Monday, May 12, 2008

Using Pop Culture for Motivational and Real-life Special Education Materials

For Mothers Day, we watched the DVD of "Concert for Diana". It was a birthday celebration concert for Princess Diana put on by her sons, Prince William and Harry at Wembley Stadium last summer. It was the perfect tribute to mothers.
As I watched, I was caught up in the culture, art, dance, and beauty of the program. There was a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, a ballet segment from Swan Lake, rap and pop performers and more. I thought of all the students that would love to see these performers and asked myself why the resource room is often exempt when it comes to portraying the exuberance and color that is represented in the arts and pop culture.

I had the pleasure and good fortune to sit in on a Linda Burkhart day workshop a while back and saw her amazing collection of low tech games, boards, switch-operated spinners, etc. One of the things that really struck me was the relevence of many of her materials.
She had a pizza game in a Dominos box that had velcro pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, pineapple, etc. A spinner with switch operation had various choices the spinner could land on for topping choices. Each student started with an empty pizza and filled it up. The spinner was made from a battery operated hand-held fan that was mounted in a cottage cheese container. The blades had been replaced by a spinner hand.
There were various games and books that had popular characters, pop stars and motivational topics that teens would relate to. I liked that the games and activities were appropriate for all students in a life-skills setting, but the characters and topics were relevent to life today.

So often I see resource rooms that portray a life seperate from mainstream society. The statement being made by the choices in the room decor and materials is an assumption that many of these students don't know or care about what is really going on and therefore there are no materials designed to pull from what is timely and current today.
How much more motivating would it be for a high school girl learning life-skills for dressing and hygiene to learn with a Hannah Montana character rather than a plain Jane? How about a boy learning about being polite with examples from a Zac Efron character? I believe in having students work with books and stories that show kids in wheelchairs and braces so they see the integration of disability as a regular daily part of life, but let's n0t exclude what kids love - pop culture. They love to set up icons to go crazy about - so why not use it to our advantage?

I have built communication binders with students who aren't "buying in" to a communication binder. My first task is to find out what they like. Who do they watch on TV, what do they like to shop for, where do they like to eat out, who are the pop musicians they enjoy? We spend some time getting Google images of their favorites and building a personal graphic file. Then we build some thematic topic pages around their interests to talk about. Guess who ends up wanting to cart their book around to show friends and family?
After a few sessions of investing in the binder I either find that it is being built-on and developed more, or the staff set it up on a shelf because it isn't relevent and it gets ignored for more important topics like "snack" or "bathroom." I'm not saying those topics aren't important - we know they are essential, but they are only basic items in a world full of other things kids who are capable of communication want to communicate about.

I get asked "Where can we find low cognitive level/high interest, age -appropriate resources for middle and high school remedial students?" One resource I have enjoyed for the contemporary factor (although it is not free) is News 2 You, which symbolates top news and events as well as TV, movies, cooking, etc. all adapted for different learning levels, ESL and with correllated standards. They have a free download of a "High School Musical" set of materials illustrating that academic standards and IEP goals can be achieved with something current and motivating. You can access online "speaking" versions in communication board formats as well as the printed pages. Their materials can give a creative person fuel to fire their own versions of symbolated materials.

I am always looking for ways to motivate and intrigue. The implementation of AT is a job filled with finding what "clicks" with kids to motivate them to try, to develop the skills needed to write, read, communicate, and socialize. Why should I rack my brain trying to think of what motivates teens when I have a grab-bag-full right in front of me if I will only think out of the box and put them to work for me. Just because a teen has autism or downs doesn't mean they can't identify with current trends and pop culture- in fact - sometimes they grab onto it to a fault - so we have to put boundaries on it's use for some, but the socialization piece is priceless. Giving these kids a touchstone to feel like a part of a world where they are often excluded is worth every extra effort we put into it.

All the best to you!


No comments: