Category Archives: special needs

A practical health curriculum

Injury - face plant into the concrete floor on...

Injury – face plant into the concrete floor on our way home (Photo credit: Lee Turner)

While I am the last person to want to add to teachers’ work load, I do think it is time to teach a real health curriculum, starting in kindergarten.  We are facing difficulties with our health system and it is likely to get worse.  I have been surprised by how little people understand about dealing with minor illnesses and injuries; as our aging population increases, we will have more patients with increasing health needs.  We can’t avoid the need for medical professionals to treat serious illnesses but we can learn to recognise what is serious and what isn’t and how to reduce the load on doctors and hospitals.  People need to understand how their bodies function, especially to keep them well.  They need to know how to support their body’s effort to keep them well and how to recognise the seriousness of an illness or injury and how to respond.   And they need to know how infants and the elderly differ in their health needs.

I have done some research and discovered that much of the curriculum could be covered not only in health classes, but some science and even (economic) geography.  It would require some reshaping of the curriculum but, for example, cells are how human beings are constructed, sometimes repaired, attacked by bacteria and viruses and healed.  A biology curriculum would have to go further than just teaching cells, but the teaching of how cells operate in bodies may actually help improve retention of cell biology.

Ontario’s grade 1 to 8 curriculum is primarily concerned with making healthy choices:

Health Curriculum Grades 1 to 8

Healthy Eating.

Personal Safety and Injury Prevention.

Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours.

Growth and Development

Integration of Mental Health

This is good, but not enough.  A more thoroughly developed curriculum would empower our future citizens in taking responsibility for their own health.

I live in a city where a lot of people bicycle.  I have noticed that very few cyclists realise that they come under the same laws and regulations as cars.  There are some allowances made for parking bikes and occasionally they are allowed (the permission is posted clearly) to enter a road blocked to cars.  There are many bike lanes.

English: Graph of adult cyclist head injuries ...

English: Graph of adult cyclist head injuries versus helmet use in New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Driving a car without lights and using a cellphone while driving are both illegal here.  Recently a young woman was hit by a car as she cycled on the wrong side of the road at night without lights and while texting.  The local media did say the driver of the car was not charged but they did not make it clear how many violations this woman was guilty of.  In addition, she was not wearing a helmet.  Helmets are mandatory here for children (not adults) but many children and adults wear them sitting improperly on their heads, on top of caps or not firmly secured.  A great waste of money.

Carelessness causes accidents... Accidents slo...

Carelessness causes accidents… Accidents slow up production. – NARA – 535274 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a kid, the police used to come to the school to talk to us about road safety – as pedestrians and cyclists.  While many of us might have ignored the advice, at least we knew that what we were doing was either dangerous or illegal.  That program no longer exists.  Fire departments have trailers designed to teach fire safety and public health nurses used to come to school to teach personal hygiene and how to use a toothbrush.  These programs not only made an impression but it broadened students’ horizons to recognise what some of the resources in their community were.

I realise that changes need to be made to the way our health care is delivered and medical professionals are taking steps to streamline care without making it less effective.  That is not my field, however.  What I am proposing is that we educate our citizenry in how to care for themselves and when they need to seek professional help.

Including mental health is perhaps not more than a gesture as treatment is

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

available only to those are seriously ill or who have enough money to pay for care.  Perhaps a country of people who understand mental illness, believe it can be treated and are aware of what mental illness costs in productivity are might decide that mental health also needs funding.

What I propose is a curriculum starting in grade one and largely delivered by the end of grade ten. My next post will give a detailed outline of the proposed health curriculum.

Related articles

Summertime and the Camps are Expensive: How to Keep our Kids Thinking and Learning on a Dime …

Kids playing in a lake at a church camp

Kids playing in a lake at a church camp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We bemoan the summer holidays as a time when students forget everything they learned in school and then need to spend September reviewing.  Research, and I can’t remember which and with the summer haze in my brain am too lazy to look up, suggests that middle class children don’t lose too much through the long summer holidays.  These kids go to camp, visit relatives, take classes and generally keep their brains ticking over.  If they aren’t precisely reviewing what they have already learned, they are at least adding to it.

Who is really hurt by the long summer holidays?

