Giving Choice and Respecting the Choice

This week snuck up on us, we’re afraid. Grade reports came out and it’s a little hard to see over the weeds right now, but we’re treading water with our students trying to make it to the first quarter grades which will be around the corner now that progress reports have been issued.

But last week, we talked about skills and that got us to thinking about the skills we want our students to walk away with being able to do. One of the most often talked about skills for students is making a choice. For typical elementary students, often this is something more like, “Do I play with a ball or do I play on the structure.” For students with disabilities, this may be an internal natural dialogue but for some of the students this is not a natural event.

For elementary students, ways to introduce choice might be playground activities during recess or free time, include a social story or a visual icon associated with approved activities. The next step is harder, honoring the student’s choice. Outside of rearranging icons to increase reliability that the student is honestly choosing the activity they are doing, giving older elementary students a chance to change their minds is also important.

As a student moves into junior high, middle school, or high school, these opportunities for choices feel more limited, but they aren’t always. “Will you read in the library or will you read in the classroom?” Or perhaps, “Will you work with the [general education teacher] or your classmates on this project?” Sometimes it’s even more simple as referring to the sample pamphlet the teacher wants the student to construct and asking the student which parts they want where in their document, the font they are using (if it is possible to change it), if they want pictures printed or hand drawn, and then if they want to color with marker or color pencil. In this manner, even if it is directed, the little bit of control a student can have in their life may help the student make other choices in their lives. And the unique issue that sometimes is over looked: just because the student has the least restrictive environment does not mean the student is capable of sorting through the process of understanding there are these steps built into an assignment beyond “do the assignment”. A student’s disability may be a processing delay or an executive functioning issue because of their disability that prevents them from understanding the choices in making a project happen.

But the last part, especially with an older student, is respecting the choice. The science project isn’t graded less because the student typed the assignment out of order. This is what glue and scissors are for, but the student got to choose the order that the parts are cut out and had control over where to place the items. Recognizing that ultimately the student’s ownership of their own project is the most important element to the process of learning.

Renay was asked years ago with a student in a computer class how the student chose what pieces to include. The student had a list of icons of shapes and all of them were used intermittently. They were often purposely scrambled, but the choice was clearly made by the student. The student had the opportunity to control their presentations or activities and they got the assignment done.

“Just put down three, the student will tell you.”

“Well is there a right way?”

“Just put down three,” she repeated, “The student will tell you. And that’s the right way.”

While We Have You Here…

If you didn’t know, October is Anti-Bullying Month, National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. It’s quite a packed month but we’re very excited this month! We will be sharing Awareness/Acceptance events and pictures as we come across them.

Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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