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43 Search Results for ""students with disabilities""

  • Language, Cognition and Motor Language, Cognition and Motor Development Through Video Game Play: What Are The Implications For Children With Disabilities?

    • From: Robin_Shobe
    • Description:

      The following is less like a blog, and more of a paper, or game review to be more specific!

      Once Upon A Monster: A Game Review


            Transmedia play lends itself to constructivist approaches to learning (Herr-Stephenson, et al., 2013) that favor exploration, experimentation and the child as an active participant in creating knowledge (Piaget, 1985; Vygotsky, 1978).  Jenkins (Herr-Stephenson, Alper, Reilly & Jenkins, 2013) suggests that Sesame Street is an example of transmedia done right. The term transmedia means “across media” and encompasses the various types of media and their relationships to one another. Sesame Street uses transmedia to engage children through its television shows, full-length movies, plush toys, board games, live performances, books and interactive video games as well its rich history of research based pedagogy that provides both entertaining and effective learning experiences for children. This game review seeks to demonstrate how the use of transmedia and other learning strategies come together in Warner Bros. and Sesame Street Workshops’ Once Upon A Monster to provide young children educational video game play that also has promising implications for children with disabilities.

      Background on Once Upon A Monster

      Image: Once Upon A Monster/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

             Once Upon A Monster is a single player video game developed by Tim Schaefer of Double Fine Productions and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and the Sesame Street Workshop, in October of 2011.  

      The Sesame Street Workshop was founded by Joan Ganz Cooney and LLoyd Morrisett in the early 1970’s when these pioneers in technology and learning set out to create a television series that would both entertain and educate children. Sesame Street, revolutionary at the time of its inception, incorporated research related to how children learn as the foundation of its content.  Many decades later this television program remains a preferred choice among young children and their parents as well as on the many platforms its content inspires: full-length movies, DVDs, books, video games and more. Jenkins suggests that the,  “… multi-modal, multi-sites nature of many transmedia productions challenge children to use varied textual, visual, and media literacy skills to decode and remix media elements (Herr-Stephenson, et al., 2013 p. 1).”

      Once Upon A Monster utilizes the Kinect controller created by Microsoft for the Xbox360 video game console.  It is a motion sensing input device that allows the player to control the digital content through a “natural user interface” with the use of gestures and spoken commands.  The Kinect makes use of an infrared projector and camera as well as a special microchip to track the movement of objects and individuals in three dimensions. The player is then allowed hands free control or interaction with the digital content.

      This review provides observations of the video game and its affordances for children with special needs through my lens as a parent of a child with special needs as well as my experience as a speech-language pathologist.

      Game Play

      The Player

      Once Upon a Monster was designed for children ages 3-6 years. My daughter, Anna (not her real name) was eight years old at the time of this review. She presents with a severe language disorder, a coordination disorder, and difficulty sustaining attention.  Although she was slightly older than the targeted audience, video game play in Once Upon A Monster was appropriate for her current language, cognitive and motor skills.

      Set Up

            The Kinect controller recognizes the whole body movements of the player. Using these whole body functional movements such as running in place or jumping, gestures such as pointing and waving and speech, the player enters a simulated world that is animated and includes Sesame Street’s beloved friends- Elmo and Cookie Monster. The Kinect controller, along with other features of this game, allows the player to use their senses: visual, auditory and kinesthetic to immerse themselves in a virtual world. This experience leads to a sense of embodiment for the player; the player then feels and acts as if they are actually in this Sesame Street world and interacting with the characters themselves. Anna demonstrated evidence of this feeling of embodiment when she talked directly to the television, and the characters saying, “This is fun guys!” or “Wait for me!”

      The absence of a hand held game controller, and the use of the players body in its place, made it easy for Anna to quickly learn how to operate the game.  If the task required the character to jump, Anna jumped.  If a task was completed and the digital storybook needed the page turned to begin a new task, Anna used the same gesture of the turning a page in a physical book.

      Anna initially struggled with maintaining the appropriate distance away from the Kinect sensor.  A square on the floor was created with masking tape that then helped her identify the optimal position for game play in front of the Kinect sensor and reduced her initial frustration with the game.   

      Game Play

             Once Upon A Monster, uses digital a storybook format to provide a narrative that imbeds video game play in the form of “mini games”.  A new character named Marco needs help getting to his own birthday party.  Cookie Monster, Elmo and Anna, luckily, were there to help him get there.

             Each chapter of the game offers the player a task to complete that moves the characters closer and closer to the end goal, the birthday party. These tasks have educational underpinnings that engage the player to use their language, cognitive and motor skills.

      The Learning

      Due to Sesame Street’s rich history of using researched based methods for providing content that is both entertaining and educational for young children, Once Upon a Monster is chalk full of sound pedagogical strategies that indeed accomplish this task.  This video game is unique in its use of both transmedia and the Kinect sensor. Does it then lend additional support or considerations for children with disabilities?

      Implications of Video Game play in Once Upon A Monster For Children With Disabilities

      An estimated 49 million children grades K-12 attend the U.S. public schools. Approximately 13% of this population, present with disabilities.  Students with disabilities represent a heterogeneous population in terms of the disabilities they present with as well as the pedagogy used to address their individual needs and provide them with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  Teachers face many challenges educating America’s children both with and without disabilities: shrinking budgets, reduced school calendars, changing standards, increasingly diverse populations and more.  As globalization increases both the demand for and innovation of technology (Freedman, 2005), discussions and research on these technologies and their potential role in adding educational value for our children is increasing.

      One way to consider the affordances that technology offers children with disabilities in the K-12 school setting, is the Universal Design for Learning framework (Rose & Meyer, 2000).  This framework offers three principles for teacher instruction and student learning: multiple means of representation (of content), multiple means of expression (expressing knowledge) and multiple means of engagement.  Looking at the video game Once Upon a Monster through this framework sheds light on its potential to provide a valuable educational experience for children with disabilities.

      Multiple Means of Representation

      Transmedia done well, as Jenkins suggests (Herr-Stephenson, et al., 2013) offers children multiple points of entry.  Once Upon a Monster offers children the opportunity to play with Elmo and Cookie Monster in a virtual world.  But, children likely have significant experience with these characters long before they play this game through Sesame Street television viewing, its many published books, DVDs, full length movies and even toys or stuffed animals.  It provides children multiple opportunities to learn both from and more importantly with its content.   Children are not blank slates or empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge; instead they are active participants in creating knowledge and learning (Vygotsky, 1985). Anna immediately related to the characters and the virtual Sesame Street world because she entered the game play with existing background knowledge.  She was also familiar with the script of a birthday party from her past experience both having parties of her own as well as attending the parties’ of others.

      Multiple Means of Expression

      Westendorp, et al. (2002) conducted a study that compared 104 children with Learning Disabilities with 104 typically developing children to examine if there were specific relationships between two subsets of gross motor skills (locomotor skills and object-control skills) and different domains of academic performance. Results revealed a statistically significant relationship between gross motor skills (locomotor specifically) and reading; the poorer the reading scores the poorer the gross motor skills. This study and those like it lend support to the idea that the mind and the body have a reciprocal relationship and influence each other thus, embodied learning. Therefore, the embodied learning that is inherent in Once Upon A Monster provides students with disabilities multiple opportunities to work on the motor skills, language and cognitive skills, necessary for later academic success.

       Embodied learning suggests that the physical aspects of our body shape or influences our cognition (Wilson, 2002). Another way to think of it; our motor system influences our cognition in much the same ways that our mind influences our actions (Wilson, 2002).   “All experiences are in some way grounded in the body…” and that, “…embodied experiences can lead to more effective learning (Smallab, 2012 para 1).”

      Once Upon a Monster, with its use of the Kinect sensor, requires players to act out the specific action necessary to complete tasks in the game.  If Marco needs to jump to get over the log, the player needs to jump.  This offers the player an opportunity to imitate or initiate an action while also seeing and and hearing the results of that action, offering the redundancy necessary for accommodating new skills (Piaget, 1959).

      Multiple Means of Engagement

      Anna played the game for three hours, a testament to its ability to engage her.  But, more important, was its ability to motivate her to engage in language, cognitive and learning tasks that were not initially easy for to complete.  She was asked to follow novel complex directions such as, “Dress the monster in the outfit that matches the color of the flag it is holding”. She was asked to engage in complex motor tasks that required her to cross midline, use both of her hands simultaneously or engage in two actions simultaneously such as running in place while reaching to the left and the right to pick flowers for points. She was asked to do cognitive tasks such as sortingt items such as trash for the recycling bin or the landfill.

      In my role as a therapist, I provide the scaffolding or support necessary for children to improve their existing skills or gain new ones.  Vygotsky (1985) refers to this as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  Providing enough support so that the task is not so hard that it causes frustration or shut down, while also being cautious of providing too much support, so the task becomes too easy and merely practice. This requires a delicate balance to get it “just right” and ensure that the child is indeed learning from the experience.  My observations of Anna suggested that this video game was just right, if not slightly too difficult.  A rule of thumb I commonly use to assess “just right” is often eighty percent accuracy on a task.  Anna was somewhere closer to seventy, and she frequently expressed her frustration to the characters, “I am doing what you say!” or “Wait for me, I need to do it again”. But, the scaffolding and her engagement, unique to this video game play, kept her working on difficult tasks despite her frustration.   Gee (2005) might suggest that Anna’s learning behavior in this game was characteristic of the learning that occurs in well-designed learning environments that share features of video games such as: the ability to customize the experience for the player (learner), the player’s ability to identity with the task, “pleasantly frustrating” experiences, and information that is presented ‘on demand” and “just in time”, among others. It could be argued that Once Upon a Monster was providing her with learning tasks within her ZPD.


             Jenkins suggests that, “In a hunting society, children learn to play with bows and arrows.  In an information society, they learn to play with information (Herr-Stephenson, et al., 2013 p. 7).” In a therapeutic or educational setting, I argue that Once Upon A Monster offers children with disabilities a quality educational environment built on Sesame Street’s use of transmedia play, its rich history of educational content and use of sound pedagogical strategies for teaching children and its, perhaps accidental, but effective, use of the principles of UDL.


      Anna” playing Once Upon A Monster

      Reference List


      Birchfield, D., & Johnson-Glenberg, M. (2010). A next gen interface for embodied learning: SMALLab and the geological layer cake. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS), 2(1), 49-58.

      Bushnell, E. W., & Boudreau, J. P. (1993). Motor development and the mind: The potential role of motor abilities as a determinant of aspects of perceptual development. Child development, 64(4), 1005-1021

      Freidman, T. (2005). The world is flat. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

      Gee, J., P. (2005). Learning by design: Good video games as learning machines. E-Learning and Digital Media, 2(1), 5-16.

      Gee, J., P. (2013).  The Anti-Education Era.  New York: Macmillan.

      Herr-Stephenson, B., Alper, M., Reilly, E. and Jenkins, H. (2013). T is for transmedia: Learning through trans- media play. Los Angeles and New York: USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Available: http://www.annenber- glab.com/viewresearch/46

      Piaget, L. (1985). Equilibrium of cognitive structures: The central problem with intellectual development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

      Piaget, J. (1959). The language and thought of the child (Vol. 5). Psychology.

