Demonstrating How Accommodations Help Kids on IEPs
March 5, 2015 2:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm putting together a 1 hour training for new teachers who have little understanding of disabilities and how they affect teens in the classroom. Although I do annual presentations about this, I'd love to mix it up, make it more hands-on and understandable.

My teachers are smart people who are experts in their respective educational areas (math, science, etc.), but when it comes to enforcing the IEP's accommodations and modifications, they struggle.

Part of their struggle comes from the mindset that the kids are lazy. They see a student manage to have a high-level conversation about politics and can't wrap their heads around why the same kid can't write a 5 paragraph paper about it.

One idea is to give groups a box of Legos and ask them to build something without giving them anything other than very vague directions to try harder so they can understand the mindset of a student who needs specific, written directions and visual models to work. Afterwards they can reflect on it felt to have no useful guidance. Together, we then write accommodations that would have helped them, like providing visual models of finished expectation, clear and explicit written directions, reviewing of earlier material, frequent breaks, etc. These are typical accommodations that they don't always give the kids.

I've spent hours on YouTube and I can't find anything as hard-hitting as I'd like. I want to keep the training interactive and interesting, especially because I do these on Friday afternoons and everyone just wants to go home.

What I really need are great articles but especially videos that have helped you understand what a disability feels like, or how IEP accommodations/modifications help students.
posted by kinetic to Education (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I used to run workshops for elementary school students and one of the workshops focused on what it's like to have different abilities. I am not sure whether the following activities could work for your purposes, but they are similar to your Lego exercise:

- We had students wear oversized welders' gloves and oven mitts, then try to do tasks like tie their shoelaces, pick up coins, and floss their teeth. This was to demonstrate how difficult things can be when your fine-motor skills are underdeveloped.

- We had students wear noise-canceling headphones and then gave them instructions in a normal tone of voice, expecting them to complete a task (any kind of auditory instructions will do). This demonstrated that it can be difficult to follow instructions when you're hard of hearing.

- We had some students wear sunglasses, some students wear scratched up lenses, some students blindfolded, and some students wore foggy swimming goggles, and all of the students were asked to read from the blackboard, just to demonstrate that some people don't have perfect vision.

- We had a table set up where students were given pencils and paper and told they had to answer math questions. They had to listen to the question twice before they were allowed to write it down and answer it. The facilitator/leader would then give two different math questions - e.g. "Seven plus three. Seven minus six. Answer now." Sometimes the facilitator would give nonsense questions - e.g. "Eighteen find nine." or "Thirty-nineteen-six goes forty." This was just to show that if you can't process what you are hearing, it is impossible to do the work.

- To demonstrate what it is like to have limited language abilities, we would show some students an elaborate "built" object (made of Lego blocks or any building blocks) and then they had to get their groups/partners to reproduce what they had seen, but they had a list of words they were not allowed to use (like top, side, next to, big, put, etc.)

Our workshops were focused on helping students understand it's okay to be different and have different abilities (it was called the "Celebrating Our Differences" workshop, after all) and that being patient with other people is the best thing you can do. Even getting that message across to educators is helpful!

Best of luck!
posted by gursky at 3:33 AM on March 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

I really love the Lego idea! The idea is that you'd frustrate them, and then demonstrate how to teach the task effectively; so you need something simple enough that you can concentrate on addressing the accommodations?

I wonder, if they're unable to imagine these kids' difficulties, though, whether there might also be value in working towards simulating the kids' frustration on a level that might hit the adults closer to home. E.g. if the task looked/felt more like something they might be able to imagine themselves invested in, as adults. Something they might think they potentially would be able to do with training, that's out of reach. (I'm thinking something like having to fix a car motor, or calculate dosages of a medication for a patient, or draft an architect's blueprint. They might have enough background knowledge to think they could get at it, but not enough.) Or, better, something they might be compelled to do against their will, in the way kids have to care about pre-calculus (like figuring out taxes without software).
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:38 AM on March 5, 2015

FAT City - How Difficult Can This Be? has some really neat simulations that demonstrate what it's like to have learning and processing differences.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:02 AM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Coming here to recommend FAT CITY. The important difference between that video and the other suggestions is how each shows the intersection of "how we do school" and "having an impairment."

In FAT CITY -- as in many classrooms -- the teaching style determines how well the kids learn. The presenter initiates the anxiety and learned helplessness which often accompanies any impairment, whether it's clumsy fingers or atypical neurology. The presenter manages to induce a pack mentality in a group of teachers who never thought they would act like that—and in less than 20 minutes! FAT CITY teaches how the structure of the classroom—from where the seats are to how the teacher speaks—induces disability in the kids.

Impairment simulations -- blindfolds, clumsy gloves -- teach only that the initial experience of an impairment is accompanied by doubt that kids with disabilities can accomplish anything. In fact, recent research supports the idea that impairment simulations have the opposite effect;

"Stumbling in Their Shoes: Disability Simulations Reduce Judged Capabilities of Disabled People"
Requires SAGE
Arielle M. Silverman, Jason D. Gwinn, Leaf Van Boven
Simulating other people’s difficulties often improves attitudes toward those people. In the case of physical disabilities, however, such experience simulations can backfire. By highlighting the initial challenges of becoming disabled, experience simulations decrease the perceived adaptability of being disabled and reduce the judged capabilities of disabled people. In two experiments, participants engaged in a challenging blindness simulation and afterward judged blind people as less capable of work and independent living than did participants after simulating a different impairment (Experiment 1), no impairment (Experiments 1 and 2), or after merely watching someone else simulate blindness (Experiment 2). Blindness simulators forecast that they would be less capable themselves if blind and that they would adapt to blindness more slowly (Experiment 2), highlighting the self-centered nature of judged capabilities of disabled people. The findings demonstrate that experience simulation can sometimes harm rather than help attitudes toward other people’s difficulties.
posted by Jesse the K at 9:09 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I worry that things like exercises with welding gloves on will reinforce the idea that these teachers have, that the students are lazy -- because, if I understand the situation, these aren't kids with physical difficulties.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2015

Should have been more clear: my kids have emotional, not physical difficulties.
posted by kinetic at 2:01 PM on March 5, 2015

To demonstrate anxiety, put together a script of typical anxious thoughts (I'd ask some actual kids for examples if you can, if not, I suspect plenty of people here could rattle them off) and make the teachers do moderately complex work while listening to it on repeat, on headphones. And they can't control the volume. For sensory processing stuff, same setup, but random loud, startling noises plus possibly a desk lamp pointed straight at their face. For ADD, every thirty seconds the paper they're working on is replaced with a completely different one - they only get the actual assignment every fourth or fifth time.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:21 PM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Wanted to update: it wasn't great. The teachers had a firmly held core belief that the students are lazy and I was unable to get them past the mindset of, "They could do this if they wanted to; they just don't because they're entitled brats."

I did the Lego exercise and as cotton dress sock anticipated, they had no investment in the activity and consequently didn't think about any accommodations or modifications that would have helped them.

FAT City video was also useless because they kept saying, "Well, I don't do that in my classroom. Our kids are just lazy."

I switched out worksheets rapidly to simulate ADD and again, their response was, "I don't do that, so this is ridiculous."
posted by kinetic at 5:45 AM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

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