Best of 2015 Webinars

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 08:00
  • Carrie Gajowski

Stay on top of your game with free PD webinars

Summertime is here! It’s time to kick back, relax, and enjoy some quiet time before the craziness of back-to-school is upon us. We hope you're taking some time to lounge by the pool! And while you're there, you can fit in some quick professional development time. Join the 10,000 other educators who signed up to learn the latest research on comprehension, fluency, ELLs and much more! Sit back, grab a lemonade and check out our “Best of 2015” recorded webinars. Enjoy!

The Role of Automaticity in Reading

Presenter: Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D.
Length: 40 minutes

Reading fluency is often defined in terms of reading speed. This has resulted in the unfortunate classroom practice of "timed reads" where students are encouraged to read as fast as they can within a given period of time. Rather than speed, the more appropriate goal for fluency instruction is automaticity in word recognition. In this webinar Dr. Tim Rasinski will explore the nature of automaticity and why it is so important for reading - not just fluency, but also comprehension. He will share engaging and authentic instructional approaches for developing this critical competency for reading.

Build the ELL Brain

Presenter: Martha S. Burns, Ph.D.
Length: 45 minutes

Despite educators’ best efforts to teach students English as quickly as possible, many never develop academic English fluency. Join Dr. Martha Burns as she reviews the newest research on the ELL brain, the advantages of true bilingualism, and how effective technological adjuncts can build the English brain, quickly, moving ELL students to proficiency.

Autism: New Research & Interventions

Presenter: Martha S. Burns, Ph.D.
Length: 45 minutes

New research on the underlying neurology of autism is exploding as is information on the most effective interventions available to drive positive neurological changes in children on the autism spectrum. Join Dr. Martha Burns as she discusses the new research and shares data on neuroscience-based interventions that have been shown to enhance language, attention, and social skills in children on the autism spectrum. 

Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader

Presenter: Martha S. Burns, Ph.D.
Length: 45 minutes

While home environment, access to books, and social and economic factors all play a part in literacy development, brain differences also play a crucial role. Join us to learn what's different about the brains of those students who struggle to read and what you can do about it in your classroom, school or district.

 

4 New Research Findings About Autism

Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 08:00
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

Autism AwarenessWith approximately 1 in 68 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States, millions of families are looking for research progress in this area. For Autism Awareness Month, we’ve compiled 4 of the latest research findings.

1.  Autism is in the Genes

One of the most exciting recent developments in ASD research stems from large, genome-wide studies that have identified genes and genetic mutations that may contribute to ASD. Two such studies have uncovered 60 genes that have a greater than 90 percent chance of contributing to ASD among 500 or more genes associated with ASDs overall  [Ronemus et al, (2014) Nature Reviews Genetics 15, 133-141].  More investigation is needed to dig deeper into the roles of these genes and how they affect the developing brain, but those data are emerging.

For example, a recent review of the genetic research published by Michael Ronemus and his colleagues has specified de novo mutations (that is, new mutations) in 12 genes that show strong causality of ASDs among boys.  In another recent study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, the authors reported on the impact of the gene CNTNAP2 on brain function. CNTNAP2 is associated with ASD and has been implicated in impaired language and thinking abilities. Scientists performed functional magnetic resonance imaging scans to compare brain function in carriers and noncarriers of the genetic risk factor. The study demonstrated that the nonrisk group had significantly lower activity in the medial prefrontal cortex during a task requiring processing of reward information. Additionally, there was increased and more diffuse functional brain connectivity in carriers of the genetic risk factor. Although higher connectivity may seem like a good thing, it may actually reflect an inefficient, immature profile of brain functioning. New research just published this month identified a gene that is very important to the development of neurons in utero, CCNND2, associated with ASD in girls found in families in which two or more females are diagnosed with ASDs. [Turner et al., (2015) Loss of δ-Catenin Function in Severe Autism. Nature 520, 51-54)].

2.  Problematic Brain Pruning May Contribute to ASD

To understand exactly how these genetic mutations affect brain maturation, neuroscientists are also investigating what happens differently in the brains of children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  From this perspective, researchers have begun investigating how the process of brain cell pruning may go awry in children with ASD. Pruning is the process by which a brain weeds out unimportant connections and strengthens the important ones, based on experience. In a recent report published in Neuron, the scientists reported that ASD may be associated with higher levels of a molecule that may impair the ability of brain cells to get rid of dysfunctional cell components.

3.  White Matter Fiber Tracts Differ in Children with ASD

Another area of investigation of brain differences in children with ASDs has investigated white matter tracts,  the superhighways of the brain  that allow efficient information transfer between brain regions. Scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill studied the development of white matter tracts in infants who later went on to be diagnosed with ASD. They found that at 6 months of age, infants with ASD had higher fractional anisotropy (FA) in key white matter tracts. FA is a measure of the directionality of white matter fibers, with higher FA signaling better microstructural organization. However, those infants with ASD had a slower change in FA over time, such that they had much lower microstructural organization by 2 years of age. This suggests that the trajectory of white matter development may be abnormal even a few months following birth in those who go on to receive an ASD diagnosis. In simple terms, the superhighways of the brain are not working as efficiently in children with ASD as they are for typically developing children. 

