Monday, November 30, 2020

Elementary School Pandemic Hothouse

I don't know how to talk about the month (only one month) that I spent teaching art in an elementary school during the pandemic. I started, and I left, out of necessity. The first, being willing to work physically in the schools, I volunteered to do because I love to teach, and, as a recently divorced single mother, I needed a job. The reason I left is more complicated. 

image copyright Julia Gandrud 2020

How to explain the hothouse of love and fear in that literally brick and mortar building? The red alertness on the faces of staff, the fatigue so deep that many adults ran on electricity only? The grief, joy, love, gratitude, rage, abandonment in the words and actions of the beautiful kids? They were the sun, even at their worst. And there was some astoundingly bad behavior... even then, those children were beautiful. My heart breaks, thinking of them, as individuals and as a group, knowing that I abandoned them, in the end. 

As I said, I'm a single mother and have my own kids most of the school year. After only a few weeks of teaching, I was sent home because of close contact exposure (a student who regularly ran around the room, joking and laughing during lunches, mask down, unable to absorb the weirdness of not being able to be a normal kid). 

Wouldn't you know it? During that week, I got a rash. It was so bad that my eyes swelled nearly shut. It was so bad that I couldn't sit still for the itching. I called in for a telehealth session. That nurse wanted me to go to urgent care. Urgent care wouldn't see me because I was on close contact quarantine. They sent me to the emergency room... which was overflowing. Again, I had two kids at home, alone, during this. I couldn't risk wading past the COVID tents (yes, there were those) to wait in the emergency room, then get treated, for the rest of the day.

I went home. I did not get treated. Luckily for me, I have a friend eleven hours away who is a dermatologist. She could do trial and error treatment with me via text and photos, calling in prescriptions. A few weeks later, I still have itches – it was likely poison ivy, not impetigo or the other horrible disease the nurse first thought.

I have had cancer twice – well, three times if you count the minor skin cancer – and can't play around. I chose to quit. 

I cried as I wrote the letter to the principal. I felt depressed for days after. My heart breaks, hoping those kids are happy with whoever replaced me. I hope that person is brilliant and strong. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

One day, I will outgrow my fourth grade ostracism

 When I was a little girl, I had two friends who sometimes fought, and often gossiped. In a fourth grade school yard tussle, Angel Heineschewitz accused Donna of grabbing her, pinching her, in the middle of a fighting huddle. I was a bystander, so Donna asked me, “Did you see my hand in there?”

“I don't know,” I answered honestly. Donna never forgave me.

The thing is, she had reason. Donna was the only black girl at school. I should have been able to say if her hand had been there or not. But I didn't see.

Donna started spreading rumors about me – that I'd been mean to her cousin, on the bus. I'd never met her cousin. She orchestrated a mass excommunication from the fourth grade girls friends circles. It wasn't until months, maybe a year, later, that I confronted her. “You know that I never said anything to your cousin, don't you?” I asked. 

“I know,” she answered. Matter of fact. 

            Julia Gandrud 2020. Use with permission only

Now, as a newly divorced woman with a hostile ex, I am afraid of the same thing. He is charismatic, and I am not. He is friendly, and I am crabby. Whenever one of our mutual friends doesn't respond to me, I fear the worst. 

I'm trying to remind me of the following rule: 

How do you know that your friends are your friends? 

Because they are there. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"Comply With Directives": Race and Special Education

As I read Rachel Aviv's 2018 article (Georgia’s Separate and Unequal Special-Education System: A statewide network of schools for disabled students has trapped black children in neglect and isolation) about special education being wielded as a racist, Jim Crow like cudgel against black boys, I'm reminded of a story of an acquaintance of mine. 

My friend is white, and was teaching in a school of privileged white children, maybe six years old. Still, she had been begging for help with one child who was biting and hitting others. She got no help. One day, after an already tough morning, complete with difficult interactions with a parent, she snapped, and tied the boy's hands together. She got fired. 

But, like the teacher in Aviv's article who ended up in prison, she had never received the support and guidance she'd been pleading for up until the incident.

Weird punishments, and physical violence, are not excusable. But neither is institutional negligence, leaving teachers to be alone in the responsibility for young people who need more. If the children need more help, so do the adults – maybe we can call that a general rule of education. 

