This may look like an ordinary butterfly to you, but there’s a story behind it.
This beautiful 3D printed butterfly reminded me that someone hasn’t forgotten about me.
This may look like an ordinary butterfly to you, but there’s a story behind it.
This beautiful 3D printed butterfly reminded me that someone hasn’t forgotten about me.
Today started our state’s third week of Virtual Learning due to the COVID-19 precautions and country-wide shutdowns. I am sure you have probably read at least twenty blog posts about ‘homeschooling’ your kids during this stressful and (for most of us) unprecendented time. I have tweeted a few resources here and there, but I thought putting them in a blog would be more beneficial to folks who do not tweet as much as I do (I really tweet too much). Supporting students with Learning Disabilities during a school shutdown is difficult because supporting those students in a classroom is difficult. I am going to do my part by offering a short list of programs I use in my classes.
Before I share the Very Short List of Sites I Use in My Resource Classroom (might turn this into an ebook…you never know), I want to make a few things clear:
Number 3 is not a dig at homeschooling parents; even they have to put in serious work to be effective. I homeschooled all of my kids for several years, so I know. It is neither an indictment on a parent or caregiver’s ability to teach / educate their own child(ren). I need you to understand that we do this for 6+ hours each day, without simultanesouly trying to juggle a full-time job, other kids, pets, laundry, lunches, etc. This is actual work. I also need you to understand that, as the parent / caregiver, you can either say “This assignment is too long” or “We need to adjust this” at any point during this…situation we are in. This is especially true for families of students with disabilities; more specifically, students with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Since the majority of my teaching experience has involved students with SLD, the sites I am sharing are the exact same sites I use in both my Math and Science Resource classes each day.
DISCLAIMER: I am not being compensated by any of these companies to promote their sites. If you actually do follow me on Twitter, then you know I tweeted about these sites before now. It’s important for parents to know this. I believe in the resources I use in my classroom, otehrwise I would not use them.
Last Spring, I tried teaching Earth Science from an outdated textbook. It did not go well. As much as I tried, the students were not interested. (SPOILER ALERT: Neither was the teacher!) Other than the large amounts of text on each page, the Readability was extremely high. Why does that matter? Well, if you teach students with a Reading-related Disability, then there is a chance they may not be able to access the information (curriculum) on their own. Even though I read the text out loud, it was still difficult. I conducted a Fleisch-Kincaid Readability test on some of the passages. As it turned out, most of the text registered at the 9th grade level; I teach 6th grade. Many, not all, students with reading disabilities tend to read one or more grade levels below their assigned school grade. Fortunately, a reading disability does not always negatively impact a student’s comprehension ability. Students tend to be extraordinary listeners when they have a reading disability and can. therefore, respond to questions about a text that was read aloud and participate in discussions. Note: I said listeners, not followers of instructions. 😆
I stumbled upon CK12 by accident. It is likely that I Googled ‘free + middle school science curriculum’ because I am always looking for free stuff! I have been most impressed by the presentation of the content (layout and navigation) and content Readability. Although I read everything aloud (the first time), students can read on their own using Google’s ReadWrite Extension; some students are even comfortable reading without assistance. Within CK12, you can search for content in all subjects and grade levels. I often set my filter to include grades 4-6 to ensure I am differentiating and providing opportunities for all of my students to access the content on their Functional Reading Level (actual current level where they can read independently). Discussion follows our class read alouds; then, I assign the Concept Practice activities to students. I really like these because they are interactive and reinforce what we just read. The concepts are presented several times, as either multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions. Students can practice until they reach 100%. Reading content aloud, repetition of content, and multiple methods of presentation ensure that my students receive their IEP Accommodations during instruction and independent work.
Study Island is another program we use to supplement classroom instruction. There is an added benefit of this program: Homework practice. Despite the arguments against homework, I assign review exercises for my students as part of their IEP Accommodations (repetition of content). Students with Learning Disabilities often exhibit proccessing and memory difficulties, so it benefits them to have unlimited opportunties to review the content on their own. Study Island offers content materials for all subject areas, grades 1-12. As part of their review, they can watch a video demonstration, practice with flashcards, and then work through some problems. Students have unlimited practice opportunities. I can view the exact problems that students missed. Sometimes I use those as Warmups or Exit Tickets. Study Island is not a free program; however, I believe they are offering access during the school shutdowns.
