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- #Texas Strong
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- The Inclusioner
- Writing Across the Curriculum
- writing planner
- Writing strategy
As an inclusion coach and consultant, upon a principal’s request, I arrived at a New Jersey school site last week to deliver a professional development session on the topic of co-teaching strategies. As a special educator, I arrived armed with my resources, AKA toys. You see a presenter who talks about using concrete materials has less effect than a person who allows others to see and hold the actual materials. In my rolled suitcase, topped with a another bag filled with fidget toys, I also brought books across the disciplines and grade levels to offer literacy, math, science, social studies, art, music, and social-emotional learning connections. Since I live in New Jersey, it is easier to throw one more of my favorite things into the car trunk, to invite the co-teachers to collaboratively divide and conquer. Like a girl scout, I was prepared with educational trinkets and of course the juxtaposition chocolates intended to make the activities more palatable, along with my laptop and dongle.
A kind woman held the door open and escorted me to the office to sign in. She pegged me as the presenter, and I introduced myself. She quietly mumbled her name and humbly added her title, “I’m just a teacher.” I immediately offered my take on this comment, by saying that is quite an understatement. “You are not just a teacher; you are a teacher!” My morning greeter, my new best friend, smiled as she juggled five bags filled with classroom supplies from home.
The audience of one hundred educators convened in a school cafeteria on this warm August day. The staff from three neighboring districts arrived at this central location. By the smiles on their faces, I never would have guessed that it was their first day back from summer vacation. The temperature in the room wasn’t the only warmth, but their reception and willingness to learn how to assist their learners with differences to succeed was the norm that was exuded by all this day. During one of the activities, I met up again with the kind woman who escorted me into the school. I shared with her that for many years I had the privilege of being a teacher at a local school district. She smiled when I asked her to always remember “You are not just a teacher, you are a teacher!”
Whether you are a general or special educator, nothing is better than meeting a new group of learners and leading them from shallow waters to increase their depth of knowledge. Together co-teachers are a powerful force for learners. I wish these co-teachers and all returning educators many successes as they forge ahead with their profession. I invite all of you to continue smiling and remember that you chose a profession that warrants pedestals and accolades as you support each other and your students. Kudos to all of you!
Communications from parents of students with Down syndrome (DS) prompted this blog post. Students with a label of DS possess different ages, genders, academic, social, and communicative levels, as well as varied likes and dislikes; hence each student is unique. We cannot allow the common denominator of DS to reduce learners’ abilities to succeed in school and ultimately in life. It is okay to reduce fractions, but it is never okay to reduce, limit, or cap an individual’s potential to learn with preconceived notions that ignore how evidence-based practices apply to learners with chromosomal differences.
A parent of an 11-yr old who has Down syndrome shared that his daughter has significant speech challenges – especially expressive; but has relatively strong cognitive skills and social awareness. She is currently educated in a 4th grade inclusion class in a public school, but as communicated by her parent the teachers are unwilling and unable to fully include her appropriately. They recommend that she is educated in a class alongside students with autism. She is about three years behind the class in academics like reading and writing. The parents of a kindergarten student were told by school personnel that their daughter cannot be included in the GE math class because she only received a 78% on a math assessment, which was 2 percentile levels below the 80% mastery required. Another family of an elementary level girl with Down syndrome requested that their daughter is included for more subjects than science and social studies. Some of you reading this post have had experiences with districts across the country and world who view students with Down syndrome as challenging to teach in the gen. ed classroom, while others have been part of school districts who challenge learners and never cap their potential.
Each child is unique, whether or not he or she has a labeled difference. All learners have strengths, those with dyslexia, autism, Down syndrome, emotional, social, behavioral, physical, or learning difference. Neurodiversity values difference as a competitive advantage with opportunities to challenge-not cure or pigeon-hole individuals. We need not sacrifice our curriculum goals and standards, nor redefine the definition of quality work, but we as a profession do need to rethink how learners with different starting levels can learn side-by-side with grade level peers who will one day be co-workers and neighbors who offer advice, smiles, and perhaps a cup of sugar.
