Campus For All

I have had the privilege to be part of the Campus for All program at the University of Regina for the last two years – my only regret is that I did not join earlier. Campus for All is an inclusive post-secondary education program for people with intellectual disabilities.  The program allows students to develop academic skills, participate in lifelong learning, explore their interests and interact with others. In my time with the program, I have been able to become a friend, a classmate and a peer. Campus for All has been one of the most valuable university experiences I have had to date.

I am very proud to be part of this inclusive program because it is a positive step towards a more inclusive society.  This experience has proven to be very beneficial, as I am studying to be an inclusive educator.  I feel that my own creativity and confidence towards differentiating assignments and presenting subject matter in unique ways has improved.  I learned how to teach the writing process, the reading process and be a guide on the side. My student has also shared her passion of history with me. Her various life experiences challenge my assumptions and perceptions on a daily basis. No matter how hectic my week is, she shows me the value of appreciating the small things in life and stopping to smell the roses. Furthermore, I leave every session with a smile on my face because of how much she has accomplished.

There are not too many things that are better than teaching someone to read and watching their eyes light up as they soar through the passages with ease, but building a relationship of upmost trust and understanding “takes the cake.” Over the last two years, my student and I have become very close. Sometimes I think we only work so hard so that we can celebrate over a spinach bowl at the Owl or a cup of coffee at “Timmies.” As I teach her how to write a research paper, she teaches me even more about working with individuals with varying needs and it is this support system and co-operation that makes being part of the Campus for All program a blessing.

I am proud to be a part of the Campus for All program, as I believe it will bridge the gap between our reality and the ideal. My student is gaining a positive self-image through the inclusive, caring atmosphere. After completing her first essay in 2012 she told me, “I never have written an essay before. I was never taught. But I’m pretty good!” and it is moments like this when I am proud of what I do and the opportunities that Campus for All provides all learners. There is an anonymous quote that says, “if you give people a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer;” Campus for All provides all learners a chance to be a friend, a classmate and a peer and most importantly, everyone involved is given the opportunity to shine. You too, will only regret that you did not join earlier!

Read: Campus for All Fosters Inclusive Post-Secondary Education

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“Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools”

After our class talking circle on February 3, 2014 I was sparked by what Night shared. To refresh all of your memories, she talked about her university professor calling out her accent in front of the entire class. My first thought was, what accent? My second thought was what kind of teaching practice is that? We should be celebrating differences and not ostracizing our students for them. Night mentioned that she still is bothered by that today and that shows the impact that teachers have on learners.

Andrea Sterzuk’s article “Whose English Counts? Indigenous English in Saskatchewan Schools” also highlights the impact teachers, speech pathologists and educational psychologists have on our most disadvantaged students. This article was written in 2008 and contains a lot of data from 2004 but it is still relevant because the education gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students is a current concern, which is addressed in the Continuous Achievement and Improvement Framework and the First Nations and Metis Education Plan. We cannot ignore these issues because “by 2016, First Nations and Metis children will make up 46.6% of the student population” (Sterzuk 9). If we do not find ways to include diverse learners and their diverse experiences “it is only a matter of several decades before half of the population of Saskatchewan will not have access to the necessary skills and education to gain access to employment” (Sterzuk 10), which is one of the main purposes of education. What will happen if the majority of our people are being suppressed like a minority?

I was very aware that education was used to assimilate First Nations individuals, for instance at Residential Schools. However, I never thought of the linguistically oppressive practices and procedures that have negative effects on Aboriginal students (Sterzuk 11). That is the thing about being a person from the majority: you are not forced to realize all the ways in which you are benefiting. Sterzuk expresses that “Indigenous English differs systematically from standard English on phonological, morphological, and lexical levels and in terms of pragmatics, syntax, and non-verbal language” (13). Not only does this mean some of our students will have an accent but they also learn differently. Indigenous English speakers learn more through storytelling and listening (Sterzuk 12). When these learning styles are ignored, Aboriginal students often fall below grade level and require additional support.

