Off the Page #4: Autism & Special Interests in the Classroom
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Off the Page #4: Autism & Special Interests in the Classroom

Hi! Welcome to another edition of “Off the Page”! Can you guess what book I might be talking about today? Yes, I’m going to be focused on my book, “Just Give Him the Whale”, which is co-authored by my dear friend, Patrick Schwarz Since he’s not year today, I’ll speak for both of us in saying that this was a real passion project for us and we have always believed that we should be working with students interests and their fascinations and their affinities when we’re supporting them and so we wrote a whole book about it and the book features 20 different ways to use interests in the context of teaching, learning, supporting, helping students feel not only more comforted potentially, more inspired even safer. So there’s all kinds of ideas there. I’m going to focus on idea number 11 and that is how to use a fascination in the context of standards-based instruction. So years ago I had a student who I’ll call Freddie and Freddie came to my inclusive school without ever having been in an inclusive classroom before and one of the things that he was really interested in was the calendar, and he had been in a classroom where he would look at the calendar everyday, and that was a point of study. It was a routine for him that was familiar and comforting and so he wanted to continue “doing the calendar” in his fifth-grade classroom, but fifth graders don’t really do the calendar in that way. They don’t take time to reflect in the way that a first-grade teacher would or the ways that kindergarten students would. So we took the calendar, and we created a standards-based exercise around it and we had students announce different students, announce, you know “What’s the date today?” and then we’d give them a fact “This day in history” or “This day in science” or something that they might want to…a problem they might want to solve around that particular date on the calendar that was related to mathematics and so even though students-you know-in fifth grade didn’t usually “do the calendar” they started becoming really interested in this you know very very brief exercise they were learning that -if they didn’t know it-that December 7th is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for example. So, that’s just one way that you can use something that’s an interest or a fascination that may not exactly seem to fit, but you can parlay it into something that might be helpful. So I’m going to share three different ideas with you. If you are looking for a way to take a fascination and move it into more of a standards-based context, a lesson, a unit, or just into the classroom in some way that will work well for students with and potentially without disabilities too. So these three ways are: you can use the fascination to look at the current area of study. So if you have a student who absolutely loves vacuum cleaners, you can look at…do have an upcoming unit on inventions, for instance. It might work there? Somebody who adores dolphins could discuss them during a lesson on habitats or if you’re studying the oceans. If somebody absolutely loves Sherlock Holmes you could explore that during reading or English class but also during a study of deduction or problem solving. [The] second idea is to look at the standards for that learner’s grade level and determine how you could adapt the standards for a student’s learning needs. For instance, if you have a student who absolutely loves Super Friends-the …you know…the Justice League. That’s like Aquaman, Wonder Twins, Superman…that might be connected to an objective or to a standard of “Explaining the United States relationship to other nations and Its role in international organization organizations” You can use the analogy of Super Friends to teach about this kind of collaboration…just one example. Finally, you could consider how to change your instruction to meet the needs of students with areas of expertise. Could you imitate a child’s favorite person, place, or thing maybe when you’re giving directions? I knew a student who absolutely loved Ozzy Osbourne, so the teacher occasionally gave a single direction in the voice of Ozzy Osbourne, and it was hilarious for any observers, but really delightful for this particular student. You could also think about…is there a way to bring that example into anything that I’m providing as you know a in a daily exercise as an example. So, somebody absolutely loves trains and can you bring that into a story problem? Trains are often parts of story problems anyway, so it might work quite neatly. So that’s all for this episode. Hope you enjoyed the tip. If these ideas are helpful for you, please join me in subsequent episodes of “Off the Page.” Thanks! You

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