Month

September 2014

Without judgment

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Today was a gloomy, rainy, gray day. I hate feeling cold – internally, down-to-my-soul cold, and at times I did. I hate when my feet are wet in my flats, and they were. And I felt a few rushes of sadness come over me, as I often do on gray and gloomy days. And at first my brain automatically responded, with “Stop, don’t be sad” and “Try to be happy” and “Why are you sad, there’s no reason to be sad” but in the spirit of noticing and observing without judging, I gently reminded my brain, “I can feel sad. I have a wave of sadness right now and that’s actually okay. And embracing the wave makes it less scary and less intense. It’s when I judge and criticize it that it gains power.” And it worked, and I felt a wave of sadness but it wasn’t all-consuming by any means. And I had a meeting for work this afternoon, so I went, and I left driving in the rain, and I went to the gym because today, in that moment, the gym felt like self-care, and right now, in this moment, I feel good. And whatever the next moment brings, it’s okay. Because I’ll be there, too. Embracing it, whatever it is.

There’s something to be said for staying present, staying mindful. Noticing. Observing. Without judgment.

Scripting

I realized that I don’t actually know a really great definition of scripting. So, if anyone else has one, please pass it along. The way I talk about scripting is that it is repeating phrases or words, sometimes from books or movies or t.v. shows, sometimes from social stories, sometimes from what a parent, teacher, or friend has said. Sometimes scripts are used in place of novel language, sometimes they are used because they’re comforting, and sometimes they’re just fun.

Examples of scripting can include:

-The 7th grade boy who, every Friday, says to his friend, “What day is it today?!” and waits for her to reply, “Friday!!” and then giggles and laughs to himself

-The 5th grade boy who will only communicate in metaphors related to the Muppets

-The 6th grade boy who, when another child is acting silly, quotes his something his speech therapist said once, and says, “Ohh, let’s remember to keep our silliness at a level 2!”

-The 4th grade girl who, when anxious, says, “I do not know how to tie my shoes” because on a t.v. show once, the character was anxious about not knowing how to tie his shoes

Now for all of those – they serve a purpose. Scripting is purposeful. It’s not useless, it’s not a detriment to communication. It IS communication. And I got to thinking the other day, how we actually all script. Not in the same way that our autistic kiddos might, but we all have our little rituals and sayings and routines that we say and do and enjoy.

Like:

-When my dad used to come home from work when I was little, he would always say, “Hello hello!” and if he didn’t, something felt off

-A parent saying, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” every night, before leaving their child’s room

-My brother, upon seeing me, saying, “How’s your face?” and me replying, “You know, it’s okay” [which makes no sense, but it makes us smile and it’s our routine, and it’s communication and scripting and who cares]

-My extended family reciting the same stories over and over again because they are funny and comforting and it’s routine and ritual

-Quoting “Friends” episodes with my friends, because they’re hilarious

Think about the phrases, the words, the scripts that you use to communicate with your loved ones. We all do it, to a degree. And it’s okay.

So when a child you are working with is scripting, script with them. Use their interests and scripts to communicate. Figure out what they’re trying to convey. And yes, there are times that they might just be having fun, because scripting is fun. Like my student last year who preferred scripting episodes of “The Simpsons” to doing any work, ever. And in that case, it’s okay to call it what it is. And to say, “First let’s do some work, then we can script at the end of class.” But if a student says something seemingly random, and you’re not sure why, there’s usually a reason and a purpose. It might take time to figure it out, but it’s there. And it can really help you figure out how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and what they need from you.

What has your experience been with scripting, either personally or professionally?

I am not a poet.

But, the other night, these words tumbled out of my brain down into my hands, and out my fingers into a word document. And right now in a moment of feeling brave, I’m sharing, before I can talk myself out of it.


Shame and Compassion

Shame and Compassion.
Dark and Light.
Black and White.
Night and Day.

Shame is twisted, sneaky, sly.
Smoky, conniving, hurtful
Wrapping itself around you
In chains
Squeezing the breath out of you
Tainting each one of your cells

Compassion is a white cloud
Wrapping itself around you
Fresh air
Breath
Oxygen
A blanket of love

Shame whispers,
You deserve this
You have brought me upon you
You deserve darkness and misery
You deserve that black feeling within

Compassion counters,
Let me fill you with light
Love
You are okay
You are a child

Shame often wins
Zapping energy
Leaving cold
Numb
Despair

But Compassion gathers strength
And eventually dispels Shame
Using powers
Of Love
Not weapons
Not Pain

And you thaw
And you fill with light
And you try to hold onto that feeling
For next time Shame tries to get at your soul

Common Core Rambles

Disclaimer: If you are looking for a well-researched blog post, this is not it. If you are looking for a post written by someone who is impartial and who doesn’t let her emotions get in the way of her opinions, this is not it. This is not organized, likely not going to be proofread (and why not, you ask? Because often when I proofread, I delete things. Things that I really had wanted to say. I’m more raw and real, and ME, when I don’t edit. And, as always, you can take it or leave it. It’s all good.), and realistically contains a misconception or two. It might be idealistic and impractical. It might be downright wrong. But, it’s my brain right now. 

“Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.” (Henry David Thoreau)

So, I’m thinking about the Common Core State Standards. Because today we had the first of many in-services about them. And I have thoughts.

Like: I’m all in favor of trying to get everyone on the somewhat-same page. Trying to make things more universal. Striving for progress. I like the hypothetical idea of a step-by-step staircase and structured, linear, hierarchy. I love making reading and writing part of all of the content subjects, instead of an isolated part of the day. Kind of like how Social Thinking shouldn’t be taught solely in an isolated once a week environment, but should be infused, embedded, and reinforced in all contexts.

But I feel the anxiety rising in me when I think about the other parts.

Like: the people behind the Common Core development have acknowledged that they are making things harder. That they are continuing to raise the bar for our students, and they have actually said something along the lines of, “Standardized test scores are predicted to fall, not because students are doing worse but because we’re making tests harder.” I cannot wrap my head around that.

There are all of these statistics and graphs and facts to show how many kids in our country are not at grade level, and how many are not even at basic level, which is several grades below their grade level. And it’s a lot of kids. The logical solution to me, then, is to alter our education system, go with some new approaches, work on training our teachers to teach in a way that kids learn. Not to raise the bar even further. It’s not as though raising the bar is going to make our kids say, “Oh! The bar is higher? Okay, I’ll just jump even higher to get there!” This isn’t a motivation thing, on the part of teachers or students. And, raising the bar further, increasing expectations, doesn’t do anything to ensure that teachers are teaching in a way to get kids to achieve those possibly unrealistic standards.

A lot of the philosophy around the Common Core seems to be related to what skills students need to survive, and thrive, in college and in their careers and beyond. But it still seems illogical. I support the idea of being able to comprehend complex text, of being able to create, synthesize, evaluate ideas and concepts, of being able to think out of the box. I get how those skills are necessary for college, for graduate school, for succeeding in many careers. The problem is, I don’t know that continuously placing more and more demands on kids who are already falling apart, is the answer.

We are so stuck on preparing kids for careers and college, but WHY? Are there really so many kids who fail as adults, and is it truly because they didn’t learn enough in school? (Aside from contributing factors like ESL, low-SES, etc.) And – we turned out fine. Granted, I’m an intelligent woman, but still – the things I was required to know and achieve in each grade were not the demands being placed on our kids today. And I went to high school, and I didn’t take all AP classes, and I went to college, and I didn’t get straight A+s, and I still took the GREs, and I didn’t get a perfect score, but I still went to graduate school and I did well and I have a wonderful job and I am successful. The people my age, the people my parents’ generation, we’re okay. So what is this disconnect that is making us believe that all of a sudden schools are failing to teach us what we need to know for life? (Again – aside from teachers who truly are not competent, overcrowding in schools, lack of access to materials, etc.)

More and more time is being spent on making our kids work harder, learn more, develop skills earlier and earlier. Kids have more homework, less time for play, less time to be a kid, less time to just…..BE. Mental health issues are increasing, kids are more anxious, depressed, hyperactive, inattentive, vulnerable than ever. More and more kids are diagnosed with learning disabilities, as they are not achieving grade level content. More kids are being referred for special ed services, as they aren’t reaching these arbitrary “grade level” benchmarks when they “should”. As early as kindergarten. In my core, I don’t think this is all a coincidence. In my core, I believe this is all connected. And that’s not research-based, that’s not a substantiated claim, and I am not claiming it to be.

What about all of the studies showing that kids learn best when they are allowed to play, allowed to naturally explore? What about studies showing that a lack of play is so detrimental? That sitting at a desk all day is actually not the most effective method of teaching. Teaching, knowledge, learning, they can all be defined in a myriad of ways. And our education system is stuck in one set way. In a one-size fits all. And, might I add, all of these issues are pertinent for general education students. Adding in special education to the mix is a whole other post for another day.

