Monday, September 12, 2011

Kumon, stingrays and latitude/longitude

This weekend Ben fed chopped-up sardines to stingrays at the Metro Zoo -- stingrays that had had their 'stingers' removed.

On Saturday he went to Kumon with his brother Kenold. Since I began Ben on Kumon just before the summer, I have always picked up the books and had him do them at home. That's because this Kumon centre is an extremely busy one. The students do their class work in silence and whispers in the classroom, and the parents sit outside in a waiting room. Because Ben tends to 'vocalize' I wasn't sure if he could be quiet enough. I thought he might be too distracted by the other students or simply refuse to work there. His report cards from last year always said he couldn't concentrate well enough to complete a task and we had certainly seen this at home.

Saturday started off with Ben saying he wasn't going to Kumon. However, he eventually surprised us by going in with Kenold, sitting at a desk, and doing a reading book independently. The woman who runs the program then went through the book and he correctly identified all of the words she asked him. She was thrilled!

D'Arcy and I sat in the waiting room, which was separated by glass -- ASTOUNDED that he was actually working away methodically on his book.

While he often resists doing a book, once he gets into it, he's quite chipper and it's obvious that he enjoys the sense of mastery he gets. He likes to sit at the dining room table while Kenold does his Kumon or the other kids do their homework and be a part of things.

He will sit for 45 minutes, which is unheard of for Ben (unless he's sitting in front of a computer).

It makes me question the last three years at the segregated school, during which he never had homework, until the end of last year, when we insisted on it and something was sent home on an adhoc basis. I see how much repetition my other children need to lay down skills and I'm amazed that for students who are already at a disadvantage -- because they have intellectual and other disabilities -- they're denied this, putting them even further back.

Last night we looked at a handout from Ben's new school on latitude and longitude. D'Arcy had bought a small globe and we tried to simplify the concepts for Ben. I'm sure I learned this at some point, but I had completely forgotten it, and suddenly terms like Western Hemisphere made perfect sense.

Ben may only understand the broad ideas of how the equator and prime meridian split the world into different hemispheres, but I was so excited that he was getting what I consider an education. Why shouldn't he have a general sense of the world and continents and countries and how to pinpoint a location? One of my daughters was studying the same thing, so again, there was a commonality as we sat at the dining room table.

When I was consulting with inclusion expert Cheryl Jorgensen at the University of New Hampshire, she told me that in the U.S. it is law that alternate standards for students who can't grasp the general curriculum must be pulled from that curriculum.

"In the U.S., 'alternate' standards are reduced in depth, breadth and complexity from the 'general' standards but they are supposed to be closely alligned with the general curriculum," she wrote.

"In other words, it's not acceptable to have a student count hair rollers as a math goal! Or count silverware! Now that doesn't mean that all schools and states comply, but that is the law."

According to a 2000 Ontario education ministry document called The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9 to 12/Program Planning and Assessment, "For most exceptional students, the learning expectations will be the same as or similar to the expectations outlined in the relevant curriculum policy documents...For some exceptional students, the expectations in the curriculum policy documents will be modified to meet the student's needs, and a small number of students may require alternative expectations, which are not derived from those in the curriculum policy documents." The latter, known as non-credit bearing 'K' courses include: Creative Arts for Enjoyment and Expression; Culinary Skills; Personal Life Skills; Transit Training and Language and Communication Development.

In Ben's segregated school, there was no course selection as there would be in a regular high school. Instead, students were simply assigned four 'K' courses per semester. I don't believe there is a formal, Ministry 'curriculum' that has been developed for these courses. Instead, teachers put together the curriculum themselves, I assume drawing on a number of special-education resources.

This is problematic for me because the courses are in no way alligned with the general curriculum and are not standardized. I assume that the same 'K' course could look quite different depending on the school and instructor. Louise