Looking back: Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom

As part of my ‘looking back’ series, this is an article that keeps showing up in my stats even though it was written over 4 years ago. The question of discipline in schools is timeless and my mind returns to this story often. I wonder about Félix. What was his story? How was it that his behaviour was so unruly he warranted time in a fenced-in area? Were there background issues, like developmental delays, perhaps he was younger than his peers, perhaps the classroom was a frustrating place (perhaps? I should say likely…)? Whatever it was, I wonder if his needs were ever met. And I wonder if his teacher ever received support for her needs.

Click here to see the original comments associated with Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom.

Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom
(Last Updated: Friday, February 9, 2007 | 3:09 PM ET CBC News)

A Shawinigan, Que., teacher who put a nine-year-old student in a lattice cage for misbehaving will not face any disciplinary measures, school board officials said Friday.

The boy’s parents discovered their son, Félix, had been kept in a makeshift cage at Shawinigan’s École St-Paul, after he complained to them he couldn’t see the blackboard.

When they visited the school, they discovered he’d been spending several hours a week in the lattice cage….The local school board director, Claude Leclerc, told Radio-Canada the teacher did nothing wrong by using what he called a time-out area for a difficult student.

I have a few thoughts about this…as I am sure many people do.

My mind goes to a cartoon I saw on the Internet a few months ago. It is a picture of a boy, standing next to his desk, students sitting around him at their desks, and his teacher at her desk. At the back of the class is a huge cage with a pacing tiger and the caption is, “Well, Timmy. It looks like you’ve just earned yourself 10 minutes in the cage with Mr. Whiskers.”

Extreme discipline cases like this reaffirm my belief that teachers are overwhelmed with all that they need to do in a day. An act like this seems desperate to me and I think that if we took the time to think about our values as people and educators, a decision such as to put a child in a caged in area – in front of his peers no less! – would not have been made.

They also reaffirm my belief that we need to build more time into our lives as educators for professional development to help us in dealing with classroom difficulties like this and others. Personally, I think that MELS needs to provide us with time solutions (and the $$ to accompany them) to do so – especially given the present school context of inclusion, integration, and differentiation.

And so, I don’t think that the teacher needs to receive disciplinary measures. Rather, I think that she needs to receive support that will assist her in making appropriate decisions regarding discipline in her classroom. Perhaps the rest of that particular school community could use some as well.

But really, despite all that, I have to ask how could a measure like this have been instated by the teacher and school without parent permission?

I don’t know the whole story, but that is a nagging question for me.

Any thoughts?

A wish for my nephew as he starts school

I have a nephew with special needs. He is a beautiful, caring 4-year old boy. He is also clumsy, he stutters, has a very limited vocabulary, and is constantly moving in an impulsive sort of way. He doesn’t understand the word no, he likes to dump things (including the contents of coffee mugs. His mother really likes that one. Especially when it happens on carefully cut out, ironed, and organized pieces of fabric for a quilt), and still isn’t potty trained. He has both fine and gross motor control issues, as well as what seems to be a central auditory processing disorder (non-diagnosed). (see this article about a woman living with central auditory processing disorder. It is one of the best descriptions of it I have come across.) None of this means he isn’t a bright boy. He is.

Have you already forgotten that he is a beautiful, caring boy? My hope for him is that the teachers he meets throughout the school career ahead of him have the patience and clarity of thought to see this bright, beautiful caring boy, to not let him be reduced to the sum of the descriptive elements I sketched above.

How can we ensure this happens? How can we create this particular hope for the future?

Research – do your homework and visit schools, meet educators.
His parents have already started the process by researching the best schools for him and meeting with his teachers before he began in their classroom to talk about his needs. Last year, though only 3 at the time, his needs were assessed and he began full-day schooling with educators who understand his need for structure and patience. They are also able to explicitly develop his fine and gross motor control skills as well as address some of his behavioural issues through a structured, goal oriented IEP (Individualized Education Plan).

Follow up – keep the lines of communication open
His parents have met with his teachers on an ongoing basis to have conversations about how he is doing and if he has met certain goals or if goals need to be modified. They keep the lines of communication open so that everyone is on the same page. They also talk about what he does well. They foster the beautiful, caring side of him.

