Monday, October 17, 2011

Just Sayin'...

Recently, I have repeatedly stumbled across the idea of accommodations and/or changing teaching strategies.  As any of you who have met me know, I am no fan of blind conformity and view best practices with a grain of salt until I see them work.  I am all for changing up my strategies and trying new things when it's my idea, but even I have balked in the past at being told to add something when I didn't think it was possible and, especially, when it's SOMEONE ELSE's idea.

But let me say to all of you out there who feel this exact same way: I was wrong.  Every time.  To my shame, it has always been possible.

We tend not to like change, particularly when we aren't given a choice.  But honestly, how much faster would we succeed and adapt if we put our energy and creativity into finding ways to solve the problem and adapting things to work instead of finagling ways to escape them?

Try it.  Collect the data.  If it really doesn't work, you have proof both that you tried and that it failed.  This goes a long way in changing what will be done in the future.  But I'll tell you this.  I have never tried something and failed to learn something else.  I've never incorporated something into my teaching to reject it wholesale.  There has always been an element of good worth keeping.

But back on accommodations.  Consider the following situation:

A blind child is enrolled in kindergarten.  The school wants to hold her back because she can't read the textbooks they have and she doesn't know her colors.

Would we stand for that?

NO!  Obviously, we would want to introduce her to adaptive technologies--braille or a computer reader, and waive the requirement that she know her colors because no amount of teaching will ever accomplish this goal.

We would not repeatedly thrust the same materials at her and give her three remedial courses in color identification.

But this is exactly what we are doing for many children with mental health diagnoses, learning disabilities, and other non-physical issues.

It doesn't make any sense.

Then consider what is possible when you teach accommodations.  I have a second-grade boy with ADHD (as well as other issues).  Last year, he did not score above a low C (72%) on any test 3 pages or longer.  We have been working solidly on coping skills for boredom and inattention--fidgeting if it helps you pay attention, watching the teacher's mouth, underlining the words as you go, etc.  Last week, he got a high B on a long reading test.  (Update one year later--he is now testing a full grade level above his own in reading fluency and got an A on a long social studies test.  WOW!)  Change and progress are possible, but only if you are willing to look at the situation and make changes.

Consider again.  When I first began teaching EFL, someone told me you just can't teach articles/noun markers to Asians.  They will simply never learn them.  I took it as a challenge in both reading comprehension and practical grammar.  After six months of work identifying meaning in poems by the articles used (short poems on topics of their interests were presented with all the articles and noun markers whited out. Students needed to identify what they felt the noun markers were and then use them to decode the meaning of the poem), I had a class get all of them correct.  The key was rethinking the situation (how had the information been presented in the past?--by grammatical rule--and why wasn't it working?--it hadn't been shown to have meaning to the students), correcting the problems of the past (demonstrating practical usage and creating meaning), and giving an outlet in which those skills would be useful (allowing students to continue talking/writing on the topic with their own experiences/needs).

Now, this isn't an example of accommodation, but it's one of those cases in which people think something is impossible only because they haven't rethought the process.

So my challenge is: what is the difference we want to see in our teaching, our world?

Impossible?

What if we thought it MUST happen and it MUST start with us?

What is our plan?

I am convinced it CAN happen.

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