Tag Archives: cognitive development

Mr. D Needs Your Help, AGAIN! – Calling all Special Education Teachers, Social workers, school psychologists, etc.

Even though I’ve been in the education racket for a while now, the beast that is special education still baffles me.  Just thinking about the process makes me want to slit my wrists with an overdue IEP.

Today’s post is more personal in nature than usual, and I could use the help of anyone in the Special Ed. field.  My cousin has a young son who is turning three, and he’s as cute as can be.  He’s also a precocious lad, getting his little mitts on anything with bells, whistles and especially buttons–that boy is a beast with a remote. 

Well, my cousin (the kid’s mom) was concerned that this kid was not that verbal at this point.  She has the child in speech therapy under a program for kids until age 3, and the boy is progressing.  He mimicks words said by others, although his articulation isn’t quite there yet (then again, he’s only two, but we’ll talk about that later).  At a dinner, the boy’s mom asked me about how to research schools that could cater to his needs, and also about what services the child is entitled to receive.   I replied that it would be difficult to know what he needs until an evaluation is conducted.  We discussed forms and things and left it at that.

Yet I still had questions that needed to be resolved–this is where you come in.  First of all, the boy’s speech therapist says it may be difficult to place him in support programs in his area (Nassau County, Long Island, New York) because he does not suffer a cognitive disorder, simply a speech deficiency.  Is this necessarily true?  I agree that my little cousin (he technically isn’t a nephew, is he?) has no problems with cognition or understanding.  Yet I’m not sure if simply having a problem with speech is an impediment.

My second question concerns the Individualized Education Plan, the infamous IEP.  Although I have a general gist of how the IEP writing process works, in terms of evaluation, diagnosis, conferencing, etc., I’m a little in the dark about the parental rights and responsibilities regarding the IEP.  What rights do parents have with creating, revising, and especially access to the IEP if the child is going to another school?

Lastly, and this may be a dig at my cousin, how verbal should a child be approaching age 3?  Is there a benchmark that should be reached?  In short, is my cousin paranoid or batshit insane for subjecting her child to therapy intervention in the first place?  I ask this because in my years in the classroom, I’ve seen children who were never verbal for years suddenly open up at age 7, 8 or even 10 or 11.  Then again, I’ve also seen kids who are just never verbal, for various reasons.  It would be good to know if a benchmark or an assessment exists to see if his speech is “at level” or not.

I’m a big believer in the individual development of children.  Everybody grows and learns at different rates.  This is why I have these concerns about my little dude.  Any help with this from my educator friends in the Neighborhood would be much appreciated. 

And here’s a sweetener: all who help out will get tickets to a Jonas Brothers concert, or a link on this blog and a subsequent mention in a post, whatever’s available.  How’s that for free pubicity 🙂

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The Perils of Classroom Discipline: or, Why The Superintendant took away my Hickory Switch

Sometimes fear, even perceived fear, is a powerful motivator.

Once in a while, when one of my classes gets particularly unruly, I like to pick up a pointer.  It is one of those old fashioned wooden jobs that makes a wonderful whistling sound when it hurtles toward someone’s backside.  I’d hold it, wield it, swing it here and there, and the children would stop and stare at me.  Some have a look of utter terror.  One child has the gumption to ask, “Mr. D, why do you love that pointer so much?”

My response: “Because it reminds me of a time when it was legal to beat you.”

Now, I would never hit a child, of course.   My students also know I won’t hit them, but it’s never far from their minds that one day…just one day…Mr. D could finally lose it and wallop someone into oblivion.   Perceptions of fear, violence, and even insanity have become cornerstones of my discipline–well, that and a good ear for the mood of the class.  Almost the entire school is convinced that I’m insane, or at least neurotic.  It could be because of my obsession with historical minutia and the need to look at details to get the bigger picture.  Or it could be my habit of talking to myself at times, which is often necessary to get my thoughts in order.  Whatever the case, it keeps students in check, and actually gets them to do work…although most probably finish assignments “just so that nutjob can get off our backs!”

