adaptive

Standardized Tests, Open House, and My Students’ Actual Progress

My students started their SBAC standardized tests last week.

I have third and fourth graders, so for three of my kiddos, it was their first time taking the tests. The interface has been updated since last year, so my fourth-grader needed a refresher. Plus, I’m a scribe for one student with motor challenges. There’s a lot to manage in Testland. We did practice tests together on my touch screen laptop and made a fun activity out of it. We practiced accessing the accommodations–the pop-out ASL videos are accessed via a drop-down menu. We talked about trying our best, making best guesses, and pausing to stretch and blink.

When test day came, each student selected a novel or graphic novel to read when they were done, and we descended upon the computer lab.

When my scribe-ee finished and we arrived at the “submit test” screen, she looked at me and asked if she could go back and check all her answers. All 36 of them. She had already tried her best. She had attempted to solve problems on math content she’d never seen before. She knew the test was hard. I asked her why she wanted to check the answers. She sad, What if I didn’t do good? I think I am a little bit wrong.

Plus 10 points for knowing when you’re wrong. Self-awareness is a good skill that many adults don’t have.

Plus 10 hugs for that self-awareness making you feel like you’re not enough.

You see, this kiddo, like most of my students over the past seven years, arrived with some big gaps. She was in third grade, performing single-digit addition. She’d never seen subtraction before. Now, at the end of fourth grade, she can read, write, compose, decompose, order, and compare numbers through 1,000. She can add and subtract three-digit numbers with regrouping, without using manipulatives (although we definitely started with them). She has flexible number sense and can play a variety of number games I use in the classroom that utilize 10-frames and 100-boards and base-10 blocks and chips. She can tell time. She can do one-step word problems in addition and subtraction.

She loves math. She works slowly, but when she finishes her work, she looks at me and says, It’s not a race, and I am smart. My brain is big! All of those things are 100% accurate.

And after her standardized math test, she looked deflated. So I reminded her that she’s done a lot of really good math in class. And I asked, What’s more important, do you think? All the math we do every day, that you love and can do and feel good about, or a test we take once in May that makes you feel rotten?

She said, The computer test?

This is not how we hold children and teachers “accountable” for learning and teaching.

Last night we had our spring open house for the elementary department. We worked long and hard getting ready to display and show our work to our families and friends. All five of my students’ parents came to the open house. They were so.excited. all day. All week, even. We showed how we went from reading Frog and Toad in the fall, only discussing two characters and one problem at a time, to reading Charlotte’s Web and discussing multiple characters and problems within a larger plot arc, and connecting our lives to the story. We had a bulletin board comparing non-fiction reading and historical fiction reading from our Native American unit. We shared videos of our poetry projects and our music video.

My students were all smiles, all hugs, all jumping skipping dancing in the halls, waiting checking texting parents. The energy was palpable. My little math kiddo? Her grandpa came and she nearly fell over with excitement. She was so tired from running around and showing her work to her dad and her grandpa and her mom and her sister (who attends a different school) and her friends’ parents and the other teachers and the principal that she reached that giddy manic run in circles level of exhaustion by the end of the night, like a toddler who just keeps walking so she doesn’t fall asleep. We are reading C-H-A-R-L-O-T-T-E-S W-E-B and my favorite character is C-H-A-R-L-O-T-T-E because she is a good friend. She take care of pig W-I-L-B-U-R. We have four chapter left. Then watch movie eat popcorn compare book and movie. Ms Danielle sign story funny. T-E-M-T-O-N rat funny greedy funny Ms Danielle sign funny! But my favorite spider sweet!

After the second trimester, I was feeling frustrated and dejected. I had not accomplished the things I set out to accomplish with my students. Their growth seemed small compared to what I thought it should be, we were in the mid-winter slumps, and I was feeling scrutinized by the people around me. The principal came down to talk to me, and started the conversation by saying she’d seen my students’ (standards-based) report cards and progress notes. They’ve had some really wonderful growth this year. They’re readers, Danielle. I see Ponyo with a book wherever she goes. And they’re all building wonderful relationships with others in the building. And they’ve really made some good progress in math. I hope you see that.

This growth took a lot of work over three years of sweat and tears (so.so. many tears…most of them mine). But there are kids who’ve made two years of progress in a year-and-a-half. And one girl who has grown from needing intensive behavior intervention and weekly de-escalation to basic behavioral reminders like a typical third-grader. And a shy student who used to only whisper who nailed the role of (signing) Olaf in our Christmas play of Frozen this December. And a little boy whose dad died two years ago who told me he was fine one day, and I finally really believed him. And a student who used to be the only kid in his school with hearing aids who now has friends with hearing aids and cochlear implants. I’m not saying this to toot my horn, or to say what a great teacher I am for turning these kids around. (But the fact is, I am a damn fine teacher; the headline-makers and book-deal-getters are the unorthodox teachers who love their students and also raise their test scores.) Because today, I am exhausted and possibly even more excited for summer than my students are.

So we’ve made some progress.

So after we hit [submit] on that pointless math test, I looked at my student and blew the biggest, wettest, tonguey-est raspberry I could muster. And I said, THAT’S how much you need to worry about the computer test. Your brain is more important to me. And your brain has lots of math in it. 

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Charlie Chaplin Made the Best Movies Ever

Content note: accessibility, d/Deaf history, educational theatre, film history

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival Theatre for Youth’s production of Maggie Lumiere and the Ghost Train came to campus last Friday. The four person cast features a Deaf actress, and three hearing actors who signed. Everything the Deaf actor signed was accessible to non-signers either by the voices of other characters, or by silent-movie style title cards. It was visual. It was funny. It was fully accessible. 

(Note: since we also have students who are blind or low-vision, our orientation & mobility instructor provided verbal description of all the action via a multi-headset FM system we use for such events)

During the Q&A, one Deaf teacher mentioned that he had attended many interpreted theatre performances before (which, we might all agree, meets one definition of accessibility, and ISF has done a great job of this), but he always misses large pieces of plot or dialogue because he always has to look between the actors and the interpreters; he, along with several Deaf students of all ages, and Deaf staff, shared that it the first, or one of the first, fully accessible theatre production they had ever attended. Several students said that they had always wanted to do theatre, but had never believed it would be possible for them until now. The actors teared up hearing that. They said that this was their 71st performance–performances 1 through 70 were for hearing audiences, but this was the most nervous they had ever been doing this show, because they knew this was the one that mattered. My kids were engaged the entire time. They understood the premise. They laughed in all the right places. They felt suspense during the suspenseful parts. They were able to converse with the actors after the performance. It was incredible. I cried. Three times, even. I already sent a note to the playwright (who lives in Boise) thanking him for writing it. Sure, there were a few bits of the script that I found a little problematic, but I can have a conversation with my students about it because the whole script was accessible to them! 

Theatre for Youth is educational theatre, and as such, there is a downloadable teacher’s guide with information about theatre itself, and about the content of the show. For my class, I focused on the history of early film. The plot of Maggie Lumiere involves a Deaf girl and her three friends making a silent movie, an homage-of-sorts to Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid. We didn’t have time to watch The Kid, so I showed them the following clip, the opening chase scene from the 1917 film The Adventurer:

I usually project videos on my interactive whiteboard, but this year my desktop computer took a dump, so imagine four kids huddled around my tiny tablet/laptop hybrid (a ThinkPad Yoga, if you’re familiar with them). If you didn’t watch the above clip, please do. It’s about 4 1/2 minutes.

They. loved. it. They laughed in all the right places. They felt suspense during the suspenseful parts.  All four kids begged to watch it again. The only time they’ve ever done that is when they watch a video of themselves. The second time through, they added their own sound effects and dialogue. I hadn’t even thought to suggest that yet; they spontaneously took the film to the next level.

