Age of Awareness
Published in

Age of Awareness

Disability — difficulty — difference

Integration — Inclusion/accommodation — Inclusion/differentiation

— → Multi-sensory

This is a glimpse into my mental rabbit hole after having read the Moroccan guide for school directors regarding the inclusion policy issued in 2019 by Moroccan Ministry of Education (‘the Document’).

https://www.men.gov.ma/Ar/Documents/dc/guide-directeurs-fr.pdf

Main questions I attempt to explore:

Students with LDs in the Moroccan education system — do they stand a chance?

With the evolution of policies and terminology, did the teachers evolve alongside, or do we need a revolution?

When I studied at Uni, … No, the article is not going to start like that! No pathetic ‘In my time…’ or ‘In good old days…’ because what I want to write about will not express how the old times were better. Quite the contrary! When I studied at Uni, we could only dream of a software that would read the written word or write the spoken ones. We were involved in the embryonic phase of what later indirectly evolved into google translate and we were all excited about what the technology would bring. We celebrated the advent of CD players in classrooms, and I was ecstatic about using easily erasable colorful markers and the white board. No dusty chalk or stinky sponge, noisy overhead projectors or expensive foils! The nineties were the revolution! While us teachers were enjoying the futuristic tools that made the classroom more enjoyable, the scientists and politicians were preparing a sourdough-slow rising bread that they would serve us a couple of decades later.

When I studied at Uni, (here it comes again!), we were trained to teach an average class, with average students and, apart from some discipline issues at Didactics class and introductory education psychology and sociology, we weren’t taught much about some ‘unusual cases’. They had a special department, in a different part of town, for studying how to work at those special institutions, where they would teach students who could not conform or follow our average, textbook class. To continue the metaphor, they only gave us the plain white flour and taught us the simplest recipe — add a lot of yeast and you can’t go wrong! We had no idea the research was going on about changing this set-up. Not a slightest spark behind the switch could be seen to make us resist the lull of the comfort of the high-tech twenty-first century classroom.

It was the scholars first, who proved the disadvantages of those special institutions, and the dangers of isolating those special seeds from the flour. Why, they should mix! The bread gets much more delicious if you add pumpkin seeds inside, sesame and poppy seeds on top. They change the taste, nutrition value as well as the texture. And you don’t even have to shape it as a cylinder. Round, heart, or plait shape — they are all tasty. As they started recognizing the ability of those special seeds, they stopped labeling them as having learning disabilities. The terminology changed to learning difficulty. Because the seeds have difficulty to rise, or make bread on their own, but contribute to it. With the help of the yeast (the teacher, ha!), and the flour, which, in the meantime became wholewheat, the seeds will integrate well and the bread will come out compact.

The times have further changed, more research has been done, and more political decisions made. The buzzword INCLUSION has been revolutionizing school administrations like the high-promising smart boards. The principals and local authorities were all on it, bought plenty, but the teachers kept using them as the not-so-smart-boards from the nineties. Some teachers took initiative and trained themselves, used it when they were forced by fancy international language schools. In Morocco, an eighty-five page document was issued last year elaborating the process of inclusion for school managers, directors, or principals. I am aware that a counterpart document exists for the teachers, and I will write a separate article about that, after I graze on it long enough.

All metaphors and comparisons aside, what I am trying to depict here is a situation in which the classrooms are occupied by 60+ year old teachers, as much as those in the early twenties, and my generation, the lucky ones caught in the middle. Perhaps the younger ones were trained in the spirit of inclusion, and are starting off aware of the learning differences, as they are called nowadays. Perhaps they are even equipped with skills and knowledge on how to teach a class that has at least 10% of students who need the instruction to be slightly adjusted, accommodated. If they are, they have a head start. Because we, experienced teachers, can be deemed incompetent, useless or even redundant when it comes to new teaching approaches. Unless, of course, we are willing to learn. Learning is not the solution to the problem, it is the change. Changing the old teaching habits, changing the way we present ourselves to the students, and the biggest change of all will be our expectations. When it comes to the Moroccan reality, according to the above mentioned Document, the number of drop outs is estimated to about one million (page 10), of which about half are at the pre-school or primary school level. This is why the government encourages informal (out of school) education, so somehow meet the UNESCO millennial goals, or whatever they are called nowadays. There are eleven categories of children at risk, and the LDs are just one of them (see picture). Most of the guide is concerned about the physical changes to render the schools accessible to the physically challenged students. There is, though, an impressive two-page (28, 29) description of LDs, separated from Autism and other conditions.

page 11 of the Guide for School Directors

With inclusion comes differentiation, although the guide does not mention it. It is understandable, because it is targeted to the administration, not the teaching staff. It us up to the management to bridge from the idea of inclusion into the practical realm of classroom instruction. For example, at our last annual teacher conference, there was a workshop on differentiation, attended by about 30 teachers (out of 1000!). Teaching writing skills and reading activities seemed more important to most teachers at the time. So, where is the differentiation going to happen if most teachers have not even heard of it? Do we need a systematic and obligatory training on inclusion, differentiation, accommodation, and MSL? Who is going to force a seasoned teacher ( ‘who knows everything!’) to attend these seminars, and how? How are we going to convince someone who has been teaching for forty years, and had successfully avoided using the smart board or the overhead projector, that he needs to learn a new skill that will help him teach better?! Or even a twenty-year experienced teacher who has the minimum of technological skills — because she is not a tech nerd, but a social science major — to change her attitude towards diversity in the classroom and having varied criteria, as well as materials (oh no, will she have to create more materials?), and do more planning.

