Friday, January 28, 2011
http://funschool.kaboose.com/ (If you click on ‘parents and teachers’ you can see the activities grouped by grades)
http://www.kidspsych.org/index1.html (Great for creative thinking-some parts may be culturally different-for eg, a vegetable popular during Halloween (pumpkin)-not all children may be aware of this)
http://www.figurethis.org/index.html (Ideas on practical applications of math concepts)
http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/ (As the name suggests, a good site to find information on volcanos)
http://whale.wheelock.edu/ (Great for research on whales)
http://www.biology.arizona.edu/ (For older students)
http://www.tki.org.nz/r/wick_ed/quizit/feature_quizits_s.php (Quiz format)
http://www.secretsatsea.org/ (Site on marine ecosystems-for older children)
http://www.yahooligans.com/ (This site can be used for research for both teachers and students. Good for all ages levels)
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/ (Mainly science research for primary classes)
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Every time I see him (every few months on my trips to India), I am reminded of what great role models his parents are.
Santhi is Kannamma’s friend from the parent circle I wrote about in my earlier posts. Right from the beginning, Santhi understood her son’s needs restricted his choices far more than the other children in my class. I have never seen her look unhappy or heard her compare her child with the others. Her acceptance is unconditional and Narayanan wears it on his face:)
Santhi has an older son—Murugan, a pleasant young man who shares a wonderful relationship with his brother. Santhi’s husband would be transferred to remote postings but she stayed in Chennai because she didn’t want it to interfere with Narayanan’s schooling. She held both her children accountable for their behaviours, and took pride in their accomplishments, however disparate their abilities. Both children are confident and well adjusted and contribute equally to their social lives.
Last week Santhi called me and said, “OK, I need your help. Narayanan is going to graduate from school soon. I want to plan for what comes next. I know I have to keep in mind his hand function, seating, therapy needs... but what can I do to make sure he is not bored? I don’t know if there is a program near my house for young adults. Do you think I can start something? I am confused but I know I have to do something to challenge Narayanan!”
I was extremely thrilled to be part of this conversation. Big changes happen because people take small steps. Santhi had the insight to understand that
• Knowing what your child can and can’t do helps you plan for your child
• Sometimes it is your initiative which changes the equation
I am convinced that by the time Narayanan graduates from school, his mother will have a plan in place.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Last weekend I was in Rajasthan, looking at a prospective school for children from marginalzed sections of society. The school will follow the CBSE curriculum but will also offer a stream for older children whose needs include more of functional literacy and mathematics.
What excites me about this project is the curriculum-how do we provide intense services to children who've had
- minimal exposure to life outside their own communities and villages,
- limited or no exposure to English and
how do we plan for an early education curriculum which is meaningful to these children and prepare them for the CBSE syllabus??
A lot of work but a lot of fun too, don't you agree?
This weekend I had two workshops for parents-
Advocating For Your Child-What to do when your child's teacher expresses concerns? (for parents of primary school children) and
Teaching Resilience (for parents with children in middle school).
One of the parents had a very good point about the problem of discipline/managing behaviors in a joint family. There is definitely a generational gap between what parents expect from children and what grandparents expect. This father suggested publishing pamphlets in the vernacular language which they could take back for the extended family. Definitely something to think about. Thank you for the suggestion:)
I also met with the teachers from grade 1 & 2. I have to tell you-they were an enthusiastic bunch. We discussed a wide range of topics-from classroom management and adapting materials for specific students to strategies for the entire classroom.
My next job is to put all my thoughts and ideas in order to pass on to the teachers. Too bad we didn't have enough time, teachers! I can talk all day about teaching philosophy and strategies. I would have loved to heard more about your techniques and thoughts:)
Hope to write lots more from this week onwards.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Here's someone who understood that this is work that everyone should do--not because it is the charitable thing to do, or because he had too much time on his hands. Being part of the process is the only choice for us if we want to provide access to education for all the children.
Enjoy the read...
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Kannamma managed to get an appointment with the principal towards the end of the week. As is the case in our colleges, she waited outside the principal'soffice like an errant student. She had the company of a student who seeed to be in 'trouble.' The concept of adult students waiting outside the principal's room like a misbehaving child is quite archaic and humiliating.
This young woman burst into tears and all the passers by just stared at her. This unnerved kannamma completely, making her doubt the wisdom of sending Mala to this college. She needn't have worried.
When she got to explain her query, the principal told her categorically, "We don't do things like that in our college. We don't have the 'patience' to work/teach your child. We are not going to start now!"
This is a college which prides itself on being at the forefront of women's education! There are other ironies with the principal's stand, which I probably shouldn't disclose. I'll let those rest.
Don't know why, but I feel like all of us have had a lucky escape. Mala is a funny, confident and endearing young woman...why endanger all those wonderful traits by putting her in that environment?