Since my future goal is to become an Educational Psychologist, I was very interested in the piece about biased assessment and misdiagnosis. In my inclusive education course about assessment we often discussed the bias found in standardized tests used to diagnose and label students. Some common tests that assess general intelligence levels are the WIAT – III and WISC – IV. Current tests that assess written and oral language are the TOWL – IV and TOLD-IV. Written spelling is assessed by the TWS. Throughout the course we got to deconstruct these tests and find their strengths and weaknesses. Although all of these tests are assessed numerous times to make sure they are unbiased, it is true that making an unbiased test is almost impossible to do. However, more than one test should be used to assess learners to help detect errors. Furthermore, the results are impacted a lot more by environment, the fairness and accuracy of the test giver and the current mood of the child on that day. If these factors are not considered then the child could be misdiagnosed. It is important to note that testing is never a first resort and it often takes up to six months for the testing process to start. Although there will always be misdiagnoses, the current team approach often combats these issues. It is the responsibility of the teacher and the LRT to keep data on a student and to apply tier 1 interventions (Response to Intervention) if they notice a problem. Testing only occurs when many strategies fail to work over a long period of time and the goal is never to label a student but to help them. I do believe that people are misdiagnosed but I would suggest that First Nations students are marginalized more by exclusive English teaching practices because very few learners go through the testing process, yet many of our First Nations students are struggling. Also, because of federal jurisdiction on aboriginal education, testing, which is provincially funded, is often very hard for First Nations learners to access (which is another problem entirely).

As teachers we need to make sure we are varying our teaching strategies. We need to consider how all of our students learn best and incorporate these techniques as much as possible. Sterzuk states that “students should not be penalized for their differences” (14) and I would expand that idea because differences should be celebrated and encouraged. Sterzuk calls for a document that “outlines the characteristics of Indigenous English” (16) but I have not seen such a document. Would it not make more sense to differentiate instruction and not penalize someone for their accent? I mean, characteristic sheet or not, I should be able to teach all my students effectively and a learner inventory will let me know how my students learn best. It is our job as educators to teach without bias and to find ways to help our students succeed. No student deserves to be called out because of their differences and everyone deserves to be in an inclusive learning environment that supports their learning style. Our class seems very passionate about including First Nations learners and I have no doubt in my mind that we will include First Nations resources, differentiate our teaching strategies and assignments and not judge our students based on how they talk.

Using Checklists

This article suggests using checklist in our instruction. Checklists are something that everyone uses in everyday life. They can be used in our classrooms to: record data (formative assessment), evaluate (summative assessment), track behavior, list items that need to be included in a project, list items that need to be completed in a task, etc. (Rowlands, 2007, p. 61). Checklists must be flexible and Rowlands suggests using them “with individual students or with the entire class” (Rowlands, 2007, p. 61). Obviously, using checklists with the entire class is more inclusive.

Checklists are a teaching strategy that often gets brought up in inclusive education. They can help students with Autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, visual learners and those that need structure (like me). If you have a student with Autism in your class, checklists and task lists are not an option but a requirement for their success, in most cases. You can create within (steps within a single task) and between (tasks of the day) task checklists, depending on your learners. Checking off items gives students with Autism much needed closure. Students who need their learning broken down or have trouble starting a task can benefit from checklists. Organizational goals, like using checklists, will be found on many of our students’ IIP’s. Rowlands notes that “poor organization skills, rather than a lack of conceptual understanding, prevent [students’ from producing work that fully represents their capabilities, and we then find ourselves in the unhappy position of recording grades that measure lack of clerical competence, rather than lack of content or skill knowledge” (Rowlands, 2007, p. 64-5). Checklists can be a great tool to assist students who have organizational issues. At the end of the day, checklists are a skill that can benefit all of our learners because they are practical and tactile.

Rowlands notes that “by articulating and labeling operational steps, checklists scaffold students’ metacognitive development,” which is important for problem solving, self-aware learners and is part of the revised 2001 Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning. She suggests that teachers can make the checklists but I think since lifelong learning is a goal, student could help construct the checklists. In ECS 410 we learned that if students are part of ALL steps in the learning cycle and assessment process, then they have a better understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and the task at hand. When I taught Grade Five at Regina Huda School, we provided the class with a checklist about the requirements of an oral presentation before they presented to the class. One thing Taylor and I should have done is construct this with them. Checklists, in my opinion, can allow students to self-assess before, during and after. It provides a visual for them to see if they have completed all their work or are staying on task. I think if we changed the curriculum outcomes to student-friendly ‘I Can Statements’ then students could check off what outcomes they have achieved and visualize what they still need to work on.