4.  Early Intervention Helps!

Scientists using the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), a behavioral intervention, previously showed that this treatment significantly improved IQ and language abilities in toddlers with ASD. Researchers also investigated whether the intervention changes brain functioning. They used electroencephalography to assess electrical activity in the brain during a task involving looking at faces versus objects.  Children who completed the ESDM intervention had faster neural response and higher cortical activation when looking at faces compared to objects. Those who received treatment as usual (a common community intervention) showed the opposite pattern.  Additionally, higher cortical activation during face-viewing was associated with better social behavior. This suggests that the ESDM intervention may cultivate brain changes that result in higher IQ, language abilities and social behaviors.

Together, these exciting findings highlight the excellent work that is being done by scientists around the world to combat autism. From understanding the impact of individual molecules on brain cell structure to constructing more effective interventions, researchers continue to answer important questions about autism and give loved ones hope for the future of ASD care.

Further Reading:

Loss of mTOR-Dependent Macroautophagy Causes Autistic-like Synaptic Pruning Deficits

Early Behavioral Intervention Is Associated With Normalized Brain Activity in Young Children With Autism

Dozens of Genes Associated with Autism in New Research

Altered Functional Connectivity in Frontal Lobe Circuits Is Associated with Variation in the Autism Risk Gene CNTNAP2

Differences in white matter fiber tract development present from 6 to 24 months in infants with autism

The role of de novo mutations in the genetics of autism spectrum disorders

Related Reading:

Understanding Autism in Children

Ben's Story:  Intensive Intervention Helps a Young Boy on the Autism Spectrum Succeed

 

Educating ELLs: 4 Trends for 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 - 08:00
  • Kimberly Dill
2015 ELL TrendsSay hello to a brand new year, and along with it, new directions in educating the nation’s English learners. As districts wrestle with the need to increase rigor for learners at all levels of language proficiency, we’re bound to see changes in the way ELLs are educated. Trends we can expect to see this year include:
 
1)      Deeper Learning with Original Texts
 
The Common Core standards require all learners to engage in a significant way with the texts they read. Previously, teachers might have assigned English learners simplified versions of standard grade-level texts or explained texts to learners before giving them a chance to make their own discoveries. Now these learners are more likely to read the same texts as their English-proficient classmates – with additional guidance along the way. While diving head-on into original texts such as the Gettysburg Address, ELLs’ understanding of the text may be bolstered by guided reading questions, group activities, historical primers, teacher-led discussions, and other supports, allowing for rigorous engagement at grade level while lessening academic risk.
 
2)     Widening the Circle of Responsibility
 
Content teachers everywhere are finding they need more support in order to meet the high expectations of the Common Core while working with language-diverse groups of students. Schools have begun to experiment with solutions ranging from co-teaching to requiring all teachers to receive training in how to teach ELLs. It’s too soon to know if the trend will skew toward greater teacher collaboration or increased qualifications for content teachers, but the bleeding of “language-learning” into content courses is certain to shift the role of ELL teachers and fundamentally blur traditional boundaries of responsibility. 
 
3)     Reevaluating Instructional Materials
 
More English learners will finally be getting instructional materials designed with their particular needs in mind and validated by experts. These materials will match the high expectations established by the Common Core – delivering grade-level content and appropriate challenge in language development – and be explicitly correlated with the standards.
 
4)     Rethinking Instructional Practices 
 
Districts will be looking at instructional practices to determine what works best for ELLs and establishing guidelines to ensure that ELLs receive receive high-quality instruction. In addition to new instructional materials, changes may include the addition of coaches to support students, increased opportunities for extended learning, evidence-based supplemental support, or quality professional development offerings.

 

Related Reading:

As Classrooms Become More Diverse, How Do We Help All Students Grow?

Top 10 Tips for Working With ELL Students

 

 

10 Trends to Watch in Special Education in 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 08:00
  • Will J. Gordillo

2105 Special Ed TrendsTop 10 Trends in Special Education

With the New Year upon us, it’s time for special education leaders and practitioners to reflect and develop a plan that takes into consideration the changing landscape of special education and the impact these changes may have on current and future practices. Here are 10 trends that you should continue to keep your eyes on as you develop your strategic plan of action in 2015:

