playing down their abilities.  Either way, the students are not being themselves academically and being something you are not is stressful.  There has been a lot written on the effects of stress so I will not go into the details of the potential ill effects such as dropping out, drug abuse and depression.  Stress caused by this kind of frustration should be distinguished from healthy stress created by challenge students believe they can meet with serious effort and thought.

So yes, the academically talented student does have special needs that should be met.  Gretzky wasn’t left to play hockey with boys his age who weren’t as good as him on the theory that he was so good he would do well anyway.  All students need to be nurtured and have their needs met as much as we reasonably can.  Academic talent needs it as much as athletic talent.

The purpose of Education for All is to promote the inclusive classroom.  The concept of the inclusive classroom is that all children who can be taught in the regular classroom, should be.  These children include most exceptional or special needs children and gifted children are included in the definition of exceptional. Ontario ministry requires that the default placement of children identified as exceptional be the regular classroom.   (see Inclusive Education in Practice)  If the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) chooses to place the child elsewhere, a written explanation is required.

Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom: the Default Placement

This creates difficulties for many children with special needs and gifted children are no exception.  Most boards have three ways of providing for the academically talented child: the first is the default, placing her in a regular classroom.  A skilled teacher, trained in teaching bright children and especially in techniques such as compacting the curriculum and contracts would be successful if the child in question was a good independent worker and thirsty to learn.  Not all gifted children are either.

There are two or three advantages to this method.  The first one is that the child may continue to attend the home school and make friends with children within walking distance.   I believe that this is very important to children and necessary to the growth of their independence.  My observations as the parent of three (now grown) children have brought home to me how important it is to children to have friends within walking distance.

The child’s capacity to work independently and propose her own projects will have the opportunity to develop in a regular classroom.   Many gifted children are weaker in one academic area than another; being in a regular classroom would allow them to work with fellow students and perhaps turn to them for help on occasion.

There are often bright children who haven’t been identified as gifted who might benefit from compacting the curriculum and being allowed to pursue a subject in greater depth.  The gifted child in the classroom may open the opportunity of enrichment to these classmates as planning for a handful of motivated students is usually not much more trouble than planning for one.

Finally, one gifted young man told me that when he started to work in the real world he felt frustrated because ordinary people couldn’t think as fast as he could.  He understood that it was his problem and made every effort to be courteous while he learned to adapt.  The problem was that having spent his formative years surrounded by bright schoolmates, parents, siblings and relatives, he hadn’t learned how to deal with all levels of intelligence.  Cultures, religions, ideas, lifestyles – yes – but not a lower level of intelligence.  Being taught in a regular classroom would have given him that skill.  He is still working on it.

Education for All barely discusses the academically talented child in the regular classroom and other options are not discussed at all.  Below are some traditional options and one which would require some flexibility in school organisation but result in providing enrichment for more than the top 2%.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal is probably the worst method of providing for academically talented children.  Usually this is done on the basis of a half day or less a week; the student is taken by another teacher for gifted programming.  Many of these students are already aware that they are different.  Being withdrawn from the classroom makes many children feel singled out and will add to a bright student’s sense of being outside the norm.  She will often balk at a withdrawal program and prefer to stay in the class full time.

Although the theory is that the child should not have to make up for work missed in the classroom, the reality is that sometimes the timetable can’t be managed that way or the teacher does not buy into the theory.  If the teacher sees gifted programming as elitist, then she will be less likely to go to the extraordinary effort of co-ordinating classroom work with the withdrawal timetable.  In fairness she is stuck in a catch-22 situation: the student should not miss learning experiences in the key academic subjects, nor should he miss out on anything he might regard as fun such as gym or art.  One should forgive a teacher for believing that all time in her classroom is educationally relevant and occasionally outright fun.

The teacher who does the withdrawal should be a specialist in giftedness, but too often a principal may be tempted to give the job to someone who needs a .2 or .1 position to complete her timetable.  All the teacher needs to be qualified is part 1 of the special education certificate.  There is much less flexibility in staffing today than there was twenty years ago, so shoehorning a teacher into this position is not necessarily indifference or ignorance of the children’s needs but a case of making do with the staff provided.

