I decided to try something different from what I had tried before for my project for ECI 832 this term. I wanted to see if I could set up a blog site for some of my learning support students that have various forms of autism, mostly asperger syndrome, to use for future planning and social skills training.
Children with asperger syndrome often have difficulty with reading social cues such as facial expressions, voice tone, sarcasm, etc. They often do not deal well with changes in routine and have difficulty making and keeping friends. They can also have difficulty planning for new situations such as moving from middle years to high school or thinking about what they would like to do in the future.
Learning support teachers, such as myself, are often struggling to find the best way to teach social skills. The most common way is presented through social stories, but they can appear babyish and middle years students will often brush them off saying they don’t need help, even if it is something they really struggle with. I wondered if I could get them engaged with a blog site and use video and projects involving various tech tools to help them with social skills?
The other part of my idea was to try to involve my educational assistants with the blog. I need them to be available to the students, but I like to promote as much independence as I can in my students, so I thought I could build in a professional development component to the blog site to keep them busy with something important and useful, while the students were working. They could be available, but not have to hover.
I didn’t really have long enough to fully try out my idea, but I really feel there is potential to it with a bit more development. One of the things I was hoping to do was to get the boys doing more collaborating. Not necessarily with each other, but with people of like interests. For example, I have one student who is very artistic and who wants to pursue a career in that area. I wanted to get him connected to other artists and have him collaborate with people who might not only share common interests, but might be able to provide him with some encouragement as well. That will have to be part of phase 2 of the project.
I have just started the boys working on some individual projects using some tech tools. Once those are finished and published, I hope the finished products will open up some opportunity for discussion.
Jeff Greenslade was my critical friend. He did an awesome job of reviewing my site and gave me some excellent suggestions. Jeff is a high school chemistry teacher and I am a k-8 learning support teacher, but it was a great opportunity to take a look a critical look at someone else’s world. One of the suggestions Jeff gave, was to give the students an opportunity to take more ownership of the site. Let them develop their own bios, add pictures etc. This is also something I would really like to incorporate into phase 2.
The blog site seems to work well for educational assistant professional development. I was able to find some videos for them to watch, but I would like to add to this portion of the site as well, and give them opportunity to collaborate with each other on the topics they are learning about. Our educational assistants get very little professional development and I hope to be able to continue to tailor it to suit each individuals specific learning needs related to their assignments.
The blog site was never meant to be evaluated for student assessment, because it has been set up with individual programming goals in mind and not curricular outcomes.
I took the opportunity to ask my principal to look at my project and critically evaluate it from the eyes of another learning support teacher. We work together with most of the learning support students that are using the site. She really liked the idea and felt it might be an opportunity for some of these students to connect to social skills in a different manner. She agreed that it can be difficult to get these students to engage in social skills training. She also felt that the collaboration portion was lacking and would be an excellent thing to add to the project. She liked to professional development portion and wanted me to encourage the educational assistants to access the site at other times in their schedules when they may have spare time for various reasons.
All in all I am very pleased with how my project turned out and I am glad that I spent the time organizing it and getting everyone started. It was interesting to focus in my own area and find a way to incorporate my students rather than thinking that I could not do anything like this when I did not have a classroom. I want to thank everyone who helped me with this idea. I can see many opportunities to expand my project and can’t wait to take it into phase 2.