Social Causes

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In seventh grade, Liam had the opportunity to advocate through writing about a cause in which he believes. He wrote and presented about Cure International, an organization that raises money to pay for operations to cure curable conditions in children overseas: https://cure.org/. This blog is actually not about his topic, however.

His teacher contacted me one afternoon during presentations.

One of Liam’s classmates had chosen to discuss raising funds to cure autism.

She shared that Liam had raised his hand politely after the presentation to say: if there was a cure for autism, then I wouldn’t be who I am.

She shared with me how well he spoke about himself while respecting the opinion and work of his classmate.

The fact that he shared this in front of the class floored me.

I feel the same way about him and his autism.

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Adding to our Teacher’s Toolbox for Inferencing

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Inferencing is a literacy skill that students on the spectrum find particularly challenging because they have a difficult time with tasks that ask them to consider associative meanings or recognize relationships and common features.

To help, just like with main idea and detail questions, teachers should use explicit modeling, scaffolding, and providing direct feedback to reinforce correct answers.

Teachers, likewise, want to place a student with ASD in a reading group where they can hear a “more knowledgeable other” infer aloud in a conversation. Again, teachers should use the think-aloud strategy to model their own inferencing process.

Students on the spectrum are not used to thinking about larger constructs or themes. They need a teacher or peer to help them learn what to notice, understand how to consider all of those details, and to decide how they all fit together.

Returning to graphic organizers, there are many that will support readers who struggle to identify the key pieces of information that would help them make an inference.

The Common Core Standards in this section ask that students do a lot of comparing and contrasting.  There are many compare/contrast and similarity/difference graphic organizers available. The teacher should choose ones that she likes to work with best.

A unique one shared with me by Eric Shipman, a third-grade teacher (http://www.bath.k12.ky.us/docs/Graphic%20Organizers.pdf – see Compare/Contrast with Summary). He appreciated it for the same reasons I am mentioning it here: it explicitly identifies the categories that are to be contrasted. Being able to target specific information to contrast (i.e. food, habitat, predators), is more beneficial than just tasking a learner to compare and contrast two animals. In what ways? About what? This way, the teacher can provide additional guidance for how the students should organize their thinking around the task.

This graphic organizer caught our attention because it added an additional layer of support to the typical compare/contrast strategy. In reality, Mr. Shipman and I found this to challenge students because it deepened the thinking beyond comparing and contrasting appearances or other lower level information. Then, it helps the student with ASD because of how explicitly it directs them to categorize the information garnered from the reading.

Question Types

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Another area that should be targeted for foundational work covered early in the school year is helping students understand the types of questions that are typically asked about what they read, and providing them with strategies for knowing how to answer these questions – where to look for the responses: in their book or in their head.

Raphael and Au’s (2006) Question-Answer Relationship (QAR) prompts work effectively with students with ASD because they provide a structure for understanding any question, as well as offer a strategy for how to answer the question. The strategy involves the I Do, We Do, You Do, scaffolded approach.

The teacher initially explains to students that there are four types of questions they will usually be asked what they are reading. Then, the teacher defines each type of question and gives an example. The first type of QAR involves “Right There Questions,” literal-level questions with answers that can be found directly in the text, often in one or two sentences on the same page. Usually, the words that are used in the question are the same words that are found in the passage. For instance, “When does this story take place?”

The second type includes “Think and Search Questions.” These answers require the student to gather evidence from several parts of the text to answer. For example, “What are the important ideas in this text?” Although the reader has to look through various portions of the text in order to pull together information (draw conclusions), the information is clearly stated (either directly or with synonyms) in the text.

The third type is “Author and Me Questions.” These questions are based on information given in the text. The student needs to relate the information to their own experience. Although the answers are not stated directly in the text, they are not all opinion either. The student must have read the text in order to make a connection with the information and answer the question. An “Author and Me” question could read, “What was the most surprising part of the book or article?”

The fourth type is “On My Own Questions.” These questions do not require the student to have read the text. Rather, they rely on the reader’s background knowledge to answer the question. An example would be, “What do you think it would be like to (find out you were a wizard, discover a secret about your family, lose your parents)?” Below is an example of a chart that can be used with students to help them remember the types of questions and, more importantly, how to respond when they are asked:

After explaining and defining the four types of question types, the teacher reads a short passage aloud to the students. The teacher should have prearranged questions to ask at the end of the reading.

After the reading, the teacher reads the questions aloud to students to model how to identify the type of question being asked. Then, the teacher models how to answer the questions, based on the type of question. Next, the teacher can provide students with their own practice passage, possibly in small groups. Repeat the process of having students read the text, read teacher-prepared questions about the text and define their type, then answer the questions based on their type. Finally, in pairs or individually, have students create their own questions for a text. Allow time to share why they believe the questions to be a certain type. Then give peers time to answer the questions, to see if they “got them right.” The following lists question stems that students can follow:

For “In the Book Questions,”

              Right There            Think & Search

 

What did….

Who did…

How many…

What was…

Who are….

When did…

What does…

What kind….

Who is…

What is…

Where is…

Name….

List….

 

On the “In My Head” side,

            Author & Me

Do you agree with….