Rowlands suggests using checklists from class-to-class to foster consistency and to help students conference each other’s writing to foster constructive feedback (2007, p. 63). I also think a checklist for each stage of the writing process could help students write better pieces and break down the daunting task of writing even more. Rowlands also suggests that checklists can help with comprehension, research papers and can be put in many different formats, like bookmarks (Rowlands, 2007, p. 64-5). I think a classroom poster or an agenda checklist could also work. Checklists are not rubrics, but when coupled with them I think students would have an even better understanding about what they are expected to do and learn.

Basically, I am all for the checklists. I would use checklists in a boat and I would use them with a goat. And I will use them, in the rain and in the dark, and on a train, and in a car, and in a tree. They are so good, so good, you see! – Dr. Seuss (although this may be paraphrased slightly).

Strategies for Working with ELL Writers

Today I will be writing about Christina Ortmeier-Hooper’s The ELL Writer: Moving Beyond Basics in the Secondary Classroom. I was drawn to chapter seven, “Specific Teaching Strategies for Working with ELL Writers,” because of my inclusive education background and philosophy. In our diverse classrooms an inclusive approach to writing makes sense for the entire class; inclusive strategies are simply good teaching strategies that can benefit all students. Furthermore, inclusive assignments are not adapted for each individual student but are constructed with all students in mind. It is not realistic for educators to “create separate assignments for their ELL writers” (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 115). Ortmeier-Hooper notes that ELL writers need more guided instruction and revision time but “these are crucial learning objectives for all students, not just ELLs” (2013, p. 115). All students need to understand that writing is a social conversation where audience, genre, purpose, writers and time period all matter (Ortmeier-Hooper, 2013, p. 116). By creating these inclusive assignments and lessons, all students will have a voice in the classroom and be part of the community of learners.

Tiered assignments are part of my teaching philosophy. I was taught to tier assignments with colors. For instance, if you wanted students to write a five paragraph essay (curriculum outcome) this would be tier 2. Tier 1 could ask for more paragraphs, advanced sentence structures, a drawing, or anything to make the task more challenging. Tier 3 students could work on writing concrete topic and conclusion sentences. Students would be placed in tiers based on teacher observations and pre-assessments. This means that students would change tiers depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Tiers foster an inclusive classroom because everyone learns the same thing but gets assignments tailored to their needs. The teacher does not make an individual assignment for each student but makes three levels because this is more practical. Ortmeier-Hooper suggest doing “entering,” “bridging,” and “advancing” categories. The students receive the same instruction but the writing activities are in three different levels – ranging from what you know about to what you need to research – to challenge all students. When implementing tiered assignments, I believe it is important to consider how students will improve and raise tiers. A great way to foster improvement is “The Sequenced and Linked Writing Assignments,” which ask students to pick a topic they like and write three to five different pieces that build off each other. They will have more ownership and mastery about their topic/writing and by changing the purpose, genre and audience students can see how these things alter their tone and writing style.

I never thought of creating high-context writing prompts. Often when I think of open-ended writing prompts I think of low-context writing prompts like “What did you do this weekend?” I forget that all students may not think to include a purpose or consider their audience when they write. Ortmeier-Hooper suggests making sure that genre, audience, writer and subject purpose are accounted for in our prompts. This allows for more structure and guidance for our ELL students and can help all students start writing. It also highlights rhetoric and gives all learners a chance to work with this outcome. If students are never given a purpose or audience and then we teach them in the next lesson that writing is a conversation and these things matter, it is not parallel. If their writing is always set up as a conversation I think this will be an easier transition to student work shopping and sharing. As Karen has taught us, we need readers to be writers.

I believe that inclusive practice, tiered assignments and more explicit instruction is not only practical for teachers but beneficial for all learners. With our diverse classrooms, we need to find a way to meet all of the needs but not make 30 individual assignments and lessons for each class. Many of Ortmeier-Hooper’s ideas foster an inclusive, practical environment that allows all students to grow. I hope to incorporate many of her ideas into my future classroom.

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CES 2013

Established in 1954, Camp Easter Seal has been situated in one of the most picturesque locations in Saskatchewan since 1956. Located at Manitou Beach near Watrous, it is surrounded by lush wooded slopes and the beautiful Manitou Lake.

