Tag Archives: accommodations

When zero is not allowed, what is the difference between a student who doesn’t do assignments and a student who is on an Individual Education Program?

It is common to accommodate a student on an Individual Education Plan due to a disability either intellectual or physical, by reducing her workload if that is appropriate.  For example, an English teacher might require a student to answer one of two questions as thoroughly as every one else in the class.  For the second question he might jot down a few words to remind him of his thoughts on a possible answer, if he had time.  He will meet requirements of the assignment by thinking about both questions, but reducing the amount of writing required would accommodate his dysgraphia.

I should add that there are many other forms of accommodation.  Shortening the amount of work is only one but sometimes a useful one.

Gifted students on an IEP may have the number of questions they do for math practice reduced as they do not need as many to cement the concept.  Instead, the teacher may assign problems that take them farther into the concept.

You can see where this is leading.  What a teacher assigns and the amount she assigns is tied in to how much work she believes is needed to learn the material.  If you have read my four posts “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” you will remember that repetition AKA practice is necessary for learning skills.

If a student is not on an IEP, does a teacher have a moral right to change the program he used his expertise, experience and professional judgement to design just to accommodate a normal student who hasn’t handed in some assignments?

Consistently not doing work is a behaviour problem and those who are best equipped to deal with them should be informed: parents, guidance counsellors, principals, vice principals.  In the meantime, teachers should be allowed to get on with what they were trained to do.  And that includes assessment

Do we really want our future doctor, lawyer, builder of bridges, electrician or plumber accepted to train in their professions even though they had missed parts of their math or physics or English classes?  If they find zeroes discouraging, let them ask for help.  If they don’t want to learn enough to ask for help, please don’t lie to the public by indicating they have actually passed a course.

Two Animal Fables About Education: The Dangers of Metaphors!

There is a fable often told at teachers’ workshops and conferences, especially if the topic is exceptional children.  Exceptional is teacher speak for children who are either two deviations above or below the norm on an IQ test, students with learning disabilities or students with emotional or physical disabilities.

The Fable of the Animal School is told below.  It is a ridiculous fable for reasons I will explain afterwards.  Then I will tell an alternative fable.  Enjoy.

The Animal School: A Fable

by George Reavis

Once upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?


The intention of George Reavis was undoubtedly to suggest that teachers should recognise student’s strengths and not push them in their areas of weaknesses beyond what they are capable of doing.

Unfortunately, by comparing animal to animal who have things they can do and things they cannot do at all, Reeves does a disservice to all but the most handicapped of students.  It suggests to many people that students should not be pushed at all in their areas of weakness.  I disagree with that.

Let me propose an alternate fable.

A Tale of Two Bunny Schools

Flossie and Saucy went to the same Bunny School.  Flossie was an amazing runner.  She won all the races at her school and sometimes the races against all the district schools.  She was weak at finding herbs and grasses and other good things to eat, especially when they were scarce but needed.

Her brother, Saucy, wasn’t much of a runner for a bunny, but he excelled at finding things to eat.  In fact, if it was good for a bunny to eat, Saucy would be sure to find it first.  Not only that, but Saucy could sniff a poisonous plant out before anyone got close enough to want to eat it.

Their teacher had read Reeves’ fable and applied the moral she thought she had learned.  Flossie was coached to greater heights, jumping and running.  Although she did take gathering lessons, she was not pushed to do better.  Sometimes her mark was bumped up … just a little.

Saucy, on the other hand, not only excelled at gathering, but was gaining his own little following on Twitter.  His followers were looking for tips on his success but Saucy really didn’t have any; he was just good.  Of course, running was the worst part of his day.  He would see Flossie bounding away and get discouraged.  To improve his self esteem, he was praised for any slight improvement and got marks that were almost as good as Flossie’s.

They graduated with good marks and went out into the world.  One day Saucy was out nibbling on herbs when a fox spotted him and gave chase.  Saucy bolted for his burrow but the fox easily caught up with him and Saucy was dinner.

Flossie missed him and his knowledge about where to eat.  Over a period of time, Flossie became malnourished because she couldn’t find the right foods for her athletic body.  One day as she was grazing, the same fox spotted her.  Saucy had been so delicious that the fox was thrilled to see another yummy bunny.  Flossie bolted for the burrow but her body was no longer strong enough to sustain the speed she needed.  The fox, on the other hand, had been well nourished by eating Saucy and soon caught her.  Too bad she was mainly skin and bones.

The Cousins’ Bunny School

 Meanwhile a few fields over, Peter and Juanita, the cousins of Flossie and Saucy, went to another school.  Peter, like Flossie, was a good runner and not good at gathering.  Juanita shared Saucy’s skill set: a great finder of food, but slow moving for a bunny.

Their teacher had a different philosophy.  Perhaps she had never read the fable.  She recognized that people have different talents and weaknesses but she believed that every adult needed certain knowledge and skills.  Before she planned her teaching, she asked herself the purpose of the curriculum.  The answer was that running was to escape predators and  gathering was to keep the body nourished to stay healthy and eventually reproduce.

She encouraged Juanita’s talents in gathering and tried to find ways of enriching and challenging her.  At the same time, she insisted that Juanita practice running and jumping daily.  She taught her effective ruses such as dodging, quick turns, finding thick thickets to hide in, staying very still and assessing the situation.  While Juanita would never run as fast as her brother, she became competent and knew ways to compensate for less speed.

Peter received similar instruction in running to Juanita, but because he had a talent for it, he improved faster.  His teacher insisted that he learn what foods he needed to keep his body healthy and where he could find them.  Sometimes he got extra help from Juanita until he knew where to find food in their area.  He was never as good as Juanita, but he could feed himself.

They graduated.  Juanita had become competent enough as an athlete to enjoy games with her brother, especially if she could use tactics as well as running.  Peter enjoyed going on food hunts with her.  He was pleased on the rare occasion when he found an herb that she had missed.  Occasionally predators spotted them but they always escaped.  The predators gave up in the end and went over a few fields were they had heard the bunnies were easier to catch.

One day, Juanita and Peter were saddened to hear that their cousins had been eaten.  They were distracted from their sorrow, however, by bunnies who had heard of their skills and were visiting to assess them (favorably) as potential mates.

Interesting or Useful Books for Educators or Parents

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

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

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

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

An excellent guidebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf

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

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

Should Elementary Teachers Work Longer Hours for Less Pay than Secondary Teachers?

A Reply to Olivier’s Comment on

Have You Ever Wondered Why Your Child’s Elementary Teacher Looks So Tired?

If we were merely imparters of random knowledge from aging textbooks, Olivier, I might find your argument interesting; after all even you could drill children in exercises until they had memorised facts.  The difference is that we prepare the students who will go into high school to learn more difficult subject matter.  We equip them with the tools to learn:  not just reading and writing and arithmetic, but also thought and imagination and questions.

Ages & Stages

Elementary teaching requires an understanding of the stage that the child is at for example between the ages of two and seven a child believes that a tall glass holds more water than a short glass regardless of their diameters.  Thirteen year olds, on the other hand, go through a stage that lasts roughly a year in which they cannot process facts using the scientific method; in other words, once they have a theory, they have great difficulty accepting facts that disprove the theory. A teacher who is unaware of the pedagogical and psychological realities of the stages their students are in is going to have great difficulty teaching most subject material and especially any subject material which requires the children to do more than just memorise facts.

Critical Thinking: Not Just for High School Teachers

In fact, the Ontario Ministry for Education and Training requires that every subject from Grade One up be taught and assessed with a critical and creative thinking component as well as a knowledge and skill component.  This makes sense, Olivier, when you realise that each discipline has its own way of thinking about the world.  A scientist creates a hypothesis, a well-designed experiment to test the hypothesis (and anyone who has done this will tell you that experimental design is not simple), observes the results and draws conclusions from the results.  On the other hand, an historian can’t do experiments to demonstrate truths about historical events; facts such as writing, artefacts and drawings are collected and the historian considers what conclusions can be most logically drawn from the evidence.

I could go on to discuss the other subjects we teach, but I am sure you see my point.  The historian must, even more than the scientist, consider the biases of every one involved in contributing to the conclusions. Elementary teachers must understand and train their students in the kind of thinking experts do in each discipline.  Facts can be found in books, videos and sometimes on the Internet but thinking about it cannot.

To teach thinking we use tools that aren’t always found in textbooks.  You would not recognise an elementary math class today because students will often be using manipulatives to learn such things as algebra.  We don’t just get them to memorise equations, we let them discover why they work, why they are helpful and why the rules of solving equations matter.

[For an fascinating and in depth discussion of thinking in different disciplines see  World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence by Stephen C. Pepper]

Curriculum Updates

It is not obvious where you live.  The Math and Language Arts curriculum I am referring to is the one in Ontario, Canada; it was written in 2005 and 2006 respectively.  It was supplemented with marking exemplars in math, reading and writing.  Recent curriculum is no guarantee of good curriculum but it does demonstrate that the powers-that-be are paying attention.


Textbooks:  Not for Every Grade or Every Subject and Never Enough for French Immersion

The Trillium List is a list of textbooks approved by the ministry for use in the schools.  Although there are textbooks approved for almost every subject in every grade, the reality is, as one teacher wrote to me today, that there are seldom texts used for math in grade one and two.  Subjects such as science and social studies in the primary grades do not have textbooks although there may be some teacher guides.  These subjects are taught through hands on, carefully planned activities.  And I have yet to see a text beyond an anthology for Language Arts for any elementary grade.  If that sounds like enough, I should remind my readers that students in Language Arts learn grammar, spelling, composition (for a variety of audiences), participation in group discussions, public speaking, reading non-fiction, reading for information, to skim or scan and much more.  French Immersion teachers have access to fewer texts than those teaching in English (see Does Choice in Education Divide our Children by Class?) and find themselves frequently translating materials for their students.


Elementary Teachers as Diagnosticians

You are right in one sense, Olivier, we do teach children first.  Their well-being and safety is our first mandated concern but it requires an expertise beyond a normal caregiver’s. Elementary school is where a lot of diagnostic work happens.  If by the end of grade eight a learning disability or behavioural problem has not been diagnosed, it is not likely to happen in high school, no matter what the severity.  I speak from both experience and observation.  Elementary school teachers use their knowledge of child development, the subjects they teach, their observational skills and finely honed abilities in multi-tasking to spot anomalies in student performance and investigate further.  Should the child be diagnosed with a disability or any other kind of problem, it will be the teacher who carries out any suggested accommodations or modifications.  She will also be the one who will continue to adjust the delivery of the curriculum to allow the child to learn it.

And Creative & Critical Thinkers

Notice I say adjust the delivery of the curriculum, not adjust the curriculum.  Most children with learning disabilities are perfectly capable of learning the same material as their classmates.  All they require is the ingenuity of their teacher in finding an alternate way of for them to learn or demonstrate their understanding of the topic.  I should not really use the word “all” as sometimes this is quite a challenge and requires considerable negotiation with student, parents and experts and experimenting with methods until one is found that is effective.

Teaching Many in One Class, One Curriculum (Have You Ever Seen a One Man Band)

The elementary classroom includes students of a wide range of abilities.  There may be a range as much as two grades below and two grades above intellectually.  Some students may be barely functional in English.  Some may have emotional and behavioural problems that require professional help, but may or may not be receiving it.  We teach in a public school system and therefore we teach every child.  Currently the default placement for any child with special needs is the regular classroom, so that is where most of them are being taught.  The teacher has a curriculum to teach AND she must consider the nature of her students’ abilities as she plans how to deliver it.  This is not usually the case for high school teachers.

For more information about the administrivia that a teacher deals with, I refer you to Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching? I have not outlined the rest of a teacher’s duties such as supervision and meetings.  I will finish this incomplete summary with one additional expectation of all elementary teachers:  no matter how weary, how sore, how ill she is, she smiles, speaks softly and puts the kids first.

For Even More Information about Elementary Teachers’ Working Conditions:


My astonishment is no longer that people believe that elementary teachers should be on a different pay scale from high school teachers but, meaning no disrespect to my secondary colleagues, that people aren’t agitating to have elementary teachers paid a great deal more to work fewer hours.  Could it be that young children are considered women’s work and women’s work is not accorded much value?  If men dominated elementary school teaching would the job still be valued less?  Do we pay pediatricians less than urologists on the grounds that they deal with young children?  Are people who make cribs paid less than those who make beds?

A Modest Proposal

Given that you think people who teach from a textbook that their students could probably read and learn from themselves should be paid less than high school teachers, Olivier, I have a modest proposal.  University professors should have their salaries divided such that the part that represents the proportion of time spent teaching courses be reduced to less than that of an elementary teacher (as they don’t have to diagnose learning difficulties or supervise playgrounds).  After all, if the high school teachers have done THEIR job, university students should be perfectly capable of reading the texts and learning the course work themselves.  And we all know that either a computer or teaching assistants do their marking.

And a Chuckle

A few years ago I saw an amusing analysis of the comment that elementary teachers were just glorified babysitters.  I don’t know if this is the same one, but it comes to the same conclusion:

Ok- to the people that say teachers are babysitters- and we know that during the school year the teachers probably see the children more than their own parents…soooooooooo if teachers are babysitters….then teachers should be paid as babysitters…back when I was 12 (oh…say 23 years ago) I charged $5.00 per child per hour, and I am sure the price has gone up, but you know what…..so let’s pay these babysitters $5.00 per child per hour, for every day they have the children. No holiday pay, nothing like that. There’s 180 school days, right? 7 hours in a school day (we won’t let the teacher get paid for her lunch). A teacher has…let’s say 20 children. Holy crap- that’s $126K a year!!! Yeah!!! Please please please pay teachers as babysitters.


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:


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.


Writing individual learning profile template


Oral communication 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.


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.



Identifying Writing Challenges & Stategies 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.


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.


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