  1. Redefining, Rethinking, Redesigning and Reinventing Special Education – The majority of students with disabilities are now served in general education as we embrace inclusive practices in our schools. There will be continued conversations regarding the students we serve, and how and where we best serve them as we continue to reflect on the question, “What is special about special education?” There is now a stronger call for special education to step up and improve efficiency, implement evidence-based practices, and provide greater accountability on key performance indicators that support successful academic and post-school outcomes for students with disabilities. This shift gained impetus with the 2001 publication Rethinking Special Education for a New Century by Chester E. Finn, Andrew J. Rotherham, and Charles R. Hokanson Jr., which envisioned changes for the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Later, the Fordham Institute for Advancing Educational Excellence’s publication of Shifting Trends in Special Education by Janie Scull and Amber M. Northern escalated the conversations regarding trends in student membership by disability categories and highlighted disparities in incidence ratios and staffing patterns across the nation. This was followed by another publication from the Fordham Institute, Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education by Nathan Levinson, in 2012, which looked at how districts are spending their special education dollars. Does spending more translate to better results for students with special needs? The results of this report based on the information reviewed did not confirm this hypothesis and led to recommendations for improvement that have generated a lot of discussion and diverging points of views from many professional organizations in the education community while concurrently elevating the topic of special education to the national conversations taking place on educational reform. This past year, the Office of Special Education Programs announced a paradigm shift towards Results-Driven Accountability (RDA) with a rationale of focusing on results-driven indicators to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. State Education Agencies, Local Education Agencies, and school administrators, teachers, and support personnel are beginning to understand the implications of this RDA change and are taking action to align their practices toward this shift.
  2. Providing Specially Designed Instruction Within a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) Framework – The MTSS framework has had a significant impact on addressing the needs of struggling subgroups of students, including students with disabilities served in general education settings, as evidenced by declining incidence rates for certain disability categories (e.g., learning disabilities, language impaired, emotional behavioral disabilities). There is an emerging paradigm shift toward recognizing that specially designed instruction needs to be provided within an MTSS framework in order to address individual students’ high and low needs, regardless of setting, along with guidance on what this looks like and how best to make it actionable, as reflected in examples on the Florida Problem Solving and Response to Intervention Network.
  3. Implementing Evidence-Based Practices, Interventions, and Standards-Based IEPs – The Common Core is creating greater pressure on developing individualized education programs (IEPs) to ensure that goals are written and aligned to the standards and assessments that are being developed. There will be a stronger focus on professional development for all stakeholders that is focused on developing standards-based IEPs with measurable objectives that are aligned to the Common Core and address evidence-based practices and interventions for students with IEPs while monitoring and documenting measured student progress with resources such as these, which are available for training from the California Department of Education.
  4. Technology – Technology will continue to transform special education classroom instruction by enhancing individual learning opportunities and enabling greater flexibility and personalization through the implementation of blended learning, virtual or video conferencing, the use of tablets, and web-based evidence-based practices as districts continue to create more “bring your own device” (BYOD)  policies. Special education teachers will have a greater need for exposure and training in these areas during pre-service and after employment in order to be confident facilitators of personalized learning that integrates technology into the instruction of the students on their caseloads.
  5. Coding - Learning coding will become a necessity for all students, including students with disabilities (SWDs). Following a standard course of study to remain competitive after graduation in this world where knowledge of computer science is critically essential. Even elementary school students are beginning to be instructed in the use of available coding software to make original pieces so that this skill becomes second nature to them. Students and their teachers are delving into this experience through websites such as http://code.org/.
  6. Autism – Schools and community-based organizations serving students with autism spectrum disorders will continue their focus on creating and enhancing transition options for students and emerging adults with autism. There will be a stronger push by national organizations, such as the Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks, the Dan Marino Foundation, and others supporting the development of specialized programs that prepare students for employment while concurrently advocating and escalating the dialogue on the need for housing to address the rising tide of students with autism spectrum disorders aging out of the K-12 educational system. The recently passed legislation entitled Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE) was a victory for grassroots advocacy for parents and people with disabilities. The ABLE Act will allow for savings accounts for individuals with disabilities for certain expenses, such as education, housing, and transportation, without jeopardizing certain important federal benefits, such as Social Security and Medicaid. The funds saved in these accounts, if managed correctly, can be another tool in planning for the lifetime support needs of an individual with disabilities. Families will be able to put up to $14,000 a year into an ABLE account, with a cap of $100,000. The State of Florida also passed Senate Bill 850 last year, which creates Personalized Learning Accounts that will allow parents of certain special needs students (e.g., those with Down’s Syndrome, autism, spina bifida, or other designated disabilities) to customize their children’s education by providing access to Personalized Learning Scholarship Accounts modeled on Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Parents receive an allocated amount, which they can use for private school tuition, educational therapy, private tutoring, or other educational expenses. The money rolls over from year to year and can be saved for college. Look for other or similar legislation that encourages education providers, such as private schools and tutors, to innovate and find ways to provide the same services for lower costs.
  7. Addressing the Needs of English Language Learners Who Are Also SWDs - Addressing the assessment and instructional needs of English language learners who are identified and served by Special Education will continue to move to the forefront as this group of students gains a greater presence in our schools. There will be more research needed and information available on best practices for the assessment and instruction of this subgroup. It will also be necessary to recognize the need to implement evidence-based strategies that support second language acquisition through the IEP process. There will be greater scrutiny on districts that disproportionately over-identify ELL students as SWDs and a call for action to improve overall academic gains and outcomes for students with disabilities who are also English language learners.
  8. The Growth in Charter Schools: Equity and Access for SWDs, Special-Education-Only Charter Schools, and Conversion Charters – SWDs continue to be a subgroup served in charter schools while the number of overall students enrolled in these choice settings continues to increase as referenced in the report  from the National Center for Education Statistics. There appears to be a significant discrepancy evident in the overall enrollment trends of nondisabled students served in charter schools versus SWDs that continues to be of concern. In cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago, the growth in the number of students attending charters has prompted the mass closure of public schools — either because of lower enrollment destroying the district’s budget or because of pro-charter politicians supporting the expansion of this choice option. The SWDs enrolled and served in charter schools continue to be those with mild disabilities and do not mirror the percentages or disability categories of students served in public noncharter schools. Local education agencies (LEAs) will continue the increasingly complex process of monitoring compliance of educational services and IDEA requirements of SWDs served in charter schools while ensuring there is equity and access to these choice school options for all students. The authorization of special-education-only charter schools and the conversion of existing public special education center schools to charter schools, as is currently being discussed by the Broward County Public Schools for the Wingate Oaks Center, are recent developments. This may become a new special education phenomenon to watch, thus impacting school districts that are charter schools authorizers. As parental choice options continue to move to the forefront, these are challenging and redefining the historical dialogue about free and appropriate education and serving SWDs in the least restrictive environment. Parental rights and choice within the IEP are now topics of conversation as a result of passed or proposed legislation in some states that may have a significant impact on the IEP process.
  9. Private Schools and SWDs – Proposed legislation on private school vouchers for SWDs will continue to be considered and debated in states across the nation. New legislation in this area may result in an increase in the number of private schools serving SWDs in states that authorize legislation on private school vouchers for SWDs. This may also have an unintended financial impact on school district assurances and IDEA obligations to private schools. Districts may be required to set aside a larger proportionate share of IDEA funds for eligible students with disabilities, since more may be served in private schools through these legislated vouchers. The discourse on vouchers, scholarships and personalized learning accounts continues as highlighted in this article on the website of redefinedonline.org, a divergent thinking organization with a view that is committed toward a new definition of public education.
  10. Crowdfunding – Special education teachers will continue to turn to online donors for financial support to purchase materials, equipment and supplies for their classrooms due to limited funding availability for such purchases in school budgets. Donorschoose.org is one of the major players in crowdfunding for schools. Teachers can also use other sites, such as AdoptAClassroom and Indiegogo to help fund some of the most basic unmet needs to supplement instruction for their students.