This problem of not caring enough for (and paying enough) our teachers is compounded, exponentially, when put in face of America's institutional racism. From the article:

I just felt like these students, especially the black boys, were put there, basically, because they intimidated their teachers.” Melissa Williams-Brown

It became a way to filter out black boys, who at younger and younger ages are perceived to have behavioral disabilities,” Leslie Lipson, a lawyer at the Georgia Advocacy Office said.

According to Beth Ferri, a disability scholar at Syracuse University, IDEA provided a kind of loophole to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in schools. Now racial segregation continued “under the guise of ‘disability,’ ” she said. 

Likewise, the origin of the public school system, as a tool to create good workers who will follow directions, and not read or think independently, is multiplied in this situation. From the article:

Latoya said that, when she walked into her son’s class, “I did not see one white child. All I saw was black boys.” Seth’s “target behavior,” according to the center’s intervention plan, was to “comply with adult directives.”

* * * *

When is being labeled as in need of special education a harm to the student? My brother was mislabled autistic (not even remotely close...) and it meant that none of the teachers bothered to teach him. For my son, on the other hand, I've had to fight for the dyslexic label, just so he gets any of the extra assistance he needs. Otherwise, the teachers were more than happy to let a child California lables “gifted” skim by in the lower third of the class.

I am white, and sound traditionally educated. How much harder is that question when you are black or brown, or don't talk the same way the teachers and administrators do? 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: The Serpent of Essex by Sarah Perry

The Serpent of Essex 

A beautiful book, it rolls like the tides, but sluggishly, as though the Victorian vocabulary and style create resistent brackish. With sensitivity to all kinds of clashing and melding personalities, The Serpent of Essex follows a nineteenth century widow and her milieu through London and Essex. The characters were tender and terrible, from Luke Garrett and his love and loathing of Cora, mixed with an untempered glee in radical surgery, to Martha with her qualms about using an admirer to further the causes of the poor Londoners who she truly loves. 

It's the main character, Cora Seaborne, who shines brightest. A survivor of systematic abuse over more than a decade at the hands of her husband (complex post traumatic stress), she is freed by his death. The joy in that freedom she finds wrong, but celebrates it, and ignites everyone with her love of life.

When Cora turns away the advances of Luke Garrett in a decisive way, it felt like a tragedy of cptsd that what she takes from this, his narcissistic loathing of her for expressing what was true, is that she is wrong to affect people this way. That Martha espouses, harshly, the sentiment that Cora ties people to her – though she never made anyone obliged to her or dependent on her – seems cruel, but it is even crueler to let the story run out as though this were true. Why does Cora have to end up alone, with her things and her paintings, with even her son away at boarding school? It's because that is the fear of all survivors of complex ptsd: my desires hurt others (even though they don't, maybe only contradicting them) and I don't deserve love and companionship (which is why so many homeless people are survivors of childhood neglect or abuse.)

Please, let Cora have that light she shines. If she draws people to her, that's no crime. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Week 6 Study skills, aids and accommodations

Weeks 6 Summary
University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International

The focus of week 6 is to supply more suggestions for study skills, aids, and accommodations. Most of the accommodations were reiterated from earlier weeks' lessons:
  • extra time
  • bigger font size, sans serif
  • computer usage when possible
  • give definitions and teach spelling of discipline specific vocabulary
  • print on one side of the paper only (not two sided)
  • don't take marks off for spelling 
  • spelling tests can be limited to words the child thinks she has memorized
  • questions can be read aloud, if the reading itself isn't what you are evaluating
  • evaluate only one aspect of the writing assignments, where possible (punctuation, content, syntax, grammar)
  • be tolerant of digit reversal in mathematics
  • give dyslexic child a summary with a few key words omitted while other children are writing down the summary
  • celebrate the child's progress
  • celebrate child's strengths in other domains (3D spatial thinking, for example) 
  • remember the above average fatigue, and the visual stress, the child feels 

Apps and website recommendations:
Reading Rockets,
Mind manager by mind jet
A text to speech toolbar called the ATbar
Evernote, which allows for synchronizing meetings, notes, post-its, etc
Trello, which is a project management tool for collaboration and delegation
About improving reading comprehension, Dr Jenny Thomson had the following recommendations: 
  • Talk around the subject first (pre-reading)
  • Rehearse challenging words (previewing)
  • Physically adapt the text to improve readability 
  • Separate into readable chunks
  • Allow for some reading from another person, device, or audiobook for portions of the work 
Improving writing tasks can be more challenging, according to Dr Thomson, in part because less research has been focused on this area.

