Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thoughts on Macaroni

Part 2 of my musings on Rob Rummel-Hudson's latest post...

As part of his discussion on the uselessness of state assessments, Rob also talks about what he terms as "macaroni art." I LOVE the term. My kids' parents tend to refer to it as "para art." You know what I'm talking about: the kid who can't hold a pencil and would prefer to eat a crayon rather than color with it comes home with a perfect masterpiece of an art project that in no way reflects the child's artistic abilities, lovingly created by a staff member at school so the child feels "included" and the parents don't feel "left out" or "burdened" by their child's disability and will have something "nice" to hang on the fridge. The parents mostly smile politely and quietly throw those projects away. They are meaningless. I have actually seen paras sit at a table alone and complete a project while the student whose name is on the project is elsewhere in the room doing something unrelated or worse, sits there totally disengaged, tuned out, or even ASLEEP! UGH!

One of the first things I teach my paras is the Principle of Partial Participation. Essentially, the mantra in my classroom is "No one can do everything but everyone can do something." We do NOT do "para art" in my program, although many of my paras do enjoy doing art and will often do their OWN project alongside the kids (thus the phenomenon of the multiplying dream catchers, HA HA). But, the projects my students do are wholy influenced by them. They might not be able to hold the marker or paint brush, but they can certainly pick the color or shape. We do a lot of "glue it on" projects. Those cute "follow-the-directions-cut-along-the-dotted-line" projects you can photocopy from teacher idea sites? Not for us. I choose techniques that are pretty "fool proof" like balloon stamping, finger print painting, daubing, mosaic, and decoupage. And I don't care if we have day-glo orange Totos or Dorothy has purple hair or the Emerald City ends up being more orange and brown than green. Projects of any sort MUST maximize choice making opportunities for the students or I won't even consider them. You won't find "coloring sheets" in my room (OK, except for one student who enjoys smashing the paint daubers onto them when she's working on color identification). Our projects turn out as varied and interesting as the kids themselves and I LOVE it. So do the parents, as evidenced by the numbers of our projects that I've seen hanging on fridges or lovingly displayed in rooms. For more examples of some of the projects we do, look in the side bar under "Curriculum" at posts about our News-2-You related projects. And I promise, Wizard of Oz project pix will be coming eventually.

I should also mention that my staff is forbidden to make choices FOR a student. I have students who don't particularly care to do most art projects and will communicate that by absolutely refusing to choose ANYTHING (we call it "staring through the wall"). Frustrating? You bet. But for me, "not choosing" is the choice and we honor that choice (even when the project is super cute and part of state assessments). There are consequences for not doing your work, just like for any other kid (I have really supportive parents). I can't stand it when people make choices "for" kids. All that teaches them is that their desires are irrelevant. A big serving of "learned helplessness" anyone? Seriously, if you want to see me lose my cool, go ahead and make that (non health and safety related) choice for one of my kiddos, I dare you.

So I say, "DOWN WITH MACARONI ART!" Unless of course, it's a macaroni collage that unquestioningly reflects the student--as in a big blob of glue in the middle of the page because the kid LOVES glue, with one little blue piece of macaroni stuck in it because he HATES making choices for art projects (or threw the other bits on the floor).

Can I Hear an "Amen!"

I look forward to new posts on Rob Rummel-Hudson's blog Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords. He is a good writer who is not afraid to "tell it like it is." His latest post hit so many notes with me on more than one topic that I may well end up doing more than one post referencing it.

The first part of today's post talks about federally mandated state assessments (NCLB). I agree with everything Rob states in his post. I won't repeat it here (go read it for yourself). I most liked his comments about kids with disabilities and how they are affected by these tests. You mean a kid on an IEP "failed" the reading test? Well DUH!!! I cannot come close to explaining the frustration I have as a special educator to be forced to put students into a no win, sure to fail situation. And then to be held accountable as the teacher for the fact that the child has a DISABILITY that INTERFERES with his ability to learn like other kids, take these tests, and in general, "meet proficiency" at "grade level." And I'm one of the fortunate (she says tongue in cheek because this is soooo not fun) few who gets to give the Alternate Assessments, which gives me the flexibility to basically pick and choose what my students do for their assessments (no bubble sheets or computer-based tests for us, just a small forest of trees in paperwork and way too much time away from kids). Every year I spend countless hours devising assessment activities, taking assessment data, compiling assessment data, filling out the forms, and putting together portfolios. THEN we get to score the things in a team of three. And what are we testing? Is it really relevant for a deaf-blind 13 year old with severe CP to be able to label his shapes? I mean, come on! The kid can't effectively communicate his wants and needs, why on earth does he need to know his shapes? Worse, these are a "point in time" assessment and can't be used to compare performance from year to year. Not to mention that we are basing our ratings on 3 pieces of "evidence" of 5 trials each, which is SO not best practice for determining student performance. In the end, the assessments are not an indicator on how well my students are doing with mastery of the state standards. Instead, they are an indicator of how creative I am as a teacher in making the "indicators" (tested items) work for my kids with a minimum of disruption to them (other than the fact that I'm stuck with paperwork for far too many hours instead of actually working with my students). The procedures are actually designed so that I can manipulate the data to make it look really good (good thing I'm an ethical teacher, but I do know other teachers who are "encouraged" strongly to do just that). I could go on and on about the absurdity and uselessness of the state assessments as they currently stand, and not just for special ed. I think they're pretty much a waste of time for everyone, except the bean counters. And if the Powers That Be read this, go ahead, audit me. I'm not worried. I know how to follow the rules. HA HA HA HA HA HA

OK, enough for that soapbox....