More GAA Tips and Tricks

2 Oct

 When you all went through your Georgia alternate Assessment (GAA) training, you may have encountered a slide that looked something like this:

What is a prerequisite skill

  • In order for an instructional task to align as a prerequisite skill, it must address the specific aspects of the element.
    • In the case of this standard/element, the prerequisite skill would have to somehow address the concept of variables or missing values.
    • Although mathematical symbols are often associated with algebra, it is not necessary to be able to use or identify them in order to be able to solve for a variable.
  • For most students with significant cognitive disabilities, it may never be meaningful, purposeful, or attainable to solve higher grade-level algebraic equations that require the understanding of mathematical symbols.
  • But they can do Algebra

The bold, italicized part is what I’d like to direct your attention to.  You can see the full Power Point here, and this happens to be from slide #20.  And that last statement is pretty funny just by itself.  “But they can do Algebra.” 

B.F. Skinner taught pigeons to play ping pong, so it shouldn’t be surprising that most students with severe cognative disabilities could learn a bit of algebra.  But even Skinner realized that teaching pigeons to do tricks like this wasn’t particularly useful.  If teaching these kids to do Algebra is not purposeful or meaningful, just exactly why are we spending ungodly amounts of money trying to do it and then showing that we did it?  At least the pigeons are entertaining!    Kids aren’t pigeons and when it takes hundreds and possibly thousands of trials to teach the simplest of tasks, it stands to reason that the best use of limited time and resources would be spent on teaching tasks that are purposeful, meaningful and attainable.  But that is our government at work.

So I have developed a bit of a template for choosing tasks for the GAA, and once I got in the groove, it made the experience a lot less traumatic for me and the students.  What it involved was looking at how I was going to show improvement between collection period #1 and collection period #2.  Since the entire GAA lasts less than 6 months (plus there’s a lot of breaks in between) there is little chance that a student will master a grade level task in that amount of time, especially at the high school level.  Progress might occur, but I have students that still can not recognize their name or their own face after 15+ years of instruction.  Let’s be realistic.

Fortunately there are many ways to show progress, and by employing a simple strategy you can do it and still keep most of your hair.

– Decreasing the prompt level: getting the student to accomplish a task more independently is progress.  In collection period #1, the bar is set relatively low.  you are introducing the standard, topic, and prerequisite skill to them.  This task will not necessarily differ from how their peers are introduced to a new topic. You are going to present something to them or have them read it.  Since our kids can’t read, you can read it to them.  Or you can show a video, movie or presentation on the topic.  The interaction the student has with the topic will look pretty minimal.  Like their regular peers, they are vessels being passively filed with knowledge and wisdom.  You could show a student the movie Tom Sawyer and document the student watching it.  Note the student’s attention level, interest, mood and any reactions they make to the movie or story.  Maybe get them to point to the screen.  Take pictures.  This is task one.

Task two might be looking at flashcards or working with the vocabulary of the topic.  Almost everey subject involves new vocabulary, so this is an easy one.  You can put the new words on a voice output device and have them practice “saying” the words.  Include lots of prompting and document that prompting level.  At this initial stage, there should be lots of it.  Take notes and take pictures.

I do use mostly pictures, but occasionally go into audio and video to document what I do.  I take tons of pictures and video.  In order to document a single task with a series of 4-5 pictures, I will take hundredsof shots…of each student.  Even students not taking the GAA are going to get in on the photo shoot.  While GAA spurs me on to do this, I make it worth my while by puting together big slide show productions for parents and these are video presentations my kids really like watching.  But the point is, is that you really need to have a ton of documentation in order to pick and choose the best.  Often, I’ll do video, sound and photos at the exact same time and then pick which one I like best later.  The point is that you want the flexibility that comes with having choices.  My first year, I didn’t have enough choices for my evidence and the only ones I had were lousy.  So now I start collecting early and I collect all the time with the goal of getting the right sort of documentation that looks the best.

Collection period #1 is a set up for collection period #2.  I know exactly what we’re doing for collection period #2 before I even finish #1.  In the first period, the bar is intentionally low and more realistically mirrors the experience they would get in a typical classroom.  I deliberately keep things low tech and the involvement low with high prompting levels and rates.  In collection period #2, it’s time to pull out all the stops and get that student interacting with the material as much as possible in the best way possible.  This is where I bring out all of my high tech adaptive technology.  Now the student can read independently using his/her switches.  They can read an adaptation of stories and textbook using a switch and having the material on a power point.  The student might even be able to presenta power point to a class!  I’ll use my voice output devices and Intellikeys and whatever else I can get to bring the student more fully into the content.  This second collection period is also when I generalize outside of my classroom and into the general ed. setting and into the comunity.  Get them listening and speaking with other people nd you have this part of the GAA covered.  So a task for this period involves reading more indepently, speaking with others and doing more manipulating.  A second task will involve some sort of test or quiz for mastery.  This can be identifying characters, elements, figures, historical people or whatever from an array of 2 or three.  Again, I’ll use some technology like a switch to enable the student to complete this as independently as possible. 

If you work on this on an ongoing basis for the rest of the semester, you can really make things less painful for you later on.  That is, DO NOT procrastinate!  You can wait on filling out entry sheets, but you need to be collecting something pretty much every single day from now until Thanksgiving.  Then between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you are just putting the portfolios together.  Keep a planning sheet on each child and check off each task/subject as you complete it. 

A lot of the training you get regarding the GAA is all about the regulations and format of it, without getting into details on how exactly you’re going to make this work.  That’s because the people who come up with this stuff don’t really know.  All they know is that they can do Algebra.  gaa-blank-planning-sheet 

I already have the ELA tasks pretty well nailed down, and have a good start on my math tasks.  For science I want to do states of matter, but how to you graphically represent “gas”?  Boardmaker doesn’t have anything so I’m going to have to either make up my own or find a different standard.  Any ideas?

Good luck!


One Response to “More GAA Tips and Tricks”

  1. special ed at 1:32 pm #

    We are learning how to write IEPs and how to assess students. I followed a lot of what you wrote about. It helps me to see what teachers do in the real world of teaching. My teachers says “figure out how you are going to show increase skill, and mastery” and I thought, well how are you supposed to do that if your student has sever cognitive disabilities. So I see that these problems do arise and that I should probably already be thinking of how to write my IEPs and assessing my students.

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