Thursday, October 21, 2010


Every day that passes, I am more grateful for working through enough stuff to quit EBDland and move on to teaching at the university level.

I loved EBDland, but it was killing me.  Literally.

So, the best part of this new gig?  Well, there are many.  But supervising student teachers allows me to enter all sorts of classrooms and watch how others are managing their caseloads and classrooms.  Kinda like driving around the hood slowly late at night, peeping in lit up windows to see how your neighbors are decorating the living room.

I have seen exceptional.  I have seen deplorable. And the good part....?  I don't have to do anything about it!!!!

It has been an incredible experience to then process with my student teachers.  It is invigorating to analyze, ponder, reflect, and problem solve.  It is amazing to watch the next generation of teachers come into their style, evolve, and collect the good, the bad and the ugly and sift through it all in their efforts to be really good teachers.  

Unfortunately one of my student teachers is in the worst possible situation.  In one room there are 6 teachers.  It is arranged very poorly, it is very unwelcoming, there are some real safety issues in there.  Ld teacher working in small pull out groups has to teach over the din of hour long meltdowns.  I mean full on screaming!  And the administrator said, "Well, that's just special ed."

Are you cussing kidding me?????  What kind of school leadership is that?  Sacrifice quality learning environment for the LD kiddos?  Really?  This same administrator hands out much less harsh consequences to special ed victims of special ed peer attacks than she does if a special ed kiddo attacks a reg ed student.  So, special ed kids don't deserve quality learning environments?  So, special ed kids don't need to feel safe?  So, special ed kids don't need protecting from other special ed kiddo bullying?

Oh yeah, I am furious.  Oh yeah, I can't let this one go.  Not sure how I will address it, but I will.  

So grateful I stopped the insanity of crossing over the the dark side.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Sorry I have been out of it for so long.  That certainly was not my intention or preference.  

As mentioned before, Movie Man was having a most challenging transition to middle school and Superman was presenting a bit more aggression than usual and was expressing some new found emotions.  I have a real love-hate relationship with Superman evolving.  You gotta take the good with the bad and as he claws through another layer of Autism (which I love), he has so much to process and put in some sort of order. It usually is not a pretty transition (which I hate).

Now let's move on to my career change.  LOVING IT!  Love, love, love it.  What the hell was all my fuss about?  No, let's not go there.

I am having a blast teaching advanced methods to seniors ready to student teach next semester.  I was nervous for the first few weeks as I was not teaching as I noted some of my peers were.  They are way in the world of academia and research and I am.... well, I am not.  At first I felt really self conscious (although I have total autonomy), I was nervous that I wasn't brainy enough.  I took a long hard look at most of my fellow professors and thought about what they offered and where they came from, how much public school teaching they had done before becoming tenure track professors.  

And I concluded that what I have to offer is of incredible value.  18 years of real experience in the trenches.  with real kids, in real situations, with real teachers, with real parents, with real frustrations.  That knowledge base is irreplaceable. And the whole point of making this career change is to make a difference in the way special education teachers in training are trained, to offer up some real strategies and stories that will empower new teachers as they enter this incredible profession. 

OK, PLUS, I want to make sure that my own kiddos have a better chance of always landing in good special ed programs.  I am that controlling, yes, I am.

Anyway, I am having a blast doing it my way.  And the feedback from my students has been incredible.  They express gratitude every single day.  They are relieved.  They are hungry to better understand, to fill their bags of tricks with good stuff that works, to be given permission to cut loose, follow their instincts.

They are even beginning to embrace my goal for them to become independent thinkers, to question research based methods, to expose themselves to the vast amounts of great information and resources, and to throw out what they don't want to use and embrace trying new things and making it work for each and every one of their students.

I am also so adoring being a student teacher supervisor.  It is a great form of voyeurism, no?  I get to sit in a variety of classrooms in a variety of school districts and just sit and watch, and then I get to process it all with my very talented student teachers.  One placement is dreadful with a capital D.  It has been a blast to work through it with my student teacher, to empower her, to help her in ways her cooperating teacher is not.   I love watching the kiddos in each placement, learning how different districts offer different solutions for all sorts of issues and challenges every district faces.  

I think what I want to do with this blog is to chat with you all about what I am seeing and how we are all finding solutions.  I also hope that you all will comment as we go along and that you will let me know what you think is most important for teachers in training to understand before they student teach.

