Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't we already do Inclusion

If you have not heard Dr. Paula Kluth speak about autism and inclusion, you should make an effort to do so. She is a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker whose passion for including individuals with disabilities into everyday life is palpable. When I was at a workshop she presented in October, I picked up the book "Don't We Already Do Inclusion?" 100 Ideas for Improving Inclusive Schools. It finally reached the top of my reading pile. Since I had previously enjoyed her book, You're Going to Love This Kid, I was excited to see what insights she brought to this text.

This book recognizes that in many places, inclusion is the norm. No situation, however, is perfect for every person. What worked in the past, may not function in the future. One of my concerns with the book is the idea that inclusive classrooms settings are right for every child. I strongly believe that there is no one solution for every child. As adapted as a classroom can be for a child, there may be reasons for that child to be educated in a separate setting. Placements need to be determined on an individual basis.

This book is more of a series of discussion prompts than a how to guide. The author describes an idea and then asks the reader to consider how each idea could be applied to his situation. The beauty of the book is that it recognizes how unique each individual and setting is. The challenge of the book is that it is often short on specifics. People who need detailed maps will not find it as useful as other books.

The book is a great jumping point for discussions. Professional Learning Committees may benefit from discussions centering around the various issues. There is no right order to attack the book. Someone could skim it and identify an area of concern to examine. Randomly opening pages and talking about the text there could be an interesting approach as well.

Christmas count down

As I peruse catalogs and shop this season I think about the various advent calendars I see about. First, they are not advent calendars since they only count down the days of December until Christmas. If we ignore the misnomer, we can think about what to do. Many of these calendars have either small toys or candy in them. When he was little, my son with ASD ate all the candy in our calendar. He then told me it either was Christmas or I needed to refill the calendar. I knew I wanted to have some visual representation for him, but his poor impulse control prevented something like this. Instead I found a reference to using stories. I wrote the title of 24 books on little scraps of paper and each child could take turns taking them down. This was not so irresistible that it could not be left alone and yet it was fun, because every day we read a book together. We read books about winter like Jan Brett's The Mitten, books about secular Christmas like Tedd Arnold's Huggly's Christmas and Robert May's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, books about religious Christmas like Kim Kufus's O Little Town of Bethlehem, and books about Hanukkah like Eric Kimmel's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. As they grew we read chapters of longer stories like Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. It was a great way to connect at the end of a busy day. Yes, there were days that were skipped, that meant we read two stories the next day or they could pick which of the selections to read together. Although I have collected a large holiday book pile, libraries are full of such stories as well; there is no need to fill a shelf with the books yourself.

When parents want to know how to help their children read, the best advise I have is to read to and with them. Devices like this are fun ways to engage kids in reading and put the focus of what can be a stressful season on family togetherness. During these cold winter nights, sit down with your family, cuddle under a blanket or in front of a fire and read a book together. See what it can do to help build family and reading.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Ideal Classroom Setting for the Selectively Mute Child

Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum's book, The Ideal Classroom Setting for the Selectively Mute Child, provides guidance on setting up instruction for a selectively mute child. She discusses the social communication comfort scale that I have referred to before in my blog. She addresses the need for providing a comfortable and flexible environment. This type of setting reduces the underlying anxiety that Shipon-Blum believes underlies selective mutism. She discusses using verbal intermediaries like a puppet or another person to act as the communicator. The child either whispers to another child or adult who then expresses the child's wishes or uses a puppet and let's the puppet speak for her.

She talks about preparing a child for changes to reduce stress related to change. Often toileting, eating, fire drills and recess can be challenges for the selectively mute child. Being sensitive to these issues and planning around them is important. Desensitizing the child with off hours visits and rewarding attempts is important to developing verbalization.

One of the things that I have not seen elsewhere is the mention that selectively mute children often delay initiation or response. With the child I am working with, this is particularly true. I need my patience to wait her out and let her begin. Nearly always she will attempt a problem or nonverbally request help, if I give her enough time to get over her difficulty with initiation and response.

