Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Limits That Make Us Soar

A former student of mine just transitioned into a new classroom. Her new teacher has set limits for her that make me uncomfortable from a philosophical and pedagogical perspective. Some of these are limits that I literally spent years working with staff to get them to understand why they were completely unacceptable in my classroom. It’s taking all of my willpower not to say something to her. But the thing of it is, that student is happy. She is happier than she was toward the end of her time in my classroom. She is happy and she is engaged in learning in a way that she and I had struggled with over that last year or so.

With a little perspective, it’s clear to see what has happened. In my quest to create a student-centered classroom, I lost too much of the structure and boundaries that make the classroom effective. If I’m honest with myself, I knew that. My data on student progress and student behavior over the second half of last year showed it pretty clearly.

It shouldn’t surprise me. I’ve known, as I’ve gone through this process, that I’ve consistently struggled to implement one of the most key pieces of a student-centered classroom: feedback. My students need to know what is expected of them, and how they are doing in meeting their goals and expectations. I need a way to show them. For progress on student goals, I’m thinking about creating visual goal monitoring pages in their program data books. Using picture supports, students can track by independence level or accuracy level increases (we take data on both) and can choose what they want to make public: progress, achievements, or nothing. I’ll try and post one to twitter when I get them made, hopefully next week, and will try to edit this post. (Blogger doesn’t seem to like image posting anymore.)

In order to provide more effective behavior feedback, I need to first re-examine for myself where the behavior limits should be in my room. The feedback I got from my students last year was that I didn’t give them enough limits, and that they found learning difficult in that environment.
What matters?
Student choice:
Students should be able to choose: where they work (learning station - may sometimes have to be restricted choice, depending on activity), who they are working with, which activity they are doing (from list of activities for that academic block)
Student safety (individual target behaviors)
Student task completion/participation
I can see how this could easily be represented to students using an interval data visual:
Activity Chosen
Staff Member
5 minute interval safety tokens +++++
5 minute interval participation tokens +++++
(Again, I’ll try to post an image-based one to twitter when I have it, Blogger doesn’t play nice.)

The similarity between the behavior feedback visual I’m proposing and a traditional token chart is not escaping me. In fact, during the difficult time we had last spring due to the weakening structure associated with the school closing, one of the things I did for one of my students was pull out a token board he hadn’t used in over a year. He needed the visual to know how much work he was expected to do in order to help him stay regulated. Many of the tools in the ABA toolkit are very useful tools. Tools, by themselves, are not positive or negative, it is how they are used. Behavior tools must always be used to support student choice, self-advocacy, and body autonomy not to create compliance or restrict a student’s natural expression/movement in the name of “normalizing” behavior. The line of teaching “socially appropriate” behavior is a very thin one and must be walked with extreme caution and much input from the Autistic Adult community. We do not always fully comprehend the power of the tools we use. We need to listen to those who have had those tools used on them, just as we look at the results and reviews of any other new curriculum and program that we wish to adopt into practice (or material we chose to use with our home and family.) But to quote Levar Burton “You don’t have to take my word for it…” (ask another Actually Autistic person!)


  1. Hello Limits not included:

    It's how they are used and why they are used and whether there is ownership/buy-in from the toolmaker and tooluser.

    We see this in the primate kingdom when we are creating structured environments for communicating chimpanzees.

    Students should be able to choose: where they work (learning station - may sometimes have to be restricted choice, depending on activity), who they are working with, which activity they are doing (from list of activities for that academic block)"

    What sort of images are you trying to put in Blogger?

    They accept .png ; .jpg and .tiff

    I have been using visual images for #wordlesswednesday.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      Blogger seems to only allow images if they are first uploaded to their Google Photos server (at least on iOS - I didn't have this problem when I had a laptop) which I don't use.

      Just finished the first draft of the goal setting templates this evening. Will laminate, velcro and get some pics up this week!