It's good.  Really good.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This Should Not Be A Problem

Readers, please take time to read the following post written by an exceptionally caring and talented teacher. Daisy's blog is Compost Happens and is listed as one of my favorites.  She is definitely not the only teacher faced with this problem.  It's complicated on so many levels.  If you have suggestions, please make them!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

These boys need books. Lots of books.

I love teaching reading. Reading is the heart of learning. A child who can read has access to so many worlds, so much fascinating information, so many opportunities, so much fun.

Every year my students span a wide range of reading levels. This year the range is wider than ever, and there are more struggling readers than ever, too. Seven children, all boys, who read at a first grade level.

Fourth graders. Nine- and ten-year-olds who read like the little kids -- when they read at all.

I can teach them, work with them every day. Sight words. Phonics. Structure. Basic punctuation and what it means. But in the meantime, they need to read on their own. And therein lies my challenge. I need to help them read, read a lot, and read often. To do that, I need to provide these boys books they can read and books they want to read. Something easy, outrageously easy, and yet something exciting and fun.

I have the structure planned: each of these kiddos will have his own box of books at all times. The box will contain books they can read, books at their level, books that they'll read when it's time for them to read on their own. A literacy coach once told me that after students independently read 25 books at their level, they move themselves to the next level. These boys need to read. I know, I've already said that. 25 books will sound impossible to them, so I won't say it out loud. But I will provide books, and they will read, and read, and read.

The only barrier is money. Oh, yeah, money. School budgets are already pared to the bone. To buy more books, first grade reading level but high-interest enough for a fourth grader, will take money. Stimulus funds? Spent well, but spent. Title I Reading funds? Put to good use, believe me. I'll be at a Title sponsored training tonight.

Grants? Help me out. There's a local grant group, but they don't buy books. Bless their heart, they think there are enough books on the shelves, and no one needs more. Shudder. Are there really people who think this way?

Now what? Readers, can you send me to a source for grant money for these kids? A source that will send the money, and soon, so I can buy books and get these guys reading now? Leave it in the comments or email me. Okaybyme at gmail dot com. Please. Let's give these boys a future. A reading future.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Movie Man Hits Middle School (Yes, another parent smack down)

I am afraid for Movie Man.
I am heartbroken for him.
I just don't know what to do.  I have most often advocated for him and intuitively believe much of what he is displaying behaviorally is systematic of other issues.  Hubs and I don't always agree on Movie Man's motivation or reasons for certain behaviors.  That causes some tension.
Well, Movie Man started middle school a few weeks ago and I wish I could report that all is calm in our house, that he is adjusted, happy, and learning.

But I can't.

He was sent to the principal for not stopping whatever he was doing after several warnings and cues from the teacher.  A very seasoned and tolerant teacher who gets it.

When Movie Man came through the front door after school, the very disjointed story of being sent to the principal spewed out of him before he made it to the living room.  

However it was unbearably frustrating because Movie Man is not very articulate when retelling a story.  It is hard for him.  Really, really hard.  So, his anxiety mounts as his father and I ask questions for clarity and our anxiety mounts as the questions go unanswered.  It's pretty ugly.

Thank goodness his LD teacher called within 30 minutes of the school day being over.  Hubs takes the call and LD teacher shares the story, shares some observations, shares he might be overmedicated, shares she did not know what else to do when Movie Man could not get unstuck and shut up.  Really.  What else could she do?  Changing the environment, the pace, any variable is best for getting someone unstuck.  She did the right thing by getting him out of the room.

So Hubs decides the best consequence is to write a letter of apology and try to get Movie Man to really figure out why he gets so stuck.  Great in theory and I supported this, but I knew Movie Man could not possibly articulate the why of it all. He truly was sorry.  But I don't think he really understands how disruptive his perseverations are.  He is not making the connection, the cause and effect of it all.

Anyway, Hubs sat with Movie Man and as patiently as possible tried to help Movie Man probe into the why of it, how to organize the letter of apology.  They got through it with Hubs scribing.  Movie Man was frustrated. He truly was clueless about the why.  He was even having trouble remembering the teacher warning him. Then Hubs gives the directive for Movie Man to rewrite the letter in his own handwriting and tweak it to make it even more Movie Man's voice.  

And that is when yet another battle of defiance broke out.  No TV until the letter is done.  Stalemate.  Hubs ups the ante by harping and nagging.  Movie Man digs in even more.  Hubs won't leave the room.  Movie Man won't move off the couch, pick up a pencil... nada.

