For reluctant writers, introduce novel or unexpected materials and supports. Try old typewriters, novelty or colored pencils, voice-activated software or story starters.

This website is dedicated to promoting inclusive schooling and exploring positive ways of supporting students with autism and other disabilities. Most of my work involves collaborating with schools to create environments, lessons, and experiences that are inclusive, respectful, and accessible for all learners.

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A Whale of a Day

Posted on May 06, 2011 in Autism, Literacy, News

It isn’t often I get to spend the day with 500 kids talking about matchbox cars, stuffed animals, trains, and baseball cards. For this reason, this past Tuesday was an exceptionally fun day. Patrick Schwarz (my co-author) and I got to spend an entire day reading Pedro’s Whale and speaking to children about how to tap into their fascinations and gifts as a tool for learning, comfort, inspiration, and social connection.

The day started with the unveiling of a huge whale mural (a collaborative art project that involved about 600 Post-it sized squares of watercolor paper). Jen, one of the moms at the school, designed it and created it in collaboration Longfellow’s art teacher.

Then, we had two student assemblies- one with the little ones and one with the upper grades. Students told us about the things they loved and helped us read Pedro’s Whale aloud. After the reading, some of the bigger kids even asked us for autographs- we were so honored!

Gretchen Junker (great mom and advocate) was instrumental in putting the day together and she not only organized the activities but assembled a huge display case of dozens of kid collections.

This was such a neat community-building activity and really communicated to everyone that having a fascination or a “love” is more typical than not. Kids loved gazing into the cases and checking out the sports cards, Barbie shoes, toy horses, Pez dispensers, and US President collectibles.

Longfellow went a step further in using the day to communicate “unity in diversity” by giving out pins for learners to wear on their shirts and jackets. Some said, “One school, many squares” (referring to the squares on the mural) and some said, “One school, many bears” (referring to their mascot). Cute!

Want to have a celebration of uniqueness and student fascinations at your school? Consider these additional ideas for promoting and celebrating student strengths and favorites:

  • Have students read Pedro’s Whale and then spend the rest of the day wearing name badges to show off what their own personal “whale” is (“My name is ____________ and my whale is __________”). This can allow two Star Wars, golf, or rock collecting fans in different classrooms or grade levels to make a connection and can help students identify new topics of conversation with those they already know.
  • In the beginning of the year, ask students about their favorites. Then, take it a step further and ask them to give you (the teacher) tips for using this topic/item in instruction and curriculum.
  • During one week of the year, let students bring a special something to share with the group. This is common practice for K-1 but older students love to show off important items too. This can be really compelling as a tie-in for a literature or social studies unit. For instance, when you read Diary of Anne Frank, you learn that she could have few possessions in the attic and that she cherished her movie star posters. To kick off the study of this book, you could have students bring an item they might bring to the attic if they were in Anne’s position.

No matter how you do it, take a cue from Longfellow School and take time before summer arrives to celebrate the gifts, knowledge, and talent each student has brought to the classroom.

In honor of our first presentation of Pedro to children, Brookes Publishing is offering a discount on a joint purchase of Pedro’s Whale & Just Give Him the Whale. If you are interested, visit the Brookes book store for details and pricing.

Comments

  1. From Patrick Schwarz on 7 May 2011

    It was so BRILLIANT doing this with you–A TOTALLY MEMORABLE DAY ON BEHALF OF ALL KIDS!!!

  2. From Rebecca on 10 May 2011

    What an awesome event! I wish I could have been there– may there be many, many more. Yay, Pedro!

  3. From Jennifer Downing on 12 May 2011

    You were so inspirational and great with the kids!

    It was great meeting you!

    P.S. I absolutely LOVE your web-site!!