The bar continues to rise. Demands continue to increase.

But at what cost for our kids?

Writing a paragraph

Each year I think of more and more things I want to help my students with. Each year I feel like I have less and less time, and that there’s more and more they need. One skill that is constantly requested by teachers, parents, and districts, is writing a paragraph. Despite that fact that our kids have language and learning disabilities and often do not have the fundamental language skills to write a well-constructed sentence, let alone a paragraph, writing is how progress is measured these days. MCAS, PARCC, formalized testing….so much of how it measures “success” is being able to write a well-constructed 5-paragraph essay. You already know my feeling about standardized testing, so we’ll let that one go for now.

So, okay. This year we will work extra-hard on written language when my kids come for speech/language 3 times a week. Despite the fact that there are a zillion other benchmarks to be targeted, vocabulary to be learned, auditory processing deficits, need to learn language comprehension skills and strategies, reading anywhere from 2-6 grades below their current grade level, lack of inferential knowledge, inability to summarize or extract the main idea…..yes. We will squeeze in written language.

But I was thinking hard the past few weeks as we get into a groove at school. We have to start at a basic level for our kids. And then an even more basic level than we had thought. There are so many holes, things that must be explicitly taught, things that our language/learning disordered kids don’t naturally pick up on. So, I did some reading on Bloom’s Taxonomy (Revised) and decided to use that as my framework for writing benchmarks and targeting skills this year. Because really, if our kids haven’t mastered the first tier, “Remembering” (e.g., remember what a paragraph is, what it contains), or “Understanding,” the second tier, we can’t expect that they will be able to jump right into “Apply” and “Analyze”, let alone “Evaluate” and “Create.”

I tried something out. I see kids elementary through high school, so I posed the following question to an 8th grade group and a 9th grade group: “What is a paragraph?” Some of the answers I got?
-(Silence)
-“I don’t know”
-“A  bunch of words”
-“A rectangle shape of writing on paper”
-“Sentences that talk about something”

And right away, that reinforced my gut feeling that we have to start at the basic level. Remembering. So, we talked about four vocab words. Paragraph; Topic Sentence; Details; Clincher. We talked about what each of them meant and why we needed them in a paragraph. We didn’t do any writing. Just Remembering. We used a color-coding system. Topic Sentence is green, Details are yellow, and Clincher is red. We wrote the terms and their definitions in colors. The next day, we read several short paragraphs (short and simple – probably around a 2nd grade reading level) and practiced finding the topic sentence, details, and clincher. We underlined each in their respective colors. We reviewed the terms and the colors. It was hard for them. We talked about it. We took it sentence by sentence.

This is where we’re at. But. We have to build a foundation first. I really truly believe that. And eventually, we’ll be writing a paragraph.

Things I know

I have a lot of little thoughts in my head. (I know, you’re shocked)
These are the things I know.


–Our education system is so broken. I don’t know how to fix it, and I wish I did.

–So much of life is about finding balance. Really about everything. Food, sleep, socialization, work, cleaning….it’s all a balance. Sometimes needing one extreme over the other. Sometimes needing the middle ground. I’ve been thinking so much about that word lately, as it comes up everywhere.

–Writing is therapeutic for me. It also makes me be brave. And Be Real.

–It is the other person’s job to tell me if he/she is upset with me. It is NOT my job to be a mind reader and be able to guess. (*credit to this one is my wonderful, dear friend, T. I cling to this statement when I’m in an anxious or spinny place)

–Blame and anger can be separate equations. (*Also from T. She is very very wise)

–Trauma comes in a lot of different forms. Past experiences that seemed unimportant at the time might have had a lasting impact. You will figure it out and deal with it when life is ready for you to. You get to NOT second guess your experiences.

–We are all lovable.

–Rain can sometimes be soothing and sometimes be sad.

–This will not break me. (Whatever “this” is. Whoever “me” is. It will not break you.) (*Ok, this is also from T. I probably should just write an entire post about all her wise words.)

–People deal with so many things. Look beyond the stereotypes. You can suffer from depression and still be able to get out of bed. You can have anxiety yet get through a day calmly. You can struggle with your body image yet be an “average” weight. You can have a learning disability yet do great in your classes. You can have ADHD and not get up from the table and run around every five minutes. You can be a victim of sexual assault without being held at gunpoint by a stranger in a park at night. You can be a lesbian and love makeup and dresses. The world would be a better place if we saw things for what they truly are – a continuum, a spectrum, a myriad of people and examples, not a one-size-fits-all universe.


What do you know?

 

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