My teaching style is more sage-on-the-stage than I would like it to be. Unfortunately, direct instruction is the teaching method that my special education students respond to best. I used to feel guilty about this, but as I have worked my way through the MET program, I have found that I am not the only teacher that uses a lot of direct instruction, and many educators agree that it is often necessary for my classroom population. That being said, I do try to incorporate as much student-centered instruction as my students can handle. Now that I am teaching 8th- through 10th-grade self-contained math classes, my plan is to start using short, small projects and activities in 8th grade and gradually increase my role as the guide-on-the-side as students progress through those grades. I look forward to the next few years, and I envision a classroom that looks very different from the one I am teaching in right now.
I found the description of personalized learning in the iNACOL report Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalize, Blended and Competency Education very similar to what special educators do on a daily basis. Our job is to differentiate and personalize learning to maximize a student’s chance of finding success with learning. The lists found in the article on pages 5 and 6 demonstrate how closely special education mimics personalized learning, including:
“…a students’ right to access learning experiences that enable them to progress according to their level of ability”
“…a dynamic learning opportunity providing students with content that addresses their personal learning needs based on their interests, parental input, and teacher observation as well as assessment data, which is the most important element”
“…various starting points within content, varied amounts of guided practice and independent practice as needed”
“…discovering students’ prior knowledge and experience of the content they are about to learn and meeting them where they are” (Patrick, Kennedy, & Powell, 2013).
Blended learning through the use of technology is an excellent way to provide for personalized learning. Recording lectures and putting them online for students to watch asynchronously as homework allows the teacher to completely individualize instruction during class time. Students can complete classwork and activities that match their learning level, style, and interests.
My biggest concern with creating an online asynchronous algebra course for special education students who, for whatever reason, cannot maintain in a physical school environment, is the lack of direct instruction. I worry that even with created videos and step-by-step instructions, some students will not be able to find success. Adding in some synchronous lesson delivery could make the difference between failure and success. I think most algebra topics will lend themselves well to synchronous delivery. Some ideas might include:
- Doing a screen share with Desmos to demonstrate graphing linear equations would be a great lesson to deliver to a group.
- Using TI-Smartview software to demonstrate how to use the graphing calculator to help with a given topic
- Teaching a geometry lesson using Geogebra
- Using Google Sheets to create statistical graphs
- Working through a simulation such as The Moving Man to help students understand how to create graphs based on movement
Patrick, S., Kennedy, K., Powell, A., & International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2013). Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended and Competency Education. International Association for K-12 Online Learning.
I created an asynchronous lesson on solving systems of equations by graphing using a graphing calculator. I began creating the lesson using Google Docs, but after a couple of weeks, it became a little unwieldy. My students all have IEPs and require a lot of remediation and practice for each skill they learn. I used to have a huge collection of textbooks in my room to give me the largest possible bank of problems. And we still often ran out. Technology has changed all that. I now use Google religiously and keep files for each topic in my Dropbox. Sites are tagged on Pinterest boards that match each unit. It is a simple matter to find examples of whatever we are working on, and print them, project them or upload them to our Google Classroom. As I started to add numerous activities and videos, I quickly outgrew the Google Doc’s usefulness and decided to try a LMS. While I use Google Classroom every day, I decided it wasn’t what I wanted for an online delivery system. After some research, I decided to go with Schoology. Schoology allows me to create folders and hierarchies that organize my materials into easy to use groups. I included an initial page detailing the lesson and what needs to be done. All lesson activities are included as assignments underneath that initial page. I then created folders for calculator skills, remediation, extra practice, challenge activities and final assessments. I’m impressed with how easy it is to upload what I want and arrange it in an easily accessible way. As I continue to play with it, I find myself liking the flexibility it offers over Classroom, and I am thinking about moving everything to Schoology instead. Definitely something to consider and I am already making a mental list of the advantages it offers.
My Asynchronous Lesson can be found here.
To self-assess my lesson, I used the Asynchronous Lesson Rubric and the Common Core Instructional Practice Guides. I found the Common Core Instructional Practice Guides thorough and relevant. I much preferred them to the Danielson Rubric my district uses for our observations. They go deeper into the lesson itself, and the thought behind it. The Danielson rubric is very broad and fairly shallow. It irritates me that I have to show something from every area in a forty minute lesson or I get marked down. The rubric was never intended for that, nor is it feasible to have every single area in every single lesson.
I created an account and completed the Achieve the Core Coaching Tool for HS Mathematics. My thoughts can be found here. My reflection on the Asynchronous Lesson Rubric is embedded below.
