My post about the revelation that the middle school Kayla is zoned for sometimes does laundry, and that this laundry includes the football team's uniforms, brought up a broader discussion about learning life skills at school. Specifically students with disabilities in self-contained, special education classrooms, learning life skills.
As expected this topic brings up a lot of strong feelings on both sides. There are parents and educators who support this and there are parents and educators who don't necessarily support this practice. I'm not saying one is right over the other. I'm recognizing we all have differing opinions and that is ok - of course we don't all have to agree on everything.
I think it's clear from my post which side of the fence I fall on.
Let's not forget that my post was referring to my daughter's school and the fact that she's entering sixth grade. I still stand by my opinion that I am not sending her to middle school to have laundry be part of her curriculum. This is the beginning of middle school we are talking about.
Students with disabilities can stay in the public school system a few years past their senior year. If I'm not mistaken those 2-3 years are referred to as transition years, yes? Transitioning to adulthood, to independence, to employment, to continuing their education at college. What do they do during those transition years? My understanding is they are not back in the 9-12th grade classrooms, but in other classrooms or even buildings ... and aren't they learning life skills then?
So we are starting in middle school to segregate these students and start to include specific life skills in their curriculum like cooking and laundry? What will happen in the high school years? More of the same? And the transition years? Again, more of the same?
One of the comments left on that post was an anonymous commenter who said s/he is a "SPED teacher in an all-inclusion middle school classroom working on life skills. My students mainstream into an elective class and PE but are with me for the rest of the day."
I don't really understand that placement at all. How is it an 'all-inclusive' classroom, but the students are 'mainstreamed' into one elective class and PE and are with him/her the rest of the day?
S/He goes on to explain the classroom and their curriculum and what they do. "We have community based instruction once per month. We go shop, have tours, go to breakfast, go bowling and more. There are indeed skills they need to learn, and hands-on within a community environment is wonderful for them."
I still don't get this; I honestly don't. I don't understand the community-based outings in middle school. I understand kids act differently when their parents aren't around, but I can't imagine these kids aren't getting any community-based outings within their natural family lives? Do they not step foot in a store, or restaurant, with their parents? Maybe there are some parents who don't take their kids with disabilities out, but wouldn't it be a small percentage, not the whole class? Doesn't the school offer breakfast? Can't they eat breakfast in the cafeteria instead of making it an outing?
And this classroom also does laundry - their class PE clothes. (Do the rest of the classes in the school do their own PE clothes as well?) S/he said it takes no more than 5 minutes (I wish my laundry only took 5 min!) and that it is done during the teacher's PLC time so not to take away from academic instruction. I'm not sure what PLC time is, but guessing it has something to do with planning time? What other time would teachers have that isn't academic time during the school day? I thought teacher planning time was done when their students are in fine arts and they don't have any students in the classroom during that time?
More from this teacher: "I teach about Current Events in a reading program as well. I teach Time and Money. I teach students to learn/write/type their name, address and phone number..and if they are one of the few that knows this information, they are taught how to fill out job applications. I teach about street signs, measurements, reading menus, shopping, budgets (including checking accounts), and how to dial 911. I look at everything I teach in a day and see how vital this will be for my students in the future."
This teacher is doing a lot with the students and that's great - I'm not knocking all the work they are putting in to educating the students and kuddos to this person for caring so much for the students. But I'm still questioning why some of that is important in middle school - filling out job applications? Yes I had a job or two in middle school - the end of my middle school years. One was babysitting and the other was a cart pusher (cart collector, really) at the commissary. I'm not sure the commissary job had an application - this was before the baggers would bring the groceries out and return the carts themselves. I don't remember learning to fill out an application in middle school in preparation for this job. How many middle schoolers have jobs?
If it is such an important skill to work on, as with all the rest of those skills ... budgeting etc ... why isn't the rest of the student body learning those skills? And if they are learning those same skills then why can't they be learning it together in an inclusive classroom at a time the rest of the general ed students are learning them? Why so much self-contained time to work on life skills?
Last from this teacher in the form of a question: "Would you as a parent rather them learn about Ancient Greece, Ancient China, Silk Road, etc. (social studies), and velocity, force, elements, etc. (science)? With the implementation of common core, with more critical thinking skills (which our ID kiddos struggle with)?"
Yes, as a parent I do want my daughter being exposed to those same curricular topics like Ancient Greece and velocity. Yes, she struggles with more critical thinking skills. No she is not going to learn Ancient Greece in the same way as her typical-developing peers, and she won't learn as much information as they do either. That's why she has an IEP. She doesn't have to learn and master all the same content and standards. That's why there are extended standards, that's why there are modifications. She needs to make progress and move forward. Yes, I want her exposed to those subjects. Will she get anything out of Ancient Greece? I don't know, but will all the rest of the general ed students get something out of it either? Will they remember what they learned about Ancient Greece 20 years from now and use it in their lives?
The National Center and State Collaborative created alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. They have a plethora of resources available that show how these ELA and Math standards can be implemented in the general education classroom; particularly with the public wiki page.
Having an inclusive educational placement is not unrealistic. Check out what SWIFT is doing. Look at the CHIME Institute "...a national leader in the development and implementation of a unique model of inclusive education. Inclusive education at CHIME Institute means that children who reflect the demographics of the surrounding region - including children who develop typically, children with special needs, and children who are gifted - learn side-by-side." Last example: The Dr William Henderson Inclusion School in Boston is a fully inclusive elementary school. It has been so successful and there is such a need for expansion that plans are made for a K-12 inclusive school.
Here is a great blog post about "Why It Matters" - a student with Down syndrome, fully included in school and learning about Shakespeare. Yes, it matters.
I recently read an article from Dave Ramsey - How Teens Can Become Millionaires - and what struck me is the statistic that came from a basic financial literacy test given to high school seniors. Less than half correctly answered the questions. Another study found "that over 75% of college students believe they are not ready to make smart financial decisions themselves." So do the general ed students get lessons in these important budgeting and balancing-a-checkbook life skills?
There is a wonderful book from Patrick Schwartz called From Disabilities to Possibilities - The Power of Inclusive Classrooms. He discusses the specific topic of students with disabilities learning life skills "...the best time to teach life skills is when they naturally occur." and gives some examples of life skills and when they should be taught throughout the day, naturally.
From the book: "As students with cognitive challenges or autism get older, they tend more to be diverted into a life-skills-only curriculum. Life-skills-only programs are not necessary nor educationally relevant for anyone. Students who receive these programs are being highly shortchanged. If I were the parent of a son or daughter with autism or a cognitive challenge, I would want academics to be taught within inclusive classroom settings and life skills to be promoted during the natural times they occur. The debate between whether to include a student with autism or cognitive challenges in general education environments or provide them a life-skills-only curriculum in self-contained and community environments could be simply resolved if we teach life skills only when they naturally occur and promote education/curricular goals as well. Life skills need not interfere with inclusion; both can work hand-in-hand. If experiential skills are taught when the student needs to use them, they are naturally embedded throughout the day and do not interfere with general classes or curriculum."