Monday, April 30, 2012

Thank You!


A great big "Thank You!" to the generous donors (Steve, Barbara, Cortney, Robert and Todd) who funded our project through DonorsChoose.

The Create Your Own Planet books have arrived and are a big hit.

As part of the thank you package DonorsChoose asks teachers to take pictures of the students enjoying the materials.  I thought it would be fun to take a group shot with the children holding up letters spelling out our message and proudly displaying the books.

Before the picture was taken I asked the kids to smile.  Boy, did they smile! Some of them look a little crazed.  The little girl on the bottom left is mad because she wanted to hold up a letter instead of a book.  Two children had to cover their faces because their parents did not sign the permission slips allowing them to be photographed.  Someone was absent.

It's always something.  But this is the stuff that cracks me up and keeps things interesting.

Click on the photo to embiggen.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

More Than One Perspective

I read a frustrating article in New York Teacher yesterday entitled Teaching Children who are Hearing-Impaired.  

Hearing-Impaired.

Those words alone are indicative of a perspective that views children who are deaf and hard of hearing as lacking, damaged and in need of fixing.

I do not take issue with the author who comes across as a passionate, caring teacher eager to share her experiences in order to edify new teachers in the field of deaf education.  She provides a few helpful suggestions about FM units and how to use interpreters but one "tip" had me shaking my head.

She writes, "Hearing-impaired youngsters are concrete learners and often have difficulty with abstract concepts.  We have to ease into such concepts."

This statement is reminiscent of one presented during a workshop I attended on assessment and intervention for students with "hearing loss and other disabilities".  The keynote speaker said that hearing-impaired children lack the ability to communicate with others and this inability to access language has a negative impact on social skills and abstract reasoning.

I take issue with these blanket statements because they are misleading. While this may be true for some children who are deaf or hard of hearing it is not true for all of them.  And it is certainly not true for those culturally Deaf children who have had access to a visual language since birth.  (Is that a blanket statement?  Oops!)

When it comes to education one size does not fit all.  Sometimes an oral approach with speech therapy is successful and sometimes a signed environment best meets the needs of a student.  It's frustrating that both sides of the oral vs. manual debate cannot put forth all the educational options for parents.  Too often doctors give misleading or one-sided information--keeping parents in the dark--to push their own agendas.

Why can't we all just play nice?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Deafness Isn't a Deficit

The good folks at Teaching Tolerance just published a blog post I wrote for them.  You can read it here or here...

Every prospective parent hopes for a healthy baby.

But when it comes to hearing and Deaf cultures, “healthy” is defined differently. Four out of 5 deaf children are born to hearing parents. When told this prognosis, hearing parents often experience what psychiatrist and grief expert Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross characterized as the Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).

But for culturally Deaf parents (it is common practice to capitalize Deaf when writing about Deaf culture and its members) the news is often met with joy.

This dichotomy came to my attention recently when Lauren, my friend and co-teacher for the past nine years, gave birth to her first child. Lauren and her husband are both deaf. A short time ago they learned that their son is also deaf.

When I share this news with my friends who are hearing and have no connection to Deaf culture or the community, their reaction is typically one of sympathy. Their sad eyes and slumped shoulders are indicative of the mainstream opinion that deafness is strictly a medical issue.

The hearing majority in the United States has deemed deafness an infirmity, something that must be fixed. This view is so ingrained in our society that most of us could not imagine another perspective.

We often forget about the Deaf perspective that incorporates a rich cultural history including stories, art, theater, myths, poetry and jokes in a community bound together through American Sign Language (ASL). It is passed down through generations and treasured by its members.

The birth of a deaf child to deaf parents and a family that is culturally Deaf is indeed a welcome occurrence. It means shared experiences and a common language – a language that allows a baby to communicate with his or her hands long before speech production is possible. At just 5 months, Lauren’s son is babbling in ASL. This means he is already forming letters of the manual alphabet with his tiny fingers. It will not be long before he is able to sign words.

The promise of communication with an infant via sign language has not been lost on many hearing parents. Programs are available to teach hearing babies sign language. Their parents are thrilled when signs such as “more” or “milk” are expressed.

In some schools, sign language is also used to reinforce language development for hearing children with speech delays. Many early elementary educators teach children the manual alphabet and some basic signs.

Why is it then, that we celebrate one aspect of Deaf culture—ASL—whilst shaking our heads in despair because a child is born with a hearing loss? Surely there is room to celebrate this type of diversity.

