Friday, April 1, 2016

Individualizing Instruction

I'm This post took me a really long time to write. I think it's because the subject is so sensitive to me and I want to do it justice. I think it just took a took a long time to process what to say. 

I have a secret. When I was an elementary school teacher, I was intimidated by the special education department. Not the teachers...They were fabulous. It was the IEP's (Individual Education Plans for the kids in that department), meetings, legalities, and modifying instruction for the students, that scared me. If I had become a special education teacher, it would have been so much easier to get a teaching position. There were literally hundreds of applicants for the position of general education teacher for each interview that I attended. But I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to reach the kids who needed more attention, so I got my credential in general education. After being in the classroom for one day I realized that it wasn't just the kiddos in special education that would need their education to be individualized, it was every student. I learned to do what we in the education field call "differentiation." This concept was HUGE. We're talking hours and hours of inservices (classes for us teachers) dedicated to the subject every year. I drew upon this wealth of information given to me, every day in my classroom, as most teachers do. You can't have a successful classroom without doing this. But still, even after ten years in the classroom, the kids with IEP's intimidated me. And this makes it extra ironic that my own child ends up with an IEP and I find myself in these intense meetings with specialists as I sit in the spot of the parent instead of the professional. There are times when I literally feel as if I know nothing...That all of those years didn't happen. When it's your own child, it's just different and harder. If I could go back and do those years over again, I would have walked the parent into the IEP meeting with a warmer smile and perhaps even asked if they wanted coffee. I would have been a lot different.

 I desperately wanted my daughter to spend another year in preschool/transitional kindergarten, but in the public school system, a child who has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) such as my daughter, just isn't allowed to be "held back." There are many reasons for this, the most of which being that kids who are held back are thought to want to drop out of high school because they would be eighteen years old and only juniors in high school. The other thought is that if a child has learning difficulties that warrant an IEP, those difficulties aren't going to change over time and that it is unfair to hold them back. I agree with these assertions most of the time and believe me, I explained them to many parents over the years who begged to have their child retained. 

My daughter has a different story though, being that she would have an additional year of preschool if she had been born when she should have been instead of prematurily. I felt that it was deeply unfair that I had to send my already tiny girl into a classroom where she would be the absolute youngest and she was already at a disadvantage with her prematurity. There was nothing that anyone in the public schools could do and everyone's hands were tied (they tried!), so after months of praying, agonizing, and looking at different options, I went to the public charter homeschool and told them my feelings, and in under a minute, they had her signed up for another year of preschool. I would be the teacher and I could individualize her instruction. It was perfect and a gift from God. I strongly feel that I did the absolute best thing, and when she enters kindergarten in the fall (still in a homeschool environment but she'll attend class two days a week), she will have had an entire year to mature. If she would have been born when she should have been, this would be her year to be in kindergarten anyway. 

Every day I truly have to think about how to individualize (differentiate) her instruction, whereas I don't have to think about it as much with Strong B. And sometimes I feel truly terrible at it. I think that as the years go by of homeschooling, that I will feel more confident with how I tailor it for her. She makes it easy...She is so incredibly hard working and sweet. Something that has stuck with me ever since my undergraduate program in child development, is Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. If you have ever taken any class about children ever, you have heard of this. Vygotsky's theory was that you should take where the child is at and stretch a little above it, and that is where instruction should be. I use this mode of thinking most of the time with Tiny B. 

I'm going to take one lesson and explain how I differentiated for her. 

Tiny B has fine motor difficulties, specifically writing. This is common with micropreemies. It is a challenge because cognitively she is on par with other students her age. I jump on any writing opportunities for her that are different. This year her occupational therapist wants her to work on fine motor skills that will help her with writing, but not a lot of actual writing yet. In my heart I know that it's just not the time to start working on her letters a lot...I firmly believe that if I do too much now when she's not ready, it will only cause her frustration. This activity really appealed to me.

I must admit that I got so excited that I didn't even read the first set of instructions which was to draw on materials with different textures. That would have been awesome! I pretty much changed the instructions, but I realize now that following them exactly would have been amazing as well. 

We discussed hieroglyphics and what they are. I took the sand from a pyramid art project, and I put it in a tray. I took the hierogylphic cards that Mother Goose Time gave us, and had her draw the pictures in the sand with her finger.

I had her then use a cotton swab to draw the same pictures. Using different tools to draw, instead of a pencil, can be easier and helps her to build up to using a pencil. 

I then progressed onto drawing letters in the sand using her finger. 

Then, because she understands some difficult concepts and needs to be challenged in some areas, I had her draw her own pictures and make up story sentences that go with them. It's so funny, because I almost did this exact same lesson with my 6th graders, except that it was on paper!

She drew "Tiny B is happy." I hope that when she grows up she'll be happy with the choices that I made for her. I think she will. 

*I receive Mother Goose Time curriculum in exchange for my honest sharing of experiences, resulting from our personal use. All opinions/thoughts are my own and are in no way influenced by others.

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