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State Support Team, Region 16

Does Inclusive Education Really Work?

You know the old saying "If I had a dollar for every time . . . . I'd be a millionaire."  That's how I start to feel every time anyone, from an educator to a community member, asks me whether or not inclusion really works.  The shortest and the most correct answer is, "Yes," but I know that it's takes more than my saying so to encourage educators to be more intentional about implementing inclusionary practices.

In order to understand why inclusionary practices often struggle within the educational system, I'm going to delve into some of the possible reasons why both educators and community members might question whether or not inclusion works for all students: teachers, attitudes, and school structures. 

From my experience, one of the main reasons inclusionary practices are questioned concerns the lack of support, knowledge, and/or skills of the general education teacher.  Most general education teachers have training in meeting the needs of the "average" student; however, I've come to realize that no "average" student exists.  All students are unique and have unique learning needs.  Teachers need additional training before tackling inclusionary practices, and they also need continued support while implementing inclusionary practices. 

How can I say this politely?  Okay, old attitudes die hard.  Because students with disabilities have a history of being excluded instead of included, educators - general education teachers, intervention specialists, and administrators - sometimes need time to reflct upon past practices and see the successes in the new practices before their attitudes change.  All teachers need to have the self-efficacy that they can teach all students and that all students can learn.  Most importantly, the challenges of inclusion cannot be blamed on the challenge of providing the students’ instructional needs instead of the shortcomings of the educational system.

Another one of the most expressed difficulties with inclusion from discussions with teachers concerns school structure.  The daily school schedule may not provide general education and intervention specialists with scheduled times to collaborate.  Without time for planning, these teachers struggle to meet the diverse needs of all the students.  They struggle to implement co-plan to co-serve, often opting for the co-teaching "one teach and one take notes to use during tutoring time" model.  Teachers need time to plan together, to communicate with each other, to adapt instruction together, to address difficult behaviors together, and to include social justice - acceptance of others - in their curriculum.

Now that we've addressed a few of the barriers to inclusive practices, check out my favorite resource for a quick history of the laws and research surrounding the success of inclusion here.  As well, there are many resources on best practices for implementing inclusion.  Louisiana's State Personnel Development Grant focuses on special education practices and can be found here.  IRIS Center has a module series for administrators here.  And State Support Team 16'c consultants can help as well.  Please contact Rachel Wakefield, Nancy Ruth or Ally Trew to discuss support options.

8 Reasons Google Docs Rocks!

As an English teacher, writing instruction was my jam! Sure, I loved teaching Shakespeare and Steinbeck, but my true love was the act of taking a weak writer and turning them into a proficient writer. I’ve said many a time that I can remediate any student writer. It’s my specialty. So when I started using Google in my classroom, my life was forever changed!

Image result for typing gif

Google Docs can seriously take your writing instruction to the next level.

 

I’ve compiled a list of at least 8 benefits of using Google Docs to teach writing.

 

  1. AUTOSAVE! Never again can a student use the excuse of an unsaved document. Google automatically saves progress continually.

  2. REVISION HISTORY. With a few clicks, you can see various versions of the document as it has been revised. I especially love this feature for students who waste a lot of in-class time. You’re just a few clicks away from seeing that little Johnny has been idle for 32 minutes when he’s supposed to be finishing his body paragraphs. This same feature can be used to monitor individual group member contributions. So now, when a student tells you that he did all the work, he can actually prove it!

  3. STUDENT COLLABORATION. Students can share the document within their groups and work collaboratively. The only downfall to this is that students must have an email address. But if you can get past that hurdle, students can create a joint piece of writing in their groups. There are chat features inside of Google Docs, which I’ve certainly used to my advantage. Students can work collaboratively without opening their mouths!

  4. TEACHER COLLABORATION. You can ask the students to share their Google Docs with you upon creation. I have used this feature as a classroom management tool by hopping on an inactive student’s document and providing some discrete “motivation” in the document. Ha! Or I have used this to give instantaneous feedback as students are creating. What better formative assessment than teaching a student how to write a well-constructed thesis statement then jumping into his/her document to monitor progress or provide intervention when needed? It makes responding to student need much more effective and timely!

  5. SUGGESTING MODE. Google Docs has a feature where you can change to Suggesting Mode and make corrections without actually altering the person’s document. I particularly love this feature because students see my revision or editing, then Google will require them to discard my changes (Who would do such a thing?) or make the changes themselves, which I imagine teaches them a little something. Students can use this feature peer-to-peer as well.

  6. PEER REVISION/EDITING. Students can share their documents with their peers. This is a much easier way to edit and revise each other’s work because they don’t even have to move from their seats. I would ask students to use suggesting mode during this process. They can also use the comments feature to provide specific feedback. Students can be asked to use the highlighter tool to color code a student document for required components (i.e. yellow thesis statement, green transition words, purple topic sentences). Students may also be interested in using add-ons like the Thesaurus or Easy Bib for citation creation.

  7. SEARCH FEATURE. One of my favorite ways to ask students to revise their papers or check for correct usage is to use the search bar. Students can hit CTRL+F to open the search bar and search in their document. I often have students search for dead words like good, bad, really, or very and replace them with more vivid words. After teaching the commas rule, I will ask students to search for a comma. At that point, all of their commas will be highlighted, and they can check for misuse. The greatest offense of all time in Google is the lack of capitalization with the pronoun “I”. Students search for the letter i and can correct the capitalization errors where they appear.

  8. FEEDBACK SHORTCUTS. I’ve mentioned the benefit of near-instantaneous feedback; however, another benefit is the use of shortcuts to provide quick and easy feedback to students. Let’s say you’ve just taught students about using transitions to begin paragraphs and throughout paragraphs to create cohesion. You can create feedback for three different levels of mastery with this skill, create a shortcut for this feedback, and then while assessing student work, with just a few taps of the keyboard, you can make your job so much easier! Another shortcut is the voice recording feature in comments. You can record your feedback orally and students can open their document and listen to your beautiful voice!

 

I hope this has been helpful for you writing teachers. I know for me, it was a game-changer!

 

What's All the Fuss About Collective Teacher Efficacy?

In the most recent update of John Hattie’s research, he has found that Collective Teacher Efficacy has the greatest potential for influencing student growth, as compared to all of the other Influences on his list.   Indeed, with an Effect Size of 1.57, it is nearly 4 times the effect size which represents one year’s growth (0.4)!    It’s twice the effect of Feedback (0.72) and three times the effect of Positive Family Dynamics (0.52).   So, if it’s this powerful, it makes sense that we should understand in more detail what’s involved in effectively putting this influence into practice in our schools.

Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) was actually first introduced in the 1990’s by Albert Bandura.  Additional findings by other researchers led educators to realize that CTE encourages teachers to make more effective use of their own skills and thus influence the learning levels of their students.

So, what exactly IS CTE?   Collective Teacher Efficacy is the collective belief of a group of teachers that they are capable of positively affecting student learning.  Sounds a little simplistic, right?   Of course, it’s actually more complex than this definition sounds.

CTE is NOT about making teachers feel good about themselves – it IS about teachers believing in their own abilities.   Teachers must be good planners, be willing to collaborate with other teachers, using evidence to understand the impact their teaching is having on their students' learning, and be willing to look at their own limitations as a chance to grow professionally. 

Teachers who are willing to try new methods and find ways to move forward in difficult situations are generally more confident of their abilities and will continue to look for other strategies to help every learner.  Teachers with these qualities have the ability to make a real difference in their students’ learning.

Administrators also are key to creating a climate of Collective Teacher Efficacy in a school.  Administrators who empower teachers to have a voice in important decisions and to lead groups of teachers in studying common building concerns help promote the confidence level of their staff to positively affect learning.  Administrators who provide praise for excellence and positive work being done with students, making teachers feel valued, will build a more powerful relationship with their staff, which in turn will build a more positive climate.  Administrators who are actively engaged in positive listening and coaching for teacher concerns and requests for feedback will also build teacher confidence and promote a trusting environment with their teachers. 

All of these factors will contribute to building schools known for Collective Teacher Efficacy: Schools which have climates that support Teachers who feel valued and confident, naturally collaborating with one another using evidence to find ways to improve their skills for greater impact on student learning.

 

For further discussion of this topic, you may wish to read:  

“Building Collective Efficacy:  How Leaders Inspire Teachers to Achieve”:    https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED499254.pdf

 

 

 

PBIS How Would It Work In My School?

 

 

PBIS...What is it and Why would it work in my school? As a previous Special Education teacher, I wanted to feel passionate in my new job about giving Professional Learning that I believe would have made a difference in my previous teaching career. When introduced to PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) I thought, “This is it! Where was this when my school needed it? I needed it and my students and colleagues needed it too!” Here is a look into PBIS.

 

PBIS is a framework to prevent undesired/problem behaviors, develop pro-social skills and use data-based decision making to implement research-based best classroom practices and individualized interventions. Districts and schools develop their own system with the framework based on their own student and staff needs. PBIS provides a positive focus on encouraging desirable student behaviors through expectations, positive climate/culture, consistency, safety and positive acknowledgements. This is not just rewarding students for what they should already be doing; we have to teach them desired behaviors just as we teach them math skills. If we want a student to be engaged in a lesson first, we must teach them how to actively listen, use appropriate body language, and ask questions by raising their hand or waiting for a pause in the conversation. Key words: TEACH THEM HOW.