This book is short and eminently readable. Dr. Shipon-Blum captures the basic essence of the disorder in a way that is ideal for a busy classroom teacher. A professional working with a child with selective mutism would be well served by this text.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Source for Selective Mutism

Gail J. Richard's book, The Source for Selective Mutism, is a comprehensive book for addressing selective mutism but has a heavy focus on young children. It has six main points of evidence based practice that it builds on are as follows:
  • Early intervention is critical- provide therapy as soon as possible
  • Therapy is more successful with young children than older ones
  • The majority of approaches are behavioral using desensitization and shaping verbalizations across settings and people
  • Many select mutes have comorbid speech and language issues
  • The research leans toward it most often being an outreach of anxiety
  • A close relationship exists between selective mutism and expressive language issues

The author defines the disorder, provides characteristics and assessment suggestions for the disorder. This is one of the first places I have seen links between social behaviors such as eating and laughing and selective mutism emphasized. The individual that I work with will not smile or open her mouth at all. In twelve weeks I have seen her teeth precisely once.

The book does include some nice handouts for parents and teachers. These could be very useful since the disorder is so rare. The author does speculate that more people have the disorder but are either not diagnosed (ie. she is just shy) or diagnosed with a different disorder, most often autism spectrum ones. Having materials to share helps people deal with child.

The graphs in the text are difficult to read. A reliance of 3-D graphics dose not allow easy comparisons of information. Other graphics, however, are clear and readable.

My concern is that I have an adolescent who will not speak at all. She did once, two years ago. She has comorbid anxiety and OCD which seem to be related. Getting her to participate is a challenge, even one on one. The desensitization issue is problematic because she does not have a speaking environment to draw upon. Familial coping patterns are well established. There is some acceptance that she may never speak or communicate with outsiders.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ken Wagner at PTA Convention

On November 15, 2013, Ken Wagner, Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum, Assessment and Educational Technology addressed the New York State PTA. He described the continual process of revamping curriculum to meet the ever changing world in which we live. Unlike the presentations by Commissioner King, his presentation did not seem patronizing, disrespectful or insincere as a listening post.

Dr. Wagner then spoke about the modules that the New York Department of Education has provided for its teachers. He noted that this is the first time the state has ever provided resources to accompany the standards. They were slow in their release, some not coming out until the 2013 summer when schools were to be fully implementing the CCSS in September, because the CCSS release itself was slow. He did not comment upon the initial math materials being fully rejected. He emphasized that the modules were not mandates or a script. Further, he characterized scripted curriculum as a waste of children's time and demeaning to teachers. (He got that one right.) He even went so far to say that some of the standards could actually be higher. He encouraged curriculum modification to meet the students' needs as an essential component of quality teaching. Modules were acknowledged to contain errors, typos and potentially inappropriate materials. He asked for forgiveness and acknowledgment that everyone makes mistakes. The modules were reviewed by several groups: un-described or unidentified "teachers," regent fellows, the board of Ed and the regents themselves. Either the review process was rigorous so we should find any errors unacceptable or the process was not rigorous, but rushed and accompanied by urgency of acceptance and errors should be accepted but the material itself should be held in question.

Next he took on testing. He proposed that the purpose of testing was to support high quality teaching and learning. Good teachers regularly assess students in their classrooms, but cannot compare their students to students across the state. In order to compare students across the state, he proposed the shortest test possible matched to instruction and learning. In follow up questions he said the reason that listening was removed was because it was too difficult to assess and the previous testing did not do it well. He also commented that there is a state mandate for the 3-8 tests and some of the Regents exams. Some of the higher level Regents exams like physics, Chemistry and Geometry are not mandated by the feds. He also included a comment that the testing had to be used for APPR (Annual professional performance reviews).

Regarding APPR implementation. He agreed that it was difficult. That some schools are now trying to modify their applications because the proposals that were previously approved by the state and local unions led to increased testing. Interestingly he said that there was no requirement for pretesting or SLO (student learning objective) tests. Tests may be the easiest was to measure the student performance, but projects and portfolios could also be used. He described the intent of the APPR system to increase the opportunity to get more information to improve teaching. Two years ago 99% of teachers were rated as effective; last year 91% were. I am not sure if the powers at be have a target number they expect to be rated as ineffective, but it feels that way.

