Monday, December 19, 2011

Final Post

I was initially very nervous about this class. At first I encountered some difficulties, and was encouraged to "problem solve," which initially was very frustrating to me, but soon enough I realized that I demand the same of my students. Nothing is more frustrating when a student comes to you with simply, "I couldn't get it to work..." to which my reply is always, "Did you try this? Or this? How about this?" It's important to preach what I teach. Self-learning and self-sufficiency is ultimately what we are teaching.

This class was packed. There was a lot to learn and time management was key in this sense. I do not think I was able to fully delve into each piece of new technology we learned, but I did certainly gain a better understanding of the really important ones: Kurzweil, Smartboard and Boardmaker. I am confident that I will be using this in my many teaching years to come and am happy to say I am comfortable with these programs. And I love prezi now, and so do my students. I think they are simply pleased to be presented with something non-linear like ppt. Hey, whatever it takes to keep them engaged!

The group work was a bit challenging. I did not really like coordinating all the information on the Wiki, and to be honest, all my groups just abandoned that method and stuck to email chains. It was hard to rely on everyone checking the wiki consistently, and there wasn't a way to decipher who was saying what. Yes, I understand that we could get fancy with it and make it easy to decipher, but honestly that was just too much work to simply communicate ideas. Again, time efficiency was crucial with the work-load.

Overall, I really enjoyed the class and definitely walked away with a lot of useful tools that I have already introduced to my classroom.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Digital Minds

I thoroughly enjoyed last week's discussion. It helped me realize a multitude of things; 1) how dependent we all are on technology 2) how I inaccurately label what I am doing as "multi-tasking" 3) how, in turn, I require my students to "multi-task" and 4) how my students are becoming increasingly more dependent on technology. As I have mentioned before, I work at a school that not only incorporates technology, but embraces it, relies on it, and expects the students to rely on it as well. I believe that they have accepted the notion that our students are growing up in a technologically fast world, and we can either shield them from that, or teach them how to use it responsibly. In the Life Skills course the students learn about cyber identities and cyber footprints. I think it is great that they learn at a very young age that everything you do on a computer, is essentially public. The school even hosts its own social network site where students can create profiles and play around with the idea of cyber identities. Not surprisingly, they love it. Again, I think it is great that responsibility and technology have become part of the school curriculum--it makes sense to me.

However, it is interesting to realize how many of us think we are capable of multi-tasking, when really, some piece of our final outcome is suffering due to the fact that our energy is spread out across different mediums instead of focused. We can do 5 things at once, each resulting in 1/5 of its potential quality, or we can give out entire attention to one thing, resulting in a higher quality outcome. It seems so simple, yet I found myself acknowledging all the multi-tasking I ask of my students, and yet, I am still surprised when the quality doesn't meet my expectations. That's not fair. I now find myself trying to identify what ways in which I ask my students to multi-task and correct this issue by breaking them into smaller tasks. The results? To be determined....

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Assessments and Accommodations

Assessments are a crucial part of teacher accountability and an important method for teachers to better know the individualized help their learners need. Without assessing our students, teachers would simple be preaching, not teaching. It is important to we know where we can help our students improve or excel, and we can only do this through constant assessment. Along with these assessments will come the realization that some students struggle in unique ways, and in order for them to fully reach their potential and gain mastery of the material, accommodations are needed. I believe it is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that the student receives accommodations. These accommodations can run the gamut from simple test accommodations or from everyday curricular changes to better meet the students' needs.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Augmentative Communication

I have worked in a self-contained classroom as a paraprofessional before and one of the students in that class used a dynavox. Another student used minimal sign language, and we were in the process of trying to use PECS with 3 other students. The one thing I can most certainly agree with is that communication is a process! We were constantly working with parents, OTs, SLPs and PTs and other teachers to try to make communication available for the student across all environments. It is so challenging. I, along with other teachers, would constantly find ourselves only allowing the student to communicate only when we thought it was necessary. Obviously, we did not mean to do this in any malicious way, but it is so easily to forget that someone who can't speak doesn't always have the opportunity to communicate unless you, as a teacher, help make it accessible. It was, however, interesting to every now and then see the student become so frustrated in one of those situations where you wonder, "why are they so frustrated???" and then you realize, they can't communicate! The situation could quickly de-escalate when the student was provided an opportunity to communicate. It truly takes a lot of effort and consideration to make communication available across all environments, but so crucial.