We spent the next half-hour watching clips, each one twice. Boxing. The Circus. TLK looked at me, wide-eyed, and whispered in most serious voice, He made the best movies ever. After the show, Freckles, who attends public school most of the day and had missed all our Charlie Chaplin excitement the day before, said, I wanted to be a cop or a firefighter since kindergarten but now maybe I think acting might be a better choice for me because I’m funny and I don’t sit still enough to be a cop. 

Before the play on Friday, we reviewed appropriate audience behavior, but I really think this was the only time I didn’t have to do so. Even Ponyo, who gets a bad case of Bleacher Butt™ right about the same time I do, was attentive the entire time and only solicited the help-me-refocus back scratches once (she even put her head on my shoulder during the most tender-hearted bit–that was the first time I cried). Before the show, she was so excited, and she asked to take a selfie. So we did. Then she said, Selfie text mom!! So I pulled up my messaging app and her mom’s phone number. She typed, We are seeing a play. I am very excited. An obligatory smiley followed. When mom asked what the play was about, Ponyo tagged me to type the synopsis. Then she said, Tell mom C-H-A-P-L-I-N Y-O-U-T-U-B-E.

I have a hunch they watched a lot of silent movie clips this weekend.


I know I promised yesterday  that I would update the sComm situation today, but I needed to share this first. This is absolutely critical to understanding why Jason Curry’s insistence on English as superior to ASL, his stubborn refusal to recognize interpreters as empowering accommodations, and his disgusting “Communicaphobia” video that uses the word “crippled” in regards to ASL and depicts the use of an interpreter as an owner with a dog on a leash, is so damaging and insulting to my students, and to d/Deaf people everywhere:

I had a conversation over the weekend with my principal about getting my kids to record short “reviews” of the play for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival website. I mentioned our lesson on Charlie Chaplin, and she said something that stuck with me, hard: Silent movies were the golden season for deaf people. Total inclusion.

On Friday, I had been sick for two weeks, and throat was raw.  After the post-show Q&A, my students wanted to meet the actors. The gymnasium was loud, and my voice was ka-put; I could not have interpreted for them. Because all the actors signed, Ponyo could go right up to one of them and say, I’m deaf! I have an implant and I sign and I talk! You are great and funny and I love you! all by herself.

On Friday, I literally had no voice. But because of accessibility, my students owned a piece of theirs.

My Yearly Crisis

Sometimes when I email my graduate advisors, the email is carefully crafted, with careful attention paid to professional word choices.