Withdrawals are usually done on a once a week basis.  In theory, enrichment should relate to and enhance the curriculum but without very close work with the classroom teacher, this would be almost impossible for the withdrawal teacher.  The withdrawal teacher may have several grades at one time and inevitably students with talents varying from the mathematical to the verbal. The compromise is that students end up doing individual projects such as family trees or creating a fantasy land or something else that will allow them to stretch.  In the past, these projects were irrelevant to the assessment of the students’ academic levels.  Perhaps there is closer co-ordination now.

The only truly positive thing I can say about this method is that it allows the child to stay at his home school and in the right circumstances may open the school to the Renzulli method, of which I will write later in this post.

The Congregated (Segregated) Program

This program brings academically talented children together in one classroom.  The criteria varies but the frequent standard is the 98th percentile on an intelligence test or equivalent.  This means that the child tests as higher in academic ability than 98% or 97.999% of all other children.  This can be done with expensive one on one testing with a psychologist trained in testing intelligence or it can be done with a paper and pencil test which can be supervised by anyone.  The choice depends on what is available to school boards.  Most choose the latter but that, unfortunately, leaves them vulnerable to parents who can afford it pursuing the psychologist route if the paper and pencil test does not show their child to be qualified.  (see Another Curious Statistic)This is an inequity in the system that school boards such as the Ottawa Carleton District School Board are aware of and to which they would like to see a solution.

Done properly with trained teachers who are hired by knowledgeable principals, the congregated program can be effective.  The biggest problem is that students who are not used to challenge are often unhappy when they are required to think.  Many programs provide more work or in depth knowledge without requiring students to work their way up on Bloom’s Taxonomy from learning facts and skills to analysis, evaluation and application.  The programs end up being effective only in terms of allowing students to work with their intellectual peers.  If that is all a program does then those who finger gifted programs pejoratively as elitist are justified.

A second problem is that the children usually must attend school at a distance from their own home.  This makes forming friendships within walking distance of home difficult and group work outside of school dependent on parental transport.  Without companions close by, their freedom to explore is restricted and the relaxed friendships bound only by their preferences rather than the availability of parent chauffeurs is impossible until their teens.  By that time, many students will have lost the impetus to take the initiative in their social lives or the will to find transportation besides the parent chauffeur.  I even know of students with university degrees who will not take public transportation.

One family who had four children in gifted programs ended up installing a second phone line just for the children as they needed it to discuss assignments as well as stay in touch with friends.  Friends and family of the parents were unable to get through when there was just one phone in the house.

A third problem is that the children are visibly separate from the rest of the other students.  They are singled out as enrichies or richies and seen as privileged and resented as such.  The best schools make an effort to integrate all the students through sports, drama or music programs to avoid this kind of thing.   A congregated class may reinforce any sense of entitlement the students or their parents might feel thus continuing the circle.

Finally, the younger children in the program must be bussed if the school is not within walking distance.  This adds to the cost of the program, to the length of the child’s day and the isolation from the local community.  Because parents do not belong to the community, their voices at school meetings are concerned primarily with the gifted program.  In one school the parents of these children insisted that they be allowed to go straight to their classrooms from the buses in the morning, as the parents were uncomfortable with their children being on the playground in an inner-city school.  This was in spite of the fact that there were teachers supervising the playground at that hour and that no other children were allowed in their classrooms.  I don’t know whether the other parents ever picked up on the insult to them as their own children were walking past each others’ homes in this inner city on the way to school

The flip side is that parents of gifted children can be energetic in fundraising or willing to donate to school projects.  The other students do benefit from the extras the money provides and in the attention paid to the physical plant when there is a congregated gifted program in place.

