Beginning A New Special Education Program

Over the summer (yes, the summer “vacation” that teachers get) my co-teacher and I took a well-known in-school special education program and developed it into a whole new thing.  She and I have been working together for the past 5 years, and we were both hired to work in a new school for this year, in an already established program.  What we came up with takes a little bit from where we used to work, and mixes it with some new concepts.

We collaborated online in order to make sense of, and establish a behavior management program for our high school students (who are mostly emotionally disabled, but also may be on the Autism spectrum).  By hiring two teachers, the school doubled the amount of students in our program, so we needed to fully establish our system.  We come from a school program that has been well-established (and respected) since 1981, so it was important for us to make sure we have a tight system.  We first decided what our core values would be:

  1. Demonstrate and foster compassion, respect, responsibility, and integrity.
  2. Work cooperatively and collaboratively with peers and adults within the school and greater community to support academic, personal, and social development.
  3. Make decisions that will positively influence social, emotional, and physical health and well-being.
  4. Understand choices have consequences
  5. Understand and exhibit citizenship in order to be a contributing member of a democracy and of a global community.

Then we found state standards and transferable skills that would help us be able to measure our core values:

Based on the following from the VT Framework of Standards:

Respect 3.3 Students demonstrate respect for themselves and others.

Healthy Choices 3.5 Students make informed, healthy choices that positively affect the health, safety, and well-being of themselves and others. This is evident when students: ddd. Assess personal health in terms of stress, and develop an approach or plan for managing stress;  eee. Demonstrate refusal and negotiation skills to enhance health, and to avoid potentially harmful situations;

Teamwork 3.10 Students perform effectively on teams that set and achieve goals, conduct investigations, solve problems, and create solutions (e.g., by using consensus-building and cooperation to work toward group decisions).

Interactions 3.11 Students interact respectfully with others, including those with whom they have differences.

Conflict Resolution 3.12 Students use systematic and collaborative problem-solving processes, including mediation, to negotiate and resolve conflicts.

Dependability and Productivity 3.14 Students demonstrate dependability, productivity, and initiative. This is evident when students: a. Attend school on a regular basis; b. Complete assignments on schedule; and c. Participate in classroom and group discussions.

Taking Risks 2.8 Students demonstrate a willingness to take risks in order to learn.

Persevering 2.9 Students persevere in the face of challenges and obstacles.

Vermont AOE Transferable Skills/Graduation Proficiencies and Performance Indicators

Clear and Effective Communication

Self-Direction

Creative and Practical Problem-Solving

Responsible and Involved Citizenship

Informed and Integrative Thinking

Next we wrote our statement of purpose, which took many drafts to complete:

The SOL Program is committed to creating a classroom environment that is built on the principles of being safe, respectful, and productive. By creating an environment that values each student as an individual and as a collective member of the classroom community, we are helping students achieve mastery in the skills and knowledge that are essential to becoming empowered citizens of a diverse and ever-changing world.

Then we created our rubrics based on our three core areas (safety, respect, productivity), which was not an overnight process (you know what I mean if you’ve ever developed rubrics from scratch).  Our rubrics referenced transferable skills and state standards as well as social competencies developed by teams at the high school which our program serves.  We

What took even longer was developing scales which we and our students will use to rate our three core areas.  We plan on using our behavioral data to be 10 or 20% of a student’s grade in the core areas we teach (that hasn’t been fully decided yet).  While we want the students to earn their grades through academics, we strongly feel that behavior plays a role as well–as it does in life.  Think about the people who get job promotions:  they are the ones leading others or putting in extra time and effort; they are the ones with good social skills–so using behavioral data as part of a student’s grade is realistic.

We also plan on doing standards based grading–which also took a chunk of time to develop.  We have a 4 point grading scale; students will rate themselves, but we will also rate how well they meet the standards for each skill within the projects we do in class.  Our rating scale transfers to letter grades (since our school still uses that system for transcripts).  We still have work to do to further develop our rating scales (and I’m sure there will be much tweaking), but we have a great start and we will be ready to work with students in two weeks when school begins.

A Reading to Learn Activity Plan: High School Debate

Curriculum Area/Topic:  Current Events topic related to the Olympics for a 10th grade literacy class with small group instruction.

