make beliefs comix dot com

22 05 2007

Just learned of a online comic strip creation tool,  Seems like a simple, but potentially valuable, tool for students.  I could see uses for anxious learners.  I have researched interventions for students who are anxious, and have found that when they can take the role of someone else, that the deeply rooted sources of anxiety can come to the surface (giving professionals a chance to deal with them).  With a tool like makebeliefscomix, I could see offering a kid a prompt and letting them create a comic that goes along with the prompt.

I have already tried to give students story prompts for the aforementioned reason, but have not had luck, as it seems that my students in the “anxious learners” spectrum have a great aversion to writing.  This could be a possible way for them to get ideas down in a creative and novel way while avoiding writing.

We’ll see how it works.


The Vyew – Part Deux

4 05 2007

Another social studies class period spent today with Vyew, the desktop sharing application I discussed yesterday.  Today was a bit more successful, in some far-fetched way, than yesterday.  Today, students were able to work collaboratively in the workspace, which is our overall goal.

I started by selectively giving them each “contributor” privileges and giving them an instruction, such as “draw a large box.”  Mind you, all instructions were given via the chat box on the side of the screen, which adds a whole new element to the conversation (as my students are neither great readers nor great typers).  However, they were already better at this today than yesterday.  Once each student got his chance at writing in the workspace, I moved on to having them each take turns with the “textpad” tool.  This worked fairly well, too; students were patient while others wrote their two cents in the text box.

During the entire lesson, we ran into some troubles with losing connections – at some point, each of the 5 students were kicked out of the room, and it took just a little bit away from instructional time to teach them to get back in. 
In my small class, such interruptions occur proportionally less frequent than a regularly-sized class, so I am able to put the little fires out pretty seamlessly.  However, I could imagine that in a class of 20 or more that students losing connections and coming and going to and from the room would be a great deterrent to any possible learning.  I would love to hear if any other teachers have had experience with Vyew or any other similar application.

 Really, we are using Vyew, more of a desktop-sharing application, to have an online collaboration workspace.  I would like to try something like Google Docs, but students do not have access to the workspace unless they have e-mail addresses…unless there is a way around it.  Truthfully, I have not invested a great deal of time into that Google application.  But, if someone else has a useable online word processing/collaborating tool, please share.

The Vyew

3 05 2007

I had no idea how or why, but decided I needed to integrate a little desktop sharing app, Vyew, into my teaching.  I had first come across it a few months ago, thought it was way cool, but didn’t know how to get it into my teaching situation.

 Unfortunately, the “how” never really came to me, but I went for it anyway. 

We have been working on interpreting lyrics for a song from American Revolution times called “The Rebels.”  It’s quite the rip on the colonists…  Anyway, students have all been working on different computers or writing with pencil/paper, and now our task was to get all together on this and publish is to our wiki so others could potentially review our work and improve it.

So I thought working on my Vyew page would be a neat way to get students to be able to work on the same workspace simultaneously.  Plus, they can chat with each other in the little chat box, and we all know that being able to get away with “chatting” at school is like so totally sweet.

So we spent two class periods on it this week, and got just about nowhere.  Not a single lyric has been pasted in by students.  But, we did have a great time – and we did 90% of it without saying a word out loud – kids were just chatting away (even with really poor keyboarding skills).  So the interest level was super-high (and very good for my ego).

Hopefully tomorrow kids will actually have something to show for it.  Be on the lookout at !

Student Reflections on Virginia Tech Tragedy

17 04 2007

Please go to to see my students’ reflections on the events yesterday at Virginia Tech.  We had a short discussion about what is more important: learning about history in the history books or keeping up with current events.  The short reflections are students’ 5-minute responses.

The Nurturing Game

29 03 2007

For social skills class today, my principal came in with a game called “The Nurturing Game.”  We spent the whole class period on it: 5 minutes to learn, 45 to play.  The basic idea is that kids get a chance to reflect upon and answer some questions that they probably don’t encounter on a daily basis.  Along with that, it offers the chance for “hugs,” (which we replaced with hive fives or handshakes in most instances). 

Wouldn’t you know it, the kids (and the four adults who played along) landed on the hug spaces more than any other.  For a while there, it seemed like everybody was piling up on the hug spots…and of course, that was the last space the kids wanted to land on.

I think this game had a positive impact on the students in a number of ways.  First, the open-ended (often “complete the sentence”) questions challenged students to come up with sincere, thoughtful responses to topics that may be taboo (too “touchy-feely”) for everyday conversation.  Secondly, it gave the kids a chance to learn something new about their peers as they opened their minds so frankly. 

For the most part, student interest was positive, and there was an aura of fun as we played this valuable game.  We ran out of time before anyone “won” (everyone wins, actually).  Had we more time, I would have liked to have each of the participants share one thing that he or she had learned about one other student or adult today.  Then I would have had them share one thing they learned about themselves today.

It was really nice to mix up our work on the Dog Treat Enterprise with a relaxing game.

Conference Day 2

25 03 2007

Following are again some fairly unorganized reflections on Day Two.

Simplified definition of Autism: impairments in social interaction, impairment in communication, and restrictive repetivie and stereoyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities.

Pause Procedure – 12-18 minutes attention span=need to “turn and talk” at least that often (more for younger learners) to ensure comprehension. 

Change in placement, standards, goals, adaptations, supports, and instruction, should all be considerations when talking about least restrictive environment.

