Teach the Way They Learn



There is a quote that resonates deeply with those of us who care about education:

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
~ Ignacio Estrada

It sounds so simple, really. 

And yet if we look closely at our classrooms, we will see that this is just not always happening. There continue to be teachers who expect all of their students to move at the same pace, teachers who rarely vary their teaching style and teachers who continue to struggle to meet the needs of diverse learners.

Our Judaism echoes Estrada’s quote: “Teach a child according to his/her own way,” Proverbs 22:6.

So how do we do it? In writing What’s Your Learning Style? I explored the value of understanding one’s own preferred modality of learning as well as those of our students. Doing so can be a first step in transforming a classroom into a place where every child flourishes.

Teaching the Difference Between Fairness and Equality



The Band Aid Activity for teaching fairness vs. equality; Removing the Stumbling Block

One of the most popular posts on this blog is called Fair Isn’t Equal.  In it I include a wonderful graphic that helps to illustrate the difference between the concepts of fairness and equality.

Most people believe that “fairness means that everyone gets the same”; whereas in reality “fairness means that everyone gets what he or she needs.” Further, fairness is one of the most commonly used arguments against inclusion. “Teaching students of different abilities in the same class isn’t fair to those who can move at a quicker pace,” or “It’s not fair to hold back some students to prevent others from falling behind.” 

The best way to accommodate students of varying abilities in the same learning environment is through differentiated instruction; a methodology which enables students to progress at their own pace via activities that are developmentally appropriate. 

I also firmly believe in transparency. I think that the methodology and the premise behind it should be shared with students, enabling them to understand and support one another more fully. "The Band-Aid Activity" is not something that I created; but it is a successful way to help students understand the concept of fairness (versus equality) in a differentiated classroom. 

The Band-Aid Activity
  
Distribute “injury cards” to students (index cards with various injuries listed one per card). Ask students, one at a time, to share their injury, giving each student a band-aid (regardless of the injury). If anyone complains or questions the band-aid, simply say that it would not be fair if everyone did not get the same thing. 


Questions for discussion:
  1. Was it equal that everyone got a Band-Aid?
  2. Was it fair that everyone got a Band-Aid? Why or why not? (Everyone getting the same thing wasn’t fair because it didn’t help most of the students. Sometimes students will do different things in class, but everyone is learning and getting what they need. It is important not to make anyone feel bad about doing something different.)
  3. Depending upon the age of the students: What other things in the classroom are our “injuries” like?  What else can the Band-Aids be compared to? (The Band-Aids are like getting the help you need in class. When a teacher is working with a small group or individual student, interrupting or distracting them is like taking away the student’s Band-Aid.)  
**Variation: Give all but the last student a band-aid. Add in a discussion of how it felt to be the only one without a bandaid. 

There can be other variations of the activity depending upon the age of the students, but this can certainly be used in a discussion format with middle school students and teens. And here is a terrific link to a blog explaining this lesson in action with young children.

Do you have any great activities for teaching fairness?






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Inquiry-Based Learning for Students with Disabilities

Test-based assessments discourage inquisitiveness; Removing the Stumbling Block

Children are naturally inquisitive. Young children are curious about their environment and want to know all they can about how the world works and why. They do this by asking questions and exploring their surroundings. Asking questions is the way children get someone’s attention and engage them in conversation.

And yet we discourage children from asking questions when we consistently reward those students who find answers and solutions on their own. Think about it, how often do teachers or peers inwardly groan as the stereotypical child raises her hand to ask yet another question? How often do we praise a student’s problem solving abilities, especially when he has made independent discoveries?

I am Struggling



I am struggling.

I am struggling to make sense of the conflicting emotions bouncing around in my head.

It is rare for me to blog twice in one week, let alone two days in a row, and yet…

Like others, writing helps me to crystallize my thoughts and emotions. Like others, I can’t stop thinking of a life cut short by cancer.  Like others, I never met this remarkable young boy we all call “Superman Sam”.  Like others, I have never even met his parents.

But I “know” them. Through Twitter and the online world, they have encouraged all of us to share their journey. They have taught us and demonstrated a grace & beauty few can express in times of joy, let alone in a time of anguish and heartbreak. 

I am struggling.

I am struggling to make sense of the appreciation I feel at a time when I should “only” feel grief and offer some kind of support. (Phyllis also (yes, she’s that amazing) created BlogElul, an online spiritual journey that leads us to the Jewish holy days, a traditional time of reflection and introspection. I embraced this opportunity to write and reflect.)

