Sunday, October 14, 2007

Building a house

What books have I read lately?

I downloaded and read the entire content standards for fourth grade from the California Department of Education website. Enjoyed reading those. Quite intriguing, actually. More on that later.

I've read two books on Social Deficits and Social Deficit Training by Michelle Garcia Winner, and now I realize that I really need a third book by her before Wednesday. Ha! Not happening.

I've read huge portions of the Conduct Disorders section on Special Education Law and techniques for documenting IEP requests. As I go, I take notes on those and then scoot over to Wrightslaw to research California law. I take notes on those.

(As a research geek, can I just put in a plug for the beauty that is Wrights Law? Every topic is hotlinked and they maintain on the website all the opinions from all the court cases they reference. They'll talk about a Supreme Court Case, and then, viola, there it is. It's not only their interpretation of it, but there's the opinion itself. I'm such a goof. I was actually GIGGLING the other day when I read a Supreme Court opinion regarding "stay put" orders. There it is in black and white, the Supreme Court justices telling the State of California that there was no exception for "dangerous" students because, nationwide, school districts had looked for loopholes to segregate disabled students from their peers, AND that the Supreme Court and Congress did not trust school districts not to exaggerate the danger posed by disabled students in order to segregate them.

Lest you all think that the Supreme Court wants dangerous students in schools, no, they don't. But they do want the District to be responsible for the behavior of their disabled students, not blame or punish the students for being compromised by their disability. Wow. Once you've walked down this road that I have been on with Saul, it's almost an indescribable feeling to read that on paper. Chills, giggles, and tears, all at once.)

So where is all this going? For what am I preparing?

Saul has his annual IEP on Wednesday, where we set goals and objectives for the rest of this year. Last year his IEP was essentially scribbled on the back of an envelope and I signed it so that he could start receiving services. The goals were never met, and now as I look back at them, there was nothing In Place that would have helped him build to that goal. (Forget about dragging him through hallways or giving him untrained aides. They went from, "This kid can't stay in his chair" to "Saul will stay at his desk in the classroom 80% of the time by the end of the year" with no details as to how this could be accomplished. Wonder why it didn't work.)

I'm not doing that again this year. This year we're going to be much more benchmark and objective based. Legally, they have to have "reasonable" and "measurable" goals in place for him. I'm not going to go back to what doesn't work and try to make it work. Saul has demonstrated a number of times that when he says he's not going to do X, he really and truly means it. Is it Oppositional behavior? Is it Anxiety? Is it an as-of-yet-undiagnosed processing disorder? Honestly, I don't really care. Truth is, he's not going to do it. Fighting about it for the next forty-eight hours ain't going to do no one no good no how. Let's try something that works!

What's working? Mr. Ho, his at-home instructor. Oh my lord, I do love Mr. Ho. I'm not sure why you sent him into our lives, Lord, but I silently thank You every day that he rings our doorbell and shuffles into the house carrying his canvas bag full of exciting projects. Mr. Ho is a retired engineer who became a Math and Science teacher for the District in his retirement. Mr. Ho does not believe in long division or rote learning of the multiplication tables. He believes in applied math and problem solving.

Here's an example: Mr. Ho heard from Saul that he Hates Writing. He asked me what I thought the problem was. I explained that Saul seems to have a physical problem with pencils on paper -- the paper crumples, or the letters doesn't look right, or sometimes his anxiety about proper spelling gets in the way of him writing anything. On the other hand, Occupational Therapists have evaluated him and said that his pencil grip is appropriate and that he doesn't rise to the level of disability.

The next day, Mr. Ho started talking about Ancient China and pottery and kilns. Then Mr. Ho started talking about soot, and the development of ink. Saul offered that he had once had a feather quill pen but that the tip had broken. "Oh, yes. They are very fragile and always breaking. Have you ever seen a metal tip pen?"

Out of his canvas bag came a pot of ink, some smooth paper, and three metal dip nib pens. Saul dived on them, and with Mr. Ho's quiet tutelage, Saul was able to write some letters in a consistent script. Mr. Ho left him the materials and wrote a note to Saul on the practice sheet. "Saul, you are a very smart student and a very sweet boy. I like working with you very much, Mr. Ho."

Mr. Ho commented to me as he left the house that day, "Saul can write, and he does beautiful work when he slows down, but why aren't his texts on a computer?" I shrugged and said that so far the District had been unwilling to have him learn on the computer because when he was frustrated he banged on the keyboard. Mr. Ho said, "I can teach him to type. That shouldn't be a problem!"

Over the weekend, Saul tried to use the metal nibs, but ended up bending one. He was very embarrassed, angry, and frustrated. Mr. Ho came back and asked how the practice had gone. Saul bowed his head and said, "I dunno what happened. I got angry or something but I broke your pen."

"That happens all the time! That's why they only cost you a few cents at the art supply store! Now. Do you think the Ancient Chinese used metal tip pens the first time they discovered ink?"

"No. Didn't they use brushes or something?"

"Yes. They did." And out of the bag came an entire brush calligraphy set, with an ink stone, ink stick, water spoon, brushes, and a brush rest. Saul literally fell off the kitchen bench onto the floor.

