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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Feb
02

Social Stories in the Classroom

Recently a friend, an educator, asked me for advice on a student with autism who was sweet natured, but lacked friends because he was a grabber: of food, milk, books, toys, whatever he wanted, he grabbed, and his classmates disliked him. I suggested using a social story. She was unfamiliar.

When I first learned about Social Stories, it was as though I had discovered pencils; here was a simple tool that could have profound effects in my classroom that included 4 students identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1990 as a tool to help individuals with ASDs respond to others and to situations more appropriately. More complex stories may be used with higher functioning students, however my students were younger and still learning basic skills, in many cases, with limited support from home. I had participated in a full-day workshop of strategies for reaching students with ASDs, and social stories were my light-bulb take-away. Implementation was immediate.

One afternoon I met with my classroom assistants for several hours of brainstorming. We discussed frequent stressful situations and wrote social stories for those. High stress times were: upon arrival at school, before lunch, before bus-boarding, intercom announcements, and any occurrence that was out of the ordinary, such as a whole-school assembly, or a fire or tornado drill. Other situations included another student having a meltdown, being asked to end a preferred activity, or being presented with food that was not a favorite, at breakfast or lunch.

We used positive words to guide the students to appropriate behavior; for instance, instead of saying “When the bell rings I will not throw a fit” say “When the bell rings, it is time to go home.” Writing the stories for the students was fun, and we shared a few good belly-laughs as we
wrote stories for each other! Following is a story for a 4th grader.


When the Bell Rings

When the bell rings, it is time to go home.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home, I can play with my dog.

First I will put my books in my cubby.

Miss Patty will help me pack my backpack.

I will get my coat.

I will get in line behind Teacher. I will walk to the bus.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home I will see Mama and play with my dog.

Stories can of course be personalized: My name is Charlie. When I go home I can play with (my dog) Hank. More generic ones may be used with several students, for our class we decided that was best in many cases. We typed, printed, and laminated the stories we created, and filed them in a basket on my desk. Once we began using them, we’d find them everywhere at the end of a day. A story would be grabbed in a hurry, read with a student, and left behind. I found them with the corners chewed, damp, sometimes stuffed in a desk. It did not matter—the stories worked, by preparing students for changes ahead, limiting outbursts, and giving them some power over their behavior. We were fairly consistent in recording behaviors, which should be done to measure progress. In addition to the stories for recurrent issues, my assistants and I became quite proficient at writing stories off-the-cuff, as needed. If you have card-stock paper and a Sharpie pen, you can write a story in a minute. Later you can add pictures and make it look nice.

I talked to the General Education teachers about the stories, and we designed stories for behaviors they saw when my students were with them. One of the teachers had a cd and license for Boardmaker, this was another life-changer, since my students preferred stories with pictures. I had also used free resources from Do2Learn and am happy to see they’ve expanded services and added color to their web site. When you click a heading, look for the green tabs: Free Area. There are printable symbol cards, teaching resources and more.

Of course this sounds like old-school. Now there are on-line resources, and many of you may be using these. And some of you may be like me, and will have a head smacking moment.

There are myriad social stories on YouTube --just search on the social or academic skill you need to address. You will want to preview the stories before presenting to your students; some are just too long; some characters may have an annoying voice for a particular student. Social stories are great for teaching skills such as sharing and taking turns, as well as more complex issues such as expecting a new baby in the home. Check out One Place for Special Needs and Small Steps, Big Skills from Sandbox Learning; the latter provides options for designing individualized stories by creating student profiles so the child in the story physically resembles the student.  

The use of digital social stories requires planning, preparation and time. For example, after you preview and choose an appropriate story, you will need to upload it to the student’s device. If you personalize it, there is another step. Some may find it is effective to use a combination of digital and hand-designed social stories. You may want to review a few guidelines before you begin, and soon you will be able to execute a story quickly for nearly any situation. Parents will also find social stories helpful for home-life skills, so please share your resources.  

On a lighter note, once I began writing social stories for my students, I would sometimes find myself in circumstances where I felt that adults could use a social story: Can you imagine when you encounter a grouchy or inattentive server while eating out?

When I Have a Customer

My name is ______.

I work at Nikko’s Cafe.

When I have a customer, I will be helpful, patient, and kind.

This is my job.

When I do my job nicely, we all feel better.

Social Stories could lead to a kinder, gentler world. Which could start in your classroom!

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Nov
11

Improving Outcomes

The students ranged in ages from 6 to 10. I looked at the IEP for each student, it was fairly bewildering. Four still wore diapers. Four had no spoken language. Four had Autism. Four had to eat a soft-food diet. Four used a wheelchair as their primary mobility. One boy had a warning written in a black sharpie pen:  Paralyzed! Blind! Deaf! Developmentally delayed!

There were eight students. Seven boys, 1 girl.

As you can see, there was much layering of disabilities.

During our interview, the Principal told me I was the 5th teacher he had interviewed for this position. The other 4 had said “No thank you.” They walked out. School would be starting the following week. He was nervous.

I said yes.

This would be my first year teaching, after graduation. I had completed a one-year assignment as a substitute for a class of 10 boys, EBD and LD. That too was a not very ordinary situation, but this made that look fairly benign.

I received an emergency certification to teach students with Multiple Severe Disabilities, and off we went.

By Christmas I was exhausted. The commute was 105 minutes one way. That was my sitting time because once I arrived, I never sat down again until I got in my truck to go home. Sometimes I was surprised to turn in my driveway because I didn’t remember driving. Every morning I arrived early, got their breakfast from the cafeteria, and ground it up in little food processors. Those boys arrived at school hungry!

Only one of “my” boys was on a Graduation Track. He was very bright, and had severe Autism. The rest would, each year, receive a social promotion, and were expected to attend school until age 21. As I got to know the children, as we worked together and I began to see their hidden potential to learn, by the end of the year I felt like the "social promotion track" was appropriate for only 3 of the students. Now, with improved outcomes for students due to increased emphasis on best practices including UDL, effective modifications, research-based interventions and nationally recognized allowances, I might feel differently about even the most disabled student in that class. The one who came with a warning.

According to an article in disabilityscoop, the national graduation rate of students with disabilities rose to almost 65% during the 2014-2015 school year, which was the fourth year of consecutive growth. In 2005, approximately 35-40% students with disabilities graduated high school. I remember discussing this in a class. It was quite bleak. A 25% increase is something all educators should be proud of, but it’s not time to put our feet up.

In Indiana, in 2013, 87% of the Senior class received a diploma, 69% of Seniors in Special Education did, according to Education Week. For a good breakdown of special education outcomes in Indiana, including statistics on post-high school engagement in college and job-related activity, please see this supplement: Indiana State Highlights 2015 Special Education Landscape. If you love statistics and comparing numbers, you will find this fascinating.

Indiana is fortunate to have a unique system of supports to help you serve your students with disabilities: the PATINS Project, the ICAM, and the IERC.

Together we make educating fun, real, and effective. Our team of Specialists are always available to assist you with services and tools and methods designed to improve outcomes for students, and to point you in another direction if needed. We are, however, only part of the equation.

Last week at the PATINS State Conference, I had the opportunity of meeting many educators who were overflowing with enthusiasm and hope, a genuine love for teaching, and a deep desire to do that well. You are the reasons our students continue to enjoy improved graduation numbers, which leads to improved lives.

We cannot thank you enough.
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Jul
13

The Value of Human Connection

Years ago while I was finishing up my master’s degree, I was also substitute teaching. Which may put me in the category of Wimp-I know many of you continue your education while teaching full-time. I salute you for that.

I had a 6 week assignment to teach a 2nd grade class during the teacher’s maternity leave. It was a dream. Teacher had left concise lesson plans and extra activities to be used as needed, for every day. So once I learned the children’s names, we sailed. We were able to follow her plans exactly, the children kept up their hard work, it was clear they missed their teacher, and wanted to make her proud of them. They were used to that.

There were several students with an IEP, 5, maybe 7. The classroom accommodations were well chosen and easy to follow, and Teacher had left me personal notes about the children’s preferences and quirks. When one was pulled out for the resource room or a related service, they knew exactly what to take with them, they were cheerful to go, and to return. They were very nice, very well-prepared children.

Of course if your absence is sudden, this kind of preparation is likely impossible. When I complimented Teacher on making this experience seamless, she said, modestly, “Well, I did have several months to get this ready for you.” I would come to learn though, that her preparation went way beyond concise instructions and great lesson plans for the sub.

Every morning I would greet the students at the door. I remember those sweet little faces, and it’s one of the things I miss the most about not being in the classroom: those shiny happy little faces in the morning, usually with a story they wanted to tell.