On the other hand, kids with lower socio-economic status do lose out.  Their parents are likely to both be working and are hard pressed to find care for their children, much less something stimulating.  If a parent is at home, then money to do anything extra is unavailable.  When these kids return to school, they are behind the eight ball.  They have not just forgotten over the long holidays, but they have not had any enrichment to enhance what they have already learned.  What to do?

The thing is that if you are reading this, you may be poor but you are unlikely to be lower SES.  Graduate, medical and law students may have very low incomes, the economic part of the SES, but their social status is high.  Even people who have gone off the grid or simply work the streets to help the homeless may have a minimal income but high status socially.  Even on a low income it is possible to afford a computer, second-hand or refurbished – or access one at the local library.

On the other hand, drug dealers may be rolling in dough but low in social status, although that may depend on the society they are mixing with.  They may have a computer, even a high end one with all the bells and whistles, but I doubt they are reading my blog or this post.

It is those folks who have minimal incomes and minimal status who are less likely to be able to provide camps and classes and stimulating activities for their kids.  It isn’t impossible but it is difficult.  I’m going to offer advice here, but how many people who need it, will read it?

Free Camps, Lessons and Stimulating Activities:

The best place to find a free summer camp is at a church.  They aren’t sleepover camps, they are usually half days and some do push their religion.  However, your children will learn something about Christianity, which will be an enormous aid as they study English literature.  It will also give them some insights into Judaism, Islam and even Mormonism.

My daughter went to one themed on Paul.  One day we were chatting about Paul as I walked her home from camp.  I confessed that I was not a fan of Paul as he was a bit of a misogynist.  After I explained that a misogynist was someone who didn’t like women, my daughter was quiet for a bit.  Then she pointed out that no one except Christ was perfect.  Perhaps misogyny was Paul’s flaw.  After all he did have other wise things to say.  My jaw dropped.  As I said, it is an opportunity to learn a bit and stimulate some thought.

Scouts and guides are another place for almost free camping and lessons.  One of my sons got a lot out of scouts including a couple of long camping trips.  He learned the usual skills and benefitted from the guidance of adults who weren’t parents or teachers.

Some camps will trade a child’s camping fees for a parent’s skills.  It won’t work with every camp, but it is worth trying with alternative or church over night camps.  If you can cook, do office work or general maintenance, ask.  Ask your local Y about groups that help send kids to camps or have programs for families to go to camp.

Learning New Skills

Can’t afford lessons?  Canvas other families in the same situations.  Maybe among you there are a few experts such as knitters, musicians (singers or drummers are ideal), dancers, artists (they don’t have to be famous or sell their work), woodworkers or bakers.  Arrange to have lessons for the children in your group of families.  Your kids will learn a new skill and learn to appreciate another adult.  You will get to know some other children well.

Seeing and Stimulation

            On the street where you live

Learning and stimulation are often right at your feet or your children’s feet.  Get in the habit of going for walks with your kids.  Teach them how to walk safely

Wabush Manhole Cover IV

Wabush Manhole Cover IV (Photo credit:

in their neighbourhood.  Go at their pace. They will get you seeing things you haven’t really looked at before.  The obvious things are construction sites and big trucks.  It’s always amazing how many workers don’t mind taking a couple of minutes to explain what they are doing.  My kids found manholes fascinating, too.  They were a great place to practice reading.  I also learned a bit of local history when I realised that the same foundry that made the manhole covers, made stoves in our area.

Those walks are also good exercise and an opportunity for you to continue street-proofing your children. Point out street signs, landmarks, public building and telephones. Get them to tell you how to get home.  Children who have wandered their neighbourhoods on their own by the age of ten will have a better directional sense and more confidence.  People who walk with confidence are less likely to be victimized.

            It’s a walk in the park

Having fun!

Having fun! (Photo credit: ucumari)

Of course, parks are a great place in the summer.  You take your kids to play on the playground or splash pads or swim but as a by-the-way you can get them in the habit of observing the life around them.  Try going to different parks and point out different plants and trees, birds and animals.  You don’t have


Observing (Photo credit: Adalberto Gonzaga)

to know what they are.  Keep a sketchpad or camera tucked in your bag to record what they see and make notes. Jot down their observations or if they are old enough, give them their own note pad and encourage them to keep

their own notes.  Show them how to just write down the minimum number of words necessary to remind them. When you get home, you can look them up or take another trip to the library.

            Go shopping, but leave your wallet at home

Shopping streets can be full of information.  Why do stores have big windows?  Which way do doors open?  Why?  Which colours do they see most in

a child

a child (Photo credit: sogni_hal)

store windows?  Which store windows are the prettiest?  Most dramatic?  Most interesting?  Why are there people sitting on the sidewalk asking for money?  Depending on your city, the street and the person, your child might want to talk to them.  It’s an opportunity to learn that people are people no matter how they live.

If you visit a small store when it is quiet, you could talk to the proprietor about what it is like to run a business, where his wares come from and why he decided to open a store.  You could get your children to keep track of the different kind of stores on different streets.


Museums are most wonderful when they are free.  If they are free in your town, pop in with the kids for only half an hour at a time.  Even if they aren’t free,

Young hands

Young hands (Photo credit: jepoirrier)

there is usually one day a week when they are, so that is the day to drop by.  Do a little research; sometimes there are tiny museums that are free.  Sometimes there are amazing little stores that are almost as good as museum, but first you must carefully train your children to look only with their eyes.

The best museum for kids is a science and technology museum.  Get them pushing the museum’s buttons instead of yours.  If you don’t have a zoo, the next best is an art gallery but pick the exhibit carefully.  Children enjoy bright energetic abstracts or meticulously realistic art to start with.  Let them ask the questions and make the comments before you get helpful.  You can borrow books about art from your library if you

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth (Photo credit: Martin Beek)

don’t have the answers. When they get home they might want to try the kind of art they have seen.

An Exhibition

Your children might want to go around their home to pick out art and oddments worthy of display.  They can create cards explaining what each thing is and why it is so special.  Perhaps your network of teaching and learning families could add a demonstration of the skills the kids have learned over the summer.  Of course, that will call for an exhibition to which they can invite their friends, family and neighbours.

I am going to do it ALL

You aren’t going to do all of these things.  Just writing about it exhausts me.  It is a frame of mind that says there is a world of learning and fellowship and fun and excitement out there free if I open my eyes and my mind and my heart that is important.  I don’t have to be rich or educated to give my child a summer she will enjoy and will keep her mind ticking over.  I can send her back to school ready to continue learning.  It just takes some thought, imagination and planning on my part.  And maybe a little help from my friends.


Parenting (Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov)

Announcing a new blog: for Teaching Outside the Box

The new blog is intended to be an adjunct to this one. While this blog is largely a commentary on education, the new blog will offer practical information. In a few months I will be retiring from formal teaching within a school board but I can’t stop spilling over with ideas for teaching. Rather than leave them to simmer, I will be posting them there. I will also post some of my favorite ideas from the past 25 to 30 years of teaching.

There will rarely be fully fledged lessons or units, nor will they be necessarily specific to a grade. I have adapted grade twelve units to be used in a grade eight class and seen those units adapted to use in a grade five class. Sometimes they will be a full lesson or a full unit or a cross subjects lesson. Whatever they are, I do ask you to give me credit on any written document.

Why won’t they be fully fledged? To be frank, I have never taken a lesson and done it just as it was written, even if I created it and used it satisfactorily the year before. There are always too many new factors such as new information, a crossover from another subject, the class’s interest, different time limits and I am sure you can add to that list. I also got bored doing the same thing twice in exactly the same way.

If you want help adapting or designing anything I post, especially if it is meant for gifted or other IPRC’d students, I would be happy to come and work with you if your school is within an easy distance of Ottawa or Toronto. I am also on Skype and on Skype, I can consult even if you are on the other side of the earth.

Ottawa Canada June 2010 — Nepean Point Views  2

Ottawa Canada June 2010 — Nepean Point Views 2 (Photo credit: dugspr — Home for Good)

What can I help you with? I have taught every grade from two to eight (ages 8 to 13) and as a supply teacher, I taught everything. I have taught adults and I am a qualified teacher of English as a Second Language. I am a specialist in teaching children with special needs, especially gifted and learning disabled. I hold a masters in adaptive education. The best fun I have ever had in education, besides teaching itself, was having student teachers in my classrooms. I loved encouraging them to try new things and watching them grow in confidence.

So, if I can help, let me know.


