The Dragonfly Forest

They have been given names such as devil’s darning needle, ear sewer, horse stinger, skeeter hawk, and the snake’s servant. Actually, Dragonflies are beneficial, peaceful, and stunning. You are a Dragonfly if you are: ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic, Asperger’s, NLVD, autistic…

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lessons from Chris Varney on how to parent a child with a disability- words from Parents and Dragonflies Wednesday

For Words from Parents and Dragonflies Wednesday I'm going to share a video of a Dragonfly - Chris Varney.

When you have children that are different - maybe they are on the Autism spectrum, ADHD, or Dyslexia you have to be a more diligent parent.  The world is challenging when a child has a disability and even more challenging for a parent who often can feel alone, overwhelmed, confused, and even hopeful.  A parent has a special gift of being able to see the child's strength even when others cannot.  

Please watch this video of Chris Varney if you are a parent of a child with a disability - he shares some valuable lessons!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The reasons behind grades and how to make them valid!

Why are students graded?

There are a number of reasons grades exist in schools.  For many, grades are in place to: provide teachers insights regarding instructional planning (are students learning the curriculum if not what needs changed); provide the students and their parents feedback on the student’s progress and achievement; to motivate students to do better and work harder; and for administrators to determine which teachers are effective.

We need to remember why students are in school- it is for an education.  The goal is learning, and grades can provide feedback on to whether or not a student is learning the required information.  Grade should be valid and represent an accurate form of information regarding the student’s content knowledge of the specific subject.

According to Snowman and Biehler (2003) the sole purpose of grades is to determine accurately the level of academic achievement a student has accomplished and communicate this so others know exactly what a student knows and what a student still needs to learn.
Grades should be in place so teachers know what a student is learning and what information they still need to learn.  For all assignments and assessments the students should have a rubrics that tell the student (& the parents) what the learning objectives are and benchmarks for demonstrating knowledge of the subject matter.  The rubric is then used to determine if the student has mastered the information or if the information needs to be taught again often in a different way.  The grades are indicators to the teacher to guide the teacher to become a more effective instructor based on each student’s individual needs and learning style. 

The grades are also a way teachers can communicate with the students and their parents on what content has been learned and what information still needs to be learned.  It is a collaborative approach to consistently inform students and parents on explicitly what a child is learning and not learning in the classroom.  By using this collaborative approach to grading, all parties will know exactly what information is not being learned and can work together to determine why this content is not being understood and retained. 

Unfortunately, often teachers do not use grades in these ways.  Instead of using grades as a guide to improving student learning, teacher are grading wrong and for the wrong reasons. There is often a breakdown in communication especially at the middle and high school levels when teachers expect students to be more mature and parents are less informed on where their child stands academically.  Many students do not have the executive functioning skills to be responsible for communicating their assignments and progress to their parents.  This then causes parents to not be informed and out of the loop.

When teachers are concerned about what the administrators think regarding the grades of the students in their class, many have the mindset that they need to make sure the grades show a normal distribution.  A teacher doesn’t want administrators to think that they give all A’s & B’s so they WANT students to have C’s, D’s, & F’s.  Teachers and administrators that believe grading students should be thought of as a “norm-referenced” approach (bell-curve) are forgetting that all students should be receiving a ‘free and appropriate education.’   

Education means that the students should be learning. When teachers want their students to have a “normal distribution” of A’s to F’s then the focus is on maintaining an image and not on the goal of educating.  There is NOTHING wrong with an entire class of students all receiving A’s – because this demonstrates that each student IS being taught so they are learning and receiving an education.  By sticking to the belief that the grades should be equally distributed across the bell-curve is in complete violation of the mission of most school districts.  The mission of my children’s school district states: “Our mission is to facilitate maximum learning for every student.”  This does not happen when teachers want and allow students to receive C’s, D’s, & F’s!  These grades all indicate that the student is NOT learning the needed information.  It does not comply with the school’s own mission!  

Another area where teachers grade wrong is when teachers create assignments and tests easy so students, especially special education students obtain higher scores. Some teachers want to make it appear that they are a "good" teacher and/or some students are making great progress.  Again, this is not an appropriate education, students are not actually demonstrating learning.  When grades are inflated they are not valid grades.  These grades are not an accurate representation of student learning and can prevent a student from receiving the necessary accommodations and intervention support, all because a teacher is grading wrong.   

Teachers and administrators also believe that grades provide students a motivation to do better.  This is so wrong.  Now, there will be some students that are motivated to obtain good grades but for students with learning disabilities this is not often the case.  To learn more about motivation please watch Dan Pink’s video .  

For many students learning is HARD.  Students (as well as most people) are motivated to reduce the pain of the hard experience.  Furthermore, because teachers have confirmation bias and often do not “like” students who are challenging or difficult to teach, they often will grade them based on this bias.  These grades are not accurate reflection of the student’s content knowledge they represent the teacher’s opinion of the student.  There are some students who can do everything to meet the criteria of A-level work and still receive C’s as a grade for the assignment (I see this all the time with my clients & my own children).  Eventually, these students just give up and stop trying (Learned Helplessnes).  For the student who is being assessed with easy tests, they too are not being motivated to do better because they are being lead to believe that they are putting effort in and producing acceptable results.  When these students eventually get a teacher who is assessing them appropriately, these students will struggle which will not be motivating but confusing.  