Saturday, January 8, 2011
“Make sure your records on Saya are up to date, your lesson plans reflect clearly how you target her goals, and that you make the necessary accommodations. Mom will come to check up on you in the class. If she feels that you are a good advocate for her daughter, you’ve got on your side forever,” Saya’s former teacher advised me. “In other words, you just have to do your job correctly,” she added.
To be honest I was bit nervous—Saya’s mom, Kay, had actually spent time in our class towards the end of the previous academic year. She wanted to make sure that the class would be right place for her daughter (yes, she was evaluating the teachers as well).
Kay spent a lot of time in my class the first few weeks and watched how the class gelled together. Slowly the doubts came. “How can you modify this lesson for Saya? Do you think she understood that concept? How do you assess that? How can I use that at home?”
“I see that one of her language goals is Follows two step direction with 1 repetition. Today’s direction (in the written record) is “Put the book away and come to the table.” Do you use the same direction everyday or do introduce new directions everyday? I want to make sure of that because I may say something different at home or at the store. She should be able to generalize the skill. Can you give me a record of what you use so I can try to incorporate these at home? I know she needs multiple repetitions to remember…” The questions were endless and so were the requests for specific records.
It was a lot of work! But do you know what I remember the most? That I had fun:) The staff knew that whatever we did in class was carried over at home. When Kay had an idea or strategy, she shared it with us. If we wanted to try something new and possibly more challenging, she was fine with it. If our schedule got hectic (due to reports and assessments) Kay understood when we eased up. The primary beneficiary was Saya—she was able to hold her own amongst her peers without language needs.
Why do I talk so much about this woman? To me she was one of the best examples of parent-advocates. In speaking for her child she was not afraid to question the professionals. At the same time she treated them with respect and listened to their opinions and suggestions. We, as professionals knew we were only catalysts in Saya’s achievements but Kay made us feel an integral part of her growth.
Saya is now finishing primary school and will always need modifications and accommodations. She is a happy, confident child and quite independent. It is because her mother knew how to channel her energy and abilities.
Friday, January 7, 2011
The house right across from my parents’ is one of these. Every time Ed (my husband) and I stepped out, the day laborers stopped to stare—not many white men in our middle class residential neighbourhood. The laborers’ kids followed our every move. Ed left last week and they had no other option but to follow me. Apparently I’m not that interesting—they ignored me after just one day!
I decided to ask the parents to send the children to me everyday—to work on basic academics. The little girl beamed when I asked one of the women if I could work with the children. The foreman said, “Amma they are going away on Saturday but why don’t you work with them for the next few days? They will like it a lot.” The little girl was ready to go with me that very minute. I asked her to wait because I had to get the materials/toys ready.
Armed with paint and starch for some art work, and flowers/leaves to assess their number work, I went over—the girl refused to come until she had changed into a different outfit. I told her we were going to paint and she should wear old clothes. But no, she had to change. A few minutes later, she came down radiant in a beautiful white (!) pattu paavaadai (full length silk skirt) with a pink border. Her brother followed with a leaky nose. I gave him a tissue which he held like it was the most precious gift ever.
We managed to paint without any mishaps (thanks to newspaper aprons) and counted in Telugu and Tamil and there was a smattering of what sounded like English. They were very bright and so excited at the prospect of learning. At the end of the session I decided talk to their parents to see if we could work something out for their schooling, in spite of their nomadic lifestyle.
Later that night, I returned from a classical concert at the local temple and unlocked the front gates. (I had locked all the doors/gates as I am alone for the next few days. Late at night our maid Lakshmi, comes and sleeps over as there has been a spate of crime in our neighbourhood).
I heard a chorus from across, “Amma, when will your maid come? Don’t worry, we are all here. If you get scared or see anything suspicious, just yell out. No one will get past us. We’re all here to keep you safe.” The workers stood in a long line and reassured me for the next five minutes as I locked the gates. When Lakshmi came I saw the line up again. They waited until I had locked the front gate, the foyer and the main door.
I had eight people guarding my doors last night:)
Some of my most favorite memories were playing with those miniature pots and pans (soppu)...my mom even made tiny dosas for me to eat out of the tiny plates. Here's to reviving your memories of play:
Thursday, January 6, 2011
The teacher said the child didn’t respond to her. Mom immediately assumed it had to do with concentration. She was all set to focus on the child’s need but didn’t know the exact details.
What should you do if your child’s teacher said she has concerns? Ask questions…lots and lots of questions. Professionals frequently use words which are very specific and technical but don’t explain those to the parents. Parents may have a general idea of what words like ‘processing, attention span, problem solving, initiative, working memory, retain and recall’ mean, but they don’t know how it applies to their child.