I am struggling to make sense of the deep connection I feel to people I do not know, but who are so significantly important in the lives of many that I do know.  Thank you, God, for k’lal yisrael (community of Israel) that allows us to all be connected.

I am struggling to focus. How could I possibly work while a beautiful child is being mourned?

I am struggling as I read each and every article and blog upon blog written about Sam, his amazing parents & siblings, their public and painful journey and the powerful community that supports them; and yet I can not turn away.  I must read.  I must feel.  I must grieve.

I am struggling because in the world of the work that I do, this happens; too often.  Parents bury their children. It should never be. But children are born with medical conditions and disabilities that live lives which are too short, like Sam’s.  Their stories may not be as public, but their journeys are no less significant.

In Jewish tradition we say zichro livracha, may his/her memory be a blessing. May Sam’s legacy be rich and deep.  May his parents find comfort in this time of their sorrow.  May we all be better for having shared in Sam’s journey. 

Phyllis has taught us that social media can be a powerful tool. That we can all harness it in meaningful and significant ways.  I’m listening and hineini, I am here.

Let’s do as Phyllis has taught and use the power of social media to support those children whose story hasn’t yet been told.  Their stories matter.  No more struggling.

The Beautiful Legacy of Nelson Mandela


Since the passing of Nelson Mandela, many have been reflecting on his powerful legacy.  I am consistently struck by the parallels of what we learn from this beautiful and inspiring man and the Jewish values that I hold so close.  His message was clear, his impact great.  Each of us matters.

No matter the color of our skin, our religion, our gender; no matter if we are disabled or gifted, rich or poor; resilience - the qualities of perseverance and determination in the face of adversity - might just be the greatest skill that we can teach our children.

As it says in Proverbs 24:16:
For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.     כִּי שֶׁבַע יִפּוֹל צַדִּיק וָקָם וּרְשָׁעִים יִכָּשְׁלוּ בְרָעָה: 
When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult,
  בִּנְפֹל אוֹיִבְיךָ אוֹיִבְךָ אַל תִּשְׂמָח וּבִכָּשְׁלוֹ אַל יָגֵל לִבֶּךָ:


Anyone can fall.  Everyone WILL fall.  What matters is that we get back up.  And that we do not celebrate the weaknesses of others.

"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."


You Are Included! (You Can Participate in the URJ Biennial Experience)


In less than a week, nearly five thousand Reform Jews will descend upon the sprawling San Diego Convention Center for the 72nd Union of Reform Judaism Biennial Convention. “Biennial is where Jews gather to learn, pray, share ideas, dance and sing, hear from inspiring guest speakers, reunite with old friends, make new connections, and reimagine Jewish life.”



I love everything about Biennial…almost.  I have noticed, over the years, that while accommodations are available, this experience has not been fully inclusive to those with disabilities who wish to attend.  As in all aspects of Jewish life, those who are tenacious and determined have forged their path and participated, but there has not been a concerted effort to seek, welcome and include Jews with disabilities.



This year will be different.



The Union for Reform Judaism has partnered with The Ruderman Family Foundation to lead by example. Their goals include raising awareness of the importance of inclusion for all people and bringing attention to, developing and implementing best practices in including those with disabilities at the Biennial.  The Ruderman Family Foundation is a leader in the Jewish world for advocacy, philanthropy and modeling full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish and congregational life.  I encourage you to read more about this exciting partnership.



Many of the keynote speakers and song sessions will be live-streamed, and if you wish to follow on Twitter, the hashtag is #Biennial13.  I will be actively tweeting from @JewishSpecialEd.  In addition, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to represent Matan Inc. at the Biennial. Matan advocates for Jewish students with special needs, empowers their families, and educates Jewish leaders, teachers and communities so that all Jewish children have access to a rich and meaningful Jewish education. I encourage you to follow @MatanInc and like Matan on Facebook to keep up with the learning and excitement.



Finally, I am excited to be presenting in two Biennial learning sessions focused on inclusion.  The first one is called “We Are All in This Together: Disability Rights in Our World” and is in partnership with the Religious Action Center.  The second session is called “Successfully Including Youth With Special Needs” and is in partnership with URJ Camps, The Foundation for Jewish Camp and NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement.  If you are attending, join us. There are additional inclusion focused learning options, as well.  



I believe that this Biennial can be the first step in ensuring that full inclusion across the Reform Movement becomes a true reality.
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