UDL consists of three principles: representation, expression, and engagement. According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, these principles describe the what, how and why of learning (2014). By individualizing and differentiating instruction, teachers can better meet the needs of their students. One size does not fit all when it comes to education. In fact, one size does not even fit most. When we talk about individualizing education, IEPs and Special Education immediately come to mind. UDL, as beneficial as it is for students with learning differences, can and should be applied to all student learning.
I teach high school algebra to special education students through a two-year curriculum. All of them have learning differences, and one student has significant physical challenges as well. I have found that the more ways I can present information, the better I can get my point across. A comment was made on my lesson plan stating that the number of activities I had was a little overwhelming. In fact, this is a good example of representation, as well as engagement. When I post homework assignments on our Classroom page, I post a copy of the assignment, a copy of any notes/problems that we worked out together in class, at least one or two videos showing the steps to solve the homework problems and sometimes even a simulation or a game. My students know that they are free to use all, some or none of the materials, according to what they feel they need to be successful. I grade homework on the attempt and the process, not on the final answer. My students know that with all the different ways I have represented the problems, there is no excuse for a homework assignment that is blank. Students are encouraged to search for their own representations of the problems and share those with the class. Teaching them how to access the tools at hand to figure out problems is a worthy skill for any student.
I have often found students who can walk me through problems in class with very little difficulty, but fail tests when they are expected to put things into writing. Unfortunately, most students are required to do their own writing on state tests. The use of a scribe is very rare, and the accommodation itself is tedious for both the scribe and the student. All tests/materials are read aloud, as all of my students have that accommodation. When I find a student that can successfully explain problems orally, I will allow that on a test (I test them on their lunch period, a study hall, or before or after school.) Since I have them for two years, we start with a completely oral test, gradually adding more writing into it, until they are completing tests all in writing. If a student is completely unable to make that shift, I will recommend scribing for the Regents exam to the committee and add it to the child’s IEP. To address expression, I allow students to express their answers in ways that make sense to them. I have had students record their answers, write a blog post, draw a picture or even create a presentation or teach the class. I also started using a classroom blog this year to encourage more writing in our curriculum. We have been doing one of these each week and so far it has been very successful, with several students asking to do more blogging.
The piece I find most interesting about UDL is that all three pieces are interwoven. By representing materials and problems in different ways, I am also increasing engagement. These varying representations also show students different ways to express their answers/thoughts, also increasing engagement. None of the three principles work in isolation. All impact the others, and all allow classrooms to become more student-centered, thereby fostering more and better learning.
The Three Principles of UDL. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl/3principles
As I read through the various learning styles and took some of the tests, I found that I have a pretty good handle on how I learn. My preference is to read material and make lists. Writing things out also helps me lock information into my brain. I prefer visual to auditory, but I like hands-on better than both of those. Material that I am learning must be relevant to my life in some fashion. The back and forth of discussion also adds to my enjoyment of learning. According to the VARK Questionnaire, I have a mild read/write learning preference.
I have known for a long time that I am not an auditory learner. If someone tries to read something to me, I tend to tune them out because I know I am not going to retain it. Hand me something to read, and I am much happier. A video with steps in it that I can stop, execute the step and continue with the video are also helpful. But videos that I must sit and watch the whole thing to find a piece of information drive me crazy. If I click on a news item that I am interested in but find it is in video form, nine times out of ten I will close the page, never having watched it. Just tell me what I want to know, and we will both be happier.
Technologies that I find most helpful include videos that I can stop and start, such as the ones Patrick Lowenthal put together for EdTech 502. Those were a lifesaver! I spent a lot of time working my way through those to teach myself how to build web pages. The training videos at Lynda.com are another helpful tool that matches my learning style. Discussion boards that are active and relevant to my life/profession are also great tools that increase my knowledge and engagement. It was mentioned in EdTech 537 that often the best ideas and discussion come not from the blog posts themselves, but from the conversations they generate. When I find a post that has meaning for me, I am always careful to dig through the comments to see what other lines of thought and ideas were contributed. Twitter chats are great because they are relevant (I chose to participate) and often fast-paced. I have to pay attention, or I will miss something. The busiest ones are almost too much, and I will go back and read through afterward to see what I missed. Writing reflective blog posts makes me think about what I am doing, how I am doing it and for what purpose. I started a blog last summer, and while I have not posted much in the last couple months, I know I need to get back to it. I feel more centered when I write, and I always learn something from the comments.
