Subtraction.

Lots of people say to me that they’d like to change things at their school but they can’t afford better furniture or they can’t add this or that. But the best way to start change is to subtract.

As we walked and talked we tore down poster after poster, the rules for walking down a corridor — ”follow the silver line, no talking, don’t touch anything” — the rules for not making noise in the library, the rules for the cafeteria. We didn’t need new rules, we needed many fewer rules. Eventually we rebuilt and refurnished the entire school in an open space, multiage marvel, but a decade before that process began with subtraction.

I’ve watched teachers subtract their desks, increasing their student classroom space by as much as 10%. Principals subtract homework over holidays and vacations. Departments subtract specified reading lists. Librarians subtract circulation desks and security systems. Coaches subtract cuts. Schools subtract most playground rules, hall passes, honor rolls, attendance awards, 95% of suspensions.

Source: The 2019 Subtraction Pledge – Ira David Socol – Medium

I wish I had my sensory kit during my K-12 years. Schools are not designed for me.

Every Day Coping: What’s in your sensory kit? #AskingAutistics

As his mom, I know there would have been telltale signs throughout the day. But they’re small clues that can be easily missed, as he would have been largely compliant, so therefore no one would have realized there was any problem. But I know as the day progressed, his complexion would have become paler as the energy sapped out of him with each passing hour.

He may have struggled to eat his lunch due to high anxiety. A nervous giggle would have squeaked out when his teachers tried to speak to him. He would have put his head down on the table during lessons or possibly rocked back and forward on his chair to calm himself down. And as the pressure mounted and the clock ticked toward home time, there may have even been some finger picking and sleeve chewing.

My son shows these signs of stress through his body language and gestures. He can’t always communicate his needs verbally, so they can get missed.

The can be a common challenge facing many children on the autism spectrum. Some children are able to contain their feelings all day at school, with the teacher blissfully unaware there’s a problem. However, the stress hormones are slowly building and building inside. This creates a situation that can put incredible pressure on families— especially if teachers don’t understand or believe what the parents are telling them. So let’s think about it this way for a minute…

Source: ‘Delayed Effect’: Child With Autism Melts Down at Home, Not at School | The Mighty

A great example of how to check that you are accommodating diverse learners was shared in the Panel at the end of the conference: Walk through your learning environment as different personas (think different ethnicities, students in wheelchairs, someone with ASD etc.) and see how inclusive it is. Do the spaces allow for you to move easily through, have a sense of belonging, provoke great thinking?

Source: Learning Spaces Aotearoa – Steve Mouldey

Even better, instead of just adopting a persona, find neurodivergent and disabled people to patrol flow.

Even better than designing for is designing with. Neurodivergent & disabled students are great flow testers. They’ll thoroughly dogfood your school UX. There are great opportunities for project & passion-based learning in giving students agency to audit their context and design something better.

Source: Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism – Ryan Boren

Parallel to the topic of who designs for children lies a bigger question: Do children need design at all? Or, rather, how might they be enabled to design the toys they need and experiences they desire for themselves? The act of making that designers find so satisfying is built into early childhood education, but as they grow, many children lose opportunities to create their own environment, bounded by a text-centric view of education and concerns for safety. Despite adults’ desire to create a safer, softer child-centric world, something got lost in translation. Jane Jacobs said, of the child in the designed-for-childhood environment: “Their homes and playgrounds, so orderly looking, so buffered from the muddled, messy intrusions of the great world, may accidentally be ideally planned for children to concentrate on television, but for too little else their hungry brains require.” Our built environment is making kids less healthy, less independent, and less imaginative. What those hungry brains require is freedom. Treating children as citizens, rather than as consumers, can break that pattern, creating a shared spatial economy centered on public education, recreation, and transportation safe and open for all. Tracing the design of childhood back to its nineteenth-century origins shows how we came to this place, but it also reveals the building blocks of resistance to fenced-in fun.

Source: Lange, Alexandra (2018-06-11T23:58:59). The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids (Kindle Locations 185-196). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

We cannot build an effective, an empathetic, a working User Experience unless we build a User Interface that kids won’t turn away from. And our schools are User Interfaces. Our schools are the “how” our children interact with education. Every door, wall, room, teacher, rule, chair, desk, window, digital device, book, hall pass are part of the User Interface, and that User Interface defines the User Experience.

And we cannot begin to understand the User Experience we need until we get fully into the heads of our users. That’s true in web and programming design, its true in retail and restaurant design, and its absolutely true as we design our schools. This understanding can have complex analytical paths – and those are important, and it has a committed caring component – but it also has an essential empathetic underpinning, and maybe you can begin working on that underpinning in a serious way before this next school year begins.

Source: SpeEdChange: Writing for Empathy

I updated “Neurodiversity in the Classroom” with selections from “Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, School, Exclusion. What’s fair?”.

The picture shows a school classroom as I see it, as an autistic person.  A kaleidoscope of shape and blinding lighting, with vague outlines which are probably other students.  Deafening noise.  The stench of different smells.  The confusion of many voices, including some heard through walls from neighbouring halls and classes.  School uniform that feels like barbed wire on my skin.

In the chaos, a different voice which I have to try to listen to.  It’s so hard.  My brain doesn’t want to tune the rest of the noise out.  Apparently I’ve been asked something, but I miss it.  The voice gets more strident, the class turns to look at me.  The intense stares overwhelm me.  The person next to me jostles me and it feels like an electric shock on my skin.  Only six more hours of hell to go…. only six….

Some of our autistic pupils simply cannot do this alone, without ‘time out’ to recover from the pain and exhaustion during the school day.  Not for hour after hour of puzzling painful chaos.

We’ve turned classrooms into a hell for autism. Fluorescent lighting. Endless noise. Everywhere, bright patterns and overloading information. Groupwork and social time. Crowded hallways and relentless academic pressure. Autistic children mostly could cope in the quieter schools of decades ago. Not a hope now.

We cannot simply exclude autistic pupils for entering meltdowns. Meltdowns are part of autism for a good number of autistic young people.

Whilst mindful that of course everyone needs to be safe, the way to achieve safety is to stop hurting the autistic children. Punishing them for responding to pain is not something any of us need to do.

What schools need to do is to understand autism. In understanding it, we can help to stop putting the children in pain and exhaustion. It’s actually quite easy. And quite cheap.

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, School, Exclusion. What’s fair?

I updated “Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism” with a selection from “The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids”.

Parallel to the topic of who designs for children lies a bigger question: Do children need design at all? Or, rather, how might they be enabled to design the toys they need and experiences they desire for themselves? The act of making that designers find so satisfying is built into early childhood education, but as they grow, many children lose opportunities to create their own environment, bounded by a text-centric view of education and concerns for safety. Despite adults’ desire to create a safer, softer child-centric world, something got lost in translation. Jane Jacobs said, of the child in the designed-for-childhood environment: “Their homes and playgrounds, so orderly looking, so buffered from the muddled, messy intrusions of the great world, may accidentally be ideally planned for children to concentrate on television, but for too little else their hungry brains require.” Our built environment is making kids less healthy, less independent, and less imaginative. What those hungry brains require is freedom. Treating children as citizens, rather than as consumers, can break that pattern, creating a shared spatial economy centered on public education, recreation, and transportation safe and open for all. Tracing the design of childhood back to its nineteenth-century origins shows how we came to this place, but it also reveals the building blocks of resistance to fenced-in fun.

Source: Lange, Alexandra (2018-06-11T23:58:59). The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids (Kindle Locations 185-196). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

I updated “Classroom UX: Bring Your Own Comfort, Bring Your Own Device, Design Your Own Context ” with an embed of this tweet:

Ryan Boren on Twitter: ““There is something very simple but profound about simply watching people tackle their everyday challenges.” https://t.co/kNkSiOmNow”

I updated “Classroom UX: Bring Your Own Comfort, Bring Your Own Device, Design Your Own Context” with a selection from “Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport” to reinforce the point about deep work.

One of the more interesting ideas emerging from attention capital theory is the surprising role environment can play in supporting elite cognitive performance.

Professional writers seem to be at the cutting edge of this experimentation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we start to see more serious attention paid to constructing seriously deep spaces as our economy shifts towards increasingly demanding knowledge work.

Source: Simon Winchester’s Writing Barn – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

Knowledge work is deep work. Make space in K-12 for deep work and the neurodivergent minds that prefer it.

I did another pass on this piece about neurodiversity in SpEd classrooms, tempering the tone, and making collaborative gestures. There are many folks wanting to do better with not enough of anything, particularly here in Texas.

Neurodiversity in the SpEd Classroom

Packing conflicting sensory needs into a room is a guarantee of feedback cycles and meltdowns. Zone thinkers need peaceful places where they can get in their heads and maintain high memory states. They also, sometimes, need more social campfires and watering holes where they connect ideas and find collaborators with complementary strengths.

Caves, campfires, and watering holes. I wouldn’t and couldn’t work at a place that didn’t provide these zones-both online and in meatspace. I couldn’t work at a place that didn’t have chill rooms for sensory and social management. I don’t even bother with conferences that don’t provide these.

Classroom UX: Bring Your Own Comfort, Bring Your Own Device, Design Your Own Context

How are kids—less practiced at coping, passing, and masking, during the most stressful and shame-sensitive periods of life—supposed to put in a full working week without even the basics expected by many office workers? Kids, like adult creatives, are human with human needs.

We leave so many minds out. We have forgotten much about children, learning, and being human.

People all over the world know these things about children and learning, and interestingly, they are as workable for learning how to design software or conduct a scientific experiment or write an elegant essay as they are for learning to hunt caribou or identify medicinal plants in a rainforest.

But we don’t know them any more.

Source: A Thousand Rivers — Carol Black