Monday, August 04, 2014

Reaching the Quiet Ones

Class participation. Often included as part of a student's cumulative grade. How do you ensure student participation?

Do you depend upon the student's who voluntarily raise their hands to answer your questions or participate in discussions? Or, do you recognize there are many reasons why a student will look the other way when you are looking to call on a student?

Why do students not willingly raise their hands? 

There may be several reasons:

  1. They may need additional time to process the information you are requesting. And additional time to process their response. #processingspeed
  2. They may have anxiety about speaking in the classroom. #anxiety 
  3. They may be afraid of embarrassing themselves if they say something that is "incorrect."#avoidhumiliationatallcosts
  4. They may have developed a fixed mindset which prevents them from feeling they have anything of value to contribute to the discussion. #mindset
  5. They may be afraid to look "too smart" in front of their peers. #peerinfluence

I may have missed a few, but these are typical reasons why students choose not to actively or voluntarily participate in class.

If we presume competence, we know that every student has something of value to contribute, and has beliefs, opinions and thoughts to share. So, what are the options? How can we ensure that all students have the opportunity to contribute?

We have choices:

  1. Promote a culture of acceptance, a classroom growth mindset, where all opinions are valued, encouraged and promoted. Students are acutely aware of your response which can be encouraging or demoralizing. 
  2. For the slow processor, give them advance notice (a day ahead), so they have time to process your question(s) and their answer. This is critically important for students who use speech generating devices.
  3. Use tools such as Google Docs or Padlet where students can contribute asynchronously. You can have students use their names or contribute anonymously, or assign students numbers and you have the key. That way you are hearing from all students, regardless of the issues which prevent their class participation. 
  4. Use resources such as Socrative or Nearpod which allow all students to participate using a variety of devices. 
  5. Allow for alternative methods of expression to demonstrate learning, using multimedia.
  6. Work in small groups which can be less threatening to students who are concerned about whole class humiliation. Assign collaborative small group work so that the groups contribute to the class Google Doc or Padlet.

Presume competence. Promote acceptance and a growth mindset. Explore participation options. You will have a chance to hear from all your students.

Any additional ideas? Please add them in the comments section.

Image - http://www.ambergristoday.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/page_full/image/Guidance_Councelor_Class_Participation.jpg

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Dependence

Are you dependent upon glasses to read this post? Great! Hope you have them on because I want you to read it, especially if you are someone who thinks it's a bad thing when students need a tool to help them read the curriculum.

No one thinks twice about the need for glasses to read, drive or see the world, right? Glasses help bypass visual acuity issues. We can all agree on that.

So, why is the need for technology to access grade level curriculum such a bad thing?

At a recent IEP team meeting, the special educator stated she didn't want the student to "depend upon technology" to access the curriculum. Instead, she reads the material to the student since the student is reading below grade level due to a reading disability.

Funny. She failed to see the irony.

She was promoting dependence upon the adult. 

What's worse, dependence upon an adult to access grade level material or "dependence" on technology, which allows the student to independently access the curriculum, once they know how to use it? If they need to listen to the material again because they don't fully understand it, they can.
 No issues.

Assistive Technology EQUIPS and EMPOWERS students for success and INDEPENDENCE. 

We must never lose sight of that reality. While students are receiving the remediation, let's give them opportunities for success and independence by accommodating for the learning challenge. Why does anyone think that depending upon an adult and withholding assistive technology is beneficial?

I don't get it. Let me put my glasses on.... maybe I'll see it a little clearer.

Image credit - uxcell.com


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Is it Time to Just Say NO?

(disclaimer: the following views are entirely my own)

In reviewing my twitter feed yesterday morning, I came across several articles objecting to "Ed Reform," (what does that term really mean in 2014?), high-stakes testing, Common Core and RTTT.  In reading the articles, it repeatedly struck me, none of this benefit kids. Isn't that the point of education - to benefit kids? 

What if we simplified our local, state and national education agenda instead to state, "The mission of public education is to ensure all students graduate with a love for lifelong learning?'

How would that change what is happening with educational policies?

Immediately, we would have to do away with high-stakes testing. All the money going into the pockets of the "common core aligned" textbook, curriculum and testing publishers could be diverted to local schools to support whatever it takes to promote a love of learning.

One term we hear repeated is evidence-based practice. How does high-stakes testing support evidence-based practice? How does high-stakes testing promote individual student's love for learning? If you have evidence, please leave it in the comments section. I imagine there will be crickets....

We may feel helpless and hopeless when considering the billions supporting a move away from what is in the best interests of kids. But I have a proposal:

It is time to OPT OUT of the field tests.

It's time to just say "No!" This spring, the PARCC and SBA tests are undergoing field testing. What if we all unite and JUST SAY NO? Why should the testing publishers have free access to our students with no benefit to the students themselves? Compliance never produces anything positive. Isn't it all about critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving and innovation?

It is time to OPT OUT of the field tests.

The PARCC website states, "The PARCC Field Test represents a critical milestone in PARCC's work toward building assessment for the 2014-2015 school year and will give students and local educators the opportunity to experience the administration of PARCC assessments. The Field Test will be conducted in a random selection of schools across PARCC states."

What if we just say no, we don't want our students to experience the administration of PARCC assessments? Where is the benefit for our students?

It is time to OPT OUT of the field tests.

Let's stand up for our students for a change.

Thoughts? Please RT this if you believe this is possible.

Articles that were tweeted by others yesterday:

Statements by CAST about high-stakes testing
Common Core is Tough on Kids with Special Needs
Does CommonCore's focus on close reading make sense?
Boasts about Common Core Aligned Textbooks a Sham
Common Core: Education Without Representation

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Tools Matter


In schools, it is about the tools. Are you intentional about your tool choices. Do your students get a say?

When they have trouble writing their ideas because of difficulty forming letters legibly and you only offer paper and pencil, you may be preventing many learners from demonstrating what they know. Some students have difficulty with spelling and their printed word choices don't reflect their vocabulary. (You've said it, "They have great ideas, but they can't get them on paper.") So do you insist that the students in your classroom continue to show you what they know with paper and pencil and worksheets and packets? Do you realize you may be inhibiting their learning?

When you choose to use an interactive whiteboard and do not record the video from your lesson you may be preventing students from learning. When they need repetition and review and all you do is repeat your instruction verbally, you may be preventing students from being in control of their learning. When you have access to an iPad and choose not to create screencasts for later review by students who need previewing, repetition and review, you are missing an opportunity to promote success and independence.

When you repeat your instruction the same way, you may be preventing your learners from engagement and learning. Give options; use multiple methods of presentation and engagement to reach students. They learn best that way.

Be intentional. Offer options. Use a variety of tools to reach all the learners in your classroom.  

(To access a list of free tools, check out the UDL Tech Toolkit) 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Awesome Tools for Cognitive Rescaling

There are numerous options for meeting the needs of all learners in our classrooms. One area that teachers often find challenging is how to adjust the reading level or adapt the content for students who are English Language Learners, have intellectual disabilities or need information cognitively rescaled for any reason.
Here are some free tools to try:

1. When conducting a Google Search, did you know you can adjust your search by reading level? Learn how to do that here. This can be invaluable for many students.

2. Did you know Wikipedia offers a more user friendly version for students who need information simplified called Simple English Wikipedia? Here's the home page to explore more.

3. Auto summarize tools scale back the amount of information a student must decode and comprehend. Two free autosummarize tools are TextCompactor and TLDR - Chrome  (Too Long, Didn't Read) TLDR - Firefox.

4. A fantastic tool which modifies language in classic books, online articles or web sites is Rewordify. " Rewordify.com is powerful, free, online reading comprehension and vocabulary development software. It helps people understand difficult English faster, helps them learn words in new ways, and helps teachers create high-interest learning materials from any English text passage." There are several customizable features worth checking out. DEFINITELY watch the video to learn more about this amazing tool.  You may want to insert the text you autosummarized and then rewordify for your students.  

5. Of course, online videos also provide a multisensory approach to teaching skills and should be utilized to help students understand new content. Don't ignore these resources (YouTube, Vimeo, etc)

6. Screencasts are great resources for students who require preview, review, and repetition (typical IEP Accommodations). Some of my favorites are Jing for my Mac and EduCreations and Explain Everything ($2.99) for my iPad. 

Finally, I have to mention an excellent resource from Don Johnston called Start-to-Finish Books. Now that it is available as an online (paid) subscription, it is more accessible to more students who need this type of text adaptation. It's an excellent library of about 95 books for inclusive classrooms. 

This is just a starting place. Please add your favorites.


Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A Letter to my Teacher


Dear Teacher,

I want to learn

I want to be independent, but
Sometimes your curriculum is the disability.

When you give it to me in paper form, I can’t access it.

When text is digital, I can manipulate it. I can make it bigger, pick the right font, 
add more white space – it’s easier to read.

When text is digital, I can add a voice and listen to it.
I don’t have to struggle with reading each word.

Please don’t make me read outloud;
I work so hard to avoid humiliation.

Do you know,  I have great ideas…but I can’t get them down on paper?
Please give me another way to share them. Paper just doesn't work for me.

I need you to know……I’m  not stupid……I want to learn
You just have to remove the barriers for me.

I can’t read my own writing but there are other ways…..  
Give me other ways to show what I know.

I can’t sit still….so let me move.

Do you know, I really, really want to learn?

If you make videos of your instruction, I can review them at home….as often as I need to.
 
I want to learn
 
I want to be independent
 
Don’t put me on the bell curve, put me on the J- curve – it shows you want me to learn, too.
 
Will you teach me
 
                        Reach me
 
                                    Engage me                              

  in a way that works for me?

Monday, February 04, 2013

URGENT Request: Do the Right Thing TODAY

If you care about kids please read this. This is an urgent request. The deadline for public comment is today, February 4, by 5:00 PM EST.

Today is the last day for Public Comment on Reading Accommodations on the PARCC. Click here to access the accommodations and here to answer the survey. (if you agree with me that this is an important issue, please consider voting NO on the three questions). 

The Promise - "When the Race to the Top (RTTT) Assessment applications were announced, all applicants were asked to describe how they would use the principles of universal design for learning (UDL). In the application that won them the grant, PARCC made a commitment to universally design its assessment at every stage." (1) Many educators who work with students who have learning disabilities were excited when we heard the new assessments would be delivered using digital text. The playing field would be leveled using principles of Universal Design. Tools like Text to Speech would be embedded, not an add-in. Students would finally have access to the tools which bypass their challenges, so essential on a high-stakes test. 

The Reality - A review of the Proposed Reading Accommodations reveals principles of Universal Design are ignored. Eligibility is very narrowly defined and ignores IEP (Individualized Education Program) team decisions altogether. 

The Outcome - Students with disabilities will be set up for failure, especially at the middle and high school levels. 

Why Should You Care?Because your students' futures are at stake. Because we are adding new burdens students need to overcome and ensuring they are unable to achieve a standard diploma. 
(The most recent data shows that about 57% of all students on IEP's do NOT graduate from high school with a standard diploma. We will ensure that number remains unchanged if we remove the tools students use to help them bypass their reading challenges and perform successfully on high stakes tests)

Rick Lavoie says, "Fair doesn't mean giving students the same thing; fair means giving students what they NEED." (emphasis mine)

High-stakes tests are a runaway freight train. I can't stop that. But I can implore anyone reading this blog post to do what is right and force PARCC to embed Universal Design principles into their tests. 

I envision a day when all students get what they need. Please help this to be more than a pipe dream. This is the right thing to do.

Additional Posts from others:
1. No Walk in the PARCC
2. Under Attack: Your Child's Testing Accommodations (written by the National Center for Learning Disabilities)

(1) - passage from a letter to PARRC from the National UDL Task Force Co-Chairs. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Evaluation Ponderings....

Questions I'm pondering this morning.....

What does a "good" Assistive Technology evaluation for learning look like?

How does the model used by other special education professionals (Psychologist, Speech and Language Pathologist, Special Educator, etc) influence the current AT Assessment model?

How does the federal mandate that evaluations must be performed in all areas of suspected disability affect our assessments? 

Is it time to rethink Assistive Technology evaluations/assessments and create our own model which includes the fact AT consideration/assessment and implementation must be a dynamic and a team process?

Is this too huge a paradigm shift for special education which expects an assessment format to which they are accustomed?

Is this too huge a shift for those of us who specialize in assistive technology to take on?

Should we move away from an "expert" model to something else? What does that look like?

I thank Brian Wojcik for continually challenging my thinking which stimulates more questions and fewer answers.

Thoughts? Answers?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rethinking Math Homework

During the Patriots play-off game last night at my in-laws house, I heard the familiar question asked, "Did you finish your homework?" Reluctantly, my nephew left the room to work on his math homework. He had 15 double-digit multiplication problems to complete. He also had to use two different assigned methods, FOR EACH PROBLEM.