Toronto Skyline

Toronto Skyline (Photo credit: Bobolink)

How do You Find Age Appropriate Games for People with Intellectual Disabilities?

by Joanne Hale

I was faced with the challenge of finding an entertaining, age appropriate, game for my 18-year-old son. He experiences life with Autism and mild intellectual disabilities. He is not interested in games that others might enjoy; he does not like shooting, violence, chasing, speed and all the other elements of games that are usually popular with boys his age. He doesn’t want to spend time learning complicated rules or characters. He reads well, but not quickly enough to react quickly. He is not comfortable with the scary or supernatural; he would like to operate in a Disneyesque universe when relaxing and playing a game. All this creates a continual challenge when searching for suitable games.

Recently we found the series of Hidden Object games from PopCap Games, a highly successful game developer. It produced Bejeweled and the wildly popular Plants vs. Zombies. A hidden object game is very simple, and instantly playable by almost anyone with basic reading skills. Players are presented with a graphically rich illustration in which a number of objects are cleverly hidden. The list of hidden objects is at the bottom of the screen. Each object is represented by either a noun or a clue. The item is usually the graphic representation of the item or the word. The challenge is that sometimes a word can represent several items for example “club” could mean the suit on a deck of cards, a golf club, or just the word. Some items do have simple clues like “measures things” for a ruler.

It is possible to turn off the timer in the settings but you have plenty of time to complete each level. After you have completed finding all the objects you get another puzzle, which is more of a jigsaw type or word search. That puzzle leads to the next picture. This game does not get harder as you progress so there is no chance that you will get to a point that will be beyond the ability of the player. You can have as many hints as you wish so if you will eventually find that last item. This avoids a lot of frustration which can turn people off other games. Once you have finished all the levels you can start again with a whole new set of objects to find. If you click on an item that is not on the list there is no penalty.

We were impressed that our son (who hates new things) took to this immediately. We hear him in his room playing regularly. While I would not class this as an educational game, it is an engaging and relaxing one for our son, something that is not easy to find.

We purchased 3 different themed games (world travel, ancient Egypt, and underwater) in a pack from a big box retailer for just under twenty dollars. I can also recommend an online retailer called Big Fish Games you can try before you buy online to see if this will work for you: They have dozens of games, lots of different themes and it is very inexpensive. We plan to buy a zoo based game in the future.

I do recommend buying games on line because most sites allow you to try before you buy. This is especially important if your are buying for someone whose needs restrict the kind of games he or she might be interested in or the kind of game they can play successfully. It is not always obvious from the game description whether the game is appropriate.

If you have other suggestions for appropriate games for any child with special needs, please send a comment and we will publish them. Good resources to share will also be welcome.

Joanne Hale

Technology and Education

Technology and the Author

While I have to confess to losing my temper and being rude to the first microwave that took up residence in my kitchen, in general I am a technophile, especially when it comes to things that make my life easier.  Typewriters were a gift to this dysgraphic child; electric typewriters were even better but the advent of word processors and personal computers made my life much easier.  Suddenly I could write nearly as fast as I could think, have a machine catch most of my typographical errors and revise my work often and quickly.  Paragraphs flew from one end of a composition to the other, split, spliced with other paragraphs, were deleted, then reintroduced almost unrecognisable in new vocabulary, style and brevity.  Gone were the days of double spaced writing on yellow legal pads, cutting up pages, numbering paragraphs and setting up a new scheme.

I was among the first teachers to pounce on computers as an aide to drilling arithmetic.  I taught my older students to type, save to disc and do their essays on the computer as part of a history/English course.  Before the word summative began to haunt the dreams of high school students and teachers, my grade seven students researched certain topics and wrote essays under controlled conditions (the library and the computer lab) to demonstrate they had learned the skills taught in English and history.

Electronic devices make a difference to students with learning differences:  blind students can hear text using text-to-speech software, the partially sighted can do homework using machines that magnify textbooks, the dyslexic can use spelling dictionaries and word processors, the deaf have access to FM broadcasters, the physically handicapped have access to a number of tools to help them learn.  The electronic devices do not level the playing field, but they allow these students on to it.

I love my MacBook, my Kindle and my iPod Touch because they allow me to write, read, store information and photos and organise myself within a minimum of space.  The Kindle has its limitations, but it still reduces the number of books I need to carry on vacation.