Acceleration – Out of Fashion and Now Returning to Fashion

Acceleration was probably the earliest form of handling academically talented children.  People of a certain age will remember the children who skipped a grade.  Sometimes it was done by putting them in the lower grade of a split class and the following year sending them on with the upper grade of the split.  It had the advantages of moving a child ahead academically, but the disadvantage was that the child was no longer with his or her chronological peers.  Sometimes it still did not provide the intellectual challenges needed and sometimes the child might have floundered in areas of weakness.  Usually, these issues were considered in making the decision to accelerate a child.

For many years it was not considered appropriate to accelerate a child for the social reasons raised above.  This got confused by many school boards into the idea that acceleration itself was bad; certainly acceleration in specific subject areas but not others created headaches for teachers in the receiving classes or schools.  The teachers to continue the acceleration might not be available or it might prove difficult to arrange students’ timetables to take more advanced subjects.  Teachers were told not to accelerate students in any subject area – even in mathematics where acceleration is appropriate and necessary to provide enrichment for the talented.  I was even told that teaching above the grade level could be a firing offence.

Recently in Ontario, this kind of thinking has been challenged and acceleration has been reinstituted as legitimate method in providing accomodation for academically talented children in some areas.  This does not mean that we have gone back to skipping children, as the principle that children should be with their age peers still holds.  In most subjects, providing breadth and depth is sufficient challenge for a bright child. In math, some students will need acceleration whether the students are in a congregated gifted or regular classroom.

My own observation is that some elementary teachers are math phobic, not a surprise when you consider that the kind of interests and skills which drew them to young children did not require math.  A teacher’s discomfort with math will make accelerating a few students more difficult, but perhaps this could be taken into consideration in choosing classrooms for talented math students.  This takes us full circle back to the point that the teacher of the inclusive classroom will need training not just in teaching children with behavioural problems and learning difficulties but also academically talented children.

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Renzulli Method

This will be a very brief summary of the concepts developed by Joseph Renzulli.  They do answer concerns about issues such as isolating academically talented children, dealing with children who have some very strong talents but are weaker in other areas, dealing with academically talented children who are not motivated or lack creativity and elitism.  Implementing his ideas would require an enrichment teacher in each school and flexibility in school timetables but enrichment would not be as dependent on testing as it has been.

Renzulli’s model of giftedness rejects conventional concepts of IQ as a sole arbiter of ability.  He considers that its use is best applied as a guideline to determine above average ability.  He reckons that IQ alone does not predict performance and, indeed Terman’s  longitudinal studies of people with high IQs bear that out.  Terman’s subjects did go on to become doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers but they were not the iconoclasts, the paradigm shifters, the great businessmen or politicians of their generation.  The people who were, were bright but not as bright.

So, the first part of Renzulli’s model is above average ability.  The second part is creativity.  Since this is a summary, I will simply comment that studies have shown that intelligence without creativity only takes one so far in solving problems or doing well in general.  Oddly enough, many parents of academically talented students keep their children busy with structured activities to ensure their children make the most of their abilities.  I am rarely believed when I tell them that the research shows that their children would be better off having more unstructured time to play and develop their creativity.  Even a pick up game of soccer or baseball would be better because the children would have to negotiate their teams, rules and referreeing according to the space, number of kids, quality and character of players and equipment.  They would have to be creative in coming up with solutions which everyone could agree to without taking up all of their play time.

The third is task commitment.We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare.  The hare was a gifted runner but the tortoise had task commitment and perhaps a creative enough mind to perceive that the hare’s vanity might slow him down.  We know the tortoise will not have a hope at the Olympic podium because he lacks above average ability in running, but neither will the hare because he lacks task commitment and perhaps the creativity to consider the possible ways in which a tortoise just might beat him.

Below is a copy of the Venn diagram that Renzulli puts together from these three qualities of giftedness.  As you can see, when the three overlap, gifted behaviour occurs.  This is the answer to the many teachers of the gifted who have muttered, “I know wee Johnny is supposed to qualify for this class but I have yet to see any evidence of his gifts”.    I know that this would have reduced one or two of my classes by half, at least in some subjects.

copied from http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

For a teacher it would be a satisfying model to work with but as a child’s abilities, creativity and task commitment often vary with the subject, there would be few students who would qualify for full time enrichment.  Renzulli’s answer is a school-wide enrichment model.