 Really?


I've read Alfie Kohn (The Homework Myth). 

I've read the counterpoints to his thoughts.

I do understand the importance of math practice, which helps solidify the process of understanding.

But 15 problems? 

And the double method for every single problem

How about this idea - Three problems one method, three problems the other method and then finish three more problems using the method that works best for you. That way, you have time to reflect on what works best for you. 

Isn't that the point - we want to help students understand that there is more than one way to reach the solution. Let's help kids identify what works best for them, and encourage them to use that method.

Thoughts?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Windows 8 Accessibility Guide

Considering going the Windows 8 route? You will definitely want to check out the Windows 8 accessibility guide. Access the tutorials and fact sheet here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Must Have Tool for Any Student Using Google Docs

Text Help has made a new toolbar available for free for anyone who uses Google Docs and the Chrome Browser. What is now possible is dual highlighted (two colors) text to speech in Google Docs! This is huge, an amazing benefit for our struggling readers, writers and researchers.

The Read & Write toolbar offers:


  • Dual highlighted Text to Speech
  • Dictionary
  • Picture Dictionary (with symbol support for cognitive rescaling)
  • Fact Finder (research information)
  • Translator
  • Vocabulary Lists
  • Collect Highlights


Watch the video to learn more and see how easy it is to help your students access the toolbar and the empowering features.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spell Checking: It's all about Context

Have you ever been in a situation where you recognize the person you are talking with but just can't place how you know them? It happened to me recently, walking my dog at the park. I encountered someone but just couldn't place him. Fortunately, he recognized my memory failure and explained we were members of a town committee. Out of context, I didn't recognize him.

Context is important. Not only in face to face encounters.

It's also important when spell checking our written work.

Google Docs offers a feature which relies on context; it's a feature which makes the use of Google Docs especially helpful for our students who struggle with spelling. They call it "Intelligent Spelling," where spell checking looks at the words in context in the sentence and offers suggestions. Many people rely on the spell checker built into Microsoft Word, but it does not have contextual spell checking capabilities.

Want to see this in action? Here's a video which demonstrates how it works and compares the spell checking features built into Word with Google Docs.



Google's Blog states:

  1. Suggestions are contextual. For example, the spell checker is now smart enough to know what you mean if you type “Icland is an icland.”

  2. Contextual suggestions are made even if the misspelled word is in the dictionary. If you write “Let’s meat tomorrow morning for coffee” you’ll see a suggestion to change “meat” to “meet."
  3. Suggestions are constantly evolving. As Google crawls the web, we see new words, and if those new words become popular enough they’ll automatically be included in our spell checker—even pop culture terms, like Skrillex. 

Time to add Google Docs/Presentations to your students' Toolbelt (Toolbelt Theory by Ira Socol)

You may also be interested in:

1. Ginger Software - a free download which offers contextual spell checking

2. Ghotit 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reading Accommodations

So often we believe text-to-speech is the answer for students who struggle with reading issues, whether due to decoding, fluency or reading comprehension challenges. Today, a high school senior with learning disabilities taught me a valuable lesson.

We met during her academic support period to see if there were assistive technology solutions to support her learning. She is a bright student with reading disabilities. The first words out of her mouth were, "I don't read." Hmmm. I immediately thought, "Well let me come to your rescue and show you text to speech!" When I showed her how she could access text and then listen using a service such as Bookshare, she told me it wouldn't work for her. She explained she found the voices too annoying which would distract her and cause her to lose focus. Therefore, learning would not occur.

In working with her, I wondered if changing the size of text or using Readability features would be of benefit. I showed her the Reader feature on the iPad since she has one. She immediately reacted with horror, "But we lost the pictures!" It turns out she needs the pictures that accompany textbook or science articles as they help anchor her learning.

What else worked for her? Human voices. Human voiced text. I directed her to four resources which she did feel would be of help - Audible.com for human voiced copyrighted and popular books, Audio books available from the library, Overdrive books available from public libraries and finally Librivox.org, an online resource which offers human voiced, out of copyright books such as those authored by Shakespeare, Dickens and Twain, for download.

Text-to-speech is not the answer for everyone. How do we make decisions which work best for each student?

Fortunately, there is a new, free tool which can help guide decisions for reading accommodations - the Protocol for Reading Accommodations (PAR) by Denise Decoste and Linda Bastiani-Wilson, available from Don Johnston, Inc. The website describes it as follows:
PAR provides you with all you need to systematize your procedures for making data-based reading accommodation recommendations for students who are not reading at grade level or have physical disabilities that keep them from utilizing printed texts. 
What's Included?
Protocol—guides you in collecting data to compare independent reading, reading with a human reader and reading with a text reader

Reading Samples—provides eight reading passages (four narrative, four expository) and vocabulary questions for each grade level, grades 3rd through 10th

Quizzes—contains comprehension quizzes for each reading passage—factual, topic related, inferential and vocabulary

Multiple Formats—reading passages are available in Word and ePUB so that you can use them in Bookstream (Don Johnston’s cloud-based reading distribution system) or within your current text reader 
Take the guesswork out of reading accommodations and meet the individual, unique needs of your students with reading challenges.  Check out PAR to guide your reading accommodation decisions.

Friday, March 16, 2012

BYOD Success Story

This week I was in a high school Learning Center Support classroom and noticed a student reading from his personal Kindle Fire. The LC teacher mentioned to me that the student preferred reading on the Kindle device.

Since I'm always hoping to learn from students, I asked the student why he preferred reading from his Kindle. He told me he liked being able to increase the font size; it made it easier for him to read the text.

Moral of the story - it's the little things that count. I often hear adults state they can't read from a device, they need the feel of the book in their hands. That may work for you but it's not always the best method for your students. Just because you or I might prefer a different presentation doesn't mean it works best for our students.

This is one of the principles of UDL, in this case, multiple methods of presentation. The material was now presented in a form that worked best for this particular student.

Another BYOD success story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

iPad Resources

Just a quick post to share two iPad Resources I've been working on.

Check out this constantly updated Google Doc that lists Free Apps for Educators.

Here's a wiki resource that I use during professional development workshops. Please feel free to use and share.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Simulating Learning Issues

"He's lazy."


"If only she tried harder."

Have you ever entertained those thoughts about any of your students? Have you ever heard your colleagues use those statements to describe any of their students? Do you realize how difficult it can be for your struggling learners, ON A DAILY BASIS?

If you never struggled as a student, here is an opportunity to experience, even briefly, what school is like for too many of our students. It is vital we have empathy for what our struggling learners experience on a daily basis.

PBS.org has created a set of interactive activities which offer the chance to simulate reading disabilities, writing disabilities or attentional issues. Try it out here

Click on the challenge you would like to experience firsthand





Sunday, October 30, 2011

Speak: Built into the new iOS Update

Holding off installing the newest update to iOS5? Wait no longer; there are 200 new features to explore!
Today, I want to spotlight just one, one that is pure gold. The "Speak/Define" feature is what many of us who work with struggling readers have been waiting for.This is an amazing feature but it defaults to Off so you need to toggle it to On.

How do you find it? Settings > General > Scroll Down to Accessibility > Speak Selection > Toggle On.

Whenever you highlight single words (unfortunately, except for PDFs or iBooks at this point), you can view a definition or listen to the word read to you. When you select more text, you can listen to the text-to-speech feature. A high quality male and female voice is available; it's also possible to select the read feedback speed. Show this to students as a way to empower them. They have control over what they listen to independently. No more dependence upon adults when they encounter challenging words or text.

Awesome!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

ReThinking: Home-School Communication

Parent: "How was your day?"
Student: "Boring." 
Parent: "What did you do?"
Student: "Nothing."
 In the spirit of rethinking a variety of school practices, it is time to revisit the traditional home-school communication method in special education - the home-school communication notebook (HSCN). It is not uncommon for special educators to use a home/school communication notebook to provide information to parents about their child's day.

Before we consider alternatives, let's first explore the importance and benefits of effective home-school communication from Home-School Communication: What's All the Commotion?):
  • Parents and teachers consider communication the number one factor to increase trust (Adams & Christenson, 2000).
  • Strong communication can also encourage higher and realistic parental expectations. When teachers and parents are on the “same page” they can engage in more individual and concrete discussion around student progress and develop realistic goals and plans of action that are linked to student achievement (Drake 2000; James, Jurich & Estes, 2001).
  • Parents who receive more consistent information about their children's school performance report a higher degree of commitment to helping children improve (Helling, 1996).
  • Parents view effective communication by a new school as a quality that makes the transition from preschool to kindergarten positive (Rimm-Kauffman, 1999).
  • Communication serves as the first step to other types of parent involvement to follow (Elman, 1999).
  • Parents seek good communication skills in their children's teachers, citing it as one of the most desirable characteristics a new teacher could have (Lupi, 2001; McDermott, 2001).
Why is it important to consider alternatives to the traditional communication methods?

