What if we took the ‘dis’ out of disability?

I often encourage participants in my workshops to forget about what students with disabilities can’t do and focus on what they can. We can use this to approach the learning, get them comfortable and then push a little so the students begin to use what they can do to strengthen what they can’t. What do you think?

Let’s have a look.

Take the term disability. I’ve spent the past eight months asking research participants to describe for me what they think this is – you can articulate what you think it is now…

For me, it’s a negative term – something that gets in the way.

By simply crossing out the ‘DIS’, it becomes a totally different word, ‘ABILITY’.

Why don’t we focus on that for a moment? ABILITY. What can we change, put in place, introduce, or challenge so that we focus on the student’s ability rather than get all twisted up about what they can’t do? How would your planning and delivery of teaching and learning look then? Allow me to introduce Julian. He is a boy in your class, non-funded, presenting with the following ‘disabilities’

Julian – a non-funded student

Let’s just say we changed our thinking and presented Julian’s ‘disabilities’ as ‘ABILITIES’.

What Julian can do

How would planning a differentiated lesson for this class be different if we focused on what they can do?

Take another word – dyslexia. By removing the ‘dys’ we are left with the word LEXIA which has origins from the Greek and Latin and refers to reading. (It’s also a raisin, but that just doesn’t suit me here). *clears throat* If we were to address reading, how could we encourage it to those who have dyslexia? I have a few ideas, you may have others and the more we can share the better it will be, as we know that not all strategies work every time, all the time nor forever and so having a full bag can be rather useful.

Here’s a few of mine:

  • Use sans-serif text where possible, that is – Verdana, Arial or Calibri and left-align the text
  • Use visuals and have the child ‘read’ the picture, you might even record their voice and help them write the words alongside the visual later
  • Use audiobooks – now there are 2 important points I’d like to make here
    • The child should not just be listening to the audiobook, but should also follow the text
    • You don’t have to spend $$$ to buy them – record yourself reading it or have someone else do it for you – parents, imagine if your child was listening to you read it on tape when you weren’t there in person?

Next word – dysgraphia, by dropping the ‘dys’ we are left with GRAPHIA, the process of writing. I have used graph paper successfully with a number of students to help formulate their letters within the spaces and I suspect it would also assist with numbers. We should never comment on how bad a child’s writing is (yes – no matter how bad) as this will only lead to them refusing to write altogether. The way one can improve their writing both aesthetically and content wise is to keep writing, don’t ruin that process, instead try a few different strategies to get encourage them. Use their body to form letters, take photos and have them trace around it – lots of different letters make words, sentences and so it goes. Help them manipulate further with plasticine, writing on the board, or on a wall (put paper up first!) with chalk on the path. I like to challenge them by having them use their ‘other’ hand – it’s fun!

The letter T
image: comicphonics.com

Getting the idea?

Let’s try one more – dyscalculia, difficulty understanding numeracy. If we remove the ‘dys’ we have CALCULIA – obviously closely related to calculus – you get the idea. How can we assist with this? There are many ways we can address it but one of my favourites is more for parents than Maths teachers…  it’s cooking!

via GIPHY

Imagine how many things we need to measure, count, estimate, time, weigh and plan? Trust me, the benefits out weigh the mess.

There are many others I haven’t shared but I’ll stop it here and take the opportunity to invite you to add to my list of ‘dys’ words made positive and even better – strategies to enhance them and my ‘dys’ words above. Please take the time to share an idea that might help an educator change the life of a child today.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

 

My mum

Prompt number 24 of the #Edublogsclub asks us to write a post about parents.

My mum passed away 27 years ago, 2 weeks after her 49th birthday.

