“You Are MALALA!”

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Today, I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I have yet to identify. I have had a lot of difficulty helping my students to understand how precious an education is. I tend to get frustrated when my students get in their own way.

For that reason, I chose to teach my students about Malala Yousafzai. I was not sure that they would embrace it, but it was worth a try.

This morning, which is normally “Writing Wednesday”, I wrote a simple question on the board, “What do you know about Malala Yousafzai?”

When my 1st group of students entered the room, they looked at her name. To my surprise, one student knew who she was. He boldly raised his hand and said, “She got shot. She cares about education. She is a hero.” I was proud at that moment and excited about what else we would discover about this young lady.

We then watched a short video and discussed more about Malala. The students were shocked that she was their age when she started to speak out. They were shocked that she was shot and about the violence that was part of her life. Looking at their faces as they took it all in, I could see that they were hurt by the events that took place for young Malala.

We wrapped up by watching her Nobel Peace Price Speech. My first period class began to clap and cheer on Malala as she spoke. I saw heads nodding – smiles forming. It was clear that this was having an effect. Then, out of the blue, one of my students turned to me, a smile beaming brightly in his eyes. He pointed to my face and said, “This is for you. You are Malala!” I choked on tears quickly and said, “This is for us! We are Malala!”

It was so beautiful – that quick moment when I know that this student felt something inside of him that I hope will remain lit for the rest of his life.

We have decided to make a project dedicated to Malala and her efforts to promoted education in spite of the dangers she has faced. I’m excited to see what they will do.

I part with just a few words this evening, “You ARE MALALA!” so please take the time to lend your voice and make a difference!

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Autism Highlighted on 9News

I wanted to take a moment and thank the producers of 9News and Jonathan Gonzales for airing this special on me.  Since it aired last Sunday, I have had many positive interactions with people regarding autism and adult diagnosis.

Please take a moment to review the article: http://www.9news.com/story/news/local/storytellers/2015/09/13/rhonda-richmond-painting/72233370/

Kindest Regards,

Dr. Richmond

Art Exhibit

Art by Rhonda Richmond Art Exhibit

University of Denver Women’s College From August 3rd – September 30, 2015

Opening reception confirmed for Friday, August 7th, 6:30 – 9:00pm

Attire: Pink (in any way, shape or form)

Accessories: White Gloves (for CWC/TWC Alums and supporters)

Why PINK: I ask that you come in support of Beast Cancer – NOT simply awareness, but in support of a CURE! Some of you may not know that cancer has cost me some amazing friends (2 friends this last November 2014 – one in May of 2013) and it has hurt others that I dearly love (they are battling it or are have battled it). It is a monster. Cancer stole the life of my father in 2002 as well.

WE need to beat this killer! And WE need everyone to do what he or she can to help. If all you own is a pink ribbon and you can bike to this event, please come.  I’m not only asking for donations. I am asking for those who cannot donate to show support via attire. I will be donating the proceeds of one of the paintings to the cause identified by a friend impacted by this disease.  More details on this soon.

Why White Gloves: This exhibit is also important for another reason. CWC – The Colorado Women’s College is in danger of closing. As an alumna, that makes this exhibit very special to my heart. It could be one of the last at this University.

When I first attended CWC (then The Women’s College – TWC), I had escaped an abusive marriage. It was a safe place to learn – to find myself – to grow. I know that some people struggle to understand the value behind an all female university – but the support I received from students and staff helped me to find the courage to rebuild my life. It was a haven of like minds, love, and preparation for other things that were going to happen in my life. I regret to say that I was never able to attend the famous “Hanging of the Greens” – a celebration of every graduate at CWC/TWC. I missed out on a great tradition. However, I can show support for the tradition that has touched so many and the college that sheltered me in my time of need.

I welcome you all out to this showing. Please feel free to bring guests.

Business Opportunity:

If you are a business owner and you would like to create a gift basket – please contact me via LinkedIn email. This is a great way to showcase your business!!!! Gift baskets will be handed out as prizes to participants during the ceremony.  All contributing businesses will be mentioned at that time.

Teach 2 Reach 2 Serve Responsibly!!!

Dr. Rhonda Richmond

Short talks with good friends who have lost their lives to cancer.

Short talks with good friends who have lost their lives to cancer.

Using Creativity to Help Your Child With LD

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I was going to be creating a board game for my sons to help them to retain information that they often loose during the school year.  The unofficial title is: The Richmond Pursuit! 

