Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I am going to try to explain all the facets of attention. I will be using the model from All Kinds of Minds, but as you know, many experts in the field have different ways of organizing and presenting information that is basically the same. They divide attention into 3 facets: Mental Energy (having the energy and stamina to concentrate at all), Processing (being able to focus on interacting with information in order to learn it), and Production (being able to pay attention in order to demonstrate learning through an expressive mode). Here are further explanations he gives for each in his video from the Developing Minds series.

1. Alertness
*paying attention sometimes in spite of mental fatigue
*preferential seating, cue for attention, using a “focus object”—something to keep their hands busy can help alertness, but monitor because some things may become distracting
2. Sleep/Arousal
*may have trouble sleeping and then have trouble waking
*improve sleep patterns with consistent bed time using passive activities to help relax and soft background music or white noise
3. Mental Effort
*may need a boost to get started
*help with first sentence or guide organization of thought
*use steps of things to do or lists for things like editing
*use timer-break into manageable sections, allow breaks
* help w/organization, clear work area, & note time and location of best focus
4. Performance
*make aware of up and down days and give strategies for days that require more effort and planning to do well

1. Saliency Determination
*discerning & prioritizing what is important
*being distracted by wrong stimuli & miss important information
*highlight, summarize, note taking guidance, underline question word, focus w/goals
2. Depth & Detail of
*may bog down in detail and miss main point or not understand deeply enough to remember
*may need more repetition for underlying concepts, use of subvocalization, or have outlines provided to clarify main points & details
3. Cognitive Activation
*connection of new to old knowledge
*under active with make now connections
*over active may connect to too much causing distractions
*relate to prior knowledge through discussion
4. Focal Maintenance
*Attending too long or not long enough
*give cues to continue attention and compliment to reinforce effort
5. Satisfaction Level
*Insatiable-may crave excitement which they create if it is not there
*strong desire for constant stimulation
* help them understand what this means and provide times when it is allowed

1. Previewing
*Predicting outcomes of several choices, stories, paper to write, results of behavior
*Practice predicting scenarios
2. Facilitation & Inhibition
*Use prediction skills to consider all options & make best choice
*Impulsivity is acting without thinking, predicting, and making a choice
*Practice wait time, reward controls
3. Pacing
*Many think speed is goal or just get started good when everyone is finishing
*Encourage to slow down, use timer, estimate & plan time w/help
4. Self-Monitoring
*Keep checklist on desk to mark when realize not on task
*Provide steps for editing and completing work
*Give 2 bonus pts for correctly predicting grade estimate
5. Reinforceability
*use of precedent, experience, and prior knowledge—hind sight
*keep log of past experience

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Memory is More Complicated than you Think

There are 3 components to memory. The first is short term, where we sort through all the visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic stimuli coming at us and select something to hold briefly in our minds. You can see how attention would affect this ability to sort, choose, and hold onto relevant information.

The next is long term memory. Review puts thing into short term memory repeatedly, which allows it to move to long term memory. Getting to know how much review you need and which modalities (sight, sound, feel, touch) are best for you is helpful in developing efficient study habits. It is important to note that lots of short reviews are more effective because attention wanes during long repetitive study sessions. Research has also indicated that reviewing material before sleeping aids movement to long term memory. Having material well organized and hooked to previously learned material also makes it easier to retrieve later when you need it.

The third component of memory is Active Working Memory. This is heavily affected by attention as well. I have heard the analogy of a work table. Imagine some students having a large table for all their supplies for a craft project. Others are working off a TV tray. In active working memory, you must combine new information and instructions with stored information. Holding all that in a smaller space correlates with craft supplies continuing to fall off the table and when you pick one up, another falls. An example would be the child who knows multiplication facts very well in isolation, but has trouble applying them while learning to do long division. Think of all the skills, steps, and information necessary to learn long division, and you may need to allow a student to use a fact chart (who normally doesn't need it) and provide a list of steps for problem completion.

