Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ability Grouping

As an inclusion teacher, my co-teacher and I use ability grouping in certain subjects to differentiate for the learning levels of our students. You need to realize however, that ability grouping comes in different shapes and sizes in our inclusion class, because leveled grouping isn't always good for the soul, nor is it conducive to the real world in which people are constantly expected to work with people of varied abilities. To me, inclusion means that everybody is included, but at the same time, everyone gets what they need. This takes a delicate balance of whole and small group instruction in order for true inclusion to occur.

John Hollifield wrote the article, Ability Grouping in Elementary Schools back in 1987. It is an article that, "summarizes the conclusions of Robert E. Slavin's 1986 comprehensive review of research on the different types of ability grouping in elementary schools. The purpose of his review was to identify grouping practices that promote student achievement."

In our class, pre-assessment helps us to determine the levels that students are functioning at across various content areas. As teachers, this pre-assessment feedback helps us decide if we need to level/group our students. To me, I am always intrigued to see how similar or scattered the data is, as it is rarely the same.

Without knowing anything about Slavin's research, I was happy to discover that many of our classroom grouping plans were found as successful practices in his eyes. According to Slavin, "students should identify primarily with a heterogeneous class. They should be regrouped by ability only when reducing heterogeneity is particularly important for learning, as is the case with math or reading instruction." That's us.

Slavin also states that grouping plans should reduce student heterogeneity in the specific skill being taught, not in IQ or overall achievement level. Every individual in our class gets what they need. Everyone is taught the same skill, and if we break into small group instruction all content is scaffolded around the same principles. Questioning is also differentiated so that every student has a chance to be and feel successful, yet each student is working on the same skill or content area material at the same time. IQ results such as those from a Stanford-Binet or Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) are never used as grouping tools for our classroom. In our class, IQ scores are only discussed during CSE meetings as part of the puzzle in the classification/re-evaluation process.

Another positive connection to Slavin's findings is that our class grouping plans allow for frequent reassessment of student placement and for easy reassignment based on student progress. Students are always reminded that they are stewards of their own learning vessels. While we the teachers are there to teach and share information, it is up to the children to allow that information in and to find a place in their knowledge warehouse. We've noticed that a positive correlation exists between active learners and learning progress, as it often occurs when students work hard to document extra reading or math practice, and that these same students learn to reach out to their teachers for assistance via e-mail or through their blog postings when they want assistance or they want to share what they've learned.

Pre-assessment and e-mail communication from students and parents as feedback has really helped us as teachers to vary the level and pace of instruction according to student learning needs. While it may seem very basic in addition to pre-assessment. E-mail is a private communication tool in which students can connect with teachers to receive direct instruction in an area in which he or she is struggling. In our inclusion class we have a combined e-mail address: collaborative@herricks.org, that reaches both co-teachers when a student is struggling or needs assistance. Either teacher can respond with an appropriate response or a link to a website for remediation. When students have a deficit that pre-assessment doesn't reveal, e-mail is an easier [less embarrassing way] to convey to your teachers that you don't understand rather than raising his or her hand in the middle of class. I would love to extend this form of assistive grouping and communication to Skyping with students, but I'll have to experiment with this at a later time.

Learners are different and unique in their learning style and intelligences. Between
Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory, Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence, I.Q. tests and the many theories on learning styles, there are a plethora of ways to measure, analyze and group children. While I rely on some of these theories and a few of these tools to meet the needs of my students, I would much rather prefer that my students are included in all aspects of learning whole group or not, and that they, as fifth graders, have opportunities to play to learn. Childhood is not a race.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Multiple Intelligences

As most educators know, Howard Gardner is well known for his research on multiple intelligences. In fact, as educators, Gardner's theories infiltrated much of our psychology and methods courses as pre-teachers. Today, as "real teachers," his theory of M.I. is frequently mentioned during teacher planning, staff development and faculty room banter. But did you ever wonder how Gardner felt about educators using his theory of M.I. in your classroom? As an educator, I just assumed he had shared his theory freely with educators since his name was so prevalent in the field of education. That however, was not his initial intent.

In some of his writing Gardner has stated, "to the surprise of many, including me [Howard Garder], the theory of multiple intelligences has become influential in educational circles. It is often assimilated, inappropriately, in my view, into work on cognitive or learning styles. Educators have sought to determine the intellectual strengths (the intelligence profiles) of their students through a variety of informal, jerry-built methods. They have also drawn a multitude of often inconsistent inferences about practice from the theory. These range from teaching seven or eight different subjects, each centering on a particular intelligence; to organizing groups of students based on their favored intelligences; to building curricula that focus on specific intelligences; to teaching subjects in seven or eight different ways."