Be consistent – follow the same plans at home and school
If educators are working diligently with your child, it is important to follow up what they are doing at home. Since my nephew’s behavioural issues are being addressed at school his parents can help his educators by following the same plans at home. Children with special needs crave consistency, structure, clear outcomes. Without this, they can spiral out of control and unwanted behaviours can increase. When a child ‘acts out’ he really is calling for structure in his life. When I showed this to my sister, for pre-posting approval, she commented with this:

One thing I would add is that the parents are often at wits end and when discussing the needs of the child in the setting of the classroom – it would be lovely if those needs could be addressed in the home setting as well. We are often asking for help with how to deal with him At Home. It is frustrating to always hear that ‘he doesn’t do that here‘. We are finally reaching outside of the school system and getting psychologists involved.

The teachers are great – and it helps to put his capabilities into perspective (often saddening) but they don’t come home with us.

It’s a good thing that they are asking for help from psychologists though I think it would be good to also have one of their teachers come home with them and show them what to do. If ‘he doesn’t do that here’ then show his parents how to create an environment where he doesn’t do that at home as well!

Be flexible – know when it is time to change
Flexibility does not mean let him get away with things. Flexibility has to do with understanding that sometimes structures need to change. For example if one of your structures for a child is to correct him when you catch him doing something (like dumping a coffee cup) and you feel that you are constantly correcting him, well, that particular structure isn’t working. Be flexible, change it to work for you and your child. If you aren’t sure how to change it, speak with your child’s educators and even his doctors. They are such an important support for you because they are not your child’s parents and so can keep a certain emotional distance that allows them to see what needs to be done.

Out of all of this, the most important thing is to talk with your child’s educators on a regular basis to make sure that his needs are being purposefully addressed both in and out of the classroom. As a teacher, I so appreciate those parents who do this – it makes my job not easier (teaching is not easy) but purposeful because I know that my work is making a real difference, that it is helping to create a positive future for the children I work with.

**Much of this article was included in Sam starts full-day kindergarten this September at Examiner.com

Assistive Technology Helps Kids…Fixing a broken link

This article has been linked to via the Calgary Herald but somehow it leads to a broken link. Thought I’d patch that break here :)

Assistive Technology Helps Kids with Learning Disabilities – An Interview with Andrea Prupas

Assistive Technology Helps Kids with Learning Disabilities. An Interview with Andrea Prupas

**For some reason the original article has a very difficult time loading. I managed to get it to load only once, so copied it here. The title links back to the original article.**

Assistive Technology Helps Kids with Learning Disabilities – An Interview with Andrea Prupas

September 9, 2010 6:41 am View Comments


Ben Yoskovitz


Andrea PrupasI had never heard of “assistive technology” until Andrea Prupas reached out and introduced herself to NextMontreal. I looked at Andrea’s site and company, inov8 Educational Consulting and was particularly intrigued by the references there to mobile devices (including iPads). I’ve seen my own kids use an iPad and it’s an incredible experience; they instinctively get it and can dive into all kinds of apps within seconds. So it makes complete sense to me that iPads and similar touchscreen, handheld devices could be used to help children with learning disabilities. And the possibilities are quite amazing.

One of our goals with NextMontreal is to introduce everyone to a broader spectrum of technology and how it can be used. We said from the beginning, “This isn’t just about web and mobile startups.” So Andrea’s story and experience is interesting – although not a technologist, she’s actively using technology in her business, and doing so in unique ways. It’s a story worth sharing.

NextMontreal: What is assistive technology?

Andrea Prupas: Assistive technology is a broad term for any device that helps an individual bypass the challenges associated with their disability. There are multiple categories of assistive technology, designed for different populations and different purposes. The assistive technology that inov8 Educational Consulting uses can be divided into two categories: “learning and educational aids” and “augmentative communication aids.” Learning and educational aids are specifically designed to help an individual actively engage in the learning process and overcome academic difficulties. Augmentative communication aids are technologies that provide individuals with an alternative method of understanding or communicating language.

Assistive technologies must meet the specific needs of an individual that requires it, and not the other way around. Our key guiding principle with assistive technology recommendations is: person first, technology second.

NextMontreal: What does inov8 Educational Consulting do?