Let’s face it, the days of Sister Mary Margaret wielding her Yardstick of Righteousness are over.  Classroom discipline, or “classroom management” as the educational establishment likes to call it, is a whole new universe of approachs, studies and strategies designed to encourage (not shame) children towards acceptable behavior.  Even instilling fear has become a no-no, although neither my kids, nor their parents, seem to mind it from me.  New approaches today focus on self-motivation–allowing students to figure out for themselves what is acceptable and what is not.

A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses these new techniques in early childhood classrooms.  According to the article, discipline problems in children are not only rising, they are also starting at a younger age.  The causes of this are varied, including “pressure on teachers to stress math and reading over emotional skills; family instability; a decline in playtime; heavy use of child care; or a rise in learning problems such as attention-deficit disorder.” 

In view of this dilemma, some classrooms have, according to the WSJ, resorted to a two-prong approach: an increase in time for dramatic or pretend play, coupled with lessons on self-control allotted through the curriculum.  Dramatic play lets children play out roles in society for various amounts of time, allowing them to figure out for themselves where the behavioral limits lie.  Using assigned roles in working groups for math and reading lessons helps children understand limits and appreciate respect for their peers. 

For younger children, especially in preschool, the PATHS approach is gaining in popularity.  While most students today are encouraged to verbalize their emotions, younger children who are just learning to communicate need different skills.  According to the article, “children are encouraged when upset to emulate Twiggle the turtle, a green puppet who pulls into his shell: They stop, cross their arms over their chests, take a deep breath and give a name to their emotions.”  As always, good behavior should always be encouraged and rewarded.

Dramatic play is a very good tool for discipline in that, like critical thinking, it allows students to gain ownership over behavioral issues.  A bald, fat know-it-all (like me) or a dictator dressed like a penguin (like Sister Mary Margaret) have often used discipline in an authoritative fashion, imposing our will on others whether they like it or not–and they usually don’t.  Playing out roles or scenarios allows children to make their own codes of behavior from an early age.  Thus, their behavior will not only improve, but those lessons will last longer into their schooling.

The other approaches, such as behavioral lessons in curricular workshops, or emotional workshops such as PATHS, are also effective, particularly in younger children.  They also allow children to figure out acceptable behavior with as little adult interference as possible.  Children often lash out because of a sense of no control, and these programs help to give that control.

My worry about these approaches is twofold.  First, these strategies have to be implemented at an early age or they won’t work.  With older children, dramatic play and emotional gestures just will not yield the same results.  While the results of these approaches will be seen in the future, there are plenty of discipline problems in the here and now.  Many children from ages 8-12 have already been hardwired to behave in certain ways based on a myriad of factors, including their home life and their neighborhood.  Are there no discipline approaches for these children, short of an extreme regression therapy?  I say this because it is my demographic, and I have to deal with these students–hence the insanity.

Furthermore, and I hate sounding like a union rep, but these strategies leave out the important role of good parenting.  Why must teachers essentially “mommy” other children when parents are, in essence, the ultimate arbiters of discipline?  It doesn’t matter which approach or strategy is used on a child: if it isn’t followed through in the home, it is a waste of time.  Unfortunately, many parents, especially in struggling communities, are simply overgrown children themselves–though there are many exceptions.  If we cannot trust adults to behave as such, there is little more we can expect from the children.    Don’t believe me?  I refer you to a previous post in the Neighborhood about a foul-mouthed toddler.  Enough said.

If you are a fellow teacher, you know that discipline is the hardest thing to master.  Even the best teachers are often saddled with classes forged by Lucifer–I’m familiar with a few this year.  The best advice I can give?  Keep the door closed, keep the kids busy, do what works–and if all else fails, ask for help.  There is no shame in asking to send Johnny for a time-out in another classroom.

Or just act as if you’re batshit insane.  It works for me.

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