Some other factors that can affect Active Working Memory are:

Some stored facts are easier to retrieve than others
Lack of energy to focus on multiple tasks may be due to physical, emotional, social, or attention issues

Examples where it may become evident due to the complicated process:

In Written Expression, you must apply Letter formation, Spelling, Grammar, Capitalization, & Punctuation, and Organization of Thoughts
In Fill in the Blanks, you must Retrieving answers from words in the vocabulary and have Knowledge of Spelling
In Matching, you must Discern words and meanings and retrieve from your entire vocabulary (word bank may be helpful to narrow choices)

Suggested accommodations to consider:

1.Help students over learn skills so they are automatic and maintained over time
2.Provide references, such as fact charts, word banks, checklists, & formulas
3. Written Expression: Write topic ideas on visual organizer, Allow use of spelling aid, Allow use of most comfortable writing mode, Use editing checklists
4.Long Division: Allow use of fact chart or calculator, Allow use of steps during homework & tests 5. Fill in the Blank: Provide a word bank, Reading question to student to aid understanding
6.Matching: Break into groups of 4 or 5, Identify matching groups, Reading choices (hearing sometimes helps if reading is not fluent)

Memory is something children may need lots of guidance with to develop to potential. Be aware how much attention and available energy stores affect it as well.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Remodeling a Kitchen

After reading the Understanding by Design/Backward Design article, I think you will see how this correlates. You don't demo a kitchen before making plans for what you want the end product to look like.

Just like you want to select what you want students to know and understand for the long term, you want to decide what elements you need to make your kitchen function for you for the long term. As you make a precise drawing of what you want those elements to look like when they hopefully fit together, you plan for your assessment to make sure all the pieces fit together the way you expect. After those steps are done, you demo and build from there in ways (or plan lessons) that will produce what you want that finished kitchen (or final learning) to be.

Focus on the BIG picture, the overarching learning, how the new information can connect for them with information they already have, and standards. The extraneous information that makes it more interesting or gives it more depth may not be the prioritized information you want them to focus on acquiring (understanding), retaining (remembering), and transferring (being able to apply later). That extra information is like the decorations, which are additional touches that make things interesting, but not necessarily part of the original, most important part of the plan. Decorations and additional information can be changed without affecting the primary functionality of the room or basic knowledge. Especially students who have challenges in learning and memory will benefit when information they need to spend time studying and demonstrate learning for is prioritized.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Understanding by Design (UbD)

This is a principle for curriculum and lesson planning. It is also called Backward Design because you literally plan backwards from what you want the learning outcomes to be.

The first step is to decide what it is you want the student to know, understand, and be able to do for the long term. This generally coordinates with standards.

The next step is to develop at least a draft of your assessment tool. Make a test that has all the information you deemed important to learn from the previous step. You may decide later to give choices in assessment, such as allowing oral, written, or verbal presentations. You might decide to allow group work, projects, or authentic/real world application assessments (with an individual accountability element of a written reflection done independent from the group afterwards). However you decide to assess, the basic content of what you want to cover needs to be established by drafting your assessment criteria.

The final step is to plan how you will teach the information you decided was a priority to meet standards and focus on what students need to know and understand for life. Even though we often think of planning lessons coming first, we must analyze what we want as the learning outcome before we decide what and how to teach. You can see how additional information may be added for those students with deeper interests or abilities with the specific topics, but for those who struggle, prioritizing is important.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The difference between interventions and accommodations

As RtI has become a requirement for students to qualify for special education services in the Specific Learning Disability (SLD) category, many teachers are not sure what the difference is between accommodations and interventions.

Interventions can be compared more closely to remediation. The focus is choosing specific skills a student needs to improve, matching research based teaching strategies to the specific learning style or weakness, monitoring progress, and documenting results. This also involves having measurable goals in mind, which includes what learning is to occur and how it is going to be measured.

These interventions would have to be documented for any academic area where students might qualify for SLD, such as reading, math, or written expression. Reading intervention programs (such as DIBELS) are commercially available and often are already being used in compliance with No Child Left Behind. The belief of NCLB being that all children can learn, and that more efforts should be made to match other research based strategies to individual children's needs when progress is not being made. It is widely recognized that major components of reading are phonemic awareness (hearing and recognizing sounds--not associated with letters), phonics or alphabet principle (learning and using letter sound relationships), fluency (ability to identify words quickly enough to keep the flow of the meaning of a sentence), vocabulary (understanding and applying word meanings), and comprehension (understanding meaning of written material). You can see that earlier components are pre-requisites to the final and ultimate goal of comprehension.

Not as much is available and being used in math and written expression, but state Standards may give guidelines that are helpful. IN standards are well respected and include some assessments and strategies for some skills. See
Select subject, then grade or class, and specific standard. Standards are the same for each elementary grade with benchmarks specific within each grade level. Some assessments and teaching ideas are available as resources. You can see after the subject selection what Indiana lists as major components of subject areas. Math lists number sense, computation, algebra and functions, geometry, data analysis and probability, and problem solving. There are a different set of standards for high school math classes. You can read explanations of each on the site.

