Friday, May 27, 2011

Certificate vs. Diploma

In light of the fact that community colleges require at least a GED for entrance, as do most employers, what is the value of an "alternate" diploma for special needs kids (even those attending alternative school)?  Simply put...NONE!

Parents must be aware of the school district's policy regarding "alternate" diplomas; sometimes called "certificate" programs.  Just from a theoretical perspective, the name implies lower expectations of a student.  For this reason, alone, it is not only my professional opinion but the professional opinions of others (i.e. advocates, legal counsel, educators, and doctors) who serve kids that such an option is not in the best interest of any special needs child.  So what is a parent to do when someone at the school suggests an "alternate" diploma for their special needs child?

First, know the law.  IDEA clearly supports high expectations and access to the general education curriculum in the regular education classroom to the maximum extent possible so a child has the greatest opportunity to meet IEP goals and prepare to lead productive and independent lives to the maximum extent possible (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. 1400 (A)(5)(i,ii)).

Second, know the school district's policy as well as the state policy.  State policy over-rides district policy so if these are in conflict, the district needs to know that their policy is not the one to be followed.

Third, explore the thinking behind any recommendation for your child to receive an "alternate" diploma or certificate.  Do they not believe your child can reach the same course standards as the regular education students?  If this is the belief, the question of "why" must be posed.  In addition, IEP kids are entitled to free public education until the age of twenty-one.  Could a continuance of services for your child be what is necessary for those same course standards to be met?  Are they recommending an "alternate" diploma based on your child's developmental level of functioning?  What services are being provided for your child, currently, and do those services need to be changed in any way to help your child meet a higher level of course standard that may help your child achieve that regular diploma?

Do not let the school district convince you that anything less than a regular diploma is acceptable for your child.  Be the advocate for your child and the expert in what your child may need to achieve a regular diploma.  I believe school districts are not in the habit of purposefully lowering standards for students who have special needs.  I believe they simply do not know what other options they may have.  This must be explored by all members of the team, of which the parent is critical.  Become knowledgeable.

Bruce, Susan.  "Certificate Programs v. Regular Diploma--No Way!" 
This article can be viewed on the Wright's Law website

Wright, Peter & Pamela. Special Education Law, Second Edition. Harbor House Law Press, 2010, page 46.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Does My Child Have an Organizational Style???

The simple answer to this is YES!  We all have organizational styles.  In How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson, Liz Franklin uses "access styles" to help determine organizational styles.  Access styles describe how people access (or retrieve) stored information and how people organize their thoughts (Organizing the Disorganized Child, Kutscher & Moran).  A person's style influences how he/she form habits, categorize items, and then finds the items.  There are three basic styles of organization:

Visual:  people who exhibit this style generally try to think of missing items in the last place they SAW the item; having the item visible is a must (out of sight out of mind); prefer colors as a tool to support their organization and do not like cluttered areas (visually cluttered=overload)

Spatial:  people who exhibit this style try to find things in relation to the last place they USED the item; typically they like their supplies within reach when they are working on something; a cleaned off area is a must as they want a space that "feels good" when they begin work

Sequential:  people who exhibit this style try to find items in relation to the last time they HAD the item; usually think "numbers" and remembers things in terms of dates or times of events; their space may look messy but they can find things easily as there is a certain order to the piles; they are detailed people and do not like their work area "straightened up" by others.

Can you recognize your child's learning style?  What about your own?  Do you or your child have more than one style?  This short questionnaire (Organizing the Disorganized Child, Kutscher & Moran) may help you if you don't know.

  • When your child is looking for his backpack, he asks you
    • Did you see my backpack?
    • Do you know where I put my backpack?
    • Do you know when I last had my backpack?
  • When your child is doing her homework, she
    • put all the items she will need for the homework out in front of her
    • clears off the area before she does her homework
    • stacks her homework assignments in a certain order before or after completing the assignment
  • Your child responds best to a teacher who
    • writes notes on the board
    • makes her feel good about herself
    • runs a very structured and orderly class
  • When your child is invited to a party, he
    • decided how much fun he thinks the party will be based on the design of the invitation
    • thinks about what he will do at the party
    • wonders how long the party will be
  • You have noticed that your child likes to
    • look at pictures
    • build with blocks or Legos
    • play with electronic devices
  • When your child returns from a play date, he
    • describes what his friend's house looks like
    • describes how he felt at the play date
    • describes detailed events of the play date in the order in which they happened
  • Would your child rather go to a
    • movie
    • physical activity such as soccer, gymnastics, or dance
    • computer trade show
  • When picking out a book from the library, your child looks for
    • the book with the nicest cover
    • a title that he feels good about
    • a book about history or a biography
If you selected, mostly, the first response for each question, your child is most likely a visual organizer.  If you selected mostly second bullet responses, your child leans toward being a spatial organizer.  Finally, if you selected mostly third bullets, this child tends to be a sequential organizer.

Your child's primary organizational style (yes, he/she may have two), will largely support his/her organizational techniques.

Kutscher & Moran.  Organizing the Disorganized Child:  Simple Strategies to Succeed in School.  New York.  HarperCollins. 2009.  Print

The New Special Education Teacher

Teaching is a difficult challenge.  It is both an art and a science.  The art of teaching is something most classroom teachers work on for years.  Each year brings the opportunity to begin anew and perfect those "affective" parts of the profession that cannot be learned through books or  lectures.  Being a master teacher is much more than just knowing one's content.  The core of being a master teacher is found in the ability to support students in mastering the content, retaining critical concepts, and enjoying the classroom experience, predominately accomplished through the development of positive relationships.  This challenge is difficult for veteran teachers; imagine what a first year teacher goes through in having to put the theory into practice.

