Friday, December 18, 2015

The Differentiation Fair: an Update

Today is the last day before our winter break and I handed back original copies, posters, activities, and supports from the fair. However, I am so proud of the materials we collected that I created posters out of many of the materials I still have. I'm hoping to take these posters on the road to show others. I can also take these posters out whenever I want to highlight a cool differentiated activity. These bad boys are staying in my life for a long time!

Have a wonderful, relaxing break. Can't wait to start blogging again in 2016!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Party Planning: Differentiation Fair

Last week, I threw a Differentiation Fair (with the help of many, many amazing people including the entire Jahn staff) and the staff showed off such amazing work. It warmed my cold, cat shaped heart.

The original idea of the Differentiation Fair comes from this great article from Paula Kluth, Sheila Danaher, and John Price. You can also find more on creating a fair in Paula Kluth's book Don't We Already Do Inclusion?

Essentially, a Differentiation Fair is a school-wide event that celebrates the differentiation teachers are already doing in their classroom. It helps teachers to recognize:
  • Differentiation is something that they are already doing (and doing well!)
  • Their colleagues are a great resource for new ideas to support all students
I am no party planner but the teacher work was so good so I tried my best. Here is how I put together the fair!

1. The Introduction
First I introduced the fair by talking to each team about differentiation (our teams are split by: primary, intermediate, and middle school) during their weekly team meeting. I handed out the above flyer. I chose three different categories: choice, tiered, and open ended. I chose these three because they matched up with the video below. I liked that these three categories could be used in any academic context no matter the subject. I also thought that using these three categories would be a clear and simple way to initially introduce the topic of differentiation.


2. Getting Materials and Inviting Staff

Getting materials was the trickiest part. I asked for originals, took pictures, made photocopies and asked teachers to share examples of work, activities, and lessons that were able to meet the needs of all the students in their class. Oh boy did they! I put a reminder invite in each teacher's mailbox the week of the fair.

3. Set up!
In the videos below, I do a walk through of the items displayed at our fair. You will notice that I also added two other categories: leveled" and "other supports. As I collected items, I realized that there teachers were doing more than just the original three categories.

4. Party Time!
The Differentiation Fair was held after school from 3:05-4:05 during our school's Flex PD time. Teachers did not have to stay the entire time but the majority stayed for over forty minutes to look at work, talk about differentiation, and eat some snacks. A great time was had by all!

Snacks and an introduction by our principal.
Take a peak at our great teacher work!
Talking about differentiation

Testing out some of the sensory supports!
Taking a closer look
Filling out an Exit Slip for our raffle.

 4. Party Favors

Teachers filled out this exit slip. When they were done, they put it in a basket. Four teachers' names were chosen at random from the basket and won a differentiation related prize. Winners were announced over the intercom the next day.

We raffled off:

If you plan your own Differentiation Fair, I'd love to hear about it!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Modification Highlight: Middle School Math

I am geeking out about these phenomenal modified tests created by our middle school math learning specialist, Carrie. Below I have snapshots from a non-modified and modified tests in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. Let's dig into why they're so great, eh?

               6th - Not Modified                  6th - Slightly Modified             6th - More Significant Mods

Why I'm Geeking:
  • The right hand test has application based problems (i.e. word problems) that are done in picture form. What a great way to use visuals to support higher level thinking!
  • The table in the middle assessment is a great support for students that struggle with the organization of drawing a tape diagram but can fill one out when it's presented to them.