My mum

My Mum has always been an inspiration, even though most of the time she drove me crazy. She always seemed to know everything about what was happening in my life as a kid. I couldn’t understand it. It felt like I couldn’t do anything without her finding out. I must admit, I wasn’t a terrible teen – but having been raised in a very strict Italian household even talking with boys who were not family was frowned upon back then. In the end after many tantrums, when I wasn’t allowed to go to parties or go out with my friends, in general, I soon gave it up and just made excuses to my peers to avoid the embarrassment. I just had to accept that this was how it was and that there was no use trying to get away with it. As an adult – I think I finally realised just how my mum always knew in the times before social media…

Image: pinterest.com

That aside, my mum was the best in many ways. She always supported our learning, both my brother and I were encouraged to go that extra mile with our studies. My mum always attended parent/teacher meetings and made sure we were on top of things. We are the first lot to go through post-compulsory studies and gain university degrees. If you follow my blog you’ll also know I’m currently chewing through a PhD. I love learning and so did my mum. She was the only one of her 7 siblings who finished school and if it wasn’t for the antiquated thinking by my maternal grandfather, she would have gone onto university. But alas, ‘there were things to do other than filling your brain with useless knowledge’ as he used to say.

At 20 she migrated to Australia, learning English on the boat, she landed with at least some idea of what awaited her. Mind you, she never really gave herself away, choosing to just blend into the already growing community of Italian migrants in and around Melbourne. She joined her big brother and his family, along with her 2 sisters and together they formed a new extended family. She worked and lived as they all did to make a better life for themselves. She learned heaps on this journey, though she never boasted at how much she understood English – choosing instead, to blend into the Italian community.

In 1963 she married my father, an Italian migrant, her brother’s friend and together with my dad’s two sisters and their husbands, they moved to the house in which I am currently writing this blog. My own family now live in this wonderful house – though it has been extended and refurbished over the years. Still, it holds all my childhood memories and will forever be my sanctuary.

Wedding Day, 1963

I remember my mum always used to say she wanted to be a social worker. She was a great listener and problem solver. She supported many people and often as a child there were many friends who came by to have a chat – little did I know that they were actually seeking out my mum’s for advice on all manner of things – but mostly about relationships. My mum loved having people over and organising wonderful dinner parties. Our extended family always gathered to celebrate everything and anything. My childhood and young adulthood were a stream of parties, dinners, celebrations with family and friends.  She was an avid church goer and loved being part of the Italian Community. Many can attest that they met their partners at some ‘do’ that mum helped organise for the community.

My mum loved learning and so do I. She is and always will be my inspiration to continue my work in education. I hope to make a difference, to make trouble, to unsettle, to challenge and encourage others to think, to take risks, to go beyond that which they think possible. I owe it to my mum and I owe it to myself.

Thanks for reading 🙂

So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

In today’s classrooms on at least one wall, there exists a whiteboard – used to be a blackboard but those days are long gone. I’m wondering then if maybe it’s almost time to sign off on whiteboards. Yes, I know we have those interactive numbers in many schools but even so…I’m not convinced they are being used to capacity.

Since it’s supposed to be summer in Melbourne – I say ‘supposed to be’, cause I’m currently at the beach in a lovely new house on holiday, just a few minutes walk from the beach, and it’s freezing… aside from that… what if the beach was a whiteboard? What might this look like?

This post was initially prompted and began swirling in my head by a couple of photos sent to me in November when most kids were busy studying for upcoming exams. It was cemented in me last night when walking along the beach here and happening upon some wonderful sand drawings.

sand drawing

What prompts children (and adults) to write and draw in wet sand? Have you ever thought about it?

I bet you’ve done it.

Thomas was prompted to write in the sand while studying for his English exam. Yes, really. He scraped out quotes from his novel as a way to remember them. Funny. No one encouraged him to do it, in fact, he was on his own down at the beach and then…he picked up a stick.

He tells me he actually planned to walk down to the beach so he could write them in the sand.

Thomas’ sand quotes

Why?

“I didn’t have a whiteboard. I usually write them on a whiteboard, rub them out and write them again.” At the beach, he didn’t need to rub them out. It was expansive enough to just move on to another space and repeat.

Really?

Thomas purposefully adapted his preference for learning and used his immediate access to the sand in order to learn.

As he stands back to admire his writing, passers-by are curious.

