Category Archives: Notebook and self-help skills

Art = Critical Thinking

guernicaIn my MATH class I use Picasso’s Guernica to get students to think – shaping critical thinking. This is a tribute to my art and architecture class which was the coolest class I had as an undergrad – the act of art speaking to life blew me away. I show them a photo with the following directions:

What do you notice in this painting? Write any ideas at all on your own paper.

I find that after prompting, prodding and not accepting “I don’t know” almost all will share something, e.g. “people look sad.” That singular effort alone is a big step for many. Here is information about the painting that I share afterwards (credit to Wikipedia):

Guernica is a painting by Pablo Picasso, in response to the bombing of Guernica, Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

 Guernica shows suffering people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos.

  • The overall scene is within a room where, at an open end on the left, a wide-eyed bull stands over a woman grieving over a dead child in her arms.
  • The centre is occupied by a horse falling in agony as it had just been run through by a spear or javelin. It is important to note that the large gaping wound in the horse’s side is a major focus of the painting.
  • The bull’s tail forms the image of a flame with smoke rising from it, seemingly appearing in a window created by the lighter shade of gray surrounding it.
  • Under the horse is a dead, apparently dismembered soldier; his hand on a severed arm still grasps a shattered sword from which a flower grows.
  • A light bulb blazes in the shape of an evil eye over the suffering horse’s head (the bare bulb of the torturer’s cell.) Picasso’s intended symbolism in regards to this object is related to the Spanish word for lightbulb; “bombilla”, which makes an allusion to “bomb” and therefore signifies the destructive effect which technology can have on society.
  • To the upper right of the horse, a frightened female figure, who seems to be witnessing the scenes before her, appears to have floated into the room through a window. Her arm, also floating in, carries a flame-lit lamp. The lamp is positioned very close to the bulb, and is a symbol of hope, clashing with the lightbulb.
  • From the right, an awe-struck woman staggers towards the center below the floating female figure. She looks up blankly into the blazing light bulb.
  • Daggers that suggest screaming replace the tongues of the bull, grieving woman, and horse.
  • A bird, possibly a dove, stands on a shelf behind the bull in panic.
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Lone Ranger vs Self-Help

In leadership class I studied the Lone Ranger approach to problem-solving. When a problem arose in an organization the boss would ride in and solve the problem. Afterwards he or she would ride off and the employees would be no better prepared for the next crisis or problem. The point of the analogy is empowerment – get the individuals to take responsibility for problem-solving. lone_ranger

The same holds true for the relationship between educators and students. All too often educators jump in to solve problems for the students without training students on responsibility. The students are not empowered or held responsible. This problem is magnified for students with special needs.

The most common example occurs during meetings with parents. When a student struggles the first suggestion is often asking teachers if there is additional time available to tutor or help the student individually (parents are not the only ones asking this). The original problem of poor self-help skills is not addressed and the adults shoulder more of the responsibility. As a consequence, the students’ belief  that external forces will or are necessary to fix their problems is reinforced.

My suggestion is to look at how the student can be supported as he or she is trained to be more effective in employing self-help skills. Is he taking notes? Is she doing all of her homework? Do the students follow examples in the book or use other resources?

The following are anecdotes of how learned helplessness is developed.

  • A student was having problems with a math problem. The para asked if he needed a calculator and walked over to get one for the student.
  • A student had notebook organization as the focus of an IEP objective. Each week his PARA was organizing his notebooks for him.
  • A special ed teacher started to copy a homework assignment for a student because he didn’t have a pencil.
  • Many math teachers, when asked for help, will show students how to do a problem instead of pressing the student to find and follow an example.

The evidence is clear. Students learn to say “I don’t know” and the adults show them what to do as the students passively observe.

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Post-Secondary Outcomes as Accountability Measure

Unprepared College Freshmen Could Be The Cost Of High Schools

Huffington Post Education has a story about states considering action to hold school districts accountable for their graduates having to take remedial courses upon entering college.

Of course there are many factors that affect a student’s performance in college but high schools can do more to prepare students for post-secondary education or training. The current set of evaluation and  accountability measures are actually counterproductive for preparing students for subsequent education and training. SAT scores, graduation rates, standardized testing and grades in general do not measure independent learner skills. Such skills are essential in a post-secondary setting that offers far less support provided in high schools.

This could have a major and very positive impact on students with disabilities. In lieu of the current approach of helping a student with special needs pass his or her courses to get a diploma the focus would be on training a student to be a more independent learner with competence in study skills such as maintaining and using a notebook.

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Homework as a Challenge Part 1

In another post  I describe a former 7th grade student of mine who was classified as having asperger’s and tested at a 1st grade or kindergarten math and reading level. He was not doing his homework. His science teacher explained that he was prompting the student to copy the homework. The student’s guardian explained that she asks to see his homework but he didn’t have any. I set out to research why.

The first photo below shows what he copied for his science homework in his agenda. Immediately apparent is the problem with writing, spelling and simply making sense of the assignment. I took his agenda to the science classroom and found what he had copied (2nd photo below). It was not even the assignment but the key sections for a lab report.

My takeaway from this is as follows:

  • A problem with homework completion can be the result of a variety of causes.
  • The most common approach to supporting homework completion that I have seen in 17 years is to prompt the student to copy homework.
  • General ed teachers can easily overlook the complexity of completing homework that a child with a disability can encounter.
  • Even the act of completing homework is a skill with numerous steps that can be broken down by a task analysis (see my post about homework and reading).
  • As Dr. Molteni, one of my professors overseeing autism studies at the University of Saint Joseph often stated, students with autism who find success usually have an individual who takes a personal and direct role in helping the student. That is certainly what this student needed.

I.C. copy of hw from board into agenga

science report outline on board

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Shaping Critical Thinking and Self-help Skills

Below is an example of a puzzle I use to train students to make an effort and to think about problems. I have found that many students not only have a learned helplessness when it comes to math but they have been trained to follow steps mindlessly. Following a task analysis approach the first step is for students to find an entry point to a problem. They also need to feel comfortable taking risks. Slowly moving the students towards solving more complicated problems is called shaping.

Below you can see that the student made a more simplistic attempt. Given that this was done the first day of school I was very pleased with the effort.

How many squares problem

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Addressing Homework Completion Problems

Addressing Homework Completion Problems

Nice article Dr. Gary Brannigan (@GaryBrannigan) with 9 suggestions for helping a student with homework completion problems. #3 is especially pertinent to math:

Initially assign homework with which the struggling learner is unlikely to have difficulty. Mark the homework for punctual submission and content. Gradually increase difficulty but never beyond the struggling learner’s ability to succeed with moderate effort.

This is called shaping behavior. By starting slowly and moving a student towards the desired outcome. Simply getting the homework turned in on a regular basis is often a major task.

I also posted about notebooks. My approach is to have students use a simple folder for storing homework and to leave their notebook in class. The initial focus is on completing homework and submitting it on a regular basis. As the homework becomes more challenging the student will begin to take the notebook home.

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Manchester CC Survey about Student Struggles

Manchester CC Survey about Student Struggles

Manchester Community College (CT) surveyed their students and asked for reasons why students struggle in their classes. The number two most common response was that students didn’t know how to study effectively.

If the students in the general population struggle with this imagine students with special needs. As I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog, students with autism or asperger’s are very likely to have executive functioning deficits which directly and significantly impacts the aforementioned self-help skills.

Note: commentor asked for link to this study. Here it is. Find “Survey Results at the bottom of the list of handouts – page 11 on the Word document.

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Notebook Strategy

Notebook Strategy

I use what I call a table of contents notebook strategy. Each item (notes, handout etc.) that is to be placed into the notebook is dated and labeled with a “page” number. Each page is recorded in the table of contents. This helps students maintain work in chronological order. For example, on a single day a student may have a warm-up/do now, notes and classwork solving a 1 step equation (e.g. x + 3 = 9).

This helps the student because he or she can find the notes and classwork when he attempts homework. This helps the parent monitor the student’s work and organization efforts. Also, if a parent needs to help a student he or she can see the notes to assist with homework.

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Math Work is like a Maze

Math Work is like a Maze

Students in math often believe they should know exactly what to do to complete a problem. If not they think they cannot do the problem. Effective math students have learned how to tinker with a problem until they find a path. This is called academic discipline.

I use a maze as an analogy. When we work through a maze we hit roadblocks. When we do, we back up and try something else. That is how to do math.

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