 

Finally, PBIS is a three-tiered model that starts with working with ALL students and training ALL staff on changing their mindset toward this positive climate/culture. Tiers II & III work with students that need more individualized strategies. To wrap this up… Why would we NOT choose a positive climate/culture for out staff and students? Don’t you want to come to work and have your children go to school each day feeling good? I certainly do!

#powerofPBIS

 

Is there a writing revolution in your classroom?

Is there a need for a Writing Revolution in your Classroom?

 

When I think back to when I was in elementary school I realized that I never learned how to write. Additionally, when I was a new teacher, I never learned how to teach writing.  So when it came to writing my dissertation, I thought to myself I will never be able to write it without some serious help. 

After reading The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking through Writing in All Subjects and Grades (TWR) by Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler (2017), I realized that writing is a fundamental skill that we need to teach all children.  There are many reasons that writing is so important, but three reasons come to mind when we discuss the necessity of good writing instruction.  Writing is essential to academic learning, social communication, and employment in modern society.  With that in mind, I recommend this book about the teaching of writing.

The Writing Revolution is an easy read packed with specific techniques to turn weak writers into strong communicators.  I found the six basic principles of TWR to be crucial.  Those 6 principles are:

1. Explicit instruction in writing, beginning in primary grades.

2. Sentences are the building blocks of all writing.

3, Embed writing within content area instruction.

4. Content of the curriculum drives the rigor of the writing activities.

5. Grammar is taught in the context of student writing.

6. Planning and revising are the two most important phases of the writing process.

Let me share about Chapter 1.  Chapter 1 deals with principle 2 the building blocks of all writing - sentences.  This chapter provides teachers with techniques to help students write coherent sentences.   Learning how to write a sentence encompasses all of the other principles.  For example, teaching children how to compose four basic types of sentence allows them to write about the content they are currently studying.   When students learn how to write a declarative (statement), imperative (command), Interrogative (question) and exclamatory (exclamation) sentence about content, they can form those sentences into paragraphs, essays, stories, and even dissertations.

While the book is called the Writing Revolution, it helps students improve reading comprehension, organizational and study skills.  Additionally, students enhance their speaking abilities and develop analytical capabilities.  Check out the testimonials on the Writing Revolution website - https://www.thewritingrevolution.org/

After reading this text and seeing some of the techniques in action, it has changed my thoughts about writing.  Oh what I wouldn’t have given to have had instruction by a transformative teacher who created a writing revolution in his or her classroom.

 

 

First, Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask

Rachel's Blog Picture #1

If you have flown on a plane, you are sure to have heard the phrase, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” As a mother, this notion has always seemed so counterintuitive as I thought it was my job to put others’ needs (especially my kids' needs!) ahead of my own. However, through the years I’ve reflected on this concept, and have slowly come to understand the necessity of first putting on my own oxygen mask.

In my previous role as a school psychologist, there were times I felt overwhelmed knowing the tremendous difficulties my students were facing on a daily basis, trying to figure out the best ways to help them both emotionally and academically, while also attempting to juggle the endless paperwork. Sometimes I’d go home feeling inadequate in my position, and wonder, “Am I the only person in education feeling this way??” Given my weird love of data and statistics, I did some research to figure out if I was alone and here’s what I found:

  • 16 to 30 percent of teachers leave the profession each year.

  • Of all the teachers leaving the profession each year, less than ? leave because of retirement. The rest of leaving mostly due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

  • Special education teachers leave the profession at nearly double the rate of their general education colleagues.

  • A survey of speech therapists who work in public schools found that less than half of SLPs are generally satisfied with their jobs.

  • It is estimated that the attrition rate for school psychologists is between 5 to 35 percent, and a recent study found that the majority of school psychologists report feeling emotionally exhausted, a core component of job burnout.

  • In the 2015–16 school year, 48 states and the District of Columbia reported shortages in special education.

Although at first glance these numbers look a bit dismal, it made me wonder, who are the teachers and service providers who are staying in the profession? What about the teachers and service providers who love their job and don’t get burned out?  What skills do these teachers have who wake up every morning with excitement and hear the difficult stories and see the challenging environments, yet are able to stay positive? Are there different ways to think about problems? Are there specific strategies and resources to best handle the stressful situations that inevitably occur?

Through this series of blog posts, my hope is to build/reflect/grow a community where we all can empower each other.  Although I could focus on the problems within the education field, my choice is to focus on all the great things that can happen and the baby steps it takes to get there.  For if we are able to change our own mindset and growth capacity, we then have the power to grow the capacity of our students, our classrooms, our schools, and beyond.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I’ll target one of many strategies to help you put on your oxygen mask first.

#EmpoweringEducators

#ComeFlyWithMe

 

 

 

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