Showing posts by Cory Armes Show all posts >
I remember the early years with my children and the dreams I had for their success. Of course, my dreams and theirs didn’t exactly end up being the same. But what happens when a mother realizes that her dreams for her child may be shattered because that child struggles with auditory processing issues, dyslexia, or other challenges never imagined? That’s exactly what Irene experienced with her daughter, Maria.
Attending school proved difficult for Maria. As she advanced from grade to grade and the work became progressively more difficult, anything presented in auditory form was especially challenging. By sixth grade, Maria had been diagnosed with dyslexia and Auditory Processing Disorder and was labeled with a language impairment.
For obvious reasons, Maria struggled in school. Because of this, she was shy around other students, avoided reading, and required extensive help at home. Her family considered sending her to a private school, but Maria was unable to pass the entrance exams.
By the middle of sixth grade, Maria had attended several different schools and the last was a disaster. It was then that one of her mother’s friends suggested Bridges Academy, a private school that specializes in serving students with learning challenges. Upon enrollment, Maria’s life began to turn in a new direction. When she got into her mother’s car after school she often said, “Mom, they understand me here!”
At Bridges Academy, Maria’s dyslexia and auditory processing issues were analyzed further and the Fast ForWord program was recommended in addition to Maria’s coursework and intervention regimen. Jacky Egli, the Director at Bridges Academy, explained to Maria’s mother that she personally researched every program thoroughly and only used programs that were scientifically based. Irene trusted Jacky and felt it was important to follow her recommendation, so Maria gave Fast ForWord a try.
Maria’s reading level was at least three to four years below grade level when she entered Bridges. She also had struggled in other subjects, because every subject—even math—requires reading. But that soon began to change and, in time, Maria made significant improvements. Maria’s comprehension level increased more than two full grade levels last year. This improvement aligned with her participation in the Fast ForWord Reading and Reading Assistant programs. Over the last 6 years, despite the odds, Maria improved on the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test 7.3 grade levels. Because of this significant improvement, she no longer receives remedial instruction.
Irene sought the best for her daughter and found it in the caring attitude of the staff at Bridges Academy and the innovative programs they use to make a difference for struggling students. “Jacky walks the walk and talks the talk of the school’s mission,” says Irene.
Maria has transformed from a shy, struggling child to a vibrant, engaged student who participates in class, reads aloud to her peers and conducts presentations for content area classes in front of her classmates. She is an ambassador for the school who greets and escorts new students and parents through the campus as she participates in open house and school events.
And, most exciting of all, Maria has been accepted into a local college and is thrilled about rising to meet a challenge and a future that once seemed entirely out of reach.
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A few weeks ago, a commercial came on TV that immediately caught both my husband’s and my attention. A young boy walked to home plate of a baseball field with a bat and ball and repeatedly threw the ball in the air and then tried to hit it with the bat. Before each attempt to hit the ball, he would yell, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” He tried a couple of times with no success so he paused to rethink his strategy, adjusted his ball cap, gave his “greatest” yell and tried again. When he had the same result, he stood there dejectedly for a moment then suddenly looked up, a new thought dawning, and with big grin yelled, “Wow, I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”
What a great optimistic attitude! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of our students were willing to try and try again and, if their efforts still didn’t work, change their tactics to find success? Unfortunately, with many students we don’t see that attitude of perseverance because they have had years of being unsuccessful and have become disengaged in what was happening in school. I wonder how often this is related to a classroom disconnect with their cognitive learning styles.
Recently, Sherrelle Walker had a post on introverted students in the classroom. This blog talked about the importance of understanding the outlook of introverted students and maximizing their strengths. By using a student-centered approach, teachers can incorporate activities that “speak” to various learning styles to ensure that each student will have his or her best opportunity for learning. As Sherrelle mentioned, some students thrive on group activities while those can be a nightmare for students who don’t really learn effectively while working with others. Finding a way to consider all of our students’ cognitive learning needs and then using activities to help all students engage in the learning process consistently is what the student-centered classroom is all about.
The teacher in the student-centered classroom is a learning guide who manages the activities and directs student learning but who does this through activities that require students to engage is a variety of ways – perhaps working in groups, teaming in pairs or focusing independently at different times. By varying these strategies, and considering the learning styles of each student, we can maximize their learning potential.