Camp Easter Seal offers 10 different camp sessions from June – August for adults with intellectual disabilities, children with diabetes, and children and adults (ages 6+) with physical disabilities including those with Level 4 care requirements.

Camp Easter Seal offers swimming and boating, horseback riding, adapted sports activities, cook-outs and picnics, arts and crafts, rustic camping and overnight tenting, banquets and socials and much more.

I could not be more lucky to get to “work” here. A job for all educators to consider!

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CES 2012

Camp Easter Seal is proud to be the only wheelchair accessible camping facility of its kind in the province of Saskatchewan.  Camp Easter seal is able to offer similar activities as any camp in the province including:  swimming, boating, horseback riding, a therapeutic garden, special events days, arts and crafts, rustic camping, cook-outs, picnics, dancing, campfires and singsongs.

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Camp Easter Seal – Saskatchewan

As Saskatchewan’s only 100% accessible camp, Camp Easter Seal annually hosts more than 700 campers with physical and intellectual disabilities at Manitou Beach. With an on site medical staff and special diets team, CES is prepared to meet the complex medical requirements of their campers. Campers and counselors stay in modern cabins and participate in a variety of activities developed to target their specific interests and abilities. Campers make new friends, develop independence and build confidence in their abilities while creating lifelong memories. I have been blessed to be part of this magic since 2011. I have never worked so hard to make someone else smile or adapt an activity so everyone has the opportunity to experience it. I have grown as a person and I know that if anything is possible at camp, then anything is possible within our schools and classrooms. My favorite part about the job is the people-first language, the wonderful people I get to work alongside and support and how the ability shines through here! The happiest place in the world is not Disneyland – it’s Camp Easter Seal and it CAN be our classrooms, too.

Differentiation in Action – Inclusive Education Videos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=y6He0FWoFj0

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=244020232398018

Don’t want a video? Here are some articles and essays to read:

Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

10 things not to say to someone in a wheelchair!

Being Retarded (Anti-R-Word Post)

A Gorgeous Model Worked The Runway At Fashion Week: You May Notice Something Different About Her

R-Word by John Franklin Stephens

It Is Not Appropriate To Say These Things About Any Other Student Population, So What Makes Students With Special Needs Any Different?

I Believe In Inclusion, But…

Some common anti-inclusive phrases:

  • Students with disabilities learn best when they are educated with other disabled students.
  • I believe that students with disabilities should be educated in regular classrooms as long as it doesn’t take attention away from other students?
  • Students with disabilities should attend regular classrooms in regular schools as long as the cost is reasonable, and it doesn’t take resources away from the regular students.
  • The student with a disability is welcome within my classroom as long as the student comes with a teacher assistant.
  • Educating students with disabilities in the regular classroom is a good idea, provided that the student is not too disabled?
  • If students with disabilities are disruptive or distracting, they should be placed in alternate classes or schools.
  • Students with disabilities need to be with other students with disabilities, so that they can form friendships with other students just like them.
  • The best way to educate students with disabilities is to provide special classes for academic areas, and include them in regular classes like physical education and art.
  • Students with disabilities are happiest in special classes where they won’t get picked on or bullied.

But would people say the same things if we replaced the blanks with First Nations, female, LGBTQ students? IF IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE TO SAY THESE STATEMENTS AND MANY MORE FOR ONE MARGINALIZED GROUPS, THEN IT IS NOT OKAY TO SAY THESE STATEMENTS AT ALL!

  •               students learn best when they are educated with other                           students.
  • I believe that                                students should be educated in regular classrooms as long as it doesn’t take attention away from other students?
  •                            students should attend regular classrooms in regular schools as long as the cost is reasonable, and it doesn’t take resources away from the regular students.
  • The                                   student is welcome within my classroom as long as the student comes with a teacher assistant.
  • Educating                       students in the regular classroom is a good idea, provided that the student is not too                    ?
  • If                        students are disruptive or distracting, they should be placed in alternate classes or schools.
  •                            students need to be with other                                students, so that they can form friendships with other students just like them.
  • The best way to educate                         students is to provide special classes for academic areas, and include them in regular classes like physical education and art.
  •                            students are happiest in special classes where they won’t get picked on or bullied.

(Article taken from Wanda Lyons).