I suggest Hubs just leave it. Walk away.  I say, "I trust Movie Man will do the honorable thing and get the letter rewritten."  I then say I am going upstairs to fold laundry and remind Movie Man not to turn on the TV.

As soon as Hubs and I both get our of Movie Man's space, the letter gets done.  Beautifully done.  
And even though that was a proud feel good moment that provided some parenting emotional relief, I still feel sick about what is ahead for my sweet Movie Man.

Is he only OCD and not AHD?  Is he also on the spectrum? Does he have a borderline personality?  

How the hell are we going to get him to adulthood?

Friday, September 10, 2010

A New Year, A New Role

I now have one 2 hour class session and one 2 hour student teacher meeting under my belt.

And I believe I am in love.

I believe I made the right choice.
I know I made the right choice.

I wasn't so sure while I was in syllabus writing hell.  And it was hell.  

The last few weeks have allowed me to make some great and noteworthy observations.  Although not new to these sorts of observations, I still found them worth pondering.

1.  When you are new to an organization, members of that organization make a lot of incorrect assumptions about what you know and who you know.

2.  When you are new to an organization and have questions, and feel some urgency about getting answers,  the peeps already familiar don't feel your same urgency and because they are really busy getting the school year under way they don't respond in a timely manner... if they respond at all.

3.  It's scary starting anew, but man, is it exhilarating!

4.  We are not doing a good job in teacher training programs.  The students are starved for relevant information, practical strategies.  Theory only takes you so far.

5.  After gathering information about student needs, I realize the original timeline and topics to be explored need adjusting.  I feel very strongly about giving my students what they need.  They know where they feel unprepared.  They know what they need to become effective teachers working with their preferred population.  Well, they sort of know.  How can they really know?

6. Training students to become independent thinkers and inquisitive learners when they are used to simply getting assignments done so they can  check them off the to-do list is going to be no easy task.

7.  I love having a captive audience!  My goodness, isn't it great to be able to finally tell it like it really is and hope to effect some change in practice, philosophy and beliefs?

I am looking so forward to a weekend full of planning.  

I have a renewed hope about what I can do on behalf of kids.  I was so afraid I would not feel this way once I left my direct service role.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New School Year Anxiety

On the home front, we have a very nervous Movie Man entering middle school.  So nervous, in fact, we took another trip to his pediatric psych.  Hopefully we have the right solutions and we will avoid what we have gone through for many years.

Anxiety is a brutal condition and it effects so many of our students.  It can look like conduct disorder, opposition, ADHD, under achiever.  When we treat it as anything but anxiety we make things worse for our students.  As teachers, we can destroy them and make taking learning risks impossible for them.

Superman keeps telling me he is a "home kid" meaning he would rather be at home than anywhere else.  In his pajamas.  I see his point.  He is worried about 5th grade.  He is already convinced it will be very hard.  And it will be.  As the kids get older there is more sit and get, more listening, more verbiage.  Kids with Autism don't learn as effectively as they could in this sort of environment.  And what that looks like is a kiddo who is below average and oppositional and maybe ADHD.   Sensory issues are exacerbated when they have to attend to verbiage for too long. Superman is also on the throes of a worry perseveration about weather.  And of course, stormy rains are expected for the next few days.  

So, to all the teachers out there... I know you all have butterflies just like your students.  Be mindful of what feelings behaviors are masking and that most often they are simply a way of coping.  

School has become less therapeutic, less child centered.  And it is not because teachers are less caring.  It is because all the suits in the world are misguided and since they have all the power, THEY are the reason so many kids are experiencing more and more stress in school.

I love teachers.  May you all have a wonderful start to this new school year.  Use compassion, have fun, and enjoy the kids parents turn over to your care.  

The Magic Lives!

Wowy zowy!!!

I am so excited to report that despite principal's lack of support, Aunt Sally will be used it the EBD room this year!  Art teacher approached new EBD teacher and asked if she was interested in pursuing the use of Aunt Sally or if she really wanted her removed.  She said she wanted to learn how to use her with the EBD kiddos!

Take that pissy principal!

Turns out the EBD teacher wants me to come over and help her get it going again!  Pissy Principal really tied EBD teacher's hands in directing her to use all the crap my replacement had used.  Turns out EBD Teacher has a degree in recreational therapy!  She gets it.  Yippee!  Aunt Sally is very happy.