Dr. Wagner then commented about the time devoted to testing. Out of the 64500 minutes of instruction per school year, 580 are consumed by mandatory state testing. While he acknowledged the prevalence of  test prep, he disapproved of it. Saying that it was "not good for students, teachers or the profession and does not work." The tests "should not be high stakes for students and should not be stressful." He failed to discuss the implications of the tests.  Teachers and principals who feel like their jobs are on the line will emphasize the tests to their children. Letters like the one that goes out in my district stressing the importance of the tests and how kids should get a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast on those days raise the stress for families and students together. Districts will implement test prep, "temperature taking" as they refer to it in our district, where kids take a sample tests, including  90 minutes blocks of assessment time for three consecutive days. As a result, at least the struggling students given additional focus. Sometimes, however, all students will sit through lessons designed to address the needs of some kids. Sometimes the bright kids who aced the first assessments will be asked to do it over and over because that is what is required for all kids. He can minimize the required commitment, but the reality tends to be very different.

When asked how do we stop the madness, he had little advice other than it must stop. "Finger pointing does no good" and that we "must accept the fact that mistakes will happen" are little solace to parents with stressed out kids and school systems that pressurize their staff.

Regarding data warehousing. New York has agreed to work with inBloom, a nonprofit largely funded by the Gates Foundation. He asserted that the data was secured and protected by law. That the company could not sell the information or share it without a contract authorizing such behavior and that data mining would be prohibited. This is all well and good, but if the defense department and white house systems can be hacked, what makes people think inBloom will be so secure? Under the Patriot Act people were not supposed to be investigated unless there was probable cause, yet many cases were found where investigators pursued private vendettas against citizens without any suspicion of wrong doing. What makes us think that bad behavior will not go on? Although scheduling and online gradebook programs are widely accepted and should not require the mass approval of parents, warehousing statewide data is different. The choice is being made, not by the local authority, but by the state. The state and feds can use this information howsoever they choose.

He urged parents and teachers to apply pressure and demand a justification of every test so that parents can be critical consumers of education. This is what the parents and teachers are trying to do at public forums and they seem to be being discounted. People feel like they are being ignored. If there truly is an opportunity for parents to be critical consumers, there needs to be a choice. Private schools that have opted out of the system are not a choice for most. Is Dr. Wagner giving parents the nod to opt out of assessments or schools to option to not aligning their curriculum to the Common Core? I think not. In light of this, I wonder what he means when he says be critical consumers of education?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Professional Development

I am an avid reader and thinker about teaching. I spend lots of mental energy around trying to improve my skills. I am working for an organization that provides professional development. Mostly the in house professional development that I have taken advantage of has been relatively useless. This is sad. I want to learn to improve my skills. Eric Westendorf blogs here about this concern. Our one-sized, here then gone programs are a waste of resources.

Our professional development must be differentiated, practice based and provided in manageable chunks. In some ways the development during staff meetings is the ideal time frame. These occur in short periods on a regular basis. Staff plan on attending because they must. To move to differentiation, we need to look at the current level of skill of each professional and their interests. PD horror stories of we had to go and they spent three hours going over the new math program and I am a music teacher, make even dedicated people wary of programming.

Our department was asked for someone to sit on the professional development (PD) committee and I volunteered. My vision included setting district goals- for example developing capacity to deliver CCSS instruction and then personalizing PD. We do not need every teacher to take the same class, we need different classes for different teachers. If a district selected 3-5 goals and asked teachers to rate their skills and interests in each of the goals, then they could arrange a variety of PD opportunities to meet the needs. This could range from giving proficient teachers release time to work with/coach teachers developing skills, Japanese style lesson studies, formal workshops, book studies and beyond. Teachers could be held accountable for SMART goals accomplishment. Focus groups could work together to reinforce the skill acquisition and refinement for the group.

We know one sized fits all PD does not work, but we continue to pursue it. We know that personalized staff development is effective at improving capacity, but are afraid of embracing the strategy. If we cannot embrace new approaches, we truly are fossils that belong to the past, not the movers that will activate the future.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time

I just read Jane E. Pollock's Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time. Jane is a coauthor with Marzano in Classroom Instruction that Works. This book follows that vein. In many ways it is an emphasis and restatement of the Classroom text.

