Saturday, April 20, 2013

Membership, Participation, Learning

Has anyone else heard of MPL? It stands for Membership, Participation and Learning. It's the focus of an initiative that has been going on in my school for the last two years. My school is trying to improve its inclusive practices. Personally, I think my school has always done a great job with this, but we have really taken it to the next level thanks to a grant we received two years ago. The grant has allowed us to attend conferences and have planning time.
If you're anything like me then you have probably had students with special needs of one type or another in your class each year. I've worked in a few schools in both the North and the South, and I think it is pretty normal for those kids to be pulled out of class for DI, or direct instruction, in math, reading or both. These kids are often the same ones receiving Speech or OT, or autistic support, etc. Before you know it some kids are in your room for attendance, recess, lunch and dismissal...and that's about it. I know in my old school that's what we referred to as inclusion.

We've experimented with peer supports, co-teaching, and total participation techniques, but we wanted to go bigger.

This year in fifth grade we decided to make a change. A pretty big one. We were going to shift our thinking so that "pull-out" instruction was the exception to the rule rather than the norm.

Our classrooms this year were somewhat "stacked" with the purpose of making it so that each teacher on the team could focus on working with less support staff/special educators. For example, I work closely with the autistic support teacher, ESL teacher, and one learning support teacher. This takes about 4 people off of my list of people that I need to work with as far as scheduling and communication. It also means that for those teachers I'm the only 5th grade teacher they work with. That means that during my reading time they are free to come INTO my classroom rather than pull 2 students from all of our rooms.

So, while I have 3 ESL students (who are also learning support students), and 2 students with autism, a colleague across the hall has no students with autism, but several learning support students. She only needs to work with a limited number of people also. It's a big time saver for all involved, and makes it reasonable to find time to plan and collaborate.

The BEST part of all this is that I have 5 students in my class this year that are with me for 90% of day, whereas last year some of them were in the room for less than 40% of the day(that included lunch and recess). Speech, OT and Title 1 services are all still pull out.

The other teachers and I have found a co-teaching model that works for us. They push-in instead of pull-out. It's great because they often are available to help my other students (not just the ones they'd see normally) as well. During my daily 5/CAFE, they set up shop and man a station that is made up of any of my kids who need to be at that station.

More importantly, I know these kids now. They're truly part of my classroom community. I know them as readers and writers too. It's hard to truly feel connected and invested in a student's learning when you only see them at lunch and recess. Now all of my students are actually my students.

It took/takes a lot of work. I won't lie about that. But I have to admit the hardest part was getting over my own fear. "Can I really teach and have high expectations for students with pretty serious autism all day long?" "How can I do DI if I'm supposed to be teaching the other kids?" "Will I have to modify curriculum/make adaptations for every single thing I do?!"

Turns out, with a little bit of work, a smidge of communication, a lot of collaboration and a very open can work. And it's been worth it.

How do you guys handle inclusion in your schools?

On a side note, I'd love if all of my bloggy friends would cross their fingers and toes for me. I may have the opportunity to move to a 3rd/4th grade multi-age class next year. I won't get into details, but I desperately want to move. Nothing has been promised or is certain just yet. So I'm holding my breath and saying my prayers that it'll work out and I'll get to move. I guess we'll see soon (hopefully)!

Thanks to our snow days we have 36 more days of school to go before summer! And they are PACKED with cool things. School gardening, our Westward Ho trail breakfast and square dancing, spending our terracycle loot on charities, the 5th grade picnic, and the dreaded 5th grade boy/girl reproductive system talk are just a few things on the agenda. Guess who has to give the boy talk?  :( 

And on that note...enjoy the rest of your weekend!

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