      Gallese, V., & Sinigaglia, C. (2011).  What is so special about embodied simulation?  Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Retrieved July 18, 2013 from:http://www.unipr.it/arpa/mirror/pubs/pdffiles/Gallese/2011/tics_20111007.pdf.

      Rose, D., & Meyer, A. (2000). Universal Design for Learning. Journal of Special Education Technology, 15(1), 67-70.

      Smallab. (2012). Smallab Learning.  Retrieved July 18, 2013 from:http://smallablearning.com/embodied_learning.

      Vygotsky, L. S.(1978) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

      Westendorp, M., Hartman, E., Houwen, S., Smith, J., & Visscher, C. (2011). The relationship between gross motor skills and academic achievement in children with learning disabilities. Research in developmental disabilities, 32(6), 2773-2779.

      Wilson, M. (2002). Six views of embodied cognition.  Psychometric Bulletin & Review (9) 4.

    • Blog post
    • 2 months ago
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  • Lessons From the Fonz - Part 1 Lessons From the Fonz - Part 1

    • From: Eric_Bernstein
    • Description:

      “All You Need to Do Is Keep That Child Buoyed”

      The First of Three Lessons on How to Support Students with Learning Differences from the Fonz

           One of my self-proclaimed areas of relative strength as a teacher educator is in helping regular education teachers understand learning disabilities and how to work with students who have special learning needs in the regular education classroom.  I suspect that the earliest contributions to this strength had to do with my (as yet officially) undiagnosed ADHD.  Having been that student who did not fit the traditional learner mold, but usually being a high achiever, I understood early on that every person did not learn the same way and that just because people do not learn the same way does not mean they do not learn well.  After seeing Henry Winkler (@hwinkler4real) on a recent episode (February 12, 2014) of Morning Joe, I learned that Winkler is another (far more famous) example of my personal experience and understanding of learning differently.  Listening to Winkler, I felt validated in the way I have approached discussions with pre-service and in-service teachers about teaching students with disabilities—reading disabilities, in particular—and was moved to write my next blog based on Winkler’s words in that interview.


           After my last blog post theme, connecting teacher professional learning to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (http://edge.ascd.org/_Meaningful-Learning-An-Excellent-Adventure/blog/6562392/127586.html), I thought that maybe I could write about lessons in education or learning from Henry Winkler’s famed Happy Days character, “The Fonz!”  I searched the web for quotes from Happy Days in hopes of finding ways the Fonz’s wisdom could be connected to teaching and learning.  Sure enough, I found a pearl in Season One of Happy Days, the episode “Fonzie Drops In,” which (just as surely) proved that this approach was probably not my best brainchild ever:


              Richie [speaking to the Fonz]: You make school sound like good fun.
            Fonzie: Well, school's got good points. I mean, smoking in the bathroom, cutting classes, showing my tattoo to the chicks.


      So...I decided that pop culture would NOT form the theme for this blog post!  Ultimately, though, I hope that Henry Winkler has actually created a new pop cultural icon, Hank Zipzer.  Winkler has created this series of chapter books together with co-author Lin Oliver (@linoliver) based on many of Winkler’s own experiences. The Hank Zipzer series (www.hankzipzer.com, @hankzipzertv) follows the adventures and misadventures of this bright fourth grade (then fifth and sixth, and soon second grade in an anticipated prequel series) student with the same learning challenges Winkler experiences.  My third grade son (who is learning to master some of his own differences in learning style) has just started reading the first book in the series and it has been great to see him relate to the story and character and be motivated past some of his own reluctance to read.


           After re-watching that interview on Morning Joe, I realized that I didn’t need the Fonz for this blog post.  I realized that I could address several important points from the words of the Fonz’s self-proclaimed alter-ego, Winkler, himself.  I decided to focus on understanding the experience of being a student with a learning difference and how educators (and parents) can better support those (and ALL) students. Three things that Winkler said in the Morning Joe interview anchor some salient points from my thinking about supporting students:

      1) “I covered my shame and humiliation for not being able to figure out what was going on, with humor...” (MSNBC, 2014)

      2) “...we have to start teaching children the way they CAN learn and not what we think they SHOULD learn....” (MSNBC, 2014)

      3) “...all you need to do is keep that child buoyed...” (MSNBC, 2014)


           Mostly in an effort to keep up with the blogging pace of Barry Saide (@BarryKid1), I have decided to break this into three different blog posts (perhaps also to save you from a single 5000+ word blog post—which I think probably violates some rule of blogging! I know @Joe_Mazza, there are no rules...nonetheless, 5000 words seems excessive for one post).  Each post will address one of the three key points highlighted by Henry Winkler’s words from that Morning Joe interview.


      “I covered my shame and humiliation for not being able to figure out what was going on, with humor”


           One of the most powerful professional learning experiences I ever had with respect to understanding the experiences of students with disabilities was watching the film F.A.T. City Workshop (Lavoie, et. al, 2004).  The shame and humiliation that Winkler describes lead to the “F,” “A,” and “T” in Lavoie’s F.A.T. City:  Frustration, Anxiety, and Tension.


           Children who struggle with different learning needs experience increasing frustration that they just can’t “get it.” There are many things that we tell students who are struggling, especially to read.  Lavoie notes three of the most common in F.A.T. City:

      • We tell them to “look at it harder.”—What does that even mean?  How do you look at something “harder?”
      • We say we will give them something if they can do it!—Telling a student with a reading disability that they can be first in line for recess if they can read a passage is no more effective then telling a student with a fever that they can be first in line if they lower their temperature.
      • We blame the victim, we tell the student they are lazy and not trying hard enough—Despite our admonitions that something is easy and they must not be motivated, motivation only enables a person to do, to the best of their abilities, something that we are already capable of doing.


           As Winkler explained in a different interview, “I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential.” Yet, he went on to explain that all the time inside he was thinking “I don’t think I’m stupid. I don’t want to be stupid. I’m trying as hard as I can. I really am” (Yale, n.d.). Students who are struggling already know they are not getting it and our typical responses only compound the frustration—as they really do WANT to get it.


           The persistent experience of “not getting it” results in anxiety about being called on in class or looking stupid in front of peers.  Winkler described being called, in 1999, to read for a new Neil Simon play—ostensibly, a significant career opportunity—and he explained how he very easily initially reacted to himself “you can’t do this, you’ll be out of the business, you’ll be out of your life. Aside from this, you’ll be embarrassing yourself into oblivion” (Yale, n.d.). Winkler had that anxiety after already being an established, successful, and even revered actor.  Imagine the anxiety that is experienced by the student with learning differences every time the teacher is cold calling, or as the ping pong reading comes ever closer to her or him.  Lavoie explains, and I have seen in my own classrooms, the cognitive demand of the anxiety that those students are experiencing when thinking about what or when they will be called on and how their “not getting it” may make them look in front of the teacher or, worse, their peers. 


           The cognitive load of the anxiety leaves little space for focus on things that those students would otherwise be able to learn and understand.  We need to come up with strategies to reduce that anxiety for our students.  One simple change would be to have a silent cue that only you and the specific student know—when you give them that cue, they know they are the next person to be called on.  This will likely not reduce the anxiety the student experiences at the time you actually call on her or him.  What it will do, though, is relieve the cognitive load of worrying if they will be next—allowing room for them to engage with and learn the content that is being delivered in the mean time.


           Winkler describes covering his shame “with humor.” The acting-out behaviors that generate the laughs create the third aspect of Lavoie’s F.A.T. trifecta, tension between teacher (or parent) and the young person.  Winkler aptly notes that “A child doesn't wake up in the morning saying 'Wow, I'm gonna be an idiot today, I'm gonna cause trouble,' ” yet, causing trouble is often the only way that young people who are struggling with learning can “save face” or avoid feeling ashamed by their lack of understanding.  Those who don’t act-out, often exhibit another protective behavior, hiding—making themselves small and hoping no one notices they are even there.  In either event, there is always a reason why young people behave in an apparently asocial manner.  That reason is almost always for self-protection or self-preservation. Research by Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey (1995) resulted in the construction of a cycle of acting-out behavior and explain that even maladaptive behaviors typically serve an adaptive purpose.


           Most often, educators and parents focus on punishing the asocial behaviors of young people. Winkler describes his experience with his own parents growing up: “My parents were determined to find the punishment that was going to force me to get better grades” (Murfitt, 2008).  However, as Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey (1995) explain, punishments for the acting-out behavior tend not to be effective or long-term behavior changers.  Actually, they note, punishing the acting-out behavior often reinforces the behavior by fulfilling the need (e.g., avoidance of the originating situation).  Rather, they explain that the underlying behavioral contingency (the if-then construct—e.g., if I act out and can get in trouble, then the teacher will focus on punishing me and will not make me answer the question I don’t understand and I won’t be embarrassed by giving a wrong answer or if I refuse to read my book and, instead, argue about it with my parents, then I will get sent to my room and not end up having to do the reading) must be identified and the needs that lead to the behavior are what, in fact, should be addressed. 


      The bottom line:  We should use our energies to seek an understanding of what motivates student behavior and ask ourselves why this young person feels compelled to act-out (or hide).  This lesson is absolutely one that will benefit all of our students, regardless of learning styles and disability—and will support a positive, safe learning climate in all of our classrooms.


      Thank you for taking the time to read this far and I do hope that you will be on the lookout for part two of this blog post—“...we have to start teaching children the way they CAN learn and not what we think they SHOULD learn....”




      Lavoie, R. D., Rosen, P., Eagle Hill School Outreach., Peter Rosen Productions., & PBS Video. (2004). How difficult can this be?: Understanding learning disabilities: frustration, anxiety, tension, the F.A.T. city workshop. Alexandria, VA: PBS.


      MSNBC. (2014, Feb12). Morning Joe: Henry Winkler’s kids book tackles dyslexia. Video retrieved February 18, 2014, from http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/henry-winklers-kids-book-tackles-dyslexia-148785731602.


      Murfitt, N. (2008, Dec 8). 'I was called Dumb Dog': Henry Winkler's happy days as The Fonz were blighted by condition undiagnosed for 35 years. Daily Mail. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1092477/I-called-Dumb-Dog-Henry-Winklers-happy-days-The-Fonz-blighted-condition-undiagnosed-35-years.html.


      Walker, H. M., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial behavior in school: Strategies and best practices. Pacific Grove, Calif: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.


      Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.  (n.d.).  Henry Winkler, Actor, Producer, Author.  Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://dyslexia.yale.edu/Winkler.html.

    • Blog post
    • 5 months ago
    • Views: 670
  • 20 Ways to Adapt a Science Lab 20 Ways to Adapt a Science Lab

    • From: Jason_Flom
    • Description:

      "This article is from the website of Dr. Paula Kluth. It, along with many others on inclusive schooling, differentiated instruction, and literacy can be found at www.PaulaKluth.com. Visit now to read her Tip of the Day, read dozens of free articles, and learn more about supporting diverse learners in K-12 classrooms."