Technology Good …

You hear the BUT coming.  Yes, here it is: technology can do a great deal for students and educators but sometimes we are dazzled by its magic.  Technology does not teach reading, writing or arithmetic.  For that we need only very simple tools such as paper, pencil, literature and counters of some sort such as stones, buttons or beans.  I have put paper bags over students’ heads to demonstrate unknown variables when teaching algebra and created a dance to demonstrate the relationship between high pressure, low pressure and rain.  Everything else is extra and not necessarily helpful.

Before we invest in tools for schools, especially expensive technology, we should ask why we are buying the tools.  What, exactly, will it help us teach and how will it help us teach it?  Will it be used frequently?  How flexible is it?  How will the kids respond to it?  Finally, is it truly good value as a teaching or learning tool for the money and time that will be spent on it?

When I was learning to teach ESL we were given the rule of thumb, teach new grammar using old vocabulary and new vocabulary using old grammar.  When we use technology are we using it to enhance what we are teaching or are we using skills the students already have to teach them how to use the technology.  Both are valid.

What are the School’s Computer Labs for?

For example, we have computer labs.  Why?  We have to teach children how to use the Internet.  What do they need to learn about the Internet?  How to find information is probably the first thing you think of.  The biggest problem with information on the Internet is the variability of the quality.

When children start visiting the computer lab in kindergarten what can they learn about assessing the quality of information?  You laugh; you know that kindergarten kids just play games on the computers.  The games are chosen to improve the children’s knowledge of letters and numbers, to acquaint them with the keyboard, to improve their manual dexterity and for a number of solid educational reasons.  The games would not be in the lab if they were not educational.  We hope.

By grades four and five they are doing research but the research is usually on sites handpicked (by their teacher) where the job is to find the information required and make notes or answer questions Taking notes and answering questions are important skills.  Doing them in a lab does create a stimulating change of pace from writing notes in the classroom.

However, the students do not have to determine how good the site is as their teacher has already done that.  They can not be allowed the freedom to roam the Internet and assess what they find as some of it would be entirely inappropriate.  When my sister was concerned that my niece might have scarlet fever, I typed those two words into the search engine and the first site I found had nothing to do with medicine.  The difficulty is that by the time students are free to roam the Internet at will, they still have not learned to assess the sites they find.

One Way to Integrate Technology and a Number of Forms of Media:

Starting in the Library Using Indexes, Chapter Headings, Catalogues and Key Words

So how could you teach children of that age to search for and assess the quality of the information they find?  You could take them to the library and teach them what they might find in an encyclopaedia, a dictionary, a book on the topic or a thesaurus.  Many students don’t realise that if they want to know something about cows, a book on farms might have something.  They don’t know that if they have five books in front of them, perhaps only two have a lot of information and the other three should be searched using the index or the chapter titles for a few salient facts.  What kind of words should they use to look up information in the index?  If they were studying cows, how about bull, calf, cattle, beef, milk, leather, ranches and so on.  This is often a new idea to them, but when they start using the Internet knowing how to come up with good keywords will be essential in their searches.

I like to give students an adult crossword to solve after pointing out the encyclopaedias of pop culture, space, writers, sports figures and other specialty references.  It becomes a bit of a competition to see who can figure out the answers, using only books. The crosswords are at their most effective if they are difficult.

Assessing the Quality of Information

Once students know how to find information you can teach them to think about what things should make them sceptical about the quality of the knowledge.  Which might be more out of date: a book on cows or a book on rockets ships written in the 1950’s?  Would a book about farming written by an astronaut be as informative as one written by a farmer?  Would a farmer who had studied physics and math at university be able to write a good book on rockets?  What kind of books is most likely to provide information?  What would you find in a book labelled fiction? Biography? Non-fiction? A search on the online library catalogue has turned up:

It’s ONLY Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English Lucy Rogers

Rocket Boys, Homer Hickam

Rocket Science: 50 Flying, Floating, Flipping, Spinning Gadgets Kids Create Themselves Jim Wiese &Tina Cash-Walsh

 Sesame Subjects: My First Book about Airplanes and Rockets (Sesame Street) by Kama Einhorn and Christopher Maroney

The Rocket Mike Leonetti & Greg Banning

Now ask the students which books are not likely to help them learn about rockets.  What helpful information is missing that they should expect to find in a library catalogue? What other information will they find only by looking at the book? Of the books they think might help them learn, which do they think might have the most information?  Which one would they prefer to start with (not always the same one).