I shared this perspective with a friend who is hearing. He replied, suggesting that it would not be the case, “but wouldn’t you want the best for your child?” I responded to him saying, “Of course, every parent wants what is best for his or her child. I guess it all depends on your perspective.”

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Remembering Etan

Etan Patz was in first grade when he disappeared 33 years ago on his way to school.

I teach first grade.  I know how trusting, loving and happy children are at that age. I imagine Etan walking the two blocks to the bus stop full of big boy pride at finally being allowed to do this on his own for the first time.

But along the way something terrible happened to this sweet-faced little boy.

I remember as a teenager reading about this heartbreaking tragedy that was--and remains--a mystery.  Like the rest of the country it hit me hard. How could someone hurt a child? A few days ago I watched an emotionally painful video clip of his father breaking down as he imagined the moment when Etan realized he was being betrayed by an adult.

Now that the case is reopened I have become somewhat obsessed. I have written before about the promise I made myself as a child to one day use my "grown-up" power to protect and listen to children. Etan's story has certainly been an influence and has held a lasting impact towards keeping that resolve.

I wish I could have been there to protect Etan.

After school on Friday I walked over to 127 Price Street to visit the site of his disappearance.  I'm not sure why I wanted to go but I was hoping for some sense of something.  I wanted to walk the path Etan walked.  To imagine his thoughts.  To remember him.


It shocked me to realize that only 5 years after his disappearance I moved into an apartment less than 10 minutes from his home.  As a student at NYU I worked out at a gym that was just around the corner from his bus stop.

As I deal with the emotions connected with this case I am thankful, once again, that I am in a position to protect, nurture and listen to young children.  It does not take away the suffering of those directly involved in the Etan Patz case but his story has helped shape my own.  I hope his family gets some closure soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Create Your Own Planet

My first grade class just completed an in-depth study of our Solar System that was inspired by student interest.  Within this unit my students learned how to research a topic, synthesize information, write interesting, focused books and share their finished work with an audience.

The commitment and excitement surrounding this effort was truly impressive.  However, there were times when I wished I could allow for a bit more play. A bit more imagination. A bit more fun!

So, when they thought of creating their own planets based on their learning I immediately thought of children's book author Todd Parr and his book Create Your Own Planet.  It is a 240 page Doodle and Draw book that asks children things like, "what makes your planet special?" and "what does your planet look like when you see it from space?"

This project seems like a natural extension to our nonfiction study but budgetary issues forbid me to purchase this book.  Therefore, I have put my request for 12 books up on DonorsChoose.  This is a "wish list"  web site for public school teachers that allows anyone (family, friends, strangers) to support classroom projects through tax deductible donations.


If you are interested in learning more or contributing please click here. Everyone who donates receives handwritten thank you cards from the children along with photographs of them enjoying the materials.

*Update (4/12/12) - This project is now fully funded!  A huge thank you to Cortney, Steve, Robert, Barbara and Todd!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nothing Without Joy

Balance!

In one corner of the ring stands learning that is fun, motivating and engaging.

In the other--commanding cheers from a bloodthirsty throng--hails education that is rigorous, standardized and structured.

Who will win this ongoing battle?

It is a fight teachers wage every day in every lesson.

But I ask myself, "why must the two be separate?"  Teaching and learning can be both captivating and challenging.

Why are educators today being asked to choose?

Of course, in reality the struggle is much more subtle than two opponents duking it out in a wrestling match.

Rigor comes along wearing the multi-hued uniform of performance tasks, formative assessments and standardized tests. It continually exerts pressure and tries to edge out joyful classroom investigations.

Luckily for me I had a heaping dose of the Reggio Emilia "Nothing Without Joy" philosophy this past week courtesy of my friend and inspiration Lisa Burman.  Lisa was the AUSSIE literacy coach for our school for many, many years.  She championed teaching that respected the many languages of children in an organic, unhurried atmosphere.

Over a beer we discussed my concern that I was letting go of some of the joy in order to make way for rubrics, progress charts, compliant bulletin boards and scripted curricula.  She, in her brilliance, helped me see a way to navigate the demands of the Common Core Standards and the child-centered work we have been doing at our school for more than a decade.

It turns out I wasn't really veering too far off the path.

Rigor?  Of course!

Joy?  Always!

I lift a glass to you dear Lisa!

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