For parents who are concerned about Progress Monitoring, or ensuring their kids still make progress towards their goals, I am suggest two programs I have used for at least 10 years: ReadWorks and EasyCBM. Typically, Progress Monitoring is handled by Special Education Teachers; however, we are not living in typical times. Although I can still manage to get some work samples and data from my students, I do understand this may not be the case for everyone. If your family is considering requesting Extended School Year (ESY) services once schools re-open, then I implore you to collect some data on your child’s IEP Goals. With ReadWorks, you can search for passages on a variety of topics and at all grade and Lexile levels. Like with CK12, I tend to search 1-2 grade levels below 6th grade; there are some students who are assigned 6th-7th grade passages. Those who do well with grade-level passages tend to prefer non-fiction topics, as they do not have to make inferences or determine whether statements are facts or opinions. Those are actually areas of diffifulty for students with Learning Disabilities, so we still have to spend time practicing. EasyCBM is mostly used to assess Reading Fluency, which is important for comprehension. Fortunately, the fluency assessments only require 1 minute and should be done once a week. EasyCBM also provides Math Benchmarks which help pinpoint specific skill areas where students need additional supports or intervention. Again, you are neither required nor expected to conduct Progress Monitoring for your child, but you are certainly welcome to do so! The best is that EasyCBM has a free version that comes with enough functionality to make the effort worthwhile.
Last, but by no means least, is a wonderful program I discovered last summer: Dybuster. This program is currently free to U.S. Schools. Please ask your school leaders to set-up an account. I spent a great deal of time looking far and wide for a program created specifically for students with Dyscalculia, a Math Learning Disability. The Math apps and programs used by most U.S. schools do not support the unique needs of students with Dyscalculia. Instead, our solution has been subjecting students to memorizing fact families despite ‘memory’ being the underlying issue for many students. When my students worked in Dysbuster, I would watch them progress through the activities – all presented with interactive visual models. This was yet another opportunity to implement an IEP Accommodation: Manipulatives for solving Math problems. Dybuster also have a great report system integrated into their software. I can access reports to determine if all of my students can compute (using all operations) with numbers 1-100 or which students are still working on that skill. I have seen a lot of Math programs adopted and/or required for use in schools. Likewise, a lot of those programs go unused either due to time or teachers simply not liking them. Due to the unique needs of my students, I worked through the programs purchased by our district; I do not like any of them (except those mentioned in this post), primarily for one simple reason: They were not developed for students with Learning Disabilities. It does not take long for me to figure that out once I log-in to the program.
Every program I shared here, I share with my students. I have chosen not to introduce anything new because we are all under a great deal of stress. I cannot troubleshoot for people who are not in my presence; I do not expect parents to assume that responsibility. I hope you can find something useful in supporting your child. If you have any questions about anything written here, please feel free to send me a message.
Go easy on yourself and good luck!
For the last 8 months, my IG and Twitter posts have focused on two main goals; find: (a) Dyscalculia and Dyslexia training; and (b) Math Apps and/or curriculum designed with my students’ needs in mind. Both proved to be challenging and time-consuming endeavors, eventually I found one.
Dyscalculia is the Learning Disability you’ve probably never heard of, despite the fact that 5-10% of the population has it. Based on the challenges non-identified students experience, I believe there are more kids (and adults) with Dyscalculia. We simply characterize their struggles as ‘Math anxiety’; at least, in this country. Based on conversations had with U.S. teachers, few are aware of the existence of Dyscalculia. They are unable to identify the characteristics exhibited by students who may have it. Compounded by a lack of training on Dyscalculia, many teachers adhere to a pacing guide that does not allow time for remediation or accommodations.
