TCHERS' VOICE / Differentiation

I Am Going To The Getty Villa! An Ability Guidebook

Every teacher knows the value of a field trip, and I love that David Cooper takes his students to the J. Paul Getty Villa every year. I have a deep love for museums, but the truth is, a museum can be a difficult place for students with special needs.

A lapse of control in the grocery store might end up breaking a jar or two and cost a few dollars. A lapse of control in the Getty Villa might put an ancient Greek Statue at risk.

Mr. Cooper does a great job of explaining to his students what is expected at the museum. It's especially effective that he pulled a student out of the audience to create a visual for students to have a better understanding of their space. So often kids with special needs learn in different ways -- some are visual, some do well when they're told exactly what to do, others need practice and require supports to do their best.

Seven years ago, I started making a series of books called Ability Guidebooks. These guidebooks are step-by-step guides on how to visit a place in the community. I had several students with autism in my classroom who became distressed whenever they faced an unknown destination. This distress led to violent behavior and a real possibility that the students would be banned from field trips.

We were planning a Friday outing to ride Portland’s Aerial Tram and I decided to see if making a how-to guide would help. The weekend before, I went on a test run, rode the Tram, and captured a series of photographs that showed every step of the process. Next, I created a picture book for my students and during the week of our trip, we read and re-read how to ride the Tram. That Friday, the field trip went off without a hitch.

From then on, I created a book for every outing we were planning. To my delight, I saw behaviors related to anxiety about travel disappear. One student, who would often become violent, began to look forward to her outings.

An Ability Guidebook is a commitment to make. But it's also an investment. If your class takes similar field trips each year, then the book you make this year is good for next year. I took the guidebooks I made for my own class and published them online for every Portland teacher to use.

Since then, I've continued making Ability Guidebooks whenever I travel. Each trip I take to Washington, D.C. ends up adding another book or two. My travels to Peru with the NEA Foundation Global Fellowship produced books for the Inca Museum and Machu Picchu. I've now made over 140 books in six languages and for 36 countries!

Ability Guidebook: I Am Going To The J Paul Getty Museum

For those of you heading to the Getty Villa, I’m pleased to share with you the support I made for Mr. Cooper's Visiting a Museum video. I Am Going To The Getty Villa! will now be available to any teacher planning a field trip to this amazing museum.

It's a great resource for lower grades and an absolute must for any special education teacher, parent, or group home that will be visiting the museum with a person who has anxiety about visiting a new and unfamiliar place.

It's always my hope that these books will help open doors for people who have trouble accessing the community. With a little help, they can do it!

Do you take a field trip that you think could benefit from an Ability Guidebook? If you'd like to create an Ability Guidebook for one of your field trips, let me know in the comments below and I'd be happy to help!


Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. He is the only Oregon special education teacher to be named Teacher of the Year and to win the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence. Connect with Brett on Twitter: @2014ORTOY.

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