As they ground the ink and tested it for consistency, they talked about relative hardness of materials (a Fourth Grade science standard), the types of animal fur used in the bristles, what section of the food web the animals represented (Third and Fourth grade standards), Chinese history (Eight Grade History), the emigration of Chinese laborers to California, and the growth of California as a state (Fourth Grade standard). They measured the perimeter of both the stone and the ink stick, calculated the area of each (Fourth Grade standard) and discussed why the stone needed to be so much larger than the stick if the stick needs to be ground on the stone. They also talked about water, water conservation (Third and Fourth Grade standard), and a recent newspaper story about an anniversary celebration of a dam nearby. They talked about the condensation cycle (Fourth Grade standard) and presented various questions to each other about why the dam was curved and not straight, and discussed the erosion of canyons over time.

Mr. Ho wants to build an entire program around Saul, covering all content areas, presented in a conversational style, with access to technology for research, writing, and for assessment of accomplishments. He wants to teach Saul how to use a calculator, how to type, and he wants to school to help Saul learn how to cope with being in a group. Every day now that he comes to the house he says to me, "Parents I work with always tell me their kid is bright, and they're right. But generally the kid is bright in ONE area. I talk to my retired friends about what I am doing with your son, and they cannot believe that I am working with a fourth grader. Saul is exceptionally bright across all areas. He always ends every conversation with 'But what about...?' He needs an advocate, and I want to be his advocate."

It's a long speech, usually given at the door on his way out, but he says it every time.

So, on Wednesday, I'm proposing that the District provide for Saul's needs and that they stop focusing on what isn't working: sitting in class bored out of his skull to the point that he explodes and asks to go home. He is going to need to be trained in social skills, how to wait for a pause in conversations, how to operate in a group and let others take the lead from time to time, etc., and he is going to need to be given access to technology and trained in how to use it.

The District is quite focused on having him come to school, and that's fine, he needs recess and lunch with his peers. Mr. Ho is fragile and cannot be made responsible for Saul for the entire 6.5 hours of the school day, but on the other hand, Saul's day needs to be "chunked" as it is. He needs PE instruction (Fourth grade standard is the manipulation of other objects, balls, bats, frisbees, and an understanding that games have rules), music instruction, social skill instruction, and free reading time. Mr. Ho doesn't need to be available for all of that. But Mr. Ho has already said that he's happy to put together an entire curriculum for Saul as long as the District works with him to develop a means of measuring Saul's achievement. This is going to have to be some sort of technological accommodation or testing method.

And how will the District provide the all important "Social Skills" instruction? Well, that's why I've been reading the books from Michelle Garcia Winner. I'm also bringing my own expert on Social Skills training, a counselor from the camp Saul went to this year. We're going to lay out a curriculum that the District can follow, one that has discrete IEP goals, daily progress goals, and weekly assessments, to help Saul learn how to cope with other people in his environment.

So, by next Wednesday, I need to put together a environmental plan (where he will learn), a time chunking plan (how long will he spend on each topic during the day), a social skills curriculum (in what areas does Saul demonstrate that he needs help), and an argument (a calm one) regarding why the District needs to provide for Saul in this manner. I'm leaving the educational plan up to Mr. Ho.

The most obvious argument is that Saul hasn't yet learned a single thing in his current classroom setting, and therefore needs accommodations to achieve at the levels that No Child Left Behind mandated for disabled students. The second argument is that Saul is not the only child who has this type of disability, lack of social awareness. The District is going to get more, they already have a number of them on campus right now, and it would be in the District's best interests to get their collective butt in gear to address the needs of all those students. Saul's program can start as a pilot, and as he gets more confident in his abilities, the program can serve the other kids on campus by the end of this year. Then there's the more legal argument that the District has to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education for Saul. I have met with experts and I have talked repeatedly to the Director of Special Ed on this topic. There IS no private placement for Saul which would be appropriate. So, that means that legally, the District must provide.

Still, I'm not sure that the District is eager to walk down this road.

More reading ahead.


Marianne McA said...

Mr Ho sounds lovely. More than that. Very bright himself, and a born teacher.

I don't know how it works in the US - will Saul get what he's legally entitled to, or is there a gap between what the legislation requires & what the district can afford?

I liked the look of the Winner book - looked it up on Amazon - it costs £300! Perhaps you could make a small fortune exporting secondhand copies...

Suisan said...

The District cannot deny services based on cost, but in any complex relationship, there's a lot of discussion as to what any of the definitions mean.

The District has to provide, under Federal law, a "Free and Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) in the "Least Restrictive Environment" (LRE). So they can't ask the parents to pick up costs. Ont the other hand, there's a lot of discussion about what "appropriate" and "restrictive" means.

If the child can make progress under a less expensive system, then the District will generally argue that the simplest system or intervention is appropriate to that child. (If the child makes no progress then the parents can argue that further interventions are appropriate. And then you dance.) Also, the LRE is generally thought to be the GenEd classroom. Any movement away from that environment needs to be well reasoned and documented.

Abuse of the LRE statute is where a lot of the higher level court cases have come from. Districts generally want disruptive children in smaller classes, and so do parents a lot of the time. But if the case goes through due process hearings, the higher courts will almost always rule in favor of putting the child in the GenEd classroom or a similar environment to uphold the LRE mandate. Congress and the Supreme Court view LRE as an anti-segregation/civil rights protection.

Lyvvie said...

Mr. Ho sounds amazing! I hope everything goes aces with the District. Fingers crossed.