So, Art Teacher and I went to get yet another loom yesterday and it was an amazing experience.  A wonderful 80 something couple were done with their loom.  They were amazing.  Very inspirational.  They are living the golden years in a beautiful rural setting in a minimalist, but very techno-savvy home.

So, we collected a beautiful loom (we named her Grandma Rosie after the lovely woman who gave her to us) from their house and delivered it to the middle school EBD room where my old students attend.  They are so excited to have the loom there so they can continue using weaving as a way to self-regulate.

So, take that Pissy Principal!

I will be helping middle school EBD teacher write her mini grant to get the supplies she needs to get it up and running.  Meanwhile I have Miss Mae in my living room as Art Teacher got a larger, more appropriate loom to use in the art room.  We have named that one Stella.  She comes from a basement in Chicago and is very happy to be used in a loving and helpful way in an elementary art program.

And you better believe my student teachers and Methods students will know all about this sort of magic.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Aunt Sally Updates

So, I get a call yesterday from my Aunt Sally partner saying we needed to get Aunt Sally out of my old room.

Say what? Really?

Yes, principal barked this order to my partner in passing.  What happened to all the support we got for Aunt Sally from her?  This boils down to yet another administrator NOT walking the talk.  Yuck.  Ho Hum.  Nothing new.

Nevertheless, it still hurts.  It sucks.  It is just plain wrong.

It is wrong that my replacement was allowed to kill the gifts of Aunt Sally.  It is wrong that the building administrator was not strong enough to encourage the continued use of Aunt Sally.  It is wrong that the administrator did not encourage my replacement's replacement to use Aunt Sally and to develop her own program based on what had been working instead of telling her to continue on as my original replacement had.

Nothing good came from my room last year.

But, time marches on, I have a new job, new focus, new opportunity to expose future teachers to all the great experiences I have had, how to reach kids in crisis, how to be effective.

I went to sleep last night feeling very sad for Aunt Sally.  Feeling that the greatest thing I have done as a teacher was not strong enough to stay alive in my building once I was gone.

All hope is not lost!  We have looms up in other EBD rooms and they are enjoying great success.  And then I get the email that lifts the grief, that renews my hope, that is a great smack down to principal with now spine, no sense of how to lead.

One of the middle school teachers wants a loom!  She is excited and when she told a student I had two years ago and who greatly benefitted from the loom, he lit up and got all excited!  He celebrated!  He is now looking forward to this school year!  His foster parents are ecstatic!

So my partner and I are going to rescue another loom this week,  get Aunt Sally set up in the art room, and keep the dream alive.

Because kids in crisis, kids in worlds of hurt, kids in need of tools to help them self-regulate need this.

Amazing Grace.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Trying To Adjust

Hey All,
  I stepped away from much of my routine to celebrate Foodie getting married.  What a great week away.  What a great wedding.  What a great Union.  What a great daughter-in-law I got.

Anyway, when I returned home with Superman (Movie Man and Hub stayed for a few more days), I was hurled into my new job.  My new career.  My new adventure.  It's a mixed bag and I sure as hell hope I get things sorted out and feel some peace about it all.

I am going to teach an advanced research-based methods course and supervise special education student teachers.  I had hoped for full time employment that would include an office, a home away from home.  A place to replace my classroom.  A place to practice the back-to-school-set-up-my-classroom rituals I so loved for 18 years.  Well, there is no longer such a place for me.  Except in my heart.  

So much of preparing for a new school year is about making the learning space for my students what it needs to be for them.  For 18 years, whole summers of thought and planning went into the start of a new year, but I had a tangible place in which to visualize, decorate, plan, shove belongings, furniture, resources around.  A room of my own.  I cannot tell you how many hours I spent just sitting in the middle of my classrooms amidst entire contents shoved either to one side or piled in the middle after cleaning services were done with polishing the floors and wiping down the surfaces.  I was never one to leave bulletin boards up.  I always took everything down and put it away.  I never wanted to be in a rut.  My kiddos returned to me and they deserved to see new things from different perspectives.  What worked and was comforting went back up, but usually in a different place.

It was the rearranging and shoving around of the heavy classroom furniture that helped me prepare, ground myself, rethink the whys, wheres and intentions of the last year's choices.  Even when I moved and changed districts and students, pondering past choices while looking ahead is what centered me.  