The idea is that all children would get some enrichment in their areas of interest; this is where Education for All’s Learning Profiles and Questionnaires would be very useful.  Other tools such as a learning style assessment would prove useful, too.  Using these tools, the students would be placed in multi-grade clusters which would meet regularly (once a week?).  All staff and parents would be encouraged to join these clusters.

There would be more than one level for a student’s involvement in the enrichment model depending on interest – talks or lectures might be sufficient for some students.  Discussion groups for others and further research, model building or other development for others.  There are detailed discussions of how programs are already working and how they might work.  In the end, the model needs to be worked to fit with the school using it.  What does have to be done is to train staff, assign a member of staff to it part or full time, depending on the size of the school and have that person do the two week training course.

There are lots of sites on the Internet about Renzulli’s model, a great number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and books to turn to if you want to know more about this form of enrichment.  It is certainly worth exploring if you want to see as many students as possible develop their talents beyond what they normally would in a regular classroom.  It is worth it if you want to see students of all ages and abilities learn to work together.  It is worth it if you want to see the elitist stigma removed from enrichment and bright children.  It is worth it if you want to keep children in their home school and reduce the financial, social and environmental costs of bussing.


For more information:

For the Zenn diagram demonstrating Renzulli’s model of giftedness

http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:  A Developmental Model For Promoting Creative Productivity Joseph S. Renzulli

http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/pdf/The_Three-Ring_Conception_of_Giftedness.pdf


http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/semexec.html

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

For a summary of long term studies on the academically gifted see

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/faq/gt-long.html

NEXT:  Potentially Useful to Teachers: Charts and Tables Derived from “Education for All”    August 28

Should Elementary Teachers Work Longer Hours And Be Paid Less than Secondary Teachers?  A reply to Olivier’s comment.   September 4



What’s in “Education for All” Besides the Concept of Universal Design?


Part 3 of “Education for All”

Education for All was written by a collection of administrators and professors lightly seasoned with a teacher.  It is a collection of good ideas for clarifying the strengths and needs of students and working out ways to teach them well.  Making the best use of it will require taking time to read it carefully and make note of the most useful ideas.  Some teachers may find the ideas too time consuming.  Not every idea is practical in every classroom, especially if there is only one teacher, but in principle, the ideas are promising.  Here is a brief guide.

As I noted in a previous post, the writers failed to make their point about Universal Design but they did a nice job of demonstrating differentiation in the second chapter.  They go on to make lots of useful suggestions for basic approaches to teaching.  Unfortunately, as you will find throughout the book, the suggestions are general; to get something specific and especially concrete that can go from book to classroom, you will have to turn to other books.  Some are mentioned in the bibliography, but they are not distinguished from the purely academic.  This may seem a trivial point but for a teacher hoarding every minute, the time involved in sieving a bibliography for nuggets of usefulness can be too much.

The writers do refer to a great teaching method, but one I wouldn’t normally recommend for K to 6 students.  The Expert Panel calls it Problem Based Approach (p. 17).  They haven’t quite grasped the concept of Ill-Structured-Problem-Based Solving they are actually trying to describe.  It is effective but needs careful design, firmness and support in order to work.  There is a reason it started with Harvard and the innovative McMaster medical school and not in someone’s grade 4 class.

The chapter on Assessment and Evaluation of students with Special Education Needs is useful for both the new teacher who is unfamiliar with the steps required in getting help outside the classroom for students and any teacher who has been confused by the red tape involved.  I have tried to create some charts to help teachers track steps and required information, but referring to this section would also prove useful.  For the charts, please see the post EDUCATION FOR ALL:  Stuff to Help Teachers in the next post.

