Monday, March 18, 2013

Inclusive education and exceptional students

Recently, I was asked to do a workshop that focused on resources for inclusive education.  This was a first for me and proved to be an interesting challenge.  How many books could I promote that covered a range of ideas about diverse students in today’s classrooms?  What should a good book that portrays a child with exceptional needs look like?

This meant doing some reading of my own about this topic and I found a couple of interesting articles that provided different criteria for evaluating books for stereotypes about disabilities specifically.  (See list at the end of posting.)

So, back to which books to look at…


Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin
I promote this one all the time for many reasons.  This is told in text and Braille about how a young blind boy ‘sees’ or perceives colours.  Beautifully designed and very poetic.

Chuck Close: Face Book by Chuck Close
A well known artist, who had learning issues as a child, also has physical challenges that he’s had to overcome to pursue this career as an artist.  Again, the format of the book is intriguing and the story inspirational.

Before Helen Keller there was Laura Bridgman.  I hadn't come across Laura’s story before and thought this was a fascinating look at how Laura paved the way for blind/deaf people in the 1800s, including Helen.

I had a whole slew of fantastic books but could only focus on a few, due to time constraints.

Crazy Man by Pamela Porter
This novel takes place in 1965 in rural Saskatchewan and gives us insight as to how disabilities were regarded in a small community.  Emaline is severely injured by her father in a farming accident.  After he deserts the family because of guilt, Emaline’s mother decides that her only recourse is to hire Angus, a patient from a nearby mental institution.  This is told in narrative verse, another format that can sometimes appeal to students struggling to read.

How Smudge Came by Nan Gregory

Technically, it is Down Syndrome
A lovely, gentle picture book about a girl, Cindy, who wants to adopt a stray puppy she’s found in a back alley on a cold, rainy day.  Though it’s never directly mentioned, we see that Cindy has Down Syndrome.  She lives in a group home that does not allow her to keep the puppy.  But circumstances, at the hospice she works at are such that they adopt the puppy.  This story is ‘just’ about a girl who really wants a dog of her own.  This is not about a girl with Down Syndrome.

Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
One in a trilogy by Patricia Polacco about her experiences growing up with learning disabilities.  I really enjoyed all three longish picture books.  See also, Thank you Mr. Falker and The Art of Miss Chew.

Keep Your Ear On the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo
I really liked this picture book when I read it last summer.  It’s about a very independent blind boy.  When he starts at a new school the other kids in his class are eager to help him, but he always says “no thanks”.  But when it comes to playing kick ball, it’s only when the kids work together that they come up with a solution that gets Davey into the game.  After having read some of the various criteria to use when reviewing books like this, I did question that it’s not Davey who comes up with the solution but one of this classmates.  Having the non-disabled figure out the problem/solution? is less then desirable.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Both of these novels blew my socks off.  I loved the two main characters Melody and Auggie (respectively) and introduced them as if they were two students that student-teachers could have in their class.
I described who Melody and Auggie are, some good qualities and the nature of their disabilities.  I did eventually introduce the books and again, a few criteria that they should consider when selecting books like these for classroom use.

Ten Birds by Cybele Young
This Canadian Governor General’s award winner is a good classroom tool that cautions about the use of ‘labelling’.  Ten birds find ways to cross a river. The first nine (who are all somehow brilliant) devise ingenious contraptions that allow them to pass over, under, through the river.  Whereas the tenth bird named Needs Improvement just walks across the bridge that has been there the whole time.  Fantastic illustrations.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
This ‘novelized-graphic novel’ (or is it, ‘illustrated novel’) includes a deaf girl as a main character in one of the storylines.  I brought this one in to highlight the interesting format of the book (sections of text are interspersed with long sections of illustrations with no accompanying text.)


Knots On a Counting Rope by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.
I did not recommend this book.  Though it tells the story of a blind, Native American boy, the book is not recommended in The Broken Flute (edited by Beverly Slapin and Doris Seale, 2006) as it portrays the Native Americans in an inauthentic way.  This is a ‘classic’ children’s picture book that is often used in classrooms.  I wanted to raise awareness about the many issues that need to be considered when selecting classroom resources.

This link from Smart in the Inside takes you to a pretty comprehensive list of juvenile resources (fiction and nonfiction) about specific learning conditions and disabilities compiled by Kathy Young.

 Angharad Beckett (et al.) (2010). ‘Away with the fairies?’ Disability within primary-age children’s literature.  Disability & Society, 25:3, 373-386.

Emily Wopper (2011). Inclusive literature in the library and the classroom: the importance of young adult and children’s books that portray characters with disabilities.  Knowledge Quest, 39:3, 26-34.

Emiliano C. Ayala (1999). “Poor little things” and “brave little souls”: the portrayal of individuals with disabilities in children’s literatureReading Research and Instruction, 39:1, 103-117.

Stephanie Kurtts and Karen Gavigan (2008). Understanding (dis)abilities through children’s literature.  Education Libraries, 31:3, 23-31.

Web Resources

     -good checklist

Saskatchewan Social Services, Child Day Care Branch (2003). Using children’s books to create ananti-bias inclusive environment

Today is Nonfiction Blog hosted by Perogies & Gyoza.  Stop by for a review of other blogs reviewing nonfiction children's literature.


Resh said...

This is a very interesting list. We have read many of Patricia Polacco's books and think she has a wonderful point of view. Thanks for sharing! We have bookmarked these to read.

laurasalas said...

Great roundup--I'm going to look for BLACK BOOK OF COLORS and CHUCK CLOSE. WONDER is one of my fav books of the past year. Thanks for sharing!

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