Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Getting Beyond the Lecture

Research suggests that the “I talk – You listen” instructional format is not effective, but it remains extremely popular.  Admittedly, there’s no better way to control the content.  We can say what we need to say without interruption. But from the student’s perspective, it’s the perfect format for disengagement and it is often hard to stay interested and attentive.
Teachers in the primary grades do a lot of lecturing too, sprinkled with a few questions that require one-word response.  But the times, they are a-changin’.  Teachers are continually looking for new tools for their instructional toolboxes.  Cooperative learning, literature circles, jigsaws, think-pair-share are all examples of ways to students to become engaged with the content.  Message boards, online forums, and other social networking media provide a place for teachers to share what works for them.
In a structured online professional development community, educators can read the latest research, try out a new idea or two, and report back to their professional colleagues.  Teachers learn to actively reflect upon their own pedagogy, something that most teachers have little time for.  Within this sort of collaborative culture, where a shared culture, shared students, and a shared mission are all factors, we can come much closer to offer support to a teacher who says, “I’ve got this kid who….” 
Take a look at how an online PLC can support the development of engaging, creative instructional strategies that address the unique learning needs of all students in inclusive environments.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Inclusion First Steps

Ask the Related Arts teachers how many inservice trainings actually apply to them.  Probably, the answer is “almost none.” Then ask them about inclusion.  Chances are you’ll find that when students with disabilities are first included in a general education setting, they start in Art, Music, or Physical Education, where the curricular demands may be considered by many to be less stringent or challenging.
Related Arts teachers often have novel and creative ways to minimize a child’s disability and build on her strengths.  They are good at making changes on the fly to include everyone in the activity.  We could learn a lot about inclusion from them.  But research shows that we rarely seek out their expertise.
This group of staff has unique learning needs.  That’s why PLC Consultants developed an online learning community just for them.  Not only can they showcase what works, they can ask questions and learn about the ins and outs of Special Education and how it affects them directly.  They can get plugged in to the latest changes in Special Education, learn about policies and procedures for identification and support, and connect with experts.
Take a look at how this module can meet the needs of this group of uniquely qualified teachers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If You Can't Graph It, It doesn't Count

To adapt a phrase by Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire, “Show me the data!”  Schools have become data-driven organizations.  We can no longer just say, “Johnny can’t read.”  We have to prove it.  And we have to clearly identify where the problems are through error analysis.  Does “can’t read” mean he can’t sound out words, doesn’t read fluently, or doesn’t understand what he read?  Is the content unfamiliar?  The reading level too high?  Is he a sight-reader?  Does he have working memory issues?  How does his inability to read play out in other subject areas?
Data can answer all of these.  But you have to know what to collect, how to collect it, how to graph it, and how to interpret it.  Should I use frequency data, latency, interval?  How many data points do I need to identify a trend?  And who has time to do all that? 
In the era of Responsiveness to Intervention, Child Study Teams, and clearly defined accountability standards for kids with disabilities, we have no choice but to use data to make sound educational decisions.  Looking at grades, test scores, and work samples won’t cut it.  Unfortunately, most of us are pretty uncomfortable with data collection and statistical analyses.

You don’t need a degree in Statistics to use data to your advantage.  Take a look at the online learning module offered by PLC Consultants.  It could be just what you or staff needs to take the guesswork out of data.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Assistive Technology

Therapists of all kinds in school settings “get” Assistive Technology (AT). Occupational therapists use adapted toys and modify school tools like scissors, pencils and crayons.  Special grips, braces, and weights help kids be more successful with school tasks.  Behavioral therapists employ weighted vests, soft brushes or squishy balls to soothe anxious or distracted kids.  Speech/language pathologists use switches, communication boards, and computers to support the communication needs of kids with disabilities.  Physical therapists’ vans are loaded with walkers, standers, chair wedges, and equipment that support large muscles for mobility and stability.

Assistive Technology makes advances every day.  It’s hard to keep up.  And if you’re a classroom teacher, knowing how to match the right tool for the right task to the right student, the challenges are compounded.  Most teachers use some form of AT without even realizing it.  Those colored overlays you use for struggling readers:  AT.  That large-print book for the kid with glasses:  AT.  The spell-checker that you provided to the kid finds editing more trouble than it’s worth:  AT.
With so many options available, it’s hard to know what tool, system, or program is best.  But there are several really good formats to guide you and the educational team through the process of selecting the right form of AT.  We have to take prerequisite skills, parent wishes, learning goals, budgets, and most importantly, the student’s needs and abilities into account. 

Chances are good your staff would benefit from a PLC about Assistive Technology.  Take a look at the online learning module offered by PLC Consultants.  It can put a spotlight on real answers to real problems with real kids. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In Praise of ParaPros

Who couldn’t use an extra pair of hands? Paraprofessionals provide much-needed hands, eyes, and ears in our schools.  But teachers and parapros alike are often challenged by making the most of the unique skill sets parapros bring to the table.  And just as often, paraprofessional support staff doesn’t have the training they need and have asked for to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. 
Whether you call them parapros, instructional assistants, academic aides, or follow-alongs, these folks with hearts for kids have lots of questions.  What am I legally allowed to do?  Grade papers?  Give tests?  Provide direct instruction?  Am I allowed to offer my input for IEP writing?  What about handling discipline?  May I attend parent conferences?  What are my legal obligations?  And where does my responsibility end?  Parapros and the teachers who love them have lots of questions.
Beyond all of the above is the whole question of “how?”  Most paraprofessionals are licensed by their state Departments of Education, but have had virtually no training in instructional strategies, behavioral methodologies, reinforcement schedules, error correction strategies, or classroom management.  And rarely have they received any focused training in specific academic areas or methods.

It’s a lot to ask of one person.  Module 7: Maximizing Professional Potential gives both teachers and paraprofessionals support in defining roles, delivering service, and supporting the academic and behavioral needs of students with disabilities.  Take a look at how this module can make your parapros even more valuable to students.

Monday, May 28, 2012

It Takes a Village

 We talk about the idea of “community” often in education.  But what is that really?  The word “community” has its roots in Latin (communitas) and is defined as a social group of any size who share common goals and values.  Educators create a feeling of community within their classrooms by having their students develop the ground rules for the group.  Community fits in nicely with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  A sense of belonging to the group is closely tied to self-confidence, achievement, and mutual respect.   But “community” within Special Education doesn’t stop there.
Just like everyone else, students with disabilities are parts of several different communities. And because of these students’ very existence, more communities are created.  Where it is more important to have a sense of community than at an IEP meeting?  Where it is more important to share goals, values, mutual respect, and celebrate achievement than with the families of children with disabilities? 
As educators, we’re pretty good at creating a sense of belonging with our students.  But with our families, it’s much harder.  Finding common ground, sharing agreed-upon expectations, and demonstrating mutual respect is no simple thing.  Compound the variables with the diversity of cultures in our schools and we find that creating community gets harder.
Module 6: Developing Community provides an opportunity for education team members to develop and discuss creative ways to engage parents, value the contributions of all team members, and work toward consensus and mutual support.  It’s not easy; but it’s absolutely worth it.  Take a look at how PLC Consultants supports these efforts through its own online professional learning community.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Inclusive Classroom

Most everybody agrees with the idea of inclusion, but not everyone agrees on what inclusion looks like or how it’s implemented.  Research bears this out: most teachers believe inclusion is a good thing for students with disabilities; AND most teachers feel they lack the skills, support, or materials to make inclusion work in their classroom.
Many of us point to what we cannot change: staffing levels, equipment availability, improved facilities (“if only we had more fill in the blank”).  So we’re forced to think creatively in order to get kids with disabilities actively involved in the learning.  That likely means we need to change things up.  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) constructs suggest that we can change three things: (1) how we turn students on to the learning (engagement and motivation); (2) how we present the information (instruction); and (3) how students show what they know (expression).
But that’s not always easy.  Some of us thrive in a classroom of “controlled chaos” where students are participating in a variety of activities simultaneously.  Others prefer what appears to be a more structured approach.  If we are to include children with disabilities in our classroom and we are expecting them to do more than just be a physical presence, we need to stretch our imaginations and our boundaries. And maybe we need to be willing to take risks, fail, and try again.

Developing a truly inclusive classroom is hard work.  But others have done it successfully and we can too.  There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when we have our collective expertise and creativity to rely on and to share.  PLC Consultants’ Module 5: The Inclusive Classroom provides the vehicle for ongoing, meaningful, and productive collaboration in a secure environment where sharing successes AND failures are an important part of the learning process.  Take a look.