6/5/12

Puzzling the Big Picture: SAHM returning to Teaching

Teacher turned stay at home mom, turned teacher?. . .hopefully.  I have been dedicating my designated writing time to deciphering what I have learned about current trends and issues in education, experiences I have had as a parent, and the localized and individual focus of the various area school systems and schools.  I feel like I have been working on a puzzle for the last few weeks, the kind with no picture to go by and no directions. 

Last year I attended a summer teaching workshop on Assessment, because I wanted to know if things in education have really changed that much since I became a SAHM.  I felt bolstered by what I learned in the workshop.  The practice they were emphasising, using the core academic standards as a basis for creating lessons and assessments, is not unfamiliar to me.  The idea was introduced to  me years ago in my post grad studies where I created interdisciplinary multimodal curriculum with rubrics for assessment and to then guide my teaching. The theory was to use this type of curriculum model, organized around a Universal Theme, to make learning accessible and engaging, increase connections to higher level thinking, and to more easily cover the core curriculum standards in time and reasonably engaging fashion.  I left the workshop feeling like "I know this. I have done this."  I know I can design my curriculum to encompass the many learning standards and I can map them out for all to see and be aware of.  The main difference I gleaned was teachers were not required to do this in the past where now they are.

The next puzzle for me was "What is RTI-Response to Intervention all about?",  "What is the hubbub about it?"  I understand the 3 tiered system for intervention.  Tier 1 solid classroom instruction.  Tier 2, small group interventions for those found unsuccessful at Tier 1.  Tier 3, Special Education for children who are not successfull at Tier 2.  It seems to make sense, yet there is controversy.  Why?  So I keep reading, I read books about teaching reading particularly about teaching children with LD's, I read RTI newsletters, and I read the International Dyslexia Association articles about  Brain Research and Research Based teaching practices.  IDA specifically recommends particular programs for teaching, and particular Colleges for training new teachers, that have all the components for meeting a dyslexics learning needs. 

I find it curious though that there isn't more teacher training opportunity available in Research Based instruction.  Are schools aquiring training for teachers on their own?  Where are they getting the training? Is it through different Research based school program models that are available for schools to purchase?  I went directly to the Mother of Research based, multisensory literacy instruction, Orton-Gillingham and have started their online intro course at an affordable fee.  I am curious to see how my training in Guided Reading and Reading Recovery fit in (as RR is not considered Research Based by IDA)  I acknowledge that RR was not intended as a long term solution, but as a short term acceleration and diagnostic tool which should be helpful in diagnosing dyslexia early on.  If a child finishes the program and is unsuccessful or only moderately successful, it gives you information and lets you know that child needs more, but the 'what next' was always a bit wishy washy.  I am curious to discover the key differences to the OG methodology to what I already know and understand about teaching children to read.

What I did find lots of teacher training in is how teach children on the autism spectrum and ADHD, but mostly lots of behavior management around children with these disorders.  It makes me chuckle when I think about it, because not only is there so much information now about how these kids learn and how to teach them, but I believe that there is incredible overlap between the dyslexia/dysgraphia group and the autism/adhd group.  I will stop short only of claiming they are one and the same group of kids.  My point is that if we focus on teaching these kids the way they need to be taught, training teachers to recognize the issues early, and provide the right kind of early intervention, these kids often are able to work past their initial difficulties with literacy skills.  Unfortunately IDA believes that RTI is not functioning to get appropriate early diagnosis, though the means to do so do exist, and often kids with dysgraphia/dyslexia don't get the help they need till 3rd or 4th grade.  My son is a prime example, and I have been trying to get the school to look at that piece since 1st grade!  All the school seemed to want to focus on was the behavior/emotional stuff, for which they are not really qualified to deal with effectively.  IDA states that schools need to realize that emotional/behavioral issues arise when the dyslexic/dysgraphic child's learning needs are not being met, not the other way around.  I firmly agree.

I can also see while some schools seem to be getting bogged down in RTI as a means to an end, other schools are looking at good teaching practices as a way to create more success among students.  One school system is looking for teachers who can differentiate and compact curriculum, create a successful inclusion environment, and inform teaching with use of assessment data.  I think that curriculum compacting is key to students who don't need practice or reteaching, so they do not lose interest in school.  I personally am looking at creating concept based, interdisciplinary, multimodal curriculum based on Universal Concepts that will encompass many learning standars and increase higher level thinking and real world connections to learning.  This will raise the bar for all children because the kids struggling to read and write are not less intelligent by any means, they have lots to offer, and require opportunities to show what they know and use their area of strength to motivate and connect learning in areas of weakness.  We don't want them to become the dropout statistics that schools are trying to prevent, whatever their tactics. 

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