Blended Learning in Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

child teacher computer

Blended Learning Environments – Using technology and traditional SPED classroom instruction to facilitate learning.

There’s a buzzword that’s been gaining momentum in all education spheres these days: blended learning. Basically, (don’t wince—this is very basic) it is adding technology to existing classroom lessons to increase motivation and engagement in learning. It can include video, podcasts, streaming content from providers, interactive exercises, asynchronous and, increasingly, synchronous lessons. Grab one of those iPad labs the district is handing out; don’t be left out in the techie cold.

With blended learning, the student is the star with the teacher on hand for support. Some part of the lesson delivery is online using a learning management system (LMS) that includes a database to keep track of student assessment, attendance and achievement gains (the LMS does the heavy lifting). Assessment is just one way technology will facilitate student learning.

The shift to blended learning from a traditional special ed. classroom or resource room model should not be difficult. Traditional lesson planning strategies will overlap blended learning with a new way of looking at things. The best way to describe blended learning for a teacher who would like to understand the model might be to look at a blended learning lesson plan template. Can you select the lesson plan steps that will stay the same as your current plans?

ABC learningLesson Plan Template for Blended Learning Environments

  1. Alignment with Common Core State Standards (CCSS):
    Standards-based instruction for special ed. students remains number one; objectives must be aligned to the standards you have selected in your timeline and skills rollout.
  2. Objectives:
    In a special ed. model, you will be prepared to plan formultiple  Each student works toward his own goals. Students move continually forward, the pace is driven by assessment results that are part of the learning management system.
  3. Data Analysis:
    The guiding light in instruction is the careful analysis of the data provided by the LMS and your own formative assessments.
  4. Scheduling (blocking):

This is one of the challenges teachers face; the schedule and rollout of instruction for any standard will look very different at the elementary level from instruction in high school. In a SPED environment there are no heterogeneous groups, but lessons remain flexible so individuals can step out and move quickly through skills they grasp, while others will stay and repeat certain skills until mastery is achieved. You can arrange the class into somewhat flexible groups.

  1. Setting:
    Blended learning provides multiple environments to reassure students and accommodate for different learning styles. One environment for learning will be online and technology based. You may have a small group with several learning environments: computer labs, tablet labs, teacher led lessons, special tutoring and study carrel assignments. All of these can be modified for a resource room.
  2. Activities:
    You can use existing successful lesson plans, they can still access their thumb drives with the best lessons from past years. You will become expert in finding the lessons and activities that reach into the depths of your special students’ learning. Hands-on project-based learning can continue.
  3. Timing:
    Within blocks and scheduling schemas, you may have different groups working through different skill sets at the same time. You can make learning one-on-one by adjusting students’ time in the various microenvironments according to different needs.
  4. Assessment and Testing:
    Assessments are determined in the planning stage as markers to guide further learning. The goal for the teacher is to measure when students have met their objectives within a given standard.
  5. Organization:
    There are many lesson plan templates that show how existing teaching styles can be honed and fine-tuned for the new special ed. blended learning model. Some resources include:

Your classroom may need to be rearranged to suit the needs of the learners. The school network specialist will need to keep the internet connection open. Your district may install its own learning management system through which students can access your classroom assignments; it will be useful for SPED classrooms too. This developing trend shows promise for security conscious administrators.

teacher little girl

A new model for learning always suffers growing pains. There will be new ideas coming online all the time, but the promise of raising special ed. student achievement through blended learning is exciting. It pulls together all the effective strategies that educators have developed to manage standards-based instruction on a large scale, right down to the individual and his learning needs.

Other resources:


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Description: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation supports innovative projects that help youth with disabilities develop the leadership and employment skills they need to succeed, particularly for careers in science, technology and the environment. MEAF will also consider projects to create tools that help break down barriers to employment and increase job opportunities for young people with disabilities entering the workforce, including returning veterans with disabilities.

Program Areas: Disabilities, General Education, Professional Development, Science/Environmental, Special Education, Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 6/1/2015

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 1560 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1150, Arlington, VA 22209-2463

Telephone: 703-276-8240

Website: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Availability: All States

 

 

Myths and Stereotypes in Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

I’m about to stick my toe into murky waters, but it seems fitting just after Halloween.