There is also a lot of research out there that provides evidence that students should not be competing against their peers and competition is not productive in an academic setting. Students should be competing against themselves and taught to work on improving their own skills and knowledge but to do this they need to be educated, assessed, and graded appropriately.  Richard Lavoie does a great job explaining this in his videos which are added to a previous post I did on how to have a PositiveSchool to Build Self-esteem of all Students.

So, let me answer from an Educational Psychology point of view the purpose of grades.  The primary objective of school is to learn specific academic content knowledge (check out your school district’s benchmarks for these).  To determine if students are learning and reaching these benchmarks, teachers need to consistently provide “formative” (not graded) assessments of the student’s knowledge so the teacher can determine if the student is actually learning the content knowledge.  These “formative” assessments should be shared with the students (and parents) as a way to help the students understand what information they have learned and what information they still need to learn.  These assessments should be guides for the teacher to make instructional changes for the individual students who are not learning.  Then the teachers will assess the students with a “summative” evaluation (graded) to determine a final overview of the student’s knowledge on the subject matter.   If a student has still not mastered this information it is the teacher’s (or interventions teacher) job to make sure the material is understood before the student is moved on to the next level or unit.  All students should be re-taught and re-tested to assure learning has occurred.

 “Grades… are used by students, parents, other teachers, guidance counselors, school officials, postsecondary educational institutions, and employers.  Therefore [teachers] must assign grades with utmost care and maintain their validity” (Nitko, 2001 p. 365).  This is quite scary because a teacher’s perception of a student is often what is being graded not the level of knowledge a student has learned and if the student has not learned the required academic content it is the fault of the teachers.  No teacher should allow a student to leave their classroom without learning the necessary benchmarks.  

If the teacher has tried everything in their power to teach the necessary information to the student and the student is still not learning then the teacher needs to seek help from the special education department.  If a student is resistant to learning the information then it is the job of the teacher and other staff members at the school (the adults) to develop and implement ways/strategies to help motivate the student to achieve this knowledge.  The key here is; the teachers are the ones in control and the adults in the situation.  Failure should never be allowed as an option for students.  If a student is not earning A’s & B’s then it is the job of the teachers to make sure they are learning the content they have not learned.  A student who is earning A’s & B’s are learning and retaining most of the academic content.  Students who are receiving a C or less are missing quite a lot of content material and no teacher should allow this to happen especially if the student is a student with a disability (Why We ShouldHelp Students with Learning Disabilities).   

Some teachers and school administrators have argued that it is okay for students to receive C’s and below (they have the “normal distribution” mindset).  Now, think about it this way -grades are supposed to be a valid reflection of the student’s learning.  When a teacher allows a student to achieve only up to a level of a C (D or F) then that teacher is allowing that student to leave their classroom without the knowledge they need to progress to higher levels.  The teacher is not providing a ‘free and appropriate education’ for all students because these students who are not learning are often in tutor programs outside of school paid for by their parents.  Furthermore, a special education student should NEVER be allowed to perform lower than a B when they have an IEP, intervention teacher, and are in co-taught classes.  So the school district has failed to achieve their mission: “to facilitate maximum learning for every student.”

What is also disheartening is how school districts also allow this to happen.  No matter how much a parent begs and pleads for help, a school district is often resistant to providing necessary support to the students who need it the most.  I not only know this from personal and professional experiences but look at the dropout rates in our high schools.  When students are failing they are not learning and this is a poor reflection on the whole school district.  Many school districts often hide behind all the successful students which often outnumber the ones who are not being successful but it is the ones on the bottom we should care the most about; but they are often the hardest to teach and reach.  So the point is, not every student really matters to a school district. Often only those that make the district look good matter and the rest can be tossed aside uneducated and thrown away.  Sadly, the student’s failing grade cards will follow him/her into his/her futures only to have colleges, universities, and employers make negative confirmation bias judgments about lack of intelligence. Some of these students are actually quite smart but this is not reflected on their grade cards.  In reality, colleges, universities, and employers should be making negative judgments about the school district for allowing a student to graduate without the necessary knowledge to compete in the real world.    

I will leave you with a few final points

**Here's a quote from a student regarding the perceptions of grades: “Grades are just the teacher’s opinion on how smart and motivated you are, but it’s an opinion that you will be labeled with for life.”

***Here's what we should be teaching our children: The poetic powers of Suli Breaks

****Picture Quote: 

Nitko, A.J. (2001) Transforming classroom grading. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 

Snowman, J., and R.R. Biehler (2003) Psychology applied to teaching. 10th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A lesson in the reality of being a mother of special needs children

After watching the video in the post A Lesson You Can Learn From The Job Interview you now know that the job description was for a mother.  This is a powerful description of what it is like to be a mother.   Being a mother of a child or children with special needs is even more challenging and often other people do not realize this fact.  