During the search I found Calcularis by Dybuster, a Math program developed by neuroscientists and computer scientists in Switzerland. Calcularis focuses on developing the parts of the brain responsible for processing numbers and calculations. Those are the two areas of Math where my students experience the most challenges. The other programs available to students neither mention nor address the needs of those with Dyscalculia. In fact, other apps mainly provide timed drill exercises. Since learning about the challenges associated with Dyscalculia, I decided to place more emphasis on the accuracy aspect of fact fluency rather than speed. Calcularis provides students the opportunity to both see and manipulate visual representations of concepts such as Multiplication, Number Lines, Greater Than, etc.
The Power of Twitter
So, how did I get my hands on a subscription to Calcularis? Funny story….One night, I was scrolling Twitter when I should have been in bed. I came across the following tweet from @AwkwardDuck:
I knew that if I wanted to get this program for my students, I would need to provide data on how students performed after using it. Well, I did not have any data. All I had was months’ worth of research on Dyscalculia and the knowledge that no other program was created for my students. If our district curriculum ‘experts’ expect adherence to an ableist pacing guide, it would be almost impossible for me to convince them to purchase a program that benefits students with a little-known disability. Honestly, I did not have the energy for that; I still don’t. I am, however, truly grateful for @Awkward_Duck and her generosity.
My students actually enjoy working on Calcularis; there are no complaints or mumbling when we use it as a daily warmup or I assign 20 minutes of review for ‘homework’ (not debating that topic, either). I have also seen less ‘thinking’ time when I ask for an answer to a multiplication or division problem; that kind of progress cannot not be measured by a test. Neither can the increase in confidence of the students who struggled with basic calculations at the beginning of the school year. They can see their progress when working in Calcularis. They are aware that they can offer an answer (with or without their fingers), more quickly than they did before. For now, those small wins are enough. With the help of a complete stranger, I now know that the time I spent researching was worthwhile. I found exactly what I was looking for.
If you are a Math Teacher in the state of Georgia, chances are, you fall into one of the following categories: (1) Your district (or charter school) strictly adheres to the state’s pacing guide; or, (2) Your district (or charter school) gives you the flexibility to choose how you introduce and teach the Georgia Standards of Excellence for Math. If you are counted in the first group, I need to share something with you: The state’s Math pacing guide is ableist.
What is ableism and what does it have to do with Math?
Ableism is prejudice or discrimination against people with disabilities. Ableism can take the form of institutionalized discrimination, e.g., what we do (or do not do) in our classrooms and how we serve (or fail to serve) our students with disabilities. In this case, how we teach in our Math classrooms.
Georgia’s pacing guide dictates the amount of time Math Teachers spend teaching each unit. The first 4-5 weeks of the school year are allocated to Number System Fluency. My students and I spent twice the amount of allocated time on that unit, due to both skills gaps and their Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in Math. Midway through the semester, I accepted that we would lag behind the other classes.
Ultimately, my students dictate what they need. It is my job to make sure they get it, even if it takes several extra weeks and I panic about whether I am actually serving them well. Consequently, we also ended the first semester an entire unit behind the other classes. Again, if they do not have the requisite skills for the next unit, I cannot bulldoze my way through the standards simply for the sake of meeting a deadline that ignores students’ needs. It is unfair to students. More importantly, it does not adhere to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) promised under IDEA. Rushing through content is not least restrictive, for any child.
The expectation that students with Math-related disabilities (Dyscalculia) will ‘get’ the content at the same time as non-disabled students is, in and of itself, ableist. Our state’s standards focus on teaching algorithms; my students require visual representations, lots of repetition and ample opportunities for practice, as do many people with Dyscalculia. Guess which mathematical concept is the most difficult for people with Dyscalculia: NUMERACY. How crudely ironic that the Math topic which causes the most challenges is the same topic we teach first and a prerequisite for the remaining topics throughout the year? If, after 4-5 weeks of struggling through Numeracy, the kids still do not ‘get it’, chances are they will not ‘get’ much else out of the Math curriculum.
Our state education officials need to recognize both the existence and presence of Dyscalculia in our students. We need to begin meaningful conversations about the shifts necessary to effectively teach Math to all of Georgia’s students. It is time for us to pushback.
