Mobilizing Haikus for Learners on the Autism Spectrum

By Laura Kristek, kindergarten through second grade special education teacher in Chicago, IL, and Jenny Burns, Community Coordinator for Allen Distinguished Educators
November 7, 2016

Award-winning project replicated with DIY Guide grant from Allen Distinguished Educators 

DIY Guide grants ensure adoption of ADE-created classroom projects and practices across a diverse range of schools – engaging student of all backgrounds.

Laura Kristek, a special education teacher in Chicago, modified a high school level poetry and engineering project developed by Allen Distinguished Educator, Scott Swaaley, to engage her K-2 students who are on the autism spectrum. Her students have varying degrees of strengths with communication, social interactions, and behavioral control, and they are very enthusiastic and diligent participants in class. “They are a joy to teach,” Kristek explains. She is one of 28 teachers to receive a DIY Guide grant from the ADE program in the spring of 2016.

Laura-Kristeck-with-Student.jpg“I chose Scott Swaaley's MAKEShift Poetry guide for two main reasons,” Kristek says. “First, students would not ordinarily be exposed to poetry unless teachers make it happen. Second, my students respond well to the movement and hands-on component of the lesson.” In the original project guide developed by Swaaley, students are instructed to work in pairs to write a short poem that demonstrates understanding of figurative language. Then students design and fabricate a functioning gear mechanism that illustrates the meaning, theme, or concept of their poem. This project integrates physics, engineering, and language arts concepts through hands-on, project-based learning. (Download open-source materials for this project.

Kristek made significant alterations to this project to help engage her students. “I realized the original guide was not accessible for my students and would require intensive modifications,” Kristek says. She added more structure to the poem development and replaced the functioning gear mechanism component with a hanging mobile display. “My project was much more low-tech than the original plan,” Kristek explains. 

Teachers are encouraged to creatively adjust the projects to suit the unique needs of their students and classroom environments

How Scott Does It

  • School: High Tech High (9-12)
  • Type of School: Public - Charter
  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • School Population: 5,000
  • Demographic: 62% minority students 
  • % Free/reduced lunch program: 42%
  • Grade: 9th grade
  • Timing: Scott teaches this project in the first month of school and takes a total of six weeks
  • Subjects: physics, engineering, and language arts
  • Materials: Adobe Gear Generator, computers, laser cutters, and wood to build and design gears
  • Project Steps: Students write their own poem or narrative then develop a figurative representation using gears. 

Watch Scott’s interactive guided tour and download the complete project materials.

How Laura Did It

  • School: Kilmer Elementary (K-8)
  • Type of School: Public - District
  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • School Population: 795
  • Demographic: 95% minority students
  • % Free/reduced lunch program: 96%
  • Grade: K-2nd grade
  • Timing: 30 minute sessions three times a week for two weeks as students learned about poetry. Then one hour sessions three times a week for two weeks as students developed their own poems. Finally, one hour sessions twice a week for two weeks as students constructed their mobiles.
  • Subjects: Language arts, art, physics and balance
  • Materials: 3D objects, clothes pins, fishing line, wooden dowels, construction paper, scissors, glue, paper, printer, and printer ink
  • Project Steps: Laura spent two weeks immersing her students in poetry with an emphasis on haikus, one week going over the structure of haikus including the actual counting of syllables, one week brainstorming ideas for haikus in groups, and two weeks for students to develop their poems and create mobiles that represented their haikus.
More details about Laura's project adaptations will be available soon.

Featured project adaptations by Kristek:
  • Screenshot-Haiku-Template.JPGRather than leave the poetry portion of this project open-ended, Kristek instructed her students to develop haikus. Additionally, to accommodate her students with special education needs, she created a cut-and-paste worksheet that allowed them to develop their haikus by cutting and gluing photos rather than writing words. “My general goal was to facilitate the maximum level possible.I created a 5-7-5 physical structure for the students to produce their poetry with visual options to fill in the spaces,” Kristek explains. “The pictures were organized according to the number of syllables. The students were tasked with choosing pictures to place on a chart that would only house the correct amount of syllables. Thus a platform for an errorless haiku was created.”
  • Due to limited resources in the school and the complexity of the gear design in the original project plan, Kristek instructed her students to make mobiles as a representative movement display instead. “[Students] were tasked with figuring out how to balance objects to create mobiles that would hang harmoniously,” Kristek says. “I provided the structure for the mobile that involved four points with strings and clothespins. The clothespins allowed for the students to figure out the balance by trial and error.”.
“I plan to use this project again for the same reason I chose to in the first place. Students will not benefit from poetry unless teachers make the conscious effort to add it to their curriculum,” says Kristek. “Poetry is not only important for artistic expression but it also enhances literacy skills. The rhythm and rhymes can help children develop a familiarity with, and love for, language and reading. The movement component of this lesson exposes children to physics without them even knowing it. It's like sneaking spinach into mash potatoes!

Student work from Scotts class

Students use a laser cutter to cut gears and engrave poems. Visit the MAKEShift Poetry page to learn more.

Student Work from Laura's class

Kristek’s students developed their haikus by cutting and pasting words in the poems which were broken down into syllables. 

The ADE program was developed by Paul G. Allen based on his belief that innovation is a key driver in improving learning opportunities for young people. “Exercising my freedom to create new ideas to meet my students’ unique learning needs is an exciting and interesting component of teaching,” Kristek says. “Innovation is important to keep up with the best methods to educate the growing diversity of our students.”

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