So what am I to do this year?  How will I adjust to a fresh start with no classroom that is mine and only mine?  How will I keep my wits about me without the benefit of seeing my dear colleagues throughout the day?  How will I feel a sense of belonging?  All the things I relied on for 18 years are no more.  And how will I ever adjust to the whole concept of academic freedom?  Wow.  What I have always craved, but now facing it, I am a bit perplexed.  

But maybe that's OK.  Maybe that's good.

Moving on.  Passing the baton.  Sharing my story as special education teacher.  Helping new teachers stretch and question to become independent thinkers.  Exposing them to my unconventional methods.  Hoping against all hope that I can encourage them, keep them passionate, teach them advocacy, warn them without scaring the shit out of them.

But they better be good or I won't pass them on.  After all, my own special needs kiddos may well be their future students.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Behavior Modification = Manipulation No Matter How You Wrap It

No.  I am not through presenting my argument against the overuse, the misuse, and the abuse of behaviorism in our schools.

We really must continue this crusade to reform how we manipulate manage kids.  Alfie Kohn stresses that behaviorism is nothing more than manipulation by extrinsic forces.  We use it to get kids to do what we want them to do in the way we want them to do it.  In doing this we take away any chance of the student  developing independent thinking, a strong sense of self, a sense of personal social and learning style.  We teach them instead to only do what is rewarded by some carrot we deem valuable.   We get so busy charting, we forget relationship building.  But what bothers me most is that we don't think while in the trenches of managing by manipulation.

To do it right, we are supposed to collect data that supports the need for a change in behavior.  We need to know what is happing, how often, under what circumstances.  We need to determine what the very specific replacement behavior is desired and then aim for it in smaller increments (behavior shaping).  Let's face it. We typically skip this part and go straight to the, "God!  This kid is driving me nuts!  He needs to stop all this annoying talking out/defiance/out of his seat/pencil breaking/refusal to work/poking others/avoidance behaviors/you fill in the blank.  

So let the bribing begin.  Let the "If this, then that" dance begin.  Strike up the band, get out the sticker charts and bins of junky plastic toys or promises of pizza lunches.  We can get really busy and focused on  this stuff.  We can pour tons of energy and thought into this stuff.  We can feel like we are taking action to correct this behavior and the kid will be better for it.  He will readily learn, he will do quality work, he will love being in our classrooms because he will realize his evil ways just don't pay.

Yeah, right.  Right?  

Well, let's say you have a kiddo who is a young member of a gang.  Let's say you have a kiddo living in a constant state of deprivation.  Let's say you are working with a kiddo with no power or control over any aspect of his life.  Let's say you are working with a really bright kiddo who is bored out of his mind.  Let's say you are working with a kiddo with a significant learning disability.  Let's say you are working with a kiddo who has an unidentified sensory issue.  Let's say you are working with a kiddo with any number of mental health issues.  Let's say you are working with a kiddo who is paranoid.

These behaviors you have identified unruly, undesirable serve very important purpose to each of these kiddos.  They are doing what they do because it works for them.  

And here is the reality.  You trying to manipulate them will only make them cling tighter to the undesirable behavior because in their heads and hearts, these behaviors are what help them survive. Why the hell would you want to take that away from a kid already feeling powerless, deprived, hopeless, backed in a corner by what life has thrown at them?  Why would you want to make an already scared kid even more scared?  Why would you want to make an untrusting kiddo trust even less?  Kids are smart.  They know when you are just trying to trick them into doing what YOU want them to do.  You have now chosen to get into a power struggle.  Because your kiddo is going to prove to you that he cannot be manipulated.  You have now hired him to use even more undesirable behaviors to hang on tight to what he believes is keeping him alive.

So now you turn to a bigger carrot.  You try to find that one thing that will motivate your kiddo to do what you want him to do.  You try to find the one thing your kiddo would do anything to get.

Hello!?  He is already doing all that he can to get what he really wants.  Power, control, autonomy, self preservation, feeling safe, filled up, attended to.   These kiddos are very sensitive to manipulator behavior.  They know from manipulation like no other kiddos.  They can smell it from afar and they HATE sticker charts... even the really cute theme oriented ones.  Believe me.  They don't care how you have it all wrapped up.  Manipulation of behavior is manipulation of behavior. 

The fight against being manipulated then becomes the focus.