7th - Not Modified                               7th - Modified

Why I'm Geeking:
  • Great focus on partially written definitions and vocabulary in order to define a word
  • There's specific space on the modified test to show math work/thinking
  • Key words are highlighted which shows a focus on math vocabulary
  • Both tests use the same vocabulary which indicates that although the work and expectations might look different, the overall objectives are the same. This gives us an indication that all students were fully included and engaged in the unit.
8th - Not Modified                  8th - Slightly Modified           8th - More Significant Mods

Why I'm Geeking:
  • The supports on the middle test are very subtle but show thoughtful consideration to the student's individual needs. Specifically of note...
    • There are the same types of problems but the middle test uses more manageable numbers
    •  Problem #3 has equal signs and two lines. This prompts the student that they need to answer the problem in two steps.
  • The test on the right has the same vocabulary words as the others but focuses on one or two concepts within the bigger topic of exponents, expanded form, and solving problems

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Best iPad Apps to Provide Curriculum Access

One of the MOST important ways to create a learning environment that supports, includes, and challenges all students is by providing access to the curriculum. We do this by providing modifications and accommodations, co-teaching, collaborating regularly, and creating responsive and interactive classrooms. One of my favorite strategies that allow students true access to the curriculum is the iPad. This strategy is perfect for schools and classrooms that may have access to a couple of iPads but not an entire class set (no 1:1 in any of the schools I've worked at).

 iPad Accessibility Features

Pros: This amazing FREE feature comes with the iPad. This allows students to select ANY text to read aloud. You can choose the speed at which the robot reads and each word that is read aloud is highlighted. This can be used on PDFs and on websites. This allows struggling readers to access and read websites. Here's another great (longer) video on how to use this particular accessibility feature.
Cons: A robot reads the text. That's it! This feature should be on every iPad in your school!

Reading Apps 

Pros: This connects to Bookshare so all students with print based disabilities can download many textbooks, books, and newspapers free (after the initial app purchase). It also connects to Google Drive which allows you to read aloud any document that you create. The app provides choice of font type and size and many options of robot voices. The app highlights each word as it reads the text aloud. It has the ability to define words, annotate and export notes.
Cons: A robot reads the text. That's it! I love this app!

Word Prediction and Writing Apps 

Pros: This is almost as good as Co:Writer (see below). Includes: word prediction software, easy to use, press down on a word to hear it read aloud before choosing it, press down for a dictionary option, reads each word and the entire sentence back to you after you write it.
Cons: No export options. Word prediction is not always perfect. The student might need to play around with the word before finding what they are looking for. You can't indent and adding sentence starters into the actual page beforehand looks confusing. If you're working on paragraph and essay organization, this app lacks some features. It does not read the dictionary definition out loud.

Pros: Includes: word prediction software, easy to use, can use speech to text (speak into the microphone and it comes out as text), reads the entire sentence back to you after you write it, can create a word bank topic (like "Christopher Columbus") to help narrow down words predicted. Export to Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.
Cons: You can't indent and adding sentence starters into the actual page beforehand visually looks confusing. If you're working on paragraph and essay organization, this app lacks some features.

Pros: Great for younger students. The teacher creates sentence starters and word banks beforehand and the student uses the words to create a complete sentence. Great for writing simple sentences. Students can individualized the keyboard with their favorite colors. Very visual- you can include pictures. Send to Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.
Cons: Can be time consuming for adults to put together. Like really. It's a great app but prep time is an issue.

Pros: This is better than co:writer for students who need word prediction, sentence starters, and organization support. Send to Dropbox, Google Drive. Great for middle schoolers!
Cons: Involves teacher prep which can be time consuming

Monday, October 19, 2015

Scheduling and Inclusion: It's all about JUSTIFYING!

Scheduling is a hot button issue right now in Chicago. For most of us, a fully inclusive environment means co-teaching with several teachers and possibly even several grades. Being spread between multiple classrooms and grades is a reality in our profession but it can be frustrating and you can feel pulled in a million directions. Below are a list of five scheduling suggestions and solutions.

1. Create your own schedule (if you can):
As a learning specialist, I was lucky enough to have the autonomy to make my own schedule. I would have my case manager look over my finished schedule after I was done creating it to ensure that I was meeting all minutes. I know that most schools aren't like this. Here is my argument for why making your own schedule is THE BEST EVER:
  • It requires learning specialists to really know student minutes
I would make a table of each student's minutes. Once I identified the highest number of minutes per grade, I would create a table that looks like this. This helped me know how many classes I need to co-teach each week.
  • It requires teachers to plan ahead and truly justify what they are doing when they are in the classroom. Teachers know that a 60 minute block doesn't mean that students are reading silently for 60 whole minutes. Maybe the best time to co-teach for a student who has 20 minutes of reading a day is during rotations. Perhaps you DO want to work with a student individually during independent reading time. You are able to plan to come in during times that are truly meaningful. 
  • This allows flexibility in scheduling.   
I put the highest student minutes that I needed to meet at the top right hand corner every single week. This allowed me to quickly see if I was meeting minutes. You can see that I am all about the flexibility. I am not in the same classroom every single day. I co-taught based on: minutes, the specific lesson, and student needs
  • Teachers can plan their preps and lunch during those times that student minutes don't need to be met. This might mean that they schedule a prep or lunch that does not coincide with their co-teachers. Although it's ideal to have the same prep as your co-teachers, it's not always possible. I did not have the same prep as my colleagues until my sixth year teaching.
  • It allows for ownership. 
2. Revise the minutes
Make sure that you can justify the minutes written in the IEP. These IEP minutes should connect to student need which should be mirrored in the student's goals. If a student has one fluency goal, can  you truly justify 600 minutes of reading per week? If you can't justify, revise the minutes.

It's not about having the most minutes per week, it's about being smart and thoughtful with the time you do have in the classroom.

3. Use a Matrix

Example 1 shows how teachers can ensure they are working on a student's IEP goal throughout the school day. This matrix is broken down by goal and activity/class. Go to this website to see more from this example.

 Example 2 is a blank matrix that you can use to fill in your goals and times when you will meet each. Check out this FREE blank matrix here.
Example 3 is my IEP-at-a-Glance. It's a bit more open ended and provides space for you to share how you are going to meet goals. Get it here

4. Collaborate Constantly 
The more your co-teacher knows about modifications and supports (where they are, how to implement them, what they look like), the more they can do to support all students in the classroom. Make sure that you are explaining the supports you are providing during co-planning time. 
5. Advocate
If you have reconfigured your schedule, reduced minutes so that you can justify everything that you are doing, created a matrix to make sure you are working on all IEP goals, and collaborated with your co-teacher and you are STILL unable to meet the needs (and minutes) of the students on your caseload then it's time to reach out.

  • Tell your case manager
  • Share with your principal
  • Contact your special education coaches and administrators

Our job is to be flexible, thoughtful, and creative with schedules but it's also okay to reach out when that is not enough. Make sure to bring your IEP grid, schedule, and matrix to the meeting to show the supports that you are providing and to back up that it is not enough.

Good luck and have a wonderful year! Isn't scheduling the bee's knees?!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Incorporating Supports Within the Classroom

The Jahn kindergarten team is just amazing and I want to brag about them a little! They do so many things so well. Today I wanted to focus on one of the most subtle of these. Ms. B, Ms. C, and Ms. R have seamlessly incorporated individual visual supports within the classroom. These supports are geared towards individual students and the class as a whole. Check it out!

Over here by the library, the teachers put up the classroom rules and visuals for ALL to refer to. 

Two great reminders that we must stop and ask for a break before leaving the room.

This one is a bit tricky to see but it's a diagram of how a minion sits on the rug during whole class instruction. This visual is on the board right next to one minion loving student's spot on the rug. What a great way to incorporate student interest and have it big and clear enough for any student to refer to! 

Here is the desk of a student that really likes minions. You can see that the visual supports (the K team has had great success with Power Cards this year) are on the student's desk ready to go. To the right is the Power Card in use. Oh hey, Ms. C!

This student loves Jimmy Fallon (and I mean... who doesn't?). Jimmy Fallon sitting up straight and calm is taped to his materials bin. He has a visual example of his talk show hero calmly ready to listen to directions any time he goes to his seat.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Testing and Self Advocacy- Tips and Tricks

I never write about students leaving the room but many students with IEPs and 504s have the testing accommodation that states they test in a separate, small group (or even independent) environment. The justification for separate testing among other reasons often is that Student A is easily distracted and needs a quieter, smaller environment to show his best work on assessments. I've made that justification! I've had that accommodation on IEPs! I'm right there with ya!

Here's the irony... many students who need a quieter environment are actually met with more noise, chaos, and general goofiness in their separate testing setting. This might happen because they are not used to the setting and they have been taught routines in the general classroom with their peers. This "testing room" feels like a free for all! Fear not, comrades! I find that these testing sessions are the perfect time to teach testing and self advocacy skills. Let's kick it!

1. Greet every student at the door one at a time

In middle school, I had the students meet outside of the testing room door. With younger students, you might want to practice walking in the hallway. I would close the door and stand in front of it. Don't let students in until you are done with your directions (but keep those directions short). 

2."Find a spot where you will be successful!"

One at a time, I would tell students, "Without talking, find a spot in the room where you can be successful." I do not send the next student in until the student before has found a seat where they can be successful. If a student is unable to find a seat quietly, I have them come back to the door and try again after the other students have gone in. This is not punitive. I tell students I am going to do this ahead of time and treat it like a fun challenge. This takes time at first but after practicing once or twice, they catch on quickly.

Some students might be most successful when sitting on a yoga ball where they can fidget.

Check out the poster that says "Advocate Test Taking Strategies". The other middle school learning specialist (awesome, awesome Cara Shannon) wrote a list of strategies and students took a sticky note and placed it next to the strategy that worked best for them. I included pictures of what each strategy looked like.
Other students might be most successful when their back is toward their classmates.

Even others benefit from spreading out so they can easily all the materials that they have available.

3. "I will hand out work to students who show me they're ready."

When testing, some students use a Math Help Binder. Some students use a portable word wall. Others might use an iPad or notes from their interactive math notebook. Whatever the case, students need to have the appropriate materials on their desk in order to successfully to do their work. They need to know what ready means for them.

Once all students are seated I say, "When you are quietly sitting with all of the materials you need, I will hand out your test." This gives students time to problem solve and think about what they need. I might give prompts (visual, nonverbal, or verbal) or supports depending on the student but I let all students start off independently. I might say, "Looks like you are missing one thing" and walk away. When all of the materials needed are on the student's desk (or table, or floor, or wherever they have parked themselves) I hand out their assessment.

4. Show the time
Image result for time timer
5. Have students start work independently

Some students have the test given in chunks or read aloud. Others are working on problem solving before asking for help. Even if a student needs you to read the test right away, I like to use this time to teach more self advocacy skills. I'll make eye contact with them and raise my hand, prompting them to raise their own hand.  This is an excellent opportunity to teach students to identify and then advocate for what they need. 

6. Give students time to come up with their own test taking strategies!

I wrote "Test Taking Strategies" at the top of this student's dry erase board. He filled in the information with his top three strategies.

7. Come up with an "I'm done" routine

Typically, I had students identify they were done by raising their hand. I would go over their list of strategies (reread answers, take a break, look through notes, etc.). "Do you need to use any more strategies or are you ready to go?" Students would make that choice for themselves.

8. "Pick up your materials and meet me at the door."

In middle school, I would have students meet me at the door and go over directions for walking back to class solo. In the younger grades, I might wait until everyone is done and go together. I also like to use this as an opportunity for students to talk to the general education teacher about their work. "Hand your test to Ms. Teacher and tell her thank you for all that you do." Not every student chose to thank their teachers but I liked to use this opportunity to teach students how to express their thanks. However, I never forced anyone to say this as I can't make someone feel feelings they don't have.

I hope you enjoyed my tips! What do you do to teach self advocacy skills around test taking?