Any discussion of special education must begin with a true understanding of the enormity of the subject. I could write blog posts about it every day for the rest of my life and never run out of subjects to explore, so bear with me while I explore a non-scientific corner.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, especially his early books like The Stand, Carrie, Christine, etc. He is a master storyteller and reading one of his books is most often a rewarding experience.

In 2002, he wrote a television miniseries called Rose Red. It’s about a psychology professor who takes a group of psychically talented people to a haunted house in Seattle. If you picture House on Haunted Hill, that’s a good place to start, but Rose Red is in a category all its own.

In the story, Annie, a 15-year-old autistic and psychic girl, is brought along to ignite the house’s dormant ghosts into action. She is reported to have telekinetic and telepathic abilities that will be sure to help the professor establish her assertions that haunting does happen and the unseen world is rich with research possibilities. Early in the story, it’s clear that Annie does have amazing abilities to make connections with the unseen world. Strange things begin to happen, too numerous to mention here.

There has long been a school of thought in the study of autism that people on the spectrum have a connection with the paranormal that others lack. The Internet is loaded with sites that try to establish this connection. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you can see the dangers that lie in the path of this kind of thinking. Has anyone ever really proven that ghosts exist? Why haven’t searchers been able to document their existence (on film, etc.) other than seeing shadows and hearing doors close on their own? Those are just a couple of the dangers.

The other greater problem is the need to put people in groups so we can describe them. Like all autistic children, Annie is an individual; her social interaction and communication challenges lie on a spectrum. In deference to Mr. King, he is merely trying to move a fiction forward in an entertaining and hopefully believable way. He respects Annie’s theoretical abilities and does little damage to the field of education or psychology, but it’s with a wink and a nod.

For teachers, it’s in our best interest to be sure that people don’t grab on to theories like these and try to use them to bolster personal beliefs. We can all agree that these beliefs are a private matter and deserve respect. However, discussions about autism must stay on a track that is proven and scientifically determined. How else can we provide kids with a great education?

Likewise, are children with developmental disabilities really more affectionate and loving than other children? (This is a stereotype I’ve encountered.)

Annie ends up saving the day, of course, releasing the trapped paranormal investigators from a house that has taken on a malevolent life of its own. We are entertained, and reminded of the literary skills of Stephen King; he has done it again, brought us through a complex story to a satisfying conclusion. We can turn off the TV and return to our scientific reality.

I’ve made a list of some websites that explore the idea that autistic children may have psychic talents. I tried to stay with credible source material, but that’s becoming more difficult too.

Autism and the God Connection

Time Magazine Interview

“Are Autistic and Psychic People Similar?” – Psychology Today

Research? (Question mark mine)

Indigo Children – ABC News Report

Once again, I could write much more on this topic. I hope you will forgive my flight into fuzzy territory, as it relates to special education. Tell me your stories of stereotype busting.


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Ambrose Monell Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis to improve the physical, mental, and moral condition of humanity throughout the world. Giving largely for hospitals and health services, scientific research, museums, performing arts, and other cultural activities, and higher and secondary education; support also for social services, research in political science, mental health, and aid to the handicapped. No grants to individuals.

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, Disabilities, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 4/30/2015

Annual Total Amount: $9,000,000.00

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $100,000.00

Address: c/o Fulton, Rowe, & Hart, 1 Rockefeller Plz., Ste. 301, New York, NY 10020-2002

Telephone: 212-245-1863

E-mail: info@monellvetlesen.org

Website: The Ambrose Monell Foundation

Availability: All States

Budgets and IEP Team Activities

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

This time of year, we are creating Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams and preparing for annual meetings for our kids. The subject of IEP team creation has come up in our district. An administrator noticed that budgets for last year had to be increased for SPED because of a very liberal IEP team that wrote expensive equipment into their program. A challenge for all districts: how do you find a balance between providing services and maintaining budgets? There are some promising new software solutions for some of the more common learning disabilities, but they are expensive and untried. Is it worth the investment? Can we find more cost effective solutions for similar problems?

Daily Organizer

The quick answer is, “Of course it’s worth the investment; we shouldn’t skimp on our kids.” The real answer is more complicated and deserves study and review.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) describes the IEP team as including:

  • The parents of the child
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
  • Not less than one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child
  • representative of the public agency who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and knowledgeable about the available resources of the public agency
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results
  • Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate (invited at the discretion of the parent or the agency)
  • The child with a disability (when appropriate)

I’d like to focus on the individual who can “interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.” Our superintendent has asked if this person is properly trained to deliver this service. He is supportive of district teams in general, but his responsibility is to stay within budget. The evaluation of services is an ongoing job, and it can’t be delegated to just one person, especially in large districts. You may have an “evaluation specialist” that attends your meetings, and you would hope that person has thoroughly evaluated new programs and equipment, but there aren’t always enough hours in the day.

Since 94-142 laws and their amendments have been written, the costs for special education services have soared. Providing programs and equipment to support the least restrictive environment language in the federal law has created a huge business for publishers and software companies. Are we too eager to jump on bandwagons without study?

If you’ve ever attended a sales meeting for large publishing company sales reps to come and show their wares, you know how tempting this is. The presentations are slick, and the statistics they throw around make it sound like their products are the only solutions for some of the more challenging disabilities and behaviors we see that cause referrals for SPED services at the classroom teacher’s level.

This subject deserves careful attention, and a single blog will not cover it adequately. I’ve collected some resources for you to review if this blog opens the dialogue for your teams.

Tell us if your district has a plan in place for reviewing SPED budgets and maintaining great educational services.


 

Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Safeway Foundation

Description: The Safeway Foundation supports nonprofit organizations whose mission is aligned with our four priority areas: Hunger Relief, Education, Health and Human Services, and Assisting People with Disabilities.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $2,500.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 5918 Stoneridge Mall Road Pleasanton, CA 94588

E-mail: Christy.Duncan-Anderson@safeway.com

Website: Safeway Foundation

Availability: All States

 

Aging Out

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

It’s the beginning of a new school year, but I’m going to touch on a subject that pertains to the long-range future of our disabled students. End-of-school career planning is something that needs to be addressed well in advance.

hands filing

In every student’s life, the expectation is a graduation ceremony of some kind. In my house, it was a given that we would go to college; thus, we’ve had several graduations in our lifetime. It was a lesson for me when I learned that some families are gratified when their child graduates from the eighth grade. There are parties and celebrations and joy from parents who never expected to see this milestone. They may have lived in poverty or just been part of a family that has never experienced the eighth grade, for whatever reason. They may have come to us from another country where education is not as readily available as it is here.

For children with disabilities, the calendar is different. The law says the school must provide services for children with disabilities through their 21st year. In most states there are transition plan requirements that help parents and students work through a more complex set of decisions as graduation comes near. Many disabled students cannot hope to pass state academic achievement tests. In the beginning of education reform, this was a serious issue as states clung to the graduation requirements for these high stakes tests. As the years have passed, states have developed safety nets and procedures for providing a path to college for many disabled students.

I have been impressed by the way community colleges have stepped up. They are ideally positioned in local areas to provide tutoring and transition classes for students who will not be able to walk across their high school graduation stage. This is working well not only for disabled students, but also for students whose first language is not English.

pile of folders

If you are a parent reading this, and you are wondering how you are going to support your disabled child through the graduation process, be aware there are many services available for you. Locally, your child’s guidance counselor can help with a transition plan. She will know what the law says and be aware of the tests and timetables for graduation for disabled students. If you are early in the process (your child is in the eighth grade or so), you should be working with your school’s special education committee to create IEPs that have an eye for the future.

boy writing 2

I’ve collected some resources for transition planning services.

Transition planning checklist

Wright’s Law – a great resource for understanding the law regarding special education

New York State’s transition planning infrastructure – good resource

PACER – champions for children with disabilities

Toolkit – for preparing a personal assistance plan after graduation

Vocational Rehab facilities (New York State – your state has one too)

Going to College – for students with disabilities

Heath Center – national clearinghouse for services to students with disabilities

Use Google or another search engine to find resources specific to your state, search strings might look like this;

“Services for students with disabilities in xyz (fill in your state) state”

Keep your expectations high for all your students, there are services and programs out there to help all students thrive in our society, you just have to know where to look. The Internet has been an enormous positive factor in helping families cope with the challenges of transitioning out of school. Use the services available.

Let me know how your school or state handles the transition planning process for your disabled students.