Language Arts standards in writing list process (drafts getting to clear coherent writing), applications (different types of writing for different audiences), and conventions (includes all writing mechanics). Another good source to analyze components of written expression more completely is the Six Traits.
(This site credits creators of the program) You will see on this site the explanations of these six components: content/ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.

As you have a better understanding of interventions now, keep in mind the difference between that and accommodations. While some accommodations may provide help in remediation (as one of many strategies), their primary purpose is to make the general education curriculum more accessible without changing what standards skills are being measured.

A note of interest: When skills being measured are reduced to lower grade levels, then they become modifications (defined as changed) rather than accommodations (which improve access). This is not meant to confuse you further.

You can see that for there to be continuity between grades and teachers, curriculum needs to be aligned with standards. Otherwise, lots of teachers who may be doing good things, may also be teaching different things without connection between grade levels, classrooms, and buildings. We also need to be aware of how past teachings may have affected students skill levels at any time as we decide how to design appropriate interventions.

Basic survival may override school focus

We sometimes forget or are unaware of what children may have going on at home. Our priority is (as it should be) providing the best possible educational opportunities. In order to do this, we need to be aware if primary needs of the child are being met. In young children, the term "the reptilian brain" has been used to explain that focus on school and other activities will be lessened if energy is used worrying because the child does not feel safe and provided for. This priority of energy focus happens at all ages if basic survival feels threatened.

School programs who offer breakfast and reduced or free meals to children are meeting nutritional needs. Our own school system, I am proud to say, participates in programs providing weekend backpacks of food and summer meals for some children.

We also provide transportation from domestic violence shelters to children's home schools, so they have that familiar environment instead of having to switch schools with all the other changes in their lives.

Also keep in mind that everything is relative. Even a child who has not experienced the horrors of family violence may be very sensitive and affected by things he perceives in a family. Very young children may misunderstnad tension or a conversation and internalize worry they don't even understand and cannot explain. Some children just have more anxiety than others and can be very distracted by problems with jobs, money, relationships, or other perceived concerns with the family. You also may not be aware of close relatives and friends that may be sick or have even passed. Children can experience extreme grief over the loss of a pet also. Having time to get to know your students not only heightens your awareness of what is going on in their lives, but makes them feel cared for.

Be aware and sensitive while helping the student feel safe, provided for, and cared about. This will help them feel more comfortable and improve their attention, but it may still be difficult for that child to focus all the energy necessary to do as well as they can. Prioritizing and reducing work for a time may allow them to keep up with what they must know and feel success. Keep in mind the principles of Understanding by Design (UbD), also known as backward design. Curriculum is designed based on desired outcomes. Decide what children must know, understand, and be able to do for the long term before designing lessons to teach. Keep this principle in mind as you prioritize requirements for children in differing levels of crisis.

Information about Learning Styles

These power points are placed here for my benefit, although you are welcome to review them. Keep in mind that power points are visual aids and may not be of value without the verbal component of the presentation.

Transition plans

These power points are placed here for my benefit, although you are welcome to review them. Keep in mind that power points are visual aids and may not be of value without the verbal component of the presentation.

These are guidelines for writing transition plans for students with IEP's as they prepare to move to high school.

Special Education Laws

These power points are placed here for my benefit, although you are welcome to review them. Keep in mind that power points are visual aids and may not be of value without the verbal component of the presentation.

This was done prior to Indiana's Article 7 implementation. There are a few changes I will try to address later.

Short term, Long term, and Active Working Memory

These power points are placed here for my benefit, although you are welcome to review them. Keep in mind that power points are visual aids and may not be of value without the verbal component of the presentation.

RtI, DI, UDL, and UbD

These power points are placed here for my benefit, although you are welcome to review them. Keep in mind that power points are visual aids and may not be of value without the verbal component of the presentation.

This power point explains RtI, DI, and UDL already discussed here. There is also some important information about UbD, Understanding by Design which is an important fundamental principle to curriculum development that supports these other classroom frameworks.

Reading Power Point

These power points are placed here for my benefit, although you are welcome to review them. Keep in mind that power points are visual aids and may not be of value without the verbal component of the presentation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

UDL-Universal Design for Learning

Technology has come a long way!

And is still progressing!

UDL principles apply to technology that was originally developed as assistive technology for those with special needs. Making these available to everyone, again helps to improve the quality of life for many "typical" (whatever that is) citizens. One common example is closed caption television which is now used by more than those with hearing impairments.

Many technologies such as text to speech and speech to text allows students who are poor readers and writers to obtain and share information in content areas while working on improving those basic skills. It allows them to learn and have successes in other areas in spite of their reading and writing difficulties.

Allowing choices to use these technologies once only available to those with special needs, keeps any one from being singled out and feeling different. This also fosters acceptance of differences in strengths, learning styles, and interests in others and comfort with them in ourselves.

Differentiated Instruction (DI)

The schools I serve as a special education consultant are gradually training and implementing DI. I have heard this called the low tech version of Universal Design for Learning, and I will discuss that more later.

I can't begin to count the number of times teachers have told me that many of the accommodations for the student with special education needs would be beneficial to several students in their class. DI is a way to allow all students (low, middle , and high achieving) to learn, work together, and demonstrate their learning in varieties of ways that take their strengths, learning styles, and interests into account. The classroom of "typical" students is full of diversity in those 3 areas, and helping students understand how to use talents and improve skills helps them participate in and take responsibility for their learning. Teachers become facilitators, which looks to the observer like less work, but it is more until you develop a repertoire of ideas to pull from.

Here is one idea that works for a variety of ages and content areas. The Jigsaw Puzzle establishes learning groups about a specific topic. Everyone is assigned an area of expertise within that topic. Each area of expertise meets first in their expert groups which consists of those assigned to be the expert for that topic from their learning group. After reading a variety of materials (provided by teacher and/or researched by students) and discussing information, they will feel they understand well and can explain their area of expertise to their learning group. When they return to their learning group, everyone takes a few minutes to share with the group what they have learned and they discuss how each component of information fits together. Trivia and other formats of competition can then be used for review.
For younger students, give everyone in the learning group a different colored puzzle piece. The same colors will get together to become experts, and then return to their group to put the pieces together.
DI, done right, builds independence, group skills, and confidence. Respecting every one's differences in strengths, learning styles, and interests helps us to be more aware and accepting of our own.

RtI, Response to Intervention, and Reading

RtI is a wonderful concept that most good teachers have used in their own way for a long time. Now laws mandate that this be done for students and documented if a special education service such as Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) is to be pursued. Many corporations are implementing this in at least their lower grades for all students. Whenever mandates are involved, uniformity is demanded. Teachers who have been effectively monitoring progress and using results to guide more appropriately matched instruction often must now use the same system as everyone--one adopted by their corporation. Not everyone likes all components of any one system (I have problems with numbers of words said having anything to do with comprehension). There is something to be said for everyone being on the same page, especially since there tends to be more movement between schools of students who need these interventions. It is also critical that curriculum and monitoring tools are aligned with standards to insure everyone is covering the same material. Each teacher should be addressing the appropriate level and needs which are weak in the hierarchy of the 5 reading components: phonemic awareness, phonics instruction/alphabet principle, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

One problem that must be addressed is the time to do monitoring. While on paper, a minute for all students 3 times a year seems reasonable, it cannot be done well without adequate supervision of the class so the teacher doing progress monitoring can pay attention to what she is doing, and other students aren't losing instructional time. To adequately serve students on tier 2 and 3, where time for intervention and more frequent monitoring (up to once a week) is necessary, some classroom assistance is necessary to allow the teachers to focus on their small group instruction. Classroom teachers should work together to find ways to solve scheduling when lack of personnel exists.
RtI does provide measurable data about the success of interventions and encourages us as teachers to try varieties of research based methods that may be more effective for some students. In some cases, this will help a child achieve success that he might not otherwise have had and avoid the possibility of needing special education services later. On the other hand and under the old law, students had to establish specific discrepancy in order to qualify for services. He or she often had to be 3rd or 4th grade before the amount of material that should have been learned was enough to established a large enough discrepancy to qualify. In this case, oftentimes the child was failing. With RtI and documentation of unsuccessful progress with interventions, we can meet criteria earlier to provide more intense special education services and hopefully divert future failures.

Friday, August 21, 2009

RtI and DI

I will be writing more about Differentiated Instruction as my schools are training and implementing. I am also reviewing chapters for a college text on Response to Intervention, so I will be writing more about that later.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Diversity in bloom is Beautiful!

Teach all the students.

As a teacher and consultant in special education for many years, I have learned many wonderful ideas from other teachers and studied and experienced much myself. I also have attempted to keep myself current with my own education and recently reached the halfway mark on my doctorate degree, for which I may not opt to finish the research portion. I also have had the opportunity to teach several graduate level classes to general and special education teachers at 2 universities. I have enjoyed sharing ideas with these teachers about recognizing that all the students in the class are on a continuum and have uniques learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. I don't begin to believe any teaching situation can be easy, but I try to help teachers with strategies that are most effective for the child and most efficient for them. I also try to stress that all the children in their class are theirs simply because they are the only teacher that student has during that time frame for that subject.