Developing Learning Profiles: Know your Students

There are lots more charts in the next chapter to help teachers develop learning profiles of their students and the classroom.  I have adapted them somewhat to make them easier to download and use.  In the next post I will explain and offer the charts.  The one thing the ministry does not provide but strongly suggests is questionnaires for parents and children.  These are things teachers have not been trained to create.  I am working on some and will make them available but I strongly suggest teachers sit down with their own divisions and create their own.  My designs might be useful as a starting or discussion point.  The parent questionnaires might stay the same for all grades but student questionnaires will need modification for most grades.  Students may need some explanations about the questionnaires; doing it as part of a unit on data gathering as an authentic activity to demonstrate real life applications might be an effective way of killing two birds with one stone..

And Then We Get to the Part about Teaching in the Inclusive Classroom

Education for All spends three chapters outlining potential challenges for students in acquiring literacy and numeracy skills and ways of anticipating those difficulties.  This is probably the most useful part of the book.    A chart identifies these challenges and strategies for meeting the challenges.  The suggestions are excellent but abstract; busy teachers need concrete suggestions that can be applied immediately.  On the other hand, it is a good starting point for thinking about meeting these challenges.

Teachers would undoubtedly have been grateful for a list of books which had concrete methods, blackline masters and even lesson plans relevant to specific grades and subjects which met Education for All’s criteria.  For example, I have found the following three books invaluable: When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12 by Kylene Beers; I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani and Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom by Susan Winebrenner. In today’s inclusive classroom, I would add Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom, also by Susan Winebrenner.  I don’t know what books I would add for numeracy, but the teachers guides to many recent textbooks do offer excellent suggestions for accommodations.  These books, however, are favourites of this intermediate elementary teacher.  Primary teachers would have others.

Accommodations and Modifications: What’s the Difference?

A good explanation of the differences between accommodations and modifications and a detailed chart of many accommodations a teacher might make is provided in Chapter Nine.  A teacher might find it worthwhile to photocopy the chart and put it with the materials used to create lesson plans; it is a good general source of ideas.  A word of caution to teachers: if you are accommodating four students and modifying lessons for three more in addition to being a good (not a walk on water) teacher you may find yourself putting in extra hours every day.

You Say Syllabus, I Say Curriculum; Either Way There is a Lot of Work to Do!

For each subject, Ontario’s Ministry of Education sets out in broad strokes an outline of expected knowledge and skills outcomes.  They do not provide a detailed syllabus (or curriculum, depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside) with texts to use in order to reach those goals.  As a result, teachers end up reinventing the wheel.  In the primary and junior grades there are usually math texts with good to excellent teacher guides that the inexperienced teacher can follow.

The ministry is also creating Targeted Implementation and Planning Supports for Revised Mathematics (TIPS) that is available to grades 7 to 10 teacher at the moment. It is worth taking the time to figure out. The grade 7 and 8 teachers whose contracts are negotiated by the Elementary Teachers Federation will have to look under the Secondary section of the Education web site.  Nothing similar has been done for the elementary grades.

Aside from math, textbooks are rare in the primary and junior grades.  English textbooks don’t exist in grade 7 or 8.  It used to be that curriculum consultants created a model curriculum that reflected the goals of the ministry.  I still treasure my history binder from the board that I have interleaved with my notes, overheads and photocopied pictures.  However, budget cuts have put an end to curriculum consultants who have the time to do more than workshops on changes to the curriculum.

That being the case, the Ontario teacher is now expected to create the course that will result in the proposed outcomes, and the accommodations and modifications. At the same time she is dealing with more duties and has less help because there are fewer specialists such as teacher librarians.  Teachers in schools where there is another teacher with the same grade would be smart to team up with each other.  With careful co-operation, teachers may reduce their workload to half the planning, half the returning items to the literacy and numeracy resource room, half the time spent photocopying and a better chance of getting home in time for a game of Ultimate Frisbee or to chill with a good book.

Who Does the Work?

The principal is listed under people who will share responsibility with the teacher for inclusive education.  While a teacher may hope for the ideal principal on page 113, the reality is more likely to be a politician who has to watch her back; with tact and diplomacy teachers may get the facilitation needed to implement inclusive education. Principals who come close to that supportive, collegial ideal should be cherished. Teachers such as the Special Education teachers (the name changes regularly) who provide support in the classroom are not likely to be there for times other than language skills or math.  Classroom teachers might consider switching subjects (such as history, geography and science) which make use of literacy or numeracy skills occasionally with language arts or math time slots.  It would be an effective way to support these skills across the curriculum.

