Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Ideal Classroom Setting for the Selectively Mute Child

Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum's book, The Ideal Classroom Setting for the Selectively Mute Child, provides guidance on setting up instruction for a selectively mute child. She discusses the social communication comfort scale that I have referred to before in my blog. She addresses the need for providing a comfortable and flexible environment. This type of setting reduces the underlying anxiety that Shipon-Blum believes underlies selective mutism. She discusses using verbal intermediaries like a puppet or another person to act as the communicator. The child either whispers to another child or adult who then expresses the child's wishes or uses a puppet and let's the puppet speak for her.

She talks about preparing a child for changes to reduce stress related to change. Often toileting, eating, fire drills and recess can be challenges for the selectively mute child. Being sensitive to these issues and planning around them is important. Desensitizing the child with off hours visits and rewarding attempts is important to developing verbalization.

One of the things that I have not seen elsewhere is the mention that selectively mute children often delay initiation or response. With the child I am working with, this is particularly true. I need my patience to wait her out and let her begin. Nearly always she will attempt a problem or nonverbally request help, if I give her enough time to get over her difficulty with initiation and response.

This book is short and eminently readable. Dr. Shipon-Blum captures the basic essence of the disorder in a way that is ideal for a busy classroom teacher. A professional working with a child with selective mutism would be well served by this text.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Source for Selective Mutism

Gail J. Richard's book, The Source for Selective Mutism, is a comprehensive book for addressing selective mutism but has a heavy focus on young children. It has six main points of evidence based practice that it builds on are as follows:
  • Early intervention is critical- provide therapy as soon as possible
  • Therapy is more successful with young children than older ones
  • The majority of approaches are behavioral using desensitization and shaping verbalizations across settings and people
  • Many select mutes have comorbid speech and language issues
  • The research leans toward it most often being an outreach of anxiety
  • A close relationship exists between selective mutism and expressive language issues

The author defines the disorder, provides characteristics and assessment suggestions for the disorder. This is one of the first places I have seen links between social behaviors such as eating and laughing and selective mutism emphasized. The individual that I work with will not smile or open her mouth at all. In twelve weeks I have seen her teeth precisely once.

The book does include some nice handouts for parents and teachers. These could be very useful since the disorder is so rare. The author does speculate that more people have the disorder but are either not diagnosed (ie. she is just shy) or diagnosed with a different disorder, most often autism spectrum ones. Having materials to share helps people deal with child.

The graphs in the text are difficult to read. A reliance of 3-D graphics dose not allow easy comparisons of information. Other graphics, however, are clear and readable.

My concern is that I have an adolescent who will not speak at all. She did once, two years ago. She has comorbid anxiety and OCD which seem to be related. Getting her to participate is a challenge, even one on one. The desensitization issue is problematic because she does not have a speaking environment to draw upon. Familial coping patterns are well established. There is some acceptance that she may never speak or communicate with outsiders.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ken Wagner at PTA Convention

On November 15, 2013, Ken Wagner, Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum, Assessment and Educational Technology addressed the New York State PTA. He described the continual process of revamping curriculum to meet the ever changing world in which we live. Unlike the presentations by Commissioner King, his presentation did not seem patronizing, disrespectful or insincere as a listening post.

Dr. Wagner then spoke about the modules that the New York Department of Education has provided for its teachers. He noted that this is the first time the state has ever provided resources to accompany the standards. They were slow in their release, some not coming out until the 2013 summer when schools were to be fully implementing the CCSS in September, because the CCSS release itself was slow. He did not comment upon the initial math materials being fully rejected. He emphasized that the modules were not mandates or a script. Further, he characterized scripted curriculum as a waste of children's time and demeaning to teachers. (He got that one right.) He even went so far to say that some of the standards could actually be higher. He encouraged curriculum modification to meet the students' needs as an essential component of quality teaching. Modules were acknowledged to contain errors, typos and potentially inappropriate materials. He asked for forgiveness and acknowledgment that everyone makes mistakes. The modules were reviewed by several groups: un-described or unidentified "teachers," regent fellows, the board of Ed and the regents themselves. Either the review process was rigorous so we should find any errors unacceptable or the process was not rigorous, but rushed and accompanied by urgency of acceptance and errors should be accepted but the material itself should be held in question.

Next he took on testing. He proposed that the purpose of testing was to support high quality teaching and learning. Good teachers regularly assess students in their classrooms, but cannot compare their students to students across the state. In order to compare students across the state, he proposed the shortest test possible matched to instruction and learning. In follow up questions he said the reason that listening was removed was because it was too difficult to assess and the previous testing did not do it well. He also commented that there is a state mandate for the 3-8 tests and some of the Regents exams. Some of the higher level Regents exams like physics, Chemistry and Geometry are not mandated by the feds. He also included a comment that the testing had to be used for APPR (Annual professional performance reviews).

Regarding APPR implementation. He agreed that it was difficult. That some schools are now trying to modify their applications because the proposals that were previously approved by the state and local unions led to increased testing. Interestingly he said that there was no requirement for pretesting or SLO (student learning objective) tests. Tests may be the easiest was to measure the student performance, but projects and portfolios could also be used. He described the intent of the APPR system to increase the opportunity to get more information to improve teaching. Two years ago 99% of teachers were rated as effective; last year 91% were. I am not sure if the powers at be have a target number they expect to be rated as ineffective, but it feels that way.

Dr. Wagner then commented about the time devoted to testing. Out of the 64500 minutes of instruction per school year, 580 are consumed by mandatory state testing. While he acknowledged the prevalence of  test prep, he disapproved of it. Saying that it was "not good for students, teachers or the profession and does not work." The tests "should not be high stakes for students and should not be stressful." He failed to discuss the implications of the tests.  Teachers and principals who feel like their jobs are on the line will emphasize the tests to their children. Letters like the one that goes out in my district stressing the importance of the tests and how kids should get a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast on those days raise the stress for families and students together. Districts will implement test prep, "temperature taking" as they refer to it in our district, where kids take a sample tests, including  90 minutes blocks of assessment time for three consecutive days. As a result, at least the struggling students given additional focus. Sometimes, however, all students will sit through lessons designed to address the needs of some kids. Sometimes the bright kids who aced the first assessments will be asked to do it over and over because that is what is required for all kids. He can minimize the required commitment, but the reality tends to be very different.

When asked how do we stop the madness, he had little advice other than it must stop. "Finger pointing does no good" and that we "must accept the fact that mistakes will happen" are little solace to parents with stressed out kids and school systems that pressurize their staff.

Regarding data warehousing. New York has agreed to work with inBloom, a nonprofit largely funded by the Gates Foundation. He asserted that the data was secured and protected by law. That the company could not sell the information or share it without a contract authorizing such behavior and that data mining would be prohibited. This is all well and good, but if the defense department and white house systems can be hacked, what makes people think inBloom will be so secure? Under the Patriot Act people were not supposed to be investigated unless there was probable cause, yet many cases were found where investigators pursued private vendettas against citizens without any suspicion of wrong doing. What makes us think that bad behavior will not go on? Although scheduling and online gradebook programs are widely accepted and should not require the mass approval of parents, warehousing statewide data is different. The choice is being made, not by the local authority, but by the state. The state and feds can use this information howsoever they choose.

He urged parents and teachers to apply pressure and demand a justification of every test so that parents can be critical consumers of education. This is what the parents and teachers are trying to do at public forums and they seem to be being discounted. People feel like they are being ignored. If there truly is an opportunity for parents to be critical consumers, there needs to be a choice. Private schools that have opted out of the system are not a choice for most. Is Dr. Wagner giving parents the nod to opt out of assessments or schools to option to not aligning their curriculum to the Common Core? I think not. In light of this, I wonder what he means when he says be critical consumers of education?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Professional Development

I am an avid reader and thinker about teaching. I spend lots of mental energy around trying to improve my skills. I am working for an organization that provides professional development. Mostly the in house professional development that I have taken advantage of has been relatively useless. This is sad. I want to learn to improve my skills. Eric Westendorf blogs here about this concern. Our one-sized, here then gone programs are a waste of resources.

Our professional development must be differentiated, practice based and provided in manageable chunks. In some ways the development during staff meetings is the ideal time frame. These occur in short periods on a regular basis. Staff plan on attending because they must. To move to differentiation, we need to look at the current level of skill of each professional and their interests. PD horror stories of we had to go and they spent three hours going over the new math program and I am a music teacher, make even dedicated people wary of programming.

Our department was asked for someone to sit on the professional development (PD) committee and I volunteered. My vision included setting district goals- for example developing capacity to deliver CCSS instruction and then personalizing PD. We do not need every teacher to take the same class, we need different classes for different teachers. If a district selected 3-5 goals and asked teachers to rate their skills and interests in each of the goals, then they could arrange a variety of PD opportunities to meet the needs. This could range from giving proficient teachers release time to work with/coach teachers developing skills, Japanese style lesson studies, formal workshops, book studies and beyond. Teachers could be held accountable for SMART goals accomplishment. Focus groups could work together to reinforce the skill acquisition and refinement for the group.

We know one sized fits all PD does not work, but we continue to pursue it. We know that personalized staff development is effective at improving capacity, but are afraid of embracing the strategy. If we cannot embrace new approaches, we truly are fossils that belong to the past, not the movers that will activate the future.