The children would hang up jackets and backpacks and put away personal belonging, sort their homework papers in specific boxes, and then they could go to centers while they waited for the bell. I loved to quietly hang out around the classroom and listen to the conversations during this morning transition.

One tiny little girl wanted to take care of everyone: if someone sneezed, she got them a tissue. If someone coughed, she patted their back, if someone was sad or disappointed, she supported them: “It will be all right. Today at lunch, you can sit with me.” Both her parents were nurses, Teacher had written, “she will remove her shoes and give them away if someone asks for them.” She told me to “intervene as needed.” This one had vision in only one eye, and wore very thick glasses. She was a heart-stealer.

One little boy was noticeably sullen and gruff, but soon I saw that he was very sensitive and often had his feelings hurt by the more outgoing children. Eventually, I won him over with smiles and attention, and learned that his parents were separated. He was with this mom during the weeks, and with his dad on weekends. His sister, who was in middle school, did the opposite: she stayed at their dad’s apartment during the week, because it was closer to her school, where she was involved in cheerleading and clubs. Then she came to their mother’s home on weekends. They saw each other for just a little while during this child-swap, and sometimes a parent would take them both for ice-cream or go shopping. But, he really missed his sister. I emailed teacher, she knew of the separation but did not know his sister had moved. She would communicate with mom.

Even while caring for her new baby, Teacher wanted daily updates on her kids, wanted them to know she was thinking of them. Her love for these children was a major support in their lives. She sent me emails of encouragement to share, and pictures of her baby sleeping.

It was clear that these young students had been infused with certain competencies that would, I hoped, stay with them throughout school, college, life: The children possessed a level of self-control that was obvious when they waited their turn, raised their hands to speak, and did not constantly nag me, “just a sub” to get a hall pass for the restroom, go to the nurse, or call their mother. Their class had a schedule for certain activities, and usually no one made requests to vary from that. I had subbed for older students who were way less mature!

They were decision makers. For instance, to choose a center, they had to remove a tag from the wall, for the center they wanted to play in at a given time. There were 5 centers, and no more than 5 students could be in a center at the same time. Also, they could not just move from center to center. This was understood, and although sometimes someone might show brief disappointment when a friend could not choose the same center they were in, every child would interact with anyone else in the center. They had to choose, they knew to follow the rules.

Most of the students presented a sense of autonomy. Now and then someone would have a “moment” or a little “meltdown” but largely these students knew who they were and why they were at school: to learn. There was a little girl with mild CP, who obviously moved and walked differently from the others. She wore it well, so her physical differences were accepted by the others. For instance on Fridays after lunch, I would write sentences with errors for them to correct. She would come on up in her jerking little gait, and do her work like everyone else, unembarrassed. If she dropped her dry erase pen, she would awkwardly pick it up and move on. She got applause, like everyone else, and she expected it.

This classroom experience was wonderful for me as a beginning teacher. Teacher insisted she had great kids from great families, but I learned from conversations with others, the PT, SLT, and the teachers on my hall, not all of the kids came from stable families. There were divorces, a jailed father, couple of addictions, some domestic abuse. What I’ve come to regard as “normal traumas.” Teacher saw what was lacking and endeavored daily to fill in the gaps. She developed relationships with the parents where she could, and especially with her students. They trusted her, she valued their trust, and they learned from her that even if things at home were imperfect, there are codes to living in the world away from home that will allow us to experience success.

These were 23 small people learning to navigate a big world, and it was fascinating to be a part of that from a different perspective: not as a parent, and not as a constant figure in their lives. In fact it made me sad to know I might never see them again. But for thirty days I developed relationships with nearly 2 dozen little people, who knew how to do that because of an exceptional teacher who understood the value of human connection.

Rita Pearson:  Every kid needs a champion
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May
05

Making Sense of the New Dyslexia Bill

Last summer, Indiana House Bill 1108 also known as the “Dyslexia Bill”, moved through the House and the Senate then was passed into law by a simple majority. As it was introduced, the bill was worded with directives that were specific and strong. Then amendments were filed and it seemed to me that the explicit language had been removed, so by final passage the bill sounded vague and watered down. I have had conversations with some of you, in this vein, and now I would like to modify that view and explain how my position has evolved.

In Section I, dyslexia is generally defined. The definition is not all-inclusive, but it is solid.

Then, Section 2:

If an education service center offers in-service training or other teacher training programs, the education service center may offer courses for teachers on dyslexia screening and appropriate interventions, including courses relating to a structured literacy approach that is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and phonetic.

I found it curious that the authors of the bill addressed service centers first. Why not go directly to the classroom? Well, the service centers are a very good path into the classroom. It states that the education service center may offer courses, so ask for them. Member schools administrators should contact your service centers and request trainings, on screening, classroom accommodations, and specialized instruction, for dyslexia.

Be sure to request courses that provide instruction that is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and phonetic. Because after over 40 years of documented, replicated, published research by the NIH, we know these elements are the backbone of effective reading instruction for those who struggle with learning to read by traditional methods.

Next, Section 3 provides:

A teacher preparation program shall include content within the curriculum that prepares teacher candidates to recognize that a student who is not progressing at a normal rate related to reading may need to be referred to the school's multidisciplinary team to determine the student's special learning needs, including learning needs related to dyslexia

This is a fundamental change. Looking back on the coursework for my teaching certification, the lack of attention given to dyslexia was striking. Now, new teachers will come in much better equipped to identify and serve students with dyslexia, as current service teachers will be leaning into their service centers for support, all to benefit the 1 in 5.

I didn’t like those phrases: “may need to be referred….” and “…related to dyslexia.” But there are other reasons for a student to fall behind in reading, like students who are English Language Learners. Or students who are experiencing family problems such as homelessness, or abuse. All need not be assigned a multidisciplinary team. Other supports may be more appropriate. Perhaps a student cannot decode words because she or he has an undetected vision impairment that could be corrected with glasses. Special education is not the solution to every problem and dyslexia is not every problem with reading. I knew that. Now I get it.

And now I see that my views were the limiting factors here. Indiana HB 1108 actually gives us much space wherein we can follow best practices for our students. 

For instance, the law does not stipulate that in order to provide interventions for dyslexia, that there must be a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. Evaluations can be quite expensive, and schools are not required at this time to pay for dyslexia screenings and diagnosis.

Let's back up a bit to review: a student with a disability is one who has been evaluated in accordance with 511 IAC Article 7, and has been determined eligible for special education and related services, by the Case Conference Committee (CCC). If the student is identified as such, this same CCC will determine which school-provided services will best meet the student’s educational needs. If the CCC agrees that the student presents a print disability, this must be indicated on the IEP. The NIMAS Regulations were added to the IDEA in 2004 for these students, specifically.

The NIMAS Regulations mandate that State and Local Education Agencies ensure that textbooks and related core instructional materials are provided to students with print disabilities in specialized formats in a timely manner. Also remember that a student with a print disability is defined as one who cannot access print in the normal manner (I don’t like that term “normal” but it is used in the NIMAS Regulations, so we reluctantly use it).

If a student has been determined to have a print disability, and is presenting 3 or more of the classic signs of dyslexia, that student is not accessing print in the normal manner, and
 the CCC may indicate the presence of a reading disability resulting from organic dysfunction on ICAM/NIMAS Form 4, and on the student’s IEP. In this category of print disability, dyslexia is the most frequently identified, and always has been. Once this determination is made and included in the IEP, the ICAM can begin to provide immediate assistance.

Typically, students with dyslexia prefer digital and audio formats, to print instructional materials. The ICAM is happy to offer two very special partnerships which we are able to share with Indiana schools.  

Learning Ally audio books are human voice recordings of more than 80,000 textbooks, popular fiction titles and classic literature. Previously known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Learning Ally produces high quality audio books that help students increase word recognition, reading comprehension, fluency, and confidence. Important features include text highlighting, audio and speed adjustments, and most recently, a growing library of titles in a combination format, called Voicetext.

Read: OutLoud by Don Johnston, Inc.is a text-to-speech screen reader that provides elements essential for struggling readers: text highlighting, options in font and background color, reading speed adjustments, and a selection of digital reading voices. Don Johnston knows firsthand how frustrating school can be for students with dyslexia, so he and his team continue to design a range of tools to level the playing field for a range of abilities. The ICAM provides the basic software.

We now know that dyslexia presents in levels, or degrees: mild, moderate, severe, profound. Students with dyslexia in the mild to moderate range may find adequate support through one or both of these tools. A student who falls in the severe-profound ranges may need more specialized instruction to go with these tools, and there may come a time when one will need a formal evaluation/diagnosis of dyslexia. However Indiana HB 1108, the NIMAS Regulations of IDEA 2004, and the ICAM can help schools help students, now.

Let’s get started!
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