Notice that the principal shares responsibility and the special education teacher will provide support but the burden of work and responsibility rests on the shoulders of the classroom teacher.

Computer Assisted Technology

The document addresses computer assisted technology.  While it has useful things to say about it, the most important things are not said.  First, a child will frequently have to wait until the next school year to receive any technology he or she needs.   In the meantime it will be the parents and teacher who will be improvising and trying to keep the child’s spirits up.

Secondly, all technology requires a learning period; initially the student will learn quickly but then start to slow.  Although this is normal, it is discouraging; a student will get frustrated and want to quit.  The teacher should check to make sure everything is working properly and then work with the parents to encourage the student to keep going.  The assistive technology won’t prove really useful until it becomes a tool to do something else, not an end in itself. If you have read Outliers, you will know that mastery of any skill takes many hours of conscious practice.  Parents and teachers will have to resist pressure from the student to let them give up the new aid.  Things Take Time.

Tools for Implementing Inclusive Classrooms

It is fashionable in the educational world to talk about Professional Learning Communities and this document is not any different.  When I picked myself off the floor where I was rolling around laughing at the concept of having the time for a professional learning community, I indulged myself with the fantasy.  I think that the only thing better for a teacher than a professional learning community is personal time.  One of the difficulties (besides time) is that a professional community involving a principal who will eventually assess a teacher might inhibit frank discussions.  That being said, teachers who do have the time and opportunity for a real PLC should go for it.

The writers take five pages to suggest that Professional Development is a Good Thing.  All levels of education, including universities, should be involved and teachers should have plenty of opportunity to learn the skills needed for the inclusive classroom.  Unfortunately, they didn’t mention where the money is coming from.

Finally, the writers make 12 recommendations that should be read and considered by those who have the power to make them happen.  Parents should read them and trustees should read them and administrators should read them.  If inclusive education has any hope of working, these recommendations, practical professional development and, yes, professional learning communities need to happen.  Successful change does not happen by saying, “make it so”.

For More Information:

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

NEXT POST: Giftedness & Education for All August 21

FINAL POST: Help for Teachers: Charts taken from, modified and created from Education for All August 26

French as a Second Language is not Taught in a Vacuum; How Do We Teach All the Children?


I have spent a number of posts writing about the attempt of the New Brunswick Ministry of Education’s attempt to revise its FSL program because it mirrors situations in provinces and communities across Canada.   The situation there seemed to be typical not only of difficulties in FSL education across Canada but also typical of the way efforts to improve education are stymied by political haste and unwillingness to thoroughly understand the issue, typical of the insufficient or inadequate resources used to research every aspect of the problem and typical of the inflexibility in proposing solutions apparently set in stone.  Surely solutions require brainstorming for a time before an effective answer can be found.

            Let’s look at the problem New Brunswick really had:

  • Very few of the students were leaving high school with any kind of fluency in their second language, French.
  • The FSL teachers could not be guaranteed to be Francophone or of native-like quality in their French
  • If the FSL teacher’s French was excellent, his training in teaching L2 couldn’t be guaranteed to be sufficient.
  • Both the Early and Late French Immersion programs were losing large proportions of their students before the end of high school, thus making it unlikely that the bilingual goal of the programs would be achieved.
  • Some parents were placing their children in Immersion in order to ensure that their children were in a stream with few learning-disabled, immigrant or disruptive students. 
  • In spite of the politically correct statements about French Immersion being available to all children, the truth is that there was little support for children who flounder in the program for whatever reason.  If there are not enough bilingual teachers with appropriate training to teach French, it stands to reason that there would not be enough bilingual special education teachers.
  • Only 80% of children of the appropriate age live within 16 kilometres of a school offering EFI.  This means that one fifth of New Brunswick children entering first grade did not have the option of entering EFI.  I suspect most of those are in rural populations.

