Since I last posted on January 2, I have been reading blogs and articles and thinking deeply about curriculum and DIR/Floortime. As I see it right now, teachers have to adjust and modify their curriculum to the state Frameworks or Common Core Curriculum. This allows some continuity and some standardization, but also restricts creativity and relevance. What do I mean by 'relevance'? relevant to the child's interests, communication style, level of self-regulation, and ability to comprehend. I have seen a teacher take the seventh grade curriculum and try to teach mathematical concepts of 'radius' and 'circumference' to a 12-year old boy with limited communication, limited connection to his environment, and very restricted interests, using paper and pencil. This boy can neither read, nor write. Does this make sense? I don't think so. However, this curriculum is state-mandated.
What is he interested in? I am not sure, but I am pretty sure that it is not radius and circumference. What will this enable him to do? Nothing. What should he be learning? Well, the fundamentals of living in his environment: grocery shopping, using money, beginning cooking, and academics related to those skills.
This particular teacher is excellent. She works on the weekends and individualizes curriculum for each student. She is thoughtful, kind, and dependable. She is also stuck by these state mandates. And she is also limited in the amount of community time her students have. There are staff limits, there is no money for grocery shopping or learning to use the T, and she is evaluated on how she implements the curriculum. It's a no-win situation for her and the students.
And I have also seen an 8-year-old being taught to 'skip count' by fives. And he can do this. By rote memory. When asked in the context of sitting at a table with his teacher. Can he explain it? No. Does he understand it? I doubt it. Is it part of the third or fourth grade curriculum? Probably. Could he count ten five-dollar bills by fives? Perhaps. Does he understand the difference between a dollar bill and a five dollar bill? No.
So: Relevance. I do not have any quick solutions to this curriculum challenge, but what I'd like to see is a thorough discussion about what would be best to teach these students. At the middle school level, if a child can read five sight words and that's all, I'd say he is not going to be a reader. If after three years a second grader can name 10 letters of the alphabet with 80% accuracy, then I'd say he is not going to become a reader.
I've been reading a particularly interesting blog lately written by a mom of a child with autism. (This blog is "http://emmashopebook.com/"). This mom took her child to Soma s organization (HALO) to learn how to use the "Rapid Prompting Method" with her daughter Emma, and now Emma is writing her own ideas and thoughts with her mother. (http://www.halo-soma.org/main.php?sess_id=351a86f742ca041a72041cb8c6fc2008).
OK: here's full disclosure: Rapid Prompting Method is not evidence-based (http://www.science20.com/countering_tackling_woo/blog/why_rapid_prompting_method_still_doesn’t_pass_evidencebased_test-68146). But, I believe that not much is, except for a few studies of ABA as being able to teach specific skills. And Rapid Prompting is expensive, and I doubt that insurance covers it (being non-evidence-based and all).
But if we stick to only what we believe are evidence-based interventions, aren't we missing out on some creativity? And if we stick to the Common Core Curriculum guidelines, aren't we missing the point of education for our kids? We want them to grow up to be independent thinkers, to be able to live and work in the community. Will knowing radius and circumference get a student there? I don't think so, unless the child is headed to MIT. Will skip counting by fives get a student there? I don't think so either.
But what if some students on the spectrum can write their thoughts better than saying words? The people who do use writing to communicate state that often they can't control what comes out of their mouths, as opposed to the mechanics of writing or typing.
It's frustrating at this stage in my career to still be questioning and thinking. I wish I could simply believe in one thing and stick with it!
So what I'd like to see is a lively discussion of this issue, about what to teach and how to teach it. Perhaps it all boils down to one question: What will they need to know to be an independent thinker and citizen of the world when they reach age 22?
Care to add a thought?