There has been a deluge of articles on attention, autism, suicide, depression and anxiety but they gloss over the details. Some teachers and administrative staff group all conditions together. They use words like 'differently abled, slow learner' while talking to parents. These labels don't describe the child's specific need.
Some of this confusion is because in India, we don’t yet follow a uniform diagnostic procedure. Forget getting confused with mental illness and mental retardation (cognitive impairment), most people assume learning disability means a child with cognitive impairment. I think (again, my opinion) it is because we have so many organizations following procedures from so many different countries. We don’t have the education department (central or state govt) or a parent body stepping in and organizing a uniform diagnostic measure.
In some countries, everything is a learning disability. I suppose there is a logic to that definition--any disability which impairs learning is a learning disability. But try telling someone you have learning disability in India and you can see the horror, pity, embarrassment, discomfort…because they think you have cognitive impairment. They have no clue about what specific learning disability is or how it affects a child’s reading, writing or math skills without impacting their potential.
In the same way, parents (and others) assume that any concern about 'not listening' has to do with concentration (attention). There are lots of reasons a child will not listen in class. Some of these reasons can be addressed by the teacher in a regular class with a special education teacher acting as a resource. (I once visited a remedial reading class where the remedial teacher didn’t know the correct vowel sounds)!
Other children may need a speech language pathologist. Most parents seek a speech language pathologist (SLP) only for delayed speech milestones. Language development is the mainstay of a young child’s cognitive development. Lots of language skills such as turn taking, speaking in complex phrases/sentences, listening for information, following multiple step directions are all within the speech language pathologists’ realm. In these cases, the teacher, SLP and parents have to work together to address the needs of the young child.
Teachers, be sensitive to parents’ feelings-if this is the first time they hear concerns from you, be gentle. Your descriptions should be objective and clear. Use examples to illustrate your concerns. For example, “Ananya has difficulty transitioning from one activity to another. The rest of the class starts working on the next activity while I’m still trying to get her to put her things away from the previous activity. Because of this she is always late and never completes any task on time. This interferes with my ability to teach the whole class. (Yes, this is a problem if you have 30 children and one child takes up a lot of your teaching time)." This gives clear pcture of the child's need, how it interferes with her learning and that of the rest of the class. You can add information on how shifting from one task to another is vital espcially as the child grows older.
Parents, pay attention to what the teacher is saying. They are trying to help the child. Be open to their ideas and try your best to incorporate these at home. Children need multiple repetitions to practice their skills.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
It all started when Mala graduated from her school. I wrote about Kannamma and Mala in one of my previous posts. Kannamma and I had been discussing work options for Mala and we both thought of trying our hand at the women’s college in their neighbourhood. The advantages were many—a ten minute walk from home, a safe environment and the mistaken notion that an educational institution would be receptive to new ideas.
I suppose we forgot reality. I looked online to see if we could make an appointment. I couldn’t figure that out so we decided to go to the college and find out in person. We saw a group of students congregated outside the principal’s office. One of those directed us to the office room with all the typists/administrative assistants. I guess someone knew the hierarchy and directed us to the main dwarapalaka. She told us to wait outside the principal’s office. There we were met by the peon who listened very patiently to Kannamma and asked a few questions of his own. Then he said, “Amma, don’t misunderstand me…you have come with a new idea. The principal is very busy now. If you go talk to her when she has such a tight schedule, she may just say no without giving your suggestion/request the consideration it deserves. Why don’t you come back this evening at 5 pm? She will be finished with the day's administrative work and she can attend to you better.” Kannamma and I thought about it and decided to make another trip in the evening. We thanked him and planned to meet again at 4.30 pm outside the college gates.
At 4.30 we saw large groups of students and lecturers congregated outside the principal’s room. Unfortunately we decided to approach the dwarapalaka once more. I forgot that in India we have to get approval from people at every step before you can meet the person concerned. She just wouldn’t budge.
First she said an outright “No, we can't do anything for your child.” After five minutes of negotiation, it came down to “Well, the principal has to talk to the secretary of the college. She can’t make these decisions herself.” This made me wonder what was in it for her, the administrative assistant, to block our approach to the principal. She seemed so sure that the principal couldn’t make any decision independently. We asked for an appointment and were turned down. After ten minutes she realized that we were not going away. She grudgingly gave us a number to call a few days later to see if the principal would meet with us (?)
We don’t know what will happen a few days later. But I’m not holding my breath! We have lots of options and ideas for Mala…we just need receptive minds at the other end.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Parents get a lot of contradictory messages from friends and family alike. From “After all the child is still young,” or “Just wait and see,” to “What does the teacher know? She doesn’t really want to work with this child” all kinds of advice is handed down to make the parents feel better. Does any of this actually address the issue?
First let’s look at why pre-K and Kindergarten teachers are the ‘finger pointers.’ Play school is all about playing and learning to take turns.