OK – so, it is not a very original name.

What did I sacrifice:

My dinning room table (it can always be covered when we have company), a sharpie marker, paint (we are still in the process of painting it), a cardboard box, printer paper, and lots of time.

What did that sacrifice buy us:

Time as a family, some fun time on the computer, and what we hope will be a great tool for studying.

How does it work?

  1. We use one of our tokens (action figures we created online) to advance around the board.
  2. We answer questions in the following subjects:
    1. Science
    2. Social Studies
    3. Language Arts
    4. Math
    5. World Languages
    6. Computers
    7. Bonus Questions (of various subjects)
    8. Mega Bonus Questions: Very difficult Questions created by Mom and Dad.

The winner will make one full loop around the board game first.

What are the rules?

Our rules are specific to our game board, but they are still being created. Once the rules are finished, I promise to let you all in.

How do we determine the questions?

Each of my sons has subjects that they are taking in school. Every week (throughout the week as well), they will take what they are learning in school and develop questions that they then place on index cards or type onto note cards. They write both the question and the answer on one side of the card. These become our trivia questions for the remainder of the year.  We eventually plan to have colors for every subject on the board and on the back of the card.

How does the project look so far?

Take a look at our photos of the project so far – again we will update as soon as we have more to show.  We will play a few games with this board even through there is not much color.  We chose superhero’s as our token and used a website designed by Marvel Comics to create superhero’s for each member of our house (we also created our own arch nemeses’ for every player). Marvel Comics can be found here:

(http://marvel.com/games/cyos) Marvel Comics has not allowed permission to use their name or image, but I always give credit. We are not selling any games, only using these made up characters as tokens in a home game. For this reason, I am not providing full photos of those characters – you can only see the back of each token as they lay on the game board we have been drawing.

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Parents as you begin to try to help your children, look around your home and see what you can find. Not everyone is willing to sacrifice a table. I chose this table because it was large and it was in a neutral place – a place where my sons already do homework, which makes it easy to keep up with (I hope).

How does Language Shape Identity?

If you have been following this blog, you know that I have been using the the fictional character Kelly to discuss learning disabilities.  This discussion continues as we start to look at how language shapes identity. Remember to go back through other posts if a new post is difficult to follow. 

As Kelly grew up, Barbara (her mother) taught her what it means to “understand”. However, their current disconnect implies that there is an internal process that is preventing Kelly from applying a specific and stable meaning to the word ‘understanding’ that would help her express her thoughts to her mother, in a way that helps her mother to fully comprehend what she is attempting to relate (Chomsky, 1988). According to Derrida (1977) the meaning of a sign is relative to its present (temporal) or historical (diachronic) foundation. He makes a very interesting turn when he acknowledges that, if the system or the history of the word has an alternate context, then the word and its meaning are different (Derrida, 1997). Did Kelly somehow stumble upon a new meaning for the term “understanding” or did Kelly never learn the word as Barbara had intended (Chomsky, 1988)?

Soja (1996) determined that “space”, in this case, the learner’s identity, is always a culturally-constructed entity that lies between the lived space, the perceived space and the conceived space (See Figure 1.2. Soja’s Learner Identity). In review of Kelly’s history her lived, perceived, and conceived location are as follows:

  • Lived Location: When Kelly uses the word ‘understanding’, she has a historical reference for the word, maybe her mother or her schoolteachers asked her to repeat a specific instruction over the years and followed those instructions with the sentence, “Do you understand?” (Derrida, 1997). This type of connection to the word would constitute her lived experience (Derrida, 1997). Kelly is living with and using the language as a way to fit into the society that is around her.
  • Perceived Location: Since the term ‘understanding’ can be hard to conceptualize for the next example, let us use the term ‘peanut’. Kelly has a current connection with the word “peanut” as it is used with other words, like “jelly”, “sandwich”, or “celery”, which would be her perceived experience with this term. Her perceived experience might also happen during a social circle at school where other kids might talk about what the word ‘peanut’ means to them. Kelly perceives how other students use language in the community she resides/lives with.
  • Conceived space: The third concept is more complicated. What Kelly is struggling to intellectualize to her mother is her conceived experience. Kelly is trying to convey to her mother that, while she does take in the information that she is taught about how to use the language; she then sees how others use and maintain that same information and that the differences between her and her peers has created the conception of herself that she is not successful.

Past research has documented that a struggle exists for the LD student and the question of “why” is still unresolved (Cooper, 2007; Cortilla, 2011; LDA, 2008; NCLB and Other Elementary/Secondary Policy Documents, 2008; National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991). Chomsky (1988) called language a species problem (p.2). He labeled it a shared “biological endowment” that carried with it a system of knowledge that humans use to perceive information and produce responses (p. 2). This is a very generalized interpretation.

Kelly cannot access past information due to her learning-difference (LD), and struggles to pronounce the correct semantic interpretation that would aid her in her home and educational experiences, making it difficult for Kelly to become fully self-directed.  In a speech, Chomsky (2011) responds to the question, “What is special about language?” He acknowledges that only the prominent copy of the thought of a sentence is pronounced and that finding the correct semantic interpretation was often difficult (Chomsky, 2011). At some point later, he asked how a child might know the intended meaning if the child has nothing else to use for interpretation (Chomsky, 2011). What researchers must discover is how a person like Kelly compensates for not remembering what they have learned, and how to teach those compensations skills to other students with LD.

Discovering the properties of language and the ways those properties interact with learning is not as simplistic as it is written on paper or as easy as the theorists make it appear in their speeches (Chomsky, 1988). Derrida (1997) said that all perceptions, as outlined in Soja’s (1996) space theories, presuppose signs and language. He said that there is nothing outside the text, referring to “context”. He also said that we ascribe some form of meaning to something (like the word “peanut”) and we then attempt to communicate to others about the word (Derrida, 1997). He did not mean to say that there is no thought process outside of the word; he just means that we needed the word in that context to address the thing that was (in this case a peanut). Thus, when educators struggled to define the term “curriculum”, they began to outline how they plan to practice the various aspects of it instead (Oliva, 2006). Similarly, Kelly and her mother miscommunicated with one another, as the word “understanding” took on two different meanings.

Current practices are designed around one type of learner and one description of the social and cultural funtions required to train that specific learner to be both self-directed (Knowles, 1980) and ready to learn (Banks, 1993; Cortilla, 2011). Looking back, the hidden elements in the curriculum that have been established to reside in all curricula noted that students need connection and culture (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Nelson et al., 2007). Gardner (1991) noted that we understand the world through our connection with our environment. Shaw (1990) outlined the link between spacial reasoning, behavior and the senses. Some researchers equated learning to social functions where learners built new ideas from past understanding (Vygotsky, 1978). Even Bloom’s taxonomy of education was a building block that required a foundation for advancement (Eisner, 2000).  What this means is that for the LD student to become successful in current educational settings, those students need to have their own culture brought into the curriculum in order to feel as if they belong and can ultimately be successful (complete to graduation) for them to desire to continue. They need to learn in a context they understand.

By combining education theory and Edward Soja’s Trialectical Relationship Model, it is clear that there is a relationship between the following groups: see Table 2.1, Spatial/ Perceived/ Conceived Location.

Table 2.1, Spacial/ Perceived/ Conceived Processes (Soja Model)

Triangle Corner Lived Location Perceived Location Conceived Location
A= Policy, Curriculum, and Teaching The College and its curriculum. US current Day What does this school desire to teach their students?
R= Students Students in an undergraduate program. US current Day What will the student know once (if) they complete their degrees plan?
T= Knowledge obtained at school Documents, books, lecture, notes Classroom or online Will the student keep this information or will it be forgotten?
Student (Kelly) Ready to Learn: I made it through high school, can I learn at this level? Self-Direction: Can I do this without continual help? Barriers: Failing, forgetting, and/ or misunderstanding.
  • The Author (or in this case the teacher or text writer).
  • The Reader (or student).
  • Text (the curriculum or College structure).

These individual relationships have differing impacts on mastery, connectedness, sustainability, engagement, and culture (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Research also shows that:

  • if a student believes that they do not deserve to be in a college setting and that they do not think they are ready or able to learn,
  • that they will not be able to obtain anything from this setting and become self-directed learners, and if
  • they feel that they do not desire to remain in this setting (which is their greatest barrier), and then they will leave this setting (Cortiella, 2011, Soja, 1996).

Kelly’s feelings are further complicated by the fact that Kelly lacks any cultural, political, social, emotional, moral, ethical, ideological, or historic connection to what is being taught (Banks, 1993; Cortilla, 2011; Enfield, 2010; Jensen, 2005; Oliva, 2006; Opp, 1994). This means that Kelly does not see people like herself on the college campus. They do not experience learning in the same way. The curriculum is not designed in a way that is conducive for Kelly to slide easily into the educational process. The classroom is not automatically set up for Kelly and she must add to the environment to participate.