Perhaps some of these trends are already in your area and are incorporated in your daily work. If not, this may give you some points to consider on what may lie ahead for 2015 and help inspire your future work. The one thing we can all take for granted in special education is that change is a constant, but those of us who work with students with disabilities are resilient and quick to respond with meaningful action.

Related reading:

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

Are Your Special Education Practices Aligned With RDA?

 

 

The Role of Literacy in Deeper Learning

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - 08:00
  • Norene Wiesen

Deeper LearningDeeper Learning is a relatively new term for a set of educational goals that have always been prized by the best educators. Also known as 21st Century Learning, Deeper Learning values content mastery, communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, the ability to self-direct, giving and receiving feedback in a constructive manner, and a healthy academic mindset.

Real-World Connections

For academic learning to matter in the real world, students need to be able to determine what knowledge and strategies they should apply in familiar and novel situations and to recognize why they have made those choices. They need to be able to reflect on the effectiveness of their chosen approach and revise their understanding of problem and solution where warranted.

Deeper Learning typically engages students with real-world situations in ways that traditional learning might not. This real-world engagement raises the stakes where literacy skills are concerned. Students with stronger literacy skills at all grade levels will be better able to self-direct, relying less on their teachers and more on the resources available to them.

Many of the literacy skills needed for Deeper Learning also align with the Common Core, including (but by no means limited to):

Lower Elementary

  • Asking and answering questions about a text (e.g., who, what, where, etc.)
  • Retelling a story and explaining what it means
  • Recognizing the differing points of view held by different characters
  • Discussing connections between different parts of a text (e.g., a series of events)
  • Writing opinion pieces, informational or explanatory texts, and narratives
  • Strengthening writing by revising and editing

Upper Elementary

  • Analyzing various accounts of an event or topic and identifying similarities and differences
  • Using information from a variety of print and/or digital sources to find answers quickly and efficiently
  • Integrating information from multiple texts on the same topic
  • Effectively using facts, sensory details, definitions, dialogue, description, transitional words, phrases, clauses, etc., in writing
  • Conducting research using a number of sources, recalling relevant information, and drawing on evidence to build and present knowledge
  • Writing regularly for extended time periods

Middle School

  • Citing evidence that strongly supports the analysis of a text
  • Analyzing the way a modern work of fiction draws on traditional stories, myths, etc., to create a story that readers perceive as new
  • Determining an author’s viewpoint and explaining how the author treats conflicting evidence or opinions
  • Assessing arguments for soundness and sufficient evidence
  • Building an argument, supporting it with solid reasons and pertinent evidence, and writing a well-reasoned conclusion
  • Writing an entire composition in a formal style

High School

  • Considering the effect of an author’s choices (e.g., the setting, the way that characters are introduced and developed, etc.) on a text
  • Evaluating the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings
  • Analyzing a text that requires the reader to understand that what is really meant is different from what is directly stated (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement)
  • Developing claims and counterclaims evenhandedly, providing relevant evidence, and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of both in a way that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, and possible preconceptions
  • Gathering information from a variety of authoritative print and digital sources; assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each source; avoiding overreliance on any single source; and presenting citations following a standard format

Real-World Learning

Today’s students face challenges unknown to previous generations. They must be able to filter an onslaught of information to decide what is relevant and what can be ignored. They have to learn how to communicate using an ever-growing variety of formats and media. Along with traditional essays, reports, and letters, today’s students need to learn how to write effective and appropriate emails, PowerPoint presentations, and video scripts. Self-directed learning might mean that even the youngest students are conducting independent research and learning how to judge the quality and authority of information sources and evidence.

New technologies, along with education trends like Deeper Learning, expand opportunities for students and give them new ways to succeed. But learners are also faced with new ways to fail. The reaches of “literacy” extend farther and deeper than ever before, and the consequences of illiteracy are dire. Every student deserves a toolbox of strong literacy skills to help them rise to meet today’s academic and real-world challenges.

