Friday, December 16, 2011

Final ExamTips

As we approach the end of the semester, final exams are common for students.  For some students, the thought of finals can cause great stress; for others, the final is simply “another test.”  In order to be as prepared as possible for a final exam, there are things a student can do to help increase the chances for success.
  • TIP #1:  Find out the entire schedule for your final exams.  Prepare a schedule of those exams so you can visualize what a single day will look like. 
  • TIP #2:  Find out from each of your teachers what kind of exam the “final” will be.  If it is a comprehensive final, you will have to show your understanding of material for the entire 18 weeks as opposed to a unit or chapter exam.  Find out what type of test format the teacher will use.  This information can and should be used to help determine needed study time for a respective test and approach to studying the material.  Studying for an essay test is different than studying for a multiple choice, true/false, or a fill in the blank test.  Most tests in high school are a bit of all formats. 
  • TIP #3:  If the teacher offers a study guide, take it! 
  • TIP #4:  If the teacher offers a review session, go to it! 
  • TIP #5:  Calculate your grade in a respective class prior to the final exam.  This information can be helpful in determining a particular score you may need to achieve to end the semester with a certain grade in the class.  This information may also prove beneficial in setting a realistic goal if you may not be able to earn the grade for which you had been hoping.
  • TIP #6: Get plenty of rest and divide study time into chunks.  Studying in blocks of 30 minutes is often more beneficial than longer periods of time as your brain need refreshing.  Get up, stretch, eat a snack and have a drink.  Then resume studying.  Try to stay away from heavy quantities of sugar.  Contrary to what most people believe, sugar can actually zap you of vital energy.
  • TIP #7:  On the day of the final, eat a light meal and drink water.  Drink water during the exam if possible.  Go light on the caffeine.  Be sure you have easy access to a timer of some sort, such as a watch.  It is unlikely you will be able to look at your cell phone during the exam to check the time, and you don’t want to use a device that may encourage you to lose focus.
  • TIP #8:  Have any test materials with you as you enter the testing room.  Do not anticipate a return trip to a locker.  As you are handed the test, review it in its entirety before beginning.  This will show you what you are facing. 
  • TIP #9:  Some students prefer to do the most difficult part of a test first; others prefer to answer the ones they know to help build confidence for the more difficult parts of the exam.  Identify what you prefer, but be sure to answer all questions.  If you skip around, don’t hand the test in until you have done a final check.
  • TIP #10:  Keep your eyes on the time.  Most tests have a time limit, even if it is simply a class period.
In the end, finishing a semester strong and going into the next semester on a positive note is a much more satisfying experience that culminates with a final exam score, and ultimately a semester grade, of which you can be proud.  Seems to me a little advanced planning can bring about a huge payoff.

Sources Cited:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Senior Year Calendar...2nd Semester

There is much to do in one's senior year of high school.  Transition to college can be challenging so the better organized one is in the senior year, the less stressful preparing for the transition to college will be.  Heed to the following as a guide for activities by the month.  Planning ahead is the key.

December:  Apply to selected colleges (usually 3 to 5).  Keep copies of all applications and other paperwork in a file folder. Check out the scholarship, available December 1, from US Bank at  Also, register for a last chance to take the ACT/SAT.

January:  Visit for information/application materials for Federal Student Aid.  Submit any forms to any college of serious interest.  Attend any financial aid night one's local high school usually holds at this time of the year.

February:  Complete and submit FAFSA forms (after one's parents have done taxes).  Continue searching for financial assistance, especially from local scholarships.

March:  Continue to search for scholarships/financial assistance.  Also keep on top of any forms that may come from college of interest.  keep copies of all forms.

April:  Make a final college decision if still needed.  Be sure any deposit is sent in to secure housing or tuition.  Complete any student loan information.

May:  Send thank you notes to teachers, counselors, ministers, coaches, and such who helped throughout the school year with college preparation (letters of reference, application materials and so forth).

June:  Secure a final transcript from the high school guidance office for yourself and have one sent to the college of choice.  This final transcript must be certified and sent from the school.  Enjoy the summer.  Work and play.  Save money for college materials needed to begin school.  Pay any final bills and/or fees to the college.

July:  Finalize any payments on outstanding college costs.

Source: Calendar for the College Bound Student.  US Bank, 2011.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Test Anxiety

Test anxiety has been studied in a formal manner since the 1950s.  According to Kids' Health, text anxiety is a performance anxiety...a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure is on to do well (D'Arcy Lyness, 2010).  Test anxiety can manifest itself in a number of symptoms, including butterflies in your stomach, headaches, nausea, physical shaking, and even such a high level of fear that you can't get your stress under control and feel like you are going to pass out.  Performance anxiety does not just impact those students who are taking a formal exam.  Since test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, other situations that can cause performance anxiety include trying out for the play, pitching in a big baseball game, trying out for the honor choir, singing the national anthem at the football game, or even going into an important interview.  In all of these situations, performance expectations are high.  Not every situation will cause the same reaction in any two people. 

Anxiety is caused by a reaction to something stressful.  Some students get stressed out when they know they are up against a time limit on a test or speech.  Some stress can come from focusing what a person does not know rather than what a person does know for an upcoming test.  Once a stressful situation has been identified, you body releases adrenaline which is responsible for your body's "fight or flight" response.  This is the response in your body that prepares you for danger.  This adrenaline is also what causes your physical reactions (noted above).

Test anxiety (performance anxiety) is normal at some time for everyone.  The trick is recognizing the anxiety and having a plan to work through it.  The person who cannot work through the situation causing the anxiety is bound to continue to experience the levels of stress repeatedly.  Try to use your stress to your advantage.  According to the same article in Kids' Health, stress can be used to warn you of upcomimg important events, like a test or an important assignment.  Use this stress to keep you on task in the completion of or preparation for such an event.  Believe it or not, advance preparation can help reduce stress.  It increass your confidence which can reduce your stress.  Also, some anxiety can help promote better study habits.  People who cram for tests have a much higher level of anxiety than those who have prepared in steps or increments.  Filling your mind with information at a steady pace rather than stuffing it full all at one time is definitely a way to reduce stress and anxiety.  Thinking positive thoughts is also productive in reducing anxiety.  Rather than sending yourself negative thoughts, such as "I never do well on essay and that is a large part of this test" try being positive by stating things, such as "I know this material because I've studied" or "I will take my time and do the best I can."  Another way to help reduce anxiety is to take care of yourself.  Get plenty of sleep.  Eat something light and healthy before a test.  Write down the outcome you want and expect and visualize that outcome.  This is a practice that many great athletes do.  It works.  See yourself doing well on a test (or in a performance situation) and accomplishing the desired outcome. 

Anxiety affects everyone in some way or another.  Many famous people have admitted to being scared to death to go out on stage to perform.  The key is to working to determine what causes the stress and then putting steps into place to help reduce it. 

Lyness, D'Arcy, PhD.  Kids' Health, July, 2010

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dealing with Plagiarism

The word "plagiarism" is a very serious word.  It is often used to instill fear in someone, and while it is definitely a concept that can reap some devastating consequences, I propose that if our children were educated about what it is and why it happens, those who serve our children in the educational arena would find some relief in their efforts to "catch" kids engaged in the act.  In the book Plagiarism, by Barry Gilmore, the author indicates that many students think plagiarism is only "copying an entire essay and handing it in as one's own."  The term, however, refers to the act done when a person, adult or student, "appropriates any material---ideas, writings, images, or any portion of those--- and claiming to be the original creator" (Plagiarism, p. 2). 

Plagiarism is easier now, more than ever, to commit because of the access to technology and the ignorance of how to use it in our educational ventures.  Throughout history, plagiarism has been an issue.  People, from Helen Keller to Joe Biden, have been accused and taken to task for allegedly taking credit for the originality of someone else's work.  As easy as it is to commit, today, it is not as clear cut when determining if someone has plagiarized. To toss words, like "academic integrity" into a student handbook and not take great pains to help all people understand the nuances associated with those words could be considered a practice that is educational unsound.  After all, to expect our children to simply not cheat seems naive.  We teach our children to take advantage of all the available resources to help them be successful in school and in professional careers.  It is especially critical that we, then, help guide them in their "digital literacy" and tie this into discussions about academic integrity and professionalism.

In order to help our children understand that plagiarism is a mistake, that can result in various consequences, we must, as parents and teachers, help them understand what it is, why it is not acceptable, and how to not put oneself in a position where it seems like the only option.  It is my strong belief that cheating-free classrooms are the direct result of relationships between teacher and students that are personal and transparent. 

The role of parents is of particular importance in reducing the incidents of plagiarism.  Parents know how high the stakes are of securing money for college, through scholarship searches, and even the need for high grades in high school.  Parents who might never condone cheating, when backed into a corner, may vehemently defend a child against the possibility of a failing grade.  Schools must invite parents into the educational experience as partners.  A course syllabus warning parents about the penalty of plagiarism is not enough.  Parents need to expect that schools will do the following in order to support their efforts to support their children:

1.  Provide, at back to school nights or conferences, handouts or websites that demonstrate the problems some students have with cutting and pasting, citations, and paraphrasing.
2.  Demonstrate, at an evening activity as noted in #1, for parents proper and improper Internet sources, search techniques, and attribution.
3.  Give parents some pointers for checking the work of their own children.
4.  Make sure the respective classroom policy on cheating aligns with the district policy so parents see a consistency in efforts to support students.
5.  Schools will inform the parents of what  the communication chain is when dealing with suspected cases of plagiarism.  There is nothing to be gained, but distrust and hard feelings, when a case is dealt with so quickly that it does not allow the student a chance to explain what his/her case is to the teacher or administrator.

These are just a handful of ways partnerships can be formed between schools and parents in efforts to establish a climate based on the education of students rather than the punishment of them.

Source Cited:
Gilmore, Barry.  Plagiarism.  Heinemann Publishing. New Hampshire. 2008.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What is an appropriate IEP goal?

Once a child is deemed eligible for special education services, an Individualized Education Plan must be written.  This plan contains much information, and it can be very overwhelming for a person unfamiliar with educational terminology to understand.  The IEP is the heart of the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA).  Measurable goals are the heart of the IEP.  Goals in the IEP are simply the annual measurement of a child's progress.  The short term "dip stick" measurements are usually called benchmarks or objectives  and are observed throughout the school year.  At the end of the annual term of the IEP (commonly known as the review date), comprehensive progress on goals must be done to determine if more work is needed on a specific goal or if a new goal needs to be developed.

All goals and objectives/benchmarks  must be measurable, according to the IDEA law.  Without  measurability, progress cannot be monitored.  A goal can only be measured by performing an action.  If you measure a cup of sugar for a recipe, you take out a cup and measure out the amount of the ingredient you need for the recipe.  If you measure the tire pressure in your car's tires, you put a gauge on the valve stem.    In addition, a measurable goal or objective/benchmark would allow multiple people to review the student's performance and arrive at the same conclusion about that student's progress.  Furthermore, when measuring a student's progress, the evaluator must be able to determine how much progress has been made since the baseline information was obtained.  Finally, a strong goal can be measured without additional information.

When a goal is written, it usually follows a specific format.  A "given" is usually stated first.  The learner's performance is stated next, and the desire level of performance is stated last.  It is important that the "given" is a part of the goal as it acts as a springboard for the progress.  The "given" is somewhat like a starting point for a child.  For example, "given second grade materials, Matt will read orally at 60 wpm with no more than 2 errors."  A "given" is not always necessary; it may be implied in the goal.  For example, "the student will swim 200 yards in X time without stopping, using two strokes of her choice."  The "given" in this example is the water in which the action will take place.

The problematic element of measurable goals is the concept of observable or countable behavior.  If the person evaluating progress on a child's goals cannot observe behaviors then improvement in the goal cannot be measured.  Observable words might include:  pointing, drawing, constructing, reading orally, dressing, researching, speaking, and making.  Non-observable words include:  appreciating, understanding, respecting, knowing, and improving.  It is pretty clear there is no way to truly measure to what extent a person appreciates something, but it is clear a person can observe the act of reading orally.

Parents and educators are cautioned when the belief is that in order for a goal to be measurable and appropriate it must contain a result stated in terms of a percentage ("Tyler will increase the number of times he hands in his homework).  When determining how to state a measurement outcome, thought should be given to EXACTLY how you would measure it.  A good example of a goal would be: Given 5 simple, two-step oral directions, such as, "fold your paper and hand it in, Tyler will correctly complete 4 of the 5 two-step directions."

Goals and objectives/benchmarks are not rocket science.  Writing appropriate goals takes time and practice.  The best way to write an appropriate goal is to use one's experience, good sense, professional judgment, and team input.  Most of all, consider the needs of the child at the time the goal is being written.

Source:  Bateman, Barbara and Herr, Cynthia. Writing Measurable IEP Goals.  2006. Verona, WI.

Friday, October 21, 2011

When/How to Start the College Application Search

The following timeline is a general overview of key college application deadlines.  It is also a suggested list of "things to do" during each academic year of high school.  This timeline is not an exhaustive list of deadlines but a framework for a student to follow in preparing for post secondary education.

9th Grade
*Create a college application folder:  data to be included includes general personal information, family military background, professional associations of parents, job experiences, volunteer experiences, and such.
*Take challenging academic classes and study!  Meet with a guidance counselor and establish a four year academic plan, at least, and beyond if possible.  It should be very directive so to keep you on a post secondary track but flexible so to allow for changes in situations for which you have no control (i.e. a family move)
*If you are not involved in your community, start now.  Take leadership roles in school and community activities. 

10th Grade
*Start to request college brochures and making comparisons.  Research the colleges in which you have a strong interest.
*Take the PSAT and the PLAN.  These tests can give you a gauge on how you will perform on the ACT or SAT in your junior year.

11th Grade
*Take Advanced Placement courses if at all possible.  If your school district does not offer AP courses, check into the possibility of taking such a course with a neighboring district.
*Visit schools and attend college fairs.
*Begin to conduct free scholarship searches and collect scholarship applications.
*Start looking for and speaking with people you plan to use as references.
*Register for and take ACT/SAT in the first semester of this year; this allows for a retake if necessary
*Get a social security card if you don't have one.

12th Grade
*Retake the ACT/SAT if necessary
*Take advanced coursework when possible.
*Secure letters of recommendation for scholarship applications.
*Apply to colleges; be aware of application fee guidelines as some applications cost a nice chunk of change.
*Apply for scholarships.
*Send in your FAFSA (parents responsibility).
*Mail thank you notes to references.
*Commit to a college as early as possible so as to focus on financial support for that school; review that school's scholarships

Source:  Rosen, David & Mladen, Caryn.  Free $ For College For Dummies. Wiley Publishing. 2003.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Getting to Know your Textbook

Did it ever occur to you that at some point in your education, you made a shift from learning to read (grades k-4) and reading to learn (grades 5-12)?  While you may not have realized it, this shift did happen.  It happens for all learners.  In the upper grades, reading materials becomes less about the letters and sounds and more about the meaning of the content.  In about 4th/5th grade, it becomes important to know this because it will help you know how to approach your assigned reading in a respective subject.  After all, you use a much different approach to reading 20 pages of a novel than when you have to answer 10 questions on weather at the end of a chapter in your science book.
I know it sounds silly, but in order to truly gain as much as you can from your textbook, you have to spend some time dissecting it.  The table of contents tells you how the book is organized.  If you take your history book, for example, it is no doubt organized chronologically.  A science book may be organized categorically, and math books are usually organized sequentially as skills build on one another.  After you are finished looking at the table of contents, a good move is to locate the review the index.  This can be found at the back of the textbook and is arranged in alphabetical order.  This is most often used like a reference guide.  Say, for example, you wanted to look up information on a cylinder for math class.  You might find the following information in the index: 
          area of 435
          base of 434
          comparison to other geometric solids 437
          definition 433
          volume of 435
You can use this information to expedite your search for information.
Another important part of a textbook is the glossary.  I've seen this used most in science and social studies.  The glossary is a mini-dictionary and can be located at the back of the book, in front of the index.  Not every textbook has a glossary. Usually, a foreign language textbook has an extensive glossary and, often, will have two:  one glossary in the English language that translates to the foreign language and one that provides the foreign language equivalent of English words.
Sometimes, a textbook will also contain an appendix.  An appendix usually displays templates of  materials referenced in the book that the reader can use in a variety of circumstances.  A common template in a science book may be for lab work.  These materials are usually supplemental in nature and are not always required for students.
Textbooks can be pretty overwhelming as they are often thick and heavy.  It is important for teachers to help facilitate learning by helping students become familiar with the format of their textbook.  It is through this familiarization process that students develop a comfort level with the textbook.