She describes four corners of teaching- assessment, instruction, feedback and curriculum- calling them the Big Four. True, these elements are pivotal to quality instruction and everyone could improve in at least one of them. Her mandate is more of a do them than a how to do them. While each chapter has a section highlighting how a teacher implemented changes in the area under discussion, hard examples of how to enact a plan of action are sparse and singular. She often repeats that you may need to develop what works for you on your own, but starting points are usually limited to one. In this era where some schools are again increasing scripting for instruction and have implemented rigid online grading programs, some of the ideas would be very difficult to use.

I did like her idea for a plan book that had a set of abbreviations for each segment of a lesson to ensure that each component is covered. Her exclusionary focus on the Hunter style lesson shows the wisdom Hunter brought to the field- her methodology is still touted as an instructional ideal.

Overall, if you have read Classroom Instruction, this book is probably not worth your time. It would make a good preview to that book. If you were struggling with how to improve some aspect of instruction the Classroom book offers more suggestions. If you need a less information dense book this book would fit the bill.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Practical Fluency

Fluency is an area of interest to me because I have worked with several students who are able to puzzle their way through the reading, but do so at an extremely slow pace. Often this diminishes comprehension, but practically this means students do not bother to read the assignment. Without the practice their vocabulary and reading abilities do not improve and they fall farther behind their peers.

Max and Gayle Brand's book, Practical Fluency: Classroom Perspectives, Grades K-6, addresses the issue of how to build fluency instruction into the general classroom experience. Although I work with struggling learners, I have found that good classroom instruction is good classroom instruction. My students frequently have their dyslexia compounded by mediocre to poor classroom instruction. Strategies that were not used or were not used effectively may prove very useful in intensive settings.

The book is broken down into 4 sections:
  • Read Aloud, talk and text demonstrations
  • Rereading
  • Short Bursts for Building Stamina
  • Ongoing Assessment
Several strategies are discussed in each section including beautifully woven actual descriptions of classroom experiences with them. This book does not purport to be a source for research information. If you want to know about the research on the effectiveness for each strategy you need to look elsewhere. That said, many teachers do not want to wade through the statistics and experimental design methodology that appears in such materials. For teachers who want to "see" it in action, this fits the bill.

One concept woven into the short bursts section is word work. An idea I intend to incorporate into my lessons is to give students a word and have them write as many words as neatly as they can in a two minute burst that utilize parts of the word. For example, if the word were look, students could write book, nook, took, cook, look-out, cook-out, bookmark, looking, loot, loom, loose, loofa, loo ... Connecting the writing to the reading to build fluency in both is a critical skill. To support my learner, I may start with a page divided into two with the key word  at the top; the right side could be same beginning, the left side the same ending. As progress is made we can add a section for suffixes and prefixes, and one for vowel sound. I think I even have a letter die game that I can use to try and mix it up. This kind of activity will only take a couple of minutes and everyone can engage. More capable readers can be pushed to include longer words.

We need to continue to explore ways to incorporate fluency instruction and practice into daily reading. This book offers several ways to model and practice fluent reading behaviors. After all, we want many methods to use, not just one or two.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lowering the bar: CCSS and math

The Pioneer Institute released a white paper this week that has drawn interest from educational professionals. This paper, Lowering the Bar: How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare High School Students for STEM, authored by R. James Milgram and Sandra Stotsky criticizes the CCSS math standards for not being rigorous enough. At this point some educators and parents may be laughing at such a concept. The Common Core has been put out as deeper and more challenging- how then can it be a lowering of the bar? I think it comes down to a central question- What is the purpose of the CCSS and the assessments that go with them?

For a long time the standards and assessments have suffered from a spilt personality. They are to raise standards, which implies that fewer people will be able to successfully achieve them. They are to create a minimum bar across which every student must be able to leap. They are to increase employability of our graduates. They are to increase the number of students attending college. They are to measure the success of our schools. Recently we added they are to measure the success of our teachers. While these issues are all related, they are different and no single instrument could possibly accurately do them all well.

Milgram and Stotsky both were members of the CCSS Validation Committee and both refused to sign off on the official report of the Committee. Their letters describing their reasons for not signing off on the document may be accessed through the report linked to above.