For example, some students may need to touch things or use manipulatives in order to solve problems or understand a process while others may prefer to brainstorm or experiment with different methods to find a workable solution. Neither one is right or wrong; they are just different ways to solve a problem. It is important for both teachers and students to learn their cognitive learning styles – how they take in information and then make decisions based on that information. You may have some students who are more sensory so need clear instructions and examples and who like to practice with a hands-on approach. Other students are more intuitive and want to make connections and play out their own hunches rather than practicing tasks repeatedly. How teachers provide instruction and feedback (do they need more direct instruction or just a few probing questions?) can help these students get the most from their classroom learning time.
So, what can we, as teachers, do to develop a classroom that enhances all student learning? First, we need to do some research – seek information about different types of cognitive learning styles and what activities best engage different types of learners. Then we can shift the focus of our teaching strategies to help students become actively engaged in their own learning process rather than waiting for us to “feed” information to them. It may require some different planning and methodology on our part but is well worth the effort.
Who knows? With newly energized teaching strategies and a new-found love of learning in our students, we each might develop our own “I’m the greatest” yell!
For Further Reading:
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In a previous post I discussed some benefits of blended learning. Now I’d like to share how those benefits might be achieved within a hypothetical blended learning “classroom” using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs together in addition to a core curriculum and other technology.
The Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs are adaptive, technology-based tools that allow each student to receive differentiated instruction and progress at their own pace. While much of the work can be done independently, teachers play a critical role in reinforcing the concepts covered in the programs and intervening when students have difficulties.
With these programs:
The internet allows us to learn and experience the world in a new way and blended learning can help make the most of it for a generation of students for whom technology is a way of life. Technology isn’t replacing teachers but it certainly can enhance both learning and teaching opportunities and effectiveness.
[i] Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. http://www.nationalreadingpanel.org/Publications/summary.htm. June 21, 2012.
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In the blended learning approach, a student’s day typically includes a combination of online learning and small group instruction time with teachers. This learning model shifts the classroom teacher’s focus away from more traditional curricular and administrative tasks in the direction of working with data and providing more individualized support to students. Because the focus in this model has shifted from planning lessons and delivering content to being a facilitator of student learning, the classroom teacher’s role can expand in challenging and stimulating ways.
Rather than follow the traditional roles of sharing content and grading papers, classroom teachers in the blended learning model must:
Be willing to learn
In a blended learning program, the teacher should be prepared to:
To help teachers learn their new roles and to understand online learning, many blended learning programs require that the teachers take an online class themselves as part of the required professional development. Having an experienced blended learning mentor as a guide and participating in training on the data management system also is important. With proper professional development, a “traditional” teacher can develop the data-analysis skills needed to get the most out of the blended learning model.
Be open to new teaching strategies
The blended learning teacher should:
While blended learning instructors still need to be able to maximize learning time and manage a classroom effectively, they have more individual time with students and can give them the attention and support they need.
To help guide students in a blended learning environment, teachers should:
The blended learning instructor helps students move beyond simply “regurgitating” rote responses to learning to apply content to new situations. Just as the teacher must interpret and analyze information, students need to learn to reason, integrate information and demonstrate knowledge through application.
So, what might blended learning mean to teachers? Continued growth as they modify their existing strategies to lead students to become independent learners themselves? Technology can also give teachers crucial information to understand individual needs of students to support and strengthen their learning. When teachers use good technology effectively, it provides them the power to become even greater experts in the content areas they teach.
Sir Francis Bacon said, many years ago, "Knowledge is power." So why not gain more power in your classroom by building your expertise in the use of technology?
For further reading:
Have you heard of Digital Learning Day yet? It’s happening tomorrow—February 1, 2012—and will be a celebration of the innovative use of digital technologies in education to engage students in rich learning experiences. Digital Learning Day is likely to contribute valuable insights into the projected continued expansion of digital technologies in schools throughout the US.
According to the ed tech experts, in 2012:
Given these predictions, why not check out what Digital Learning Day has to offer? Visit the Digital Learning Day website to sign up for the webcast or town hall meeting, learn about contests you and your students can enter, download toolkits (there’s a kit for just about anyone – from parents and teachers to school district and state leaders), and more. You can also search “digital learning month” to find out how your state is celebrating digital learning all February long.
And finally, be sure to subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already. Because here, nearly every day is Digital Learning Day!
See the full text of the experts’ predictions at: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2012/01/04/experts-share-their-ed-tech-predictions-for-the-new-year/
Blended learning, the combination of independent online learning with supervised brick and mortar programs, is on the rise. While there were 2.94 million students participating in a hybrid learning program in 2010, it is expected that the number will be 10.07 million by 2015.
This growth pattern surpasses homeschooling, virtual schools and online charter schools. Schools employing these methods believe that students are more engaged with a 24/7 access model and have seen improvement in both district achievement and graduation rates. It does require a culture shift that includes a strong emphasis on trust, but there are many benefits.
Through a blended learning program, educators can move beyond the “one teacher, one textbook model” of education in a host of ways, including:
The trend toward blended learning within a district often begins in a specific school or grade level. For example, some districts start using blended learning strategies with their alternative education program, as the students are monitored by teachers at the alternative school but are supported by their general education teacher’s instruction, which can be delivered virtually. Others have found it makes sense to prepare students taking AP classes by providing virtual summer reading groups that include discussions and self-assessments in pre-class learning.
As blended learning takes hold with the starting group, the enthusiasm often quickly spreads when teachers see the opportunities for stronger student engagement and enhanced learning. Some districts also have found it helpful to implement online professional development programs as another way to help teachers gain acceptance and make the transition to blended learning.
Teachers can build powerful learning systems over time by adding online components to their classes. Starting gradually allows teachers to learn at their own pace and gives them a better understanding of what is needed on the teacher’s side to make blended and online learning more successful for students. A simple way to begin is with a blogging program, posting stimulating questions to foster student discussion, then guiding students in ways to respond appropriately to their peers in writing. Once the initial tools and processes are mastered by teachers and students, teachers can expand the initiative by asking students to turn assignments in electronically, encouraging students to participate in discussion boards or providing online quizzes that are self-graded.
Incorporating a virtual option into their classroom model enables teachers to more easily and effectively communicate with parents, collaborate district-wide via online communities and distribute curriculum materials. When curriculum maps are loaded into the district learning platform, students, parents and teachers can see where they are in the curriculum, and where they should be, at any given point in time.
The addition of virtual learning options can also solve pacing disparities that are more difficult to address in standard classrooms, such as providing more rigorous programs and college courses (engineering and biomedical classes, etc.) for advanced students. Similarly, students in need of credit recovery can be grouped in virtual learning programs that help them catch up and move forward, rather than re-teaching in the traditional environment.
Transitioning to a blended learning model is not about spending more, but about reallocating resources, changing mindsets and creating a paradigm shift within an existing culture. Most importantly, though, it’s about doing what is right for kids. The world they live in is fast, flexible, and online, and their schools should be, too.
In my former work as a teacher, one of the best moments of the day in my classroom took place when I read aloud to my students. It was a magical time for all of us as the words on the page and the characters in the story seemed to come alive right before us as I used different voices and accents. Sometimes I read very fast and other times I created long pauses that kept my students hanging, wondering what would happen next. I wanted them to love reading as much as I did – to enjoy that excitement you feel when you solve a mystery, are saved from catastrophe, or discover a wild and wonderful new world. Sharing this gift with my students was possible only because I am a fluent reader.
In his book The Fluent Reader, Dr. Timothy Rasinski says that fluency is a critical but sometimes ignored link between the basic reading of words and achieving comprehension. With fluency, the foundational skills of phonics and word recognition have progressed to the point that only a minimal amount of cognitive energy is needed for decoding so that the reader can focus on understanding what is being read. When you are a fluent reader, you are able to read easily and efficiently with prosody, or meaningful expression, and that enhances your comprehension.
Students must have some degree of fluency in order to comprehend text, so if you have students who easily understand what is read to them but have difficulty when reading independently, fluency may be the source of that problem. A study of fourth graders sponsored by the US Department of Education demonstrated that the most fluent readers had the strongest comprehension scores. In addition, every decline in oral reading fluency in the study had a corresponding decline in reading comprehension.[i] The study was replicated ten years later with about 1,500 students and had similar results.[ii] In both studies, close to half of the students who were not adequately fluent in reading also demonstrated significant problems with comprehension.
Practice is essential to learning and mastering any skill – sports, music, cooking, etc. - so it makes sense that this also would apply to the skill of reading. By including consistent oral reading practice during the school day, the reading process becomes transparent so it can be observed, examined and supported until students become independent readers. Readers must transition from being tied to the individual words so they can achieve higher levels of comprehension as they read. A great way to encourage this is through repeated oral practice of the same reading selection, which helps students with word recognition, fluency and prosody as well as general reading and comprehension.
There is something special about reading aloud regardless of who does the reading. Oral reading is a powerful tool that can help students not only learn to read fluently but also to experience the joy of reading.
The transition from rote to rapture - that’s what fluency can do for you.
Want to learn more? Check out Dr. Rasinski’s free on-demand webinar on scilearn.com, Teaching Fluency: The Neglected Goal of the Reading Program.
[i] Gay S. Pinnell et al. Listening to Children Read Aloud: Data From NAEP’s Integrated Reading Performance Record (IRPR) at Grade 4, 1995. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/permalinkPopup.jsp?accno=ED378550
[ii]Mary C. Daane, Jay R. Campbell, Wendy S. Grigg, Madeline J. Goodman, and Andreas Oranje. Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading, October 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006469.asp
Sometimes, I feel as if I have been doing homework my entire life. As a child growing up, I moved from worksheets, dioramas and book reports to essays, major projects and term papers. When I began teaching, I had lessons to prepare and my students’ homework became my homework for grading. (And, on occasion, it was quite obvious that I was putting a bit more effort into MY homework than they put into theirs!) As my children reached school age, “Mom’s rules” on homework included: homework comes first, don’t wait until the last minute on a project, etc. But somehow their homework still bled over into my life…
So, how important is this icon of education? Is homework helpful or harmful? Is it something that, as many students claim, just eats up their time and energy for no real purpose? Do we, as educators, need new practices that move away from homework or are we simply afraid to change, stuck on those famous eight words, “But, we’ve never done it that way before…”?
In support of the view of homework as helpful, many educators stress that specifically aligning homework to the learning task is part of the strategy for building understanding. The website Focus on Effectiveness cites several studies showing that in elementary school, homework helps build learning and study habits (Cooper, 1989; Cooper, Lindsay, Nye, & Greathouse, 1998; Gorges & Elliot, 1999). Also noted is the point that 30 minutes of daily homework in high school can increase a student’s GPA up to half a point (Keith 1992). Many students need time and experience to develop the study habits that support learning, and homework can provide that as well as the ability to cope with mistakes and difficulty (Bempechat, 2004). Those teachers who take the time to add instructive comments to their feedback to homework get the greatest return on their efforts in after-school work. (Walberg, 1999).
But what about the students who are doing it wrong and then have to “unlearn” incorrect information? When considering the view that homework is harmful, author and speaker Alfie Kohn states that there is no real evidence showing homework to be beneficial to elementary students. In an EdWeek article, he writes that he found no correlation between homework and improved standardized assessment scores. Regarding secondary students, Kohn said that there is a slight correlation between homework and improved test scores and grades but there is no evidence that the improvement is because of homework rather than other activities. Stating that there is no proof that homework benefits students in other ways such as good study habits, independence or self discipline, Kohn could find no disadvantage to reducing or even eliminating homework altogether but finds the homework trend continues to grow.
So, what is the answer – is homework helpful or harmful? Do we continue current practices or throw homework out altogether?
A balanced perspective most likely is the best response. Time spent on homework should align with the student’s age – a short time spent in elementary school, up to 90 minutes for middle school or junior high aged students and between 1½ and 2 ½ hours per night (not per subject!) in high school (Harris, 2006). Another suggestion is to multiply the student’s grade by ten to determine the appropriate number of minutes of homework per night (example – a fifth grader should have no more than 50 minutes of homework per night). If we want the best results, we’ll keep homework time within these time ranges with allowances made for individual needs of students and families.
Homework and Practice. (n.d.) Retrieved September 7, 2011, from http://www.netc.org/focus/strategies/home.php
Cooper, H. (2006). Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement? Retrieved September 7, 2011, from http://today.duke.edu/2006/09/homework_oped.html
Kohn, A. (2006). The Truth About Homework: Needless Assignments Persist Because of Widespread Misconceptions About Learning. Retrieved September 7, 2011, from http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/homework.htm
Recently, while driving down the street, I saw this billboard:
While that may be a bit extreme, education has been evolving to better meet the needs of today's students, since many children have not been successful with the system employed in years past. Oftentimes, the majority of these students ‘lost in the system’ were those born into poverty.
Research studies done over the last few decades on the impact of poverty on learning have established that the majority of children born into low income families enter school significantly behind their more affluent peers in language1, cognitive skills (memory, attention, etc.) and noncognitive skills (patience, ability to follow directions, self confidence, etc.)2, as well as general learning experiences. Even with special programs designed to develop and strengthen these skills, the improvements typically last only as long as the programs; there is little long-term impact on academic success without ongoing effort and support systems in place.
Geoffrey Canada was a child who began life in poverty, but his situation was unique--he had an educated mother who was determined to keep her children out of the typical downward spiral of failure. Canada determined to do something that would impact children in poverty and his efforts have been chronicled in the book Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough.
Canada's target area has been central Harlem. From the start, he knew that significant changes had to be made in family practices from birth and beyond to give these children a chance at success. He believed that if he began with the final outcome he wanted to achieve, and then determined what was needed to realize that goal, he could create a process to change the cycle of poverty. With the help of many people, he has created a continuous, cohesive and comprehensive system designed to change the overall culture of the area. This neighborhood ‘safety net’ is called the Harlem Children’s Zone.
The Harlem Children’s Zone began with efforts to improve parenting skills that would help mothers and fathers work on educational skills with their infants and toddlers. Over time, additional programs have been added to provide extensive support from birth to kindergarten so these children would be prepared for school in a way that few Harlem children had ever been in the past. For children that have reached “school age”, the provision of extra time in the classroom to focus on individual needs has set the Harlem Children’s Zone apart from other well-meaning efforts. And now, the Harlem Children’s Zone model has moved beyond Harlem, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announcing last week that some of his state’s cities will begin using Canada’s community-based approach.
Children who learn critical skills at an early age are better able to master more complex skills later. The best way to escape poverty is through education, and that education must begin at birth – or before. The Harlem Children’s Zone has shown that if you provide the key skills needed to offset the disadvantages of a child’s birthplace, you may be able to remove the seemingly insurmountable obstacles seen in the cycle of poverty of the past. Truly, we all must be willing to do whatever it takes.
Paul Tough, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)
1 Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (Baltimore: P.H. Brookes, 1995).
2 James Heckman, “Lessons from the Bell Curve,” Journal of Political Economy 103, no. 5 (October 1995).
Do you know any children or adults who struggle with math? Perhaps they have difficulty with basic math skills and seem unable to understand what math process to use with which problem. Maybe they are unable to organize objects in a logical way or have difficulty with measurement of either time or money. If you know people with these types of struggles, they may have dyscalculia.
Dyscalculia, also called “number blindness” or “numerical blindness,” is a learning disability that inhibits a person's ability to use and have a proper sense of numbers. Literally meaning “bad counting,” dyscalculia is estimated to impact three to six percent of the population so is just as prevalent as dyslexia but often goes undiagnosed since those with this disability often excel in reading and other subject areas.
Many people believe that math can be a difficult subject to teach or that some students just don’t “get it”. But for those who truly have dyscalculia, it is not about how the subject is taught; it is a lack of number sense. Two main areas of weakness may contribute to this learning disability: visual-spatial issues and language processing difficulties. With visual-spatial weaknesses, the learner has a problem processing what the eye sees so he or she may have difficulty visualizing patterns or parts of a math problem. Making sense of what the ear hears is the issue with language processing weakness which leads to a hard time grasping math vocabulary and building on math knowledge since there is a difficulty in understanding what the words represent.
Identification of any learning disability requires a trained professional who can evaluate a student to determine areas of strengths and weaknesses in learning. An in-depth assessment compares what the student’s expected level of performance is to what he or she actually can do in areas of mathematical skill and understanding. It also is helpful for at least an overview of this information to be shared with the student (especially the strengths) since knowing how you learn best is a good way to help students learn to compensate for difficulties and to build academic success and confidence.
So what can be done for those who have dyscalculia? The first step is for parents, teachers and other educational specialists to use the evaluation results to develop strategies to address the student’s math skills. Some will benefit from additional tutoring that adjusts the learning pace and focuses on specific areas of difficulty with repeated reinforcement of key skills. For those with visual-spatial weaknesses, using graph paper can be helpful for organizing ideas and for those with language processing issues, clear explanations and frequent checks for understanding are important. And, as with most students with learning disabilities, having all of the needed materials and working in a place with limited distractions is always a good idea!
As with any learning disability, the earlier that the dyscalculia can be identified and remediated, the greater the chance that your child will stay on track or stay motivated to catch up. Talking with your child’s teacher is the best place to start so make that call or, if the teacher has contacted you, be open to their concerns. As your child’s advocate, you can help make the difference in gaining access to the right resources to help your child work through learning challenges and achieve academic success.
Want more information on dyscalculia? Here are some online resources: