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Review/Extension Activity: Sometimes, Always, or Never

When you get your kids to think and then they ask you to do it again, you know you have a winner.

This is a versatile activity that can be adapted for any setting, time frame, and group dynamic. It engages students in processing vocabulary and ideas, helping them get comfortable and familiar with new words without any memorization pressure. Preparation and setup can be as easy as you need it to be. Here is the basic idea with one simple variation:

Create a list of statements about the topic you wish to explore or review. The statements should be sometimes, always, or never true. For example, here are some of my statements from a lesson about quadrilaterals:

A rhombus is a square

A rectangle is a parallelogram

A parallelogram has a right angle

A quadrilateral has 4 acute angles

A quadrilateral has exactly 2 right angles

I played the game with intensive students individually or in pairs, so I did it as a board game: Take any follow-the-path game board and randomly label the spaces sometimes, always, and never. In turns, each player picks up a statement card, reads the statement, and decides whether it is sometimes, always, or never true. The player must PROVE or at least reasonably demonstrate their answer through logic or examples. Often, the student develops their answer through the process of proving it. They can sketch examples, look up a definition in a reference book, and discuss with others. Some of the students surprised me – and themselves! – with the insights this process brought out. Once the players are collectively satisfied with the answer, the player moves to the next unoccupied matching spot. The game can be adapted to different game boards or simply collecting cards. Adapt for levels of knowledge/memory by making different reference resources available (or not). When students are already familiar with the way this works, you can make it an independent center activity for groups or individuals. You can have students make up the statements and then pool them together. Making up statements for a S/A/N game center can be an “early finisher” activity.

Another way to play that limits it to more of a categorization exercise is to write just the words on the card instead of full statements. Make several copies of each. Then, students draw the cards and place them on a template that looks like this:

A ______________ is a _________________

This will result in many of the same permutations you might have created in the first place, but it’s easier to prepare and adds a fun randomness.

This activity works especially well with topics involving a lot of categorization or attributes. Try it in science:

An elephant is a mammal.

A bird can fly.

A reptile lives in the desert.

Or in social studies. Or even in grammar. I love metacognition!


May 19, 2013 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

Where’d the dough go? Silly answers to a great question (DOE Part 3/3)

In my last post, I got a bit carried away whining about how the NYC Department of Education gives independent contractors a raw deal and then denies payment even after you accept that deal. So, what ever did happen to those payments? According to the NBC report, the DOE says the reason why thousands of providers went unpaid for months (still counting, for many) is because they were awaiting “required documentation.” However, as I described in my previous post, the only paperwork they ever requested was invoices and approval letters. Their contract says that from the time I send those, I should expect payment in 6 weeks (that’s weeks, not months). Thousands of providers did exactly what the DOE said, and were only informed of additional “required documentation” after calling repeatedly to ask why they hadn’t been paid. Now, I won’t dispute the DOE’s right to request additional documentation of services rendered. However, they have no right to withhold payments for services provided before these requirements were in place, and if they do decide they want more junk from us, they need to tell us clearly and in advance of the requirement. I should have received a letter, email, or phone call over the summer or accompanying my case approvals for this year saying something like “Dear Contractor, Please note that as of September 2012 you will be required to blah blah, and we won’t pay until you do.” Instead, what happened was that hundreds of unpaid workers individually clogged up the DOE phones asking for their money, and were told “But you didn’t sign up with the QRST system.” What QRST system? Never heard of it. Where do I find it? What do I do? It would also be nice if the “additional documentation” were less cumbersome and redundant. Since finding out about the new requirements, I have had to:

  • Sign up for a “vendor portal” by entering my name and SSN – they already HAVE my name and SSN, why don’t they just add me to their database when they approve me for the service in the first place? Wait for approval/confirmation.
  • Sign up for “SESIS” the same way – Again, can’t they just combine their databases? Wait for approval/confirmation.
  • Get approved for “PETS” by emailing someone to ask them to approve me. I still don’t know the significance of this.
  • Something about fingerprint verification which I had to do when I first started this job, my fingerprints haven’t changed since then as far as I know. I also had to get fingerprint clearance when applying for my teaching certification in the first place, so if they know I’m a certified teacher they should be able to find my fingerprint info on file somewhere.
  • Call “IVR” to record my start dates for each student. Note that my start date is also listed on the original service approval form, so again, they ought to have this info down somewhere. Wait for them to be added to my SESIS file.
  • Go back to SESIS and enter all my attendance data. Note that my invoices also need to include the exact dates and times of attendance. My guess is that they need us to record it twice so that if we ever make a typo so they don’t match, they can accuse us of perjury and invalidate our whole month on both systems. Anything to avoid paying up.
  • Download a new invoice form that will only work properly in the most up-to-date version of Microsoft Excel. Type my attendance and billing information into this form, which takes a lot because with the way they pay me I haven’t upgraded my computer in years, and of course the computers in the school I work in are provided by the DOE and are only to be used directly with the students. This would be considered my “personal” use so I’m on my own. And their form doesn’t translate well with old programs.
  • Also new on the forms this year are start and end times. You used to have to write only the length of the session. Since I first caught wind of this only a few months into the school year, do I now need to reconstruct history to figure out when I saw kids before my schedule was finalized? For years they wanted total time, so that’s what I recorded on my attendance sheet every day. Oh, and instead of typing right into the form, I need to choose those times from drop-down lists of 5-minute increments from 6AM to 9:45PM. A minor hassle, but why?

…and that’s before you can even think about getting paid. By the way, after using the new computerized invoice, you still need to print it out and mail it in together with copies of the original approval letters and “P4” forms for each student – as if they can’t keep a record of who’s approved for which services. So I’m not sure how much they gain by computerizing the thing in the first place. I’m in favor, theoretically – now when they lose my papers, it will be easier for me to print off a fresh copy. Meanwhile, I’m already losing track of how many different systems I’m signed up for, which one had which password, and what I’m supposed to use them all for.

Fortunately, for all its exciting twists and turns, the system apparently does work eventually and people are finally getting paid for the work they did in September. Strangely, many have found discrepancies between the amount they billed and the amount received. So the phone calls begin again. Since I haven’t been paid yet this year (not to worry, it hasn’t yet been six weeks since I completed my scavenger hunt of “required documentation,” so no complaints there…) I don’t know if they’ve streamlined this part, but last time I had to call about missing funds it took over a month. First you get bounced around from one desk to another until you hit a dead end where someone’s away from their desk and the voicemail box is full. Then you get a person who says that the person you need isn’t there. Then you finally get the person you need, and they say they’ll look into it. You melt with gratitude and wait for them to get back to you. You go on waiting until you realize they aren’t getting back to you, and then you try again. So far, these are the reasons we’ve been given for the discrepancies:

  • Not sure, will look into it further, have to ask someone else in a different department whose voicemail box is full.
  • Their mistake, don’t know how it happened, but they’ll fix it – let us know if you don’t receive the money someday.
  • Session lengths must be a multiple of 15 minutes. Some or all of your sessions weren’t, so they rounded it DOWN for you (and then they want you to teach kids that rounding is to the nearest. And that in some situations you need an exact answer without rounding). I got this excuse. I have never seen this rule documented anywhere, and I read all the fine print available. My approval forms say “Session length: a period.” That year, the school I worked in had 40-minute periods.  Note that they did not round the total number of minutes to the nearest 15; they rounded EACH SESSION down to 30 minutes, essentially docking 25% of my pay for the month. This was for three months: the first one, another 6 weeks waiting for that payment, and the third month ended and was invoiced while I was chasing them by phone trying to correct what I thought was their mistake. Note that this was the first time I heard of this after several years of billing exactly to the minute, either it is something new or they are inconsistent about it. But the lady on the phone acted like it was something I should have known through common sense or something.
  • You can’t work for 6 hours straight without a lunch break. So, they penciled a lunch break into your schedule and didn’t pay you for the students you saw during that time. Why is this any of their business? We’re independent contractors, supposed to get paid for services provided – not employees whose every minute can be scheduled. If I want to eat a big breakfast and then see as many students as I can get in a day while just holding off until dinner, what right do they have to care? And again, if they do decide to care, they need to make this clear in advance instead of declining to pay for services already rendered.