Andrea: inov8 Educational Consulting works with families and their children with special needs, to use assistive technology tools to educate and empower. We help these families to provide the most effective learning environment for their child. We are highly specialized and work with children with diverse learning needs. Many of our clients are children with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, language disorders and developmental delays.

We offer two types of specialized services. Our parent seminar series, called “succeed@school” is designed to inform families about specific hardware and software available in the area of special education (for example, using an iPod as a communication device or using a specialized piece of software to develop math skills). Our other service is private consultations for families. We will work one-on-one with the family and child, integrating the software/hardware into the school curriculum or into their home environment (for example, we will show the student how to produce an essay with the use of the software, or we will show the family how to customize a communication app to suit their child’s home environment).

Above all, we always take a pedagogical, personalized approach to the use of technology. The most well-designed, innovative tool might not be well suited to the needs of a specific child. That’s why it’s critical to perform a comprehensive assessment to determine which tools would be most effective.

We are proud to say that we are a consulting company specializing in mobile and portable devices such as the iPod Touch and iPad as well as standard computers. We will customize a package on these products for an individual child, based on his or her needs. These applications are research-driven, highly interactive, powerful, mobile and effective; and they can have a significant impact on learning for students with special needs.

NextMontreal: How do you leverage technology for educational purposes? Can you provide examples of work you’ve done with customers implementing technology solutions for education/assistive learning?

Andrea: My background and expertise is in special education, and as a consultant I work with the principle that the technology has to support the pedagogy or curriculum. It’s not about the latest, coolest app. Rather, it’s about research-informed design of applications that are based on sound pedagogical practices. A number of the apps on Apple products were developed based on effective pedagogical practices in education. For example, Proloquo2Go, an augmentative communication app on the iPad or iPod, was developed because picture-based communication is a research-based, successful method of teaching children with communication disorders to communicate. The technology revolutionized this methodology; picture-based communication is now small, portable, easy to use and easily customizable.

We use software that has a strong research base. For example, another software that we use was designed and tested with students with severe reading disabilities. The software is very powerful; it can correct spelling and grammar errors extremely accurately as it works from a database of common errors that individuals with reading disabilities will make.

Our work has been primarily with families and children in the area of communication, and academic skills. We have students who have difficulty with organizational skills, and knowing where to begin when it comes to producing a piece of writing. Software that allows a student to visually organize their work prior to writing has been successful with a number of our clients. We also have students who need picture support for reading and writing. With this software, a picture is inserted into the text as a student types, maximizing comprehension. We also have students who are using picture communication systems, but want a more mobile and customizable solution with the iPad or iPod.

NextMontreal: What are the best assistive tech/learning apps on the iPhone/iPad?

Andrea: There are so many excellent educational apps in different areas, so that’s a really tough question…but here are some of our top applications for five different areas.

  1. Augmentative Communication – Proloquo2Go is the most comprehensive and powerful communication app to date. It is a full communication system in one app, at a fraction of the cost of traditional communication systems that allows the child to communicate with pictures. It’s effective on both the iPod and iPad for different reasons; the smaller devices allow for more mobility; young students can carry it easily. Installed on the iPad it allows students with fine motor difficulties greater access.
  2. Behavioural Intervention – A great application in this area is Model Me Going Places. This app shows slide show models of children displaying appropriate behaviour. It is based on research in video modeling that has been proven very successful with children with autism.
  3. Fine Motor Skills – IWriteWords is an excellent app that allows the child to practice writing letters, numbers and words. The child traces the letter on the iPod or iPad with his/her finger. This program is very well designed with excellent results; some schools in the US have reported implementing them in Kindergarten classes for all students. The progression is based on current research in teaching pre-writing skills, and the hands-on interactive activities are excellent for students who have difficulty writing with a pencil. Originally designed for the iPod Touch, the iPad makes the application even more effective by allowing for more movement when tracing. Kinesthetic and tactile writing activities are especially effective for students with special needs.
  4. Voice Recognition – Dragon Dictation is the premiere app in this area. Originally designed as a business tool, it will transfer spoken language into text on any of the Apple hardware, and it allows you to then e-mail your text or send it as a text message. It is a very versatile tool that can be used on a laptop computer or mobile device. It is amazingly accurate and a great tool for students who have reading disabilities, or who are unable to write due to physical disabilities. We use this software to work with students with learning disabilities who have great difficulty with the writing process.
  5. Organization – MyHomework is a great app. This tool was not designed necessarily for students with learning disabilities but can be very effective with upper elementary and high school students who need to keep better track of their homework.
  6. Reading, Text to Speech – The Read2Me App allows you to import your own text file (even from the web) into the iPod or iPad, and will read the text aloud. This is helpful for students who might be weaker readers but are able to understand the meaning of the text through listening.