We also had a student with sever autism who used the big mac. They way we used this device was to communicate with home as to what was happening and what the student ate at school. For example, at the end of the day I would record on the big mac, with the student present, "Today I ate hash browns for breakfast and I ate hot dogs for lunch. Today I worked on my colors and numbers. I earned puzzle time and car time by writing today's date." The student, listening to me record this, was very excited! He would go home and play it for his mother. So then the mother could engage him by saying how proud she was that he earned puzzle time. Then the mother would record back, "I had a really hard time sleeping last night. I am not feeling well. I am excited to go to school, but may not be myself today." Again, when the student came to class he would play it for me. He clearly seemed to love the way this worked, and I thought it was great. I was, however, a bit concerned: what if I was saying things that weren't really true for the student? I am assuming I know how he feels. I could easily be wrong. I had a sneaking suspicion that he felt the same way too because sometimes he would come to school and there would be nothing on the big mac: he figured out how to delete it. The mother would say she recorded something. Personally, I thought this was ok. It was his voice, and if he didn't agree with what was said he didn't have to play it. Besides that, I am not so sure how effective a big mac can be. The ability to only have one recording on there, seems limiting.

We also used the boardmaker schedules and choices. The choice board was great in our room. Students were always "working for something" and they could run to the choice board, which was filled with a bunch of different boardmaker pictures, and choose what they were working for. This is a low tech device that is wonderful. I loved that the students were able to choose. I feel like that gave them some independence.

In terms of moving forward with augmentative communication devices I think it is crucial to move towards user-friendly devices that can be carried across all environments. The solution: I believe, iTouch. I have encountered so many apps that aim to allow students with communication disabilities to increase their ability to communicate. I have read about how quickly these kids pick up on how to use these apps. There is just something so user friendly about the iTouch. Also, they are much more affordable than dynavox. I have even seen some classrooms in NYC with students with severe disabilities use iPads or touches as communication devices. I think this is a step in the right direction. Particularly iTouches because they can be carried everywhere, just like how everyone carries their phone. I know Joe has a cool iTouch watch....imagine a nonverbal student being able to wear an iTouch watch that allowed him to communicate wherever he or she went?
Check this out:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Planning with Technology

Technology can offer our students so much help in ways that teachers can't; that being said, I believe one of the biggest issues that affect whether or not technology is used effectively is how the teacher implements the use technology in the classroom. The potential for its benefits are right there, but can they be delivered to the student correctly? This is an extremely hard question to answer. As a teacher, I am not very confident in my ability to provide technological support to my students. I know that many students benefit from using technology in their learning, but often my confusion with technology only adds to their multi-tiered levels of confusion. It seems so simple when I am trying it out myself, but as Yelena said in her post, sometimes things fall apart in the classroom and the tools aren't used correctly or delivered effectively. It's such a gamble to rely too heavily on technology; yet its potential to excite and expedite learning is amazing.

Thinking of how to better assist children through the "organizing and accessing networks" really helped me better understand how we, as teachers, can better "break down" the networks of assistance students need. My color group was asked to focus on Luke:

Dyslexia and Executive Functioning Difficulty
Luke always amazes with his keen insight and contributions to class discussions even though he is reading about 5 grades below grade level. When it comes to technology, Luke is the resident guru, often sharing pictures, videos, and is up on the latest developments. Even so, with his disabilities, he is extremely sensitive and apprehensive about trying anything new related to school, and often hangs back in class until he is certain he has a good understanding of what the class is discussing. Luke often has difficulty following through with directions. Even when the homework or project does not include decoding, Luke rarely has his homework or in class work done, often loses his papers, and rarely follows through on using references or asking for help.






Enjoys class discussions

Follow directions



Contributes to class discussion

-shares his thoughts

Struggles to try new things

Can share his knowledge about technology


Keen insights


Go to person for technology-others will ask him for help

I am enjoying this method of breaking down students needs and strengths into more accessible networks.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Power of Technology

It's fascinating to consider the impact that technology has had on humans over the last two decades; these new innovations have essentially affected every aspect of our living. Now, consider being a student with a disability, and how many doors these new innovations have opened. I don't like to admit it, but I realized after watching the video that I am certainly of the binary "can do/can't do" mind set, and with all the new ways we can assist students, there is no excuse to perpetuate that mindset. These enormous strides in technological advancements have set the stage for us to think outside the box, and as educators dealing with students with disabilities, we really need to accept that challenge. Instead of thinking, "Oh, Johnny can't do that because of his disability," we need to challenge ourselves to think "how can we make this accessible to Johnny."

The most encouraging take-away I had from last weeks readings and viewings was the idea that we shouldn't only make educational parts of life accessible to students with disabilities, but all parts of life - leisure and social activities. Sometimes we focus so much on how to make the educational material accessible to all students that we forget there is a lot to be learned by living a full life. I like the idea of changing my mindset to include making all life experiences accessible- it makes my job a little more fun!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kurzwel 3000

Kurzweil 3000 is a text to speech program which can be used to adapt to different students reading needs. Kurzweil requires minimal preparation. The teacher simply needs to have a text uploaded and read to go, and the student needs to have access to a computer. There are a variety of ways it can be used effectively.

As you know, I am a 6th grade English teacher. In exploring Kurzweil I realized it would be a great tool to use with students in a "read aloud" method. We are currently engaged in a short story unit. It would be great to use this technology and allow the students to follow along to a text on the projector while the program reads it aloud. The only downfall with that is the lack of "voice" and "tone," but for difficult texts with complicated vocabulary, it is worth it. Additionally, in this short story unit I have learned that some students have decoding issues. I can now recommend this program to them and their parents to practice reading aloud with.

In terms of the student profiles for this class, I believe that Sarah, Sam, Finn, and Luke could benefit from using this program as well. Particularly Finn, since he loves technology. IF he had access to the short story in a kurzweil form he could read it aloud with the program the night before we read it in class (this would allow for more processing time).

As I become more and more comfortable with the program I become more excited to use it in my classroom.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Interactive White Board

To be honest, I have always been hesitant to use a Smart Board. I am nervous to rely on technology for a lesson and I am nervous of personally messing up the lesson because of my lack of confidence with technology. However, I was really inspired by class on October 17th. I am still nervous in using Smart Board for lessons, but I certainly see how it is more engaging for the students. I am a grown woman, and I had so much fun standing up there and playing with google Earth. I can certainly begin to see how, in the least, it is motivating and engaging for students to stand up and play around with an interactive white board.

I do have to become more familiar with the lesson planning part before I can fully commit. As teachers, our time is precious. It feels as though every second is spent grading, monitoring, assessing or planning. It is hard to set aside time to construct a lesson plan with an interactive white board, whereas I usually sit down and hand write a lesson plan for the next day. As I said, I certainly see the benefits of creating a more engaging lesson, but I am worried about time management for teachers.

I will let you know how it goes after I plan a few lessons.....

In the meantime, here is a really interesting article on interactive white boards.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Web 2.0 Tools and UDL

Edyburn points out in his article, "Would you recognize UDL if you saw it?" that it is not enough to simply use web 2.0 tools in your classroom and assume that you are, therefore, implementing UDL in an attempt to reach a group of diverse learners. The key is that UDL is considered in the blueprints, the original design of the web 2.0 tools. We must ask ourselves, are any of the web 2.0 tools we have learned about considering UDL in their blueprint design? To be honest, I am not so sure the designers were considering UDL in their creation of these tools. Yes, these tools are fun and a cool way to work collaboratively, but how do they reach a group of diverse learners? I can see how a tool like Prezi could be a helpful conversation tool for someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing, but what about for someone visually impaired? The same can be said for most of these tools; they are limiting to those visual impairments. I think that mostly these tools are a cool way to excite students; they present materials in a new, interactive, visually stimulating way, but just like Edyburn said, "it is a happy coincidence" that these stimulate educators, but not necessarily a UDL tool.

UD Space Revisited

Here is my classroom...again. What I should have done is taken a picture of each different arrangement I tried then settled on this. I felt as though other teachers were peering in my classroom and laughing under their breath, "oh the new teacher, figuring out how the seat arrangement." I felt like every 3 days the kids would come in, and for some reason, a new seating arrangement just blows their minds....wasting 5 minutes of class. However, this one finally worked. There is a flow to the classroom. I have taken into account the diverse learners, i.e., the ones who can't sit for more than 2 minutes straight, the ones you have to have their backs turned to their friends, or the hallway. Yet, we are still able to have the collective space in the middle. We are currently doing a short story unit and each story a different group sits in the middle and discusses a story while the rest of us watch. It's called the fishbowl technique, and with this arrangement we are still able to watch the discussion in the middle.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Week Three

This week we learned about using book-builders and Kurzweil. There are clear advantages to using both of these technologies. Mainly, it is a form of differentiated learning made simple. Resources are now available for teachers to create different opportunities for learners. Building a book, for one, is a great example. I am currently teaching a 6th grade class and we are discussing short stories. I can, and plan to, make a book builder about story flow. The students are learning about different elements of story flow: hook, rising action, climax, declining action and resolution. I thought: wouldn't it be great to have a short story put into a book form that also addressed the story flow elements? For example, in one story there are paragraphs of rising action. So, I could have a page of a book be one paragraph, and then in another section of the same page explain how that paragraph is contributing to the rising action. This helps make the link clearer to the students. Additionally, it removes me from explaining the elements and them discovering it for themselves.

Additionally, I believe Kurzweil can be beneficial to a spectrum of students. Again, I think it would be beneficial to make a kurzweil reading of a story available for my students so that they can revisit the story and make notes or highlight portions they found interesting. For example, I am trying to teach student to look for contextual clues as to what an unfamiliar vocabulary word means. Together, as a class, with a Kurzweil document we could highlight words that hint to a word's definition.

I thoroughly enjoy learning about these new technologies that, like I said earlier, offer differential learning so easily. My school is very supportive of new technology and encouraging students to become familiar with technologies, particularly ones that further their education. I will be sure to let you all know how the students respond to these form of differentiated learning.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


UDL or Universal design Learning is founded on the notion that there is a wide spectrum of diverse learners. By attempting to use UDL in our classroom, we, as teachers, are attempting to reach all the different, and individual learners. We are essentially providing a variety of ways for students to access their learning. These variety of ways can include instructional or assistive technology - these are high tech forms of assistance - but they also can include low tech forms of assistance, such as PECS. I like how Alice commented on her blogthat a good way to use UDL is to be more thoughtful in lesson planning. When lesson planning it is important to consider the different learners and to create methods that will allow all students to access the material. Are there more kinesthetic learners in your classroom? Is there a way to make the lesson a kinesthetic experience? For the more visual learners, can you provide a large, or hand-out visual to assist them in the lesson? Consequently, my previous post made me realize that UDL is not only about the materials, but about the use of space as well. Is the physical space used in a way that allows access for all learners?

As teachers we need to open our eyes to all the different designs around the classroom and school and acknowledge that some designs unintentionally hinder students from 100% access to education. As i explain in my previous post, I believe lack of space hinders some learners....I know it hinders me as a teacher. Clearly, this wasn't the intention of the architect. In this sense I wonder if UDL is an unattainable goal. While it is worthy of consideration on teachers parts, 100% UDL seems impossible. The design of every object carries assumptions based on how the majority of people will use it, and rarely considers alternate methods. I would be interested to see or hear about an object that is Universally Designed AND accessible to everyone.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Here is a picture of my current classroom. What you see is what you get. There is no more space behind the camera; that is it. This room, and every other classroom, in this school is about this size. Everyday I cram 3 different classes of 20 students in here. Forget behavior managements; I feel like at least 5 minutes of each class is spent on space management. Every activity creates a traffic jam. Each child at this school gets their own computer that they bring from class to class. The come to class with their giant folder, their computers, their books and there is simply not enough space for everything.

This is a private school, and not surprisingly, I have not seen one student with physical disabilities. I say not surprisingly because I wouldn't be surprised if the admissions department chooses to not admit students who need space for a wheelchair, or even crutches of some sort would be problematic.

I teach 6th grade English and have encountered many issues while trying to teach. Firstly, I have tried to excuse smaller groups to do certain activities. For example, I will have one table stand up and update their book cards in the back of the room. I thought that this was the solution to the traffic jam; however, I have concurrently discovered that it is hard for 6th graders to multi-task. That is, they cannot listen to directions while updating their book cards, understandably. So, by excusing simply table by table I have found that I often have to repeat myself. Now, I will excuse table by table then wait until the whole group reconvenes to give directions. It just feels like such a waste of time to me.

Additionally, it makes smaller group work hard, which is crucial in English class. It's hard for smaller groups to actually form because everyone is in everyone else's space.

I can only imagine that this is every New York teacher's dilema. I find myself searching online, or walking around and looking at other rooms, to see what other desk designs teachers have discovered for a more efficient classroom. I am still on that search....I am open to suggestions!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reflecting on Martinez

I really enjoyed Martinez's article on problem solving. I most particularly like how she acknowledges that changing our attitudes towards mistakes, as educators, can assists students in improving their metacognition. By not focusing on the mistakes we, in turn, place appropriate emphasis on the process, that is, the cognition behind learning. This seems to be an easy enough transition for the teacher - from focusing on the process rather than simply focusing on the mistakes - but once you are in the classroom it becomes clear that teachers have historically constructed a need to focus on the mistakes. Our whole grading system is based on the mistakes. Students loose points for lateness, for spelling mistakes and other inaccuracies; and sometimes, as teacher, we overlook the effort. We assume the effort must have been minimal if the mistakes are plenty. I believe that special educators have a stronger insight into this dilemma. Through our experiences we have learned that many mistakes are made along the way, but it is more about learning the process than the result.

This reminds me of a recent NY Time article. I am having trouble finding it now, but once I do I will post it. The article focused on a recent study which proved that students are more likely to do better on following assignments if emphasis was placed on their EFFORT and not their INTELLIGENCE on the previous assignments. For example, a group of students were asked to write about a particular topic. Afterwards, in one group, a teacher told the students did well that they were so smart. On the next activity they did worse. The hypothesis of this verbal praise was that the students then felt "worried" that they had placed themselves in the "smart kid" category, and wouldn't meet the expectations of that category. Alternatively, the other group was praised on their efforts, and consequently did better on the next assignment. Here, the hypothesis was that the students were inspired by the fact that their hard effort produced desirable results, and therefore were encouraged to try hard again.

Martinez's article clearly correlates with this study. Emphasis on the process can provide encouragement, whereas focus on the mistakes only discourages As adults, we should easily be able to relate to this, or in the very least, I know I can. My relationship with technology is heavily based on learning from my mistakes. I can sit at a computer and try to solve some formatting issue for literally an hour and it is all trial and error with different buttons and options. Case and point.

Here is the link for the article.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A love hate relationship...

Technology and I have a love/hate relationship. My family use to always tease me that I had a curse when it came to technology. Every computer I owned crashed, every Ipod I have had, at one point or another, showed me the frowny face. For Christmas this year I got an itouch and dropped it on my first run breaking the screen. You get the point. So, I guess you could say I am not scared of technology, but rather of hurting technology. I have to work with it, and honestly, I like working with it, I am just terrified of breaking it. I think it is great that we are working with our mistakes as part of this class, yet, when it comes to technology, some mistakes cannot be undone.

My technology style is trial and error. I don't like to watch tutorials, I really dislike reading them. I simply want to play around with it until I get it. I actually really enjoy someone showing me around (as long as they don't take it out of my hands). Like many people, I learn from doing. The same is with technology.

Nonetheless, I am working at The School at Columbia right now as a 6th grade teacher and this school LOVE technology. Every teacher has a Mac book Air, every classroom has an Ipad and an SMART or Etise board. Every kid has an apple computer. All of their projects are published online on their own server. Everything is shared through google. It is nuts, but I like it. They have a huge team dedicated to technology, which I sometimes wonder if the money there could be better allocated, but on the other hand, this team and its resources are teaching these kids how to be students in the 21st century. They have made me a believer: technology can bring about a change in education that is needed. Throughout my time at The School I keep finding myself thinking, "man, this would be so great for a Special Education class!" It just has to be the right technology.

Before moving to NYC I worked in a public school as a paraprofessional in Salt Lake City. The school was terribly underfunded, so resources were pretty pathetic. We would try to do technology activities with students on these old, terrible computers, and it really frustrated me. What was the point? I understand that helping kids become more familiar with technology is a step in an of itself, but today there are so many pieces of equipment that are user friendly, and intuitive. Why should we struggle to teach technology when it can be so easy? We struggle because it costs a lot.

In short: I am scared of technology because I know its value and power. I believe in the power of technology to change education, but it's gotta be the right equipment.

Once I finished the Martinez reading I will write a brief reflection.