The learning style most opposite to mine is auditory. Technology that auditory learners find helpful includes listening to podcasts and possibly creating their own. Many of my students enjoy audiobooks, especially as they tend to have weaker reading skills. VoiceThread is a wonderful tool for auditory learners. Not only can they listen to the material, but they can also record their comments through the microphone without needing to read/write. I use VoiceThread to narrate tests that my students can listen to through their Chromebooks. This meets the IEP requirement of Questions Read and allows students to follow the test at whatever pace they choose. Narrated videos also work well for auditory learners, allowing them to pause and rewind as necessary.
This week we were tasked with exploring iNACOL’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching. As I read through them, most seem to be simply good teaching. It often pains me that we need to put the basics of good teaching into writing, with my thought being that everyone should be doing this already. Why do we need to write it down? I see examples of this throughout the IEPs I write for my special education students. Why have we created accommodations and modifications such as “check for understanding”, “reteach as necessary” or “refocus and redirect”? It’s hard to believe that there are teachers that don’t do this, but there must be. It reminds me of the old joke about adding “Rinse” to the directions on a shampoo bottle. It must be there because someone wasn’t!
Many of these standards remind me not only of Common Core standards but also of the ISTE standards, all rolled into a smaller package. As a special education teacher, I found Standard F very important.
The online teacher is cognizant of the diversity of student academic needs and incorporates accommodations into the online environment.
My district is looking into how best to accommodate those students who, for whatever reason, are unable to maintain in a physical building. I can envision offering online classes at some point in the future to help these students find success outside of the school walls. It can be difficult to differentiate, modify and adapt classes, lessons, and materials for students whom we see every day. Ensuring that we are meeting academic needs while finding ways to level the playing field for students with disabilities in a wholly online environment is going to be challenging. I have several students who are taking my algebra class without being in my classroom. I provide the curriculum and materials, and someone else is providing any necessary instruction. Looking at these students, I think it would be extremely difficult to keep them motivated and engaged in a fully online class while allowing for remediation and strategies to address their learning differences. The more I learn in this class, the more I am thinking we might need more of a blended curriculum as I think more support will be necessary to foster success.
If one were to remove the word “online” from each of the iNACOL standards, it would be difficult to tell which of these were meant for online and which were Common Core or ISTE standards. In removing that one little word, it is easy to see that each and every standard listed applies to any environment that includes education and learning.
The study of mathematics lends itself well to authenticity. A quick Google search will show hundreds of links for simulations, games, and projects to make math more meaningful. Finding these sites was a large part of EdTech 541. The site I created to house my lessons, links, and sites can be found here. Lists of resources can be found on my Weebly Resources page. I also created a page of digital math and science online learning activities. I have used many of these in my classroom, with others being bookmarked to use someday.
iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Teaching. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/resource/inacol-national-standards-for-quality-online-teaching-v2/
Participating in an asynchronous class online can be an isolating experience. At times it feels like you are the only person in a sea of online boards and assignments. Google quickly becomes a best friend. I constantly ask Google questions I might normally ask a fellow student or even a professor. Not sure what something means? Ask Google. Need an example? Google can find it. Without that in person connection, online classes can quickly disintegrate into an endless progression of assignments, commented on and graded by anonymous, random people.
Many online learners take online classes because they are a better fit into already busy, stressful lives. Families, jobs, and even health issues impact both our ability and our willingness to participate in these classes. I found this out first-hand this semester. I sent my youngest child off to college one thousand miles away. I am now officially an empty-nester. My house is empty but for the dog and me and for the first time in 49 years, I have nowhere to hide. I find myself ambivalent about my teaching job, my online classes and everything in between. I have a huge fundraiser that I need to start working on and haven’t been able to find the energy to focus on it. My first scheduled observation is on Thursday, and I have no idea what I want to do. As I come to terms with my new reality, I find myself working through the grief process. Just as I was starting to adjust, Hurricane Matthew hit Savannah. After five days of watching carefully and trying to help from New York (I’m pretty sure she has enough water and non-perishable food items to last her through June!), the college evacuated and closed and my daughter came home. We had a wonderful week, but it too came to an end, and I put her on a plane back to Savannah yesterday. And because they missed two weeks of school, she will not be coming home for Thanksgiving. Hello, grief process. Back to square one.