Can you believe that? Where was the tipping point in Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences in which the educators proclaimed his initial research as gospel and left the researcher himself out of the loop? When I read this I was much more than surprised, I was shocked. Why did my professors, administrators and faculty peers stress his theories so, when the researcher himself originally stated that as educators, we're interpreting his research incorrectly? This is a conflict. Why this selective deafness on the part of the pedagogs? Why didn't I discover this until now?

According to Mindy L. Kornhaber (2001: 276), a researcher involved with Project Zero, there are a number of reasons why teachers and policymakers in North America have responded positively to Howard Gardner's presentation of multiple intelligences. Among these are that "the theory validates educators' everyday experience: students think and learn in many different ways. It also provides educators with a conceptual framework for organizing and reflecting on curriculum assessment and pedagogical practices. In turn, this reflection has led many educators to develop new approaches that might better meet the needs of the range of learners in their classrooms."

Alright, I am one of those North American teachers interested in understanding Gardner's research on multiple intelligences. Yet, Howard Gardner will remind you and me that psychology does not directly dictate education, 'it merely helps one to understand the conditions within which education takes place.'

As an inclusion teacher, I differentiate on a number of different levels based on the ever-changing conditions of my classroom and the individual needs of my students. Sometimes I interpret this to include learning style, but it could also fall under Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. In my opinion, there are certain teaching styles that lend themselves to certain lessons and there are certain intelligences that lend themselves to certain concepts and rather than pigeonholing children into their favored or specific intelligence, I find it important to teach with all intelligences in mind. It is also important to me to expose students to all of Gardner's proposed intelligences in an attempt to broaden their understanding, even if they have an area of weakness in one or more area.

In reaction to Han S. Paik's article, One Intelligence or Many? Alternative Approaches to Cognitive Abilities, it doesn't surprise me that the true definition of intelligence is still debated. There are too many factors to consider when trying to define the intelligence of a child. Children are unique based on their hereditary, culture, experience, and even the unmentioned area of disability.

At a recent conference, Howard Gardner indicated that his theory of multiple intelligences could not be accomplished in the face of No Child Left Behind and standards-based education. I would agree. While there is a need for assessment to track the progress of students, the assessment proposed through NCLB and state tests is not broad enough to include all of Gardner's intelligences. The pencil, paper, scantron tests of today are limiting and do not reflect the potential strengths of those children who encompass strengths in some or all of Gardner's nine intelligences.

Sources for this assignment:


Monday, April 14, 2008

Developmental Psychology Module

Developmental Psychology encompasses the most orderly changes that people go through on their development from conception to death.

As humans mature, the way they carry out mental processes becomes more sophisticated. However, psychologists often debate whether this development is fostered by nurture or nature.
During the first few years of school, children’s learning progresses from more concrete thinking to more abstract. Yet, all children develop at different paces based on their own unique inner timetable, while others face disabilities that challenge their cognitive development as they move into adulthood. More often then not, teachers also have the challenge of having to follow the state mandated curriculum even though it is not always aligned with the developmental needs of students, which can affect student engagement, understanding and retention of the content matter.

As stated in Dr. Dornisch’s module, some students have difficulty with abstract concepts and I agree based on my experience as a fifth grade inclusion teacher. Rather than focusing on understanding a concept, many children try to merely memorize the definition, assuming that this will help them perform better on a test. However, when students merely memorize definitions, they are often unlikely to be able to recognize examples of the concept, create their own example of the concept, or apply the concept in problem solving.

Using the book Yardsticks by Chip Wood as a resource, I know that there is tremendous growth in cognitive abilities during the years surrounding the age when a child is 10, the average age of the students in my class. At this point in their learning, their knowledge base is expanding and children are capable of memorizing more, and better at organizing the information they are exposed to. Children can make better judgments than in previous years in their development, as they develop better problem solving strategies. At this stage, expressive and receptive language skills are also improving. All of this holds true, however, unless the students are challenged in this area by a developmental or cognitive delay in learning.

Based on cognitive development in middle to late childhood, Piaget would describe my students as learners during the stage of concrete operations. Children begin this stage around 5 to 7, but many are quite proficient by age 11 or 12. During this stage, students are capable of thinking more logically and they are also improving their understanding of relationships among objects in space and time. Abilities during the concrete operational stage include: classification, seriation, numbering, reversibility, conservation, physical causality, rule orientation, spatial awareness and time consciousness. (Lifespan Developmental Psychology Textbook)

Using Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children move from one stage to another through the gradual process of interacting with the environment. “When a ‘disequilibrium’ occurs, that child seeks to resolve through one of two processes of adaption. The child either fits the new experiences into his or her existing view of the world (assimilation) or changes that schema or view of the world to incorporate the new experiences (accommodation).” (Robyer & Edwards, 2000)

In preparation for ten year old students using Piaget’s research, teachers need to lay the groundwork for learning by giving students appropriate materials to classify, seriate, and memorize. While at the same time, teachers should be scaffolding on Vygotsky’s principles of pedagogy, guiding students into learning more abstract concepts with activities based on each student’s individual zone of proximal development.