In the pre-writing stage, there is a program called Kidspiration, a kind of picture mind map.

Google Chrome's speech to text function in Google docs for the actual writing stage, when vocalizing is an option. 

Alternatively, Dragon Naturally Speaking is a popular program, and has been improving over the decades.

For writing out, Dr Thomson suggests text expanders, such as Phrase Express, LetMeType, and Texter.

Here's a device I would dearly have loved as a college student: a livescribe digital pen. It records audio as you write, and also digitizes your handwriting. I missed so much in lectures simply from falling behind that this would have been a real help. Unfortunately, it seems not to be totally ready for market – with features no longer supported, and other glitches. It's still being sold, of course :)

As for spelling, Dr Thomson recommends Ginger. This tool can check your spelling based on context – converting “there” to “they're” where appropriate, for example. It also has a grammar feature.

Help in remembering what tone to take for which audience can be found from Grammarly, which also performs many of the same functions as Ginger.

Dr Thomson addresses memory as a complicating issue for students with dyslexia or other dys constellation issues. She emphasizes the need for “over learning”, or simply reinforcing many more times whatever the concept or spelling task is. 

One way to do that is through cross course collaboration, so vocabulary words and various concepts get reinforced Monday through Friday across disciplines. Using a combination of auditory and visual backup is ideal.

Students need to be encouraged at every stage to use metacognition. For example, they can ask themselves, “How long is the chunk of reading I am most likely to retain? Under what circumstances does this faculty become stronger or weaker?”

If a student is having difficulty comprehending, perhaps you have given those students a square of felt they can put out on their desks as a visual cue that they may need your help, rather than requiring them always to have their hand in the air. Different colors could have different meanings.

Orienting herself in time and space can be common difficulties in any of the dys constellation. Creating timetables with the student, using multiple colors and even images, can help this. This activity should be done at school with teachers, and at home with parents. These tables and maps should be visible, in locker doors and on walls. 

A check-in time with a particular teacher, perhaps at the end of the school day, can keep everything in line, and not going haywire. 

Week 5 More on Practical teaching approaches

Friday, November 22, 2019

Week 5 More on Practical teaching approaches

Weeks 5 Summary: More on Practical teaching approaches

University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International

This week, Dr Goetry demonstrated the multisensory teaching of reading in classrooms, assessing phonological awareness via genration, substitution, concatination [and five others which are...], helping students with comprehension an d compostiong. His students appeared to be first graders, and the class ran through a number of exercises. First, they touched letters while blindfolded, trying to sound out the word presented with them. In the next lesson, they used legos or checkers or other counters to count out syllables: three for “kangaroo”, etc. Or, they put a hand below their jaws, and counted out the number of times that their jaws hit the top of their hands for “go ril la”. Then they clapped out “a lli ga tor. Next, they were given a list of words on paper, took a pencil, and drew a horizontal line after each syllable. For any student who had difficulty, Dr Goetry put down his thumb to hide the rest of the word after each syllable. 

In the following lesson, the children are given the 26 letters, which they arrange as an alphabetical rainbow. They put on blindfolds, and each child is given a letter from their arc. The children together need to put together their word. When they put away their letters, they are given special instructions: “put away every third letter.”

Dr Goetry demonstrated a puppet centric way of teaching onset and rime. His puppet's name was “Blap”, and he came with a story: “Blap comes from a planet far away, and he is very scared. Every word on that planet ends with the 'ap' rime, so let's see if we can help him feel more relaxed by giving him familiar words. What real or imaginary words end with /ap/?” When the children provided “sap, clap, nap, gap, map, tap, flap, fap, cap, tap,” Dr Goetry said Blap was feeling better, not trembling anymore.

Then, still with the hand puppet, and using the counters, Dr Goetry had the puppet try to speak English, and offered up the word “opet”. He asked how many counters, one for each sound, the kids counted – 4. Then the kids were advised to take away one of the counter/sounds to make a real English word. Blap added “flove”, and “fishay” to the list.

Next, moving on to substitution, Blap wanted the kids to correct “fex” (four sounds) and “gup” to be “fox” and “gap”.
Dr Goetry explained to the Coursera course followers the concept of “co-articulation”, emphasizing that the pauses between words are made in the mind of the listener trying to separate out the words, not in the mouth of the speaker.
Then he moved onto another puppet task, focused on concatenation. This time, the puppet, Ming, is very shy, and she says words bit by bit. The students are asked to put the words together. “Sis” “ter” – and the children say “sister”. The students do the same for “pi” “lot” and “con” “tact”. Then, moving on just to simple phonemes, Ming may say “mm” “oo” “n” for “moon”, or “s” “t” “ep”. Dr Goetry recommends that the teacher prerecords the prompts, preferably using someone else's voice, to allow for allophonic variation. If you manage to do this, you will say that this is Ming's voice, and that she was too shy to speak in person. During the Ming lesson, the students worked on segmentation, substitution, initialisms, and deletion.

The different methods of improving reading instruction that Dr Goetry demonstrated illustrated four modalities of multisensory teaching: auditory, visual, oral-kinaesthetic, and manual-kinaesthetic.

Reading or spelling should not happen unless the child has already been set up with multisensory grapheme to phoneme introductions. Phoneme-grapheme correspondences should all have been seen before with multisensory techniques. An important concern in reading, spelling, comprehension, and composition is to give children their own tools of self assessment and correction, rather than being the yourself the one to get out the red pen, saying, “No, this is wrong.” Instead of taking their work away, and then correcting it, there are alternatives. For example, with a spelling test, the teacher can give the correct spelling at the end, so the student can look at what she has done, then go back to compare and correct. “I can tell you that most dyslexic children are able to spot their mistakes, so this is a very powerful tool,” says Dr Goetry. It also prevents the student's being marked as a poor student. From my own experience, and that of my child's, I can say that fear of being the weakest link, stupider than others, figured large in our academics.

As Dr Goetry points out, reinforcing self-confidence can also improve internal, intrinsic motivation, while external correction in an already weak area only hinders the effectiveness of extrinsic motivation. Allowing the child to find and correct her own mistakes promotes autonomy.
An effective approach is in grouping words into families. Dyslexic children will often miss similarities, unless explicitly taught them. For example, in the I-G-H-T family are the members fight, right, flight, night, might, sight, knight, light, bright. The ideal approach is to use color coding for these families. The same approach can be used for onsets, such as “sp” of spell, spun, speech, spoke, and “ing” words such as spring, string, frowning.

Dr. Goetry recommends teaching children to cross out silent letters, and work with the remaining grapheme-phoneme correspondences. In the example “said”, there are still two regular phonemes: “s” and “d”.

5.11 Multisensory techniques for reading and spelling Dr Goetry

Cursive script is a discipline that goes in and out of favor for young children, but Dr Goetry emphasizes its usefulness for students with dyslexia. Every time the pencil is lifted from the paper, he says, is an opportunity for the brain to skip, or reorder, or lose track, while cursive writing is continuous. Dr Goetry demonstrates his way of teaching American D'Nealian cursive script, using four differently colored lines as guides for the words, with bottom being red for the center of the Earth, then brown for the soil, green for grass, and a blue line for sky above them all.

In the learning of new words, Dr Goetry proposes the following: teacher says the word, student repeats, student names the letters of the word, then names again the words as she writes the word in cursive. Then you show the word, and the pupil checks whether or not she is correct. This uses all four sensory modalities: oral- kinaesthetic, manual-kinaesthetic, auditory, and visual.

Any time we can, teachers are encouraged to record the student's voice for themselves, because this has been shown to be a powerful memorization tool. Other memorization methods include using acrostic mnemonics, such as Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants to remember how to spell “because”, or Silly Aiden Is Dancing for “said”. Or, in order to remember how many c's and s's in necessary: “It is necessary to have a shirt with one Collar and two Sleeves.”

5.12 and 5.13 Dr Jenny Thomson discussed Comprehension methods. She talked about prereading, using the KWL framework – the thing you Know, What you Want to know, and what have you Learned? 14 point font, and sans serif such as Arial and Open Dyslexic, increased letter spacing, and double lines can all help with easier reading. A way to test comprehension is to cut up chunks of text, and ask the child to put them back together. Another simple strategy is to ask the student: who is involved? What are they doing? Where are they? How did the story resolve?

