Category Archives: Learning Disability

For Teachers: Some Charts Based on “Education for All”


PART 4 of “Education for All”

A Guide to the Charts & Questionnaires Adapted from Education for All And Complementary to It

These charts and adapatations are free.  All I ask is that I be given credit for my work.  Feel free to modify to fit your needs.

There are a number of charts in this post.  They divide into the following categories:

USEFUL FOR COLLECTING INFORMATION WHILE IN THE CLASSROOM

Generic Skills Evaluation 23 kids

Generic Skills Evaluation 27 Kids

Generic Skills Evaluation 36 Kids

These are templates for listing student names and recording information on two categories.  If you have electronic copies you can enter the students’ names and will have a template you can reuse for other categories.  If you don’t have electronic copies, you will have to photocopy and enter the students’ names as well as the categories each time you use them.

I have created the templates for classes of 23, 27 and 36.  I hope no one has more than this number in their classes.  I have found that it is easier to collect information using the classroom seating plan as alphabetical lists slow me down.  However the template is useful in the absence of a seating plan or if you are marking a stack of assignments.

USEFUL FOR CREATING A PROFILE FOR EACH CHILD

Writing individual learning profile template

Reading INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PROFILE TEMPLATE

Oral communication individual learning profile template

Mathematics INDIVIDUAL LEARNING PROFILE TEMPLATE

Individual Learning Profile Template Oral & Reading

Individual Learning Profile Template Writing & Math

Learning Skills per report card

Level Descriptors

Questionnaire for Parents of Elementary Students

Questionnaire for Elementary Students

These are as detailed as the charts in Education for All, except that I have shortened sentences and used abbreviations.  I imagine that for many of the categories you will end up putting a tick or a level, only writing a note where a child shows either difficulty or abilities that need recording.  I hope these will prove useful in writing report cards or IEPs.

The questionnaires are not professionally created.  The questionnaire for students is suitable for the older grades.  Teachers of primary grades will need to modify them considerably.  If you do not assign homework, you will need to cut out a lot of questions.  Feel free to modify for your class.  Please let me know how well they work and what difference your modifications have made.  Suggestions and comments are welcome.  Sharing your versions is even more welcome.

I am going to try to create a key, especially applying attribution theory AKA locus of control AKA who does a student attribute success or failure to.  That may take even longer but will probably be useful.  In the meantime, a quick skim of key answers will probably give you a reasonable picture.

Learning skills cover a wide range even within each of the nine parameters.  I have found it useful to reduce the range by combining some skills.  It still leaves a great deal to assess per child.  Some teachers meet this challenge by only evaluating a few skills a term.

I prefer to look at the not-satisfactory to excellent on the report card as the equivalent of ministry levels 1 to 4; the first day of school, I give all my students a level three – good – on the assumption that children whose learning skills are above or below ministry expectations will quickly catch my eye.  This works particularly well if I am using Excel to keep track.  Most days I have an observation to jot down beside at least one child’s name (a date stamp is useful here, especially if you are using the classroom plan). After a couple of months, I check for children who have no comments on my record.  I make it a point to monitor these children carefully because it is often the students we do not notice who slip between the cracks.

The disadvantage of this system is that in first term, some children may end up with higher marks in some learning skills than they normally would.  One or two may be miffed in the first term at not getting the excellent they got in the preceding year, but by and large the system works.

USEFUL FOR CREATING A CLASS PROFILE

Socio Affective Classroom Profile Template

Classroom Profile Mathematics

Classroom Profile literacy

These are simply charts from Education for All to use the information from the children’s profiles to summarise in a class profile.

USEFUL FOR PLANNING FOR A CHILD HAVING DIFFICULTY

IDENTIFYING READING CHALLENGES & STRATEGIES

Identifying Writing Challenges & Stategies to Help

IDENTIFYING ORAL COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES & STRATEGIES TO HELP

IDENTIFYING MATH CHALLENGES & STRATEGIES TO HELP

The idea here is to help you quickly identify the key problems a child is having and note how you intend to deal with them. Education for All in Chapter 8 has outlined a number of useful strategies and you probably have hundreds more up your sleeve. By circling the problems you have identified and jotting down strategies you are considering using, you have a record of what you identified and the strategies you have considered and used.