Multi-tiered systems of support provide the responsive-never generic interventions that allow educators and students to navigate the core curriculum. How to increase inclusive experiences is never an exact formula, but determining the general education classroom setting/placement as a student’s least restrictive environment (LRE), with the specially designed instruction need not be viewed as a challenging task. Inclusion principles are basically good teaching practices for learners of all levels.
Academic gaps exist, but so do the practices that figure out how to include learners beyond their labels. A student who has an extra chromosome, different way of seeing, hearing, communicating, moving, or learning is able to achieve excellent outcomes when the environment is structured to welcome, embrace, and appropriately include learners to honor their current levels, with an eye on how future advancements are accomplished. Grade level peers are never defined as competitors, but need to be viewed as collaborators and life long partners. Here are a few thoughts about inclusion that highlight specifics that need to live and breathe in each environment.
Bottom line-InclusionRules-Figure_15.1-now let’s collaboratively figure out how to make that happen in each and every school for each and EVERY child.
When you flip a coin, there is a 50% chance of it landing on heads up and a 50% chance of it landing tails up. Life, a tossed coin with legs, is even less probable. Often, we do not toss the coin, but deal with situations tossed our way. This happened on September 11, 2001, when many people’s lives changed and the world became an even less predictable place to live. It also happens when a mom or dad embraces his or her child with autism, when that’s not the diagnosis they expected for a child.
Come From Away, a show on Broadway written by Rene Sankoff and David Hein, tells of the events that September day and how two countries supported each other’s citizens. A nightmare was flipped to highlight that the obverse side of an evil coin is kindness. What is even better is that the audience of people who I was lucky enough to join to watch this brilliant spin on a tragic day was people with autism and their families. Theatre Development Fund (TDF) offers “autism friendly” performances.
Even though, one may inherit some “coins’ tosses,” one can still choose one’s attitude. Sometimes that is the only card you play. This performance of the show offered less sensory elements and accommodations, such as weighted blankets, fidget toys, and headphones. Come From Away was a brilliant selection that also highlighted how we make a difference in each other’s lives to come together. Heads or tails- sometimes doesn’t matter. The result that does matter is to expect the best in all of us. Being included means embracing everyone everywhere, no matter where a plane lands or what a diagnosis reveals. Life is more than small change. We are all valuable players.
My heart and prayers are sent to our Texas colleagues as they begin their school year. As an inclusion consultant in Victoria, Bloomington, Edna, and Corpus Christi, I have personally witnessed the steadfastness, compassion, resourcefulness, and intelligence of my Texas friends. Harvey cannot deter education from moving forward. Regions like Victoria Independent School District (VISD) have a new motto-Every Child, Every Classroom, Every Day, #TexasStrong, #VictoriaStrong.
Strength includes more than physical power, but intellectual and moral fortitude as well. Mother Nature injured the Texas terrain, affected many people’s homes, and created both financial and emotional havoc. However, in the long haul, Harvey is no match for Texans. Administrators, educators, related school staff, and kind people in Texas and other states in our nation, and across the world, demonstrated that together we are stronger. The proverb-“One beam does not support a house,” rings loud and clearly. Collaboration will allow the 2017-18 school year to teach our students a lesson on how adversity, strengthens our resolve. The world applauds and supports you as you move forward to assist every child in every classroom. Bless you my Texas friends!
Toby J. Karten, Inclusion Consultant
What I miss most about not being exclusively attached to one school building- is-yes you guessed it-the students. New slates, like that fresh box of Crayolas with the sharpener of course(ok-I am dating myself), allow educators to engage with a rainbow of students. Each learner has his or her hue, pigment, and shade of strengths and interests. We as educators have the ability and responsibility to help our learners to create a variety of portraits, landscapes, and infinite compositions in our school year and ultimately in life. There is no better feeling than the first day of school, when eyes meet eyes and then as the year continues-minds meet minds. So, my colleagues across the country-enjoy the new beginnings!
Developing Effective Learners: RTI Strategies for Student Success
Designs, minds, muscles, flowers, ideas, strength, countries, strategies, and plans develop. An artist learns to rework a sketch, a mind is strengthened with engaging instruction, a weak muscle is exercised, a flower is watered, and a country follows rules. Strategies and plans change course over time and circumstances. The same holds true for our learners. Students do not enter kindergarten or graduate from high school with identical literacy, mathematics, and behavioral skills. These acumens vary and develop over time.
Vigilance, screening, multi-tiered instruction, and ongoing assessment determine the responsive intervention plans that develop learners’ proficiencies. Engaging lessons reach and teach students where they are and where they need to be. Humor, games, poetry, stories, multisensory instruction, modeling, and step-by-step collaborative approaches honor learner diversity.
Tiered instruction helps students develop their skills as readers, writers, and mathematicians. Sounds become letters, and words form sentences that compose paragraphs, essays, and novels. Before learners solve complex mathematical equations, they first count simple quantities. Cooperative play is preceded by parallel play.
As they saying goes, “good things come to those who wait,” but we can never have a “wait-and-see attitude” that passively watches students struggle. As educators, we share interventions and strategies that learners continually employ to achieve steady gains. The tortoise and hare are seated in the same classroom, but a lion of a teacher in a group or pride facilitates ongoing growth and develops each learner’s skills. Effective instructional approaches and the responsive interventions honor successful school and life outcomes.
Toby Karten, Vic’s Teacher-Then, Now & Forever
Being a student’s teacher has no finish line. It doesn’t start in the beginning of the school year in August or September and end at the close of the term in May or June. Being a teacher begins when you first meet a student and then continues for the rest of your life.
It was an exhausting year and it was only May. Emotional and professional events pitched my way were handled with many home runs, while a few happenings inherited were less than desirable ones-with no way to hit it out of the park. Life has a way of twisting and turning but it also has a way of happening.
On my to do list was to organize my office. The piles were just beyond control. With a few publications and professional traveling engagements completed, it was now time to look at the aftermath of the nonstop work. I took myself to Home Goods to buy some canvas bins to organize a few of the items in my office. In my mind, placing them in a pretty container was better than looking at random toppling piles. My husband and I were considering moving and selling our house in the near future. The clutter would not be appealing to potential homebuyers.
I walked into Home Goods and there I saw a former student from over a decade ago. He looked at me; I looked at him.
“Hi, Mrs. Karten, how are you?”
“Hi Vic. All ok-just shopping-how are you?’”
“I am working, and I didn’t go to college. I never liked high school so why would I like college?”
I suggested to Vic that he try a few courses at a local community college. Vic shared-
“That’s what my grandma said I should do.”
He then asked me what I have been busy doing.
“ I’m no longer working at the school but I am still teaching at the University, traveling and doing a bit of other educational things to help teachers with their students, like writing and coaching.”
“Me, I am doing this job because I need the money. But one day maybe I’ll do business.”
“What about a management program, Vic?’
“My grandmother said that too.”
I asked Vic about his sister, who was also my student. Vic shared that she too is working in a local store. And then, Vic beamed that his youngest sister just got a job as a cashier in a deli. Vic, the older brother, shared that his little sister has to learn the value of making money.
I then straightened my teaching hat and asked-
“What would you like to do Vic?”
“I don’t know,” he said- “maybe business.”
“Well if that’s your intention then you know it takes time to make that happen and you have to go through the steps. You can’t blink your eyes and it will occur-one, two, three.”
‘That’s what my grandma said.”
“OK Vic now you have two people who like you who told you that it’s going to take time, but you have to put in the time and steps to make that happen.”
Vic then nodded his head and turned to me and said-
“ Happy shopping, Mrs. Karten.”
I then went about the store aisles and found a few differently sized neutral fabric bins to put files, legal pads, journals, and assorted workshop tools that I just could not part with over the years. I was quite a sight. I was walking around the store probably carrying too many things. I should have taken a shopping cart but a kind store manager who saw my overflowing arms brought one over.
I also bought a planter- it was the spring, time to move ahead. I then found myself on a long twisting check out line. I spotted Vic smiling at me. He was still on the floor putting away items on the shelves. Then his manager called him over to be an extra cashier. Next thing I knew Vic was checking me out instead of me checking him out.