And dear teachers, you lose.  Your kiddo is fighting for his life.  

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Prizes Demotivate? Since When?

Well, since FOREVER. Really.  I am not fibbing here.  I am not exaggerating either.  I know I can get a bit overzealous and rabid about the whole behaviorism topic.  It's only because it is one of the topics I am most sure about. 

You all know by now that I cannot tolerate poor methodology and practices that either do nothing or do harm. There is so much new good stuff out there, people!  There is no excuse for hanging on to some of the old stuff just because it's what we have always done.  It is time to take a critical look at what we have been doing and objectively and systematically deciding if it is it really effecting change or causing more stress (or worse yet... making things worse).  Is what we are doing hurting or helping relationship building?  Instilling a sense of well-being or increasing insecurities?  Is it allowing for learners to take risks and dare to explore or is it shutting the learners down?  

You know where this is going, right?  Back to my favorite ponderer and questioner of all that was once thought HOLY in education, Alfie Kohn.  I have some great real life examples of how rewards have demotivated, hurt relationships, stopped learning, increased undesirable behaviors (in the kids as well as the adults using this crap!)

From Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.

..."rewards do not require any attention to the reasons the trouble developed in the first place."  As Kohn explains, the rewards and consequences make it much easier for the behavior modifier as they never have to ask the big 'why?' questions. 

How easy it that?  A monkey could do it!  Don't stay in your seat. No points for you! Smart ass comments. No points or recess for you!  Assignment not started, completed or done right.  No points, no recess, and add to that lunch in isolation for you!

The theory is (based on experiments done with rats) the student will do all he/she can to avoid no points, no recess or lunch in isolation so the undesirable behavior will diminish.  Well, just ain't so.  But why not?  Surely if you are more persistent and more stubborn than the acting out student, the behaviors will be corrected.  You can outlast this kid.  You are the adult for God's sake!

And now we have a power struggle.  Yep, the perfect storm for an ODD kid to dig in and take you for the ride of your life.  And he will win.  HE. WILL. WIN.  In his mind anyway.  He would rather sit in isolation from morning bell to dismissal bell than be manipulated by you and your stupid point system. 

So, let's see what is lost here. A lot.  And I am not even talking about the beating your ego is going to take if you persist.  Losses are big and sometimes permanent.  Relationship building stops, much needed and highly valuable peer  interaction opportunities cease, and often times learning stops dead in its tracks.  Oh yeah, this is good.  Let's keep it up. Surely this kid will break soon.

Nope.  You will break before him.  You will get sick of isolating yourself in that room with that kid.  Your anger will grow, you won't be able to take a punk kid refusing to do everything you ask of him.  You will start to find even more ways to make this kid feel uncomfortable.  You will just hit harder with your big old hammer. How can a kid sit all day and do nothing?  Really?  Isn't he going crazy yet?


Because a kid like that is great at disassociating.  Because a kid like that is SUPER sensitive to others trying to control and manipulate him. Because a kid like that is all about survival and self preservation.  Because a kid like that needs control somewhere in his world because he has suffered any number of degrading, humiliating, hurtful things already.  Because there is NOTHING you can do that is worse than what he has already endured.  The most important thing for him is to have some control over his destiny.  In his mind, this is life or death.  He is in fight or flight.  And he is going to show you.  And he does.

And sadly, that is what happened to two of my boys during my absence last school year when my replacement built the program around tokens, points, and levels (behaviorism).  They stopped learning, they found no joy in school, they further internalized their identity as being trouble makers/losers/bad seeds.  They became runners, were suspended in excess of 20 days each, cost the district extra money when another paraprofessional was hired to babysit, were assigned shortened days (oh yeah, that's a great solution!), were empowered by how much control they had over others, and next year they will be placed in two more intensive/restrictive programs......that use tokens, points and levels.

What a loss.  

Monday, July 12, 2010


OK, so I posted all those fabulous ponderable quotes last week.  Did you all talk amongst yourselves?  Don't you just love, love, love Alfie Kohn?

What I really like about Punished By Rewards is how Kohn thoroughly examines, explains and analyzes behaviorist theory, research and practice.  And that brings me to yet another bee in my bonnet.  (Yes, my bonnet is quite a-buzz with so many annoyances!)