When the culture or background of the student is different then the understanding that is perpetuated in the curriculum (or by the teacher), the end result will be that the student understands something other than what the teacher is attempting to teach. See Figure 2.2. Social Connections to Texts and People (Levine, 2002). The smaller figure is telescoped into the larger one. This figure is included because it illustrates how people connect to what they read, write and learn.

Figure 2.2.Social Connections to Texts and People

Soja’s (1996) model is in the upper right corner (also Figure 2.2 Soja’s Learner Identity). The pyramid has been created to show how author, text, and reader bring their own individual cultures/ perceptions to what they read, write, speak and think. Those perceptions are subconsciously incorporated into the work of each person on the triangle. Unfortunately, this often leads to the inclusion of one culture and the exclusion of another.

In Figure 2.2., Social Connections to Texts and People, Soja’s Model (1996) is pointed out at the top of the pyramid, but it actually exists at each of the three triangle corners. Each corner represents the Author (Teacher/Text Writer), the Reader (Student) or the Text (Instruction/Curriculum). The center of the triangle shows the various sociocultural connections that each person in the triangle deals with on a daily basis. These sociocultural connections can be economical, ideological, social, cultural, political, physical, emotional, moral, ethical, historical or gendered. The figure outlines the dynamic between the individual perception of Students, Teachers and Text to the sociocultural environment that is internal to the individual and/or artificially created in the classroom.

 

Full Text Citation:

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

Self-direction and Students with Learning Disabilities

Leading up to Self-Direction and Readiness in the Lower Level of Education

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) say that learners cannot be ready to learn if they are not motivated or willing to perform the tasks needed in a self-directing manner. Self-Directed Learners SDL must be self-managing (understanding of the significance of tasks and the intended outcomes), self-monitoring (understanding what is effective and having sufficient knowledge about established conscious strategies needed to make-appropriate decisions), and self-modifying (able to evaluate and adjust to constant meaning and changes) (Costa & Kallick, 2004). A self-directed learner who is empowered is more likely to participate in a two-year or four-year college (Berry, Ward, & Caplan, 2012).

According to Grow (1991), there are several presumptions made with regard to understanding a self-directed learner. Some of those assumptions are that self-direction is the primary goal of a secondary educational environment, that self-direction can be learned, and that self-direction is situational to learners and teachers. The problem with assumptions is that educators have not been able to specifically and adequately define what the self-directed learner looks like (Costa & Kallick, 2004). However, they do agree that a quality of a self-directed learner is a learner who is able to orient her/himself to the educational process at all levels, and that the inability of a learner to develop self-direction can be a serious limitation at the post-secondary level (Costa & Kallick, 2004; Grow, 1991).

Some good self-directed learning models exist. For example, Grow (1991) uses a Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) Model to show how teachers actively work with students to help them to become more self-directed. The stages of that model are:

Stage 1: Dependent Learner: A learner is solely dependent on an educator to provide immediate feedback on what, when and how to complete a task.

Stage 2: Interested Learner: A learner is motivated by the educator to begin goal-setting and developing learning strategies.

Stage 3: Involved Learner: A teacher facilitates the learning but in partnership with the student.

Stage 4: Self-directed Learner: The learners can work and function independently and is meeting expected outcomes.

In a traditional educational model, after students enter the classroom ready to acquire new knowledge, they progress through the classroom by moving from being scaffolded to making educational transitions, to meeting transformed outcomes (Tanner & Tanner, 2007; Baleghizadeh et al., 2010; Field, et al., 1998; Verenikina, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). Shifting to the Lower Level of the framework, Grow’s (2001) Stages of Self-Direction are skills a student would develop in high school to be ready to begin a post-secondary education (Berry et al., 2012). See Figure 2.1, The Teaching and Learning Level.

 

Lower Level of the Conceptual Framework

Lower Level of the Conceptual Framework

Figure 2.1. The Teaching and Learning Level (from Chapter 1)

  • Stage 1 and Stage 2: Educator uses coaching and motivation methods to assist a student through the scaffolding process.
  • Stage 3: Learner moves forward and can transition from one learning goal to the next with limited assistance from the educator.
  • Stage 4: Learner becomes self-directed and can be successful in a post-secondary setting on her/ his own.