“You look tired, Mrs. Karten.”
I then shared that unfortunately last week I had to put down our dog. Vic said that he had to do that too last year.
Vic and I were at different points of our lives, but somehow we reconnected and were able to share a few moments and a few thoughts. It seemed like it was yesterday, back in that reading lesson, when Vic was one of my students, almost ten years ago. I’d like to think that the moments we shared this week would help Vic to move forward. I told him that I would definitely see him again.
As I left the store to venture into the parking lot, I came across that same kind manager who gave me the wagon. I turned to him and said-
“ I suppose you get people who complain about things but I just wanted to tell you about the great service that I just received.”
He looked at me and I told him that the person’s name was Vic.
“If you’d like you could fill out an online form, because that would really help him a lot.”
So maybe I went to Home Goods to help myself or maybe I went to Home Goods because I needed to meet Vic to realize that life is not about the piles that we have or how we organize the piles but how we organize and connect with the people that are always a part of our lives.
Our students ground us. We are always a teacher. It does not end at the close of the school year, but relationships continue. The students that we meet stay in our hearts and maybe one day we serendipitously meet again and help each other as we go along that path called life. That night I filled out an online store survey about the professional, courteous, and personable service that I received.
Diminishing Barriers to Learning
Sneakers, planes, rockets, and boats. Getting from place to place happens with a structured itinerary, whether one is on foot, in the air, in space, or on water. Education, like navigation embraces the planning, collaboration, and knowledge. Early civilizations like the Minoans and Polynesians used the stars, wind, and ocean; Portuguese sailors also used astrolabes, and today’s modern navigators have access to all of those tools and resources, along with an array of digital ones. Despite a multitude of weather conditions, mindsets, and experiences, the navigation from place to place continues. Those of us in the field know that education is a journey that shifts and expands, however the core principles of both navigation and education value the people, tools, starting points and destinations, and the evidence-based practices. Propulsion, momentum, motivation, time, cost, and knowledge are a few variables. Barriers exist, but getting “stuck in the doldrums” is not an option in our educational waters. Navigating the Core Curriculum: RTI Strategies to Support Every Learner invites you to diminish learner barriers with a RTI process that circumnavigates the challenges.
The process need not be a complicated one, when step-by-step approaches are infused-
The key to pedagogically navigable waters includes responsive intervention that fine-tunes and individualizes the instructional practices to reach and teach each and every learner. Navigating the Core Curriculum includes K-12 lessons that offer multitiered systems of supports across the disciplines. The fact that some learners require stronger and more intensive interventions needs to be acknowledged and embraced. The identification of the literacy, mathematics, or behavioral levels begins the journey. The RTI process continues with the responsive instruction, student connections, staff engagements, and collaborative inquiry. Professional integrity to the students and practices propels the journey. The goal is to recognize, capitalize, and expand on each learner’s strengths. This resource offers staff applications that value collective responsibility, creativity, and critical thinking skills to reach students where they are and where they need to go. It takes several oarsmen for a vessel to safely navigate rough waters; some students require the same hands-on approach to stay afloat as they continue on their path to successful destinations.
I was honored to be interviewed by Sage Video to offer inclusive
insights. As a collective group of professionals, families, students, and communities, we need to propagate, catapult, and monitor the infusion and progression of the skills and knowledge for learners of all levels of disABILITY. Ultimately, inclusive school environments in turn lead to inclusive and collaborative societies that prepare each person to capitalize on his or her strengths. Each learner is one flower in a societal bouquet. In addition, as each flower has many petals, students are complex and diverse. Roses, tulips, daisies, lilies, orchids, and sunflowers are all flowers, but each one has its own characteristics and needs. As indicated by this video, each student is a flower, ready to bloom with the appropriate supports. However, rhetoric is just that; now let’s collaboratively “walk the inclusive talk.” Knowledge is malleable, so I invite your feedback- http://sk.sagepub.com/video/toby-karten-discusses-inclusive-teaching