So, how are you as a teacher supposed to use this information to help students become more abstract thinkers? You must recognize that developmentally, students are prone to memorize and organize material, based on their biological transition from early childhood to adulthood. Teachers need to identify that memorizing material is an innate skill that children have during this fifth grade time frame and that curriculum appropriate for this skill, like memorizing multiplication facts, should be emphasized during this time period. While at the same time, teachers need to expose students to more abstract concepts of thinking such as problem solving and making connections across content areas, by teaching children strategies that help them to assimilate and accommodate the new information they are learning. There are many technology options for teachers to choose from that would help to foster abstract cognitive thinking in children.

Students are more apt to understand and retain information about abstract concepts when they have opportunities to play with it, think about it, make connections to it and reflect or share the information with others through project based assignments and assessment. Here are some suggestions for you:

Big Universe is a site in which students could take a topic in social studies and retell the story of an important historical figure or event by turning it into an online book.

Students could also create a digital story about an abstract concept using a similar program like Photo Story.

Comic Life
is another program in which students could use to explain abstract concepts or problem solving activities by using digital photos to create original comics. While Comic Life is a fee based program, it has many benefits. As stated on the site, Comic Life has a zero learning curve. You can easily drag and drop images from the integrated Photo viewer or your desktop. Comic Life also has a library of pre-made templates, styles and fonts. It is a great tool for teachers to consider using with elementary students.

Creating podcasts is another way for students to share their understanding of abstract concepts and problem solving activities. Writing podcast scripts encourages children not only to explain content area topics, but fosters creativity and reflection through role playing activities. Once scripts are complete, students can easily edit podcasts using audacity and then teachers can upload podcasts to gcast.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Assistive Technology Wiki from the CEC

I attended some great poster sessions during the Technology and Media Division Assistive Technology Showcase at the CEC Conference. Many of the presentations were about using specific technology programs with students to help them to be more successful with their learning and communication.

The division created a wiki in an attempt to go green. You can visit the site here and check out the resources yourself: http://simmonsatshowcase.wikispaces.com

My favorite was: The Read Write Web as presented by Karen Janowski and Beth Lloyd. Their presentation was about using web 2.0 to differentiate instruction. One of the more popular programs they shared with their audience was voicethread.

I was surprised that many special education teachers didn't know about this great program. Just in case you're one of those teachers, check out one of the voicethreads that Lisa Parisi and I have created with the students in our class, The South Paris Collaborative.

If you're interested in using VoiceThread in your classroom, be sure to sign up for an educator's account. There is a one time activation fee of $10.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Better Living Through Technology

In my travels tonight, I found a wonderful resource for special education teachers who want to integrate more technology into their classrooms. Better Living Through Technology is a non-commercial web site designed to promote the use of technology to help people with a range of disabilities. The site is organized by disabilities, tasks, accessibility and reviews. Enjoy!

Best Buddies

Just in case you've never heard of them, Best Buddies ® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one-to-one friendships.

During the CEC conference, I discovered e-Buddies.
e-Buddies fulfills the mission of Best Buddies by facilitating e-mail friendships between children and adults with intellectual disabilities and their peers who do not have intellectual disabilities.

Students are matched in e-mail friendships based on age, gender, geography, and similar interests. Members are asked to e-mail each other at least once a week. e-Buddies provides individuals with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to develop new friendships while acquiring much needed computer skills.

I'd love to do this type of project with my fifth grade class. It meets the Electronic Educational Village (EEV) elements of the college program I'm attending:
  1. It includes children as desired, vital and contributing partners in a learning community.
  2. It extends into and beyond school to a more holistic way of life and living.
  3. It builds caring, meaning, and self-worth.
  4. It has components that are dramatically enhanced with powerful tools of electronic communication.
  5. It is energizing and intrinsically motivating for children.
This seems to be a wonderful experience for children to participate in to address ability awareness issues and to create and foster friendships. I would love to hear from students/teachers who would consider this type of online project, or students/teachers who have participated in e-Buddies before.

The Evidence Base on Co-teaching: Are WE There Yet?

Here at the CEC, I'm attending many quality sessions on what's new in special education. As a co-teacher, I appreciate the research and strategies for co-teaching success shared by the inclusion gurus, Marilyn Friend and Lynne Cook. If you're a co-teacher, you should know about them too. I've shared the lecture description and my notes from the session.

Lecture Description: High quality evidence on the impact of co-teaching is sorely needed. In this session, the results of a survey-and-interview study of state department of education representatives and an examination of existing professional literature will be reported in order to critically analyze the impact of co-teaching on student achievement and other outcomes.