The first concern is what is college readiness. Apparently it means not top tier schools and not STEM fields. I think that it can easily be argued that preparing all students to enter STEM fields or top tier schools is at best improbable and at worst an indefensible use of education. Only a small percentage of students will attend universities meeting either of these descriptions. Although we might wish it otherwise, this is the case. The number of STEM jobs are increasing, but so too is the competition for those jobs on the international marketplace. It is not just enough to be an engineer, you have to be in the top 50 percentile of engineers. If not your job prospects are very limited. Yes, we need more STEM trained individuals, but not any individual will be successful in a STEM career. Top tier schools will always be selective because they can be- it is part of what makes them top tier. They are not going to accept more students because of CCSS.

The average adult is far more likely to need to understand statistics than algebra 2 in going about their life. Read the newspaper and statistics like mean and median and graph reading abound. We do not ask readers to compute anything or understand the underlying math and science behind surveying land, determining the effectiveness of medications or explaining the speed of the internet. Most college degrees do not require more than a rudimentary level of math training. Let us teach math to have practical value- budgeting anyone? and to help us with daily life- I need to halve this recipe that includes fractions.

Students definitely need access to higher level math classes even if they are not required by the CCSS. They need to be encouraged to take complex classes because they teach the mind to think deeply. They should not be penalized for not being able to solve matrix algebra or trigonometric proofs by not being able to graduate. Further, pushing more students into algebra at younger ages has been demonstrated to reduce the number of students electing to take higher level math classes. (See research here.)  If we want to have more students succeed in math, we need to offer more options- slower classes for some who need more processing time, faster classes for some who intuitively "get" math, and classes that demonstrate real world uses of the basic math that we can use on a daily basis for students who are disengaged from math. Schools should not be saying the CCSS does not require it, so we will not teach these upper level math classes. I don't think they will drop the offerings that they have. With the advent of blended and online classes, more options are available at the upper end than ever before. We need to push students to push themselves into these options.

While the CCSS do not present an adequate background for some post high school options, they do present a background for most. We cannot ignore the weakness of the CCSS, but that does not mean the entire body of work needs to be thrown out. Students cannot be told in either words or in implication that CCSS are enough for all, but that they present a foundation for further learning that should never stop. Yes, the bar is not high enough for some and is more rigid than is probably good for many, but it is the bar we currently need to deal with.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Helping Children with selective mutism

Christopher A. Kearney's book, Helping Children with Selective Mutism and their Parents: A Guide for the School-Based Professionals, is a behaviorist's approach to dealing with selective mutism. The book does a great job of detailing typical causes of selective mutism and techniques for treating the various causes. One of the most important ideas is that selective mutism needs to be treated by the community- family, school, friends are all important components to the treatment plan. A therapist will experience most success by going into the child's comfort zone and slowly rewarding speech. The lower functioning a child, the longer the approach will take. While Shipon-Blum's book focuses on purely anxiety based causes, Kearney acknowledges that oppositional behaviors may contribute to the disorder.

Below is a graphic that summarizes the ideas in the text. The main causal factors are in the purple blobs in the center. They often occur in combinations. Kearney stresses that underlying issues need to be addressed prior to behavioral interventions. A child who has been taunted about stuttering is not likely going to be willing to speak until the taunting is eliminated and stuttering is reduced and/or normalized. A child who has been beaten for talking or making a noise will not talk until the threat is removed. Furthermore, children who do not speak English competently may be reluctant to speak around proficient speakers until their proficiency improves.

Kearney shares that treatment is often slow and progress gradual. Records of progress can keep the entire team motivated when plateaus occur.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Understanding Katie and Selective Mutism

I have a student on my caseload this year with selective mutism. Knowing virtually nothing about this disorder, I immediately began looking up information. One of the things I came across was the SMART center. I read and then ordered books. The first is a short one called the Supplement Treatment Guide to "Understanding Katie": For Parents, Teachers and Treating Professional: Understanding Selective Mutism and Social Anxiety by Elisa Shipon-Blum. The book could accompany a picture book called Understanding Katie, which I did not get. The guide both describes the picture book and gives lots of commentary and information about the disorder.

My takeaways:
Mental health aspects:  The anxiety is clearly overwhelming and needs to be treated. Medication may enable people to address the concerns. Desensitization to the phobic areas with a trained psychologist/psychiatrist is important. Focusing on getting the child to "talk" or "speak" may be counterproductive because it increases anxiety. Anxiety may be so severe that facial and vocal muscles are frozen. Treatment should include normalizing anxiety and the desire to be right/perfect while acknowledging how dysfunctional the mutism is and presenting strategies to deal with anxiety through other means. Professionals who wrap around different environments may be helpful with transitions. While some cases are caused by trauma, many cases do not involve any known trigger.

Behavioral aspects: Effort at communication and attempting hard things needs to be rewarded. Because of the anxiety, maladaptive behaviors may have been learned and these need to be changed. The idea that the silence becomes a habit needs to be addressed. Rewarding appropriate attempts rather than punishing inappropriate ones is helpful.

Educational aspects: These children are usually of average intelligence and want to learn and socialize. Reducing anxiety is important. Working with the family is essential. What the child may be able to do in one environment, he or she may not be able to do in another. Creative ways to assess learning may be required. Using the phrase, "has trouble getting the words out in school," rather than "doesn't talk" or "can't talk" is less anxiety producing.

Social aspects: The child needs to have structured opportunities to develop and maintain friendships, even if they are silent. Parallel play. Perhaps video games where individuals do not need to respond to each other but to the screen. Playgrounds where the expectation that talking is not essential. Comfortable adults or friends need to be available to facilitate transitions.

Stages of Communication Comfort Scale: This can be assessed in different environments with different people. Stages may change based on the surrounding circumstances.
  • 0- non-communicative- nonverbal and verbal
    • no response or initiation
    • motionless, frozen, expressionless
  • 1- nonverbal communication
    • responding- pointing, nodding, writing, sign language,...
    • initiating- get someone's attention, speak first, handing a note to someone
  • 2- verbal communication
    • responding- includes using a verbal intermediary, perhaps whispering to another who speaks on the child's behalf
    • initiating- speaking, getting attention, making sounds

I am curious if anyone has any advice on strategies that have been successful with such individuals.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Strategies for Teaching Boys and Girls

This year I am again placed in a building that has separate classes for middle school boys and girls. Years ago I purchased and read Strategies for Teaching Boys & Girls: Secondary Level by M. Gurian, K. Stevens and K. King (2008). In light of the fact that I would be co-teaching several of these classes, I decided to reread this text.  It is full of both the neuroscience and its implications for teaching. Although the book is several years old and the field of neuroscience has been exploding with research of late, I found the book to be helpful as I thought about how to approach these classes.

The book opens with a chapter on the basic neurological differences between boys and girls. While we would like to say that both are equal and the same, we all know that they are different, especially as they enter middle school and vastly large spreads in the onset of puberty highlight these differences. I have composed a chart summarizing the first chapter's insights. The codicil that the book includes that I did not recognize in the chart is that each child is unique, there are huge overlaps and while generalizations can help us anticipate types of responses, the individual child may not be well represented by the generalizations. This is especially true when it comes to designations of being right brained or left brained.

structure or chemical
what it does
gender differences
cerebral cortex
serious intellectual functioning- thinking, speaking, recalling, memory, voluntary motor behaviors, impulsivity, decision making, planning
females have more connections between neurons and it matures faster
So… girls process and respond faster, multitask and access verbal information faster, are less apt to engage in high risk behavior, less impulsive
coordination of muscles and thinking; helps navigate both the physical and social world
larger in males
Movement in the curriculum helps develop the skills of the cerebellum
corpus callosum
connects the hemispheres, increases in size during adolescence
denser in females- better cross brain “talk”
Males need more time to process.
Females may be hypersensitive and dramatic
Brain stem
“fight or flight” center
Very responsive to testosterone
Boys tend to respond more readily to physical stressors and be more volatile
Limbic system and prefrontal cortex
convert information from working memory to long-term memory
Larger in females so they have faster neural transmissions and increased emotional memory storage.
Females attach more sensory details to events and remember them longer; may hold grudges longer.
Music may change the brain state.
processing of emotions, deciding what to attend to and filtering out other stimuli
(This is one of the areas of the brain that is permanently damaged by marijuana )
larger in males; may lead to more aggression when angry or threatened
non-emotional tasks can help with calming down.
Males need more processing time to understand emotions
blood flow
impacts processing speed, alertness
Up to 20% greater in the female brain.
Females have quicker processing especially of verbal information, may not think before they act
language processing areas
males- centralized in left hemisphere
females- multiple areas in both hemispheres
girls tend to have more areas available for language processing when they start school
spatial processing
testosterone influenced
males have increased area for spatial processing.
Boys need more space to move and function
Girls need more motivation to develop the skill
sensory system
Females tend to have stronger systems
girls include more sensory detail in responses
male sex and aggression hormone
In males- levels rise when they win and decrease when they lose
In females- levels remain relatively constant
healthy competition tends to motivate boys and build self-confidence in girls
group of hormones responsible for female sex functions, influence female aggression, impacted by seasons and body mass
overweight girls enter puberty earlier
female puberty results in increased volatility and aggression
“feel good” neurotransmitter
impacts mood, anxiety, relaxation and cooling down after conflict
Girls have about 30% more than boys- more able to manage anger
Responsive to environmental stimuli- kindness is calming
neurotransmitter that impacts motivation and pleasure and movement control
Controls the flow of information between areas of the brain
increased stimulation tends to increase the stimulation more, spiraling out of control (self-inflating)
need to balance the flow- enough to transmit information and learn, not too much to provide unmanageable enthusiasm
“tend and befriend” hormone
impacts social recognition and bonding, formation of trust, develop and maintain relationships
females have more than males so they need to build relationships and will act in ways to do so
Males may not see the connections between their behavior and their relationships
left hemisphere
controls the right side of the body
processes information sequentially and analytically
generates spoken language
recognizes spoken words and numbers
responds more to external sensory information
constructs memories
does arithmetic functions
seeks explanations for occurrences of events
preference more common in girls
right hemisphere
controls the left side of the body
processes information abstractly and holistically
interprets language nonverbally
recognizes places, faces, objects, music
fantasies abstraction (ex science-fiction)
less detailed and more concrete in recall
relation and mathematical functions
organizes occurrences into spatial patterns
preference more common in boys

These differences are only the beginning. The true test and the area where training can make or break a single sex class is in implementation of strategies to best meet the needs of the students. One of the games suggested I modified to use in the all boy science class review. We had a Koosh(T) ball that was to be passed around- thrown with the left hand, underhand. The students were to repeat the last fact given and then answer a question given to them. It involved body movement, listening, using notes for help, and recall. Some of the boys loved it. One was unable to follow the rules. I think if I were to play this again, I might split the class into kids who wanted to play a review game and students who wanted to just take the test.  I do know that the biggest lesson I need to remember is that they need more time and movement. If we slow things down with increased wait time and increase the movement, our boys should do better.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bringing grammar to life

The Common Core State Standards include a number of standards related to both understanding language and word use by authors and producing written material by the students themselves. Below is a sampling of the objectives that reflect such learning:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
·         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

·         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

·         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Although Deborah Dean's book, Bringing Grammar to Life, was written before the publication of the CCSS, her book is aligned with these goals in that she sees grammar instruction an arm of language instruction that needs to be incorporated throughout ELA instruction. Her book delves into secondary English instruction and teaching grammar in the context of teaching reading and writing. She analyzes the writer's craft as she discusses passages in the readings, looking at devices, what makes them effective and trying other ways of writing sentences and deciding which the students like better and why. I particularly like the idea of having students write sentences in multiple ways, and discussing why some of them are more effective than others. She guides students to notice things about writing and then asks them to implement the techniques discussed. 

As teachers moved away from teaching grammar in isolation because it did not improve reading or writing skills, many of them dropped grammar instruction all together. While teaching grammar in context is slower and requires more time, it does result in greater learning for students. How do you ensure that all the concepts get coverage if you are teaching in context? Whole language reading instruction showed the dangers of just sending teachers off without a scope and sequence, hoping that they would understand the acquisition of reading skills and how to pass those on to students without strict guidelines. Many students never learned phonic rules and struggled with reading. In order to prevent a hurly-burly approach, Dean's recommendation is that different aspects are targets each month/unit. For example, focus on using appositives and adjectives effectively this month and prepositional phrases, their punctuation and different writing registers next. Pages 142-3 of her book detail grammar focuses for the book To Kill a Mockingbird. Beautiful examples of literary devices, grammar and language should not be ignored as you come across them, but you can briefly comment and move on. This promotes the idea that in reading we need students to analyze the effect of grammar and language on meaning.

Elementary teachers might not find this text as useful. All the examples are solidly secondary. There is an assumption that students know the meaning of a sentence and have some familiarity with definition of major parts of speech. Preparing this background is the purview of the elementary classroom. The techniques could, however be adapted to lower level classes. Since so much focus in the elementary classroom is on language development, many teachers already incorporate some elements into their instruction.

The book has a rich array of resources for learning grammar yourself, picture books that illustrate examples of grammar and using mentor texts to teach grammar and language. These resources allow teachers to supplement their skills and provide guidance on where to go for examples.

Monday, August 19, 2013

K-8 Differentiated Instruction

L. Elliotr, C. Forsten, J. Grant and B. Hollas complied the second edition of K-8 Differentiated Instruction: Different Strategies for Different Learners. The book contains 119 strategies for approaching different learning styles and levels. It is a nice selection of ideas that are easily indexed, although many that are targeted for literacy or math could be used for other content areas.

My favorite piece was the monthly manager chart which allows quick recording of a behavior you are watching, intervention you are attempting and the results. While I think graphs are far easier to read in terms of the successfulness or lack there of an intervention, this allows for a simple place to record results that could be graphed later.

Descriptions of some of the strategies are very brief and do not include many specific examples. This may be limiting to people in terms of implementation. Additionally, many of their strategies are just good classroom management techniques. The presentation might be useful for someone struggling in the area as they are brief.

One strategy they identify as what is my name. In it they give a name tag to each student with, for their example, a math fact on it. For a set time period- a day, a couple days or week- the student is referred to by the answer of the fact. I have seen this strategy highlighted for vocabulary use as well. Although it could easily be overused and become routine, it might be an interesting way to help students cement a personally troubling fact.

Not necessarily a book to read, but a useful book for a reference shelf.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Age of the Image: review

Stephen Apkon's The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens compels teachers to revisit the definition of literacy. His book traces the evolution of the concept of literacy as an extension of communication. It first began with signs and sounds, advanced with speech, moved to pictures as evidenced by cave paintings, to formal written languages. From there inventions such as papyrus based paper and the printing press advanced literacy. In the modern era, television and computers have combined the written and pictorial world so that communication is instantaneously possible across the world. Thus for Mr. Apkon, literacy includes all forms of communication: reading, writing, speaking and video production and interpretation.
One of his interesting facts involves the idea that 85% of our brain is involved in the visual processing system (p. 79). This means that we have massive innate capacity to interpret visual images. It is the most powerful way of understanding the world around us. The adage a picture is worth a thousand words could, perhaps, be transformed to the idea that a minute video is worth a million words. If our students do not understand the conventions of video literacy, they miss much of information presented. He presents several questions for a viewer to ask:
  • What was happening before or after the camera was recording and how might that footage change the story?
  • What is outside the frame that might tell a different story?
  • Who is shooting the footage, and who is distributing it, and what agendas might they have? (p. 113)
Some of these concepts are the concepts we want students to understand when we discuss propaganda, persuasion and advertising. These questions neatly fit into Common Core anchor standards of:

·      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1   Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
     CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
         CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
      CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
       CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Since our curriculums are aligned, integrating visual literacy into our classes should not be seen as an option, but as a necessity. The author states that "the magic of persuasion comes from the seductive quality of a pleasing image" (p. 141).  In order to be literate then, students must become able to interpret the image and create the image. Technology becomes an integral component of the learning.

Apkon states that "we are slaves not to what we know, but to what we see" (p. 122). This is proven out in education when we acknowledge the research that says that people are more likely to believe what they see in a film than what they read and are more likely to hold on to that belief in light of further documentation that disproves it if it was viewed rather than if it was read. If we want our students to be responsible citizens, knowledgeable consumers and not victims to "information" fads, we owe it to our students to teach them to be careful watchers.

While the author recommends further research in order to teach filmmaking and interpretation, he does do a good job of providing an overview of the concept and vocabulary. Although specific software is not discussed, how to capture worthy images is. His description of preproduction and editing fits beautifully in with our writing process idea of prewriting, editing and revision. If we identify these parallels and teach some specific guidelines, students can generate video content to demonstrate learning in a motivating manner that meets the CCSS.