Sunday, 24 July 2011

One thing I have done well is........

Teaching at Kestrel House was the experience of a lifetime and one which I will never forget.   I will miss my students and the staff so much but I am sure as one door closes another opens. There were some things from my classroom that I do really want to share and the most of the following is something I have been trying to work out how to write about for some time.  On my last day at school I was really humbled by the words and actions of my class as a whole and in particular the words of one of my students and this prompted me to write it all down.

In my classroom we had a 'compliments tree'.  This was started after long discussions with the educational psychologist, occupational therapist and speech and language therapist at the school about what I saw as one of the major barriers to my student's learning.....their self esteem.  One particular day we had the supervising educational psychologist Ros, visiting us.  We were talking about how we planned to ask the children daily about something they had done well in the day and to write it down in a book for them so that at the end of the year they would have tangible evidence that they did do things they were proud of and that they had had success in their school year.  We discussed how a day is a long time for these children to focus on and maybe we should write down something for each session in the day.  That way if they had a 'blow out' at one point in the day they would see that it did not mean their whole day was a disaster,  and would hopefully start to see that they had just made a small step backwards for just a part of the day.  Ros then came up with the wonderful idea of making those thoughts into leaves of a tree and from that idea this grew in my classroom!

Our 'Compliments Tree' started as a brown trunk and branches and daily each boy's favourite self compliment was added as a leaf.  They were each given pages with the outline of the leaves and their names in the stem.  They learnt to do a wash with watered down acrylic paint and these were then stored.  At the end of each day their favourite compliment of the three they had given themselves was written on to one of their personalised leaves and added to the tree.  Some days if they did not mention something we as adults thought was note worthy we gave them extra leaves from us.  As you can see by the end of the year we had THE most beautiful piece of classroom art imaginable!  It had to be one of  my favourite parts of my classroom.

This wonderful tree never failed to draw comments from classroom visitors.  I heard all three of my boys proudly telling their parents about it at some point and that certainly brought a smile to my face, particularly as they were not to sure about it to begin with!

At the end of the year I decided that along with the books I would have the boys make individual trees.  We had them paint individual trunks and branches onto A1 paper and in the last week of school we removed all the leaves from our class tree and sorted them into the three separate piles for the boys.  They then glued their leaves onto their own trees.  It was a beautiful time as they pasted them on and reread some of the wonderful things they had done over the course of their school year.

On the last day of school we had an assembly and my class showed their individual trees to the rest of the school.  Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the individual trees, but believe me they were gorgeous!  I was about to take my class to sit down and the head teacher said my class had something special for me.  They, and a student I had taught in the previous school year, had made me a tree of my own.  I am sure you will agree that it is stunning!

Each leaf has a note to me from one of the children or the teaching assistants I worked with and they are all very, very special.  On the back of this is a poem written for me by one of my students.  When I started at the school in January 2010 he could hardly read.  He did not write anything down without a major, major fuss and a massive amount of support but this is what he wrote for me on the last day....

To Ali
If there was a storm that was going to destroy the
Alison would stop the storm,
because her power comes from her hugs.
The power from her hugs gives us life!
I will miss you.
From T.

This was read out first by the child and then as he was crying as he read it, and it was difficult to understand, it was read again by the Head Teacher.  She cried as she read it and there was not a dry eye in the room.  I have never felt so overwhelmed and humbled by the actions and words of one of my students.  I was so proud of him and how far he has come in just over 18 months.  I guess this just brings home one of the main reasons I teach!   

.... and yes Ash, I will 'Smile because it happened!'

Creating books

Friday was my last day of teaching at Kestrel House and what a sad day it was.  I will miss my students and the staff so much. It was the experience of a lifetime and one which I will never forget.   For months I have been promising the wonderful Renee Richetts that I would post some photos and info on the metal books my boys made so I decided that I should get to and do it!

Renee was one of the the teachers I had the pleasure of learning from when I visited Paris in the days leading into the New Year.  She taught me to make a basic sewn journal and then to make some truly wonderful metal books.  During the course of the three day art retreat I got talking to this wonderful lady and told her how I taught children with Asperger's here in London.  Renee told me she also had Asperger's (no surprises there!!) and of course we continued until the end of the retreat to have lots and lots to talk about.  She is one of those people you meet and know she is one of life's gifts. A lovely, lovely woman!

Across the three days I learnt some wonderful things from Renee, but more than anything she reminded me how wonderful humanity can really be.  Our course ended and I came home with a suitcase full of goodies including the art I had created.  At the end of it all Renee gave me all the tools and some of the resources I would need to bring the learning to my class.  In my normal excitable form I had been saying how much my boys would love this as we worked through the different projects and this beautiful and generous lady made it very possible for me to bring my learning back to them.

I can't post photos of the boys actually doing the projects so that you can see the looks on their faces.  You just have to believe me that it brought them a great amount of joy! Here are the sewn books they made and then used to write the spelling words they needed to practice in order to learn them.  These books were an invaluable addition to my classroom and helped to bring end of year results that were absolutely outstanding.  The boys all made brilliant progress with their English marks and their confidence in spelling grew every week!


Eventually we started to make the metal books Renee had taught me to make.  The initial flattening of the cans was very well received.  In fact they regularly asked if they could do it again!  It is a great source of stress relief for anxious children to get out there with a hammer and a tin can to belt into! The cans they flattened were not actually usable as they had too many splits and sharp edges due to their over enthusiastic efforts, but they were happy to use cans that had been flattened by me and were still safe.  I was away the day they flattened them, but by all reports they took to hammering the cans flat with great enthusiasm!  

When it came to using the tool to punch the holes (and Renee they loved the concept that you can never have too many holes!) they thought the eye protection that made them 'look like mad scientists' was very cool!  We used the keys from an old computer keyboard, beads, laminated photos and pictures and rivets and brads as decoration.  Renee also gave me a cold laminator that they could wind the handle on and watch their favourite pictures of themselves or their favourite things come through the machine ready for use. They were deservedly so proud of the results and were so well behaved while we were working on the books.  No medals for working out engagement in the learning activity leads to great behaviour!

Making holes in the cans!

One finished book.  The pictures are from a series called 'Bakugan' one of the class favourites and something I had to learn about when I started working here.  The lad who made this has some issues with his fine motor skills and using the tools was excellent therapy.  Threading the beads took a great effort.

This is the second one.  Note the pictures of chocolate cake in the middle.  A major motivator for this guy!  He has a fabulous sense of humour and had to use the 'end' button from the computer keyboard on the back of his book and kept on saying 'do you get it Ali?'

...and last but not least this one was made for his mum and he just had to have the diet coke can with the kisses on it as a base. He wanted to write 'mum' on it but there is only one 'm' on a keyboard.....his solution the 'w' upside down! Again the bakugan characters star.  He spent ages lining the beads up in an order he liked.

The boys showed these books in assembly every week for about four or five weeks as they gradually made them.  They were rightfully so proud of their efforts and couldn't wait to take them home.  It was a very different classroom activity to anything I had ever done before and I loved it!

Believe it or not only having one set of tools with my small class of three became another aspect of their learning.  They had to be patient, take turns and plan ahead.  All great lifeskills.

There is more to come about my last day at the school.  I just have to work out how to write it!