Why did the main character…

What did they mean by…

How did she/he feel when…

Give the reasons why…

What do you think…

What if…

What do you think will happen…

What did the author mean by…

What did the character learn about…

How do you…

What happened to…

How long did…

What time did…

What happened before…

What happened after…

How would you describe…

What examples….

Where did…

How do you make…

Why does…

Explain…

Compare…

 

 

 

     

           On My Own

Have you ever…

What are the reasons that…

If you could…

If you were going to…

What are the pros & cons of…

Do you know anyone who…

How do you feel about…

What is your favorite…why…

What do you do when…

What can be exciting about…

What do you already know about….

What would you do if…

This type of support for knowing how to approach a question, and determining what type of thinking needs to occur before responding to the question, will create a strong foundation, especially as the student works to understand the expectations of thinking and answering inferencing questions.

Activating Background Knowledge

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For readers who have an autism spectrum diagnosis, what we might consider an obvious connection to make, may not occur to them.

A first-grade teacher told me the story of a young student whose teacher was working to help him share with the class about a pending adoption his family was completing.

The teacher chose a book to read aloud to the class about a family welcoming home a new baby. When the teacher asked the class if anyone could make a connection to the text, the student who was about to have a baby sister join his family did not raise his hand.

When the teacher encouraged a response from him, he insisted that the book had nothing to do with what he was going through, because his sister was being brought home as a one-and-a-half-year-old. The baby in the book was just born.

The teacher shared that in the student’s mind, there were no similarities between the two events. However, after the teacher used a classic Venn Diagram to show the similarities (and differences) between the two events, the student realized that he did have something in common with the book. The teacher had to “notice” and think aloud with the student (with the help of peers) these commonalities.

Any type of building of (through videos or hands-on experiences), or activating background knowledge will need to be done through modeling, especially with students who can struggle to make connections with some classroom learning.

Sometimes, the student has background knowledge to activate but is unaware of the connection between their experience and that of the content in front of them.

Communicating with the parents prior to a unit launch, to learn what understandings the child may have with the information can go a long way to supporting his or her making connections during schema activating activities.

Fortunately, because this was the case with the teacher mentioned above, she was in a position to support the child, not one where the teacher was left with “no connections” made.

It Just Takes One

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It took one after-school activity to encourage a seventh grader to talk about TSA in front of a room full of adults.

It took just one event to help Liam connect with his dad over electrical applications.

Just one top finish helped him qualify for states, even after forgetting the materials for another event, which kept his team from competing.

It took one qualification for states to get him to explore other events and join other teams.

Just one event again helped him qualify for nationals.

One trip to nationals helped him grow in confidence and in his ability to interact with older students.

It took just one season to help him enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.

Keeping Her Busy – Sports

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After a great first season with a wonderful coach, and a second season with me as her coach, it seemed clear that Mea benefitted from playing sports, specifically softball.

She could get her “sillies” out in a positive way, although she had to make sure that she was being safe and listening when instructions were being given.

She’s good enough to be received well by the other girls on the team. During the second season, she was one of the oldest. It seemed to help her to be thought of as a leader to the younger girls. She liked leading stretches and being good at what she was doing.

The fall of her third grade year, therefore, we signed her up for fall ball. Since the spring had been a bit easy, we thought she could use the “stretch” of playing with older girls.

In some ways, this was a good decision. She learned to develop a love for catching and caught “kid pitch” during this season.

At the same time, there is a distinct difference between third and fifth grade children. And Mea is on the “young” side of her grade, with a summer birthday and her personality.

She sat out a lot – which happens. While all of the other girls got nicknames, she didn’t. Sometimes, she practiced until after dark, which was “new” to us as the boys didn’t play sports in older grades.

While not the best experience, she did grow as a player. She developed some bad habits as there was an expectation that she already know how to do certain skills. We definitely got a taste for what it would be like to play at a more competitive level (while still being in elementary school 😉

Mapping One’s Thinking

One other strategy, for students reading in a common text, is to allow them to map their thinking about specific sections of the text.

Executive functioning is well managed through the use of chunking a text into manageable parts, discussing the essential information in that section of the book, and then moving to read (and discuss) the next section.

Trying to discuss a whole text makes remembering everything important cumbersome. It can also overwhelm the student who is trying to organize all of the information into its appropriate categories.

Students need to receive feedback about what is important and what is just interesting at shorter intervals. This seventh-grade advanced reader with ASD was able to map out his thinking about The Giver (1993).

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The teacher, Mrs. Stephanie Klansek, gives the class a reading focus. She then provides space for students to list “key events, big ideas, important quotes” (which have been identified, taught, and modeled from early on in the school year with other common texts).

Then, Mrs. Klansek encourages students to record “My thoughts and ideas.” The student used a combination of sketches, writing, and quotes to record his thinking. He also records questions he has.

All of this evidence of reading is brought to the discussion of this section of the book. More notes can be made during the discussion, or after, if time to process is needed.

This format supports this student’s making connections between other sections of the text through visual and written notes. These notes allowed him to notice recurring notes and patterns as he was reading.

If larger understandings were still eluding him, the teacher had a document of the student’s thought processes to use during a reading conference, to guide the student to make those necessary connections, to solidify comprehension.