Instructional Strategy:   The Creative Debate strategy allows students to practice their social skills (working together, giving feedback to peers) and it allows them to practice speaking skills (making eye contact, choosing appropriate language, speaking in front of people).  Students are also, of course, working toward meeting Common Core Standards (which aren’t written for special education students who are below grade level like mine, but that’s another conversation entirely).  This reflection strategy is useful because it gives students more realistic practice in an important life skill:  supporting opinions with facts.  Most of my students like to say “because” when asked “why”; I prefer that they learn to give good reasons based on facts and understanding.

Goals and Objectives:

The Common Core states that 10th grade students will present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance and style are appropriate to purpose, audience and task (SL.9-10.4).  It also states that 10th grade students will write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence (W.0-10.1) and they will produce clear and coherent writing…(W.9-10.4).  So the objectives of this lesson are as follows:

  1. Students will find evidence from the text which supports their side of the issue.
  2. Students will write a brief summary stating their side of the issue; the summary will contain clear, concise writing with logical and supporting evidence, and it will contain proper grammar, usage and mechanics.
  3. Students will present their side of the debate in front of a class using clear, concise and logical information.

Prerequisites:  Students should already be familiar with the 2 articles and their subject matter due to class work and discussion in previous classes including vocabulary work, main idea/topic work, and gathering supporting details for a class summary of the articles.

Procedures:

  1. Each student will have a copy of each of the articles:  “The Waste and Corruption of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 Olympics” and “The Elusive Economic Lift of the Olympics
  2. Tell students that it is now time to prepare for and debate a major issue set forth in the Vladimir Putin article. Give them the debate sides:  Russia wasted money on the Olympics, or The money Russia spent will help bring an economic boom to the economy.  Tell them which side they will defend and organize the students into two teams.  Go over the grading rubric for the debate.
  3. Give students each a graphic organizer to help them keep track of information that will support their side (see “materials to prepare”). Indicate additional resources students can use to find more support for their side:
    1. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-06/russians-rue-economy-as-most-expensive-olympics-begin-at-sochi.html
    2. http://www.businessinsider.com/economics-sochi-olympics-2014-2
    3. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/27/putin-s-olympic-shame.html
    4. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/01/25/russian_president_vladimir_putins_50billion_olympic_games.html
  1. Students will review the information they already have and they will find information that supports their side of the debate and enter it into their debate preparation graphic organizers. Students will work as a group to find information, but will each complete their own graphic organizers.  For students who need extra support, teachers can scribe.  The teachers should circulate and check-in with teams to make sure they are getting enough relevant information to support their topic and that they are adequately summarizing it.  This part of the lesson will likely take an entire class period.
  2. When the organizers are completed each student will be given notecards to use during the debate; they can complete them as follows (or in a way more comfortable for them—though I find that my students like to be told how to organize because they never learned how):
    1. Opening statement (front) Ending statement (back)
    2. 3 cards: Major point with supporting facts (front) Major point with facts (back)
    3. Points the opposition might use (front) counterarguments and rebuttals (back)
  3. Allow time for practice (each team in a separate space working with a teacher). Students can adjust their debate points based on teacher feedback.  Steps 5+6 will likely take another whole class period to prepare.
  4. The two teams will present their debate in front of teachers and students from another class. For students with significant anxiety, they can present their arguments individually to the teacher and will become part of the audience during the debate. Tell students how the debate will progress:
    1. First each side will begin with an opening statement
    2. The “wasted $” side will begin with 3-5 minutes to make their major points
    3. The “economic boom” side will make their major points (3-5 minutes)
    4. The “wasted $” side will make counterarguments (3 mins)
    5. The “economic boom” side will make counterarguments (3 mins)
    6. Rebuttals will continue as necessary
    7. Each side will end with a closing statement
  5. Once the debate is completed, the audience will each complete a scoring rubric.
  6. Students will write a brief summary of their side of the issue in a well-written short essay that has proper grammar, usage and mechanics (homework).
  7. Students who wish to complete “make-up” work (because they have been absent) or who wish to earn extra credit can do a write up for the opposing side.

Assessment:

The students will be assessed based on completion of the scoring rubric by the audience.  The teacher will also have completed a scoring rubric during the presentation.  The students will also be assessed on their short writing piece (whether their arguments were logical and well supported as well as for proper English conventions of writing).