Unfortunately, almost everyone who took issue with the Croll/Lee report focussed on Early French Immersion; they saw it as an attack on Early Immersion. Although they fiercely criticised the report and many of those criticisms were warranted, they missed the kernel of the problem and not only proposed no solution but did not acknowledge that there was a problem.  Most critics were too busy marshalling their arguments for the reinstatement of the EFI to concern themselves with the whole picture.

So here is the problem: New Brunswick wants its Anglophone graduates to speak sufficient French to get by in a Francophone area.  At this moment very few are anywhere close to modest fluency, much less bilingualism at graduation.  N. B. can’t throw money at this problem to fix it. 

French Immersion is a pretty good system for teaching French when the students stay in it right through to Grade 12 and when the appropriate supports are provided.  Most students who start in FI, especially EFI, don’t stay the course. Of the kids eligible to start in EFI, 20% would have to travel over 16 k, making EFI an unlikely option.

There is strong evidence that the ministry has not been successful in training or finding enough near-native French speaking well-trained French teachers.  This is one of the reasons that support for children floundering in FI is not available.  It is also a factor frequently ignored by researchers, educators, parents and politicians.  Would it be better to have fewer and better French teachers?

The other problem with FI seems to be social; it may be due to inadequate support from the ministry or class perceptions of the parents.  Whatever the cause, students in difficulty in FI don’t stay in FI.  With that awareness, some parents won’t even put their kids in FI, some will be gently dissuaded by well-meaning teachers and other parents will have their children transferred to the Core French program when she starts to have difficulties.

Daily lessons don’t seem to be effective in teaching FSL; we don’t know why but it doesn’t work.  Students are usually bored and uninterested at best.  A program called Intensive French, requiring a one off year of differentiated programming shows promise on a number of levels.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  What solution will do the best job of teaching all of the children to speak sufficient French to order a meal, make an appointment with a doctor or ask for help in normal day to day life?  Of course, some of the children can go much farther than that so we want a program that will provide for them, too, if we can afford it; we have to remember, though, that some things don’t just cost money, they also cost opportunities for others.  This should be the bottom line for every ministry of education in the country and every Anglophone board of education in the country.

THE SOLUTION will require the wisdom of Solomon and parents who are willing to put other people’s children’s needs first.  It will require politicians who call it like it is and researchers who look beyond one narrow area of research.  It will require unions who will acknowledge that although their mandate is to protect jobs, they are teachers first and want what provides a good education for students.  We have the capacity to provide for the educational needs of our children but not the wants of all the stakeholders.  It is time for the adults to act like adults.

A School for Scientifically and Technically Talented Students


            One of my observations as a teacher of regular and gifted middle school students is that almost every parent wants their child to go to university.  They want their children in the university stream in secondary school and will rarely consider that a career in a trade might be an excellent goal.  Students whose intelligence is strongest in their ability to work with their hands are forced like square pegs into the round holes of an academic stream. The parents’ concern is understandable, as the second stream often becomes, in effect, a holding pen for the academically indifferent or inept. Many colleges are now requiring courses from the academic stream as part of their admissions criteria and there is no strong apprenticeship stream.

            The flip side is that many students who should be headed for a university education in math or science by the nature of their talents are often discouraged from taking shop courses.  They are encouraged to focus on the abstract and yet working with concrete materials would give embryo engineers a better understanding of problems they will usually deal with in the abstract.  In fact, in Ottawa, one of the gifted programs is housed in a school wholly without shops.

            The truth is that few people are wholly concrete thinkers or wholly abstract and both aspects of students’ abilities need to be nurtured.  We need a school where both kinds of talents are nurtured and seen as valuable and complementary.

            I propose a School for the Scientifically and Technically Talented.  This school would have a top notch program for the scientifically and mathematically gifted; a top notch program in a variety of trades, leading to an early apprenticeship and top notch specialists in giftedness, learning disabilities and gifted/learning disabled. 

