Friday, August 7, 2009

Lessons From ESY

This summer I worked for a public school ESY (extended school year) program. After seven summers as an administrator of a rather large summer camp/ESY for learners with moderate to severe multiple disabilities teaching a small class of middle school students with more moderate intellectual disabilities and some emotional disabilities was a change and it was great fun. In many ways it was a refresher course for me on positive behavior supports and higher level reading and mathematics instruction while still focusing on AAC and life skills.

Our summer was very, very successful! Here are some of the things that made it so:

  • Clear and positively stated expectations - one of the first things we did as a class was write out our expectations for our room which included: we keep our hands to ourselves, we listen to each other, we leave our gum at home, we keep our cell phones in our bags and turned off, we are safe at all times
  • A clear, consistent schedule with embedded routines - the students were given the schedule in pictures and words the first minute they arrived, there were plenty of extra copies if needed and it was posted, any changes were announced early and often
  • Grandma's rule (after you eat your vegetable's you get dessert)- work was always alternated with fun, students knew that individual folders (the hardest part of the day) was followed by free time
  • Plenty of choices - students were allowed to pick which work they did from a set of options, which work they did first, where they sat, who they worked with and so one; if work looked too challenging they were told to pick any 6 problem to complete, etc.
  • Naturally evolving behavioral contracts - the students arrived with behavior intervention plans, but behavioral contracts (we called them "deals") evolved. Soon they learned to negotiate "deals", my feigning disinterest in their offers worked well because they would up the ante, offering not only the "be safe", but to "do all their work" and "to help their friends do all their work" until I would (pretend to) begrudgingly agree. The hottest things earned in these deals were the Beanie Babies currently being given away with Happy Meals (I ate a lot of those Apple Dippers this summer) and one dollar bags of "Army Guys" from the Dollar Tree.
  • Plenty of physical activity - we started every morning with a workout and free time was often spent on the exercise bikes having "pedaling contests", students were encouraged to ask to "walk it off" when they were frustrated, which often meant doing some aspect of school work while walking laps within the building (seven times around is a mile!)
  • Direct instruction of coping skills - if the staff and I noticed a coping skills issue the next days whole group lesson would be about that coping skills, we worked on differentiating positive vs. negative thoughts, "thought stopping", identifying anger before it turns to rage and loss of control, etc. If at all possible these lessons were turned into physical activities, but not role plays (these kiddos were not role play kind of kids), examples of physical activities would include Positive Thought/Negative Thought Red Light/Green Light, Thought Stopping Bombardment, etc.
  • Student lead differentiation of instruction - the students were acutely aware of their strengths and needs, and each others strengths and needs, they knew each other much better than I would have been able to get to know them in the course of a single summer session; therefore asking them to decide what was "fair" in terms of what to expect each student to do on a certain assignment worked out well for the most part. I did have the occasional issue (i.e. one student who pretended to not be able to read so he could do picture based work instead of text based work) but the other students could be counted on to differentiate for their peers.
  • Interdependent positive reinforcement - the students (and staff, and me) earned stars working toward a total of 300 stars to be able to have a big party the last day of summer school. The more stars the more elaborate the party. Students knew that each person need to earn 3 stars a day for a basic party (with ice cream sundaes). If someone didn't earn 3 stars a day (or was absent) then others needed to earn extra. Peer pressure was on my side! We ended up with about 390 something stars.
The party was awesome!

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