For Further Reading:

Evidence of Deeper Learning Outcomes

Related reading:

Creating Reading Intention to Improve Reading Comprehension Skills in Students

Self-Regulation Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities

 

 

Dyslexia Legislation is on the Rise. But Why?

Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

 

dyslexia legislationIn the past few years, more than a dozen states have passed or proposed new laws to raise awareness about dyslexia through increased screening, intervention programs, and teacher training. Delaware, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Arkansas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Kentucky are among the states with notable legislative activity, but there’s a movement in nearly every state to legislate educational approaches to tackling the most common learning disability.

 

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity – led by Co-Directors Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz – is one force behind this trend. The center’s Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative (MDAI) website positions education – and more specifically, dyslexia – as “a civil rights issue” due to the “struggles and marginalization of many dyslexic children.” The mission of the MDAI is to influence policy through the grassroots engagement of educators, legislators, and others. The effort appears to be working, with dyslexia advocacy surging around the country.

Decoding Dyslexia, a “parent-led grassroots movement,” is one example, with a presence in 47 states. Founded in 2012, the movement focuses on raising awareness about dyslexia and changing literacy legislation at the state level.

Then there’s Texas teen Ben Cooper. On behalf of dyslexic learners nationwide, Cooper is lobbying the House of Representatives to adopt HR456, a resolution calling on states and schools “to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.”

In Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy has spoken out about his own experience with dyslexia. Malloy is a proponent of universal access to pre-K, in part to ensure early identification of learning disabilities. As Governor, he signed a bill into law that requires future teachers to receive training in dyslexia recognition and intervention.

In Washington, D.C., there’s a new Bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus currently co-chaired by Representatives Julia Brownley (D-California) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana). “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia,” a film directed by James Redford, was screened at the 2012 inaugural event.

The rise in legislation is a hopeful development. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability – about one in five students has it – but not all educators know how to recognize it and help learners with dyslexia succeed in school.  

We now know that dyslexia is neurologically based, and schools have access to effective interventions like the Fast ForWord program – which has been proven to positively impact reading ability in dyslexic children and adults. With only 34 percent of 4th graders scoring at or above Proficient on the 2013 NAEP, enacting early dyslexia identification and intervention is a no-brainer.

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

 

 

Are Your Special Education Practices Aligned With RDA?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 - 20:00
  • Will J. Gordillo

Special Ed RDAThe U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) announced a major shift in the way it oversees the effectiveness of states’ special education programs. Until now, OSEP revealed that its primary focus was to determine whether states were meeting procedural requirements such as timelines for evaluations, due process hearings, and transitioning children into preschool services. While these compliance indicators remain important to children and families, under the new framework known as Results-Driven Accountability (RDA), the Department will also include educational results and outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs) in making each state’s annual determination under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Each state will also begin to issue their school districts an annual determination that is aligned to their own data on educational results and outcomes for SWDs. This will encourage each school district to be more cognizant of the impact that each school’s data for SWDs will have on their district’s determination and work closely with schools to improve instruction and provide targeted evidence-based practices and interventions to struggling SWDs. This change in accountability represents another significant raising of the bar for special education. The “shift” towards RDA will have a great impact in refocusing the priorities of state education agencies, school districts, and schools by sharpening the focus on what is happening instructionally in classrooms to promote educational benefits and improve outcomes and results for SWDs. How will these changes affect your school or district? Join me for a complimentary webinar on this topic next Wednesday, October 15th. Register now.

Throughout my tenure overseeing the provision of special education and ensuring compliance with IDEA in school districts, I have been a strong advocate for systems change that is focused on student performance in order to continue to redefine special education and help it regain its groove.  Some of the things most valued in terms of impacting outcomes for SWD include focusing on serving students in the least restrictive environment (LRE), promoting inclusive practices, implementing evidenced based practices and interventions, closing the achievement gap on standardized assessments, reducing suspension rates, reducing drop-outs, and increasing graduation rates towards attainment of successful post-secondary school outcomes.  

These indicators for success are now moving to the forefront of accountability. Some progress has been made throughout the years but we are still not bridging the gap significantly and disparities in student performance between disabled and non-disabled peers continue to grow.  Common Core implementation has raised the bar on rigor and expectations for all students and there is a valid concern that the gap for SWDs will continue to grow based on the historical trend data and outcomes for this subgroup. There is great potential to redefine the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process by placing a greater collective emphasis on how educational benefit is provided to the student through specially designed instruction, accommodations, and evidence-based practices and interventions as well as how well their fidelity of implementation is monitored and recorded for SWDs served in both general education and special education settings.  

This new RDA framework encourages some reflections.

As educators, we must always presume competence. It is important to remember that the majority of SWDs will receive instruction in the standard curriculum and will follow a standard diploma pathway towards graduation.  IDEA is founded on principles that all SWDS are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the LRE and the IEP documents the processes of addressing the needs of the students in accordance with all the requirements of this federal law. We must also remember that the “I” in “IEP” stands for “Individual” and stop expecting SWDs to deliver the same results at the same pace and in the same ways that their non-disabled peers do. Their ways and rate of learning may be somewhat different, but “different” doesn’t mean “less.” The word “individual” should also apply to the ways in which they are instructed and provided evidence-based practices and interventions as well as how their progress is measured. It’s not just about standardized test results but also about measuring against their own individual histories and not solely compared to the history of other student’s records. SWDs often need more time to master concepts and specialized approaches that are proven to be effective based on their instructional needs, measured performance, and recognized disability. If the same evidence-based practice or intervention is being delivered to a SWD that all other students are also receiving and is not working, then it’s time to try another one that is more individualized and addresses the presenting needs of the student while considering the context of his or her disability.

So what could a “shift” towards RDA look like in both general education and special education classroom settings in the future?

  1. Standards-based IEPs are written to provide access to instruction and research-based interventions for SWDs by teachers who can align IEP goals and Common Core Standards confidently while implementing and monitoring them with fidelity.
  2. Early intervention is provided to struggling learners with a greater focus on language and literacy first with the goal of all students reading by 3rd grade.
  3. Instruction in the content areas is provided to SWDs who are following a standard curriculum pathway in the general education setting first.
  4. The neediest SWDs with deficits in language and literacy are scheduled first for interventions on the master schedule in general or special education classroom settings in accordance with the IEP.
  5. Evidence-based practices and interventions are selected and matched to address the individualized needs of SWDs.
  6. Flexible scheduling is implemented by grouping clusters of SWDs in the general education classrooms based on similar instructional needs to effectively provide specially designed instruction and implementing evidence-based practices and interventions with co-teaching or in-class supports by a special education teacher.
  7. Personnel resources are efficiently scheduled to provide co-teaching or in-class supports to SWDs by special education teachers in general education classroom settings.
  8. Paraeducators are shared to assist multiple SWDs and provide individual or small group instruction under the direction of the teacher and help scaffold access to instruction in the common core standards.
  9. Processes that monitor the fidelity of implementation of accommodations, specially designed instruction, evidenced-based practices, and interventions are clearly delineated in the IEPs of SWDs.
  10. Universal design for learning, accommodations, and assistive technology are used and clearly evident in both general education and special education classroom settings to address the individual needs of SWDs.
  11. Facilitated classroom environments that incorporate specially designed instruction delivered in group rotations with stations that provide multiple opportunities for learning (e.g. direct instruction, cooperative learning, individual seat work, virtual/online/computer-based learning, project-based) are evident during classroom observations.
  12. Instruction is extended beyond the classroom for SWDs using content that is accessible through multiple devices and can be used at home or in the community.
  13. Multiple diploma pathways are available that will provide options for SWDs to progress towards college career readiness, employment, and successful post-school graduation outcomes.
  14. Early warning systems will be in place to track SWDs who are at risk or not on track for graduation so that appropriate strategies can be implemented proactively.

In my upcoming webinar, How Can Special Education Regain Its “Specially Designed Instruction” Groove in the ERA of Results Driven Accountability (RDA)?, we will explore this topic further in order to gain a better perspective of what this “shift” towards RDA will look like in classroom settings serving SWDs in the future. Practical information will be provided that will assist practitioners, schools and districts to implement systems change so that strategies are aligned for success in this “shift” in accountability.

Further Reading:

New Accountability Framework Raises the Bar for State Special Education Programs

Florida Inclusion Network Website Resources

Inclusive Education Research & Practice (PDF)

Related reading:

Assessing ELLs for Special Education: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

Flipping the Classroom for Students With Learning Disabilities

 

 

4 Ways to Use iPads in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

Use iPads in Classrooms The iPad has made rapid inroads into the K-12 school tech environment – and that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. As we saw in a recent blog post, when students work with iPads at school, the result can be increased student engagement, greater collaboration, and heightened perseverance – all great things for learners. And less “techie” teachers need not fear – students can teach each other what they need to know. Asking for and giving help provides valuable oral language practice and can build learner confidence.

So what are some ways that teachers can use iPads in the classroom, besides having them work on literacy apps during tech time? One great option is to assign projects that require learners to construct their own multimedia presentations using free apps that come pre-installed on the iPad.

Most learners love working on multimedia projects to share with teachers and classmates, and projects like these have a lot to offer. As they actively combine still imagery, video, audio and text to communicate and illustrate concepts or ideas, students are able to:

  • Learn at their own level and speed
  • Practice language skills and synthesize learning
  • Connect academic learning to the bigger picture of life outside the classroom
  • Express themselves more fully

iPad Project Ideas for Students

Getting students creating with the iPad is as easy as knowing what tools are available and imagining how those tools can be used to support classroom learning. Teachers who aren’t sure where to begin can try one of these ideas, easily adaptable to learners of different ages:

  1. Plan a Party with Numbers and Keynote

Learners can have a lot of fun and learn a ton planning a party with the Numbers appParty Planner tool. Working in small groups, they can discuss what kind of party to plan. Younger learners might enjoy planning a Valentine’s Day class party or holiday celebration, while older learners might like to plan an Oscar party or presidential inaugural ball. Students gain practice reading and writing as they decide on food, entertainment and guest lists; create to-do lists with dates, tasks and notes; and research local prices (e.g., how much would it cost to rent a jumpy house for the Valentine’s Day party, or tents for the inaugural ball?). They apply math skills as they work to balance their vision against an assigned budget and real-life costs. Learners can create spreadsheets and generate interactive charts with Numbers, then insert the charts into Keynoteto present to the class along with sample menus, photos of food, music samples, videos animations and more.

  1. Create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) with iMovie

Students begin by studying the elements of a PSA before creating their own. Learners can watch a variety of examples on the SchoolTubeand AdCouncilwebsites and then work individually or in groups to select and research a topic, decide on a message, write the script, select a location for the video shoot, and record and edit the PSA. SchoolTube is also a great place for students and teachers to upload student work to share with the world!

  1. Create Digital Books with iBooks Author

Authoring an ebook is fun for learners and can feel like a significant achievement. With the help of the iBooks Author app, learners can create ebooks with photos, audio, video, web content (e.g., Twitter or blog feeds), and fully formatted slideshow presentations with animations. Learners can use ebooks to deepen their learning about topics covered in previous assignments, offer study advice to other students, or to explore an area of personal interest. Once created, the ebooks can be distributed via the iBook app available in the Apple App Store.

  1. Student Stories with iMovie or Garageband

Audio and video are powerful mediums for storytelling. Students can record a video narrative of their family history or their own personal history, or pick a family member to interview. Photos from the family album can be scanned and sprinkled in with the video footage in iMovieto make the past more real and provide a multigenerational perspective. Or, students can also record audio-only versions of family stories using Garagebandfor insertion into a Keynote presentation or ebook.

Setting the Stage

No matter how learners use iPads in school, it’s important to establish and enforce routines for use right out of the gate. Students need to understand check-out and check-in procedures, how to handle and maintain the iPad, whether they may take their assigned iPad out of the classroom, and what counts as appropriate use (e.g., are learners allowed to change settings, download apps, visit social media sites, IM their friends, etc.?). Using the iPad in a structured way benefits both teacher and learner by ensuring that classroom goals and learning needs are met.

As important as structure is, it shouldn’t take the fun out of using the iPad to learn. Fun is part of its appeal. Teachers should let the iPad be different and special, making use of it for activities that can’t be done on paper. Use it for all of the bells and whistles that draw students to it in the first place. Encourage learners to use the camera, sound, video, and internet – and let the learning come to life.

Related reading:

Using Twitter in School: 4 Ways Students and Teachers Can Connect With the World

The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?

 

Latin and Greek Morphemes Build Vocabulary

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 (All day)
  • Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D

Teaching vocabulary

I think the next game changer when it comes to vocabulary learning, and by extension reading comprehension, will come when we make the direct teaching of morphology or meaning-bearing word patterns a priority in our school curricular programs. In particular, I feel that morphemes derived from Latin and Greek should be given particular emphasis. Why? Did you know that most of our academic words in English are derived from Latin and Greek? Did you know that when new academic and science words are added to English scholars and scientists turn to Latin and Greek roots? Did you know that most longer, multisyllabic words are derived from Latin and Greek? And, did you know that languages, particularly Spanish, are largely derived from Latin? Indeed, knowledge of Latin roots can help Spanish-speaking students bridge into English. For these reasons, the Common Core State Standards specifically and repeatedly mention the teaching of Latin and Greek roots or morphemes as essential for school literacy and vocabulary building.

It’s the multiplier effect that makes teaching Latin and Greek morphemes so powerful and efficient. Phonics teachers know that knowledge of word families or rimes (e.g. all, ing, est) can help students sound out many words such as tall, call, sing, calling, west, crest, tallest, etc. It’s much the same with Latin and Greek morphemes, except that in addition to helping with the pronunciation of words, morphemes can also help students determine the meaningof words. Knowing, for example, that terr(a)-means “land or earth” gives students a powerful clue to figuring out the meaning of words such as terrain, terrace, territory, subterranean, extraterrestrial, terra cotta,and even Mediterranean.Knowledge of one Latin or Greek morpheme can multiply students’ understanding of 20-30 or more English words. And, as I mentioned earlier, many of these words are the academic words from science and the arts that are critical to students’ content or disciplinary literacy comprehension.

If you took Latin (or Greek) in high school or college, I am sure you are aware of how Latin and Greek has connected to your own understanding of English words. Even though you may no longer be fluent in Latin or Greek, I am certain that you are constantly making connections to English words that are based on the Latin or Greek morphemes that you learned years ago.

While I think that teaching Latin and Greek morphemes in high school is valuable, I’d like to see instruction in Latin and Greek morphemes reach all the way down into the primary grades. The brain is a pattern detector. If young children can notice the structural patterns in word families such as –alland –ing,there is every reason to think that they can recognize the morphemic patterns in words as well. Introducing one or two prefixes or roots per week, and helping students notice words that contain those prefixes and roots and how their meanings are related to the roots, can be powerful instruction. Think, for example, of the numerical prefixes – if young students learn the numerical prefixes uni, bi,and tri( one, two,and three) they will be able to not only learn the meaning of unicycle, bicycle,and tricycle, they will also be able to distinguish the differences and similarities in meanings of those words.

This is not beyond the abilities of our younger students. In a recent blog entitled “ Do We Underestimate Our Youngest Learners?” psychologist Daniel Willingham notes and cites research that suggests that young children may have the ability to learn much more than we think - material that may be thought of as “developmentally inappropriate.” Our own work with vocabulary instruction with primary grade students suggests that instruction in Latin and Greek morphemes, even for younger students, may indeed be the ticket to larger and deeper vocabularies; improved abilities to analyze and determine the meanings of challenging words often found in complex texts; and, of course, improved comprehension through new strategies to engage in close reading.