Ready for the Internet, More Skills and Boolean Logic *

All of this thinking applies to searching the Internet.  Once students have learned how to search for information and having found information, examine the source with a critical eye, they are in a better position to make good use of electronic sources. They will now need to learn how to search effectively using Boolean logic* and how to navigate web sites.  Just because they can navigate their favourite web sites doesn’t mean they know how to navigate those which will provide useful information

Students researching cows and rocket ships are just one example of how some of the skills needed on the Internet can be taught and honed elsewhere. Skills like these are transferable and not just from the library to the Internet.

From the Internet to Media Studies

From the Internet the skills transfer neatly to media studies.  Here the added value is learning how language, graphics and sound are used to influence consumers. You can show this on Internet sites as well as magazine and television advertising. In fact, it is important to teach detecting bias on Internet sites.  In teaching your students you will bring them through the skills of searching for facts and analysing sources to looking for bias and observing how bias can subtly affect people.

Your students will be better equipped to look beyond the razzle-dazzle to the message. This is use of technology in education but not technology for its own sake.  This is examining how to use technology and how other peoples’ use of it affects us.  With luck you could leave your students with the most valuable lesson of all, the inclination not to take information at face value no matter where it comes from.

*Don’t know what Boolean Logic is?  I won’t tell.  See this site for a good explanation in how to use it in Internet searches:

Boolean Searching on the Internet: A Primer in Boolean Logic by Laura B. Cohen.  Part of Internet Tutorials: your basic guide to the Internet If you teach math, set theory and Venn diagrams, you will be able to do a two for one lesson or reinforce one concept in the other class.  Show your students how even the weirdest math has real life applications!  How cool is that?

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Inclusive Education in Practice

Those Parents Have Not Complained

Would you want your child to be in a grade seven class of thirty if twenty-five of those students had been identified as having special needs.  Would you want your child in that class if she had been identified as having special needs?  Would you want her in it if her first language were not English?  Would you want her in it if she were a regular, ordinary student?  No matter which way you look at it, a class with these demographics isn’t good for any student and yet …

A colleague of mine recently observed that in one intermediate school, the two grade seven regular English classes were predominantly special education students.  By predominantly, I mean that roughly twenty-five out of twenty-eight or twenty-nine in one class and half the students in the other class were identified or about to be identified as students with special needs.  By students with special needs I mean are students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems.  Gifted students are probably not included.

What Kind of Special Needs and What Kind of Support?

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 provides support to more than the grade seven classes; in fact she probably provides support for all the grade seven and eight classes, so she cannot be available quarter time, much less full time, to support special needs students in any class.  For many students, the time allotted for support may be sufficient, for others it won’t be.

Each child identified has been identified as having a particular need; this is why they are called special needs children.  In the twenty-five may be students with ADD, ADHD, psychological and behavioral problems, physical learning disabilities and gifted students. [for informal definitions see below]  Not only does one size not fit all, but each child has an appropriately individualized program the teacher is required to follow.

Imagine a teacher teaching a class where twenty-five students need special education support.  Yes, when there are two of you (the classroom teacher and the special education support teacher) it isn’t so daunting, but there are thirty students.  The classroom teacher has responsibility for the five regular students as well as the rest.  Try to imagine what this class would be like.

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 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?

What is the Model for this Style of Class?   Education for All

The school cited states that these children’s needs 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 is 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.

Profile of Grade Seven Section of the School

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.

Of the six classes in this grade seven cohort only two  have students with learning difficulties integrated into their class.  Some of you may doing the math:  If one assumes that each class has thirty students and there are twenty-five identified students in one class and half of another class is identified i.e. fifteen, students, that makes forty students out of one hundred and eighty (6 classes X 30 students) 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.)

Forty students distributed through six classes would thin them out a bit and make for more inclusive classrooms.  There would be about six or seven special needs students in each class.  Obviously they would have to be distributed with regard to their particular needs, the talents and qualifications of the classroom teachers and the profile of each class.   More special needs teachers would be required but it would put an end to the ghettoization of the regular English classes.  But wait a bit … out of the six grade seven classes in this school only two are eligible to receive special needs children.

Why are only Two out of the Six Grade Seven Classes Inclusive?

French Immersion and Special Education Support

First there are three French Immersion classes.  Students can’t expect special education support in Ontario’s FI classes. 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.  For other reasons, please see my post: French Immersion: Is It Accessible to All Students? 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 succeed, move into the regular program or their parents pay for tutoring.  If you are a fan of social Darwinism, French Immersion is an excellent place to see it in play.