They should also be useful for creating an IEP and writing the child’s report card.

USEFUL FOR TRACKING THE PROCESS FOR GETTING MORE HELP FOR A CHILD

Learning Difficulties Tracking Chart (6 pages)

Learning Difficulties Tracking Sheet Shorter Version(4 pages)

One of the most difficult things in a very busy school year is keeping track of what happened when.  These sheets are intended to help you keep track of the in school and out of school team meetings that will occur in the process of getting a child identified as exceptional.  It is easy to forget to bring samples of a child’s work or remember the sample you brought last time or who promised to do what last time.

They will also remind you the things you need to do to be well prepared, so it can serve as a checklist, too. I have used the back of the envelope method but later on, I am not sure what my notes were referring to.  This way, the teacher can circle, cross out or write the minimum and stay focussed on the real job, the meetings and what is best for the students.

These sheets are intended to help the classroom teacher track what is happening.  They are intended to be a personal record.  If you think you may be expected to hand them in, then keep a second copy for your personal comments and questions and photocopy the official copy for your records, too.

There are two versions: the six page version and the short (4 page version).  Both are set up so you can print up one tier and the teacher’s reflections at a time.   They don’t run into each other.

SUGGESTIONS AS TO HOW TO ORGANISE THESE

You will need a profile for each child and one for the classroom no matter what.  There are two ways of storing them so they are close at hand.  One is a binder and the other is top of desk files.  I prefer the latter as I don’t like snapping binders open and shut.  I do like having this kind of information easily accessible for putting notes away and accessing it for the administrator who will inevitably have an urgent question in the middle of a class.  Ideally, each child will have their own file folder so you don’t get information mixed up; the folders will hold, at a minimum:

The child’s profile for each subject

The child’s questionnaire

The parent’s questionnaire

Dated samples of work as appropriate

I find it useful to dump any notes from home, notes on behaviour (good & bad) and anything else pertaining to the child as the term rolls on.  It is amazing how much you can forget over a couple of months.  Of course, if it becomes necessary, you will add Identifying (Subject) Challenges & Strategies to Help and Learning Difficulties Tracking Chart and anything else which will help you identify challenges and design strategies to meet them.

A folder for the class profile will also be needed and again any notes concerning the class as a whole can be popped in, too.  The class profile might prove helpful to a supply teacher, too.  Supply teachers often have some insightful things to say.

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

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

“Education for All” and the Myth of Universal Design


Part 2 of Education for All

Universal Design in Architecture

Universal design is a concept that has come to us from architecture.  Architects noticed that as the handicapped were increasingly accommodated not only by retrofitting buildings, but by designing buildings from scratch to meet the needs of the handicapped, a curious thing was happening: the general public was also benefiting from the designs.

The wheelchair ramps worked well for cyclists and parents with children in strollers.  The lower wash basins and levered handles made life easier for small children.  Even the subtitles on television have proven a boon in places such as noisy hospital waiting rooms.  And who hasn’t hit the big blue button with their elbow or their foot when trying to wrangle too many packages through a heavy door?  In fact, the accommodations that many of us thought would be expensive extras for the few have proven to be welcome improvements in the lives of many.

Now it sometimes happens that the lessons or ideas of one discipline cross over successfully to another.  A well-made woodworking tool becomes a surgical instrument and leads to an unexpected partnership between the toolmaker and the surgeon.   The sciences of psychology and neurology, the art of religion and the discipline of philosophy discover that more and more often they are saying similar things until a psychiatrist finds himself writing a guide to meditation, a neurologist writes a book on Zen and the Brain and another neurologist explores the importance of emotions and the meaning of consciousness.  The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education is offering collaborative graduate work in areas such as neuroscience.  These developments come from a willingness to explore an unordinary take on things using a combination of imagination, openness to new ideas and critical thinking.

Universal Design and Education

At first blush, the Ontario Ministry of Education’s embrace of universal design might seem to be one of these happy crossovers.  Their idea is that if the curriculum is taught in a way that students with learning disabilities can learn it, then the same method will work for all the students in the class.  The corollary is that with rare exceptions all students should be in the same class because they all can be taught well at the same time.