Why have we become so absolutely dependent on research based practice to the exclusion of good sense, following our gut, doing what we know to be right for certain kids?  Don't get me wrong.  I love all the research being done now.  All the new brain stuff is fascinating and has certainly opened some of the kinks in Superman's hose, however, if we had not even bothered to consider other approaches, Superman would still be lining up his toys.

What we have to be more diligent about is the analyzing of the data, really thinking about the research, how it was conducted, when, where and on what population?  There are many, many variables in any research about learning, kids, the brain.  We have to be careful not to overgeneralize and especially not to throw out what we know works because we cannot find any research about it.

Back to Kohn.  He points out that behaviorist research was done on pigeons and rats... and then generalized to human behavior... and then we all bought it!  We all started applying this stuff to humans in all sorts of environments and stuck to it (even when it was obvious it was not working) all because it was 'research based'.  And then when newer research is done calling into question the effectiveness of the earlier theories and findings we ignore it all.

We humans can really be dumb.  And lazy in our thinking.

So back to Superman.  When I started my obsessive search for treatments and therapies for him right after he was diagnosed ( well, not really right after... I went into a three month period of denial where the 'A' word could not be used in my presence...)  I kept bumping into the ABA (Lovaas)  approach as it was 'research based'  Note here that ABA methods are all based in behaviorist theory.  No thank you.  I don't want my kid looking me in the eye or saying hello because there is an M&M in it for him.  I wanted him to discover relationships.  So I dug deeper and once I sifted through it all I found some really good stuff that made sense.  That felt right.  That treated kids with Autism as people, not trainable animals.

We completely abandoned ABA methods.  We joined Superman in his preferred activities.  We wholly embraced and accepted him as he was and respected that he was doing certain things as a way to cope with the world because his sensory and perceptive wiring was all tangled up.

And oh my, did we get questioned.  A certain ABA group in our fair state pressured me (no, harassed me) with menacing phone calls trying to guilt me into doing what was right for my kid.  After all, research showed their approach worked, netted great results.  Right?  My gut said not.  We had difficulty getting any funding for the therapies we felt best for Superman.  It was a real struggle.  And we aren't talking about all those strange fringe therapies that include pulling metals out of our kid and other such biomedical approaches.  We are talking about Greenspan's Floor Time and The Autism Treatment Center's Son Rise approach.

What about the results, the very real results those approaches were getting?  Oh I forgot, no 'real' research has been done on those approaches.  You want to know why?  Because you can't set that research up in such a way that allows for traditional data collection.  Well, why not?  Because we are dealing with HUMAN BEINGS here!  Because we are counting on, relying on, human connection. Because it is the respectful  relationship that makes progress possible, probable.

Sometimes we just don't have time for research to be done.  Sometimes we need to act.  Sometimes we need to rely more on what we know to be good and true and effective.  Sometimes we really do know what we are doing...

So, I am very nervous about how much we are following, following, following.  We do less and less higher level thinking and reflecting on what we have done and what we should do next.  We rely less and less on relationships to show us the way.  We just keep doing what doesn't work without wondering why,  We blame the kids for not changing when it is the methods we are using that need to change.  We come down harder and harder on the kids.  The hammer just gets bigger and harder when we should be trying a different tool altogether.

And all that behaviorist research has a place.  Just not in a special education classroom where kids are doing the best they can with what they have.  We are making things worse.  Kids are being left way behind all because they can't be manipulated by the lure of a tub of junk toys.  If there is a prize in the box they want, they may do the one thing they must do to get it.  But it won't be quality work.  It won't be generalized to the next request.  And it certainly won't be done from the place within that needs to be opened up so they can lead a productive life, hold a job and enjoy loving relationships.

Let's not be so scared to wander away from the research that has been done if it just isn't working in our situation.  

And we all know from graduate school that any findings, numbers, statistics can be skewed....

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ponderable Perspectives

I have been delightfully buried in some of my very favorite books and articles addressing education challenges.  Here are some direct quotes from these readings.  They are nothing short of delectable  morsels worth every moment of pondering. Roll them around in your head like you would a fine wine on your tongue.  This is the stuff of which I base my practice.

And because y' all know by now how impossible it is for me to just drop a quote on you without my opinion (you also know how I love to pontificate!), stay tuned to future blogs because each one will be pondered upon by yours truly.  I just know you can't wait!

From The Trouble With Boys by Peg Tyre

"... perfectly smart kids develop at different times."

"Teachers also need to help boys develop emotional vocabulary."