Materials to Prepare:

Graphic organizer (outline) for debate preparation:

My side of the issue is:

5 points that support my side (each point has 1 fact to prove it):

5 points the opposition might say:

Counterpoints (facts I can use against the opposition):

Debate Scoring Rubric (PDF)

Edmodo and Group Collaboration

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2 middle school students read and prepare to collaborate as a group using Edmodo.

Today one of my middle school literacy classes worked on continuing to read the story “The Ransom of Red Chief.”  While they did that they prepared to ask each other questions using Edmodo (a social media tool).  I’ve talked about this resource in a previous post, and it is a resource that I love to use, and my students also enjoy it a lot.  Click here to see the conversation that has been started about the character “Red Chief.”  As the teacher, it is important that I keep the conversation going, so I’ve prompted them with a question to help them continue the conversation the next time they are in class.  Today is the first time they have used this tool to collaborate, so I only expected 1 response from them so they can get used to this format.

What I like about Edmodo is that my students can talk to each other in a way that is familiar to them because it’s kind of like Facebook; but this is also a safe place for them because no one has our class code and can randomly insert themselves into the conversation or find my students.  This also is a good record of student progress and academic achievement.  My students all have learning disabilities, so I know it is tough for them to write, but just seeing that they’ve written semi-complete sentences and connected their comments to each other’s makes me feel like they are accomplishing some good work.  I was really proud of them today; they had good focus and they followed directions beautifully to get some real academic work done.

I also used the quiz feature in Edmodo today.  Teachers can create their own quizzes with multiple choice, short answer, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank questions.  They are easy to grade and the teacher can comment on each question while correcting the quizzes.  My 6th and 7th grade students particularly enjoyed the quiz–they ENJOYED it–a quiz!  Through Edmodo’s create a quiz feature, I was able to make a quick assessment to determine if they are ready to move on.  Even though I’ve been using Edmodo for a few years, this is the first time I’ve made and used a quiz.  I really like it, and I will continue to use it because it can make a great exit card and help me form the basis of my next lesson or to see what I need to review.  The quiz today was only 4 questions, but it was enough to inform my instruction for tomorrow’s class.

Using Edmodo for Peer Collaboration

Edmodo is a great resource for teachers who want to provide a safe, structured, and fun way to incorporate online learning into their classes.  Using Edmodo, a teacher sets up a “class” and is provided a private code that a user must enter in order to access it. When students enter the code to gain access, they set up their profiles and choose an avatar to represent themselves.  They can make and reply to posts, which is similar to how it happens on Facebook; however, the class is private, so no one “random” can just pop in.  The teacher can set up assignments, provide links to videos, websites, articles, word documents, pictures, etc.  The teacher can also set up a library of resources that the students can access.  Online assignments can be “turned in” and graded online.  Edmodo is a good resource for flipping the classroom:  a teacher can link a video for the students to watch at home so that class time can be devoted to problem-solving or projects.  Edmodo is also a good resource for students who miss class:  a teacher can link make-up assignments or provide links for homework; it could also be used when the school is closed for a snow day in order to access learning.  Currently we have a teacher at our school who is using Edmodo as a way to provide an online class to a student who has such significant anxiety that he can’t leave his house.  Over the summer, I created a presentation that uses Edmodo as a way for students to collaborate on a reading assignment, and I will link parts of it in this post.

Cornell University provides some important insight about collaboration and collaborative learning and why it is so important:

“Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts, or find solutions to problems. This often occurs in a class session after students are introduced to course material through readings or videos before class, and/or through instructor lectures. Similar to the idea that two or three heads are better than one, many instructors have found that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions.”

Research shows that educational experiences that are active, social, contextual, engaging, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. The benefits of collaborative learning include:

  • Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
  • Promotion of student-teacher interaction.
  • Increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility.
  • Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.
  • Preparation for real life social and employment situations.

Here is a lesson I developed that involves students collaborating on a class project (I have classes of 5 or 6, but a larger class could be divided up into small groups for this project): Collaborative Approach Activity Lesson Plan

The following is from “Using Collaborative Strategic Reading” by Janette K. Klingner and Sharon Vaughn:

  • “Once students have developed proficiency applying comprehension strategies through teacher-led activities, they are ready to learn roles they will perform while using Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) in their peer-led cooperative learning groups.
  • Student roles are an important aspect of CSR because cooperative learning seems to work best when all group members have been assigned a meaningful task.
  • Some roles you can use: leader, announcer, time keeper, summarizer, visualizer, encourager, and reporter
  • The teacher becomes an active listener (or participant online) while helping with any questions or issues that come up for students; the students learn from each other
  • CSR can be used in general education classrooms where students with special needs are included for instruction (Klingner et al., in press) as well as in special education settings (Klingner & Vaughn, 1996).

downloadIn case you aren’t familiar with Edmodo, here is a handout I created that explains some of the main features of Edmodo: Edmodo Handout.