If you are a Georgia Math Teacher, please share how you creatively circumvent the pacing guide, especially when you recognize that your students (all of them) struggle with Number Fluency. I would be especially interested in hearing from General Education Teachers who CoTeach: How are you serving your students with Math Disabilities?
It’s Saturday evening. I have to finish two IEPs and begin writing two others. There’s also a mountain of paperwork that I need to complete because clearly, Special Education Teachers don’t already have enough to do. But, here I am…still turning over thoughts from the #MidSchoolMath conference I attended last week, specifically, ways General Education teachers can be better allies.
I shared a few tweets while I was there, but my intention was to stay in the moment and interact with the other Math Teachers in attendance. As I mentioned in the last post, I was one of three Special Education Teachers in attendance. Even still, that small number excited me. I saw people who understand the balancing act of being comfortable with content, implementing accommodations, and advocating for students.
Why was I really excited? It showed me that there are other Math Teachers and Principals who view us as teachers. Someone believed it was important enough for Special Education Teachers to attend a Math conference with their colleagues; team teaching partners. If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any amount of time then you know how I feel about Co-Teaching. I have had both positive and negative experiences in that setting. An arrangement meant to (intentionally) benefit students with Learning Disabilities, and unintentionally benefit the other students, is often regarded as an inconvenience or invasion of one’s teaching space. No one wins when certain students and teachers are made to feel unwelcome.
Now, look at that in the context of how schools choose which teachers get to attend Math (or other content-related) conferences and professional development opportunities. If we are going to inject the terms #disrupt, #equity, #culturallyrelevant, etc. into our conversations about how and who we are teaching, then we need to hold people accountable for ensuring that we are, indeed, doing more than just talking.
If we are going to re-conceptualize what our profession means and how we leave our mark, then when conversations about equity arise, #SaveMeASeat. If not me, then a Special Education Teacher in your building. Even better: When you are asked to speak at a conference, ask the organizers if there will be speakers with disabilities speaking on their experiences as students, parents, teachers, etc. If they did not invite any, suggest they invite someone in that group in your place. This is the same thing that Black women have been asking of self-proclaimed White allies. This is how we disrupt spaces and conversations that have traditionally centered Whiteness and Ableds. There is no other way.
You lose nothing, by attending one less conference during the year.
It will cost you absolutely nothing to #SaveMeASeat.
What I gain and share with my students will be immeasurable.
Last week I attended the MidSchoolMath conference here in Atlanta. That was a first for me, a Special Education Teacher. I was both excited and nervous as I sat through the conference, surrounded by Math teachers and professors of Math Education.
As I listened to the guest speakers and conversations around me, some things became clear. First and foremost, I am a Math Teacher; I need to get used to identifying as such. I often tell people that I teach Math, instead of saying I am a Math Teacher. Why? Well, I also teach Science; however, I teach in both content areas because I am a Special Education Teacher. That has been my identity for so long that I have sold myself short. Now I am wondering: Do other Special Education Teachers feel the same way?
Obvious to me was the lack of representation of Special Education Teachers. There were two others in attendance and I was excited to connect with them. But, here’s my concern: Are schools and districts sending their Special Education Teachers to content-specific conferences? How often do professional development directors consider the benefits of content-area conferences for Co-Teachers? Do content-area teachers invite their Special Education colleagues to conferences? These are just a few of the questions I considered when I weighed the benefits of this conference. Not only will Special Education Teachers improve their content knowledge, but their General Education counterparts gain a colleague who is both confident in their ability to teach the content and comfortable teaching it. Ultimately, this would be most beneficial to the students in those Co-Taught classrooms.
The MidSchoolMath Conference was a much-needed experience for me. I learned so much about how I view my own creativity, leveraging it in the Math classroom, and making lessons more learner-focused and challenging. I can honestly say I gained more than I gave as a volunteer and I am forever grateful for the opportunity. I plan to write a few more posts related to MidSchoolMath after I’ve had time to review the curriculum sample I received. To learn more about MidSchoolMath and their annual conference in New Mexico, visit their site. I just might see you there!