      Too often, students with disabilities, especially those with more moderate and significant disabilities, are excluded from the rich and complex experience of the science lab. This is unfortunate as many a teacher would argue that if students are not engaged in hands-on science, then they are not really “doing” science. In other words, science is about learning ideas and concepts, studying vocabulary, and understanding theories, but it is also about observation, exploration, and discovery.


      Another reason to give all students access to lab work is to pique their interest and enhance their learning. It is widely accepted that students who participate in labs and other hands-on science activities will remember the material better and be able to transfer the learning across situations and lessons. Students who have learning difficulties or differences are often more on task during hands-on activities because there are typically a wide variety of ways to participate and the active and social nature of the science lab keeps students engaged. Finally, lab work helps all students hone social and communication skills, making it ideal for learners with disabilities who may need help with asking and answering questions, taking turns in a conversation, or knowing how to enter a discussion.


      Having shared all of these benefits, many learners will need adaptations or modifications in order to be successful in a lab situation. Twenty ideas that can help you support diverse learners in your science classroom are offered here:

      1.Be explicit about what you want students to know and do in each lesson and model what you want to see (e.g., language, behaviors, techniques) in the lab.

      2.Post expected lab behavior on a poster or chart that is clear for all to see- (emphasizing safety guidelines). Draw students’ attention to this information every time they work in the lab.

      3.Organize your lab around “big questions” that all students can answer in some way. For instance, the question, “What is a rock?”, can be answered on many different levels. One learner will be able to show or give an example of a rock while other learners will learn that it is “consolidated mineral matter”.

      4.Be sure to create very clear step-by-step directions for the lab. If needed, provide a checklist or even an illustrated checklist of steps.

      5.Instead of pairing students alphabetically or randomly, think about individual needs to determine best partnerships. You might also give students a questionnaire to find out not who they want to work with but who they think they can work effectively with. Get suggestions from them but make the final decisions based on your observations. Some learners might have difficulty working with new or unfamiliar people. You may want to pair these students with a familiar peer.

      6.Give different students different roles based on their strengths. For example, a student who is a strong writer might take notes for the group, while a student who enjoys public speaking might present the group’s findings to the class. You can also assign roles based on student needs. For instance, an individual who needs more practice with social skills might be asked to serve as the group facilitator.

      7.Some students may be better served by working across groups instead of within a group. For instance, if measurement is a skill you are targeting for a particular student, you might have him visit each group to measure and pour liquids. If calculations are a target skill, perhaps he can help each group check and re-check their work.

      8. If the experiment or lab requires procedures that are complicated or has directions that are easily misunderstood, be sure to clearly demonstrate these pieces in front of the students.

      9. If reading the supporting materials will be a challenge for one or more learners, consider simplifying the directions, highlighting key words, or adding icons, tables, or photos to the text.

      10. If you work with students who struggle with the writing requirements of labs, allow all or some to use portable word processors or to speak observations and findings into a tape recorder or digital voice recorder.

      11. Add additional roles or tasks for students who are working on individual goals that would not typically be addressed during lab. If a student is learning to use a new communication device, for instance, you might ask her group to allow her to direct or, at least, introduce the activity with pre-programmed messages on the device.

      12. Look for a range of materials that diverse learners can access to understand the key concepts or ideas being explored in the lab. For a lab on dissecting frogs, for instance, you might have a plastic model of a dissected frog, books on frogs, and an on-line virtual dissection available to learners who need extra support.

      13. Provide more durable materials, if needed. Plastic beakers might be a better choice than glass ones for some learners, for instance.

      14. When necessary, incorporate adapted materials that help students with sensory differences (e.g., talking thermometers, laboratory glassware with raised numbers).

      15. Use technology as a support for diverse learners. For example, digital cameras can help students record steps of an experiment. An iPad can be used as a tool for collaboratively recording data.

      16. For those who need repeated practice or extra materials for review, you might record experiements and give them to certain learners to view. Or you can post parts of your labs on a classroom website or on a site such as TeacherTube.com.

      17. Reduce the writing component of the lab work. Instead of asking for the purpose, materials, procedure, and the conclusion, you might have some students responsible for writing only the conclusions. Or you might prepare a set of guided notes (a map or outline of the lab notes) for some learners;; these individuals would only need to fill in the blanks where content is missing or finish diagrams or charts that have been partially completed.

      18. Allow students to report their findings in a variety of ways. They might choose from writing a description, drawing a diagram, or explaining findings to a peer.

      19. If a particular student needs supplemental activities or supports, he or she might spend some class time away from the lab gathering information that can be brought back to the whole group. For example, a student might explore websites for visuals that can be presented to the whole group.

      20. To challenge some or all learners, ask them to design a new lab or experiment.

    • Blog post
    • 5 months ago
    • Views: 1389
  • Leader to Leader News: January Leader to Leader News: January 2014

    • From: Meg_Cohen
    • Description:

       ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to constituentservices@ascd.org. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All Rights Reserved.

      Action Items for ASCD Leaders


      ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative Has a New Twitter Handle

      ASCD's Whole Child Initiative switched its official Twitter handle to @WholeChildASCD. Themore than 15,000 followers of the old @WholeChildAdv do not have to do anything to keep following the initiative’s Twitter account; current followers have automatically been moved to the new handle. In addition, individuals trying to contact ASCD under the old account will be directed to the new Twitter handle: @WholeChildASCD. The initiative encourages whole child enthusiasts to follow the new handle to stay up-to-date on whole child issues and partner activities. Anyone who has questions about the twitter handle should contact Kristen Pekarek, ASCD’s whole child project coordinator.


      Sign on to the Global School Health Statement

      Schools have always played an important role in promoting the health, safety, welfare, and social development of children. Progress has been made in policy and program effectiveness. However, the trend of establishing initiatives as sector specific—or sector isolated—has affected long-term sustainability of approaches. The global evolution of education systems to suit the needs of the 21st century presents both a need and an opportunity for greater sector integration. Ultimately, there is a need to focus on the development and growth of the whole child and develop better ways to integrate health and social programs within education systems.

      In response to the World Health Organization’s Health in All Policies (HiAP) initiative and recent HiAP statement (Helsinki 2013), education leaders invite representatives from the health and other social sectors to lead a revised partnership with education. This partnership uses a capacity-focused and systems-based approach to embed school-related efforts more fully into the core mandates, constraints, processes, and concerns of education systems.

      ASCD and the International School Health Network are now inviting individuals and organizations to sign on to the global school health statement. Learn more.


      Can’t Wait for #ASCD14?

      How about some free sessions from the 2013 ASCD Annual Conference to tide you over?

      Check out the live-streamed recordings of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Freeman Hrabowski III, and Maya Angelou from last year’s conference.

       Register for the 2014 ASCD Annual Conference.


      ASCD Members Approve Proposed Changes to ASCD’s Constitution

      ASCD members recently voted to approve several changes to ASCD’s Constitution: clarifyinga quorum for Board of Directors for voting purposes at the Annual Meeting; changing the start date for newly elected officers and members of the Board; and changing the ASCD membership requirement for applicants for Board positions. Contact Governance Manager Becky DeRiggewith any questions.


       ASCD Emerging Leaders: 2013 Recap

      Check out our recap of all the amazing things ASCD emerging leaders did in 2013. We’re looking forward to some great things in 2014 as well!


       ASCD Leader Voices




      Throughout January at wholechildeducation.org: Personalized Learning

      How do we help each student succeed? One promising way is to personalize learning and put each student at the center of her learning experience. Broader than individualized or differentiated instruction, personalized learning is driven by the learner. Ensuring personalized learning for all students requires a shift in thinking about long-standing education practices, systems and policies, as well as significant changes in the tools and resources. To address students’ abilities, interests, styles, and performance, schools need to rethink curricula, instruction, and technology tools to support giving learners choices and schools flexibility.

      Personalized learning has been described as learning that takes place “anywhere, anytime, and anyplace.” More importantly, it has the promise to ensure equity, engagement, ownership, and achievement for each child, in each school, and in each community so that she is college, career, and citizenship ready and prepared for success in our global, knowledge-based society.

      Download two Whole Child Podcasts discussing personalizing learning for students—one is a special one-on-one conversation between professor and author Yong Zhao and ASCD’s Sean Slade, and the other podcast has a panel of educators featuring guests Jennifer Eldredge, a Spanish teacher at Oconomowoc High School whose district is a member of the regional Cooperative Educational Service Agency #1, which is committed to establishing personalized learning as the prevailing approach in southeastern Wisconsin; Andrew Miller, former classroom and online teacher and current education consultant, ASCD Faculty member, National Faculty member at the Buck Institute for Education, and regular ASCD and Edutopia blogger; and Beth Sanders, a high school social studies teacher at Tarrant High School in Alabama who is also the cofounder and codirector of Youth Converts Culture and was named an Apple Distinguished Educator Class of 2013 and 2013 Teacher of the Year for Tarrant City Schools.

      Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.



      Something to Talk About

      Top 10 ASCD EDge blog posts of 2013

      Top 5 Whole Child blog posts of 2013

      Mostclicked stories from ASCD SmartBrief


      Association News

      ASCD Invites Educator-Driven Conversation with the ASCD Forum and #ASCDEdSpace—ASCD announces two new ways for educators to shape teacher leadership. From now through April 11, 2014, educators are encouraged to participate in the ASCD Forum online via the ASCD EDge® social networking community and in-person at the 69th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show. Read the full press release.


      ASCD’s Newest Professional Development Publications Support Effective Instruction—ASCD announced the release of three new professional development titles for educators. As educators face increasing pressure on assessments and testing, they will find support for structured teaching, self-regulated learning, and assigning and assessing 21st century work in these new professional development publications. Read the full press release.


      ASCD Announces Updates to Free EduCore™ Common Core Implementation Tool—ASCD announced new features available on its free Common Core implementation tool ASCD EduCore™. For the new year, the updated EduCore website features simpler navigation and expanded resources. Read the full press release.


      ASCD to Live Stream 21 Sessions from 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show—ASCD will live stream  21 sessions from the association’s 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show. The live stream option offers global educators an accessible and affordable alternative to attending ASCD’s 2014 Annual Conference. Read the full press release.


      ASCD Joins Instagram as @OfficialASCD—ASCD has joined the social network Instagram under the username @officialascd. ASCD’s Instagram profile will show educators worldwide a behind-the-scenes look at ASCD, while providing free motivation and professional development through pictures and videos. Read the full press release.


      ASCD Releases Four New Professional Development Publications for the New Year—ASCD released four new professional development titles for educators. In light of pressing issues facing educators today, such as improving stagnant Programme for International Student Assessment scores, implementing the new Common Core State Standards, and improving teacher effectiveness, these four new ASCD publications offer educators support with getting to the root of academic and behavioral issues, working with English language learners, developing effective school rules, and teaching effectively. Read the full press release.


      ASCD Expands Emerging Leader Program to Serve More Young Educators—ASCD is pleased to announce the expansion of the ASCD Emerging Leaders program. The two-year Emerging Leaders program is designed to prepare younger, diverse educators for potential influence and ASCD leadership. The expanded program now enrolls more educators, inducting a larger membership class than ever before, and includes an Emerging Leaders Grant opportunity that will award selected participants in their second year of the program with grants of up to $2,000. Read the full press release.