“It’s okay,” says Thomas, “I’m just revising for my English exam.”

Clever.

Really?

Is that what it is?

Clever?

Thomas doesn’t think so – for him, he was just studying, thinking, adapting to his environment, taking advantage of what he had – a stick, a voglia, (desire) to explore learning, sand, prior knowledge and experience.

So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

How might you use it for learning?

Thanks for reading 🙂

Family home grown learning: waffles, cricket, scattergories & long walks on the beach.

RyeFrieze

You know when three days go by so quickly

And you think, “Oh dear, where did the time go?”

You spent the whole time feeling happy and free and without stress

And when you think about it

You actually did so many different things that you felt empowered as a human being.

And you did it with nature and other human beings, not wifi! Of course there is a time and place for wifi but it doesn’t have to run your life all of the time.

Our long weekend consisted, amongst other things of

Family home grown learning: waffles, cricket, scattergories & long walks on the beach.

It was wonderful to see and hear our children, two families, five kids ranging in age from 10-22, play games, not of the electronic variety, but ‘real’ games where there was much interaction and conversation, and laughter and fun!

Yes, lots of fun, in fact at times they would not even bother to pack up the games at meal times, content to just keep playing as they chewed through their homemade pizza and sausages.

And when they weren’t playing ‘real’ games they were outside painting their nails, sitting and lying on towels in the backyard, talking and giggling their time away (even Master Ten was willing to have his nails done). And don’t think it was frivolous talk. In fact they were discussing novels they had read and comparing them to the corresponding films!

P1110714

Then came the cricket games, not your conventional type but just bowling and batting and fielding and catching, one would call it, the freelance variety, that took place anywhere and everywhere, where skill didn’t matter, it was all about the fun!

P1110703

Long walks to the beach and then along it up and down, feet wading in the ocean, or almost gliding across the water logged sand dodging the tide as it came chasing you, threatening to ruin your brand new nikes but secretly not really caring ’cause, “Hey, who cares when you’re having this much fun!”

IMG_1823

Then there was the making of rudimentary dams near the water’s edge, digging out the heavy wet sand with your cricket bat and watching the water roll on in and promptly glide away.

P1110735

Saturday morning began with a list of adventures. Not like climbing Mt Everest but just the casual list of things we wanted to do on a lazy day near the beach.

First we picked strawberries, laughing and discussing our finds, “Mum, mum, take a photo of this! I found the perfect strawberry!”

P1110591

Next on the list was the wine for our picnic lunch.

Yes, we actually stopped off at a winery, tasted the wines before choosing a lovely Juliet Pinot Noir to go with our luncheon.

P1110601

Third adventure: A-Mazing!

Personally, I don’t really like mazes but with the promise of a lolly I couldn’t disappoint Master Ten, so I tried the first one – but after that no more – they went ahead…and emerged triumphant!

P1110608

Me? I used the hedge gate and found myself in beautiful tranquil gardens.

P1110621

And then it was picnic time, mind you very late in the day by now. Couldn’t get it out fast enough.

We were starving!!

And what did they do after that? They played another ‘real’ game of course- this time it was cards!

P1110648

Sunday morning found us making waffles – well one person made them – we just ate them – with the strawberries we picked ourselves, ice-cream and real maple syrup!

P1110678

This was  followed by more long walks on the beach, cricket, and playing ‘real’ games!

What did we learn from this adventurous long weekend?

Personally I found it very satisfying to see our children, no matter what age conversing and collaborating, holding discussions that were more that just idle gossip. They didn’t spend their time posing for ‘selfies’ to post on social media sites. Instead they played together, they built ginger bread houses, they helped each other, they cleaned up their mess and they took time out to be silent and read. They didn’t complain about being bored, they just moved from one activity to another continually checking to see that all were okay with the decision.

We discussed books, travel, memories, experiences, and even their hopes and dreams for the future. I caught them collaborating when playing their games and guiding the youngest so he did not feel neglected. Every activity was inclusive and negotiated. They all had an opportunity to contribute and simultaneously feel empowered to make decisions and display leadership…seems odd but I tell you it was all there.