Greenberg, Michael, M.A., Painless Study Techniques, Barron Publishing. 2009.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Should I Take the PSAT Test? YES!

The fall is normally the time for students to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  The PSAT/NMSQT is most often taken by sophomores as a precursor to the SAT.  This test is not mandatory  most school districts.  It measures critical reading, math problem solving, and writing skills.  The test is inexpensive and is a good opportunity for students to obtain an initial gauge on how they may perform on the SAT.  While the test is not directly related to the ACT, the PSAT can also help students prepare for this exam as well.  The test formats are similar as are the areas of skill measured. The primary reason to take the PSAT test is to get feedback about these critical academic areas. Students most often report the score from the SAT and/or ACT on college applications so this is a practice opportunity for students to find out what their strengths and weaknesses may be in the designated skill areas.

The critical reading test is comprised of vocabulary, sentence comprehension, and sentence completion and passage-based questions. The purpose of the vocabulary and sentence comprehension and completion sections is to measure a student's ability to create meaning from the words and clauses in published material.  This is a sign of an active reader.  The passage-based questions measures one's ability to read, evaluate, and interpret reading passages. 

The math concepts tested are number and operations, algebra and functions, geometry and measurement, and probability and statistics.  A scientific or graphing calculator is recommended but not required.  There is a 10 question section within this test that requires a student to solve problems outside of the test booklet and record answers in a special grid in the test booklet.  These 10 problems do not offer any answer selection options like the traditional multiple choice questions.

The writing skills section focuses on one's ability to identify appropriate expressions in standard written English, detect errors in usage and structure, select appropriate revisions to sentences and paragraphs, and recognize appropriate writing strategies.

There is a practice test for the PSAT that accompanies the study guide for the test.  There is also an answer key to help support the scoring of the test.  The best way to get ready for the PSAT/NMSQT test is to take the practice test.  The entire practice test takes about 2 hours.

Call your school's guidance counselor for information, e-mail, or call 609-771-7070.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Is My Child Eligible for Special Education Services?

It is usually a very intuitive parent who first notices something is disconcerting about a child's performance in school.  A parent may know something is not right, but yet, she may not be able to articulate what "it" is that is wrong.  To find out if a child is eligible for special education services, there are a number of steps to take, but the first step is to make the concern known to the person who is most likely able to confirm or refute a parent's suspicions.

The best person to do this is the child's classroom teacher. Schedule a meeting with the classroom teacher at a time when the teacher can give you his undivided attention.  Be sure to take another person with you when you attend this meeting.  An additional person can act as an additional set of ears for you, take notes as documentation is an important part of the process, and help you process the discussion and any questions you may have after the meeting is over.  Do NOT let anyone tell you that a support person is not necessary.  There is no law to support such a statement.  At this meeting, talk openly with the teacher and listen to his observations.  Draw on any similarities.  If the teacher confirms your suspicions, the teacher is the most likely to move the process forward and act as your child's advocate.  If the teacher does not confirm your suspicions and does not alleviate your concerns, you need to take it to the principal.  Regardless of the outcome of this meeting, be sure to let the teacher know your plans of either taking your concern to the principal or following up with the teacher to ensure he has taken it to the principal.

Scheduling a meeting with the principal should involve the same protocol as scheduling a meeting with the classroom teacher.  You need to take a support person with you to this meeting as well for the same reasons.  In larger districts, there may also be a special education director or coordinator who may be a person in the chain of command to whom you must speak.  The same protocol is followed when speaking to this person as well.  Regardless of who your conversations involve, document your concerns at each level and press for help for your child.  Summarize at the end of each meeting your understanding of the next step to be taken either by the school or by you.  It is at this level that some interventions will be tried with your child.

This step is called Response To Intervention (RTI).  The classroom teacher will try a number of interventions with your child during a 6-8 week period of time.  The purpose of the interventions is to determine the learning rate of your child regarding the concern you noted in the various meetings.  Interventions can be formulated to address academic, behavior, or social concerns.  During the time of the intervention, your child is being observed for progress.  Is your child making progress during the intervention?  The data collected should show if the learning problem is related to instruction or curriculum or is a true learning disability.  If your child does NOT make progress during the intervention, additional testing is no doubt needed.  If you child DOES make progress it is highly likely he will not be referred for further testing.  If this is the case, your job is to make sure you follow your child's progress closely to ensure the intervention continues to be done and your child continues to make progress.

If progress is not noted, and further testing is needed, the parent must request it and give consent for it to be done.  Usually a school psychologist tests a child, but schools may be different in this regard.  Ask your school for its Special Education Delivery Plan or Service Plan.  This plan should outline specifics regarding formal testing of your child.  Before any tests are completed, the federal law directs schools to gain your consent and give you information on the tests they plan to administer to your child.  Once the testing process has started, the district has 60 days to evaluate your child and share the results with you that determine eligibility of services.

As you can see, this process is lengthy and requires a parent to be on his/her toes during this process.  It is challenging and I can attest to the stress a family often endures during the testing time.  Hopefully, during the testing time, interventions will continue in the classroom as this will help your child maintain some progress.  If you suspicion a problem with your child's learning in school it is in the child's best interest if you get on top of it immediately and stay on top of it until your child gets the services and/or the help he needs.

Source:  The IEP Guidebook for Parents

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On-line learning for special needs students

Growing in number are the students taking on-line courses in junior high, high school, and college.  While on-line classes may be the right method for instruction for some students, such a method of learning may not be the right method for other students.  The debate about on-line learning for students with disabilities is gaining much national attention and is something that must be looked at based on the needs of each individual student, both adolescent and adult.

In recent years, more students who could not attend traditional classes on campus due to limitations in note taking and mobility, have turned to online classes to get their degrees. A blind person, for example, may have to hire a note-taker for an on campus course, but with the option of taking the class on-line, the educational process for such a disabled person would be made easier and more flexible.
Students with LD may benefit from online learning because online learning allows them more freedom to work at their own pace. People with dyslexia, for example, may read slowly but comprehend what they are reading well when they are allowed sufficient time to absorb information. Furthermore, online classes allow students to print out material covered in class or call it back up on the computer if they need to review it multiple times.
There are some success stories about students with autism responding well to on-line instruction in schools across the nation.  The information reflects a higher sense of self-esteem, greater progress in academic courses, an increased sense of satisfaction with academic courses, and even a stronger desire to work on academics more regularly.  Autistic persons, sometimes, struggle with the social component of being in a traditional classroom.  On-line learning relieves that pressure yet allows for interaction with others in the class via a bulletin board or other on-line communication method.
Sometimes the anonymity that accompanies on-line learning is a tremendous benefit for students with disabilities.  They are less self conscious and enjoy a more leveled playing field than they would in a classroom where they had to be physically present.  They can focus on the academic part of their experience without being treated differently because of a disability.

The bottom in line is that education must be accessible to all.  On-line learning is a possible way to remove some barriers for students with disabilities.  I, for one, am truly happy to see such movement in serving the needs of all students, not just those who can make it to the physical classroom.

Jansen, T.  "Do On-line College Classes Benefit Students with Disabilities."  2011
Vien, Courtney. "On-line Education Can Provide Students with Disabilities a Comfortable and Accessible Learning Environment."  2010

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Importance of Documentation

Keeping a paper trail on a child with special needs is critical for several reasons.  A file can help produce documents that may show a particular reoccurring pattern or a weakness/strength in a specific academic area.  A file of documentation can also show communication efforts and exchanges between professionals and/or the home and school.  A file can help provide much needed information to support the services that are necessary to serve the child with special needs.  Not the least of the reasons to keep a file is because a single person cannot remember anything and advocating for a child with special needs can be an emotional process; thereby, the less the person advocating has to recall from memory the more effective the advocacy efforts can be.