The Academically Gifted Already Have Special Education Support

(and a class ceiling of 25)

The fourth class of the six is the academically gifted class.  Two or three students in the gifted class may have learning disabilities or behavioral 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.  She does her own support for any special needs children or learns very quickly.  Did I mention that these classes are capped at twenty-five students?

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.

What is Inclusive about the Inclusive Classroom?

So, when we take four classes away from the six enrolled, there are only two left to become inclusive classrooms.  Someone please tell me what or who is being included here?

I am not sure what it says about the children, their parents, their community, their school or their teachers.  What it does say about our school system is that appearance of being politically correct or following the latest educational wave is more important than pedagogy that works. 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 whom are children with “severe” learning disabilities”?

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 twenty-five.  In fact, regular intermediate classes have almost always been larger than twenty-five in spite of the fact that even twenty years ago teachers and administrators knew that these classes were heavily larded with students with special needs, behavioral issues or carrying the extra load of learning English as a second language.

Those Parents Have Not Complained

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 those 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.

Why is nothing done about it?  As a principal once 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.

[DEFINITIONS (education students, a caveat – these are informal definitions!):

ADD = attention deficit disorder: a learning difficulty where a child or adult is unable to select one thing to pay attention to.  One parent calls it shiny object syndrome, in that the child may really want to focus on homework but is distracted by his own thoughts “I wonder if Fred is going to be away tomorrow”, objects such as a blunt pencil he decides needs sharpening or people he wants to watch or speak to.  These are all shiny i.e. distracting objects.

ADHD = attention deficit hyperactive disorder: a similar learning difficulty as ADD with the added complication of a need to move frequently, sometimes constantly.  Now the child is not only a distraction to himself but to others.

Diagnosis of both disorders is through checklists completed by people who see the child the most.  There is some controversy about giving drugs such as Ritalin to these children.  My own observation is that children who really suffer from these disorders are greatly relieved by the effect of the drugs.  Many specialists in special education feel that the new focus provided by a drug should be used to teach strategies to deal with ADD or ADHD so there is a chance of the child being able to cope without the drugs.

Depending on the expert these difficulties may be classed as behavioral or learning disorders; it really doesn’t matter so long as the problem is identified accurately and treated properly.  With consistent help these children can learn ways to deal with their disorder and improve their behavior if it has created behavioral problems.  They do not have to be out of control but they do need sympathetic help to learn appropriate techniques.

Whatever strategy is used, a psychologist and pediatrician must be consulted to discuss the pros and cons of the approaches.  In Ontario, the approach to using drugs is conservative and carefully tested.  No teacher should suggest using drugs but they are within their purview to advise that a parent should consider discussing the possibility of ADD or ADHD with a specialist such as an educational psychologist.  Teachers see hundreds of children in the course of their careers and often become good informal diagnosticians based on their experience.  Their suggestion to pursue certain concerns is usually well founded.

Psychological and behavioral problems can vary from diagnosed and treated illnesses to students regularly misbehaving in class to the point of disrupting lessons or work. What falls under the mandate of the health system and what is the concern of the school system varies depending on budgets and governments.  In the best of possible worlds schools and mental health workers co-ordinate their efforts in the interests of the children but for the moment, the schools seem to be taking responsibility for sicker children than twenty years ago.

Children with physical disabilities who need physical help usually have an educational assistant to help with things like lifting, toileting and physiotherapy.  For the most part, they fit into regular school life with little difficulty once the necessary architectural adaptations have been made.

Students with learning disabilities, by definition, are of average or above average intelligence.  They may have difficulties such as dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty writing by hand) or dyspraxia (poor motor skills)]

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This example is not unique in demonstrating system indifference to regular intermediate students; see my post, “Education for All” and the Myth of Universal Design where I refer to an intermediate classroom of 34 students in another school in another year.  Again it was a class of regular students studying in English.  In that case I don’t know how many were special needs students or how many students were learning English as second language.

One or two classes in a school system or a province are not proof of systemic problems. However, they are an example of what can happen and has happened when every child’s education is not a priority.

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 or even lower.  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].

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.


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

Next Posts:

Why this is Everyone’s Problem

Other Models, Better but Not Necessarily the Best