Related reading:

Teach More Vocabulary, Faster, Using the Power of Morphology

Help Your Young Child Build Literacy

 

Social Skills in the Digital Age: What’s Screen Time Got to Do With It?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

social skills and screen time Most of us who spend time with kids know that good social skills are a must for navigating life. Some child development experts report that children who spend excessive time in front of screens are not developing the social skills they need to effectively handle interpersonal relationships.

One reason is that they aren't getting the same practice in two-way conversation as children of previous generations; their time is given instead to engaging with a device that doesn’t reciprocate. That’s a problem, because kids need to learn how to initiate a conversation, listen and respond appropriately, and deal with the uncomfortable pauses and conflicts that sometimes arise when interacting with real people.

Children who depend heavily on devices may use them to avoid the discomforts of social interaction by, say, checking every few minutes for text messages or retreating into a video game while waiting for dinner to be served at a restaurant.

For some, the dependence has gone so far that pediatricians have coined a new term for it: “screen addiction.”

A Keystone Skill

Attributing life success to good social skills is nothing new. Nearly 80 years ago, Dale Carnegie’s bestselling How to Win Friends and Influence Peopleoutlined a “self-improvement” plan based on social skills that are still considered highly relevant today. His advice included tips on how to:

  • Have a conversation
  • Communicate in a way that can influence a situation’s outcome
  • Show consideration for others
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Demonstrate leadership

Carnegie recognized that social skills are life skills – and so did his readers, who have purchased more than 15 million copies since the book was first published.

Today, educators are also recognizing the central importance of social skills. With the awareness that academic skills alone are not enough, many schools have begun introducing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs as a core component of the curriculum. And many parents, recognizing that their children could use some help, are welcoming and even requesting such programs.

The High Cost of Poor Social Skills

Parents and educators are right to be concerned. Underdeveloped social skills can keep kids out of the running for the kind of opportunities that move them ahead. Consequences of poor social skills include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Social exclusion
  • Poor academic performance (indirectly)

Good social skills help children:

  • Develop positive relationships with parents, teachers, and peers
  • Show resilience during times of stress
  • Avoid social rejection
  • Take personal responsibility for a safe, positive school environment

When little kids are given devices to soothe them, or older children are allowed to retreat into the safety zone of texting, there’s a lot they miss out on. They don’t learn how to handle boredom. They don’t learn how to read other people’s subtle social signals. They don’t reach out to others as much for comfort or support – one of the ways that we build close connections and community.

The consequences are greatest for those who are most at risk. It’s the kids who are already uncomfortable interacting socially who are most likely to turn to screens as an avoidance mechanism, while children with strong social skills tend to use their devices to increase and further social connection.

Is All Screen Time Bad?

There doesn’t seem to be much question that kids are spending too much time on electronic devices. A 2010 report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that children 8 - 18 years of age are getting as much as 5 - 8 hours of dedicated screen time each day. But it turns out that screen time may not always be bad for social development.

There’s growing evidence that children who engage with different types of media develop 21 stcentury skills that connect them to the world and other people. Participating in virtual worlds and video conferencing with family and friends can benefit social skills and support play. Texting and instant messaging may also make it easier for teens to initiate offline friendships – despite the toll it takes on family time at the dinner table.

Management & Self-Regulation

In a fast-paced world where tech is here to stay, it’s up to parents and educators to teach and model some essential 21 stcentury skillsrelated to the use of screen time in everyday life:

  • An awareness that there are healthy and unhealthy types and amounts of screen time;
  • The ability to recognize when screen time is healthy and when it is unhealthy; and
  • The self-regulation skillsto avoid using screens when it’s inappropriate (e.g., during dinner or a social event) or even dangerous (e.g., texting while driving).

Are you teaching your children or students these important skills? According to the Kaiser Foundation report, up to half of parents don’t set or enforce rules about screen time. It’s something to think about.

References:

Bindley, K. (2011). When Children Text All Day, What Happens To Their Social Skills? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/09/children-texting-technology-social-skills_n_1137570.html

BMJ-British Medical Journal. (2012, October 9). Curb kids' screen time to stave off major health and developmental problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121009112138.htm

Elements Behavioral Health. (2012). Screen Addictions Can Cause Children to Lose Social Skills. Retrieved from http://www.addictiontreatmentmagazine.com/addiction/internet-addiction/screen-addiction/

Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from http://kff.org/other/poll-finding/report-generation-m2-media-in-the-lives/

Koutamanis, M., Vossen, H.G.M., Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2013). Practice makes perfect: The longitudinal effect of adolescents’ instant messaging on their ability to initiate offline friendships. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 6, 2265-2272. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.04.033

National Association of School Psychologists. (2002). Social Skills: Promoting Positive Behavior, Academic Success, and School Safety. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/socialskills_fs.aspx

The Children’s Media Foundation. (n.d.). Parents’ FAQs on children’s use of media. Retrieved from http://www.thechildrensmediafoundation.org/parent-portal

Related reading:

Why Limit Screen Time? Scientific Research Explains

Limiting Young Children’s Screen Time for Long-Term Health

 

 

 

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