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.