 Beal (2005) places the burden of understanding one’s disability, their legal rights, and the securuing of the appropriate academic adjustments at the feet of the LD student. He lists five specific rights and seven responsibilities that students with LD have (Beal, 2005). The five rights are:

  1. To receive modifications on college entrance exams.
  2. To receive academic adjustments.
  3. To refuse to inform any PSI of any learning disability.
  4. To not have other’s ask for the disability to be identified.
  5. The right to be heard if it is believed any disability rights have been violated.

 The seven responsibilities are:

  1. To become familiar with federal regulations that impact LD at PSI
  2. To understand what assistance is necessary to assist with specific LD
  3. To learn to effectively self-advocate
  4. To obtain documentation of LD
  5. To determine the availablity of support services
  6. To notify PSI of any LD
  7. To work with educators to address LD and unique accommodations

 These rights and responsibilities presume that students have learned to be self-directing prior to enrolling in PSI (Beal, 2005). Grow (1991) calls self-direction the higher mental function that matures over time by and through a particular history and social interaction (p. 128). Unfortunately, most LD students are so busy learning the skills needed to move from tast to task (Stages 1 – 3 of Self-Direction) in the classroom, that they are rarely, if ever, trained to be self-directed learners, nor are they trained to advocate for themselves as described by Beale (2005) (Hitchings, et al., 2010; Hitchings, et al., 2001). Such a situation creates a “catch-22” for the LD learner.

Full Text Citation:

Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.

Confusing Topics: Langauge and Learning

I would like to take the liberty of explaining today’s blog post. I have, for quite a long time, struggled with the concept of language. My struggle has proven to me that language is key to helping us to understand how to serve the LD population. But what is this thing called linguistics anyway?

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. The debate about this topic is reviewed by some of the greatest theorist of our time. These intelligent intellectuals have evaluated language for a number of years.

Some believe that language is nothing more than signs and symbols. With this theory came the ideology that if an individual could learn the appropriate signs and symbols, then that individual could learn the language. Others believe that there is something unique about language. They believe that this unique quality about language should be studied and evaluated so that the world can really understand it.

I used to believe that language was a simple set of signs and symbols. I believed this so deeply that I was disgusted with myself for my inability to learn those signs and symbols. Therefore, when I began teaching my own children, I metaphorically, beat our heads against the wall in order to teach us what those signs and symbols meant.  I say, “teach us” because I was still learning the English language as I was teaching it to my children.

In Language: The Cultural Tool, by Daniel Everett (http://daneverettbooks.com/) he explains, why he believes that language is cultural not biological. He came to this conclusion after spending time with the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil.

I do not know Daniel Everett and I don’t throw out his theories or claim they have no value. I believe that his theories have a great deal of value. His work allows us to understand a culture far removed from our own. And his theories are not just things he determined from reading a book. His theories are based on his lived experiences with this culture.

Unlike Mr. Everett’s experience with the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil, my experience with language has been different.

I have difficulty describing this, but I am going to try.

When I began to paint, I discovered deep sockets of information filled aquifer hiding within me. Information that I knew I had learned, but could not access. I needed a well and that well, for me, was painting.  For me the language was inside of me. It was flowing through me. When I did not know or when I could not express the language because of my LD, the art gave me voice.

My experience was also altered by my experiences with my children. My children did not have a link to language because they were exposed to it in our culture and they don’t get my art in a way that makes learning tangible for them. My children had to discover the wells that accessed their aquifers too. Their wells were distinctly different then my own.

When my daughter was in Middle School she had the choice to take Spanish or German. To our surprise she chose German. One day she came home and said to me, “Mom, I think German is my first language.” The remark sparked a conversation that we have continued throughout the years. I felt this way about art and I am not an art student. I have no training in the subject but something happens when I put that paintbrush in my hand.

There are times when I am stuck on a question or a thought. I then lay out a large canvas, sit down on it and purge those thoughts in whatever colors are before me. When I stand, I understand. For me this feels biological, though many could debate that. I can then explain those thoughts in detail.

Writing my dissertation was the most time consuming, thought evoking, emotionally stressful time in my life. But I accessed that academic language through my paintbrush. It leads me to ask the following questions:

  1. What language are individuals with LD speaking?
  2. How can we help those students to access the language aquifer?
  3. Can accessing the aquifer help all students with LD?

One of my son’s aquifers was the well of history. We are looking for the well that will help him to discover the language of math. My daughter’s aquifer was accessed through the wells of math, German and one other well that is too difficult to describe on paper.

I would love to dive further into this very confusing subject and I thank you deeply for allowing me to talk it out.