NextMontreal: How do you validate new software or apps to verify their benefits?

Andrea: We follow assistive technology blogs in order to get the latest information on new apps and products. We read reviews from both the technology and education sectors, from parents, teachers, software companies, university researchers, consultants, etc. We also feel strongly about reviewing the research behind the software/app to see if it is based on valid, sound evidence. We attend conferences in the area of assistive technology-these are hands-on conferences that allow you to try the hardware and software through training sessions. Then we work with the software or app ourselves, and we encourage our clients to try it before they buy it.

NextMontreal: What kind of hardware is there in this space? Can you provide some examples?

Andrea: The hardware leader in the mobile device market has been Apple for the past few years. Their devices range in cost and features to provide consumers with numerous options from the iPod Touch to the iPhone and the iPad. However, learning software for students with special needs is not limited to mobile devices. Any desktop or laptop computer can take advantage of different software available to reduce barriers to learning.

NextMontreal: How have you seen technology benefit children with special needs?

Andrea: What motivated me to start this company is the enormous impact today’s specialized assistive tools have on a student’s learning.

I have seen technology benefit students in four areas:

  1. Communication – A communication tool allows a student to express his/her wants and needs. Children who are non-verbal or with limited verbal skills can express themselves, sometimes for the first time.
  2. Autonomy – When there is a good match between the technology and the student, they become more independent and involved learners. They are able to work through academic or social tasks with support from the technology.
  3. Academic skills – When technology is effectively applied for a specific area of difficulty, academic skills improve. For example, we use specialized reading software for children with autism who need a different learning approach to reading. When their reading improves, skills in other areas improve as well.
  4. Self-confidence – Children with special needs have sometimes struggled their entire school career with academic skills. The effects on their self-confidence and self-esteem can be devastating. These tools give them the opportunity to be successful learners, and they feel confident as a result.

NextMontreal: What’s the market opportunity for tech companies developing applications (software, mobile apps) for assistive learning?

Andrea: In order to work effectively in the area of assistive technology, tech companies need to partner with experts in the educational field to develop software targeted towards specific needs. Development of apps for Apple’s mobile devices is an area that is exploding. As of this April, Apple sold 50 million iPhones and 35 million iPod Touches. In the first three months after the iPad release, Apple sold 3 million devices. Canadian statistics indicate that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is at more than 1 in 200 people, and 1 in 10 Canadians have a learning disability. Together, these statistics provide an indication that there is enormous opportunity for companies interested in developing assistive technology.

Do you see a lot of active development in the assistive technology market? Are there a lot of startups in the space? Or are there incumbents that rule the market?

Andrea: In the assistive technology market, there have been several companies that have dominated the market for years, and continue to do so in specific areas. These are a few examples: Mayer Johnson (BoardMaker) Don Johnson (Co:Writer, Read:OutLoud) Cambium Learning Technologies (Kurtzweil), Crick Software (Clicker5, WriteOnline), and Freedom Scientific (Wynn).

However, there are new players that emerge every year; Ginger Software is a newer company that has, in my opinion, developed one of the most innovative and effective products to date for students with reading disabilities. In addition, companies that have traditionally developed print-based reading and math remediation curriculums and products are now breaking into the software market.

New companies developing applications on Apple products would be, in my opinion, considered to be “start-ups” in the assistive technology market. Some companies have simply transferred their technology into an “app” format in order to be compatible for mobile device. However, other companies, such as AssistiveWare (Proloquo2Go) have designed completely innovative apps based on best practices in special education. Therefore, there is great opportunity for new companies (both start-up and established) to develop the market.

NextMontreal: Where do you see the next 5 years in terms of assistive technology? And what’s the future hold beyond that?