Honor first where people are already at (things they do well, things they , then help them build skills in other areas.  Like building off of their strengths instead of exploiting weaknesses.

Echolalia – used for many purposes: buying time, form of communication – could be seen as a very involved form of communication.

Inclusive schooling as an action
Right now, placement is supposedly based on a clinical judgment of the student’s performance, behavior, ability, etc.  This is a myth however: consider a student who is tested in Wisconsin and gets some placement.  Would that student get the exact same test results and placement if he or she moved to another state – or even another district?  Highly unlikely. 

Literacy – kids, especially those on the spectrum, get better at comprehension when they see their peers and the teacher make their own understandings of the text or pictures.  Comprehension requires background knowledge so that there is a context to place that new knowledge into. 

Some kids are able to understand communication better if that communication better if it is indirect.  Sometimes the means that information is presented is too “in your face” that the listener loses the entire message.
Methods for communicating indirectly: microphone, puppet, use accent, writing, singing/rhythmic language.

Overall – day 2 offered a look at the ideas behind inclusive instruction.  Not so much as a “place,” but as a spectrum of services.  For me, it was a reiteration of concepts I’ve been hearing and working to employ for my students.  Day 2 gave me an opportunity to really reflect on where my students are at: are they in the least restrictive environment?  Could they perform as well in the regular education classroom given some supports?  Before the end of this school year, I hope to apply this way of thinking to my IEP placements.  I want to ensure that all of my students are in the best learning environment.  I think it is worth the extra time and effort to find strategies to help them succeed there instead of “pulling them out” to be in the resource room just because that has always been the first response.

Conference Day 1

22 03 2007

Following are some fairly unorganized reflections on Day One of a high functioning autism/asperger’s syndrome conference I attended 3/22-3/23.

One reference was made that struck me as odd: A parent has come to this presenter, a specialist in autism and asperger’s, and was having trouble with the child at home.  This parent requested some intervention by a therapist or other professional.  The specialist recommended that the first intervention should be to look at what is going on at the school as the stressor.  The child may be internalizing the stress and then letting it all out at home, so we need to figure out what at school may be causing the problem. 

While I agree that schools should work hard to make the day as successful as possible, I believe that there does need to be an outside of school element.  The first line of intervention if a parent has trouble at home should be in THE HOME.  All too often I find that schools are the first to be singled out as “the problem” when there are so many other parts of a child’s life that are factors.

We know that students who have disabilities in the autism spectrum have trouble when routines are changed.  They seem to have an inability to be flexible.  What does this result in?  For some, it means things like visual schedules and foreshadowing of upcoming events such as fire drills and field trips. 

My question is this: how do we prepare students who have these extra needs to be ready for a world that does not offer foreshadowing or visual schedules?  Those children who receive excessive support at younger ages will end up being less independent as adults because they are so accustomed to being pre-informed to anything. 

I believe that students need to be given that balance of support and challenge.  Unfortunately, I see that is not always happening.  In a way, it goes back to the aforementioned comment: schools are expected to have all of the answers.  If a student loses it during the day, we become a treatment facility.  Again, a school should do everything they can to offer support, but if we do not adequately challenge the child, when real life sets in, the young adult becomes a basket case because there is no public entity who can regulate his or her day.

When and how do we move away from the manipulation of the environment (giving extra cues and other accommodations that may be necessary at young ages) to students maturing towards flexibility? 

Academic Functioning:

Be sure to keep expectations clear – focus on one goal at a time.  For example, if in language arts, we are working on writing reports about Greek gods, and students need to choose one god to write about (and no students can do the same as any other), if a slow-to-decide student finally picks one and it’s the same as someone else has already chosen, is it worth the battle to tell the second student to find another god?  What is the goal of the lesson?  Writing, right?  So forget the need to have every kid do a different god because that’s not the main objective of this lesson.

That makes sense to me.

Social Skills

We shouldn’t expect people  with autism/asperger’s to be like the “neurotypical.”  That is, they probably will never assimilate into the set of social skills that much of a culture employs.  Because people with autism disorders often have limited skills with understanding and/or using social skills, they have difficulty understanding that different situations demand different skillsets.  One will act differently at school that at a friend’s birthday party. 

More time in social situations does not equal more social success. 

 Hidden Curriculum –

“Unspoken social skills” should be taught to this population (as well as many other students).  Can use teachable moments to point out the necessity of these skills.

Transition –

Make sure that the people from the next environment know about the written and unwritten accommodations being made for the child.

When making the switch from special ed to regular ed, what skills will the child need to have to succeed there?  Make sure they’re prepared before they get there…


Executive Functioning
Social Supports

All are areas to consider when planning for success of child.

Summary –

The day seemed to have one overarching theme: students with asperger’s/autism need a consistent routine and a great deal of proactive strategies to succeed.

A good deal of strategies were shared.  Many books were noted as useful guides. 

My overall opinion is based on my first question: how do we move students from needing intensive supports to get them to reach their potential as independent adults?  Certainly, it would need to be based on the individual student.  I think it would benefit all who work with these students to focus on the goal of the child.  Do we expect the student to live independently someday?  Or, will he/she live in an assisted living facility forever?  Based on that long-term goal, we can make an assessment of whether or not the child’s progress is fair, and whether the interventions and strategies used are giving the student the best chance at success.