Our last assignment was to create a consensus for Netiquette rules for our classrooms and share them with the rest of the class. We were instructed to build that consensus through some type of online discussion. Our group initially started talking through the assignment board on Moodle, but I found that pretty tedious. I set up a Google Hangout and invited everyone to participate. This is where some of our discussions took place. One group member created a Google slide presentation and filled in the topics. As we worked through the presentation, adding and changing information, I found it easiest to message people directly through the messaging app in Slides. We could talk as we worked, sharing thoughts and ideas. I have used this before, and while I really like it, I find it frustrating that the messages are not saved anywhere so I can’t go back and find who said what and when. In Hangouts, I can scroll back through the conversation, but directly in the app, it disappears when the app is closed. I even Googled to see if I was missing something, but sadly, I was correct.
In the end, our presentation turned out very well, but if the goal of the assignment was our facilitation of an online discussion tool, I am not sure that we were very successful. And I am not sure that it didn’t have more to do with our lives and personalities impacting our discussion more than the tool we chose. I tend to want to collaborate and discuss more than what we did. My roots as a special education teacher are showing, as this makes up a huge part of my job. It was hard to get any real consensus on what the rules should be, and sometimes I felt like I wasn’t being heard. That being said, I did enjoy the communication and the personal contact. It made the class a little more real and lessened that sense of isolation. So maybe we were successful after all.
After my group created a set of Netiquette Rules for the classroom, we were given the task to use those rules to create an asynchronous presentation to share those expectations with our class. My initial thought was to use VoiceThread, but I have used that several times throughout my time in the MET program and this class is giving me time to find and try other options. I have never used EDpuzzle before, though it has been on my “Must Try” list for months. I decided now was the time.
I used Screencastify to create a narrated video of my team’s netiquette slide presentation, which I changed substantially to make it a better fit for my student population. I then uploaded the video to YouTube and inserted it into EDpuzzle. I used EDpuzzle to create a scavenger hunt based on the video, with questions inserted throughout the video. Students must answer the questions before they can move on within the video. My school uses Google Classroom, and EDpuzzle integrates easily with Classroom with just a click. Overall, this was an easy way to create a video that allows me to track whether or not a student watched it. I can see this tool being invaluable for flipped classrooms and plan to try using it for that. I included screenshots of everything, including the assignment in Google Classroom since that site is domain specific.
This week is the start of our collaborative assignment on Netiquette. We put ourselves into groups, considered the questions below, and created a set of Netiquette Rules for our classrooms.
- Are emoticons and acronyms appropriate for students to use with their teacher in an academic setting?
- Will you allow invented spellings, or will you expect students to always use correct grammar and punctuation whenever they are communicating in an academic environment?
- Should the expectations be different for discussion boards, email or chat? In what ways can they differ and to what extent?
I found both the questions and my group’s answers thought-provoking. There are a lot of math teachers in this class, something I appreciate. There are not a lot of special education teachers though, and since I fill both roles, my thoughts often take a different path than my peers.
The majority of my group felt that emoticons and acronyms were inappropriate to use in an academic setting, as were invented spellings. As a special education teacher, my feelings run more towards getting them to communicate in any form, emoticons, acronyms, invented spellings and all. We did all agree that the setting will impact and dictate the expectations. My thoughts on the the three questions are included below:
My thoughts on these questions are a little different. I teach self-contained students math. Many of them are math-phobic by the time they get to me, and their mindsets are definitely negatively fixed. Anything that I can do to make communication easier and more on their level I will do. In my eyes, it is enough to expect them to do algebra. If they are willing to communicate with me, I don’t care how they do so as long as it is in a respectful manner. I use emoticons as a formative assessment. It lets me quickly check where they feel they are in relation to what we are learning, in a very visual form. They also find it fun and are willing to share their feelings this way. Many of them will take a minute or so to find the emoticon that best describes what they are feeling. This has led to some great conversations about what is causing the feelings and how can we improve the emoticon. It almost seems to help them discuss their feelings via an emoticon as if it were another person. That distance has allowed for deeper conversations with some students. We also use acronyms, but I agree that IDK is a cop out, and I tell them so and why I think that. This has also led to some interesting conversations! Using some of the acronyms that they use makes a hard subject a little more relatable and fun and has allowed me to establish a connection with them that they get. If showing up in a clown costume with a big red nose will motivate them, I will order the outfit now. My students have to pass Math A1 and A2 (algebra 1 taught over two years) and the state test at the end of A2 to earn a diploma. I think that I would probably have a much different take on this if I taught English, but for math and my population, I am fine with both.