    • Blog post
    • 6 months ago
    • Views: 412
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  • Accommodations, Modifications, Accommodations, Modifications, and Ramifications!

    • From: Karen_Baptiste
    • Description:

      “He has an IEP, how can I modify the work for him?”  “We are going to give her all of the accommodations so she can do better on the test.” These are just some of the things I hear during IEP meetings. There is no nuance between the two words; however, it is still confused and misused by educators.  Before I clarify some misconceptions, first, we must go back in time when No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was initiated as it states that all public schools are responsible for having every student participate annually in Math and Reading tests in grades 3-8 and once in high school. To hold schools and school districts accountable for raising the achievement of all students, students with disabilities are also required to participate in State or district assessments.

      Although NCLB says that all students with IEPs should be provided accommodations necessary to participate in State testing, some overlook the word ‘necessary.’ Accommodations and Modifications should not be the default button for all students with an IEP. Remember, the ‘I’ in IEP stands for Individualized.  As part of NYC’s on-going district goal to improve the quality of how IEPs are written, I met with various IEP teams and reviewed student plans with them, and these are some of the most common questions that were asked and prompted me to provide a quick mini-lesson:

      “I’m scared that if I take away his accommodations he will fail. How can I give him extra accommodations on the day of the test?” You can’t!

      “If a student doesn’t want to use his accommodation on one test but wants to use it on another, can we allow that?” Yes!

      “Does the accommodation have to be put on the IEP for a student to get it?” I couldn’t wait to answer this question in particular--YES! It MUST be on the IEP for the student to receive it.


      All students with IEPs need accommodations.


      What is an accommodation?

      Accommodations are any device or tool provided to students that will level the playing field and provide them access to the same testing and instruction as students without disabilities. When a student is provided an accommodation, it does not alter the test and the same high expectations are expected of the student to achieve on the test as their non-disabled peers.  Accommodations should not reduce the skills the student is being assessed on. In fact, nothing should be changed other than how the information is presented to the student.


      Let me clarify, a student with a learning disability may struggle with reading a text and will be provided the accommodation of having the questions/directions read aloud to him or her (as long as the test is not measuring reading comprehension). This is the most controversial accommodation because most educators believe this is an unfair advantage.

      Another popular accommodation is a use of a scribe. I had students who received occupational therapy and it became arduous for them to write for long periods of time, so they benefited from having a scribe write down their responses.


      Use of Accommodations (this is not an exhaustive list)

      Extended Time-a student can receive up to double time to complete the test or task

      Separate Location-students can take the test in a separate location if they are easily distracted

      Directions/Questions Read Aloud- for students who need to have questions or directions read aloud to process or have clarified what is being asked of them

      Use of a Scribe- students may need a scribe if their hands weaken after a short period of time

      Frequent Breaks- when students cannot sit for a specific period of time and need periodic breaks in between completing tasks or testing



      Students are too young to understand what their accommodations are and why they are receiving it.



      They were like putty in my hands as one of the “students” then asked me, “So what exactly is a modification? I always thought I was supposed to give my students modifications.”

      Modifications change the skills you are testing and fundamentally reduce the expectations and standards being assessed.  Hence the root word, modify. Teachers inadvertently use modifications while assessing students. The most common modification confused with the concept of differentiation is reducing the number of items a student has to complete. Please note, this is not differentiation; reducing the amount of questions a student has to answer will prevent you from accurately depicting what the student actually knows and will lead to misconceptions.


      I can’t give my students with IEPs the same test as the students without IEPs because it’s too difficult for them.



      As teachers sat there in awe of the explanations and examples, they became that much more interested in learning about how to explain this concept to parents and students.  As one “student” put it, “Ohhh, I get it now. But what are the ramifications of the two?” Good question, I replied, with a smile as I can see their light bulbs illuminate with curiosity.

      There is great danger here if educators continue to confuse accommodations with modifications. We all come into teaching with bias because of our life experiences. So if we are presumptuous about what our students know and are able to do and not do, then one of the many ramifications is a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy for students where we end up enabling them to lean on modifications because they are used to receiving less because they are perceived as not being able to do as much.


      Another ramification is the inaccuracy of the data we will collect about our students. If we hold the same high expectation for students as if they didn’t have an IEP then the next step is using the IEP as a guide to create access to the tasks, instruction and testing based on the student’s need(s). However, if students are not being assessed on the same standards and skills as all other students, then the data will be skewed about the student’s true understanding and mastery of specific skills.


      Tips for Providing Accommodations

      1. Assess students in the skills or standards you are targeting using the same assessment that you would provide students without IEPs. Do not change the test in any way. Provide this assessment to students without the accommodations first and then with the accommodation to compare how the student fared. This will allow your school’s IEP team to have a firm understanding of the student’s needs. You might find that the student will need a new accommodation, no longer needs, or only needs the accommodation on certain tasks or tests like a math test and not a reading test.
      2. Do not provide students with accommodations only on the day of the test, especially if they have not had experience using the accommodation prior to the test.
      3. Students and parents should be aware of the accommodations provided, what it means and when the student will use the accommodation.  This should always be done at the IEP meeting.

      For more information on accommodations and modifications in your state, please visit http://www.cehd.umn.edu/NCEO/TopicAreas/Accommodations/Accomtopic.htm

    • Blog post
    • 7 months ago
    • Views: 381
  • Enough! Enough!

    • From: Jonathan_Jefferson
    • Description:



      By Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson



      “The direction in which an education starts a man will determine his future life.”  Plato


      Given that the underlying motivation for my recent book (“MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels – Lessons for Educators”) was to help protect children from senseless labels, Imagine my frustration upon hearing the news this morning that a boy only six years young in Texas was suspended from school, with sexual misconduct placed on his permanent record, for the irreparable crime of kissing a girl on the hand.  Thankfully, more sensible minds prevailed, and his record was changed to reflect only misconduct.  Yet, based on my own subjective reasoning, I do not believe anything should have been placed on his record.  This was clearly an innocent teachable moment, an opportunity to admonish the child that chivalry observed on television should not be mimicked in ‘real life’ for multiple reasons including that some people are uncomfortable being touched in such a manner and their personal space should be respected.  This, in my view, would have been a sufficient way to address the boy’s act.


      As educators we must be extraordinarily sensitive to the fact that our actions involving children can lay the foundation for the trajectory of the rest of their lives; positively and negatively.  We are aware that children’s success correlates directly with the expectations teachers hold for them.  What will a teacher expect from a student labeled a sexual deviant?  Dangerously, the teacher may fulfill the prophecy by taking another innocent action (e.g. hugging a classmate out of joy) by the child and distorting it.  It is not only labels associated with social behaviors that can affect the direction of a person’s life, but those related to learning disabilities as well.


      …I was given the label “learning disabled.”  From that day forward, I was looked down upon by my peers as being “stupid” and “dumb;” a feeling that stayed with me for many years to come.  The social rejection I experienced made it difficult for me to even function in the classroom setting.  (Gibson, 2008).


      In a study awarded for outstanding research by the Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD), the following results were reported by Bianco (2005) as it pertains to students with learning disabilities (LD) and emotional behavioral disorders (EBD):


      …teachers were clearly influenced by the disability labels LD and EBD when making referral decisions for gifted programs.  Overall, both special education and general education teachers were much less willing to refer students with disability labels to gifted programs than students with no disability label.  (p. 290)


      This is just one study among many that addresses the limitations associated with opportunities that labels prevent.  Labels have their place when established by experts over time with thorough observations and valid evaluations; however, in general, educators and parents alike have become far too comfortable with quickly affixing labels to children – a practice which, for the sake of present and future generations of children, must be comprehensively reined.


      Bianco, M. (2005).  The effects of disability labels on special education and general education teachers’ referrals for gifted programs.  Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Autumn, 2005), pp. 285-293.


      Gibson, C. P.  (2008).  Overcoming the stigma of the learning disability label: A story of survival and recovery.  ACA Special Education News, Article LD-8-3.



    • Blog post
    • 7 months ago
    • Views: 200
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  • In Praise of Neuro-Diversity In Praise of Neuro-Diversity

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      Today we have a guest post from educational therapist Diana Kennedy.  I connected with her through LinkedIn, and was inspired by her blog post about a student with Fragile X syndrome that she has worked with as first, a special education teacher, and later, as an educational therapist.   Diana’s business is Mindspark – Custom Learning Solutions, in San Anselmo, California, where she provides ”[o]ne-on-one personalized instruction using multi-sensory research-based techniques in a caring and relaxed environment.”  I’d like to thank Diana for giving me permission to reprint her post here:

      ”So, I have this student, let’s call her Lisa.  Lisa is a fifteen year old with Fragile X syndrome.  She presents as someone with pretty severe autism: she barely makes eye contact, but is fully verbal.  She has a personal relationship with the technical gadgets in a room (“Ask Printer if he knows the answer,” “It’s Projector’s turn to do a problem,”), but she won’t remember the names of students she’s been in class with for months.  She has trouble reading a clock or counting change with automaticity, but she is one of my best Algebra students.  You read that right: one of my very best Algebra students.  She uses a white board (only the one with curved edges, not the square corners, and only with a blue dry-erase marker, never another color, especially not pink) to do all her work because her fine motor skills make it hard to fit side-work onto a single sheet of paper, but she unerringly knows what procedure to use when and applies her knowledge with almost complete accuracy.

      I taught Lisa in the classroom for two years until I decided to quit classroom teaching and focus solely on my private Educational Therapy practice.  Now Lisa comes to my home office twice a week for Algebra, while at school she will still be trying to become automatic at reading a clock and counting out change. Now, I knew that it would take Lisa a little while to get comfortable in her new surroundings, so the first time she came to my house, I ask if she wants to meet my husband, since he’d be around now and again.

      “Nah,” she says, “Where’s your printer?”  Silly me.  She wanted to get straight to what’s important.  So I show her my printer.

      “He’s an HP, like the downstairs one [at my house].  What kind is he?”

      I read her the name, “HP Photosmart Premium.”

      “Huh,” she says.  “Why do you have the pencil sharpener in front of him?”

      “Oh,” I say, “That’s because there is no paper tray and that keeps the papers from falling on the floor.”

      “Huh.  He probably has a tray.”

      “No, I’ve looked all over, and there isn’t a tray.  Let’s do some math.”

      She pauses in the middle of a problem, eyebrows furrowed.  “The tray is probably underneath him.”

      “No.  I looked.  I looked underneath and all around.  There isn’t a tray.”

      “Huh.”  Lisa finishes her problem and asks for a break.

      “Ok.  Do you want a white board break?”

      “Nah.  Let’s look for your tray.”

      Realizing it is useless to argue, I let Lisa go search for a tray I know is not there, just so she can let her pre-occupation go.

      And she finds the tray.

      Four years I’ve owned this printer and never found that stupid little tray, and within five seconds she has it pulled out and all set up for me.

      In my (admittedly weak) defense, I tell her that I thought the little indentation under which the tray was hidden was a thumb rest.


      Over the course of the next three sessions, Lisa says, “You thought it was a thumb rest.  But really it was a little tray.”

