Editor’s Note: In May of 2016, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading held a Mind in the Making (MITM) Facilitator Institute for 27 individuals from 13 different agencies in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Since then, these facilitators have been presenting Mind in the Making’s Seven Essential Skills Training Modules to more than 600 people throughout the Suncoast region. Due to demand, a second Mind in the Making Facilitator Institute was held in February of 2017, raising the number of local facilitators to 50. Michelle Delp is a fourth-grade teacher at Lamarque Elementary School and a Mind in the Making Facilitator.
The key to all human interaction is communication. Unfortunately, this can be a missing piece for our students with autism. Autism can rob individuals the ability to interact with others. One of our participants is a teacher for students with autism.
During module five, critical thinking, Mrs. Ackley waits until all the participants leave the classroom and follows me into the classroom’s closet where I store materials for the class. She stops and says, “Michelle, I have to share what I was trying with my students on my WOOP.” I waited patiently as she explained the unbelievable experience that her WOOP set up in her Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classroom. Her WOOP focused on providing opportunities for her students to communicate with each other without her intervention. She set out different objects on her tables during the morning to spark interest with the students with no success. These items she thought would have the students asking each other about what they had on their tables, but instead, the students played with the objects with no interaction with each other. She explained that she had not given up hope, but was not expecting any great revelations from this small goal.
During the morning, Mrs. Ackley’s aide went to the cafeteria and brought the students mini pancakes for their breakfast. The students routinely eat in the classroom around a horseshoe table with each other to enjoy watching the school news. Mrs. Ackley was taking attendance on her computer when one of her students called out “full moon,” while holding up his dollar size pancake. The next student started laughing and held up one of his pancakes and said, “half-moon.” He had eaten half of his pancake! The third student nibbled his pancake down to a sliver and yelled out, “small moon.” All the students were looking at this student’s tiny moon piece when he popped the last piece into his mouth and yelled out, “no moon!” Mrs. Ackley said they all started to laugh including a very limited verbal student. She said that she couldn’t finish taking attendance because she was so surprised that first, they knew the moon cycle, and secondly, that they were interacting with each other — she started to cry tears of happiness. Mrs. Ackley was so surprised that her WOOP led to a successful communication activity with her students.
Mind in the Making gives everyone opportunities to enhance children’s abilities in the seven executive functions of the brain. Small things make an incredible difference in the education of children. These modules have given us ideas to continue growing our students for a positive future.