The following is a reflection on Lesson 7 of the RD Program that I have started in a Grade 4 classroom at my school. Read more about the program here, as well as my reflections on each lesson:
Lesson 8 is about the brain and disabilities. The purpose of the lesson is to develop students’ awareness and empathy towards people with disabilities, and the challenges they face. The lesson also helps students to understand the relationship between the intelligences and various disabilities.
The plan for the lesson was as follows:
- Read a variety of books on different disabilities.
- Discuss the relationship between these disabilities and the intelligences.
- Discuss how we can support community members with disabilities.
This being a very diverse class, I knew I wanted to discuss a variety of disabilities and disorders. With this in mind, I decided to take my time with this lesson and work through it over a few days. I was aware of certain diagnoses within the group, such as autism and AD/HD, but others were also brought to my attention throughout the lesson.
The first book that I read with the class was called How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, and was written by a boy (Daniel Stefanski) who has autism. The book was suggested to me by the parent of a student who has autism. Before starting the RD program, I had been speaking with the boy’s mother. She had approached me for kids books on autism, as she wanted to start teaching him more about himself. I gave her a few recommendations and we also talked about the Respecting Diversity program and how it would tie in nicely to what she was planning on doing at home.
Before reading the book with the class, I met with the student to discuss a plan and determine his comfort level in regards to sharing more about himself with his peers. Although he was very interested in sharing the book with his peers, he preferred that I do all the reading and talking. He said he would be comfortable answering questions.
First, I announced to the class that a student had brought a special book to share with them. I let them know that the book had been written by a boy with autism and that their classmate wanted to share it with them, because he himself is a lot like the boy in the book. Right away the kids had questions, mainly “what is autism?”
As I read the book, the student with autism seemed very proud to be sharing more about himself with his classmates. He let them know what characteristics he shares in common with the author. His peers were very engaged and respectful throughout the whole book, and they had lots of good questions. It was a really special experience.
After we finished the book, the students went out for recess. A few kids stayed back to talk to me. One student shared that she too identified with the character in the book. Another student told me that she has Tourette Syndrome (TS) and asked if I had a book I could share on this. She didn’t want to share with her peers that she has TS, but was interested in them being aware of what it is. Although I was aware of a boy in the class having TS, I was unaware that she did too. I told her that I would see what I could find.
Over the next few days, we read a variety of other books. I was able to find a book about TS. While reading it, the student that had originally requested I find the book, participated in the discussion that followed, without sharing openly that she has TS. The boy in the class with TS shared about himself and his experiences. He is a fairly shy and reserved student, so I was very surprised that he was so open with his peers. On this same day, we also read a book about AD/HD. Two students identified themselves as having AD/HD and shared what it is like and how they cope.
After each book that we read together, we discussed how the specific disorders or disabilities shared in the book relate to the intelligences. We also discussed ways in which we can support people with these challenges. The students were respectful during all of these conversations and were able to come up with ideas on how to support their peers faced with different challenges. Even better than this, in the days that followed, I had students approach me to share how they had helped their class members.
It is really hard to convey just how powerful this lesson was and continues to be. I was so proud of the work they had done already, and they continued to blow me away with their open-mindedness and level of respect as we continued to discuss diversity within the classroom community. The time we spent together leading up to this important lesson, really helped them develop a level of comfort with each other. It made me so happy to see that the students felt safe and comfortable sharing more about themselves with each other.
Although this lesson marked the end of the program, as I find more books about other disabilities and disorders, we will continue our discussions on diversity. Student curiosity will determine how long we keep going, and so far they are still very curious and want to learn more, so why stop?!
Katz, J. (2012). Teaching to Diversity: The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning. Winnipeg: Portage & Main Press.