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.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Writing a cogent, comprehensive, and understandable IEP is tough.  Even with a standardized format, goal banks, and computerized writing tools, writing an IEP can daunting for even long-experienced folks.  Sandwiched between basic information on the first page and everyone’s signatures on the back page are the student’s profile and his specially designed goals and objectives. 
Most departments of education and most school districts get pretty nit-picky about goal-writing.  Each goal needs to identify several components:  (1) who (2) will do what (3) to what degree (4) under what conditions (5) for how long?  And (6) how will you know? To confound goal-writing even more, we have to make sure our goals are SMART; that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  And let’s not forget that the goals have to be tied to the curriculum standards.
If you, your colleagues, or your staff suffers from some level of IEP-Writing Phobia, or you just want to develop more confidence and competence in writing defensible IEPs, PLC Consultants offers a learning module where real practice leads to real results through online support and collaborative learning.  Take a look.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The IEP Chore

IEPs are time-consuming and a chore to write.  We second-guess ourselves: Should this be worded differently? Is the profile going to pass my Special Ed Director’s critical eye? Where am I supposed to put sensitive information?  Do all my dates line up so that I’m in compliance with all the state and federal mandates? Who will visit me in IEP jail?
The writers of the IEP aren’t the only ones who worry. The readers and implementers fret about what they are (being) committed to, how they have to collect data, and under what circumstances things can change.  Knowing that the IEP is a legally-binding document between the school and the family doesn’t make the whole process any less stressful.
Of particular concern for regular classroom teachers is their role.  As educational team members, they should be providing for information about what goes into the education plan, but often they nod in silent agreement, deferring to the special ed teacher.  That’s understandable, but it makes it hard for the teacher to feel invested in the process or the outcomes. 
Within the IEP itself, we are forced to ask ourselves hard questions. What kinds of supports, accommodations, or modifications are necessary and for what purpose? Have we considered the need for any assistive technology?  We are going to struggle with the answers if we aren’t sure exactly what the differences are among all of these terms.  That, in turn, erodes our confidence and makes us want to  say, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”  Unfortunately, that’s not how the process works.
If you are one of the many teachers or administrators who aren’t sure about all this IEP writing stuff and what it means to be committed to the plan, take a look at Module 3: IEP Boot Camp I.  You’ll find opportunities to share your anxieties AND your expertise through this online professional learning community.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Basic Training

There’s really nothing “basic” about special education.  And it’s just as tough to use the words “typical” or  “usually.”  Every kid is different.  Each student, whether or not he has an identified disability, comes to us with different “inputs:” home environment, background experiences, cultural considerations, personal value and belief systems.  Things we can do nothing about.  So, we change and implement what we can to support each student’s unique needs.  And that’s really what’s “basic” about Special Education. 
Within the labyrinth that is Special Education, IDEA recognizes thirteen disability categories.  Some of those categories are subdivided into more specific diagnoses.  Take the category of Specific Learning Disability, for example.  A “learning disability” can fall into 8 subcategories, such as Reading Comprehension or Listening Skills or Math Calculation.  Confused yet?  Just wait! 
Besides the variety of possible labels, we are required to provide a “continuum” of educational service delivery models.  Some kids with severe disabilities rarely have the opportunity to be with “normal” kids their age at school.  There are other kids who require minimal supports and spend their entire school day in their regular classroom with their friends.  A lot of kids have their educational needs met somewhere in the middle. 
On top of all of these variables, we have the educational team, which looks different for every kid in Special Education.  It’s hard to always know where we as educators are supposed to fit in the team scheme.  If all of this Special Ed stuff is a struggle that you or your colleagues face, Module 2: “Special Education Basics,” can provide clarification and support through online learning and collaboration.  Take a look.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Big Boat

Inclusion isn’t easy.  And it isn’t new.  And it isn’t going away.  IDEA makes clear that the default placement for all children is the general education classroom and there’d better be solid, documented reasons for doing anything different.  Schools and teachers have been trying to make inclusion work for decades.   But high caseloads, scheduling nightmares, and lack of confidence in general educators’ abilities in working with kids with special needs present barriers to success.
Study after study shows that when teachers are armed with knowledge about Special Education, they demonstrate greater confidence, competence, and comfort in teaching students with disabilities.  But what kind of information do they need?  Well, for starters, there’s Special Ed Alphabet Soup.  All teachers need to have a working knowledge about ETRs, IEPs, RtI, UDL, OTs, PTs, SLPs, AT, ASD, LD, OHI, AD/HD, OCD, SED…you get the idea.

Secondly, we need to know our role in developing and implementing educational plans for students with disabilities.  The classroom teacher isn’t off the hook because a student has an IEP.  As a matter of fact, general educators have a legal obligation to understand and implement the supports that are written in this legally binding document.  So if Steven needs large print in order to access the curriculum or a way to demonstrate his learning other than a written test, these needs must be supported throughout this school day in every area, not just when he’s with the resource teacher.
We need each other to accomplish everything the IEP proscribes. We need the expertise of our special education teachers who understand how to individualize instruction; we need our general educators’ knowledge of curricular demands; we need paraprofessionals who have a clearly defined support role; we need support at the administrative level that encourages and facilitates collaboration.
Inclusion says: “We’re all in this together.”  Take a look at how PLC Consultants helps educators across the curricular spectrum make sense of inclusion.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Watch this Space

Those of us in education, and in Special Education specifically, are faced with several realities:
·        Schools are under intense pressure and scrutiny to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities.
·        Parents of children with disabilities are taking a more active and vocal role in their children’s education than ever before.
·        Technology has changed, and will continue to evolve, in the ways we educate students with disabilities.
·        In political, educational, and policy-making circles, inclusion is desired and expected, regardless of the cost, challenges, or resistance by others.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll introduce how creating an online learning community within a building, district, or across districts can address some of these realities.  We already know that online learning is often the preferred format for adult learners who want more control of their "leisure" time.  And the interpersonal, collaborative relationships forged through an online community can facilitate real, incremental change that positively supports all learners, regardless of ability of disability.

So join me in the next few weeks as we highlight what PLC Consultants does best: support educators in their desire to improve learner outcomes for all.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

~ The Smiling Moon~

Too often we have seen a child's disability or diagnosis used as an excuse for his/her behavior. Mike Kersjes held his students with disabilities accountable for their behaviors as they competed against students identified as gifted and talented at NASA Space Camp in Hunstville, Alabama; probably for the first time in their lives.He details the challenges and triumphs in his book Smile as Big as the Moon, which has been made into a motion picture for ABC Family. It is amazing what high expectations can do for children  - their confidence, their achievements, their social relationships, and their goals.
I have taught many Teacher Preparation Courses where I used his book as a required text for participation in literature circles throughout the semester. The undergraduate students truly connected with the story , the teachers, the students with disabilities, the high school peers, and Mike. I was fortunate that Mike spent 3 days on campus for me - where he shared his inspirational, motivational story with the undergraduates, with students at a neighboring high school, and faculty members. He touched so many pre-service teachers those days; ones who truly want to make the same kind of positive difference in the lives of students with disabilities. He is a phenomenal speaker!!! Many students chose to attend his presentation more than once and wanted to meet with him one-on-one. They were beyond impressed with him, he is enthusiastic, charismatic, down-to-Earth, a 'real' person who walks the walk.

This story is truly multifaceted and can be the springboard for professional dialogues on education, collegial relationships, goal creation, plan development and implementation, academic curriculum development, thematic teaching, creating classroom community, diplomacy, teaching math and science to children with disabilities, family and community relationships, peer relationships and the general trials and tribulations of being a special education teacher.

One of my students created this video montage for her final project : 
I was pleasantly surprised,as this is one small example of how a college freshmen interpreted the text.

Smile as Big as the Moon is a great starting point for staff professional development; all teachers regardless of specialization teach children with disabilities - this is just one interactive, engaging way to start those sometimes difficult conversations about inclusive practices.

I do hope you have an opportunity to read the book, if not, at least see the film - you will be touched and inspired to do great things for children, and for yourself.

It’s a Great Day!