While I would like to insist on correct grammar and punctuation, the nature of my population makes this difficult. At the start of the year, I take what I get. My students are notoriously poor spellers, and their grammar is terrible. Many spell phonetically which can be a challenge to read if you are new to sped! My department has gotten very good at this. Now that we are 1:1 with Chromebooks, the expectation that they use spell and grammar check has increased. Before this most didn’t have access to a computer and many still don’t have Internet outside of school. I haven’t made a big deal out of it as long as I can understand what they are trying to say, but again I teach algebra. This year I have a classroom blog set up that we have yet to start using. I am planning to have them type whatever they plan to say in Word and use the spell/grammar check since it is a public forum. I am definitely taking baby steps with this as I don’t want to shut down their willingness to communicate. It is a double-edged sword for me. I have several students who will not talk in class at all. But they do email me or will type an answer when I use something like Socrative’s short-answer questions. In this instance, I could care less what the spelling and grammar look like, just that they are reaching out to me in some form.
Expectations for discussion, email, and chat will differ according to the audience and the setting. I believe that this is something that should be very clear, even with my population. Much of this ties into respect, something that many of my students have difficulty with. My students are almost all living in poverty, and that definitely has an impact on how they communicate. I work a lot with respect, what it means and why it’s important. We also talk about how it is earned. Many of my students feel that they need to be respected but don’t feel that they need to be particularly respectful. Such an interesting (and faulty) take.
As a group, we created a Google Slide presentation of Netiquette Rules for our classrooms. I had a hard time with this assignment. I don’t like wordy slides, a preference that works well for my population as they are generally poor readers. I tend to use lots of images and bright colors, and very few words. I did add some images and pops of color throughout, but the final product is not something that I can use in my classroom without excessive doctoring.
For various reasons, getting information from parents has presented a challenge for me. Whether the reason is mental illness, indifference, poverty or a complete disdain for what I am trying to do, I have often come up short when trying to gather information that will help me find ways to improve my students’ chances of success. Last year, I decided to ask those questions in the form of a digital interview. I created two Google forms, one for my students and one for my parents. It took some creativity to get everyone to complete the form, but once I did, I had a wealth of information that I had never had access to before. Hallelujah!!
Fast forward one year, and it is time to revisit those forms. This assignment was very timely, forcing me to do just that. The readings and information presented this week made me take a hard look at what I was asking, why I was asking it and what I intended to do with the information. After studying Carol Dweck in EdTech 504 last summer, I knew I wanted to do more with growth mindsets. I added questions into both surveys to give me an idea of how both students and parents view school in general, math in particular and intelligence. I also added questions about technology and access. I need to know if my students can access the Internet at home with their school Chromebooks. I found the generic “Do you have access to the Internet at home?” question that I used last year very misleading. Often the parental answer was yes and I couldn’t understand why my students kept telling me they didn’t have access. This year I added questions about that access and found a large number of my families do have access, but only through a cell phone. Not very helpful if a student is trying to write a paper!
I added questions about family dynamics. Knowing that a student has to go home right after school to watch younger siblings will change my expectations. Instead of staying after school for extra help, maybe that student can eat lunch with me while we work on homework. It may be easier to come before school (my district changed to a later start time several years ago).
Many of the questions I added or changed on my student interview reflect information that I need to know, not only to improve my classroom, but also to help me write IEPs. I think I will expand on this assignment and create a Google form for my IEP interviews. There are many questions on the paper form my department currently uses that would lend themselves well to being asked in a digital form.
My favorite question that I added to my parent form is very simple. I asked what they would like me to know about their child. The responses I got were extremely valuable, with some parents telling me how best to handle their child’s disability, some parents describing their child’s attributes and some parents giving me trigger information. By leaving the question so open-ended, I got answers according to what parents felt was important, giving me insight into their thought processes at the same time.
I find it interesting that I get more information through a digital interview tool than I ever did with a phone call. Maybe the anonymity of typing answers into a computer helps? I am not sure, but this is something I will continue to use. My parents are not joiners, they are not communicators, and I rarely hear from them. It can be hard to track them down by phone, and most do not attend Open House nights. If I am lucky, I will see two parents all night. I don’t know that using these forms really started any type of conversation. I send it, they answer it, and I analyze and adapt based on my new knowledge. My use of the Remind app has increased those conversations more than these interview tools, as parents are much more willing to drop me a Remind text asking how their child is doing, or when a test is scheduled. But the forms give me better, deeper insight into my students and their families if I ask the right questions. I can’t imagine starting the school year without them. As Anne O’Brien states, “Develop a communications strategy that meets the needs of your community” (2011). I am continually working to find those best strategies.
O’Brien, A. (2011). What parents want in school communication. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien