Complex Instruction, My (Not-So Complex) Culminating Experience, and Continued (Complex) Financial Struggles

I met yesterday with one of my former professors, Dr. Sue Courey, to discuss my idea for a creative project to complete my MA degree in Special Education and to ask her if she’d be willing to chair the faculty committee for my creative project.

The basic idea centers around taking a critical perspectives on mathematics learning disabilities and then from that critical vantage point reworking the Stanford Complex Instruction model so that it can meet the needs of students with disabilities. Complex instruction is a model of instruction for detracked schools in which students are placed in heterogenous groups and explicitly trained on group roles (such as facilitator, recorder, thus delegating classroom oversight to students). Groups work on complex problems that require multiple abilities to successfully complete – problems should be challenging that even the top student in the class is forced to turn to the group for help. And then teachers intentionally intervene in this process to identify students with low intellectual or social status in the group and highlight their demonstrated strengths in groupwork to their group.

Once I’ve done a literature review and synthesized my own theory of how to use complex instruction with students with learning disabilities, I plan to write an hour and a half curriculum on both the critical perspectives and the complex instruction methods and then teach that curriculum at the upcoming California Matheatics Council conference at Asilomar in December.

Dr. Courey was particularly enthusiastic about my idea – in the one day since I had sent the proposal to her she had already shared it excitedly with another professor. She had two suggestions – one was that I specifically point out how this relates to the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice (which it definitely does!) and two was that I draw more on special education literature and look at some of the other names by which these ideas go under in special education – say, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies and Universal Design for Learning.

We also talked about how complex instruction is heavily grounded in sociological theory and studies of classrooms, and how special education as a discipline has discovered a lot of the same ideas but comes at it from a more practical perspective – but at the same time can miss the fact that general education research actually has a lot to say about students that are struggling in the classroom and often has a much stronger foundation in theory and research than the equivalent special education research. So she seemed particularly excited that I was interested in looking at both general education and special education literature in my literature review.

Finally, we talked about my acceptance into the CSU PreDoctoral Schoalrs program and how this literature review would make an ideal writing sample for doctoral program applications – which means that I need to have it done by Mid-November or so.

So, yes, she agreed to chair the faculty committee (I need two faculty) for my creative work, and now I just need to find one more faculty member. (I have someone in mind, but I haven’t asked them yet). She also said that SF Unified is really looking at what to do about the Common Core in Special Education, and to check into their latest strategic plan, which is on my to-do list for the week.

I took the day today and re-wrote my proposal for my culiminating experience. I need to send it to my predoctoral program mentor, Dr. Judith Kysh to see what she thinks.

I also am still wondering about how I’m going to fund this work. SFSU took away my State University Grant (fee/tuition scholarship) this year, and although I was able to raise money on indiegogo from my facebook friends in order to cover tuition, I’m still facing about a $2800 shortage this semester in terms of money for living expenses. I was given a scholarship by the predoctoral program to fund travelling to conference and presenting my work and to cover registration fees for the GRE and graduate school application fees, but this money can’t be used for tuition or living expenses. I’m determined to find a way to make it through this semester, but the situation does have me rather edgy and anxious every time I review my financial situation. (I keep logs of all expenses in a little notebook and transfer them to a spreadsheet weekly, with the help of a wonderful peer support group called Fellowship and Footwork that I attend at Alta Bates every Friday). It also seems weird planning trips to Chicago, Monterey, DC, and Philadelphia (where the conferences I’m attending are) when I don’t even know where rent money will come from…