Standard documents that should be collected and organized are as follows:
  • report cards
  • notes from teachers
  • notes from other specialists/professionals serving the child
  • all IEP or 504 plan forms/documents
  • personal notes taken regarding phone calls or meetings
  • medical records
  • standardized and/or district testing data
  • copies of correspondences personally written to the school
  • any communication from the school
  • reports from activities a child with special needs may have participated in during a summer break or such
While this is, no doubt, an exhaustive list, documents will most likely fall into a category listed above.  The critical thing to remember is that documentation is important and cannot be overlooked or left as the responsibility of someone else.

It is best to organize a file in place where papers can be easily retrieved.  An accordion file often is a preferred choice of parents.  I, personally, keep a binder on my daughter with her most current information.  I keep historical documents in a separate file as there are numerous documents.  Find a system that works well and stick with it.  There is little as frustrating as needing to locate a document quickly and being unable to do so.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing the College Scholarship Essay Part 2

The initial planning of the essay seems to present the most stress for students.  Starting is often the most difficult part of the entire writing process.  After you have figured out the theme of the essay or the requirements of the judges, it is time to begin the actual writing process.  This is where you will tell your story.  It is important, to begin with, to simply get your story out on paper.  Obviously you will write multiple drafts before you finalize your essay and submit it to the evaluation committee.Keeping the theme in mind, your goals, and your outline, you will write your first draft.  After you have written this "skeleton" and included the basics from your outline, it is time to review the first draft and fill in details that do more than simply tell your story.  You should go back through the essay and show, through use of example, every place you told the judges something.  If you had to work through high school because you had to help support your family, use details to make a personal connection to the judges.  See the example, taken directly from
My family does not have a lot of money. I worked my way through high school at Walmart.
This is a good piece of information to share. However, the message can be made more vivid by sharing more detail.
My family does not have a lot of money. I worked at the local Walmart most evenings and did my homework on the bus ride home or after work.
Much better. Now the judges know that you were very busy and can feel the squeeze of needing to earn money and still get your schoolwork done. One more time.
My family does not have a lot of money. We work together on a schedule so I can earn money for college and stay on top of my schoolwork. Most weekdays after school, I attend one of my club meetings then catch the late bus home. I usually finish my math homework on the ride. I get home in time to grab supper ahead of time (Mom always has something ready on the stove) then work on other homework until Dad drives in at about 5:35 pm. We pass each other in the driveway, transferring keys and information. ("I aced the math test"; "It needs gas on the way home.") The fifteen-minute drive gets me to Walmart in time to punch in for the 6 pm to closing shift. On nights that the family needs the car, Dad drives me both ways. I'm home again by 9:30 pm, in time to chat with my folks and watch thirty minutes of ESPN before going to bed.
Now this is a cool guy in a great family. Everybody participates, everybody cooperates. You can feel the close timing involved in making this situation work. You can hear the easy interaction of people who like one another. You know that this guy is not a robot because he needs a little human interaction plus a little TV before starting over. We like him. Don't you? We'd like to help out this family; they deserve it. Bingo! Your essay may not look exactly like this, but you get the picture.  You need to help the judges "get the picture."

Notice this example is written using present tense language.  Writing in present tense encourages readers to live your information with you.  Use present tense when possible.  Refresh you writing when you can by using more descriptive nouns and verbs for adjectives.  It can make your writing sharper and be more appealing to the judges.  For example, try substituting "he was a tyrant" for "he was a brutal man" or "he was sprinting" for "he was running quickly."

Your introduction is key in hooking your reader.  This example, taken directly from the website noted above suggests a possible opening for a discussion of a student's work with a literacy program.
I am a literacy volunteer. I did not decide to do this work because studies report that 21 percent of adults (over 40 million) in this country are functionally illiterate or because 43 percent of people with reading deficiencies live in poverty or even because 70 percent of people with reading deficiencies have no job or only a part-time job. My reason for becoming a literacy volunteer was much simpler. My Dad couldn't read.
Okay, I'm hooked. I didn't really know how bad the literacy problem is, but, even more, now I need to know if this person was able to teach her Dad to read, and how this person, with an illiterate parent, made it to the point of applying for a scholarship and heading for college.

Transitions are one of the most difficult parts of the writing process.  The trick is to show your reader where they are going next and why it's a logical next step. Try not to use standard transitional phrases like "Secondly" or "In addition." Try repeating the prior thought and connecting to the next task. For example, "The time I saw my mother reading to my father I knew I had to help him; the trick was figuring out how to help.
Rather than using the conclusion to summarize, reemphasize the main point or circle back to the beginning and tie the loop. Consider the example above with the literacy introduction. The body of the essay should have been about the student, her efforts as a volunteer, her feelings about the difficulties faced by those who can't read, her recognition of the gift that reading is, and her decision to pursue a teaching career as a result of her experience. This story begs for a conclusion that answers the question, "Did her Dad learn to read?"

Dad may never read Dostoyevsky
Dad never did learn to read. But through his struggle, I learned that I want to give the gift of literacy to others, the gift that no one has been able to give to my Dad.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Writing the College Scholarship Essay Part 1

During the college scholarship search process, it becomes evident early on that most scholarships require a written essay or personal statement. as a part of the application process.  This part of the application process often causes applicants the most stress, and it is because of this requirement applicants may eliminate a scholarship from a list of possibilities.  Because of the complexities of the writing process, many people struggle with writing an essay. However, the anxiety experienced which comes from this requirement can be minimized with a few tips.

STARTING  an essay is the most difficult part of the process. This challenge presents itself for even the most experienced writers.   Before any writing is begun, the following should be done:
     1.  Analyze and break the question down into manageable pieces
Describe a situation in your life that presented you with a challenge you were uncertain if you could handle. In what ways did this situation challenge you, and what did you learn about yourself during this process?
This particular question consists of three parts (highlighted with separate colors). By identifying the subquestions,  you now have your sequence in which you should begin answering the question in your essay. Make sure you address each part.
     2.  Analyze the Organization – Find out about the organization sponsoring the scholarship.What is the mission of the organization and whom do they wish to help with these awards?  Information such as this helps the writer personalize the essay and speak directly to the sponsors.
     3.  Develop a Set of Goals-  The essay should include some goals that the writer can weave together to develop a theme.  With the above example, the theme could be classified as a "challenge of personal growth" and could easily blend the goals below into a very workable essay.
 Example (referring to the one above):
(a) I have a blind sister.
(b) I was faced with learning different communication methods.
(c) I was confused about my role in helping with my sibling.
(d) I learned I have a deeper level of compassion and commitment.
(e) I learned that I cannot change some things.
     4.  Create an Outline – An outline helps keep the writer focused and organized.  It helps the writer remember what points need to be made, and it provides a skeleton of the essay.  This skeleton helps the writer see  the overall vision of the essay as it comes together.
I. Introduction 
(a) Introduce theme.
(b) Lead the reader into first body paragraph.
II. Body Paragraph 1
(a) Discuss first point, or answer first part of question.
III. Body Paragraph 2
(a) Discuss second point, or answer second part of question.
IV. Body Paragraph 3
(a) Discuss third point, or answer third part of question.
V. Conclusion
(a) Re-emphasize theme, or tie any lose ends left from intro.

All quality essays have an organizational component.  Once this is complete, the actual writing usually offers no great challenges.  The writing component will be the focus of our next article.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Guided notes support learning of all students

Guided notes are teacher developed handouts that provide a framework for students to take notes during a lecture.  This framework requires students to be actively engaged in the lecture by filling in important information throughout the lecture.  In addition, guided notes enhance lecture content and help students organize information.

Students who take accurate notes and use them as a review prior to a performance assessment consistently receive higher scores than students who simply listen to the lecture and then read the text.  Guided notes help increase student engagement because they require students to listen, watch, think, and write.  As a result, student notes are more complete and accurate.

