Special Education Today newsletter 3(28)
Who knew? What happened last week?
Greetings and salutations! Welcome to the newsletter for Special Education Today for the week that began 1 January 2024. Here comes the familiar contents, flashes of the electrons, and comments.
Wasn’t there a cartoon character who said “greetings and salutations” often? Anyone remember? I’m thinking it might have been a feline, perhaps even a saber-toothed tiger. Maybe with a bit of an accent?
I am quite sure it was not this cat, though.
That is an actual photo of the younger of our house cats, Billy (Bill; William Cat Lloyd, when he’s in trouble), as he ratted (ahem) through the toy basket looking for some toy with which to play (other than the blue fish that he’d already extracted). If one of us throws a toy down the flight of nearby stairs, he will chase it and bat the poor thing about the room at the foot of the stairs repeatedly; he used to retrieve the toys and bring them back for another throw-chase sequence.
Table of contents
This issue of the newsletter is post # 812 over the life of SET. Do any of you think you’ve read each and every one? (I can assure you that I have read them all repeatedly, even though proofing errors might cause one to think I didn’t read some of them.) Anyway, this issue has seven entries in its table of contents.
Special Education Today newsletter 3(27): The week’s news and info for 25 December 2023
Tom Thumb Day: Wait...what day is coming soon?
Agile schools: Wouldn't it be great if schools adjusted to meet the needs of students?
New York state governor proposed policies promoting effective reading instruction: What's not to like about this development?
Illinois group announced a virtual conference on behavior disorders: What's the story with this opportunity from the ILCCBD?
ASAT newsletter is available: Do you need another reminder to read this free resource on autism?
Disability, ableism, and inclusion in normal environments: Is 'normal' what people with disabilities want and deserve?
As usual, those readers who check into the Web site regularly probably saw all of these pretty much as they appeared, but those readers who depend on the mailings may have missed some posts, as not all appeared in mailings. Oh, and I should note that the Tom Thumb post arrived later in the order shown here and after the date shown on the post—My mistake.
These subscribers dropped comments over the recent past: Adelaide D., Jim K., Dan H. Joel M., Tina C., Clay K., Vince W., and Allison L. Thanks to each and every one of you for taking the time to interact with and share with others your thoughts regarding the content. And a special acknowledgment Adelaide D. whose comment reinforced the idea of having intermittent feature for SET that reminds us about special days and months related to special education and disability.
Perhaps it is no surprise that one of the top commenters are also among the readers who have clicked links on SET most frequently. Those clickers include Susan de la P., Dan H., Jane, B., Esther F., Nicole U., Rhonda B., John U., Mike N., K. R., Susan O., Svjetlana C., Chandler P., and Kerry W. Woohoo!
Special subs reminder
It’s the beginning of the year and perhaps a new school term (semester? quarter?), so I want to remind folks that group paid subscriptions are available for SET. Like all paid subscribers, those who subscribe under a group subscription get access to the full archives (no paywalls!), the authority to comment on posts, and my honest appreciation—it’s the last part that should be a big draw, no? In addition, when multiple people subscribe in a group, they receive a substantial discount on the cost of subscribing. Group subscriptions can include as few as four or as many as dozens of people. The subscriptions can last for a specified number of months up to one a year. So, if you and some others (students in a class, colleagues in a clinic, members of a department, team at a school, leaders from a local education agency, or etc. want to band together and start paid subscriptions as a group, just send me a note (JohnL@Virginia.edu).
Sometimes some of the talk about reform in education leaves me feeling down in the dumps. Readers know I am a fan of the “science of reading,” for example, but I'm fearful about how reform efforts related to SOR are going to be realized. I wrote about this concern for January 2024 under the title "New York State governor proposed policies promoting effective reading instruction." But I really only wrote about a little bit of my concerns, just one or a few of my concerns. Here I want to elaborate and explain why my fears are leaving me, well, fearful and sad.
I'm fretful about what's going to be counted as adequate realization of reforms in reading instruction. I imagine that some people will interpret the reading reform effort as simply requiring additional "phonics."
Teacher 1: "Yeah, I hear that that phonological stuff is really important according to some good researchers, so I'm going to get some cool phonics worksheets and have the kids do those every day from the beginning of school."
Teacher 2: "That sounds smart! Also, it's got to be important for the kids to use the phonics in their reading. You know sounding out, and not using picture cues. So I've got some books that have just simple line drawings and no fancy photographs and such and I'm going to use those.”
Teacher 1: “Yeah. That sounds good. I'll share my worksheets with you if I can find out about your books and order some for my classroom. I don't care if I have to pay for them myself.”
And I'm fearful that these problems won't be limited simply to lower level decoding instruction. I can see how they can be misunderstood in higher level or content area classes.
Teacher R.: "Well, you know Janie, I just talked with Maritza and she told me about an in-service she intended. She said they explained that science of reading was also about content knowledge about vocabulary and about background information that got me thinking and I figured I could do that. I could start each class with a little PowerPoint show that includes the information. The kids will need to understand the content that they have read for homework. Then we can have a Rich discussion about the ideas."
Teacher M: "Oh yeah man that sounds like direct instruction. You figure out what the kids need and you just tell him the facts. I could go back to doing some lecturing. And another thing they say is you need to assess students’ knowledge regularly so we could have weekly quizzes about the facts."
But it's not just reading that concerns me here. I can see similar kinds of misunderstandings being perpetuated about other aspects of teaching and learning. Consider an additional example centered on the "science of behavior.”
Psychologist: "I heard over at Springfield they were having great success with a schoolwide behavior management plan. So I called up your pal George over there to ask him what he knew about it. He told me really it's been his assistant principal who has been leading the effort, but he understood that the AP was having all the teachers adopt a common set of rules for behavior, and practicing them with the students. So I thought man that's not too hard. We could do that right here at Springfield. Something called SWISS or SWSP, maybe?”
Principal: "No joke. If that’s it, that's not hard. We could do the rules in just a couple of faculty meetings, and have teachers create their lessons for practicing them and then share their lessons. This is only a few hours work, and if that has been successful for George and, his faculty, it oughta work here too. We don't have SES problems he's got. Could you create the PD for it?”
To be sure, these fictional conversations are exaggerations, but I suspect many readers have heard similar interchanges. “Yeah, ‘cooperative learning.’ It’s like a special name for group work.” “Self-monitoring? Right! That’s where you have kids write down if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
So, right. I’m sounding cynical. But my doubt leads me to caution us that we all need to guard against misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and over-simplification of reform efforts. Teaching effectively isn’t accomplished by sprinkling in some phonics, adding a dash of shared rules, or other quick fixes. Reform is damn hard work. It has to be conceptualized carefully and implemented with fidelity.
Without thorough planning and vigilant execution, reforms will just be additional wastes of time. And there are even worse consequences than wasting time. The Inoculation Principle will come into play. The little shake of seasoning will just become another item in the long list of “Oh, yeah. We tried that. It didn’t work.”