To use Edmodo for a reading collaboration activity you need:

  • personal tablets or laptops with internet connectivity or a computer with internet connectivity.
  • The Edmodo app installed on each personal tablet or access to the website.
  • A personal Edmodo account (email is not needed for students to set up accounts).

The activity could be something like this:

  1. Read for a few minutes, then answer a comprehension question on the site (the reading and questions are linked on the site for the students to access).
  2. The next step would be to continue reading for several more minutes and respond to at least 2 other people in the class via posts and replies. 
  3. Then, the group would finish the story and post their answers to the end questions. 
  4. The final step is to respond to at least 3 other learners in the class and answer any questions posed.  Then complete an assignment that is based on the reading.  The whole activity could probably take about 50-60 minutes, depending on your readers.  Here is an example of how you could set up your group collaboration reading (I used the story, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” always a favorite): Ransom of Red Chief Story and Questions

A Research Model

imagesOver the summer I took a course through PBS Teacherline called “Promoting Digital Media Literacy.”  The final project was presented as a problem to solve:  how can students effectively locate good resources online, analyze, and use them.  For my solution to the problem, I developed the Q-PASS model.  Through the course we looked at various research models such as “The Big 6,” “Pathways to Knowledge,” and “SPIRRE.”  By studying models we could see what we liked about certain models while thinking of the needs of our students, so we could synthesize that information into something new.  Because I work with students with middle and high school students with emotional and behavioral disabilities at an alternative school, I wanted to develop a research process that would be easy for them to remember and that would help them develop some important critical thinking skills.  I also wanted to develop something that I felt would be a useful process for them to go through when answering life’s tough questions when they are done with school:  “Which job should I take,” or “Both towns are close to where I work.  Which town should I live in?”  As a result,  the model I developed has a way to define a good research question as the first part of the process.  Also, my students need help with social interactions.  The goal at our school is to get  the students transitioned back into a mainstream setting, but they need help with social skills.  In my model, there is a process for learning to collaborate with others, which is an important social skill.

The Q-PASS model involves 5 steps:  Question, Plan, Assemble, Survey, and Showcase.

1.  Question.  First, students develop a good research question.  It doesn’t show me what my students have learned if they are just giving me factual information about a topic.  Copying and pasting facts from their research is not good learning.  That’s what my students want to do, but it doesn’t show me what they’ve learned.  So developing a good research question is essential.  If a teacher has already developed a good research question, then this part of the process is not necessary, but many teachers want their students to develop their own questions.  In order to help my students come up with a good question, they will first need to brainstorm what they know about the topic.  Then they use the chart I created in order to develop questions.  Once they become proficient at developing questions, then they will no longer need to use the chart.

2.  Plan.  The next step is for students to plan their research.  What search terms will they use?  How will their search terms be refined?  What types of information will they need in order to answer their research question?  When my students begin a research project, they usually have a lot of difficulty starting because they don’t know what to do.  I developed this step to help them.

3.  Assemble.  Next, students will assemble their information.  That means that they find it, take notes, collect images, organize it, and analyze it.  I have included a tool students can use to evaluate a website in order to determine if it meets their needs before they use it for their research.  This step will require some critical thinking in order to organize the information and analyze whether or not it will be useful.  When students have all the information that they think they will need, they move on to the next step.

4.  Survey.  Students will work with a partner to help each other determine if they have enough information and if their information aptly answers their research question.  This is a social skills training opportunity for my students, so in my model, I include a lesson plan for one way to go about teaching this step to students.

5.  Showcase.  The last step is to show off your project.  The students I work with often don’t finish projects or they don’t want people to see them, even their parents.  By making this step the final part of the research, it helps students see that showing your work is part of good learning.

the Q-PASS Research Model

I am excited to try out this research model.  I would love to hear feedback from other people who try this in their classrooms too.