For some people with dyslexia, it can help comprehension to try explicitly to visualize the who, the where, and the what. Try this first with very short scenes.

Mind maps, such as those on the Tony Buzan website, can be used to help comprehension. (A slightly overstated intro to mind mapping can be seen here and a very inspiring version with school children can be seen here ) “They come from families where they've learned not to pay attention, because paying attention can be quite painful.” - Tony Buzan

Dr Jenny Thomson addressed ways to assist people with dyslexia in their compositions. She reminds us that dysgraphia could be graphomotor issues that make composition physically a great effort.

The pre-composition scaffolding strategies she recommends include asking students about key words, asking them if they know what they are expected to produce. Do they need to explain something? Discuss something? The words “discuss” and “explain” sound similar to students, and they don't always know exactly what's expected. Individuals can be asked who they are addressing, to determine whether they need formal language, or if a more colloquial style is appropriate.

Dr Thomson directs us to Karen Harris and Steve Graham for research on self-regulation strategies, (book and article) such as MAPS: Meaning, Agreement (grammatical), Punctuation, Spelling.
Dr Thomson also offers up a critique that too many writing tasks are not authentic, which makes the amount of effort students are asked to expend on the work feel not worth it to individuals who have difficulty. Above all, we should ask ourselves if another mode of communication could be used, such as a presentation, illustration, video, or simply use a speech to text program.

One of the mechanical domains of writing is spelling, and here there are several strategies. SOS stands for: simultaneous oral spelling. LCWC is: Look Cover Write Check.

Week 4 Practical teaching approaches

Week 6 Study skills, aids and accommodations

Week 4 Practical teaching approaches

Weeks 4 Summary
University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International

As Dr. Goetry laid out early in this week, the opacity of the language matters. In 2003, Seymour and research collaborators compared reading acquisition in European first graders across 15 different languages, and the results were as follows: 34% of English speaking children can read words and pseudowords correctly. In French, it was 79%, Italian 95%, and German 97%.

Not surprisingly, children taught with the phonics method did 20% better than those taught with the “whole word” method. He references the studies that show that “whole word”, or the global method, is more successful in higher socioeconomic strata, while no such difference in success rates exists for phonics methods.

Dr. Goetry spent a lot of this week discussing effective teaching of reading. He gave the following requirements for effective teaching: it must be structured, multisensory, phonics based, and metacognitive. In addition, repetition is mandatory, at every stage. “You say what you are going to say, you say it, and then you say what you just said three times in a different way.”

Dr. Goetry recommended something very similar to the Orton Gillingham method, and discussed the four modalities: [which are?] the oral-kinaesthetic modality (feeling what is happening in her throat and mouth when pronouncing the words and sounds); [next modality?] manual-kinaesthetic modality (feeling, muscular movement which the child makes when drawing, or tracing letters and words). I was motivated to bring a long box of lentils to the next tutoring session, for my student to write words into.

One of the primary goals is for the child to be conscious of, and able to manipulate, phonemes, rimes, onsets, and syllables, and able to break up a spoken word into those parts.

Stress and self doubt can make assessment more challenging. It's helpful to ask, “How did you reach the correct answer?”

Dr Thomson lectured on the distinct vocabulary challenges posed in other courses, such as science and history. She encourages teachers to be aware that students with dyslexia might need more repetition of those terms, more exposure to them – on walls, in other places. She recommends allowing students to submit visual journals and videos rather than written reports.

Dr Thomson addresses deficits in oral language in some children, so that they may not be understanding the meaning of the words in the phonics program, which depresses their ability to learn.

Dr Goetry proposes different ways to improve comprehension through visual presentation of information, including bigger fonts, and sans serif fonts. He reminds teachers that dyslexic children may reverse numbers and dates, and teachers should not penalize them for that. Simplified syntax helps, avoiding embedded sentences [what are those?] He recommends mind maps for history and other topics. Any time mathematics is required, allowing dyslexic learners to keep multiplication tables next to them is useful, because the multiplication table is very difficult for dyslexic learners to memorize.

Week 3 “Co-morbidity”, and psychological and social aspects

Week 5 More on Practical teaching approaches