The most common concern regarding guided notes is that they make it too easy for kids or that educators who use guided notes are "spoon feeding" students.  This concern reflects an uninformed view of the advantages of guided notes and the educational research that supports the use of guided notes as an instructional tool.  Guided notes help students organize material, prioritize content, stay on task, and encourage questions.

There are specific guidelines that should be followed if a teacher wishes to use guided notes to support student learning.  Such guidelines include ample space for students to write, not requiring students to write so much that it slows down the pace of the lecture, using power point or other overhead device to project any content that students must write in their notes, and opportunities for students to practice problems and receive feedback from the instructor during the lecture.

Lecture is a the most common instructional tool in middle and high school.  It makes no sense that with the widespread use of this tool students are left to guess what is important or come up with their own strategy.  Using guided notes provides a structure for students that takes the guesswork out of deciphering the important elements in the lecture.  After all, if the goal of each teacher is to help the students master the content's essential understandings, why would we not tell the students what those understandings are and help them master them?  Why make them guess?

Heward, William.  Guided Notes:  Improving the Effectiveness of Your Lectures.  U.S. Department of Education.  Ohio State University Partnership Grant.  nd.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Different Approach to Discipline

Most often, disciplining our children tends to lean toward a focus on the negative.  If you've ever been inside a classroom, the same approach holds true.  Much time is spent trying to use the threat of negative consequences to change an unwanted behavior.  Interestingly enough, usually the battle that takes place between the teacher and the student becomes one of "who has the stronger will" rather than a focus on changing the misbehavior.  It is at this time the situation becomes a recipe for a bad ending for both parties.  Teachers become impatient, throw in a bit of sarcasm or an attempt at humiliation; kids raise their voices, add a pinch of attitude and the entire situation is out of control.  Can you see it?  Can you hear it?  It has happened to me before in the classroom and it happens to me with my own children at times.

What if a different approach was taken?  That "reverse psychology" may work after all.  To get the outcome you really want, focus your efforts on the positive outcome you want and use language and offer options that will get this result.  I don't know about you, but my kids don't seem to fear consequences of a negative nature.  The older they get, the harder I have to work to find a negative consequences that means something to them so that they stop the behavior I don't want.  It is exhausting.  For parents with kids who have ADHD, this situation is often maddening.  I read an article recently about a parent who tried such a different approach.  I wanted to have a "real-life" example of this to share with readers.  The long and the short of it is that he was having trouble getting his daughter to bed one evening after a very long day for him.  He spent a great deal of time telling her what would happen if she made the right choice about getting ready for bed one evening.  He also spend a fraction of that time reminding her of the normal negative consequence if she chose not to be compliant.  After he presented her with both options and was confident she understood the outcome of either situation, he asked her to make a choice.  She chose the outcome that resulted in a smooth bedtime, good father-daughter time, and no time-out. 

I know you might be saying, "Yeah, make it sound so easy" or "my kids wouldn't fall for that reverse psychology stuff."  The bottom line is that sometimes making the right choice is NOT easy for kids, especially those with ADHD.  Thinking about the consequences and then having the developmental maturity to weigh those choices is not something that comes easy for adolescents.  Try changing the approach.  In the classroom, where an entire group of kids is watching may be the perfect place to change strategy.  The kicker is that it must be given time to work.  Negative consequences have been the typical approach so a shift in thinking won't come over night.  Talk up what good choices do for relationships.  Focus on what great things happen to them when they make good choices.  After all, you can always go back to what you know doesn't work.  Trying something new is a no-lose situation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Importance of Organization (at home and school) in High School

Middle school and high school are about as similar as Charlie Sheen and Charlie Brown.  Therefore, the transition from middle school to high school is an important part of a student's success in high school.  The transition is a topic that should be discussed, openly, between the student and parent(s).  Topics that should be addressed to some degree include how the workload will be different, stresses that are often experienced in high school, the importance of setting short term goals, social pressures that are likely to present themselves, the need to get off to a good start with academics, managing academics and extracurricular activities, and strengths and areas of concern specific to the individual child.  These are, of course, not an exhaustive list of topics, but these are the ones that seem to be most prevalent. 

Academically, the most effective way of finding solutions to high school concerns is to become highly organized.  Organization begins at home before the school day even begins.  Wake up in time to eat breakfast, even if it is a slice of toast and a small glass of juice.  Having a pop and/or a donut in the morning thinking it will help you wake up is is just a false premise.  The sugar actually will slow you down.  Also, leave yourself enough time in the mornings to really wake up.  I like to sleep as much as the next person (probably more), but waking up just in time to get to the bus to get to school is counterproductive to needing to stay alert.  Most kids are used to being active when they wake in the summer....going from bed to outside in a relatively short period of time.  It is challenging to wake up and then go to school to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture or engage in a low physical activity, such as a science lab.  Granted the science lab work will help fend off those feelings of being tired more than a lecture, but the bottom line is the longer you give yourself a chance to wake up, the better off you will be in a class with a low level of physical activity.  Try taking a shower, even for just 5 minutes when you arise.  This will help wake up your entire body (and you will smell great).

Organization at school is critical to academic success.  Failure to have a organizational plan is an assurance of an difficult academic times.   As 9th graders, especially, the last thing a student needs is to struggle academically.  Some things to consider is organization of the locker and the personal academic belongings (notebooks, binders, note cards, etc...).  Consider color-coded binders and folders.  Organize your locker using shelves that help separate your belongings (if you have the room).  No doubt the biggest reasons for academic struggles in high school are not getting daily work or homework done or getting it done but not returning it to the teacher.  There appears to be a "paper heaven."  There is a good book titled "Organizing the Disorganized Child" by Kutscher and Moran.  It is a simple book full of easy techniques that any child can use and modify according to individual needs.  Getting homework home requires the use of some sort of planner (most kids use some sort of planner, even sporadically), post it note reminders, or electronic program (especially good to for students with individual computers at school).  Making sure the assignment is accurate is the next important step in the paper trail.  Ask the teacher or check with a peer in the same class.  Don't leave yourself open by guessing or assuming if you are unsure.  It is important to get the assignment home if there is still work left to complete.  Two pocket folders are great for this.  One side is used for "bring home" and the other side is used for "take back" and no one else has to know the purpose of the folder.  This provides one place for the papers you need.  Once you have the work home and done, getting it back to the teacher is a MUST!  Every assignment is important and counts, even if performance is poor.  A poor mark is better than a zero any day of the week!  Put the assignment back in the two pocket folder.  Double check to be sure it is there before you go to bed.  Make the use of this folder a habit. 

Don't become frustrated if something does not work.  Brainstorm other options.  Make adjustments as needed. They key is to know that there is a way to get organized and you just have to find it.  By parents asking questions of their child and then listening to the answers, solutions can be found.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ADD/ADHD and Neurology

It is often difficult for people to truly accept that ADD/ADHD is a neurological disorder.  Many people tend to dismiss ADHD as laziness (due to lack of motivation), "spacey" (due to lack of concentration), or even belligerence (not following through on a task given).  The fact is that there is a large amount of medical research on the connection of ADHD to the brain.  It is important for parents, educators, and employers to understand ADD/ADHD in order to be able to help a child (or another adult) who has been diagnosed be successful in the home, school, or work environment.

The frontal lobe, the limbic system,  the reticular activating system, and the cortex  are the areas of the brain directly connected to ADD/ADHD.  Slow brain wave activity in any of the first three mentioned areas will manifest itself in a lack of control in the cortex of the brain.  The frontal lobe is connected to one's ability to pay attention, focus, concentrate, make good decisions, plan ahead, learn and remember what was learned.  The limbic system is the base of our emotions.  If this system is over-activated, it may manifest itself in mood swings, an urge to touch everything, a quick startle response, or even difficulty sleeping. The inhibitory mechanisms of the cortex is the area where one's impulses are restrained. The reticular activating system is the attention center of the brain and the center of motivation.  A very complex  collection of neurons here serves as the point of convergence where things in the external world meets the world inside our own bodies (thoughts and emotions).  This system has a profound impact on the activation of the other areas noted.  When this system does not excite the neurons in the cortex as it should, the results are an under-aroused cortex which may take on numerous appearances, such as learning difficulties, poor memory, little self-control, high or low motor activity, highly motivated or easily bored, and impulsivity.  The extremes of an imbalance in this system include, unconsciousness (coma) or hyper vigilance.

The complexities of the brain are not something most people without a medical degree in neurology could even begin to grasp.  The bottom line is that there is a reason for ADD/ADHD and it deserves our attention.  If people with this impairment are to be helped, as help would be provided to any person with a disability, we must first concede that ADD/ADHD has, in fact, a medical explanation.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Strategies for the ADHD Secondary School Student

It is critical at the middle and high school levels not to engage the ADHD (or other disabled) student in any type of activity that would stigmatize him/her.  Usually, the best way to assure students they can trust the teacher to protect their emotional and mental health is to employ the same strategies with all students.  The strategies discussed in this article are ones which benefit all students.
1.  Use demonstration as much as possible rather than lecture.  Show pictures or video clips or use audio interspersed throughout any lecture.
2.  Use language kids can relate to by using meaningful examples to them.  Current fads and activities should be incorporated when possible.
3.  Use voice volume and tone for emphasis.  Write things on the board so kids can see them.
4.  Limit down time during and between activities.  Being patient is NOT an easy task for the ADHD student.
5.  Peer monitoring and cooperative learning can be a powerful tool at this level.  Involve kids in the learning process and carefully planned activities that engage learners with each other can be helpful in supporting the ADHD student's development of organizational and study skills.
6.  Minimize rote memorization.  Memorizing facts, terms, and definitions seem to be a prevalent instructional delivery method at the middle school level.
7.  Limit the need to recall facts to those that are truly the most critical for students to know.  Consideration should be given to the difference between what is reasonable for students to memorize and what they can use notes on for support (i.e. math formulas)
8.  Larger assignments should be broken into smaller components by the teacher, not left to the student to do this.  Seat work is very challenging for the ADHD child, and the more structure provided by the teacher, the more likely the ADHD student will use time productively.  Otherwise, feelings of being overwhelmed with organization can occur and the student may likely give up and complete nothing.
9.  For tests that include multiple pages, give one page of the test at a time.  Tests are high pressure situations for students, but especially the ADHD student.  The problem if often the student's struggle to transfer the learned material from his/her head to the paper.  Test formats should NEVER be a "one size fits all."  ADHD students struggle most with written tests (i.e. short answer/essay).  Consider projects, presentations, oral reports, one-to-one discussion, or other format that allows the ADHD student to truly show his/her understanding of the material to the teacher.  Use practice tests when possible. 
10.  Use guided notes when lecturing.  Guided notes are teacher-prepared hand-outs that outline or map lectures, but leave "blank" space for key concepts, facts, definitions, etc.  As the lecture progresses, a student then fills in the spaces with content.  Guided notes help students follow a lecture, identify its important points, and develop a foundation of content to study and to apply. 
11.  Use a timer for seat work tasks.  The timer can be used to challenge students to "beat the clock" and slow down students who rush through tasks.
12.  Always remember to structure a homework assignment so the content a student must have reinforced is reasonable in quantity and strong in quality.  Homework can present a huge problem at home, and it should be designed to reinforce individual skills learned.  That means homework may not be the same for every student in the class.  Getting a homework assignment out of a book (i.e. math problems, questions at the end of a chapter in science, or the like) is not nearly as powerful as an assignment created by the teacher.

While this is not an exhaustive list, these strategies have been proven to work repeatedly.  Take time to check some of them out and use in the classroom. 

Sources Cited:

Pfiffner, Linda.  All About ADHD:  Complete Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers
Parker, Harvey.  ADD Hyperactivity Handbook for Schools

Monday, July 11, 2011

Could a Disability be an Advantage When Applying to College?

While most people, including parents, would consider a disability of any kind a potential "deal-breaker" for colleges, a different perspective is encouraged.  Learning challenges caused by any disability should be viewed as a means to add diversity to a college campus.  David Montesano, a college admission strategist at College Match Educational Consultants, indicates that the clientele at his college admission practice includes students with special needs, and he has seen how learning challenges can actually benefit students during the application process.  Academically, colleges will often look at an applicant's grades and test scores in a new light if presented with evidence of a disability. For example, a learning disability may help put lower grades, class rankings, or standardized test scores in context.  In addition, a physical disability that has not limited a student's success in school shows tenacity, ability to adapt surroundings, perseverance, and a attitude about the candidate him/herself, that others without a disability cannot convey.

Rather than hide a disability, regardless of what it may be, an applicant should highlight the disability in college applications, which can increase their chances of admission and money.  In college applications, students should give details of their  disability under the appropriate section, usually called "additional information." Specify the name of the disability and its effects on learning and grades and/or standardized testing.   Applicants should share ways that they have compensated for this disability and give examples. Applicants should also not hesitate to discuss grades and test scores and how these have been impacted due to the disability.  Noting accommodations available in high school and the impact on grades and test scores as a result of  the accommodations they have received is also acceptable and suggested. 

Before applying to colleges, a thorough check should be done regarding the college's ability to serve the special needs of the applicant.  For example, the following questions may be helpful:
1. Has the school served a population with the same disability the applicant? If no, this should raise a yellow flag and more discussions must be held with admissions people. 
2. What accommodations does the college offer to help accommodate the applicant's disability?
3. Is there any discrepancy between the length of time for a non disabled student to graduate as compared to a disabled student (who have the same disability)?  Such a discrepancy could be for numerous reasons and may have nothing to do with the college.  This is simply good information to have.
4. Are there resource staff on the campus that can help students with disabilities?  If so, are these resource people graduate assistants, peer tutors, or trained professionals? If not, how do students receive support outside the classroom?
5. What types of support does the college offer faculty in terms of training in accommodating students with special needs? This is important for you to know if the professor is trained or flying solo regarding understanding how to serve students with special needs.

Source Cited:  O'Shaughnessy, Lynn.

Friday, July 8, 2011

ADHD at the Elementary Level

By the time most children are identified as ADHD, 3rd or 4th grade, the problems they have experienced in school include short attention span, difficulties with organization, distractibility, hyperactivity, and problems with self-control *(Parker, p. 22).  Developmentally, these children are behind their same-age peers and are often already stigmatized as a behavior problem by their teachers.  As sad as it may sound, some teachers naively "give up" on these children because they have tried interventions and failed to find a "fix" for the challenges ADHD children present in the classroom.  The ADHD child is more of a hindrance to classroom progress, regardless of what other talents and strengths this child may possess/exhibit.  It is not the intention of most teachers to pigeon-hold any child.  Frustration over attempted and failed interventions combined with a teacher's lack of knowledge and understanding about ADHD is an environment in which only difficulties and failure can occur for both the child and the teacher. 

Key at this level is the teacher's classroom style and attitude. At this academic level, demands requiring attentiveness, organization, planning, and independent work increase, and typically, so do the ADHD child's problems *(Parker, p. 23).  Work completion often is one of the first struggles noted.  A teacher gives time for work to be completed in class but the ADHD child does not get it done regardless of the amount of time given for the task.  Other challenges that often present themselves for the child include the simple act of starting a task or assignment and homework.  Each of these tasks require multiple skills put into action simultaneously.  The ADHD child will have troubles with such a task.  Another problem that often occurs is with socialization *(Parker, p. 24).  The ADHD child is often rejected by peers because their behavior disruptive in nature and they struggle with social cues.  Boundaries become a challenge as well as the ADHD child struggles to recognize and/or respect the boundaries of others.

All of these frustrations add to the challenges the parents face at home.  Parents begin to dread the phone call from school.  It is critical that parents and teachers work together to support the child.  Parents are a tremendous resource and need to be kept informed of what is happening at school.  In addition, parents are usually eager to be involved in the teacher's efforts to support the ADHD child.  In order to best support the child, it is imperative for the school to foster a partnership.  Keeping parents informed of activities in the classroom, homework help tips, tips about educational programs to watch or good books to read are all things that can foster a relationship between the school and home *(Pffifner, p. 124-25).

Some strategies that can be used by the classroom teacher to help support the ADHD child include:
1.  Seat the child close to teacher's desk or chalkboard.  This helps with continuous monitoring. 
2.  Seat the child away from windows, things that hang low,  or extremely stimulating objects.
3.  Walk around the room near the ADHD child often and praise him/her for staying on task or redirect as needed.
4.  If the child has trouble sitting, allow him/her to stand and complete a task as long as they are not disruptive.
5.  Operate a well-organized classroom.  Work centers should be uncluttered and kept full of materials. 
6.  Have an effective classroom routine for tasks.  Stick to the routine.  Teach major academic subjects (such as reading) in the morning, if possible.  This is the time of day children are the most focused.
7.  Alternate between activities.  Allow for movement whenever appropriate.
8.  Keep the lesson lively, short, and paced appropriately.
9.  Involve all students in the lesson whenever possible.  Engagement is critical for all level of children. 
10.  Keep directions simple and repeat often.  Have another student restate the directions.  Keep directions simple and repeat often.  Keep directions simple.....I think you get the point.

There are many other strategies that support learning for all students.  These are only a few that the ADHD child will benefit from the most.

*Note:  Resources are those used in the previous article.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All About ADHD: Developmental Levels

As an educator, I have encountered ADHD students every year in every class.  A new teacher will no doubt encounter a child with ADHD within his/her first or second year of teaching.  As far back as 1996, there was an estimated 3-5% of the school age population (over 2 million students) diagnosed with ADHD.  This translated to about 1 to 2 kids in every classroom all across the country (Pfiffner, p.10).  In 2009, slightly less than 5.5 million school age children were diagnosed with ADHD.  With such a large number of school age children diagnosed with ADHD, it is imperative that educators have a strong understanding what ADHD is and how it impacts the learning of a child.  It is only after an understanding of ADHD occurs that effective teaching strategies can be implemented to help support the education of any child at any educational level with ADHD. 

It is a bit uncommon for a child under the age of 6 to be formally diagnosed by a doctor with ADHD simply due to the commonalities between small children with and without ADHD.  There are no objective answers to questions, such as "When is inattentiveness considered impulsivity" or "How do parents differentiate between behavior that is developmentally normal from those that are indicative of a long-lasting problem"? (Parker, p. 22). Preschool children are naturally impulsive and very active.  Attention spans are focused on interesting and new things and are very brief (based upon interest in an item).  Preschoolers are self-centered, demanding, and generally get upset when they don't get what they want.  Teachers at this level plan instructional activities knowing this about their students' development.  ADHD preschoolers are often described by their parents as more overactive than normal.  Their need for stimulating activity means they are constantly moving and climbing.  Constant supervision is necessary.  They are often described as exhibiting uncommon reactions to frustrations, including aggressiveness, that most other children their age do not exhibit.

Parents of ADHD children often describe themselves as "exhausted" by the child rearing process (Parker, p. 22).  Disruptive behavior is a concern when children with ADHD begin school IF there has been no meaningful and effective behavioral controls at home.  At school, there are definite strategies a teacher can use to help support the preschool child diagnosed with ADHD (by the way, most strategies work with all younger children, not just those with ADHD).

1.  Keep eye contact with the child.  If necessary, gently hold their chin so that they are looking at you when you speak. Children tend to listen more closely when they are looking at you as you speak.

2.  Structure the day as much as possible.  Keep nap times, meal times, and various activities at the same time each day.  Having the day predictable for the child will help them cope better.  Let them know any disruptions that may happen and what to expect.  Let them know what you expect of them. 
3.  Give them plenty of time to release energy.  Set up times during the day for them to run or release energy.  Make daily trips to the playground or play outside. If stuck inside, use a radio or CD and have them dance. 
4.  Choose toys carefully.  Children with ADHD can be emotionally immature.  Allow toys that will benefit them developmentally and also provide toys to stretch their intelligence.  (Children with ADHD do not have a lower intelligence level.)

5.  Integrate learning techniques.  Use as many as the senses as possible when teaching a new skill.  If you are teaching your child colors, find items they can touch, eat, or smell.  Have them draw with crayons.  Having learning become interactive will help them learn more quickly.

6.  Create an environment to help them succeed.  Accept they may be accident prone and put away items you don’t want broken.  Use simple organizational structures they can use to put away toys.  Use pictures on drawers to help them know what is inside. 
7.  Be consistent.  Consistency is the most important part of behavioral management when working with children with ADHD.  The more consistent you are, the more they will know exactly what to expect and be able to follow your rules.

More information and resources can be found on this topic at the Attention Deficit Disorder Resources Website.

Chandler, MD, Jim (2002). What is ADHD?
Parker, PhD, Harvey (1996).  The ADD Hyperactivity Handbook for Schools
Pfiffner, PhD, Linda (1996).  All About ADHD:  The Complete Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An iPAD for My Special Needs Child?

Think about it.  Assistive technology is a large part of the educational journey of a child with an IEP.  More and more applications are being created to assist students with low vision or blindness, autism, speech delays, fine motor development delays, behavior issues, deafness, and general learning disabilities.  To determine if an iPAD may be in the cards for your child, seek assistance from an advocate or another person you trust to act on behalf of your child.  Research is always a good way to start.  Simply google "iPAD use for special education students" and see where it takes you.

Most people get a bit hung up on the negatives that could result if such a device is used to entertain.  The hard truth to that perspective is that our schools allow the use of technology devices to entertain now.  Technology devices are entertaining by nature as they are highly engaging and interactive.  The key is to understand that they are simply a different teaching and learning modality.  In addition, the device, itself, can only be used in ways that fit the applications loaded to the device.

Some truly neat ways schools are using this assistive technology include teaching pre-literacy skills.  A child can trace the letter or number with his/her finger rather than use a crayon or marker.  Older children can use this device to learn math facts without the traditional flashcards.  This device is highly communicative and can be used in a variety of ways in speech therapy.  The possibilities are unlimited at this time.  The most important consideration is the needs of the IEP child.  Rather than make the child fit the technology, ensure the technology fits the child.

As the mother of a daughter with an IEP for low vision, it is critical that technology be a staple piece of the IEP and the education of my daughter.  Looking ahead is also important.  Decisions cannot be made, often, for simply the time at hand.  What will be needed a few years down the road?  How do we begin to plan for that when it comes to assistive technology?  If the school goes a direction with technology, what does this mean for my child?

Ask about assistive technology.  It is extremely uncommon (I cannot think of any reason) for an IEP to not have the "assistive technology" box marked.  As our society becomes more global, our IEP children will have to be exposed to a level that is appropriate for them.  As of yet, due to the newness of much technology (i.e. iPAD), there is no research on the effectiveness of the iPAD as an educational tool.  As with any technology device, there are positives and drawbacks.  So far, the positives far outweigh the drawbacks.  Check it out for your child.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Certificate vs. Diploma

In light of the fact that community colleges require at least a GED for entrance, as do most employers, what is the value of an "alternate" diploma for special needs kids (even those attending alternative school)?  Simply put...NONE!

Parents must be aware of the school district's policy regarding "alternate" diplomas; sometimes called "certificate" programs.  Just from a theoretical perspective, the name implies lower expectations of a student.  For this reason, alone, it is not only my professional opinion but the professional opinions of others (i.e. advocates, legal counsel, educators, and doctors) who serve kids that such an option is not in the best interest of any special needs child.  So what is a parent to do when someone at the school suggests an "alternate" diploma for their special needs child?

First, know the law.  IDEA clearly supports high expectations and access to the general education curriculum in the regular education classroom to the maximum extent possible so a child has the greatest opportunity to meet IEP goals and prepare to lead productive and independent lives to the maximum extent possible (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. 1400 (A)(5)(i,ii)).

Second, know the school district's policy as well as the state policy.  State policy over-rides district policy so if these are in conflict, the district needs to know that their policy is not the one to be followed.

Third, explore the thinking behind any recommendation for your child to receive an "alternate" diploma or certificate.  Do they not believe your child can reach the same course standards as the regular education students?  If this is the belief, the question of "why" must be posed.  In addition, IEP kids are entitled to free public education until the age of twenty-one.  Could a continuance of services for your child be what is necessary for those same course standards to be met?  Are they recommending an "alternate" diploma based on your child's developmental level of functioning?  What services are being provided for your child, currently, and do those services need to be changed in any way to help your child meet a higher level of course standard that may help your child achieve that regular diploma?

Do not let the school district convince you that anything less than a regular diploma is acceptable for your child.  Be the advocate for your child and the expert in what your child may need to achieve a regular diploma.  I believe school districts are not in the habit of purposefully lowering standards for students who have special needs.  I believe they simply do not know what other options they may have.  This must be explored by all members of the team, of which the parent is critical.  Become knowledgeable.

Bruce, Susan.  "Certificate Programs v. Regular Diploma--No Way!" 
This article can be viewed on the Wright's Law website

Wright, Peter & Pamela. Special Education Law, Second Edition. Harbor House Law Press, 2010, page 46.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Does My Child Have an Organizational Style???

The simple answer to this is YES!  We all have organizational styles.  In How to Get Organized Without Resorting to Arson, Liz Franklin uses "access styles" to help determine organizational styles.  Access styles describe how people access (or retrieve) stored information and how people organize their thoughts (Organizing the Disorganized Child, Kutscher & Moran).  A person's style influences how he/she form habits, categorize items, and then finds the items.  There are three basic styles of organization:

Visual:  people who exhibit this style generally try to think of missing items in the last place they SAW the item; having the item visible is a must (out of sight out of mind); prefer colors as a tool to support their organization and do not like cluttered areas (visually cluttered=overload)

Spatial:  people who exhibit this style try to find things in relation to the last place they USED the item; typically they like their supplies within reach when they are working on something; a cleaned off area is a must as they want a space that "feels good" when they begin work

Sequential:  people who exhibit this style try to find items in relation to the last time they HAD the item; usually think "numbers" and remembers things in terms of dates or times of events; their space may look messy but they can find things easily as there is a certain order to the piles; they are detailed people and do not like their work area "straightened up" by others.

Can you recognize your child's learning style?  What about your own?  Do you or your child have more than one style?  This short questionnaire (Organizing the Disorganized Child, Kutscher & Moran) may help you if you don't know.

  • When your child is looking for his backpack, he asks you
    • Did you see my backpack?
    • Do you know where I put my backpack?
    • Do you know when I last had my backpack?
  • When your child is doing her homework, she
    • put all the items she will need for the homework out in front of her
    • clears off the area before she does her homework
    • stacks her homework assignments in a certain order before or after completing the assignment
  • Your child responds best to a teacher who
    • writes notes on the board
    • makes her feel good about herself
    • runs a very structured and orderly class
  • When your child is invited to a party, he
    • decided how much fun he thinks the party will be based on the design of the invitation
    • thinks about what he will do at the party
    • wonders how long the party will be
  • You have noticed that your child likes to
    • look at pictures
    • build with blocks or Legos
    • play with electronic devices
  • When your child returns from a play date, he
    • describes what his friend's house looks like
    • describes how he felt at the play date
    • describes detailed events of the play date in the order in which they happened
  • Would your child rather go to a
    • movie
    • physical activity such as soccer, gymnastics, or dance
    • computer trade show
  • When picking out a book from the library, your child looks for
    • the book with the nicest cover
    • a title that he feels good about
    • a book about history or a biography
If you selected, mostly, the first response for each question, your child is most likely a visual organizer.  If you selected mostly second bullet responses, your child leans toward being a spatial organizer.  Finally, if you selected mostly third bullets, this child tends to be a sequential organizer.

Your child's primary organizational style (yes, he/she may have two), will largely support his/her organizational techniques.

Kutscher & Moran.  Organizing the Disorganized Child:  Simple Strategies to Succeed in School.  New York.  HarperCollins. 2009.  Print

The New Special Education Teacher

Teaching is a difficult challenge.  It is both an art and a science.  The art of teaching is something most classroom teachers work on for years.  Each year brings the opportunity to begin anew and perfect those "affective" parts of the profession that cannot be learned through books or  lectures.  Being a master teacher is much more than just knowing one's content.  The core of being a master teacher is found in the ability to support students in mastering the content, retaining critical concepts, and enjoying the classroom experience, predominately accomplished through the development of positive relationships.  This challenge is difficult for veteran teachers; imagine what a first year teacher goes through in having to put the theory into practice.

Not only are new to the profession teachers faced with the challenges of putting all that theory into practice but also they have individual needs that must be met in order to be effective.  Providing support that addresses teacher's unique needs is important for increasing their effectiveness, helping them make a smooth transition into teaching, and reducing their stress and turnover (Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2011).  The real challenge is for parents to know their child's teacher is new, inexperienced, and how the district will plan to support the teacher in meeting the IEP child's needs over the next several months.  This is increasingly important as the turn over in special education teachers is high.  The frustration parents feel when they know they have to "train" a new teacher about their child and his/her needs is real and must be addressed if progress is to be consistent.  This consistency is the responsibility of the district, but special education teachers are often expected to know things they truly do not.  So what can the parents do to help hasten the learning curve of the new teacher?

  1. Introduce yourself in person within the first few days of the school year, preferably before if possible.  A "back to school" evening is a great time or even during the first few days of in service before the students return.  It is nice to have a face with a name and be able to associate a child with a parent.  Try to schedule this so as to not interrupt any meetings the teacher may be in during the time you wish to meet.
  2. Ask the teacher if he/she has read your child's IEP or cumulative file.  This is critical.  This teacher is the roster teacher for your child and needs to know his/her IEP before the IEP comes due.  I can think of nothing more that could set a special education teacher up for failure than to start the school year and not know the basics of a student's IEP needs. If this teacher has not read the IEP or file, discuss your child's IEP with this teacher.
  3. Find out, just by asking, if the teacher is fully certified or on a conditional license.  This is important as it will tell you how much education he/she has had up to this point.  It is not uncommon for special education teachers to be on a conditional license. 
  4. Be clear with the teacher if you prefer a specific venue for communication (i.e. phone, e-mail).  Parents are encouraged to communicate frequently and consistently with the new teacher, especially at the beginning.  This shows your advocacy for your child and lets the teacher know you are not expecting a one-way street of communication.  Remember, this new teacher has several students and needs each parent to be proactive with communication.  If there are specific things you expect from a phone call, be sure to let the teacher know. 
  5. As a parent, you must remember that your child's teacher no doubt wants to be effective in his/her services to your child.  While it is not your job to provide extended educational opportunities or hold that person's hand as he/she becomes acclimated to the school, policies, procedures, and expectations, it will benefit your child to take the lead in communication.
You are your child's number one advocate.  Don't hold back. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Prepare for a Scholarship Interview

Congratulations!  You've been selected for an interview for a college scholarship.  You've done a lot of hard work to get this interview so now is not the time to relax completely.  An interview for a scholarship is similar to a job interview. There are some definite things you want to do.
  1. Dress appropriately.  Take care to exercise strong grooming habits.  Your clothing should be clean and pressed.  Hair and teeth should be clean and fingernails should be free of dirt and grime. Jeans are absolutely not acceptable nor is anything low cut or too form fitting.
  2. Take all of your materials with you to the interview.  The minimum materials include a resume, letters of reference, and the portfolio you should have put together.  You may additional materials the scholarship committee asks you to bring,
  3. Present yourself with confidence but not arrogance.  Emphasize why you deserve this scholarship and articulate your strengths.  Don't be afraid to address any shortcomings the committee may ask you about; just be honest and try to use the opportunity to let the committee know you are not perfect but you recognize shortcomings and work to improve them.
  4. Sit forward when you speak to show interest in the interview.
  5. Make sure you know the mission of the organization of the scholarship for which you have been selected.  Know a bit about the history of the organization and use this information to help you make a personal connection to the interview committee.
  6. When answering a question, try to elaborate on your answer by providing examples to help the committee see a more in depth profile of your experience.  Try to use opportunities in this interview as a chance to show the committee they are investing their money in you and that their investment will reflect a great return.
  7. If you learned something from an experience be sure to share that.  This is critical as it helps the committee see how you've grown as a result of your experience.
  8. Finally, be sure to thank the people who are interviewing you for their time.  This is personal touch that cannot be over-emphasized.  Let them know you look forward to hearing from them.
You will do great!