The email I sent yesterday was not one of those times.

~~~~~~~~~~~

About once per year, usually in the spring, I have a crisis of conscience. It used to be a general existential crisis, but over the years I have honed it to a finer point. And since you three are now members of Team Danielle, you get to partake of this latest incarnation of “What the hell is going on in this profession?!?!” And if you bear with the initial ranting phase, I promise the part that actually involves you comes at the end and ties it all together. I also promise minimal swears. Also this has nothing to do with my 30th birthday that happens to be in less than a week.

Anyway.

Part 1: This spring, one of my students is up for his three-year special education eligibility review. My school contracts with a school psychologist who used to do the UNIT (non-verbal IQ test) and an academic achievement test on my students to determine their eligibility for special education services (in addition to their audiological and speech/language testing). Because our budget is tighter this year, I have to do the academic achievement testing, which is a “normed” and “validated’ test that will give him a grade equivalent and percentile rank. It’s eating up my instructional time, since I have to do the evaluation 1:1 and I have no paraprofessional to work with my other students. Also, the vocabulary and reading comprehension questions are exactly the opposite of how I teach contextual reading and reading-for-meaning to my students, and the look on his face is “You have got to be kidding me, right??” But this is the stuff we use to rank and sort our students, it’s research-backed, and it pisses me off; what the hell does it mean that my student can’t identify the “odd” word in a group of five isolated vocabulary words? Put those words in context and you bet your boots he could figure out the meaning. It’s so freaking reductive it makes my eyes rattle. And I still have at least three more days of this ridiculousness to finish the damn test.

Part 2: I am writing a paper  on reading interventions for Deaf ELLs and ELL parent involvement. Speaking of “research based”… According to my literature review, citing other recent (2012, 2014) literature reviews, there are ZERO studies that fit the No Child Left Behind requirements for “evidence-based research” reading interventions for deaf students. Zero. Because a huge part of NCLB is replication. And it’s almost impossible to replicate intervention studies with deaf kids. Variances in hearing-loss etiology, age of identification, communication access at home, amplification, other diagnoses, school placement, and learning style all contribute to reading achievement. And teaching a second language (English) in light of an delayed first language (sign language) presents a unique challenge to developing “best practice.” You know how many hard-of-hearing ELL kids I can do my final project with? One. The other ELLs are deaf and don’t access spoken Spanish auditorily. So in deaf education, we have prominent researchers (Mark Marschark, for one) who scold deaf educators for using opinions and gut feelings and not evidence-based research in our reading instruction… but we having really nothing else upon which to base our curriculum (including his own research). Even he has changed his presentations in the last 5 years to “What we don’t know about teaching deaf kids to read.” I’m not even joking. That was the last keynote I saw him give.

Part 3: My degree plan has me slated to take Fundamentals of Educational Research. With the aforementioned Parts 1 and 2 as my background, I think I may throat punch someone if I am in a course for a whole semester built on this paradigm that insists we can measure anything objectively. The test I’m using for my kiddo (in Part 1) was not normed on deaf kids and only shows what he can’t do, not what he can. And it doesn’t even measure what he “can’t” do very well, at that. And the best sources I’ve been using for my papers have all been the sources that say “the old framework is shit! We need a new lens!” The old framework *is* shit… that’s the whole point of my program. Insisting educational outcomes can be measured objectively is how we end up ignoring the intersections and the marginalization. I can’t work in that model.

The Big Question: I’ve been doing a lot of reading (you know, in my spare time). I still absolutely want to do a thesis. I am quite taken with educational ethnography, Moll’s Funds of Knowledge, Border pedagogy based on Anzaldúa, and Freire’s critical pedagogy.  Is there a way I can do a pedagogical thesis rather than a methodological thesis? If so, I will need approval to alter my degree plan; drop ED-CIFS 503 and take something else. Something that will challenge me and result in fewer of the aforementioned throat punches.

Thanks for sticking with me through this long email, and through one more interesting facet of being on Team Danielle. It got a little hairy there in the middle. I wasn’t sure we’d make it. I will now accept interjections and the like.

Adapting

I am obsessed with audiograms.

When I first met my friend James, the second thing I noticed was his set of hearing aids. It’s an occupational hazard–I notice hearing aids. After I got to know him, I asked about his degree of hearing loss, how long he’d been hard-of-hearing, what he thought of his aids, what kind of impact it made on his job on the radio.

When I found out my uncle had seen an audiologist for his tinnitus, I asked what his audiogram looked like. He said, Not good. He’s a farmer. He is 68. Of course it does not look good. Still, I wanted to see it.