Not only are new to the profession teachers faced with the challenges of putting all that theory into practice but also they have individual needs that must be met in order to be effective.  Providing support that addresses teacher's unique needs is important for increasing their effectiveness, helping them make a smooth transition into teaching, and reducing their stress and turnover (Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2011).  The real challenge is for parents to know their child's teacher is new, inexperienced, and how the district will plan to support the teacher in meeting the IEP child's needs over the next several months.  This is increasingly important as the turn over in special education teachers is high.  The frustration parents feel when they know they have to "train" a new teacher about their child and his/her needs is real and must be addressed if progress is to be consistent.  This consistency is the responsibility of the district, but special education teachers are often expected to know things they truly do not.  So what can the parents do to help hasten the learning curve of the new teacher?

  1. Introduce yourself in person within the first few days of the school year, preferably before if possible.  A "back to school" evening is a great time or even during the first few days of in service before the students return.  It is nice to have a face with a name and be able to associate a child with a parent.  Try to schedule this so as to not interrupt any meetings the teacher may be in during the time you wish to meet.
  2. Ask the teacher if he/she has read your child's IEP or cumulative file.  This is critical.  This teacher is the roster teacher for your child and needs to know his/her IEP before the IEP comes due.  I can think of nothing more that could set a special education teacher up for failure than to start the school year and not know the basics of a student's IEP needs. If this teacher has not read the IEP or file, discuss your child's IEP with this teacher.
  3. Find out, just by asking, if the teacher is fully certified or on a conditional license.  This is important as it will tell you how much education he/she has had up to this point.  It is not uncommon for special education teachers to be on a conditional license. 
  4. Be clear with the teacher if you prefer a specific venue for communication (i.e. phone, e-mail).  Parents are encouraged to communicate frequently and consistently with the new teacher, especially at the beginning.  This shows your advocacy for your child and lets the teacher know you are not expecting a one-way street of communication.  Remember, this new teacher has several students and needs each parent to be proactive with communication.  If there are specific things you expect from a phone call, be sure to let the teacher know. 
  5. As a parent, you must remember that your child's teacher no doubt wants to be effective in his/her services to your child.  While it is not your job to provide extended educational opportunities or hold that person's hand as he/she becomes acclimated to the school, policies, procedures, and expectations, it will benefit your child to take the lead in communication.
You are your child's number one advocate.  Don't hold back. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Prepare for a Scholarship Interview

Congratulations!  You've been selected for an interview for a college scholarship.  You've done a lot of hard work to get this interview so now is not the time to relax completely.  An interview for a scholarship is similar to a job interview. There are some definite things you want to do.
  1. Dress appropriately.  Take care to exercise strong grooming habits.  Your clothing should be clean and pressed.  Hair and teeth should be clean and fingernails should be free of dirt and grime. Jeans are absolutely not acceptable nor is anything low cut or too form fitting.
  2. Take all of your materials with you to the interview.  The minimum materials include a resume, letters of reference, and the portfolio you should have put together.  You may additional materials the scholarship committee asks you to bring,
  3. Present yourself with confidence but not arrogance.  Emphasize why you deserve this scholarship and articulate your strengths.  Don't be afraid to address any shortcomings the committee may ask you about; just be honest and try to use the opportunity to let the committee know you are not perfect but you recognize shortcomings and work to improve them.
  4. Sit forward when you speak to show interest in the interview.
  5. Make sure you know the mission of the organization of the scholarship for which you have been selected.  Know a bit about the history of the organization and use this information to help you make a personal connection to the interview committee.
  6. When answering a question, try to elaborate on your answer by providing examples to help the committee see a more in depth profile of your experience.  Try to use opportunities in this interview as a chance to show the committee they are investing their money in you and that their investment will reflect a great return.
  7. If you learned something from an experience be sure to share that.  This is critical as it helps the committee see how you've grown as a result of your experience.
  8. Finally, be sure to thank the people who are interviewing you for their time.  This is personal touch that cannot be over-emphasized.  Let them know you look forward to hearing from them.
You will do great!

Studying for a Final

It is that time of the school year...semester finals.  These are a very important part of the educational experience.  Final exams give students a chance to show what they have retained over the course of the semester.  For seniors, final exams give students a bit of a taste for what a regular college test may look and feel like.  There are specific ways students can study for a final exam.  The key is to be sure to study.  Other tips include:
  • Start studying early; about now for a final at the end of this month.  Gather materials you believe will support you in studying:  handouts, old tests, notes, power point presentations, and such. 
  • Try studying with a partner or small group.  This is productive in terms of utilizing information sources.  Others can fill in the gaps you may have in your understanding of something. It is also a great way to make studying seem less tedious.
  • Use your textbook.  You don't have to re-read everything, but it will help to peruse the material again; it may jar your memory to read the chapter questions or the subheadings within the chapter.
  • Test yourself.  Create your own test questions on the material.  Have someone quiz you on the questions you created.
  • Study a little bit each time you review the material.  Allow yourself 20-25 minutes at each interval.  You will be surprised at what you remember and how much you have learned.
Good luck!