The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awryRobert Burns
Remember what I wrote the last time about the pacing of the Math curriculum being too fast for the students in my Resource Math class? Well, we all hit a wall on Friday. I think I actually ran full-speed ahead into that wall. And crashed…pretty hard. Despite being aware that most of my students have a Math Learning Disability (likely Dyscalculia, even though it is not named in their IEPs), I did not realize the magnitude of their skill gaps. Being as stubborn as I am, I was still determined for us to hit the ground running. I also really wanted to use the Open Up Resources (OUR) curriculum this year. Not the bells and whistles most teachers use; just a solid Math curriculum, for which I would not have to pay.
Last week we worked on Adding and Subtracting Decimals, then we did a slow roll into Multiplying Decimals. That is where the wheels fell off our proverbial bus. Then, they rolled over the cliff and caught on fire. Everything was on fire. The kids’ faces during our Common Assessment broke my heart. They had forgotten everything, from lining-up the decimals when adding and subtracting, to just multiplying and putting the decimal in place.
Despite reviewing right before the quiz.
Despite having anchor charts hanging right on the walls in front of them.
Despite having that same anchor chart in their Interactive Notebooks (which they were allowed to use).
Things fall apart. And they did right in front of my (I-waited-until-they-left-class-to-cry) eyes.
My sadness was not solely due to the fact that they seemed to forget everything. In large part, it was due to the fact that it seems they were never taught most of the basic Math skills. At the very least, they were not taught well. What exactly do I mean by ‘well’?
A Math Learning Disability, or Dyscalculia, is different than a kid struggling with fact fluency. Sometimes, we can work with a child on fact fluency and they eventually ‘catch-up’. With a Math-related disability, we need more than drill and kill. We need to understand Dyscalculia in order to understand where and how kids struggle with Mathematical concepts. Our country’s Math instruction does not account for kids with Dyscalculia. Our country’s Special Education Teacher Education programs do not address Dyscalculia. Our students’ IEPs do not even mention the word Dyscalculia. I am certain that if I ever see the term in a student file, it will be the result of a private psychological evaluation.
Why does all of this matter? Numeracy is the area where Dyscalculiacs often struggle. Adding, Subtracting, Multiplying, and Dividing are all foundational numeracy skills. Those skills are the core of the first unit of 6th grade Math. The same place where our bus hit the wall.
I have been thinking all weekend, bouncing ideas off of @JustLB and #TwitterPeeps about how to put our bus back together. The suggestions look promising. We will still be very behind. But, alas…I am too stubborn to give up.
I spent part of my Saturday evening working on the Math lesson plan for my 6th grade class. Yes, yes…I know I said I wouldn’t do any work on the weekends, but school life happens! These past 2 weeks have zoomed by and, although I have accomplished a lot, I still need to use some time on the weekends for lesson planning if I want to leave work at a decent hour this year (before 6PM).
As I worked yesterday, I tried to figure out how I could ‘catch-up’ with the other Math classes. There were some hiccups with scheduling, kids being kept in extended homeroom for a really extended amount of time, some kids forgetting to switch classes altogether…whew! Honestly, I wrestled with the idea of trying to keep up while sitting in our first grade-level planning meeting. We were supposed to spend 2 days on adding and subtracting decimals; my class needed 4 days. See? We were behind at the end of the first instructional week. We needed those extra days to relearn lining-up decimals, subtracting from right to left instead of left to right, etc.
Decision-makers do not consider all students or their learning needs when they create pacing guides. I cannot help but wonder if anyone with experience teaching in Special Education was consulted on this guide or the previous ones. I doubt it. Just looking through the selected textbook confirms that the kids I teach are always an addendum to all curricula-related decisions. These same people sit around scratching their heads when state test results show that Students With Disabilities (SWDs) are making considerably smaller gains than their peers, if any at all.
As someone who prefers to be on time (early), accepting that we will be ‘behind’ the other classes was difficult. I have a good idea of where my students are and which skills I need to reteach; the reteaching will not happen in a condensed instructional window. I will not be rushed to teach and they will not be rushed to learn.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”African Proverb
I think my students and I are going to go far, at our own pace.