Monday, September 20, 2010

School Family Blog

I am mostly writing now for  My focus there is to help parents and teachers of students who are struggling in school.  Please join me there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Peer Observations

After edchat tonight on Twitter (teacher self-assessment), I felt I needed to share my Peer Observation Form with others.  It is a great way to do an observation without coming across as critical.  The person being observed sees it as a self-assessment tool, because when discussing it you look at what was happening during specific sweeps of time and then decide if that is what you wanted to be happening.  If so, no discussion.  If not, then you can ask, "why not"?

You can find the peer observation form I use here (lower right corner).  This form is based on a simpler version from ASCD.  If you take a look at it now, the rest of this will make more sense!

Here is how it works.

Sketch a seating chart with students identified by number.  Once every three minutes, write down what the teacher is doing (handing back papers, explaining acceleration, writing on the board, finding papers to hand back, etc.) and then sweep around the room.  Number each sweep so that you can use that number to code what the students are doing. 

During each sweep, write the sweep number and code beside any student who is not doing what they are supposed to be doing (F=fidgeting, S=socializing, etc.).  If the student is doing what is expected, then do not record anything. 

If you have questions that come to your mind, or compliments use the lines to the right to record them.  Do not use this form to give advice or constructive criticism.  That will come out in the discussion that follows.

Beside the seating chart you will see codes like 3F and 7S which means on the third sweep that particular student was fidgeting and on the seventh he or she was socializing. 

I generally leave the form with the teacher as I leave the observation.  We then get back together later to talk about it.

When discussing the observation you will notice that times when the teacher is ineffective you see a lot of students off task and a lot of codes show up.  You can ask, "Why do you think these students were off task at this point?"  The teacher can usually identify the problem and think about how to prevent it in the future.

You might also identify students who have a lot of off-task codes beside their name.  This gives the opportunity to evaluate what is happening with that student.  You can ask, "Is this common?  What do you think is happening?"  This might lead to a discussion with the special education teacher or a call home to parents to find out if this has been an ongoing problem.

I have had great success using this method.  I give choices to my teachers for what they want from my observations.  I will ask if there is something they are working on and they want me to watch for.  For example, some are working on asking better questions.  They might want me to count the number of higher level questions they ask.  I encourage them to ask for data collection so they can see if they are improving.  However, nearly always they ask for the standard form because it is so helpful and non-threatening.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Writing to Learn

When a teacher asks the class a question and then calls on someone to answer, everyone else breathes a sigh of relief. Many completely tune out the next minute or so feeling that they are "off the hook" for now. Often, one student blurts out an answer before others can even think of an answer (providing they want to participate). This typical scenario is not conducive to learning. There are better ways to ask questions.

One option is to use "wait time." This is taught in teacher education courses as one of the best question-asking strategies. But, this simple concept is not so simple to implement. The idea with wait time is not to immediately call on someone to answer the question, but rather give several seconds of think time before calling on someone. Theoretically, every student is coming up with their response and are thus involved in learning. When implemented well, students do well with wait time, and it does increase learning. However, when one or two eager, impulsive students answer even when asked to wait, the strategy fails.

A better option is to use "writing to learn." Every student is asked to write their response to your questions on a scrap sheet of paper. This takes about the same amount of time as wait time for most questions and assures everyone is involved. It also satisfies the need for impulsive students to answer immediately. When everyone finishes writing their response, the teacher calls on one or two, gives immediate feedback and moves forward. These writing to learn activities are never graded so students are willing to participate wtihout fear. Writing to learn is appropriate at the beginning of class to review previous work, all throughout the lesson to ensure involvement, and at the end of class to make sure everyone learned today's lesson. It is important to vary the type of questions and to make sure they do provoke thought rather than only ask for recall of information.

So, teachers--make sure all your students are involved in class and the questions you ask are learning experiences for all your students.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Painfree Note Taking with Smart Technology

For years, students have taped lectures to make sure they don’t miss anything important when taking notes. The problem with this is for every hour spent in class, you spend an hour listening outside of class. It’s either that, or you spend an hour trying to find the spot on the tape that you really need to hear again. Fortunately, technology has made this task so much easier!

Enter, the Livescribe Pulse smartpen. This amazing pen takes all the pain out of note taking. No longer do you need to search for just the right spot on the tape because with the Smartpen, all you need to do is touch the spot on the paper where you were writing, and the pen plays back what was being said in class at that time. The recording can be uploaded to your computer and saved for later.

I show this technology to every senior I teach and loan mine to those who really need it in my class. Once they try it, they are definitely “hooked”! If you have a student who has difficulty taking notes from lecture, I recommend that you direct them to the Livescribe website where they can see a video of the technology.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Did you get your lunch?

Many students with learning differences have trouble keeping up with their “stuff.” They wind up in the school office calling home to ask for their bookbag, lunch, homework they left on the printer, or their uniform for the basketball game after school. Or, they do without these things and suffer because they are seen as “not responsible enough” or “don’t care enough” or “don’t try hard enough.”

For some students, a checklist in a prominent place can help. The checklist can hang beside the front door at home or stay on the shelf nearby. It would look something like this:

___ bookbag
___ books
___ lunch money
___ homework papers
___ paper
___ pencils
___ gym clothes
___ basketball uniform

Another checklist can reside in the front of their main notebook at school. It will look different, of course:

___ assignment sheet
___ bookbag
___ books I need for homework
___ dirty gym clothes
___ basketball uniform
___ notes from teachers
___ permission forms

They might not need everything on the list, but anything that they need often should be there—just in case. That way, they give it some thought before leaving to or from school.

The trick at this point is to establish the habit of looking at the checklist just before leaving for school (parents can help in the beginning) and before heading home in the afternoon (a caring teacher might help if you ask). Once the habit is established, they will be one step in the right direction toward becoming organized.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Read Over My Notes

Almost every time a student is asked how they studied for a test, they will answer, “I read over my notes.” What they do not know is—reading notes is not studying. It seems obvious that this works for many students since they make it all the way through high school thinking this is the way to prepare for tests. Often it is not until college that they find out this is not enough.

In order to prepare for a test—to really study—students must do an activity that requires them to remember the material without looking at it. Reading, highlighting, and organizing notes is step one. From there she must decide what is likely to be on the test. It helps to ask, “What was covered in class? What did the teacher say was important? What key terms were emphasized in the text?” These activities are in the preparatory phase of studying. The next step is to take some action to learn.

Parents or friends can call out questions to find out if the student has learned the material. Or the student can prepare note cards with a question on one side and its answer on the other. With these cards (or a similar folded chart that hides the answers), the student can quiz himself. Once a card or concept is clearly learned, the student can remove that card from the stack and only study the ones not yet mastered.

The next time your son or daughter is asked, “How did you study?” The answer will be more definitive. “First I organized my materials, then I made a study chart. After that, I quizzed myself to make sure I knew everything.” Now they know that they must both prepare to learn and then take an action.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Technology & LD--Paves the Road to Success in College

Students with learning disabilities must become proficient users of technology.  Word processing programs assist with spelling and grammar.  When a student reaches a spelling proficiency high enough so that the spelling checker can recognize what they are trying to spell and they can recognize the correctly spelled word, they can produce satisfactory written work.  In my experience, this occurs when students reach the 25%ile on standardized spelling tests.  The errors that remain are primarily homonym errors that often the grammar checker cannot catch. 

Text-to-voice software can assist them in proofreading.  Once their assignment is complete, the student has the software read it back to them.  This allows them to hear errors they do not catch when reading it themselves.  Free versions of software such as Natural Reader work great for this.

LD students must become experts with word processing and proofing using technology in order to succeed in college.

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