Young and old it didn’t really matter.

These are real life skills. This is how the real world works, developing relationships, collaborating, empowering, using our talents to make the world a better place for our being there.

AND

There was no wifi … AND … we didn’t miss it!

Sunday night…Now, where’s my laptop quick, #aussieED chat starting NOW.

Thanks for reading 🙂

1/2 a dozen new acronyms for the ATAR

It’s ATAR season! The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank received by every student who sat their final exams this year. It’s also what we sometimes term the silly season. So here’s my take on the ATAR…6 other acronyms we could use…

silly season

1. ATAR: Apprehensively Tested And Ranked

We’ve all heard it before; “your ATAR doesn’t define you”, but for those students who last month sat the VCE and HSC exams in order to get an ATAR in the hope of securing a university offer; it does define them if only for a few short days. Last week all those students received their ATAR, their rank and file within the system that will make or break their next step. It’s a pity that many are so distraught by it all and I’m not just talking about those who get what is defined as a low ATAR. I’ve seen emotion drench them, consume them at the moment that text message arrives or the moment they log into that screen to see that number. Some will cheer, some will scream with glee, many others will cry mainly from relief that finally they know their magic number. Twelve or thirteen years of teaching and learning for this one moment in time; will it matter in 12 months, 5 years or 10? I daresay, it won’t even matter tomorrow. The day the universities make their offers, then it will matter for a minute as once again we log into those screens to see what they will allow us to study, as if they know what’s best.

2. ATAR: A Thorny Achievement Ranking

No matter what the ATAR in essence it is a RANK. Students are ranked in comparison to what other students achieved. Some will be pulled up others will be stretched down, some on the high, others on the low because quite simply that bell curve needs to be just right!Bell-Curve

3. ATAR: Ability To Acknowledge Rank?

 I really need students to understand that the ATAR is a RANK not a reflection of their ability. It all depends on where everyone else is ranked and in that you have no control.

tests_cartoon

4. ATAR: Acknowledge The Awesome Results!

 Instead, reflect on your hard work – well if you truly did do the hard work that is. If not then you pretty much deserved what you ranked – I’m pulling no punches here. So, if you did work to the best of your ability then use this experience as a ‘growth’ mindset activity. Learn from this and get out there and triumph! You can watch more about mindset here.

5. ATAR: Announce Triumph, Accommodate Reality

 I decided that this article reflects what I need to say here;

http://monash.edu.au/news/show/so-you-didnt-get-a-great-atar-its-not-the-end-of-the-world

 6. ATAR: A Terrific Achievement; Really…

 Considering we teachers spend so much time planning and facilitating the most interesting classes we can conjure up, well most of us do; it’s no wonder we manage to keep students in school a lot longer. We try to offer lots of different pathways to suit individual needs right up until that last-minute when reality demands that anyone thinking about going onto university must sit exams in every subject in order to gain an ATAR  – a RANK – so that universities can decide who they will and will not allow into their institutions to complete further studies – as if a rank could possibly reflect the true abilities, passions and convictions of a 17-18 year old student. As if a rank could accurately predict what this young person will become, will achieve and will contribute to society over their lifetime. And anyway, for years now we have been telling them that they will not be ‘a career __________ ‘(fill in this blank yourself), but rather, change their career path a multitude of times. In my opinion, it’s no use ranking them because in many cases they will get the undergraduate degree, then in 3-5 years they will once again rethink where they’d like to go next. These students think in nanoseconds, jump from one thing to another, like video games and their thirst for the now, right NOW. In fact, we need to treat this rank as a stepping-stone. What would I like to do next? What am I passionate about?

To all students out there; don’t let that RANK stop you, you worked hard now get out there and make a difference! AND, don’t forget we’ll be right behind you when you need support and encouragement – even if you don’t ask for it!

Pilgrims_cartoon

See you out in the real world!

Thanks for reading 🙂