Blogging Elluminate: Aligning Standards for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

25 Feb

I just finished an Elluminate session put on by our state DOE featuring Dr. Shawnee Wakeman from UNC Charlotte. You can see a copy of that session here. I was good and quiet…for at least the first half of it!

I’ve watched a few Elluminate recordings but this was my first live one. Well, my second if you count the one from yesterday which I showed up late to. It is definitely a cool medium but it also takes time to warm up to it. It also takes more concentration than just listening to a podcast or watching a video because ideally you’re supposed to react and participate. So there are some definite chat aspects to it. Sort of like Yahoo Chat with a Whiteboard and a lot less spam.

One complaint I have with Elluminate or at least the rendition of it that I experienced is that I would’ve liked to have seen profiles of other participants for reasons that I’ll get into in a moment. I did see and input my own profile into (including the URL to this blog). But I don’t think anyone else saw it.

Dr. Wakeman was the primary presenter and if you log in to get the Elluminate archived session, you will probably also get a copy of the power point. Today was day 2 of a 2 part presentation and if I would have been able to make more of that one I might have had less to say in the first one! I did manage to listen to a lot of it from the archive during my planning time (such that it is) and got up to speed. I also poked around her site to look at some of the other work her and her colleagues are doing. And I can’t find the link to it, but some of the work regarding different levels of intentional communication sort of resonated with me. A huge part of what we do with our students is trying to raise and harness the level and sophistication of that intentionality.

I won’t get into the entire presentation as there was a sizable portion at the beginning that went over and through me. I still had a room full of kids as we had buses that were running late. My paras are really good, but that late in the day everyone is just letting off steam. And sometimes the kids can get loud and restless, too! It was just difficult following along right then, which goes back to what I said about Elluminate requiring more sustained attention than I initially expected. With the recorded version, you can always pause it and come back. When it is “live,” if you snooze, you lose!

Once the students and paras were all gone and after the cleaning lady had buffed my floor with her diesel-powered buffer (LOUD), I was able to tune in. But I have to admit to taking more time to get turned on. This is where having profiles would have helped fill in a few blanks, such as the grade and instructional level that people taught. A lot of the material seemed to be pretty far above where my students live, and if it weren’t for me deciding early on that I wanted to try to blog, I might have left early. But I’m glad I stuck around. I thought Dr. Wakefield did a good job of hitting on some ideas for increasing the depth and breadth of knowledge during our instruction. And she did actually get to me on a couple of points (although I didn’t let her know it at the time) as far as continuing to do the same things over and over and over and over and over again.

Yeah, guilty. That’s me. I do have a kid who has been trying to identify his name from an array of 3 for 5 years. And still he can’t do it independently more than 30 percent of the time. HOWEVER, we did (FINALLY) get him to identify the penny, nickel, quarter and dime. After 5 years. And he’s counting to 5 after learning the numbers 1-5. So here’s the tough part; knowing when to quit. It took him 5 years (at least) to master those few skills. We’re extending to numbers 6-10 and deepening to counting other things but I could have just as easily given up 2 years ago once he finished his GAA. But I’m stubborn like that.

Is being stubborn an asset or a liability in this business? It probably depends on the quality of judgement. I’m still working on that part of it.

But as a high school teacher trying to do this with students who have severe and profound (mostly profound) cognitive disabilities there was still some distance between the expectation and what I see myself being able to do with a room full of students. Dr. Wakeman did sort of address that, which is about where I piped in because it was the first I was able to really get turned on to her material. I think if, as educators, we can succeed in jumping the enormous gap between a high school profound student and their grade level standard, doing it for the rest of the student population would be absolute gravy. Once we landed people on the moon, flying to Califronia or even China didn’t seem so difficult. Same thing, here. So my recommendation for future training would be to zero in on conquering that challenge: the distance between the most profound student and the highest grade-level standard. So much of the conversation on aligning standards seems to be akin to getting to California from Georgia when my kids are trying to get to there from the moon! Can they do it? Yeah, maybe with the same amount of time, intensity and resources as an Apollo moon mission. But no one is offering NASA-sized resources to my class at the moment. Perhaps I’m still thinking too small. I’m willing to try and think bigger and jump higher.

Anyway, it was a worthwhile presentation that was done well. I did come away with some new insight and not all of it was guilt! Perhaps doing more with less would improve future presentations, but only if there are other loudmouths like me in the room. It’s the participatory potential of Elluminate that can make the house rock. So thank you Dr. Wakeman, for virtually visiting us in Georgia!

By the way, I had no idea what a Dip Dog was either. So here you go!

Of course, I already had a lot of background in this material, thanks in large part to Dr. Toni Waylor-Bowen (she needs her own webpage) and her partner in crime at the time, Jessie Moreau. Dr. Bowen was the moderator of this session and everyone needs to give her kudos for being such a good (and patient) sport to some of my snarkiness. Regular readers know my feelings toward the GAA and she did a swell job of fielding my comments and questions. I might invite her to do a podcast or some sort of interview type of thing in the future to address some of those issues. As it was, we did sort of get into it toward the end of the Elluminate session which may or may not have made it more interesting. I think we could have gone on for some additional time, but at 5:00 most of us were ready to go home. Or use the bath. TMI but at least more truthful for me!

I think I might blog Dr. Bowen sometime separately later on, because she does have a good story, lots of experience and is totally willing to help and share.
So any and all, feel free to have at me in the comments!