Kindergarten is when children have to
• sit and attend to tasks for a definite period of time.
• start functioning as a group and follow common directions.
• Wait for their turn consistently in group activities and in general classroom routines (like clean up time, lining up to go to PE)
• Participate in tasks within the range of time provided (there is always a range—some children are faster and others slower. It is when they fall too far behind that the warning bells sound)
• Transition from one task (or subject) to another with minimum support from the teacher (some children insist that they want to complete the task before moving to the next…this is not always possible in academic situations)
• Follow complex multiple step directions in specific sequences--first, second, last…
• Do their work (writing, coloring, playing or any planned activity) with far less supervision than in playschool or day care
As you can see, our expectations are significantly higher for a five year old than for a three year old. It takes a while for children to develop these skills. If the child continues to have difficulties in these areas by the end of kindergarten, teachers should inform the parents. It isn’t about ‘not wanting to do the work’ or ‘not being able to adapt the lesson.’ The fact that the lesson has to be adapted itself tells the teacher and parent that this child’s learning process is different from his/her peers.
Some parents get rattled by teachers’ concerns. Yes it is scary to hear that your child has difficulties in learning. What is the next step though? Do you adopt a wait and see attitude, ignore the concerns or do you ask questions?
Two weeks ago I met the family of a sixth grader who has just been assigned an IEP in reading and math. The boy’s teachers expressed their concerns right from kindergarten-first they thought it was because English was his second language, then it changed to attention issues, comprehension…the list went on year after year. The mom is well educated and holds a decent job but had no clue how to advocate for her son. Her question to the teacher when they first heard the concerns was, “Do you mean my son is dumb?” I was aghast when I heard that. I can only imagine what the teacher thought.
What is the outcome of all this delay? The boy who is very bright and social is doing very well in his math (which reportedly is at the same level as his peers but he has accommodations). His Reading skills are very poor because of which his language coursework is significantly lower than that of his peers. If he had had the same help at a younger age, the gap between his reading level and his age level would have been much less.
Would you classify this as accepting the child as he is? Or do you think he has not been given the skills to achieve his potential? Children know when they lag behind their peers. That invariably leads to self esteem issues. Shouldn’t we, as teachers and parents, always try to foster self esteem and self confidence? For the benefit of the child we should tackle the difficulties heads on!
Parents, try not to panic and jump to conclusions the minute you hear the teachers’ concerns. Yes, some children may have maturity issues and may grow out of it…others need specific help. This is the age when basic skills are taught. You don’t want your child to be playing “catch up” all his/her life. So start the intervention when they are young.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Kannamma is the mother of a student in my first year of teaching in Chennai. She had Mala when she was very young and lived with her husband and two children in a traditional joint family. Her family was very nice but over protective. Having a child with a disability was an eye opener for everyone.
The group of parents from that set was very friendly and tight knit. Another mom, Santhi had a son whose disability was much more intense. Kannamma and Santhi formed a good friendship and have maintained it over the years. Santhi of course was the instigator:) She challenged and supported Kannamma to become more independent. Santhi was very good at pointing out the benefit to Mala without making Kannamma feel inadequate.
Fast forward eighteen years…one day Kannamma and I were walking up to her house off of a busy street in Chennai. A man waved to her and Kannamma introduced him. “Master runs a gym nearby. Remember I asked the therapist to give me a list of all the things Mala couldn’t do? Riding a bike was on the list because she couldn’t push the pedal for a complete rotation. I asked the master here if Mala could start with riding a bike in his gym. We both worked with her for a long time. Now she can ride a bike independently down this busy street!” she beamed.
Kannamma wanted my help in finding a more stimulating job for her daughter, once she graduated from school. “I know she can prepare paper plates and greeting cards. Don’t you think she can do more? I want to try other avenues too. If things don’t work out, then I can always fall back on the workshop model. I want my other child to do the best she can. Why should I force Mala to settle for less?” she asked me.
This was the same mother who used to cry frequently about how her daughter would manage as an adult. Now her concern is to make sure she gets equal opportunities to lead a fulfilling life.
Kannamma treated both her daughters the same and never patronized either. Both these young women have grown to be well adjusted and happy with themselves and in their relationships with others.
Parenting comes with so many questions. We don’t know all the answers right at the start…the answers also depend on our expectations, adjustments and attitude. The ultimate challenge is to identify what is right for the child. Sometimes the right thing is to find out what your child can't do.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
...been travelling in Mumbai, Goa, Chennai and further south. Meeting friends and family has been fun...but talk about dealing with the unexpected!!! Almost all travel plans came with some glitch or the other. I hope there are no more surprises in store for the rest of this trip. I need a break-some smooth sailing please:)
I have lots to write about though...some funny, others heart warming and interesting or just plain annoying.
Here's wishing everyone a Happy New Year before I start with the rest.