Note that for the 15-minute and 6-hour policies (extra credit if you can find a book of these policies and share it with those who rightfully need to know), there is no way to get that money back. They said they’ve already processed the invoices, that month is closed on your case and there’s no going back – besides, they already know you saw the kid for 40 minutes at a time, so if you now claim otherwise, the untruth is rather transparent. As for the future, you can imagine the headaches involved in trying to fit a dozen kids’  schedules into 15-minute increments, especially if you work in a school where some periods are 40 or 50 minutes.

All I want to know is why they can’t just come out with a book of their policies and make it available to all contractors. This business is like telling students to do long division with decimals before teaching them how, and then waiting for them to finish before telling them that they got something wrong in the first step. Then you let them do it ALL over again before telling them that they got the second step wrong, too. Not nice.

February 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

Part II: How the NYC DOE gets teachers to work for free (or cheap)

My previous post shared some of the frustrations the Department of Education puts us through to get services for students in need. Now it’s time to expose how the DOE unconscionably rips off the special ed teachers and related service professionals who actually provide these services on the front. I pointed you to this NBC report, but that only tells half the story: it only addresses the payments that were delayed, not those that were altogether denied, and it makes no mention of the obstacle course the DOE puts us through to get any payment at all – not to mention the payments that disappear altogether.

There are two stories here: The DOE’s internal problems of inefficiency, incompetence, and unfairness which cause ignorable inconveniences to ignorable little people like me, and their major mix-up this year that turned the entire population of independent SETSS providers on its ear. SETSS stands for Special Education Teacher Support Services, and independent contractors provide these services to students who do not receive them directly from DOE employees, usually because they attend a non-public school by choice. Since special education services are the school district’s responsibility regardless of school placement, the DOE is supposed to reimburse the providers for our work.

Our contract isn’t great, but there isn’t any room for negotiation. Because it’s up to the parents to find an independent provider for their children, the DOE simply doesn’t care if you don’t want to work on their terms. Let the parents go crazy trying to find someone who will sign on to it. Among the terms of the service:

  • You’re only paid for time when the student’s body is actually there with you. Spent 30 minutes traveling to his house only to wait for 15 minutes at the door until you realize nobody’s home and they forgot to tell you? Tough. What other professional would accept this? Every therapist I’ve ever visited requires 24-hour notice of cancellation in order to cancel the bill as well. Even an hour would be enough for me to save my travel and waiting time, and possibly even squeeze in a different client. How about the kid who got suspended and needed a week’s worth of home-based curriculum coordinated with all his teachers and communicated to him at home? Hours at my desk and on the phone. No body in school, no money.
  • You’re required to tend to all of the child’s special education needs, including attending IEP meetings, collaborating with general ed teachers, etc. Again, no pay for this time. We’re not even talking prep time, but actual in-person meetings mandated by the DOE about the student’s services. But you only get paid for “direct” teaching time.
  • Provide make-up sessions only during the same week, but not on the same day as a regular session. Most students are mandated to receive services 5 days a week, so there isn’t any day that isn’t the same as a regular session. So, that student for whom you killed an hour because they were absent with no prior notice? Forget about getting that hour back. No matter how much school work he missed during his absence, which will be harder for him to make up due to his special needs, you get your same one period a day to catch him up. If he was absent for a week, that’s a week’s worth of income you’ll just never see.

Well, it’s their game, so we play by their rules. I sign on the dotted line agreeing to the above terms (among others). I mail my signature in to the CSE (Committee on Special Education – the ones in charge of these forms) and, if all goes well, I get back an approval letter. Theoretically, I shouldn’t work with the student until I get the approval, but that could take a month – a month in which they’re supposed to get services, not slip ever farther behind their general ed peers. So I just sort of count on the approval coming. The approval letter says that at the end of each month, I should send an invoice together with a copy of the approval letter and expect payment within 6 weeks.

  • Question: Can’t they just keep a database of which services they approve? Why do I need to make copies of your own approval letter to send back to you over and over again every month? *cue moans of dying trees*

Here’s where the fun starts. So far, it’s all been logical: I sign to their rules, do what they said, complete the invoices, copy the approval letter, and wait for the check in the mail. Instead of a check in the amount I’ve billed, here are some examples of what I (and others) received instead:

  • A check for 75% of the amount I billed. No explanation for the difference.
  • The exact same papers I sent in, stamped “Received,” with a note saying I haven’t sent them (I sent back the EXACT same set of papers again, just swapping the to and from addresses and re-paying the postage. This time they found nothing missing. *shrug*)
  • A message saying that my handwritten invoices are invalid because one date was corrected with white out
  • A message saying that my handwritten invoices are invalid because from now on all invoices must be typed
  • And finally, this year’s new zinger: A letter saying that I can’t bill for services until I sign into a series of websites with exactly the same information, and then communicate with a bunch of people to say I did so.

I oppose overlong blog posts on principle, so since my word count is again approaching 1,000, I’ll save the autopsy for the next post. Spoiler: I will never recover the missing 25% of that paycheck, but that didn’t bring me to tears as the rest of the frustration did. It only gets better.

February 6, 2013 at 10:18 pm 1 comment

How New York is destroying Special Ed

Bureaucracy is typically a nightmare, but the NYC Department of Education takes it to a whole new stratum, preventing students with special needs from accessing vital services and then nickel-and-diming the providers of such services. This year, they proudly graduated to a new level of insanity, creating widespread headache epidemics throughout the city. (Note: I speak from the perspective of an independent contractor providing SETSS to students in non-public schools.)

It is January, just about halfway through the school year that began five months ago. Three of the eligible students in my class are only beginning their special education services now. Three kids waited five months. Besides slipping dangerously far behind in their academic work, the one whose counseling was delayed already earned a suspension and was almost expelled. This is a sincere student who is interested and willing to work with a school counselor on his impulsiveness. What’s the holdup? Some of it was simply lack of communication. In an ideal world, when the IEP team decides to mandate services for a child, they should automatically and immediately present the parents with the necessary forms to make the services happen. Instead, the DOE tends to rest on its laurels until the parent comes knocking:

Parent: You said my kid was supposed to get SETSS. Why isn’t it happening? The school says they never got the approval letter.
CSE: Let’s see… it seems you never sent in the Mumble Jumble Crumble form.
Parent: What form?
CSE: You have to send in the MJC form. We don’t have your MJC.
Parent: I never heard of any MJC! What’s an MJC?
CSE: Oh fine, we’ll send you one. Fill it in and send it back, then we can send you the approval.

This is if the parent is lucky enough to reach a person on the first try. Often you’ll be told “they’ll call you back” to hold you off for another week or two until you decide to call them. And what they don’t tell you is that you’d better keep a copy of your form because you will probably have to send it again after they lose it.

So that’s a communication problem. Remember that, because it happens to the teachers later in this post, too. There’s also an efficiency problem. The DOE buildings must be heated by a paper furnace; it’s the only way to explain why they require reams of paperwork and yet often don’t seem to have the document du jour. Like this parent, who knew from experience to request the MJC or whatever form her kid needed:

Parent: My child is supposed to be getting SETSS, as per his IEP. Please send our MJC.
Parent: We still haven’t received our MJC….
CSE: Your child’s services were discontinued.
Parent: What! He still has a learning disorder. He is still failing in general ed. And his current IEP, signed by your representative, says his services should continue!
CSE: His file says his case was closed.
Parent: WHY?
CSE: It says “lack of parental involvement.”
Parent: What does that mean? I was just at his IEP meeting three months ago. You have my dated signature on his IEP, which says that he should get services through June 2013.
CSE: You need to prove it.

Even though their own people had signed that IEP a few months earlier, and they presumably retained a copy for their records, the mother had to take a day off of work to march hers to HQ and argue for her involvement. Then they had to start again with the MJC. Thank goodness for involved parents or these kids would never get anywhere.

Another one got the forms through without a hitch. But the approval form was missing the specified number of sessions. They won’t honor that. So the parents sent it back and, unbelievably, they actually received it back again without undue delay! This time the kid’s name was misspelled. Of course if there’s any mismatch on any records, it’s as if it never happened. So it had to go back AGAIN. Why did they even re-type the kid’s name? They only had to enter a single digit onto the existing form!

So, that’s why I am still starting with new students in December and January. One year I let a kid into the program without the approval in hand, under the assumption that since his IEP said he was supposed to get services as of the first day of school, that meant the approval would come. It didn’t. Probably lack of parental involvement (the parents were fine, but most people don’t realize you have to be a battering ram to get anywhere in the DOE. They were lovely, un-pushy people.) I never saw a dime for all the work I did with that student before realizing that the forms wouldn’t show up. I, along with most other slightly-jaded providers, no longer see students on credit – or at least, I limit the amount I will see on credit at a given time (sometimes they’ll honor the IEP retroactively, but now I know not to count on it). I really feel for the kids, and for the general ed teachers who have to deal with them alone, but I have to pay my rent.

Another student began acting out and losing focus in class. The mother wanted him to see the school counselor because she felt it was likely a response to his father having recently become seriously ill. The DOE denied the services because he had passed the state tests (taken before the father’s illness) so he obviously didn’t need any educational help. At the risk of sounding unsophisticated: D’oh.

There, we have now solved half of the DOE’s budget deficit by avoiding approving (and hence paying for) special services for the most vulnerable students. In my next post, I will elaborate on how the DOE resolves the rest of its budget woes by avoiding paying even for services already approved and provided. Stay tuned, the fun is only beginning!

February 1, 2013 at 2:02 am 2 comments

We all started somewhere

IMG_0743You may have wondered where I’ve been. Or maybe you didn’t wonder at all. Or maybe you found this blog more recently and figured it’s another poor, defunct, abandoned idea. Well, not to worry – I’m here and I’ve been busy: There’s a new Little Learning Girl in the family! Which means I should probably come up with better pen names to avoid confusion.

I look at Littlest Learning Girl and marvel at how much she has accomplished in just a couple of months. Besides pooping through every piece of cloth in the house, I mean

  • where to find food and how to get it out (she was not born quite knowing this as her big sister was)
  • how to get her hands into her mouth
  • how to swat at toys to make them move and how to kick to bounce her bouncy seat
  • if you move your eyes and head just right, you can go on seeing something even as it moves away
  • you can get a ton of attention if you smile charmingly enough

This stuff is monumental!

Besides making me ponder all the skills we take for granted (how many of us special ed teachers see school-age kids who can’t do the visual tracking one?) it also reminded me how we all started with nothing. We didn’t pop up as social creatures all at once, we started with a fleeting moment of eye contact. Not only weren’t we born readers or talkers, we started with the smallest phonemes.

In a newborn, we call this cute. Somehow, when they come to us in 1st…5th…8th grade missing any of these skills it doesn’t seem quite as cute. Sometimes it even looks rather hopeless. But then we back up and remember that we all got where we are one baby step at a time. And we look for the next step, whatever that is, because it’s the only way you’ll ever get up. You can’t waste time worrying about whether and why you’ll reach the tenth floor or you’ll never even get halfway to one. I don’t know if my students will ever be on grade level, but one thing I’m sure of: If a helpless newborn baby can start with nothing but reflexes and still manage to find a way to learn about the sights, sounds, and feelings of the world, then I really have to believe there’s a way to meet the student where he is and move him on up.

Whether it’s phonemes to syllables
pictures to numbers
objects to pictures
or even just how to smile charmingly.

January 27, 2013 at 10:41 pm Leave a comment

Friday Finds: The Cornerstone

I went through one of the top teacher colleges available, but no one told me what to do when a kid asks to use the bathroom too much… until now.

I first encountered Angela Powell Watson when I accepted my first teaching job. While not very long ago in the scheme of history, that was before the explosion of teacher-blogging and internet resources. It was also before I had any clue about classroom management, having just (tentatively) signed up for my teacher training program. Ms. Powell’s Management Ideas for Teachers saved my day, and many other days throughout that long first year. On this simple site, Ms. Powell shared a wealth of wisdom that guided me in setting up my classroom, creating a behavior plan, and generally feeling ready to teach. I printed off reams of it and took it with me everywhere that summer, clicking through every link to mine all the depths.

So you can see why I was so excited when Ms. Powell, now Mrs. Watson, published The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable, which is basically a polished up, reorganized, printed-and-bound edition of that content, perhaps with some more packed in for good measure. With 471 pages, I certainly can’t imagine anything she’s left out.

The Cornerstone is not your classroom management college textbook; it wastes no time on theories and gets straight to business with practical, realistic, classroom-ready suggestions. It not only presents great ideas, it tells you exactly how to make them happen – there are charts, dialogues, examples, and even a smattering of pictures. This is the book for real people who teach real children. It covers an enormous range of situations, all of which occur much more often than anything I’ve ever read assigned in school. It goes through how to manage materials, behavior, lesson planning, time, and even fellow adults. A run through the table of contents made me want to devour the entire thing in one bite; not knowing where to look first, I realized that one couldn’t go wrong by simply marching from cover to cover – though if you have a specific challenge, you could certainly skip around. Just make sure to go back so you don’t miss any gems.

It is absolutely astounding how Angela seems to know exactly what to do in every situation. She really seems to have covered all bases of classroom management, and each of her ideas is beautiful in its simplicity. There is nothing here that is more of a drag to carry out than whatever you’re already doing. Her suggested responses are phrased with utter clarity and everything just makes SO MUCH SENSE. It would seem that you could have thought of it yourself instead of needing to buy a book… except you hadn’t, so you’ll be glad you did.

The ideas seem to be targeted mainly towards the elementary grades, as much of Angela’s earlier experience was in lower elementary, but just about everything is either already relevant or can be adapted to just about any age and ability. You might find much of it less relevant if you teach high school, but you will probably also find some parts useful anyway. What teacher doesn’t have heaps of resources to organize and documentation to keep track of, for instance?

As a former graphic design major, I can never review a book without commenting on aesthetics. The layout of this book is about as basic as it gets, but completely readable and well-organized. The pictures could use a little help, they’re pretty dark. But overall, though it’s hardly artful, the book is friendly enough to the eyes. Definitely above par for self-published works. On a related note, it has a very low ratio of typographical/editing errors, making it a smooth and professional read.

In addition to the book, The Cornerstone has a companion website which has replaced the former Ms. Powell’s. On it, Angela is amazingly generous with advice and resources. A lot of the original content is still there, as well as all the reproducible forms from the book. There are additional free resources that would have been too tangential to include in the book, such as a page of math games/center ideas. You can also find selected links to quality resources from other sites, like this. And of course, there’s a blog in which Angela continuously shares new insights and links.

What I love about all of Angela’s work, besides the total practicality I already mentioned, is her positive outlook. Her focus is on making teaching and learning a pleasant, peaceful experience. I think a majority of teachers enter the profession for love of kids and learning, but we often get swept away in a storm of nitty-gritty that can potentially drag us down and suck the joy out of teaching. Angela Powell Watson’s mission is to bring back the joy through ironing out those kinks, and she does it admirably. She has even published another book, Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching, which specifically focuses on the mental/emotional aspect of loving to teach.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of The Cornerstone to review. However, all opinions expressed are honest and unbiased; in fact, I am such a big fan of Ms. Powell/Watson that if I hadn’t been offered the review opportunity, I would have just bought the book myself!

May 11, 2012 at 12:51 am 3 comments

The Ikea Epiphany

The day we brought Billy home was a deeply spiritual experience.

For the uninitiated, Billy is a bookcase.

We tenderly unboxed the pile of planks, and a leaflet fluttered out. There was not a single word in the book, yet I was able to read it fluently and derive great education and entertainment from it.

Don’t be sad. Get a happy friend with a pencil.


Small person, don’t climb Billy!

I had to exercise a few good comprehension skills, such as paying attention to items in sequence, but I didn’t have to go through any torturous processes of rereading, dictionary consulting, and re-rereading with alternative meanings. Never did I lose track of the point by the time I reached the end of a convoluted sentence. Wait, that’s because there were no sentences. Either way, it certainly exercised a different part of the brain than we’re used to.

If I was ever unsure or even mistaken in my understanding of the diagrams, nothing was lost. In case I missed the part where it said 

I was still covered because the square peg wouldn’t fit into the round hole even if  I did try it. You could force it with a power drill or something, but if you knew that everything was meant to work out then you just re-read, looked over your pieces, and tried again.

By the time Billy looked like the picture at the top of the post (I didn’t time it. Must have been under an hour, I think) I was only slightly sweaty but felt like this:

We Can Do It poster for Westinghouse, closely ...

While I stood around admiring Billy and feeling accomplished, I thought, I wish my students could build all their own classroom furniture out of IKEA. Imagine the empowerment and ownership they would feel! And school furniture is bleeping expensive; what you lose in durability in some IKEA items you could probably make up for easily enough with the price difference, especially when you factor in that you’ve also gotten a neat extracurricular activity – not exactly wood shop, but certainly, say, life skills? Team building?

Having realized that my school is already furnished (though I still ponder pitching IKEA assembly as an extracurricular activity option when opportunities do arise for furniture replacement), my next thought was Can we get the IKEA people to write create instructions for tests and learning activities? I know it’s not for everyone; I’ve heard many people rant in frustration after meeting their Billies or Ørkdrüngs or whatever, but maybe those left-brainers could use the exercise anyway. My non-readers, poor readers, and interesting thinkers could certainly use the break. My understanding is that IKEA made a conscious decision to invest heaps of  energy into designing components that fit together and instructions that could be understood by anyone so they would be spared construction costs and customer service hassles in the long run. Assuming that they’re not looking to change careers anytime soon, it’s left to me – us – to apply these principles to our instructional design.

I can see this concept going great places. For starters, note that everything in the manuals is very simplified, language is kept to a minimum, and perhaps most importantly, each step shows what NOT to do in addition to the desired action. (disclaimer: Of course students should do plenty of reading and learn to follow written directions. However: 1. Not all students are capable of doing so – e.g. the young and/or the language/reading impaired, this post is dedicated in large part to them; 2. Sometimes getting clear, foolproof directions across is a greater priority than having a linguistically rich experience)

I wonder if I can market this to the formal test makers; we spent ages just reading directions the other week. Or, even better, the people who package science experiment kits. Me and that cute little Swedish guy with the pencil behind his ear, we’re going places!

May 8, 2012 at 4:05 am 1 comment

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