I am a little obsessed with picking out my own fonts, and coding my blog enteries. I am pretty much turning into a high level nerd. I kept picturing things with HTML tags around it.
But back to my main point, that I haven't started yet. I was thinking about the tremendous benefits of having students of ALL types in the classroom. Some would argue that students who are "differently abled" should only be allowed in a mainstream classroom if they can match pace with their peers. But when has ANYONE ever been able to "match pace" with their peers? I know, I never have.
In the grand scheme of things, we are ALL differently abled. My husband can solve sums in his head WICKED fast without any errors. It takes me a pencil, paper and a lot more time. We both arrive at the same answer, but not at the same time. I can whip out a story or paper WICKED fast, but it takes him more time, but we both are writers.
One of the down sides of having a school system built on the assembly-line model, is that people aren't car parts. You cannot just do the same thing over and over and expect a perfectly educated child to pop out at the end of that line. Each human is unique with their own natural interests; their own strengths and weaknesses. I don't even like calling them weaknesses. As my good friends at Khan Academy would say: There are some things that I learn quickly, and other things that I learn slowly, but I can learn anything -- just give me time.
Which brings me back to students who are designated SPED (special education). When I was in school SPED students never interacted with mainstream students. They had separate classes in separate rooms. I recognize now, I missed out on a lot. Students who are designated SPED are students who deserve an education like any other student. What is more they bring so much to the classroom. Recognition of their unique learning patterns opens the door to conversation about everyone's learning patterns. My class and I have spent a lot of time talking about the things that cause us stress or anxiety and how we deal with it. We've talked about ways that we can help each other when those moments come. We've created a community system of support.
My students LOVE a website we use called Quizziz. I create a quiz and they all log in and take it. It plays funky music, and shows them a funny meme after they answer each question. It can also display their ranking with the rest of the quiz takers after each response. Are they moving up in rank or down? This causes a good portion of my class a lot of stress. For some of my students displaying the Leaderboard actually HINDERS their ability to learn. As a class, we determined that displaying the leaderboard isn't worth the stress it causes some of the students. We determined that the emotional needs of our classmates was more important than seeing the number 1 next to your own name. Those who thrived on seeing their name at the top of the list were able to set aside their own personal preference for their classmates. That is significant. What's more, those who found the leaderboard stressful also recognized how much enjoyment using the leaderboard brought some of the other students in the class. "Maybe we could just use the leaderboard once in awhile." They suggested. "Some kids really like it."
This kind of learning is so important. It is learning to develop a collaborative awareness of the people around you. It is a compassionate understanding of one another's learning styles and needs. It only happens in classrooms that are consciously working on building a community. It doesn't happen on accident and it isn't the result of an assemblyline.
Recently, a new student was moved into our class. Her mother informed me that tests cause her a great deal of stress. She was hoping that I would notify her before tests so that they could prepare for them. I wholeheartedly agreed. When the first test rolled around, our new student was shocked to discover that my students and I talk about the stress of test-taking. "What can we do to make sure that this test is a comfortable experience?" I asked them, as I often do. "Would you like it on the computer, or do you need a paper-version? If you want paper, try and let me know ahead of time so I can print it out, but if you decide last minute you need paper, I can still do it. You just might have to wait a few minutes." We talk about sitting where we feel comfortable, and using pens or pencils that we like. We talk about taking calming breaths, and communicating with your teacher when you feel really overwhelmed. "Sometimes, it is just too much." I tell them. "I don't want you taking your test if you are feeling that way. You won't do your best, and I want you to show me how much you've learned. I want you to shine." Our new student got an 80 on their first test, and her mother told me. "She wasn't really stressed out. She said it was all pretty mellow."
Some of my students sit quietly in their chairs. Some stand. Some sit on the floor, but all of them respoond and participate in discussions. All of them are a part of learning community. These are not modifications that I made because of the "speical" needs of a "special" child. They are modifications that are made because all children are unique, and in the world of the classroom, we are, everyone of us, differently abled.
I want to celebrate my students for who they are, and encourage them to pursue those things that fill them with curiousity and joy. I want to open wide the doors of possiblity, and let them step into evey single one, until, memsmerized by the distant horizon, they break into a run to pursue those things buried deep in their hearts.