A Brief Review of Learning Disabilities

To clarify (and those of you who know all about LD should skip the next couple of paragraphs): by definition, a student with a learning disability has average intelligence or above and has a deficit in one or more areas that affect learning.  The student may have difficulty reading but no difficulty with mathematical concepts or may have problems using a pen or pencil to write neatly at a reasonable speed but can write wonderful stories using a computer.   Each person who has a learning disability is different from any other one; the only thing they all have in common is they are all at least as smart as the normal person.

Many students with learning disabilities (or as one student I know puts it: learning differences) only need some simple accommodations to be very successful.  One student may need to have someone else’s notes photocopied for him (because he can’t write fast enough and, at the same time, pay attention to the material being taught), more time on tests, to take fewer courses and have textbooks recorded (because he can’t read fast enough even though his comprehension is excellent).  Another student might need to use a laptop in class and answer some questions in note form.  A third might use a non-programmable calculator for a math test because she can do mathematics but not arithmetic.

As an aside, I must note that these so-called disabilities would hardly have been noticed in another time and place.  In a society where minimal literacy and numeracy was needed, what counted would have been how hard people worked, how well they did their jobs and character.  Few people a hundred years ago would have been expected to do much in school after grade eight and many would not have gone even that far.  I think we should remember that an LD is a very subtle insult to the brain and in the larger scheme of things should not have an impact on our view of the student as a whole.

To return to universal design and education, it would be a great savings in time and money if universal design worked in the classroom.  However, for most LD students it is helpful to have highly structured assignments whereas the intellectually talented profit from open-ended assignments.  Combining high structure and open-endedness in an assignment can be done and I have created assignments that worked for everyone, however they generally took a considerable amount of planning and the most successful one took three teachers to deliver it.  The teacher librarian and the computer teacher participated in the delivery of the project.

While teachers of primary students are guaranteed a maximum of 23 students in their classrooms, teachers of grade seven and eight may have 34 students in theirs.  By the intermediate years, the gap in learning has grown considerably between the weak students and the strong students.  Throw in students who are learning disabled and some who have behavioural problems and a teacher will have her hands full trying to successfully meet everyone’s needs.  Should she try to teach using a single design the equivalent of an architectural ramp or lowered sink, she will find herself with a large group of bored, restless students.

An Example of Universal Design or Differentiation?

The example of Universal Design (P. 12) in Education for All is more like the architectural equivalent of a sign saying UP! at the base of a ramp, ladder, elevator and escalator; a health professional beside the sign would choose the most appropriate way for each individual to ascend and still get their heart rate to an aerobic level.  However, it is a wonderful example of differentiation in teaching a lesson in literature; what it does not explain clearly is how a teacher might handle the differentiation in a class of thirty if some of the students will need the teacher’s guidance for periods of time.  It especially does not address how to deal with students with behavioural challenges in this kind of situation; many of them need direct supervision.

The lay person reading this may assume that an educational assistant would be available but EAs are becoming more and more restricted to students with physical handicaps and are rarely assigned to classrooms anymore.  Administrators might point out that special education teachers are now coming into the classroom to support the regular classroom teachers.  This is true, but they are not available full time to any class so they focus on the three Rs, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

I have a sneaking suspicion that as time goes by, money for special education teachers will be cut until only the very severely affected students will receive support.  The argument will be that since many teachers are now receiving the equivalent of the old Special Education Certificate Part 1 as part of their B. Ed., they will soon be equipped to deal with behavioural, LD and other special education needs.  What the Ministry, administrators, academics and the public will forget is that this kind of teaching not only requires knowledge but also experience and time.

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:  EDUCATION FOR ALL: an analysis of the content.  August 14th

FOURTH POST:  Giftedness and EDUCATION FOR ALL: August 21st

FIFTH POST: Charts for Teachers derived from EDUCATION FOR ALL:  August 26st

Should Students in French Immersion Need Tutors?


This is in response to Julie’s concerns about her son in Grade 2 French Immersion.   The short answer is that students should not need tutors – or very rarely and in special cases – in any program.  French Immersion is supposed to be for all students. 

If your child is having difficulty, Julie, then a conference with his teacher to figure out the problem is necessary.  Go through what you are seeing: your child’s marks, how much homework he is doing (my board estimates it should be no more than 20 minutes a day, but it varies), how your son feels about school, how he reads in English and any other evidence you think might be useful.

It is really easy to get upset with the teacher.  I am sure you and your son are frustrated.  Try to remember that the teacher may be implementing policy she does not agree with or has no choice about given the circumstances.  If you treat her as a partner who cares about your son as you do, she will relax and be more helpful.

The bottom line is that the French Immersion program is not supposed to be for only bright children, only well-behaved children, only children who catch on quickly; if your son is having difficulties, he is entitled to the same help as he would be if he were in the regular Core French program and having difficulty keeping up with his math or English.

There is nothing in the ministry of education’s guidelines that says children in French Immersion are not entitled Special Education as appropriate.  There is nothing that says that they are expected to work to a higher standard.  Do not let anyone tell you anything different.

You may end up discussing this with the principal and the superintendant.  You may have to choose among fighting this discrimination, continuing to pay for tutoring or moving your child to the regular stream.  Those are all difficult choices.

In the meantime, you might find the chart below helpful.  It was taken from Maggie Mamen’s book The Pampered Child Syndrome; I found it invaluable in helping kids and parents and myself disentangle our responsibilities for homework.  If we each couldn’t do our roles and stick just to them, then the question was why. 

TASK

Teacher(s)

Student

Parent

Teaching concepts necessary for homework

**

  

 

Setting tasks for homework

**

 

 

Ensuring students know what is required of them

**

 

 

Deciding how much work is reasonable

**

 

 

Determining how much time should be spent

**

 

 

Establishing timelines for handing in work

**

 

 

Finding out what homework has been assigned

*

**

 

Writing homework assignments in agenda

*

**

 

Taking responsibility for bringing homework home

 

**

 

Providing access to the necessary materials

**

 

**

Collecting the necessary materials to do the work

 

**

 

Setting up an appropriate place to work

 

**

**

Making homework a priority over other activities

 

**

**

Ensuring there are no interruptions during homework time

 

**

**

Setting regular homework time

 

**

**

Checking in agenda to see what homework is required

 

**

 

Prioritizing assignments

*

**

*

Doing the homework

 

**

 

Checking over homework for mistakes or errors

 

**

 

Identifying specific area(s) of difficulty

 

**

 

Exploring resources to help with area(s) of difficulty

 

**

 

Providing assistance to clarify directions or instructions

**

 

*

Re-teaching concepts if necessary

**

 

 

Deciding whether homework is ready to hand in

 

**

 

Handing homework in to the teacher

 

**

 

Evaluating quality of homework

**

 

 

Providing consequences for inadequate homework

**

 

*

** Primary responsibility

* Can give assistance as required

                  Taken from The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Mange It and How to Avoid It p. 124 & 125.  Among other things, Dr. Mamen has worked as a psychologist with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the former Carleton Board of Education.

There is no shame in your son taking homework back with a note from you saying that he worked hard for a certain amount of time and was unable to complete the work or didn’t understand it.  In fact, it gives a teacher invaluable feedback.  When it happens regularly, a teacher begins to question and investigate where the problem lies; if children work late or get help, then their teacher doesn’t know they are struggling.

            Hang in there.  Just questioning what is going on is a good thing.  Your son is lucky to have a concerned parent. Let me know how things go and if I can help.

Time to Move On to Other Subjects


            There is always something to say about teaching French as a Second Language in Canada, but I feel that I have said enough.  For now.  Many thanks to those of you who joined the discussion.

            At the moment I am embarked on a new topic in education; I am studying the 2005 document from the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, Education for All:The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and numeracy Instruction for Students with Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6.  It is taking me some time to plough through it.  I am looking at it as a teacher who might not only be expected to implement the document but look like she is implementing it.  There is an awful lot about tracking and questionnaires in Education for All so I have been copying, modifying and creating my own versions of the kinds of tracking charts and questionnaires that seem called for.  As I create them, I imagine myself as an elementary teacher doing her best to teach well and I try hard to think of ways to 1) make them work for the teacher and her students and 2) reduce the nuisance factor that so many new ideas have.

            This takes time, of course, and I will be willing to share my attempts with my readers and colleagues out there when I have finished.  I have also gone back to an old hobby of mine, studying the brain.  This sounds very impressive before I explain that I have done so little science that axons and dendrites were new concepts for me.  It’s going to take me a while to grasp how the electrics in the brain work.

            I am using a rather odd assortment of books to teach myself.  The key book is The Human Brain Coloring Book by M. C. Diamond, A. B. Scheibel and L. M. Elson.  This book has given me a whole new respect for colouring as a learning tool.  There are others in the series and trust me, they aren’t for children.  Check them out sometime.

            I am also using Netter’s Concise Neuroanatomy. I bought it because the pictures were beautiful but it’s also a second opinion when the colouring book isn’t clear.   Zen and the Brain by James Austin and Damasio’s The Feeling of What Happens make up my little library of reference books on the brain.  The former I bought because Buddhism fascinates me and the latter because of my interest in consciousness.  As I read them, I come across references to the brain and I work through the colouring book until I have a better understanding.  Then I go back to the books.  I keep a notebook with blank and ruled pages to sketch my own drawings and diagrams, record and integrate notes from the books and jot down questions for later.

            So why am I telling you all this?  When I learn and when I teach I observe how I do it and what seems to work best.  It always informs my understanding of the research I read and often raises questions I don’t find direct answers to in the research.  That in turn gives me more ideas to try in the classroom or in my own learning.

            My initial degree was in English; as a lover of books it really didn’t seem necessary to study much beyond reviewing content.  I have rarely had courses since where it was necessary to actively learn content.  The truth is that the further we go in education, the more we specialise and the more we specialise, the greater ease we feel in the subjects we study.  We may have to work hard, but our engagement is such that the learning seems to come almost naturally.

            A few years after I started teaching, I was given a job that involved teaching math to two grade seven classes.  As I had forgotten my multiplication tables, I decided to take a grade thirteen reach-ahead summer course.  It ended up being a review of almost all the math I had ever learned. 

What I learned about being the dummy in the class was invaluable.  I knew I was smart enough to do it, but I didn’t have the tools; I struggled every day both with the homework and catching up.  When we worked in groups I realised that I was good at analyzing the problem and the other students were good at figuring out which formula to use.  I passed with 53% but I had learned a great deal about how it felt to struggle in math and what strategies would help struggling learners.  More teachers need to take a course or two outside their comfort zone in areas where they would have to struggle to learn.

Learning about the brain for me is more about memory and fitting together information than thinking. In studying the brain, I am doing the kind of learning I have always avoided: memorising facts.  By observing what works for me, maybe I will gain some insight into what might work for students.  The $64,000 word for it is metacognition.

But that’s not the only reason I’m studying the brain.  It seems to me that learning disabilities are caused by subtle insults to the brain and that the principles behind the techniques that help stroke victims could be applied to children and people with learning disabilities.  How much better would it be if we could cure rather than accommodate learning disabilities?  There is already some work being done in this area.  Norman Hoidge in the The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science refers to Barbara Arrowsmith and her school in Toronto.  It seems to me that her techniques resemble techniques used for rehabilitation for people with brain injuries.  It will be interesting to see what will come from further research into her techniques.

If my speculations are correct and her work bears it out, then our integrative approach to dealing with learning disabilities is exactly the wrong way to go about working with these children.  There are also other implications for teaching regular students; perhaps the repetition involved in teaching handwriting, math facts and memorising poetry does more than just teach those specific subjects.  It may be that we threw the baby out with the bathwater when we rejected rote work as not valuable educationally.

Finally, current research in mental illness indicates that some illnesses such as depression leave actual changes in the brain and brain chemistry.  That some illnesses do not appear until late adolescence or adulthood suggests that there is a trigger in the maturational process.  Is it the maturation of the brain or the body?  Is there some practice, such as yoga, meditation or the deliberate habit of kindness, which would inhibit some mental illnesses?  These are things worth reflection and research.

I doubt that I will ever have enough expertise in the brain to make a significant contribution to the field of understanding the brain.  On the other hand, in the age of specialists, it seems to me that there is a great need of generalists who poke around in a variety of areas looking for connections and patterns.  Perhaps I may be fortunate enough to make such a contribution or even persuade one of you to look beyond your field.

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.

Talking to Everyone


         The Croll-Lee Report on FSL in New Brunswick has been justifiably criticised as sloppy and limited in its use of research on methods of teaching FSL.  Critics have also pointed out the inaccurate use of figures and tables provided by the New Brunswick Ministry of Education.  It was unfortunate that New Brunswick children were so ill served in what was a good cause and for which there was so much solid evidence available.

            Before I go further, I want to discuss academic research in the social sciences as it has some bearing on this issue. The social sciences such as education are seen as soft sciences because so little can be proved quantitatively.  By quantitative, I mean what can be measured and reproduced given the same situation.  For a start, it is impossible to have identical situations where people are concerned.  In education, no two teachers are alike and no two classes are alike.  No matter how carefully we select for similar age, gender, socio-economic status (i.e. are they upper, middle or lower class) race, faith and ability the classes may be similar but never the same. To do that we have also recognised our own bias, abandoning the myth that researchers operate objectively in studying their subjects     

For many people, this is a new way of looking at things.  Acknowledging bias in scientists, valuing description and narratives as part of the results of research? This is a different world from the expectation that numbers are the most precise way and therefore the best, least biased way of measuring the world around us.  We admit our bias and record it with the narrations or anecdotal evidence.  Sometimes, as action researchers, for example, teachers doing research as they work, the bias is very much a part of the research.  

Just as quantum physics discovered that under some circumstances observation changes what is observed, so too, observing in the social sciences changes what we observe.  I suspect quantum physics may have opened the quantitative thinking world to the potential of qualitative research.  This recognition and the awareness of bias have lead the researcher to include herself sometimes in the story of the research.

That being said, there were facts and figures that needed to be included in the Croll-Lee Report.  The commissioners did comment that little useful information was available.  This is not surprising.  Education ministries and school boards do not evaluate results for their programs as a rule.  They may do it as a spot check or because anecdotal evidence suggests it is necessary but rarely in an ongoing fashion.  Before we become too critical, we have to remember that many ministries across the country have been asked to cut the fat, the deadwood and all positions not relevant to teaching.  Researchers and analysts would be among the first to the guillotine.

A reporter in British Columbia, responding to the events in FSL education in New Brunswick asked the B.C. ministry of education how their French Immersion program was doing.

Asked for comparable B.C. figures [to those citing dropout numbers and numbers achieving ministry goals in N.B.], an Education Ministry spokesperson said the government does not have them. “We don’t track early immersion students through to Grade 12,” she said… “I guess tracking French students was something we’ve never done,” she said.

According to Education Ministry policy, the “major goal” for the French immersion program is for students to become bilingual. The ministry is not, however, checking to see how many students meet that goal.

         From Does Early French Immersion Work? In BC, high demand. BC hasn’t tracked costs or results, but New Brunswick is pulling the plug. By Andrew MacLeod
Published: April 10, 2008, TheTyee.ca

                  However, the dearth of statistical information should not have stopped the commissioners from making good use of what was available.  When I was tearing my hair out trying to get a handle on calculating statistics for a course on research design I took in graduate school, a colleague explained to me that I didn’t have to do my own statistics.  Many people hire a statistician to help them plan the taking of data and the analysis afterwards; studying stats was a good idea, as it would give me an understanding of what was involved.  It was sufficient that I understood the theory and the kinds of cases in which certain methods were used so I could work knowledgeably with the experts.

            Similarly, if time was limited or neither Lee nor Croll were adept at number crunching, they should have employed someone to do it for them.  The sad fact is that the few errors I reviewed with the aid of my own number cruncher may have given them the wrong numbers, but if they had done them the right way, they would have had almost as effective evidence for the points they were trying to make.

            Another unfortunate error was the lack of explanation of research results into the three major teaching methods they were discussing.  Croll and Lee did not need specific expertise in this area; if expertise were needed in all the topics they covered in their review and recommendations, they would have needed experts in teaching FSL, learning disabilities (especially language related ones), school organisation and management, rural and urban schools, language development and teaching L1.  That would have just been the beginning. 

            The purpose in doing graduate work in a subject is to learn to do original research, think logically knowing your own bias and add to the body of knowledge. Most importantly, the student develops expertise to be shared with other people so they don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of time doing their own research or guessing wildly. The student also acquires the skill to read work in other disciplines with a critical eye.

The academic information was available and I have reviewed it in my last post.  With the tools at their disposal, they should have been able to do a more thorough and clearer job.  Dr. Croll taught at the University of New Brunswick, which had a Faculty of Education and housed the Second Language Research Institute of Canada (L2RIC).  I am sure the latter would have been happy to provide appropriate information; they certainly were after the report was published.  In fact, Paula Kristmanson presented a paper on Intensive Core French (see April 19 post on 3 options for FSL delivery) at the fourth International Symposium on Bilingualism in 2003.  She was then at UNB and is now at L2RIC.

If time had been a problem, they should have asked for more time.  If they had a proposal but needed to review it with others who had more specific expertise, then they should have asked for time to do that.  In other words, they did not have to be experts, they only needed to know when to consult them.

What did the commissioners get right?  They did their best to make sure everyone was heard.  I know that one complaint was that there wasn’t enough time for everyone to be heard.  I also know that many people pass the large signs in their neighborhoods announcing an application to deviate from the local bylaw in a building application and neglect to stop and read the details.  They are often the first people to complain when application is approved, the building is built, the tenants move in and they discover the deviation is going to affect their property.  I read through the lists of organisations that were contacted and asked for input; if their members were contacted then, as far as I can tell, every avenue was used to communicate with stakeholders.

The anecdotal evidence the commissioners provide in their report made it clear that there was general and considerable discontent with the way FSL worked in New Brunswick.  The issues were not the small irritants of school life; they concerned quality of teaching, availability of resources and equity issues.  This was not a problem of a few rotten trees, it was a tangled forest of education where flowers bloomed in a few clearings and much of the undergrowth in the rest was so thick it made progress difficult.  The department of education and Croll and Lee were trying to see the forest.  That they botched it is regrettable.

For some interesting criticisms of the report go to http://educationinnb.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/a-response-to-minister-lamrocks-justifications-for-his-fsl-plan/#more-195.     The author does not give sources for many of his facts and he doesn’t state his credentials for weighing the arguments given by the ministry.  However, some of his points are solid.  One of the best points he makes is that Croll and Lee recommend starting the FSL program in Grade 5 with Intensive French.  He correctly points out that programs where Intensive French has been used at that age have had students who have already had several years of French. 

What the commissioners proposed was to start the students study of FSL with Intensive French.  This was not something that had been studied although Intensive French and Intensive English at this age had proved successful with learners who had some of the L2.  By some I mean a little. Starting L2 learning with IF is an idea that needs to be thrashed out with second language teachers and especially those with experience in Intensive French.

The blogger above inadvertently makes a point on behalf of the ministry when he demonstrates that 20% of New Brunswick students, who are the right age for Early French Immersion, live too far away from an EFI program to make it practical.  You will remember from an earlier post that just under 50% of N.B.’s population is rural; one could infer that most of the students who are too far away from EFI are part of that rural population.  Perhaps the ministry was aware that two French streams were de facto discriminating against rural students.

The obvious solution to this is to put French Immersion into all schools, but to advocate that is to forget the enormous costs of two streams in five grade schools of 100 to 200 students. 

In the end the Croll/Lee report was a disaster because it was intended to correct a number of problems but due to its sloppiness created a political whirlwind which destroyed any chance of seriously reforming FSL in New Brunswick.  It became a rallying point for the middle class to push French Immersion rather than a place to start discussions concerning the most effective way to teach French to children.

 

Does Early French Immersion Work? In BC, high demand. BC hasn’t tracked costs or results, but New Brunswick is pulling the plug. By Andrew MacLeod
Published: April 10, 2008, TheTyee.ca