            The reason for the specialists is that it is not unusual for students who have strong gifts in one area to have a learning disability in another.  In fact, the apparently lazy bright student is often both gifted and LD.  Sometimes the learning disability may be severe enough that scores on intelligences tests may appear lower than cut offs for gifted or academically talented programs.  Such students, however, may be extremely talented in specific areas.  This kind of profile is not limited to students with strong mathematical and technical talents, but it is seen frequently in them.  The specialists would help identify learning problems and work with students and teachers to discern ways to help talents flourish in spite of difficulties.

Students would be allowed and even encourage to take some options in an area they find interesting but aren’t sure they could manage.  In those courses, they would be given a peer mentor and extra help after school.  Their grades in those courses would be pass/fail/honours so they could focus on learning,

            Academically oriented students would have access to shop courses all the way through secondary school and if they wished, they could extend their time in school to start an apprenticeship and complete the requirements for university. 

            Students who do not think of themselves as academically oriented would have access to academic courses and support.  If they needed a bridge class to qualify to do an academic course, it would be available.  It would be possible for a student who started as an apprentice to finish with qualifications to apply for university if she so chose.  She could also finish her apprenticeship.

Bridge classes are not a new concept, but few actually exist in reality.  If bridge classes would be too small to justify a teacher, then correspondence classes would be set up for these students with a supervising teacher in the school available to help as needed.  The concept would be much the same as is used in many alternative secondary schools where students work at their own speed to cover the material.

There would be several criteria for entrance to this school: middle school marks, recommendations from shop, home economics or art teachers, an observed workshop in which students created a project out of materials in a set time, recommendations from home room, science, math or geography teachers and an interview.  None of the criteria in itself would block a student from entering the school; poor marks with positive results in every other area might be fine.  Excellent marks with poor recommendations and a demonstrated inability to share ideas and work with others might result in a refusal.

            The school would have the prestige of gifted programs, so parents of less academically oriented students would be more inclined to let their children go there.  The academic students who went there would have the appropriate programs and teachers to develop their talents, too, but they would also have the opportunity to develop complementary hands on skills.

            Concrete thinkers who were uncomfortable with academics would have their strengths nurtured.  Eventually they might discover a need for math or physics as they become more skilled in shop work.  Academic work that relates to the real world might be a great motivator.  Success breeds success and students who might not have done more than drifted through high school may find a meaningful education that will give them a strong foundation for their post-secondary life.

            Co-operative work programs would be a large factor in this school’s life.  Clearly, students in apprenticeship programs will need to spend time in the field practising, but all students would be encouraged to do at least one co-op program, preferably in a field that interests them.  I suspect a little time spent with a real engineer on the job might change a few students’ minds about the charms of that iron ring.  Time in a hospital might make them aware of the different skills and specialties needed in the medical field.

            In short, the concept behind this school would be to get talented abstract and concrete thinkers in science and technology exposed to the variety of skills available to them.  It is also intended to get us past the snobbery that believes academic skills are more valuable that technical skills.  Think of it: both a good surgeon and a good mechanic can save your life.  We want both of them to be skilled and thinking outside the box.

            And if it were in Ottawa, where would we place it?  In the new mixed use downtown school with the condominium above it and the most of the major bus routes (when there isn’t a strike!) running past it.

An Interesting Statistic


           Toronto District School Board states on its web site that 45% of its graduates are Ontario Scholars.  To be an Ontario Scholar, a student must have an average of 80% on her top six subjects.  The question is: should this be a cause for pride or embarrassment?

Yup, 45% are Ontario Scholars, but can you tell the difference?

Yup, 45% are Ontario Scholars, but can you tell the difference?

            A second question: when the averages of Ontario Scholars were heavily influenced by the results of the provincial exams, there were fewer Ontario Scholars.  Why the change? 

             Third question:  How do we know that each board is providing equally thorough educations in all the subjects offered and applying the same standards in formative and summative evaluations?

              I would love to hear from the high school teachers on this topic.  I am sure you have well supported opinions on this.