Teachers We Love: Ellen Stone Stands for Excellence
How a special ed English teacher uses innovative methods to help her students.
Special Education teacher Ellen Stone first came into contact with Bruno Taylor when he was in first grade. “He just showed up,” she says, as if something wondrous but strange had happened that day. There was little background provided on the cute little boy with the off-kilter gait who could not swallow his food. “At that point, his major issues were eating and reading. For the former, there was an aide who came to feed him lunch through his tube. For the latter, there was Ellen Stone. “I never met a kid like him,” she says.
Ten years later, Bruno is reading and writing — albeit in unconventional ways — still under the tutelage of Ellen Stone, whom his parents credit, in part, for getting him to this point. Today she is his eleventh grade special education English teacher, and, while he may never be a perfectly fluent reader and writer, “I’ve used a conglomeration of methods to help him,” says Stone. “They include assistive technologies, such as books on tape and computers (such as the Kurzweil System) that read for him and take his dictation,” and old-fashioned, nose-to-the-grindstone work.
“He is a knowledge hound,” she says. “And he has an amazing work ethic. He’s very ambitious. I can rely on him to do what he needs to do.”
Stone makes it sound as if Bruno did all the work — but in fact, because of Bruno’s unusual mix of abilities and disabilities, Stone has had to make up methods as she goes along. A graduate of the Menninger Clinic-Kansas State University work-study program, she has the training, experience, and assurance to switch or alter teaching techniques that aren’t working as well as she’d like, and to exert mild pressure when she feels that a student with LD is capable of accomplishing more.
“I want him to do some writing. It’s difficult for him, but he can write. We will transcribe his words only if his writing is too unintelligible. I want him to use Quickwrite.” (A Palm extension that helps users enter text faster and more accurately. “I don’t care if it’s ‘wrong’ or doesn’t always make sense. Writing text in an empty room with an aide isn’t conducive to learning.”
Bruno has also tried the Naturally Speaking computer dictation program, but since he is sometimes difficult to understand, the program often wrote down the wrong words. At home he has the Kurzweil system, often used by the blind, which enables his computer to read his textbooks to him and allows him to respond verbally or in writing.
Stone says, “Today I see a kid who can read and write — usually with assistance — but his desire is to become completely independent, and we’re here to help him. The big question is how to grade him. Do we take off points for mistakes related to his disability? Bruno felt strongly that he should be evaluated with his peers. He also felt that he would be ‘missing the boat’ if we did not challenge him to work on his handwriting. He’s pulling all B’s. Magic happens when you see what you can do with a child who was never expected to read or write. I’m trying to be less intrusive. When he needs the thesaurus now, I expect him to go get it, not ask me to get it for him.”
“Socially,” Stone says, “his father wanted to be sure Bruno — tiny for his age — wasn’t treated like a ‘mascot.’ And that hasn’t happened at all. In fact, Bruno is a ‘friend of choice;’ even turning down friendship opportunities that don’t fit — at the time. When a child with ADHD wanted to sit next to him during a class lecture, Bruno politely asked the student to move because he couldn’t concentrate with so much squirming next to him. But as soon as the lecture was over, Bruno asked the boy to come back and sit with him. There have been many such kindhearted gestures.”
“He seems to love life,” says Stone. “Other kids like him just the way he is.”