Andrea: Software is becoming more and more flexible, providing multiple solutions for an individual; for example a piece of writing software can include multiple advanced features that will take the student through the entire writing process fully supported, from note taking to the final writing product. Mobility, portability and touch interfaces have gained in popularity and are only going to increase. In addition, these tools are highly accessible, engaging, easy to use and low-cost. The possibilities are endless…in the next decade we will see incredible advances. This is great news for our students who will move on to new opportunities and experience success due to the development of new assistive technologies.

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  • http://www.technologybyday.com/assistive-technology-helps-kids-with-learning-disabilities-%e2%80%93-an/ Technology By Day » Assistive Technology Helps Kids with Learning Disabilities – An …

    […] more here: Assistive Technology Helps Kids with Learning Disabilities – An … Tags: helps, helps-kids, interview, learning, learning-disabilities, technology Leave a Reply […]

  • http://msmeganb.edublogs.org/2010/11/16/assistive-technology/ Assistive Technology | Ms. MeganB’s Blog spot

    […] Post on November 16th, 2010 by msmeganb I was very impressed by the article I read titled “Assistive Technology Helps Kids with Learning Disabilities – An Interview with Andrea Prupas”, in this article is discusses what Andreas job is and what types of assistive technology is best. One thing I found very interesting in the use of the ipad/ ipod, I never knew there were so many different apps that would be available to help students with special needs. One app is called the Proloquo2go and this is a full communication system in just one app that allows children to communicate with pictures. It is only a fraction of the cost of other communication systems and the fact that it is available on the ipad and ipod allows for mobility. The other app I found very interesting is called Model Me Going Places and this would be very successful with students who have autism or aspergers. It is a slid show that has several different pictures displaying model behavior and how you should behave in different situations. Overall I found this article very interesting and helpful and there are several more ideas present so I have provided you with a link below to check it out! Read more […]

  • http://www.inov8-ed.com/2011/01/thanks-to-nextmontreal/ Thanks to NextMontreal for their great interview | inov8 Educational Consulting

    […] to be among one of the first companies to be interviewed and profiled with their article, “Assistive Technology Helps Kids with Learning Disabilities – An Interview with Andrea Prupas” which has continued to drive traffic to our site over the last few […]

Read more: http://nextmontreal.com/assistive-technology-helps-kids-with-learning-disabilities-an-interview-with-andrea-prupas/#ixzz1Q68tNJx1

Looking back: Why do the very best teachers ignore/subvert curriculum?

As some of you know, I’ve recently had to put my blog content back together from scratch. What a huge, painful job that was! At the same time, it allowed me to become reacquainted with some of my old content that I still find relevant. In looking back on it, I thought it could be interesting to repost some of it and see if it can start some new conversations.

Here is one from not so long ago. Click on the title link to see the original post with its comments from Feb. 210, 2010 –>

Title: Why do the very best teachers ignore/subvert curriculum?

The very best teachers spend every day of their lives ignoring or subverting the curriculum

Now, why is this? Why would people, including myself, think that the best teachers are the ones who ignore what many consider to be the main ‘stuff’ of teaching? My memories of my BEd program are filled with courses on curriculum. Maybe one on Quebec education law. One on learning disabilities. But the rest were courses on curriculum. How to create lesson plans based on curriculum, how to manage your time to make sure the curriculum gets covered – that sort of thing.

Curriculum can not be the main stuff of teaching. It can’t. Do you hear me? It. Can’t.

The main stuff of my job. Wait. I’m getting sick of using the word stuff. Let me be more specific. The main point, the essence, the reason for my teaching is the students I teach. I wouldn’t say I ignore curriculum. I know it’s there. And I use it as a starting point, at the beginning of the year when I don’t really know my students yet. And throughout the year as a background for our work together. But really, I do my best to fit what my students get excited about, what they ask to learn, into the curricular competencies. When it doesn’t work, well, students trump curriculum each time. Luckily I work in Quebec, which has a very student-centered education program with a multitude of competencies in many different areas. It makes it easier to subvert. Really. It also makes it easier to ignore at times. There is just too much to cover that we can focus on what is essential to student learning. As decided by us (our last PED day was around determining the essential features of the courses we teach).

You know what? I think that by staying 100% true to curriculum we are actually ignoring our students.So subvert, ignore that which is on paper. But never those who are in front of you.