The school managers and principals have to implant the directives from the government, and show that the efforts have been made to include all vulnerable groups into regular classrooms. The administrative staff has taken due training on how to talk to parents, and coordinators were given clear goals. The inspectors are ready to go to the field. The parents have watched the news and are expecting miracles. But, has anyone prepared the teachers? Or have we been served an unexpected bread with many ingredients, high in carbs and protein (a lot of different types of flour and seeds), that we find hard to digest? And, we’re back at the baking metaphor. You can create workshops at conferences, even workshops at schools. But if the teachers don’t show up, there will be no change. If the teachers don’t implement the methods trained at the course, there will be no change. If there is no one entering classrooms and giving them direction and feedback on how to actually conduct this differentiation with one dyslexic, one dyspraxic, one Asperger’s syndrome student, and one plainly rude and misbehaving child, with 16 other students of which three form a K-pop clique, two are princesses, five semi-professional footballers, four extremely gifted and one, what we would call in the nineties — please, forgive me if I offend someone — average student. All of this is happening in the same classroom that has not changed since the installation of the whiteboard, with the same chairs and desks all facing the teacher desk in front of that whiteboard, and a small update in place of that fat and heavy rarely used black plastic box, there is now a lean and unnecessarily wide, but never big enough, TV. There are same textbook-related pictures on the wall, same white walls made even brighter by the same neon lights. The same teacher, with slightly whiter hair. How is this going to change? My friend who teaches at a ‘regular’, private school says they ‘help’ the students with LDs by giving remedial classes after all their classmates have gone home. The sad thing is that these are not even given by a specialist, but the same teacher, who just sits with them longer and tries to explain the same content with the same materials. Is that inclusion or punishment?

Borrowed under fair use. Copyright by Dr Erica Warren

I see the way out in insisting on MSL, although the Document never mentions it. We can teach all aspects of a (foreign) language by applying MSL. It is not a completely new trend, so even the experienced teachers could be drawn to it.

We just need to put the spotlight more on the multi sensory teaching methods, and leave all these buzzwords of inclusion, differentiation, accommodation in the administration. To make it simple for the inert teachers, insist on MSL and there will not be a need for accommodations. Let all children be accommodated. Let all the exams be adjusted to the children’s needs. Let introverted and extroverted children enjoy the classroom time and have a reliable two-way channel of communication to the teacher open all the time. If we accommodate only the ‘weakest ones’, they will soon feel the inequality, and realize their position is subpar. After all, the Document states that “Tous les enfants sont différents mais ils apprennent tous ; Enseignants inclusifs ; programmes adaptés et flexibles ; ecole inclusive obligée de changer.” (page 14)

And why should all children have to be forced to ‘succeed’ (by the average criteria) in all subjects? Yes, they can follow them, but do they really need to ‘pass’? Why can’t we teach children that failure in one field doesn’t mean you are a failure in general. Isn’t that how the system is organized now, and has been from the beginning? The Moroccan government has recognized the obstacles which prevent the vulnerable groups from getting (some kind of) education, so they are supporting the out-of-school programs that reach out to those form whom the inclusion is but a complex word. As for those who can attend the traditional, now inclusive schools, shouldn’t the ultimate differentiation strategy happen at the curriculum level? Imagine the ultimate change is made — the change that will end all the changes — the abolition of subjects and ‘pass’ requirements to be able to progress with your peers.

I would like to end this with the baking metaphor, so I hope it won’t be an anti-climax. In the end, there are sour dough breads, the ones with yeast, and there are flat breads. But, there’s also vermicelli, pasta and cake, as well as pastry made with rice, chickpeas, lentil, or fava beans flour. We don’t need to make only a bland food filler from flour (and seeds!), we can create sweet and savory delights, spongy, crispy or succulent.

And never stop learning about the new varieties, because they are limitless.

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To find out more about Multisensory Structured Learning, visit IDA website: https://dyslexiaida.org/multisensory-structured-language-teaching-fact-sheet/

I am aware that the situation regarding inclusion policies is different depending on the country. My grievances are aired in anticipation of a big change that I am eager to see and be a part of in Morocco.

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Martina Matejas

Martina Matejas

English teacher, yoga instructor, massage therapist and much more. Life in Morocco gives fresh perspective on all the weird accumulated experiences.

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