1. The home/school communication notebook is adult focused and adult driven.

2. The notebook can be lost or misplaced in the school or home.

3. Documenting in the HSCN is time consuming; there is often a separate notebook for each student in the special education classroom or special education program.

4. Too often, the HSCN focuses on reporting about behaviors and not what the students actually did in school that day. The documentation does not necessarily promote constructive dialogue at home.

5. New technologies allow for greater flexibility and promote innovative practices.

Interested in learning about alternatives? Start with Sound Recordings. Why use sound recordings? 
Sound recordings can be time savers, You create one recording about the day and share it with all the parents in the program. An adult is not necessary with sound recordings, once students understand how to use the online resources. Every day, a different "historian" can record the highlights of the day. It becomes a student driven process.

Vocaroo - Web-based, free audio recorder. Simplest method for voice recordings. Click Record, record your voice and share.

Add, digital photos.

Voisse - Free, very easy online method to record your voice, share with parents. The recordings are dated and saved when you sign up for an account.Keep a running record of your daily School Reports in your personal library. Also possible to upload photos and attach voice recordings. EASY!

Fotobabble- Easily create talking photo records of the school day. Share with parents. Free online tool. Also available as an app for iOS devices. EASY, EASY!


Voicethread - Upload multiple photos and record your voice describing each photo separately. Involve multiple students in the process of documenting the day. A free online resource - To Create - Upload, Comment, Share. Read the Educator's Guide to VoiceThread.

Use these options as teachable moments. "What do we believe are the most important parts of the day? What do we want to share with our families? What pictures should we take about our day?" Share, share, share. Parents love to know about the school day!

Do you have other ideas that work in your classroom? Would love to learn from you as well. Please leave your ideas that work in the comment section.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

ReThinking : Assignment Notebooks

IMPORTANT: First, read The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn.  If, after reading this book, homework is still considered necessary for learning, you will want to consider these alternatives.

Many districts require assignment notebooks for scheduling homework and long-term assignments. For some students, a paper-based system works effectively. For other students, the assignment notebook provides unintended consequences as a method of frustration.  Not all students are able to independently record homework in an assignment notebook, for a variety of reasons (i.e. difficulty with pencil control, difficulty managing multiple paper materials, unable to use notebooks due to vision or physical disabilities) .  

The paper IS the disability for these students.

What are alternatives? Thinking creatively, and considering the ubiquitous technology available, here are a few options:

1.    Embed the assignments on the class webpage. Students (and parents) will know where it is recorded which can become part of the home routine.  
2.    Use Audio Recordings - If homework is assigned at the upper elementary level, have a student be the Homework Recorder for the day using simple tools such as Vocaroo, Fotobabble, or Eyejot (webcam needed). Or, use Audacity or Garage Band to create a podcast as a record of accomplishments as well as the assignments of the day. Whatever method is used, embed or link it to the classroom website or wiki.
3.    Use a Livescribe SmartPen to create audio recordings which are synched with the text for review at home. Audio recordings can be uploaded to the computer and linked to the class website or wiki.
4.   If you have a mobile device, consider these apps - SmartNote, Fotobabble, Evernote, any audio note app that allows you to embed or send to your students' email list.
5.   Allow students to take a picture where the homework is recorded with their cell phones or iPod Touches.
6.   Low tech - Allow students to purchase their own assignment notebooks - do not require a one size fits all mandated approach


Assignment notebooks, can get lost, students can overlook recording an assignment, students may have difficulty reading their own writing due to fine motor issues, When external supports are offered, students with executive skill challenges can flourish. They know (and their parents are grateful that) there is a place where they can find the information they need for success at home.

Keep in mind Toolbelt Theory. We have a responsibility to show students a variety of tools to develop their own toolbelts for use beyond school. Not everyone accomplishes tasks in the same standardized way. Some of us use paper-based organizers, others use cell phones or apps in Smartphones. Offering alternatives helps students develop a system that works for them instead of using a “one-size fits all approach” which may not actually fit.

These suggestions incorporate Universal Design for Learning principles. What is put in place for students with disabilities, benefits all students. Students can be encouraged to purchase the organizer that works best for them, if it is something they need. Some students prefer a daily, weekly or monthly view. One size does not fit all and assignment notebooks do not work for everyone.

Do you have other suggestions?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Why Not Twitter?

If you've ever heard me present, you've heard Twitter is the best professional development.
Free, just-in-time, whenever, wherever and total access control.

Well, Scott McLeod's blog post came across my reader tonight and it makes the case for Why Not Twitter better than I ever could. Here's an excerpt:

Dear educator, if you were on Twitter yesterday, you might have found:
  1. this awesome reflection about working with a teacher on technology integration; or
  2. these resources about ‘learning styles’ and whether they’re a myth; or
  3. this list of ideas about how to rethink awards ceremonies; or
  4. this list of 100 free apps to check out for that new iPad you just bought; or
  5. this update about the thousands of new online resources that PBS will provide you starting this fall; or
Read the rest of the post here to learn fifteen more things you missed and why you need to be part of the Twitter professional development experience. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Addendum - Rethinking Editing

I love learning from the experiences of others.

Cheryl Oakes shares an effective editing method she uses with her students with special needs at a high school in Maine. Check out her method here using Google Docs and add it to your editing repertoire. As Ira Socol states in Toolbelt Theory, we have a responsibility to allow students to explore the tools which will help them be successful beyond school. To withhold that information is a grave injustice.

Are you still relying on teaching your traditional editing methods? Are they working for all your students? If not, now is the time to explore the methods in this post and the previous Rethinking Editing post.

Thank you, Cheryl, for teaching me something new!

Friday, May 13, 2011

ReThinking: "He Doesn't Want to be Seen as Different"

I've heard that refrain numerous times.

"But... he doesn't want to be seen as different."

It's usually uttered in response to specific technology recommendations offered during the IEP team process. The team typically nods their head in agreement; after all, it is a priority that the student completes school tasks in the same manner as their peers, or uses the same school tools as their friends.(Or is it?)

Unfortunately, I realize another team is unaware of Universal Design for Learning principles.  If they understood UDL, they would appreciate the importance of offering MULTIPLE methods of engagement, presentation and expression. Instead, they are sticking to the "one size fits all" approach, an approach which fails to meet the needs of all learners. It's an approach that allows teams to agree, "He doesn't want to be seen as different."

My challenge to the team is to change the culture, don't let the student be seen as different. Offer multiple methods of expression. Give choices. Offer alternatives to the traditional methods which fail many kids.

Sometimes students need a different method.

A classic example is the Poster Board.

Think of all the poster boards that have been assigned over the years. For some students, the fine motor or visual processing skills required to complete that task are nearly impossible without significant help from home. Paper can be the disability. Two alternatives are Glogster or VoiceThread, free online multimedia tools which minimize the potential output challenges. In addition, these tools can be more engaging.

But don't just change the expectation to ALL students will now create a Glog. Introduce them to the tools. Then let students choose the tool which will help them accomplish the task in the way that works best for them. Promote an environment where they are not seen as different. Every one chooses the method which promotes success. Some students will opt for the paper poster board, others will choose another option.

The essential point is the availability of choice. When there is choice, no one is seen as different. Every student gets what they need. 

Easily accomplished in an age of numerous tool choices. Need a starting place? Refer to the UDL Tech Toolkit wiki to get you going.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

ReThinking: Editing

It's been almost three months since my last post. I've written hundreds in my head but none of them made it to the website. So, I'm starting with rethinking editing

In my experience, editing is one of the least preferred activities for students. Many students believe since they've written it and used pre-writing strategies such as outlines or graphic organizers, then it must be good enough. Or, they've put so much energy into the first draft, they have nothing left for the revision process. Too often, they fail to see the value of editing to improve the quality of their written work.

How are you teaching the editing process? Have you incorporated technology as part of your instruction?

Technology allows new editing methods and strategies. Here's one I've been working on for some time.

Technology Editing Method:

a)     Disable spell and grammar check when the student is writing their initial draft so as not to interrupt the flow of ideas. Save the initial word-processed document.

b)     Rename the document (such as, Revision). Check the Readability Statistics (Tools > Options > Spelling and Grammar > Show Readability Statistics). Record the grade level. This step provides objective information which can be quite motivating. For example, when an 8th grade student checks the Readabilty Statistics Grade Level and discovers the computer grades their work at a 5.7 grade level, or even less, they are motivated to improve the quality to obtain a higher grade level. (It is vital to recognize Grade Levels are based upon mathematical formulas such as length of words and length of sentences. Run-on sentences may distort the final Grade Level).

c)      Use spell check, grammar check and synonym support (Right Click or ctrl + click for the Mac) Synonym support can be extremely beneficial, especially for students who have difficulty spelling. They often choose to type the shorter word which they know how to spell despite having a more extensive vocabulary. Using the Synonym feature helps them bypass this issue. Explicitly teach the use of this feature; it's often helpful to right click multiple times until the exact word is identified.

d)     Listen to the text using text to speech software , one sentence at a time. Does it say what you intended? Does it make sense? You may want to create an editing checklist. Excellent grade level writing checklists can be created here.

e)     Make any additional corrections.

f)       Use Paperrater.com (http://paperrater.com/ ) to provide online analysis. Follow the instructions, once the analysis is performed. Make the corrections. Listen to the final product using text to speech software.

g)     Check the Readability Statistics again to determine change. Review written work with academic support teacher.

h)     Compare the final product with the original document (Step 1) to determine effectiveness of this approach. Revise the approach as necessary.

What do you think? Are you using something similar? Or, do you have recommendations of your own? I'm always looking to improve the quality of my work. I look forward to reading your comments.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rethinking Series


My attempt to follow through with a series, "Around the Web in 80 Days" was a major fail and I apologize to those who wanted to learn more about specific sites and tools. It's embarrassing that I offered something and then failed to deliver.

I realized there are so many other blogs and wikis devoted to that type of posting and that's not where my passion lies. (Look at SpeechTechie, Free Technology for Teachers and Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day, among others, for daily resources and 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning for detailed information about topics.)

Instead, my hope through my blog is to challenge thinking about how we educate struggling learners. Over the next few weeks, I will embark on a series about rethinking established and unquestioned educational practices. The first few posts will look at the use of assignment notebooks, the use of textbooks, and requiring all students to produce the same product to demonstrate what they have learned. I'll also write about the guiding principles which permeate what I do as an educator.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

(photo attribution - http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/sizes/o/in/photostream/)



Sunday, January 23, 2011

Content Creation on the iPad: Portable Solutions that Work!

One of the complaints often stated about the iPad is the difficulty or inability to create content. Fortunately, the thinking is evolving as new apps appear which address content creation.

Why is that important for education? Two reasons.

First, students who struggle with output due to, for example, handwriting issues, generating ideas, organizing written ideas, or slow processing, need choices so they can demonstrate knowledge in a manner that helps them see themselves as successful learners. Have you ever worked with students who shut down? Were they were so demoralized by their struggles to get their thoughts expressed in a paper-based format? For some students, school is a daily reminder of everything that is difficult for them. It's in their face; they can't escape it.

Therefore, it's imperative we offer alternatives to tap into students' strengths. Some kids may prefer paper-based expression. Others may prefer a computer based solution using word processing software or online resources such as VoiceThread. Still others may benefit from the simplicity of the iPad and content creation apps.

Secondly, research proves the value of video modeling and social story creation for changing behavior with students on the Autism Spectrum. iOS Devices provide a portable method for improving behaviors and fostering social skill development. 

Given that more teachers are applying for grants to purchase iPads (http://donorschoose.org) the need to promote appropriate apps to reach their learners increases.  Here are some
specific content creation apps you may want to consider:
  1. Idea Sketch (free) Map out your ideas here, converts diagrams to outlines (similar to Inspiration)
  2. StoryRobe (free) tutorials available here
  3. StoryKit (free)
  4. SonicPics (free light version, $2.99 full version) Video Tutorial
  5. Stories2Learn ($13.99) Video Tutorial The video tutorial also explains how to transfer pictures from your computer to your iOS device. Watch this video to see how one mother created a social story for her son using Stories2Learn
  6. Pictello ($14.99) 
If you have an iOS device, these are apps you will definitely want to explore in your classroom to address the needs of your students. Let me know what you think or if you have additional suggestions.

Additional Resources 
Digital StoryTelling with the iPad
Digital StoryTelling - Ten computer based tools