"By fourth grade, though, children who attended academic preschools earned significantly lower grades - behaved worse - then children who attended play-based or mixed approach ones.  The boys who were best able to keep pace wit the girls had attended the child-initiated schools.  The boys who fell farthest behind the girls were the ones who had attended the academic preschools."

"Parenting has become a competitive sport."

"Boys who don't thrive in school, who disengage, and who fail to reach their potential not only are suffering assault to their self-esteem and confidence, but are setting themselves up for a life of economic insecurity."

"... using her high-powered fMRI machine, she found that boys and girls use different neural pathways to decipher simple words.  Inside the "black box" of their skulls, boys and girls use different parts of their brains to read."

"The male literacy deficit is not something that is immutable and hardwired in boys.  It turns out that schools may be teaching them wrong."

From Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn

"The underlying assumption is that there are exactly two alternatives: punitive responses or positive reinforcement, sticks or carrots, slaps or sugar plums."

"The troubling truth is that rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin.  And that coin does not buy very much."

"Rewards usually improve performance only at extremely simple - indeed mindless - tasks, and even then they improve only quantitative performance."

" 'Do this and you will get that' turns out to be bad news.... Even assuming we have no ethical reservations about manipulating other people's behavior to get them to do what we want, the plain truth is that this strategy is likely to backfire."

"As behaviorists carefully admit, theories about rewards and various practical programs of behavior modification are mostly based on work with rats and pigeons."

"Behaviorist's conception of humans as passive beings whose behavior must be elicited by external motivation in the form of incentives is, by any measure, outdated."

"If it does make sense to measure the effectiveness of rewards on basis of whether they produce lasting change, the research suggests that they fail miserably."

".... what is not always recognized is, first, just how utterly unsuccessful rewards really are across situations, and second, just how devastating in indictment is contained in this fact."

Ponder away.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Closure Is A Good Thing

I get up this morning at 5ish having slept about 15 minutes the whole night.

I did some laundry and some corresponding, dressed and headed over to school a bit before 8.

I have my ID badge that unlocks the main doors, no room key as principal said it would be open, remember?

Get to school, my badge lets me in.

Go upstairs, my door is locked and as I peer in, I note that it is so full furniture from another classroom I am not sure I will be able to get to my stuff.

Luckily there is major demolition/construction going on to install write boards so I ask one of those guys to let me in.

In I go.  I took very little.  I left so much stuff and realized this is probably how my aunt felt when she was facing terminal cancer.  She just detached form her belongings.

I only took my favorite workbooks to use as examples in my university methods course, my very-own-made-up-and-invented-by- little-old-me-mediation tools.  I was about done hefting all this crap in a laundry basket and a milk crate and wandered over to the big cabinet.

And.    Was.    Horrified.

Blatantly staring at me were three gigondo clear plastic bins filled with junkie toys. One bin labeled, 500 points.  One labeled 1,000 points.  One labeled 1,500 points.  And in each bin the size of the junk items grew in proportion to the number on the corresponding bin.

I actually yelled out, "Oh know!  What the fuck?"

I slammed the doors fast.

At this point may I encourage (insist) you all refer to Alfie Kohn's book, Punished By Rewards and then have a look at Daniel Pink's book, Drive.  

So on with the morning.  I sit at Aunt Sally.  I hang on to her.  I actually stroke her solid, smoothly worn beams.  I cry.  I finally cry.  I realize I am most sad about leaving Aunt Sally.  I apologized to her for not being used last year and that I would do all I could to get her back to kids.

I schlepp my stuff (just three loads) to the front door and hear my phone ring.  Not once, not twice, but three different times.

I load the car, check voice mail and hear the superintendent called and wants me to call him back.  You read that right, SUPERINTENDENT.  Oh brother.

I come home, have a nervous breakdown, talk to Hub and a sister to get my mojo going and return the call to THE SUPERINTENDENT.

Long story short, it was a pleasant call.  We exchanged a few jokes, he addressed all points in my letter to him, apologized (yes, APOLOGIZED) for not getting back to me about the November issue.  He told me he greatly appreciated my work, he even referenced Aunt Sally.  I told him I appreciate him taking the time to call and address my concerns, I wished him well and told him I would be ready and willing  to assist the district in any way.

OK, so it was damage control.

But I will take it.  Closure done professionally.  Too bad my principal couldn't do that.

Ooooh, gotta go, I see another door opening!