Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

IEP Handout

The following is a handout geared towards autistic mid-school students. It contains organizing thoughts and activity ideas for them to take a leading role in their IEP.

PDF Version of IEP handout

Big ideas for people with IEPs

The law guarantees free, appropriate education to everyone, in the least restrictive environment. For 10% of students (that’s you), your parents and teachers have determined that mainstream classes are not appropriate or not flexible enough to meet your needs. IEPs are plans for how the school will follow the law so that you get an appropriate education. “General education” is the name for mainstream classes, and “special education” is the name for all the separate classes and additional services that are set up for students with IEPs.

The goals of your IEP should state

  • The educational standard or level that you intend to reach. It may be the same as the standards for general education, or it may be more or less than that (or more in one area and less in others).
  • How the school will give you the opportunity to reach that level.
  • How you will adapt to what the school can provide. (The school cannot teach you exactly how you want it. It is always a compromise and you meet in the middle.)

It’s a free country. No one can require you to change your personality, beliefs or learning style, unless it is harmful to others.

People change. You may have had a certain unhelpful behavior pattern, but that’s not a good focus for the IEP because it is negative, probably temporary, and it may not be caused by what people think.

You (and family) are in control. You have to agree to the plan. You don’t have to accept special ed status at all. If having a label doesn’t help you, ignore it.

Debate topics

Inclusion versus separate classes – What’s appropriate? – Should you be able to learn whatever you want? – How much accommodation is reasonable?

Creative assignment

  1. Design a perfect school for yourself, either in pictures, notes, or paragraphs. Or describe a perfect school day. Base it on your strengths and interests. You can include ideas like no tests, no bullies, be able to study kangaroos all day, whatever would make it an exciting place to study subjects you like, and would help you be successful – in whatever way you understand success.
  2. Discuss with a teacher: In your perfect school, would you reach a higher or lower level in any subject area, compared to the real school? Is there something about your unique personality or disability that means you should reach a different level?
  3. Discuss with a teacher: In you perfect school, what is different about the environment or the way things are done? Is there something about your unique personality or disability that requires things to be done differently?
  4. “Accommodations” are what the school has to do differently for you based on your IEP. Look at the list of common accommodations. Which of these would you like to have, and which do you really need? What other ones do you need? Find a way to meet in the middle – something that you can adapt to, and a school can actually do.


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Middle school curriculum proposal

This proposal is to develop and experiment with Middle School curricula on the topics of sustainable design, planning, group decision making, and contracting.

The choice of these interrelated topics is meant to inspire and empower young people to tackle the problems that will challenge their generation. Here in the 1990s, sustainability has slowly become an accepted goal, but the work of re-engineering our economy to meet the goal has barely started. This curriculum is meant to show the next generation a way to actually accomplish the goal of sustainability. Read the rest of this entry »

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Middle school curriculum, reinvented

Junior High kids are often blamed for being the hardest age to teach, but my observation is that it depends on how boring the stuff is you are trying to teach them. With the appropriate kind of structure, the age group can be a joy, but if it is structured without regard to the special needs of that age group, they find it boring, and they get out of the teacher’s control.

In elementary school, life is pretty stable, and kids want to learn everything about everything (unless they have been turned off to learning by bad experiences in school). They have a great capacity to extend themselves, incorporate new skills, and learn external things that do not involve themselves. They could get very interested in the history of foreign countries, for example, even though they may have no personal experience with the subject.

Then, at ages 12 and 13, kids are energetically seeking their identity through friends and group membership. History and other abstract outside subjects no longer have as much meaning, and only things that have to do with ME mean something. The child will try on different values and ways of being, and see what works best. The choices the child has are of course whatever there is in his or her environment, and the child has no other way of distinguishing what kind of person it is best to be, other than to try out different ways. Therefore a teacher and a curriculum can have a very deep and permanent impact, if the whole affair seems attractive enough to pay attention to. On the other hand, if it is boring, the kids will look to and find meaning in other options, like whatever the older kids are doing, what’s on TV, etc.

After Junior High, some kids figure out who they are and can get back to the business of formal education. If the child becomes a stable adolescent with a group of friends and has developed ways to deal with problems, then I think there will be room again for learning about things outside of oneself. High School is a time when people can be at their intellectual peak, and learn new abstract concepts, foreign languages, artistic skills, and so on, all very quickly.

But if High School kids are still fighting unresolved battles from early adolescence, then they can not move on to the intellectual phase. Such kids do not pay attention in High School either, and become social and academic failures.

We need a whole new concept of education for the Junior High age group. Primarily, we have to let up on the pressure to learn abstract academic things like math and history. If we cut way down on the formal academics and have them spend a lot more time on discovering who they are, they will be more successful discovering who they are, then they will be done with that phase in life, and will want to move on to other things. Read the rest of this entry »

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Contracting Game – Jr High curriculum

The Contracting Game is a pilot six-week curriculum developed by Ian Ford for trial offering at Powderhouse Community School in Sommerville, MA April through June 1993.

Over the course of six weeks, students will carry out various kinds of work on a contractual basis. Students will be responsible for organizing into groups and competing against other groups for a limited number of projects. They will write proposals that aim to get the contracts. The teacher, who acts as the contracting agency, may award multiple contracts for the same work or no contracts at all for a particular project, depending both on the quality of the proposals and the available budget. Student groups then carry out the work by their own design and initiative, and write a final report. If the work meets the initially stated objectives, the students receive compensation for any financial expenses including modest salaries.

See attached 21-page pdf: 19930301ContractingGame

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Why I taught creative writing in my peculiar way

I work with seventh grade students on writing this to record my methods and teachers. creative writing, and I am discoveries for other teachers.

My circumstances are perhaps unusual: I volunteer one day per week in a public school, and work with three whole classes, out of the five seventh-grade classes (100 students) at the school. My goal was not to work with 20 students at a time, but maybe 10; however, I was only given the option of all-or-nothing. The school I work in, like most, is in a funding crisis. Their classes are segregated both by academic strength and language (Hatian and English).

My method centers on learning to write through practice and feedback. Basically, they write something each class period, and then have the chance to share it and get feedback in two ways. First, they may read it aloud or have someone else read it aloud (or to themselves) during the last ten minutes of class. Or, they may turn it in and I will read it and possibly write a comment about it in response. I encourage them to give me everything to read unless it is just too personal, and they usually do.

My comments are quite restricted: I do not allow myself to point out negatives, to suggest improvements, to correct grammar or spelling mistakes, or to write on the student’s paper. I usually type on a separate sheet, and try to name all the especially positive things or noticable or unusual things about their work. I respond both to their style and to khat they are saying, often explaining how their style, choice of words, structure, etc. contributes to the meaning that comes across. I list what I liked about it, never pretending to be an authority on overall quality.

Normally I leave their paper just as they wrote it, in order to respect their intellectual property even if I don’t like it. In certain cases, I make suggestions or correct errors if I know that the student wants this. Students learning English probably appreciate corrections since they are actively learning the language, but native speakers may take the correction as a sign of having a deficiency or feel judged or guilty about it. Native speakers often use grammar that is different from textbook English. Although they should know that speaking textbook English may help them in situations such as getting a job, their own language is appropriate for creative writing.

I have several rules:

  • be quiet
  • write something
  • do not write about other people in the school without permission

The first rule – be quiet people in the school w/o permission is difficult to enforce because creativity inspires expression, often verbal, and responding with punishment may stifle with seventh graders creativity.

The writing is always open to their ideas, but usually I help with a writing topic suggestion at the beginning of class, and/or by reading a selection from a book or something I wrote. In addition, there are specify: exercises I use. A1l these ideas are listed separately following this article.

The purpose of teaching creative writing is to give the opportunity for students to release their internal sources of ideas, views, information and identities from the repressive fabric of their lives. I believe that each person is capable of directing their own life from a deep personal sense of what is right, and that each person ought to have the chance to do this. Unfortunately I find it almost universal in this place and time that children are denied the respect that is required to grow into an independent and psychologically healthy person. My view is that most people eventually adjust to some way of life that works, but few are strong enough to be prepared for physical adulthood when they reach that age.

By writing freely without judgment or grades, but with encouragement and feedback, the student may experience something like Freudian therapy. The therapy’s is not usually about some big problem in their life, and it doesn’t try to fix anything. It just stimulates positive growth. The essential element in the feedback is honesty: as the teacher, I must honestly explain how the writing struck me personally, and try to explain why I think it struck me that way. (In other words, exactly which words or other qualities were responsible for my getting the impression I got from it?) From this information, the student can see how they are, and infer who they are. The benefits of non-judgmental comments are specifically:

  • What the student says is taken seriously, so they may feel more dignity simply for that reason. (Often, teachers do not grade on ”content” so they don’t even take note of it, as if their only goal is to teach certain writing forms and grammar.)
  • What the student says is reflected back so they can see what they said, and they can tell if they are making any sense or if they meant to say what actually got communicated. They can then adjust their self-perception or communication to be in greater control of their expression.
  • The action of writing and later reflection of it may free up other associated ideas from the repressed state.
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English verbs in eight easy steps (ESL curriculum)

I wrote this while teaching English as a second language (ESL), to cut through the clutter of grammarians. It shows the four verb forms, fifteen constructions, and some word order combinations. English does not have “tenses” in the sense of Latin and related languages; it uses constructions of particles with verbs, and word order, to convey the time, power and intention qualities of actions.
English Verbs (PDF, 7 pages)

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Active Danish, curriculum

I wrote this Danish textbook for English speakers. It’s more for intellectual grammar-oriented people than the casual traveler.

It is scanned in pieces, all PDF.
p1-14; p15-39; p40-61; p62-89