I like watching my students from a distance. I like watching them code switch when the communicate with individuals with different communication modalities. I like watching my student who uses mobility devices use motor-planning strategies when encountering a multi-step physical task. I like watching them negotiate, self-talk, and problem solve.

Really, my fascination is adaptation.

I conducted a home visit for one of my students two weeks ago. Watching her in her “hearing” home environment, compared to our Deaf school environment, was eye-opening. I’d seen her interact with her family several times, but never in their own home. Her adaptations to that space were fascinating: the way she stared at her parents’ faces, the way she checked on her sleeping brother, the way she simplified and enlarged her sign choices, and the way she positioned herself at the table so she could see as much of the house as possible.

In my ideal world, classrooms and homes and schools and grocery stores and colleges and skating rinks would follow principals of Universal Design. In my real world, Gallaudet University is a leading source on the concept of Deaf Space, and some days I smack my head wondering why my school doesn’t look like that, and why it took us so long to codify some principles for good design.

I have a sensory or auditory processing issue. It is definitely tied to my migraines, but it is also correlated to anxiety and stress and fatigue (and the direction of causality is pretty squiffy on those). Last night, during our final rehearsal for V-Day: The Vagina Monologues, I heard everything. Where’s the problem, Danielle? you might ask. The problem is that I. hear. everything. And I can’t filter it. I can’t sort it, or focus on the important strand of information, or even know for sure if it is English that I am hearing. The same thing happened during skate camp on Sunday. There was music, I was skating, everyone else was skating, my eyes were on the track, and I couldn’t hear the skaters leading the drill yell to stop. I got really embarrassed when I was the only one still skating and someone looked at me, exasperated, and said, Um, time??

Without a visual cue, I’m lost. I’ve adapted, and I usually do okay, but when I’m skating and can’t see the leader’s face, or when we’re rehearsing lighting cues and I can’t see anyone’s face, my adaptations mean exactly nil.

I don’t have a diagnosis for my processing problem. At this point in my life, I don’t think it would help me. During rehearsal last night, I missed my cue because everyone was talking and no one was listening, and I felt scolded. I said, I know my cue, I just can’t hear when everyone is talking at the same time. I know I sounded pissed and not pleasant. I was frustrated and anxious.

James and I have a “shorthand;” it’s a way he darts his eyes in my direction when he misses something. I’m not one to jump in (because privilege and disempowerment are things I’m trying to check in my interactions), but even though it’s subtle, it’s intentional. If we’re on the air taking a caller, I’ll repeat back what the person on the phone said, or answer the question in a way that restates enough of the information that everyone stays up to speed. Chances are, if James missed it, the radio audience missed it, too. It’s a good strategy for everybody.

Which brings me around to my Big Main Point™:

The strategies James, Alicia, and I use on the radio are good strategies for everybody, even though James is the only one with hearing loss. Open sight lines and a lack of visual clutter are good design principles, period. Good lighting and careful acoustic design benefit more than just the Deaf. Not talking at the same time as ten other people is common courtesy. And using a whistle to mark the end of a skating drill just seems like a good idea all around.

Diagnoses are important for a lot of reasons, but we all have needs that extend beyond our diagnosis. And the people around us are adapting all the time: people on the autism spectrum, people with chronic pain, sensory impairments, sensory integration disorders, psychiatric disabilities. Taking principles that helps a specific population–in my examples, that’s Deaf Space–and applying them in ways that are broadly beneficial will go a long way to help all of us make those daily adaptations. Just think of a whole population of people benefiting from open sight lines and lack of visual clutter!

Public spaces are becoming more accessible and inclusive, but many programs are targeted toward individual groups. I recently got a new mantra: focus on the need, not the diagnosis. Since I first read that, my thinking has changed. My students need sign language; it doesn’t matter than their audiograms might indicate they have “enough” residual hearing for an auditory program. Our students need accessible play spaces; whether they are blind, autistic, or have CP is not the most important factor.

Paradigm shifts can be hard; this one might be fun…

Ski Club!!

Today is our annual day trip up to Dollar Mountain (in Sun Valley, Idaho) for adaptive ski lessons! This year, with the support of family, friends, community members, and volunteers galore, the students are also participating in a season-long Ski and Snowboard Club that is providing two weekend-long trips in addition to the day trip. All the students get adaptive ski and snowboard lessons that meet them at their developmental level and develop their outdoors sports skills. It also serves as a valuable shared language experience that we can use to build and foster communication.

Just look at what we can do when we make accessibility and communication a priority!!

https://animoto.com/play/RKEEBjJRIiqt5Q1jejqDOg?autostart=

If you would like to learn more about the ISDB Adaptive Ski and Snowboard Club, please visit our Go Fund Me page for more information!