8 Responses to “Blogging Elluminate: Aligning Standards for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities”

  1. Jane at 1:57 pm #

    Dan, I’m not a SPED teacher — just a teacher. And my question for you is, (aside from the GAA standards), what is the rationale for continuing to try to teach a student something that, even after 3 years, s/he can’t get more than 30% of the time (i.e. not better than random choice)? Will that child ever have a reason to be able to read her/his name? will it lead to more reading skills? why does this child need to learn how to recognize coins? will s/he ever be in a position where s/he needs to recognize the different money values? I’m not being sarcastic here — I’m for each child recieving intense instruction and repetitions to the “whatever it takes” level in order for them to master skills they’ll actually have a use for. But I’m not seeing that need here. What am I missing?

  2. kathy gump at 3:34 pm #

    Just my rationale for continuing: Before a student leaves me, I hope he can tell people his name, who his guardian is, and a phone number if he ever gets lost. That is the most important tool I can give a student for his life’s tool box.

    I sincerely believe that all my students need to be taught SOMEHOW to communicate who they are and how to request help in some simple, meaningful way. The rest is gravy.

  3. waitingfor60 at 11:27 am #

    Rational-I think most Sp. Ed teachers of those with significant disabilities want to see their students achieve as much as possible. As a K-5 teacher I push for as many basic skills including academics for my students because we really don’t know what they can learn. We are given students who have such unique learning styles and possibilities that to not try and push them to their limits would be a shame. I had a student in my room for 6 years (K-5) and it took all of those years to teach her to print her name. I was ready to give up when she was in 3rd grade and just do the stamp thing but her mother asked me to try for 1 more year and that was all it took. I have seen several of my students achieve more than what others (Doctors, previous teachers,psychologists) have thought they were capable of. A big part of the picture is having the parents willing, wanting and helping/pushing their child to learn. It is not a 6 hour job for these kids-its 24/7, in all environments and in the correct context.
    I have been working with this type of student for over 30 years and each student I get is a new and different puzzle. Its our job to try and find the solutions that will help them learn. I do not like the present GAA and see little point in it. If the state gave us a set of approved, appropriate activities that were functionally based for this population it might make more sense. My students are not gaining historical insight when studying about important figures in the American Revolution. Who is ever going to talk to them about it in depth? If their level of understanding is around that of a 3-5 year old how much do we really expect them to retain? I personally like history and have always included it in my lesson plans (President’s Day, etc.) but I have never expected my 4th grade students to “describe key individuals of the Am. Rev. …” I think that if by the end of the activity/unit they can name a person that we have talked about or done an activity on that that is a major accomplishment.
    Other than causing me to spend way too much time on inappropriate tasks the GAA does not give me or anyone any real information about that student and certainly does not show any learning continuum. The teacher sets up the activities-if I decide one year to do activities on graphing for one of the math sections but then the next year I decide that measurement is the best bet what have I shown for that student?
    I know this rambles-I’m delaying my real work for today-writing up GAA entries for the next 6 hours!

  4. Daniel Dage at 8:34 am #

    You’ve gotten a couple of dandy answers here, Jane, which might help put into perspective what we are called to do. You’re right, in that if we are going to teach something, it should be important since it can take thousands of trials for them to learn. For my part, the rationale behind name recognition is that if/when the kid lives in a group home they might be able to pick out his/her own stuff by recognizing the name that is written on it. Coins, numbers, letters, shapes…it’s fair to ask when these will become critical skills, if ever, for our students.

    Kathy, I was a bit frustrated last year when I discovered that my kids couldn’t pick out their own picture from a line up! So helping them learn who they are is a big deal. I have kind of given up on teaching addresses and phone numbers simply because it seems they change so often. It takes so long to teach and then they change. GAH!

    Thanks for rambling in Waitingfor60! There are some real veteran teachers coming through here! Anyone looking at the mess that is my lesson plan will see a bunch of things that are NOT on there, like personal information, name writing/identification and daily living skills. Those are all part of the daily routine, but not written on the lesson plan because the written plan is to satisfy the requirements of the state. We do talk about addition, presidents, conduction and convection and all sorts of things. We’re just finishing a unit study on Mexico! My students aren’t any worse off for it, simply because they are not going to attend to any single thing for hours at a time. So we have a bunch of different things incorporated into our day, and academics are a big part of it. I agree that the GAA is a waste as an assessment, and efforts to fit our kids into the standard curriculum makes that curriculum as much of a joke as the efforts to measure it. We really have not found a good way to measure achievement for students with severe and multiple disabilities.

  5. Jane at 10:35 am #

    Thanks, Kathy Gump, Waitingfor60, and Dan. I do see the reason to keep trying on the issue of recognizing one’s written name now. On some of the other stuff, though, it does seem to me that “opportunity cost” is at issue. In the sense that, if lots of time is spent on topics/skills where results are minimal, that might be time that could be spent on other stuff where results are better. Of course, if there are no or few topics/skills where results are good, then less is being lost. My friend who has a child with SID spent much time trying to teach her academic skills, and hounded the school to do the same. At the end (child is now 22), she wished they had spent more time on life skills, etc.

  6. Trudi at 9:33 pm #

    Hi, had to introduce myself. I just finished our alternated assessment for special needs students. I teach middle school students in the moderate to severe range. The state testing has pros and cons. It’s pushed me to teach more. Some rise to the challenge other’s do not. As for when to give up… The kids give me some of those answers. I also revisit thing at time to mix things up. My step son learned to tie his shoes at 24. I was huge for us as a family. These kiddos are always learning, just not at the rate we may hope. Please stop by and see me. I’d write more but I just took an one line test on Autism. My brain is done with special ed. for right now.

  7. Trudi at 9:34 pm #

    Please excuse my typos. Yikes.


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