Leaders: Marilyn Friend, University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Presenters: Lynne Cook, California State University, Dominguez Hills; Laura Hamby, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, NC; DeAnna Hurley-Chamberlain, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Christine's Notes:
Dr. Friend, "We need co-teaching to be an evidence based practice." So let's do it!

Hoping to accomplish today:
Describe the current knowledge base
Outline dilemmas in current research
Discuss complexity
Outline strategies for completing action research

Current co-teaching research (FYI - Data older than 5 years is perception research)
It doesn't always reflect where we are now with co-teaching situations.

Case studies
  • Some observations unfortunately reveal that the primary role of special education teacher is an assistant in the classroom, when it SHOULDN'T be.
Survey of perceptions - From co-teachers, parents and students
  • Most common concern is common planning time.
meta analysis
meta synthesis

Characteristics of Co-Teaching Research
Evidence is limited but growing
Findings difficult to interpret
Current trend of research is most often found in middle and high schools

Outcomes include
self esteem academic skills
social skills
Some student include outomes of students w/out disabilities

Co-Teaching Research Weakness
  • Different definitions of co-teaching exist from school to school, class to class, person to person
  • qualitative data rather than quantitative
  • not controlling variables such as co-teaching time, subject content
  • not addressing teacher experience and preparation (with co-teaching)
Co-Teaching Research: What's Needed?
Research over time
Someone needs to be doing it
Evidence that supports or refutes what co-teaching is
  • PROBLEM - Term is being used w/out integrity in the practice
Let's design a Study on Co-Teaching
A Good Study Includes:
What is your question?
  • Are students getting specialized instruction?
  • In what ways does co-teaching improve student outcomes?
  • Is there sufficient differentiation to meet the needs of all students?
  • What models of co-teaching have more impact on special education students?
  • Could we compare those models on the success of students?

We need evidence based proof?
Some questions don't lend themselves to numbers.

Control: Take into account. (Worry about)
Kids in the class randomly assigned, but students who are comprable(spelling?)
Teachers need comparable/equivalent in teacher prep and teaching.
Kids need to be comparable, disability and impact of disability on learning, and ELL)
Knowledge of Special Educator in content area.
Length of time co-teaching with the same partner?
Planning Time? Do they have comparable planning time?
What are they doing with their planning time? If the planning time isn't being used well then the process isn't working well.
Measures of effectiveness prior to co-teaching? Effective & Mediocre Team, is that okay?
Comparable administrative support

In Read180, station teaching (co-teaching strategy) proved successful.

Dr. Cook
School-Based Research and Evaluation Data-Based Decision Making
Definition: Are there two teachers in the room both involved in the substantiative content area teaching who have parity?
Parity (Look at the percentage of time that teachers spend talking. It should be equal)

Are you looking at the process or results?
categories of Variables?

Process and or Results
Implementation Data
What's occurred?
How has service delivery changed?
******* How has instruction changed?

Outcomes (results)
What's the impact or change?
student achievement/ behavior/
perceptions? (How do kids/families feel about this model)

Extant Data
Interview/Focus Groups - Different information w/out

Dr. Majora and Simmons (Quality Indicators)
Co-Teach Solutions.com

Co-Teaching Case Study
10 Year Journey
Top Down Support
Strategic Planning
Federal Legislation

Strategic Plan: Every class has inclusive practices. They are not just called inclusion.

The Plan for Inclusive Practices
Expert Consultants
Baseline Data and Results
Staffing Ratios
Professional Development (The Principal Had to Attend)
Data Collection and Analysis

A Teaching Marriage
Blend of Expertise in Strageis and Content
Student Numbers
State Tested Classes

Behavioral Interventions

FYI - SPECIAL EDUCATION IS NOT SO SPECIAL ANYMORE. Students are supported by co-teaching.

Data: Classified Students are spending more time in general education and being successful.
Are there still struggles, yes.

Support from the Top
Change to Staff Perception of Inclusive Practices (Interviews)

Lesson Learned:
  • Critical Alignment to District Plans
  • Support from the top and bottom
  • Professional Development
  • Protecting the Continuum
  • Communication
  • Staff Allotments
  • Data
What makes the difference? PLANNING

Reflections from Christine
Co-teaching is a partnership that needs to develop and adapt with the changing needs of all of the participants in the inclusion classroom. I recognize that more research needs to be done in order for the full-time co-teaching model to be more of an evidence based practice, and I'd like to be a part of the process.

When I return to the classroom, I'd love for to work with my co-teacher and student teacher to experiment with the different co-teaching models and pursue some different avenues of research and reflection, by blogging about our co-teaching experiences and by interviewing our students, their families and the administration about their experience with the co-teaching model.

Live Blogging From the CEC

I'm here at the CEC conference and ready to blog! I've already connected with Karen Janowski, Beth Lloyd and Kate. Later, I hope to connect with Pat Hensley.

If you work with students with special needs, expand your network by subscribing to their blogs.