      Everyone in the LD community struggles with the choice To Label or Not To Label.  Of course we don’t want our kids stigmatized or limited by their diagnoses; each of them is so much more than just “dyslexic” or “autistic” or any other word you could put in quotations.  On the other hand, a diagnosis provides a shorthand for the types of interventions, remediations and accommodations that may help.  And we can’t forget (how could we?) that a diagnosis is required for services both at school and after.  Most importantly, a diagnosis can circumscribe a student’s disability–instead of feeling globally stupid or lazy, suddenly a child (and his or her parents and teachers) can make sense of the pattern of weaknesses and strengths and can realize that a variety of problems actually all arise from one specific source.  After all, the word define is related to making finite rather than infinite.  But we as teachers, educational therapists and parents, we have to understand that we are defining and circumscribing the learning disability, not the student.  Lisa was, and continues to be, a marvelous reminder to me that, to paraphrase S.I. Hayakawa, the diagnosis is not the student.  Thanks, Lisa.  You’ve taught me so much.  Including where my paper tray is.”

    • Blog post
    • 10 months ago
    • Views: 393
  • Neurodiversity, Play, and the Neurodiversity, Play, and the So-Called ADHD Child

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      This blog post of mine originally appeared in Gail and Paul Dennison’s new website Hearts at Play, on Thursday, August 29, 2013.   The Dennison’s are the co-founders of Brain Gym® which has helped so many kids with learning difficulties achieve success in school, home, and life.  I am happy to connect with them on this very important topic of the misdiagnosis of millions of children as ADHD:

      In May of this year, the American Psychiatric Association released a new revision of its “sacred text”—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—used by mental health professionals, insurance companies, HMOs, and other power brokers in determining whether a person has a psychiatric disorder.

      In the DSM-5, they have expanded the criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to include children who began showing symptoms of ADHD as late as twelve years old (the previous criterion was seven years old). This is going to open the floodgates for many more children to be identified as ADHD, and millions will be diagnosed and stigmatized with a negative label (the label has three negative words in it: deficit, hyperactivity, and disorder).

      While it’s true that these kids do have neurological differences when compared to typically developing children, these are developmental differences only. The best research we have suggests that the brains of kids labeled ADHD mature on average three years later than the norm (Shaw et al., 2007).

      This finding from neuroscience makes sense. Kids diagnosed with ADHD generally seem to act younger than their years. Among other things, they’re more playful than kids their own age. The larger question here should be: Is this such a bad thing? Play, after all, is one of the most important activities that human beings engage in. Great scientists, artists, and thinkers have frequently compared their own creative process to that of children at play.

      When children play, they inhabit the fertile world between actuality and possibility. They take something that is from their own fantasy (say, a trip to the moon) and combine it with something real in their environment (perhaps an empty cardboard box), and out of that encounter they create something new (like a “rocket ship”). This is the creative process. And the fact that kids diagnosed with ADHD hold on to this playfulness for a longer period of time than the average child should be regarded as a mark of strength, not disability.

      Recently, I’ve been writing and lecturing on the topic of neurodiversity, and I think this new idea is tailor-made for making sense of the abilities of so-called ADHD children. Neurodiversity says that we should look at brain differences such as ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism in the same way that we regard diversity in nature or diversity in culture. Instead of using a disease-based paradigm focused on deficits, we should be using a strength-based approach that regards these kids as part of the wonderful diversity of life.

      This approach puts the emphasis on the positive. In this instance, it places the focus on the playfulness, curiosity, imagination, and other childlike characteristics that kids with ADHD seem to hold on to for a longer period of time than “neurotypical”’ kids. There’s actually a term that’s useful for describing this youthfulness: neoteny. It means “holding youth’” and refers to people who act younger than their age. Eminent thinkers like Harvard University evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and Princeton University anthropologist Ashley Montagu have pointed out that neoteny is a positive evolutionary step in humanity. It’s the direction toward which evolution is moving. These children identified as ADHD are not disabled; they’re actually the vanguard of our species!

      With play being under attack these days from a culture steeped in too much technology (kids sitting in front of a screen instead of out playing cops and robbers), too much testing in the schools (tests don’t reward students for creativity or playfulness), and too much fear of litigation (playgrounds are getting more and more minimal because of fears of lawsuits), we need the playfulness of kids to renew us, to keep us flexible, to bring us alive. It’s only a testament to the times we live in that we take the very children who are the most alive and playful, slap a medical label on them, and say they have a disorder.

      The disorder is in our culture, folks, not in these children. We need a paradigm shift so that children who are being labeled ADHD can be recognized for the amazing kids that they really are. We should take the cue from them and learn to be more playful in our own lives, whatever our age. We should regard these kids not as disordered but as wonderfully diverse children who can wake us up from our dogmatic slumbers and transform the society in which we live.


      Shaw, P., et al. “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is characterized by a delay in cortical maturation.’’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 4, 2007, Vol. 104 No. 49, pp.19649–19654.

    • Blog post
    • 11 months ago
    • Views: 1010
  • 7 Ways to Bring Out the Best i 7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special-Needs Students

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      Recently, a former music teacher told me about a 1st grade student with Asperger’s syndrome who, on their first encounter, announced in no uncertain terms: “I hate music!” Over the next two years, the student used abusive language, had meltdowns, and was physically aggressive toward his peers. Finally, the teacher scheduled some individual time with him and discovered that he believed he was terrible at music and couldn’t sing. She let him play some of the instruments in her room and then showed him the music composition software program GarageBand on her Mac. It turned out that he was fascinated with computers and quickly figured out how to compose a song.

      The next week, the teacher shared his song with the class and from that time on things began to change. He still struggled with his behavior, but over the next two years, she explained, “he played instruments in our concerts, joined the choir, had several solos, was in the musical. … [He] gave his heart and soul to music and continued to compose and mix music at home. He told his mother that whenever he was having a bad day, he would ‘go into his music’ and there he would find peace and calm.” This story illustrates how important it is to find out as much as possible about the strengths and abilities of students with special needs.

      As a former special education teacher, I can’t count the number of times my students would come up to me and say, “Mr. A., when can I get out of this retarded class?” I began to understand that kids with special needs have two strikes against them. First, they have the disorder itself, and all the challenges it poses. But second, they have to spend a good deal of their time in school dealing with things they’re bad at. What we need to do is change this situation around so that right from the start, students with special needs are told about all the things they’re good at, and are engaged in activities that are based on those strengths.

      Here are seven ways that you can activate the strengths of your students with special needs, whether you run a full-inclusion classroom, a self-contained special ed classroom, or anything in between:

      • Discover your students’ strengths. Before they even come into your classroom, find out about your students’ strengths and abilities by talking with previous teachers and looking at cumulative files (focusing on the highest grades and test scores and any positive comments from teachers). Then, fill out a strength-based inventory for each student—and have parents fill one out as well. I have a 165-item strengths inventory in my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom, and there are others out there, too. Also, ask your special-needs students what they’re interested in, what they feel like they’re good at, and what they’d most like to study. If time is an issue, focus on the students who are the squeaky wheels and have the greatest needs.

      • Provide positive role models with disabilities. Students with special needs need to learn about individuals with disabilities who have become successful in life. This way, they can hopefully come to the conclusion that “If they can do it, so can I!” Some examples of such individuals include: Noble Prize winning geneticist Carol Greider (learning disabilities), film director Steven Spielberg (ADHD), and animal scientist Temple Grandin (autistic spectrum disorder). Create a curriculum unit entitled, “People with Disabilities Who Changed the World,” and make sure that typically developing students also take part in the lessons.

      • Develop strength-based learning strategies. Once you know your students’ special strengths, design strategies that utilize those abilities. If a student is great at drawing but has trouble reading, let her illustrate her vocabulary words. If a student shows gifts in knitting but doesn’t understand place value, have him design a fabric art piece by knitting rows of 10. There are thousands of ideas and projects that can be created by combining a student’s strengths with a learning deficit.

      • Use assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning tools. Learn about apps that capitalize on the gifts of your students with special needs. Provide a student who is a great orator but can’t write very well with a speech-to-text program such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, so that he can speak into the computer and produce writing that way. For a student with autism who loves to use an iPad but has difficulty communicating, teach her how to use an alternative augmentative communication app like Proloquo2Go, so that with the touch of a few buttons she can have a synthesized voice speak for her.

      • Maximize the power of your students’ social networks. So much of learning involves being in relationships with others, and many students with special needs have particular difficulty establishing positive social connections. Create a graphic representation of a student’s peer network, identifying both strong and weak relationships. Then, pair the student with classmates that he has the most positive relationships with using peer-teaching, cross-age tutoring, Best Buddies, or other social-learning approaches.

      • Help students envision positive future careers. Most students with special needs have either no images of themselves as working adults in the future, or have primarily negative ones. Encourage these students by helping them make links between their strengths and the requirements of specific jobs or careers. So, for example, a student with ADHD who loves adrenaline-producing experiences might thrive in a high-stimulation job like firefighting. A student with learning disabilities who has a penchant for art might do very well working as a graphic artist.

      • Create positive modifications in the learning environment. Think about how you can create changes in your classroom that dovetail with the particular strengths of your students with special needs. Provide a student with ADHD who learns best by moving, for example, with a stability ball that he can jiggle on while doing his classwork. For a student with Down Syndrome who loves to humorously mimic others, build a simple puppet theater where he can act out math word problems in front of the class and get positive feedback.

      A movement is emerging in education called “neurodiversity,” which suggests that we view our students with special needs in terms of “diversity” rather than “disability.” By embracing this more positive perspective, and coupling it with differentiation strategies that build on students’ strengths, we can help ensure that our students with special needs achieve success both in the classroom and out in the real world.

      – Thomas Armstrong currently writes and speaks to educators around the world, and is the author of 15 books, including his most recent, Neurodiversity in the Classroom:  Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life (ASCD).  This blog post originally appeared in Education Week Teacher, April 9, 2013..

    • Blog post
    • 11 months ago
    • Views: 6672
  • Read My New Article in Educati Read My New Article in Education Week Teacher on Neurodiversity

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      I have an article in the April 9, 2013 online issue of Education Week Teacher entitled: ”7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special Needs Students.” In the article, I share the experience of a music teacher who had a young student with Asperger’s syndrome in her class who said he hated music and proceeded to make her and the class miserable for the rest of the year. But then she introduced him to GarageBand, the Apple software program that allows users to easily compose music. He took to it like gangbusters, and soon, he was winning acceptance from others for his music, and had a whole new way to express himself in the world.

      This story suggests that we focus on the strengths of kids with special needs rather than focus too much time on their weaknesses. I share seven tips for doing this: 1. discover students’ strengths, 2. provide role models of people with disabilities, 3. develop strength-based learning strategies, 4. use assistive technologies and Universal Design for learning methodologies, 5. maximize the power of your students’ social networks, 6. help students envision positive futures, and 7. create positive environmental modifications. To read the entire article, click here. You can also leave a comment just below the online article if you wish. I’d love to get your reactions!

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 1497
  • Neurodiversity in New York Sta Neurodiversity in New York State

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      I just completed two one-day workshops on “Neurodiversity in the Classroom: A Revolutionary Concept in Special Education,” for educators in the Albany, New York area, March 13-14, 2013. The March 13th workshop was comprised of 200 educators who were part of Capital District Beginnings, a service agency that provides a wide array of special education and therapy services to children in their homes or in one of over 70 different child care centers, preschools and schools including Universal Pre-Kindergartens and Head Start programs. During the workshop, teachers shared many great experiences about working with the strengths of kids with special needs. One teacher, for example, talked about a child who had an emotional/behavioral disorder but loved to draw, so after an emotional meltdown, the teacher would sit and draw with him the events leading up to the disturbance. This helped him gain insight and distance from the experience, and learn better ways of handling the situation in the future.

      On March 14th, I worked with 40 educators at a workshop sponsored by the Tinsley Institute (which also co-sponsored the March 13th workshop), a group that engages in professional development, research, program evaluation, and curriculum development in the greater Albany area. They also co-sponsored this event in conjunction with the Capital Area School Development Association (CASDA), which is the school improvement center at the University of Albany. There were also wonderful anecdotes told by teachers at this event. One teacher, for example, talked about a boy with autism who knew absolutely everything there was to know about vacuums. He was fascinated with them, and even served as a consultant to the teacher when she needed a good vacuum for cleaning up dog hair in her home. He found the perfect model for her! As a reward for good work and behavior, he was allowed to help vacuum classrooms with the school custodian!

      In both workshops, we talked about the difficulties that students with special needs face in New York state due to the increased emphasis on standardized testing, and the fact that these students will no longer be allowed to graduate with an IEP diploma (i.e. one tailored to their needs), but will have to take the same pencil and paper tests as typically developing students in order to graduate (with minimal accommodations allowed). For kids who need alternative ways of meeting standards (through assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning tools, alternative texts, hands-on learning, one-to-one attention, and other strength-based approaches), there are few options for them in this scenario, and many of these kids are facing the prospect of not graduating with a diploma, thus hampering their future school and career ambitions.

      This is disheartening, considering all of wonderful things that kids with special needs can offer the world if their unique ways of learning and knowing are simply honored and valued. We can still have the same high standards for these students as for typically developing kids, but we need to provide alternative means of learning and demonstrating mastery of the Core Common Standards. I promised that I would write an email to Governor Cuomo to advocate for the needs of these students. Here is the message I sent to him:

      Dear Governor Cuomo, I am disheartened on learning that students with special needs will no longer be able to graduate in New York state with an IEP diploma, but must meet the same paper and pencil standardized testing requirements as typically developing students in order to graduate from high school. This is going to be very difficult for most of these kids to achieve. They certainly must be held to the same high academic standards as other students, but because of their diverse ways of learning, they need to be provided with opportunities to express their competencies in core subjects through alternative methods, including assistive technologies, Universal Design for Learning, alternative texts, hands-on demonstrations, project-based learning opportunities, and the use of a portfolio with materials that document their competencies in state standards. I implore you to work toward creating a fair and equitable set of alternative strategies through which students with special needs (e.g. autism, learning disabilities, ADHD, intellectual disabilities etc.) can be allowed to show what they know in terms of their strengths and abilities, rather than having their disabilities and difficulties make it so that the route to graduation and further school and career advancement is closed to them. These kids have many strengths that our culture needs in order to stay vibrant, and we must give them every opportunity to have the same chances for post-secondary education and career advancement as typically developing students who are simply better able to cope with pencil and paper standardized tests.

      Yours Truly, Dr. Thomas Armstrong

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 386
  • 7 Ways to Adapt the Common Cor 7 Ways to Adapt the Common Core Standards for Students with Special Needs

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      The establishment of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for students nationwide represents a particularly robust challenge for teachers of students with special needs. On the one hand, advocates for students with disabilities have made it clear that they want these students to be held to the same high level of achievement as typically developing students. On the other hand, the particular disabilities that these students possess may make it difficult for them to meet certain standards. This is especially true if the avenues for meeting those standards are defined too rigidly. What follows are seven ways to help educators provide flexible means through which students with special needs can master the Common Core State Standards while still maintaining high expectations for achievement.

      1. Provide alternative means of expression. If the standard does not explicitly state that the student must perform the competency via written expression consider other means through which the student can meet it. For example: ELA.W.11.12.3b – Use narrative techniques such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines to develop experiences, events, and/or characters. In this case, narrative techniques might include having the student draw a cartoon strip, do an oral presentation, complete a work of art, compose a musical piece, or a write graphic novel.
      2. Utilize the students interests. For example: K.CC.6 – Identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than, or equal to the number of objects in another group, e.g., by using counting and matching strategies (include groups with up to 10 objects). If the student loves to play with miniature soldiers, let him use them in both learning about, and demonstrating mastery in the standard.
      3. Employ alternative texts. For example: 11-12.RST.6 – Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, identifying important issues that remain unresolved. Let the student do the analysis and identifications using a ”text” other than a textbook or worksheet, such as a compelling novel or non-fiction work, a video, a talking book, a website, or a live interview with an expert.
      4. Use assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning tools. For example: ELA.RL.4.3. – Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s words, thoughts, or actions). Let the student use text-to-speech software (such as the Kurzweil 3000), or an interactive digital book to help with the reading of the story or drama.
      5. Engage the student’s strengths. For example: 7.G.3 – Describe the two-dimensional figures that result from slicing three-dimensional figures, as in plane sections of right rectangular prisms and right rectangular pyramids. If the student learns best through hands-on activities, let him slice volumes of clay, or some other malleable material, as a way of learning about two-dimensional figures that result from slicing three-dimensional figures.
      6. Pair the student with a typically developing student. For example: 2.MD.7 – Tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m. Have a typically developing student engage in peer-teaching with a student with special needs. Using real digital and analog clocks, let them take turns quizzing each other on the standard.
      7. Modify the environment. For example: 4.W.1.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. Provide a comfortable environment for writing. Let students write in ways that they prefer such as: laying down, standing up, at a computer station, table or desk, with or without music, using pen, pencil (handgrips if needed), or computer.

      The Common Core States Standards Initiative has clearly stated its policy concerning students with disabilities: ”In order for students with disabilities to meet high academic standards and to fully demonstrate their conceptual and procedural knowledge and skills in mathematics, reading, writing, speaking and listening (English language arts), their instruction must incorporate supports and accommodations.” [emphasis mine]. Educators are thus empowered to become creative in developing innovative ways through which students with special needs can acquire competency in and mastery of these nationwide standards.

      For more strategies and tools to help students with special needs meet the requirements of the Common Core State Standards, see my book: Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life. And visit my website: www.institute4learning.com.

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 14282
  • Neurodiversity: The Next Civi Neurodiversity: The Next Civil Rights Movement

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      Yesterday there was a segment on MSNBC (part of NOW with Alex Wagner) that focused on neurodiversity as the next civil rights movement. The focus was on one school in New York, The IDEAL School of Manhattan,which supports full inclusion of students with disabilities into the mainstream, and cultivates an attitude among all students of embracing diversities, not just of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, but also of neurological organization.

      It is refreshing to see neurodiversity handled in this way by the national media. Linking neurodiversity to the full inclusion movement is particularly important, since students diagnosed with disabilities have traditionally been excluded from the mainstream, or only allowed to participate with typically developing kids part of the day.

      It was unfortunate to hear an”expert” psychiatrist on the MSNBC show suggest that the IDEAL School had an ”in your face” policy toward diversity – this implies that taking a positive attitude toward neurodiversity is somehow brash or blatantly aggressive. Neurodiversity is how the world IS - and making a simple statement of that fact, and the idea that this is actually a GOOD thing for people everywhere, is simply speaking the truth.

      I think, though, that the most revolutionary part of the MSNBC segment was the linking of the neurodiversity movement to the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. We have come a long way toward embracing people of all colors, creeds, and sexual orientations. But too many people push away people with disabilities (as the expert psychiatrist rightly pointed out). Schools like IDEAL (and I would also add the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts), show us that this new attitude of acceptance and celebration of differences is happening right now, and should continue to spread to all of our schools nationwide.

      Good work, MSNBC, and Alex Wagner, for airing this important news story!

      For ideas on implementing a neurodiversity perspective into the schools, see my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life, and also William Henderson’s book (the former principal of the William Henderson Inclusion Elementary School), The Blind Advantage: How Going Blind Made Me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made Our School Better for Everyone.

      Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., Executive Director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development.

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 411
  • Leonardo da Vinci's IEP Meetin Leonardo da Vinci's IEP Meeting

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      Principal: ”Okay, I think we’re ready to start. Who wants to get the ball rolling?”‘

      School Psychologist: ”Well, I ran him through some tests, but his attention was all over the place. He kept looking at a part of the wall in my office where the plaster had fallen off and said he saw a battleship fighting a dragon. I’m wondering whether he needs a workup by a psychiatrist to rule out possible psychotic features.”

      Learning Disability Specialist: “I’m concerned that he occasionally writes backwards. As you probably know, this is a soft sign for neurological dysfunction.”

      Classroom Teacher: “Yes, I’ve seen those reversals in my classroom. He never seems to get any work done. He’ll start one thing and then lose interest. He’s always doodling in the margins of the worksheets I give him. And when he’s not doing that, he’s looking out the window daydreaming.”

      Learning Disability Specialist: ”I’ve noticed the same thing in my remediation sessions with him. He appears to be a good candidate for psychostimulant medication.”

      Classroom Teacher: ”Yes! That would help me SO MUCH! Last week, we found him in the boiler room with a screw driver. He said he had a great idea about how to improve the heating duct system in the school. We had to put him on detention.”

      Learning Disability Specialist: ”He’s falling way behind in reading and most of his other academic subjects, although his math and science aren’t too bad. I recommend that we take him out of his art class for more one-on-one remediation to focus on his spelling, handwriting, and phonemic awareness skills.”

      Principal: “That sounds like a great idea. And can you set up some workable instructional objectives? I’m concerned that with the Common Core Standards just around the corner he’s going to be lost. And then what’s going to happen to him? I mean, he can’t exactly make a living by doodling, now, can he?”

      Teachers! Don’t let this happen to the little Leonardos in your classrooms! Find out as much as you can about their gifts and abilities. Read my book: Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life. And visit my website: www.institute4learning.com.

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 15519
  • 7 Great Strength-Based Univers 7 Great Strength-Based Universal Design for Learning Apps for Students with Special Needs

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:


      The rapid pace of new educational technologies has made it so that students with special needs can accomplish many things in the classroom that were difficult or even impossible for them only a few years ago. The following list contains some of the best apps I’ve seen for kids with neurodiversities in communication, reading, sociability, attention, and behavior.

      1. Dragon Naturally Speaking - A speech-to-text application that enables students who have problems putting their ideas down via pen and pencil or keyboard, to nevertheless develop their writing abilities. Students speak into the microphone of the computer and this software then translates the spoken word into printed text. This app is great for students who have strong oral language abilities but problems with written expression.
      2. Proloquo2Go - An alternative and augmentative communication app that allows students who have difficulty speaking or cannot speak at all, to nevertheless communicate with others. Used with a tablet (e.g. iPad etc.), students press individual buttons on the screen that trigger a synthesized speaker to say a particular word, phrase, or sentence. So, for example, one button may say ”I’m hungry!” (and include a visual symbol representing hunger). When the student is hungry, she can push that button and have that need directly expressed. Buttons can be individually customized to specific needs, commands, or wishes. For autistic students with severe communication difficulties or intellectual disabled students with articulation problems, who nevertheless may be interested in and efficient users of tablets, this application can make a world of difference in connecting to the people around them.
      3. iStudiez – A great application for high school students who have trouble with organization, focus, and other traits of a student diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Among other things it helps students schedule their school day, get reminders on assignments and homework, keep track of grades and test scores, and manage course work requirements and related details. For the student who loves computers but can’t remember homework assignments, this is a good match!
      4. Kurzweil 3000 – A speech to text application that can scan printed materials and translate those visual images into speech sounds. For students who have significant difficulties reading (e.g. dyslexic students), this can give them access to texts they might otherwise have problems accessing, and help them with their reading load.
      5. Stories About Me - Allows teachers to create their own social stories for their students who have difficulty with basic social skills like turn-taking, sharing , playing a game, interpreting gestures, recounting field trips, understanding directions, and other important interpersonal activities. By putting together photos, text, and voice recordings into a talking picture book, students with autism, emotional and behavioral disorders, or other neurodiversities can play back rich media stories of their own personal experiences.
      6. iCommunicate – Lets teachers design visual schedules, storyboards, communication boards, routines, flash cards, choice boards, speech cards, and other materials for kids who have learning and communication difficulties. It is customizable to specific classroom needs. Helps students prepare for transitions, anticipate routines, reinforce turn-taking, express their needs, and address other classroom management, behavior, and communication issues.
      7. Tiblo – This one is not actually an app, but a UDL manipulative tool that I just couldn’t resist adding to the list; these are individual interlocking blocks that can be assembled into two- or three-dimensional structures. What makes this manipulative tool so amazing, however, is that each individual block can be programmed to record sounds (e.g. phonemes, words, sentences etc.), as well as hold visuals (e.g. pictures, written letters, sounds etc.). So, for example, a student or teacher might take four blocks, and record the sound ”buh” for one, ”ah” for the second one, ”lll…” for the third one, and ”ball” for the fourth, thus teaching combining of phonemes (and by changing blocks around, the student can blend sounds in different ways). On top of each block, the student can place ”post-its” with the written letters and words or pictures. This is a terrific tool for kids with reading disabilities who have hands-on visual spatial strengths.

      For a summary of websites that describe other applications for students with special needs, see this New York Times article.

      For additional strategies, tools, and resources to help students with special needs use their strengths to become more successful in school, see my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life published by ASCD. Also, for information about my other books for teachers of students with special needs, visit my website: www.institute4learning.com

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 3416
  • 17 Ways to Teach Vocabulary Sk 17 Ways to Teach Vocabulary Skills to Students with Special Needs

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      A new study at Michigan State suggests that there is limited vocabulary instruction in kindergarten classes across the U.S., particularly for those students living at the poverty level. The is problematic because numerous studies have noted how building a good vocabulary right from start of schooling is directly related to later academic achievement and to success in a wide range of school subjects. The above study didn’t specifically address the issue of students with special needs (i.e.,neurodiversities such as learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, intellectual disabilities, autism, and emotional and behavioral disorders). These kids in particular need learning strategies that capitalize on their strengths in areas such as music, physical expression, social interaction, and interest in nature. Here are 17 ways to teach vocabulary skills in kindergarten and at other grade levels that are good for all students, but in particular are helpful for students with special needs.:

      1. Select and play recordings of musical pieces that have lyrics containing advanced vocabulary words (words beyond the students’ own grade level). At the end of each song, discuss with the students the words that have been used in the music.
      2. After having learned their definitions, have students dramatize the meanings of advanced vocabulary words. These can be quick improvisations of single words, or more involved dramatic presentations.
      3. As teacher, make up a story that includes a number of advanced vocabulary words, and then tell the story to the class in your own words. On subsequent days, have students’ re-tell the story while being prompted to use the vocabulary words that were contained in the original telling.
      4. Use the advanced vocabulary words in your own daily teaching. So, for example, at the beginning of the day, you might want to say something like: ”I’m so happy to see you all at the commencement of this school day.” Then ask the students if they can guess what the word means. Discuss the meaning of the word, and then plan on using the word several times during the day, or at the beginning of each day (that is, at the commencement of each day!).
      5. Take the advanced vocabulary words of the week and have students put them on colorful posters and then draw pictures of their meanings next to each word. Then, have students share their vocabulary posters with the class, giving the words and their ”picture” meanings.
      6. Show students how to take clay and form individual vocabulary words (by rolling out the clay and shaping them into individual words). Then have them create a clay sculpture next to each word that represent the word’s meaning. Students can then share their words and their ”meaning sculptures” with the rest of the class.
      7. Choose individual vocabulary words, such as the word elegant and then, after giving the meaning, ask students to think of a time in their life when they felt particularly elegant. Have the students share their personal experiences while using the word elegant in their account.
      8. Read children’s literature that includes advanced vocabulary words. As you read the story, stop at advanced words and ask the class what they mean. If no one knows, then provide a definition in your own words before going on with the story. Then, when re-reading the story at a later date, stop and ask students if they remember what the individual words mean.
      9. Put advanced vocabulary words on 8 x 11″ colored posterboard and put them in different places on the walls of the classroom (not in any ordered way). Then, in the course of the day, as you are engaged in doing other things, briefly interrupt your activity, walk over to a word, touch it, and give the definition. Repeat this over the course of the week, so that eventually all you’ll need to do is touch the word (as a prompt) and the students will be able to give the definitions.
      10. Go outside and place 10-12 advanced vocabulary words on 8 x 11″ sheets of posterboard in different places in a natural setting near to the school. Then take your students outside and have them gather around each vocabulary word as you give its meaning. Repeat this on subsequent days. Eventually, the students themselves will be able to provide the definitions.
      11. Draw a gigantic ”board game” using chalk on the concrete portion of the playground next to the school. In each square, write down an advanced vocabulary word. Make a huge die by taping colored posterboard into the shape of a cube with numbers from 1-6 on the sides. Then choose three or four students to play a quick game, where they throw the die and move the requisite number of squares. When they reach a square, they need to say the word and give its meaning (having previously been introduced to it in the classroom through other activities). If they get it right, they can roll again. Make the game quick enough so that several games can be played using as many students as possible.
      12. Have a ”show and tell” time during the day when students bring ”words” to share that they have ”collected” at home (and learned the meaning of from their parents). Each student will hold up a word written in large letters on a sheet of paper, say the name of the word, give its definition, and use it in a sentence. Classmates can then ask the student questions about the word (e.g. ”do you like the word?” ”when is a good time to use this word?” etc.).
      13. Create a cardboard puppet theater (using a refrigerator box or other large box), and make simple sock puppets as an art activity. Then have students take the sock puppets and put on a play where in the course of the action one of the sock puppets brings in a word (on a small card) and another sock puppet asks for the meaning of the word, which the other sock puppet then gives him (or says that he doesn’t know it, in which case the puppet can ask the teacher or classmates for the meaning).
      14. Put up advanced vocabulary words next to various objects around the classroom (e.g. ”intercom” ”encyclopedia,” ”book alcove” ”mathematics center” etc.), and then, when students are working near those objects, come around and ask the students to give the meaning of each word (or provide the meaning if they don’t know it). Repeat this over time so that everyone knows the meanings of each word of each object in the classroom.
      15. Have the class make a giant circle, and place an advanced vocabulary word on an 8 x 11″ sheet of paper or posterboard in front of one student (at her feet). Then put on some music and have the students go around the circle, making sure not to disturb the word. Then stop the music. Whoever is in front of the word must say the word and give its definition (or receive help from the teacher or classmates). Repeat this with other students and other words.
      16. When going on field trips, make sure to point out signs encountered that have advanced vocabulary words on them (e.g. ”no loitering, camping, vending, or parking of vehicles”), and provide definitions for them.
      17. For snack time, bring in foods that have interesting names (e.g. kohlrabi, parsnip, ketchup, sushi), and as students are sampling the foods, tell them a little bit about each food item.

      For more strategies to help neurodiverse students achieve success in school, see my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life (ASCD). Also, visit my website:  www.institute4learning.com.

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 9131
  • Tips for Creating a Strength-B Tips for Creating a Strength-Based Classroom

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      Today I did an online chat (text-based), which was sponsored by Education Week Teacher,and moderated by Associate Editor Liana Heitin. Basically the way it worked was, people from around the country (and the world, too, I think) sent in questions that everyone could see in a window on their browser, and then I’d answer the questions in real time, and these replies would appear in the window just under the questions.

      We covered a lot of topics related to neurodiversity and building a strength-based classroom, including using Universal Design for Learning tools, neurodiversity and the Common Core Standards, the federal IDEA law and holding positive IEP meetings, research supporting the strengths of students with different diagnoses (e.g. ADHD, dyslexia, Down syndrome, autism, emotional and behavioral disorders), using collaborative teaching, bringing parents into the dialogue, and helping leaders to prepare for neurodiversity as a new paradigm shift in both regular and special education.

      The transcript also contains information on ordering my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life.

      To read the complete transcript (the chat lasted one hour), click here

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 408
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  • Appreciating Special Education Appreciating Special Education Students' Diversity: Education Week Commentary

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      Today’s edition of Education Week, education’s news site of record, contains a Commentary piece that I wrote on the importance of valuing the strengths of students with special needs. In the article I write about my experience as a special education teacher almost forty years ago, and the disillusionment I felt when I realized that special education was not going to be a place where I’d be developing students’ human potential and unleashing students’ creativity and playfulness, but rather a soulless enterprise where I was responsible for processes like ”auditory sequential memory” and ”sensory-motor skills” and the assessment of miniscule instructional objectives. I point out how things haven’t really changed much over the past forty years, and special education is still largely driven by a focus on students’ deficits, disorders, and dysfunctions.

      I suggest in the article that it’s time for a paradigm change, and that the concept of neurodiversity provides just what is needed as far as focusing on strengths and differences instead of disabilities. I point out how there is an emerging literature on the strengths of students with special needs, including Simon Baron-Cohen’s work on the systemizing abilities of people with autism, Katya von Karolyi’s work on the three-dimensional visualizing abilities of students with dyslexia, and Elizabeth Dykens’ studies on the personality attributes of people with intellectual disabilities, among other research.

      Finally, I point out how recent developments in education reveal a movement toward a more strength-based approaches to special education, such as Colorado-based Jefferson County school district’s inauguration of an office of ”diversity and inclusion,” the appointment of Ari Ne’eman, a neurodiversity advocate, as a member of the National Council on Disability, and the inclusion of neurodiversity in Andrew Solmon’s latest best-selling critically acclaimed book Far from the Tree.

      The article is based upon my recent book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life. To read this Commentary in Education Week, click here. It will also be coming out in print form for those who have subscriptions to the paper.

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 573
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  • Advice on Building a Strength- Advice on Building a Strength-Based Classroom: New ASCD Webinar

    • From: Thomas_Armstrong
    • Description:

      Calling all educators! Want to create an atmosphere in your school or classroom that is based upon the positive attributes of all your students? Want to meet the needs of kids with special needs by creating IEPs and learning strategies that are based on their strengths? Then watch this free webinar sponsored by ASCD that presents strategies for bringing out the best in every child, but particularly in those who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and emotional and behavioral disorders. This webinar presents a revolutionary new paradigm based on ''diversity'' rather than ''disability.'' The webinar will show you how to create positive ecological niches for these students consisting of strength-based learning strategies, positive environmental modifications, positive role models, affirmative career aspirations, enriched human resource networks, assistive technologies/Universal Design for Learning, and basic strengths awareness to help ensure that students with special needs achieve success in school and life. To watch the webinar, click here.

    • Blog post
    • 1 year ago
    • Views: 311
  • What is the role and responsib What is the role and responsibility of educator preparation programs to foster and sustain effectiveness?

    • From: Suzann_Girtz
    • Description:

      This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum, or join the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge.

      What is the role and responsibility of educator preparation programs to foster and sustain effectiveness?

      This question was posed by the ASCD to elicit blog posts as part of a series.  It was just one in a string of questions about teacher effectiveness and the evaluation of such.  So, I acknowledge that the issue is much greater than this one question and I hope all educators will see that preparatory programs play a substantial role in defining the reputation of the profession.  This is an important question – whether you are a preservice or inservice educator.


      Presumably, the word “effectiveness” typically alludes to the capacity of a teacher to influence his/her students’ achievement.  While there is currently no direct measure of such effectiveness, a picture can be painted from at least three types of measures:  (1) classroom observations, (2) student perception surveys and (3) student achievement gains (MET study, 2012, http://www.metproject.org/).  So how do teacher preparation programs develop candidates that can perform well across those measures?


      I began by asking preservice teacher candidates the same title question.  Their responses are below the dotted line.  A repeated theme across their answers was, “Get us out in the field.”  Teacher candidates understand that the value of what they learn in the University classroom multiplies upon application to the field classroom.  It becomes real.  It becomes relevant.   Having a strong connection to the field cannot be underestimated in terms of its importance to teacher education programs, and should be central to their development.


      I agree and want people to consider an additional way to connect higher education to the field that has not yet developed. Allow me to follow the thread of reasoning begun with the question regarding effectiveness.  Presumably, to increase anything – its helpful if that thing is measurable so that we are aware of impacts.  So effectiveness can be connected directly to evaluation, and it does seem that good teaching can be “measured”, according to the MET study.  Those tangible measurables, the complicated pieces of a complex undertaking, get publicized in simplistic ways which are then consumed by a public that opines about the reputation of the profession. That is the thread that I want to pull, all the while acknowledging that none of this is as simple as is presented in this short piece.


      Currently there is no consistent standard to become a practicing teacher.  Therefore, it is difficult to see if effectiveness is fostered except for within small communities of learners – which has its own value to be sure.  However, as a profession, teachers have no single bar via evaluation to demonstrate effectiveness.  Is it any wonder then that local opinions of the profession (“Oh, our teachers are great.  We love them!”) vary so widely with national opinion (“Our schools are just not effective.”)?  Might it be that simply having a consistent minimum description of a beginning-beginner teacher would impact public opinion?  Not only would it give the public something to hold on to rather than a different set of measures for every community, but it would also show a consistent standard for entry into the profession, much like the bar exam for lawyers.  (Shortly after I penned this, NPR aired a segment that relates to that very notion, available at http://www.npr.org/2013/01/29/170579245/union-backs-bar-exam-for-teachers.)  However, the education profession might then have the additional opportunity to develop support for sustained growth in the profession as teachers went out into the field if this baseline informed ongoing professional development.  We could use its power for good – at the same time influencing the perception of the profession, entering the public policy conversation, and reclaiming our standing as a profession built on a body of researched-based best practices, not a cookbook set of skills.


      The pieces are already being built.  (I thought it was interesting that the NRP piece did not mention that.)  The Teacher Performance Assessment, known as the edTPA (https://www.edtpa.com/) for preservice teachers, is well into field-testing and currently used by over 20 states.  Washington inservice teachers are working with the Teacher-Evaluation Pilot, or TPEP (http://tpep-wa.org/).  There is overlap between the efforts, to be sure – but connections, ties that might strengthen the reputation of the profession as the evaluations roll out and impact public opinion, are not yet intentional, standardized, or formalized within the state.


      But Washington is an “accelerated” state for these efforts, one of the first to tie such evaluations as the edTPA to consequential policy required by every teacher certification program, and the TPEP into all schools.  As both systems, higher education and P-12 move forward with these efforts, what is their responsibility to each other?  Acknowledging that mutuality is certainly a facet of the answer to:

      What is the role and responsibility of educator preparation programs to foster and sustain effectiveness?


      Second and third-year undergraduate teacher candidates’ responses are found below:

      It is my belief that an education preparation program must expose their students to as much field experience as possible. This is vital. They must have active learning as opposed to learning from textbooks and lectures. Students in this program must also be exposed to effective teaching materials as well as resources to expand on this. In addition they must be familiar with the teaching materials and absolutely should use them before using them in their own classroom. In addition, the program should also make certain their students know teaching is an on-going learning experience which will never be perfected, but should be something to work towards. - Erin Loe

      In order to make effective teachers an education preparation program is responsible for preparing educators in 4 different ways. First by giving the tools and practice necessary for educators to plan their classes, for instance practice creating lesson and unit plans and developing a curriculum for their respective content areas. Second, by helping the future educators to develop their assessments in a way that will benefit their students learning the most, learning to use differentiation appropriately in a classroom. Thirdly, by learning how to apply findings from the assessments in the classroom in order to make sure that the subject matter is being understood by the students. Finally, being able to use these skills in a classroom with real students and get the students engaged in the lesson being taught and making it relevant to their students’ lives. - Zach O’Neill

      Teacher education programs must keep candidates informed on current issues in education. Since the teaching profession is constantly changing with new curriculum, technology, assessments, and legislation, candidates need to be aware of what is happening and adapt to these changes. Though it is crucial to teach candidates about these issues in class, the best way for them to learn is through experience. Candidates should have many different field experiences and service learning projects in the schools. Field experience is the best education for an aspiring teacher because it shows what lesson planning, teaching strategies, and the state standards look like in the real world. It also gives candidates the opportunity to decide if teaching is truly their calling in life. - Celeste Flock

      I believe that teacher preparation programs are responsible for providing aspiring teachers with the most advanced ways promote interest and determination in young minds. It is not just about creating that desire for learning on average, but rather that we learn how to inspire that love of education in students that are more difficult to teach. The role of the program is to give potential teachers experience working with English language learners, students with learning disabilities, and gifted students so that when they become teachers they know how to teach those learners in a way that will positively impact their lives. - Taylor Petersen

      I believe that teacher preparation programs need to inspire future teachers to acquire the tools they need in order for their students to be inspired and then be encouraged to engage in higher level thinking and inquiry. Preparation programs should instruct future teachers to focus on celebrating the students’ strengths. I believe that if a student can learn to recognize and value their own strengths along with their peers strengths, they will develop a passion for learning that will be forever instilled in them. Along with the passion aspect, I also believe preparations programs need to have a focus on the ever-changing curriculum and other legislation issues. Future teachers need to learn not to take everything for face value but learn to dig deeper in all categories that are involved. - Alexandra Tallas

      Part of the field experience aspect of teacher preparation must also involve reflection. Teacher candidates need to know how to reflect on their own work and methods. They must be open to constructive criticism and able to gauge their own effectiveness. Teacher preparation must involve preparation in teacher collaboration so candidates know the importance of cooperating with colleagues and seeking support. It is inevitable that teachers will have diverse classrooms with English language learners and students at a variety of ability levels, so candidates must be prepared to teach to all students. - Ellen Chirhart

      Another important responsibility teacher preparation programs have is to not emphasize one subject area, especially for elementary level candidates. Literacy, Math, Science, History, and the Arts are all important in their own unique ways and it does more harm than good when one is considered more important than the others. - Sari Hertel

      The role of educator preparation programs are to help teachers better facilitate learning to students by helping teachers be better prepared through assessment of students. For example, assessing the knowledge of students in order to understand the emphasis needed on a particular lesson. This may be a test in the beginning of the semester that measures each student’s knowledge a future lesson that will happen. When a majority of the class shows they understand a certain standard, less time should be spent on that standard and focus more on the standards that students are not as knowledgeable on. However, an educator must also recognize that a majority of the class is not the whole class, nor a minority of the class is the whole class. This means that even though there may be a majority or a minority of people who may understand (or not understand) a standard, there are still students who can demonstrate those standards. A class with a majority not meeting the standards through assessment may have students who do meet those standards, while there may be a majority of students who may understand a standard when a few students don’t. Basically, educator preparation programs help us recognize how to meet everyone’s needs, and not just the majority’s needs. - Gene Dawydiak

      The most important thing to me is experience.  Getting out into the classroom and getting that real experience.  Reflecting on those experiences is important as well, because that really makes you think about what you’re doing and how to improve yourself.  Reading and researching teaching strategies and methods is vital, but getting out into the field and practicing it is the most crucial. - Tom D’Aboy

      I agree with Tom. We can all sit in a classroom and be taught about appropriate teaching methods, assessment tools, differentiation, etc. but the real learning comes from the classroom. Working with students hands on, practicing teaching lessons, seeing first hand what works and does not work in the classroom. It allows you to see first hand what works, what doesn’t work, and helps new teachers learn how to deal with those issues before they are on their own. People always say that practice makes perfect and teaching is the same way. - Anna Demarinis

      Researching and learning different teaching methods as well as rules and regulations is extremely important.  However, I think that the most important part of the teacher education program is taking all these ideas into the classroom and seeing for oneself what works and what doesn’t.  Engaging in and reflecting on real life experience allows us, as future teachers, to mature, grow, and learn. - Jayson Orth

      I believe that it is the program’s responsibility to give its students as much experience as possible. It is easy to read from a textbook and take notes about classroom management, assessment, etc., but what is learned in class does not take importance until it is implemented. I learn from experience. When I am in the classroom setting, I learn about my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Therefore, it is the role and responsibility of the teaching program to place students in the classroom environment and reflect on their experience. Also, have an advisor oversee students in the schools in order to give constructive criticism to see what they need to improve on and what they are succeeded in. It is important for students in an education program to gain comfortableness in the school setting before they have a classroom of their own.  - Christy Clenin

      It’s nice to know strategies of teaching and classroom management so that you have some clue what to do when you actually end up in the classroom. But by far the most valuable thing is having experience with real students in a real classroom. Theories of learning are forgettable until you actually apply and experience them. The most effective way to prepare educators is to have them simultaneously work in the classroom while they learn about theories, regulations, strategies, etc. that go along with what they’re doing in the classroom. This serves for a memorable cross traffic between the two environments where future educators can apply their experience to the class and apply what they learn in class to their own teaching.  - Clara Shands







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