I am discussing mothers and not fathers or parents because it is usually the mothers that I have worked with over the decades in my jobs.  Sometimes this is because the father is working but often it is because mothers are the ones responsible for the raising of the children; so the mothers are the ones contacting me and attending school meetings.  

A mother of a special needs child has the normal parenting stressors and then some because these mothers have to also be an advocate in a way that different than mothers who do not have a child with special needs.  A mother of a "typical" child does NOT have to consistently attend meetings where she are battling for her child to receive an appropriate education and social/emotional/physical support.  

When a mother of a special needs child shares stories of her experiences with the school the mother of "typical" children are often in disbelief.  Mothers of "typical" children often believe that the mothers of special needs children are over exaggerating, dramatic, or the ones being difficult when they hear these stories; but that is NOT the case. 

When a mother of a special needs child attends meetings advocating for her child(ren) school staff members often blame and shame the mother (or child) for the child's behavior and/or learning (or lack of learning).  This happens in almost every meeting I have attended personally and professionally (someday I will write a book about all the inappropriate parenting advice and shaming/blaming comments). 

This post was to just bring this topic to your attention.  A mother of a special needs child has more challenges than a mother of a "typical" child.  Hopefully, people will have more empathy for the mothers of children with special needs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A lesson you can learn from the Job interview video

There is a current video going viral right now on the internet about a job interview- watch it first:  

So, did it make you think?  Hopefully it did.  I'm not going to comment too much for those who have not seen the video and just want to read - I will post that tomorrow & add the link here - Part 2.  

Today, I want to touch base on Empathy.  Have you ever thought about the job another person has to do for a living?  I mean do you go into a restaurant and just expect to always "have it your way?" What thoughts have you had about the person who picks up your trash/recycling or the person who teaches your children?

We know how much effort and energy we put into our own jobs and lives but are we aware of what others are doing?  Not that often really.  Most of the time people only think about others.  Most people do not think that another person has a life full of pain, heartache, happiness, joy...  This video points out that we often get caught up in our own experiences.  

So today, your assignment is to think about the life of every person you interact with and know that they are experiencing things you know nothing about so be kind and considerate.  Most importantly, do not judge.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Words from Parents and Dragonflies Wednesday - thanks

Today, for my Words from Parents and Dragonflies Wednesday I would like to say thanks for all your support lately.  I lost a family member recently and this loss makes a person reflect on all aspects of life.  

One of the things that I reflected on was how even when you are kind and giving sometimes people will still not see you for all your good qualities.  These people don't matter.  Do not spend energy in your life on others who do not respect you.  Let them go!  Live your life for you and not to please others.  

So, remember that as a parent of children with learning disabilities you will not be seen as the positive person that you are by people in the school district.  The people in the school districts do not appreciate being held accountable, they do not like knowing that they are really failing when it comes to educating children, and they do not want you reminding them of their incompetence.  Therefore, they will not see that you are a strong, caring, and supportive parent who is doing this because you are out for the best interest of your child and all children who learn differently.

I need to stop trying to please these people.  I have spent countless energy trying to prove that I am a good person and I am NOT the enemy because I am a very empathetic person who just wants her children educated.    I fight for my children to be educated and for teachers to not let them fail when it comes to learning.   

So one of the lessons I learned was that I am doing a great job.  A mother never stops when it comes to making sure her children are educated appropriately.  If I am not liked that is okay with me because I know I am doing the right things, I am tactful, I have deep empathy, I am diplomatic, and I am fair.  One day, all of this will be worth it even thought it has been the toughest battle I have ever experiences.  My kids are worth it!  It is the best thing a mom can do!  When I am no longer here, my children will know that I never gave up and they are better people because I wouldn't quit. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

3 Ways to Deal with Death

I have been off for a while due to the illness and death of a family member that was dear to me.  Today I wanted to share three important points about the death of someone we love! 

1~ Death is painful.  It is a loss of someone dear to us.  Even if we were not getting along with the person at the time of the death we still feel an ache in our heart.  We need to remember that everyone will grieve in their own ways and "our" way of grieving isn't the "correct" way.  So allow others to deal with the loss in what ever way is helpful to them and do not make judgments about they way others express their grief.  A person with empathy will understand that each person has their own personal experiences with the person who is now gone -so do not project your own experiences on others.  

2~ Just because a person is not here with us physically we still have them in our soul and heart.  Every person we come in contact with leave an imprint on us in some way.  Honor and respect the person you lost by being a kind and caring person. Remember the positive qualities of the person you lost and practice these positive qualities so that you may become a better person.  Do not bicker and fight with others or act toward others in a negative way because this will only disrespect the spirit of the person who has passed.  

3~ Finally, you need to remember - although this loss is painful for you, it is not about YOU.  Yes, you may grieve the loss of this person's life but you really should be celebrating the life the person had.  Focus on the positive qualities of this person and the good things they have done in their lives. Appreciate the lessons you have learned from this person so that you can help others.  This is a good time to practice the old saying "If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all."  No matter how close you were to the person who passed, tell those who loved that person you are "sorry for their loss" or give a hug and say nothing at all.