I was searching my own site for resources and was surprised that most of my articles concerning special education law were either old, written by my predecessor (who was Canadian . . . go figure) and not very comprehensive. I also found that it was not particularly well organized. I have added a new sub-category in the "Special Eduation 101" category on law, where I will cluster articles about each of the important legal concepts underpinning practice. I have also written a new "Special Education Law" article to serve as an anchor for more explicit articles on the legal theories behind special education law, updated from current and recent case law.
We are ripe, I think, for another round of resoundingly successful lawsuits. The implosion of real estate and near melt down of the economy, coupled with Republicans' belief that austerity will solve our economic problems mean that we have not allocated the resources we have needed to support students with disabilities. It will come back to bite us. In the mean time, it's important to understand the implications for failing to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education to our students with disabilities.
One of the restraints I work within is the use of copyrighted materials. I can't use them here. I do use them in the classroom. I did some research for you so you could be comfortable knowing what appropriate limits are: The Fair Use Doctrine -- Using Copyrighted Materials in Your Classroom. Of course, the first step is always to check your own district's policy, but in many smaller districts they don't clearly spell out policy, or you may have a nervous Nelly for a principal who is sure someone is just waiting to sue them. As though Disney has time to be chasing down a rural school teacher in Podunk, Iowa. For those of you in Iowa, please accept my apology for what you might consider a slight. I taught in Podunk (actually Long Prairie) Minnesota, just up the road from Lake Woebegon (I have this on the best of authority, Garrison Keillor, himself.) You have great schools in Iowa, but your pockets aren't deep enough to attract a big lawsuit. For you, then, this article is researched to provide some idea of the legal constraints you face.
But I say, sin boldly (It's a Lutheran thing.) I find that my students respond very positively to images from favorite cartoons and movies. If you have a student who loves Belle from Beauty and the Beast, reproducing 5 of them for a token board falls well within the "Fair Use" doctrine. In other words, I can tell you to use Belle, but I can't make an example on my website, since I am paid to write for About.com. Still, if you clearly have an educational purpose, and you find that it motivates your students, you can buy a coloring book and put Belle on your math worksheets. Dollar stores are full of them. I think it's fairly unlikely that Disney will sue the special education teacher who is using Belle to get a student with autism or multiple handicaps, to do her math.
Because we are using different materials for mathematics this year, I'm learning some new strategies for teaching operations. I filter everything I see and teach through my special education filter, which helps me decide whether the strategy will be helpful to my students, or not. I find that the notion of "comparing" for subtraction can be understood if there are enough visual supports.
A strategy that appears for addition is "counting on." The notion of "counting on," is that students identify the larger of the addends and "counts on" that number, counting up. We probably all use it when we are given something simple to solve, 12 plus one or even 83 plus one. Students with disabilities don't always see it: so, I'm giving them lots and lots of practice. At the same time, I believe that "counting on" is a strategy that will have life long benefit for my students, so I want to be sure they learn it.
I've also found that creating games is a good way to create additional practice in skills that require lots of repetition. That's why I created "Santa's Count on Christmas." To play the game, children throw a die, and when they land on a space with a number, they spin a spinner and "count on" either a one or two, depending on where their spinner lands. If they succeed, they get to stay. If they fail, they move back to their previous space.
I've added a couple of new resources to the list page for Christmas. You'll find links there for two new pages: Christmas Cutting activities and a new article on creating a "counting on" game for Christmas. I find that having lots of fun resources help refocus all that extra excitement on academic task.
Cutting with scissors is a critical skill for students with disabilities. It is one of many skills that support other functional skills, such as cutting their own food, cutting paper, wrapping gifts, and other handcraft activities.
Young students and more disabled students need simple tasks in which they can succeed. The Christmas cutting puzzles I have created are simple four pieces, tiled and shuffled, that only require that your students cut straight lines and assemble four pieces.
I've found that the coloring puzzles I have been creating have provided valuable practice for my students in 1) Reading color names, 2) Following directions, 3) Hand eye coordination and 4) Fine motor skills. I am seeing improved accuracy on math work and writing work because of the additional time my students are spending on working these kinds of "fun" activities.
I've created 5 new puzzles for Thanksgiving that you can open as a pdf and print. They will also support instruction in Social Studies in retelling the Thanksgiving story.
Unless you have been under a rock, are just entering an educational program or live overseas, you have heard about RTI or Response To Intervention. It was part and parcel of No Child Left Behind and if pursued appropriately, is imminently sensible. Unfortunately, it is not always pursued in a way that takes the needs of children to heart, and we end up testing and testing and testing.
Many of the children that come to special education teachers have already been through the process. Some children were identified by their parents, who requested that their child be assessed for a disability. Unfortunately, in many districts difficult children were often simply identified as special education. Research has shown that boys, especially minorities, are disproportionately represented in special education populations. RTI is designed to avoid that by identifying struggling students early, providing effective interventions, assessing the results, intensifying the level of intervention and finally, evaluating for special education.
From personal experience, I know that this is an effective way to avoid over identifying students. Both of my sons started first grade before their sixth birthday. The younger boy, Nate, left first grade reading at a pre-primer level. The district provided interventions for all second graders who were not reading on level. Some of the other children who did reading with Nate did end up receiving special education services. Nate flourished. He is an honor student at Villanova University in Philadelphia. He did just find.
Still, many people misunderstand RTI: I find that people don't understand that even a child identified for Tier 3 is still receiving Tier 1 instruction. The about 20 percent of children in tier 2 and tier 3 are receiving those interventions from someone other than a special educator. Hopefully this article will help you better understand how RTI is used in your district and impacts the students you see.
I've discovered that offering cutting activities in a variety of forms is a good way to support the fine motor development of students with disabilities. I have a couple of students who need practice to improve their hand to eye coordination, and the puzzle of the pilgrim boy and girl I created last year frustrated my younger students. I've made five new Thanksgiving cutting puzzles with only four tiles. All the cutting lines are straight to support students with weaker skills, to encourage accuracy and provide success within their reach.
All these puzzles come in free printable pdf's, both the puzzle and a pdf of the finished puzzle so your students have a model that they can see if they are struggling to envision the final product.
In public schools we often attend to important civic holidays, as well as some shared religious holidays with significant cultural roots, like Christmas and St. Patricks Day. Thanksgiving is both a civic and religious holiday, but one that doesn't belong to a particular religions. It is also wrapped in a part of American History that is both part of our cultural and political heritage. We remember the religious persecution that the Seperatists suffered in England and the sacrifices they made to come to the a new land on a strange continent. We remember the hardships they faced together, and the support of the indigenous peoples who already lived in what we now call New England. It is a remarkable story.
As we celebrate the holiday, it is important to focus on the historical and cultural elements of the story, rather than the religious content. It is important to remember the reasons that the Pilgrims were thankful for surviving that first summer with the help of their new friends and allies, the Wompanoag Indians. It is important to remember the thankfulness that Abraham Lincoln and the war battered people of both the Union and Confederate states for an end to the American Civil War. But I don't think it is appropriate for public teachers to enforce the exercise of "being thankful" on young children. So I don't.
The resources I provide are puzzles and pictures to help you focus on the history that is attached to this American holiday. I am comfortable with the fact that much of what we present is "mythic," since our myths are designed to inculcate important social values, such as hard work, courage, and the acceptance of diversity. I have put the resources at the head of my landing page.
I'm in my second year in a primary autism program, and I have a full range of students, from students with very low functional and academic skills, to students who in many ways can appear to be typically developing. The rub comes with social skills. All of my students are challenged when it comes to initiating and maintaining relationships with their peers.
At the same time, I find that they are far from "indifferent" to social interactions and peer relationships. In many ways they are actually eager to enter into those relationships, but even with the early intervention programs that we have here in Southern Nevada, they still are behind their typical peers in building relationships and understanding how to get along with peers. Personally, I believe that it is a lack of skills and not a lack of desire that hinders our students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. We need to be sure that we are paying as much attention to students who seem to have skills as to those who actually lack many skills, or actually present behavioral challenges.
I've started the process of building social skills activities with an article, Social Skills for Young Students, to lay out the parameters and challenges that students with disabilities face. I plan to add activities as well as links to this sight to help structure some social skills "curriculum" for this younger age group, and for my colleagues who share responsibility for these students.