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis to advance the moral, mental, and physical well-being of children of all races and creeds; to aid and assist in providing for the basic needs of food, shelter, and education of such children by whatever means and methods necessary or advisable; to prevent by medical research or otherwise the mental and physical handicaps of children.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Private School, Faith Based, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing 

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00 – $560,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $15,000.00

Address: 1036 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620

Telephone: 585-473-6006

E-mail: info@dhrossfoundation.org

Website: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Availability: All States

 

First Day of School: Here We Go Again

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

Every year, it never fails. The last days of August go by and that tickly feeling in my stomach starts. Mine includes a little thud at the end of 20 seconds of elevated heart rate. The thud part is generally located in my mid-section. I have never seen a doctor for this phenomenon because I know it is an automatic healthy response to the coming of a new school year.

Daily Organizer

Over the years, I have developed a fail-safe to-do list that I review before I go in to the school building and tackle the job of putting my classroom back together again. Inevitably, well-meaning custodial staff have once again moved everything despite my explicit instructions not to. The floors will sparkle (careful here, they’re slippery). I’ve always wondered why they don’t mix sand in the wax; it would save many cases of sacroiliac joint dysfunction—this is a fancy medical term for “oh my aching back.” If you are smiling at this description, I have met my goal for the article.

The first day comes and goes, and not once have I experienced the cataclysmic disasters my fertile imagination produces each and every year. I don’t lose any students, the one-to-one aides are really great people and they don’t add work to my special education routine. We’re good to go.

At the top of my list are supplies (disclosure: this blog is a product of Achievement Products®, a wonderful one stop shopping site for all your classroom needs). This year, I’ve been taking a close look at allergen free products. Is it my imagination, or are kids coming to us with more violent allergies? Peanut allergies are common, and so many food products have been made in facilities where peanuts are used that it really pays to read labels carefully. Our kids have enough challenges without facing allergies in the classroom.

There are now all sorts of hypoallergenic markers, crayons, paints and glue for students to use. There are even hypoallergenic balls and other playground items. It’s going to become my practice to add the word “hypoallergenic” to every search I do for supplies no matter where I decide to shop. Better safe than sorry. And if you’re like me, the purchasing process in your district is so convoluted and difficult that you always use some of your own money to outfit your classroom.

It seems I see more and more kids with perceptual disorders. There are some thoughtful products for these kids at very reasonable prices. Here are some new arrivals for you to explore.

I’ve been adding to my collection of exercise items in the classroom. Even if I don’t have children with specific physical disabilities, I have many overweight children and students who rarely get outdoors for fresh air and exercise. It seems they are all playing video games. Video games can be good training for some children, but you must also get them up and moving.

Achievement Products has a carefully selected group of adaptive technology items for the classroom. There are also products for students with communication challenges.

So when you wake up on day one, don’t reach for Pepto-Bismol. You’re just having first day jitters—perfectly normal. I’ve put together some resources for new and experienced teachers as they face the all-important first few days of school.

New Teachers, New School

Checklist

Practical Advice for Jitters

Survival Guide for New (All) Teachers

Creating a Teacher Mentoring Program

Special Education Teacher Support

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: Finish Line Youth Foundation Grants

Funded By: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis in areas of company operations, supporting organizations involved with athletics and youth development. Special emphasis is directed toward programs designed to promote active lifestyles and team building skills; and camps designed to promote sports and active lifestyles, and serve disadvantaged and special needs kids.

Program Areas: After-School, Disabilities, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $200,000.00 – $500,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $50,000.00

Address: 3308 North Mitthoeffer Road, Indianapolis, IN 46235-2332

Telephone: 317-899-1022 x6741

E-mail: Youthfoundation@finishline.com

Website: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Availability: All States

Do Video Games and the Internet Cause ADHD?

This blog article is a way to begin discussion about a topic of interest to many teachers. It is not presented as academic research, but the author has taken care to check sources cited.

Boy Playing a Video Game

The research cited here was performed at Iowa State University. The actual research paper, “Video Game Playing, Attention Problems, and Impulsiveness: Evidence of Bidirectional Causality” can be found here. It was published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture 2012, Vol. 1, No. 1, 62–70.

There has been discussion among teachers that a big uptick in SPED referrals is being caused by student use of computer games and the Internet. The research at Iowa State University shows that indeed, there is a measurable link. Green & Bavalier, 2003 noted that some visual attention could be improved for students who play video games, but it is noted that visual attention is not the same thing as attention that influences school and learning (62).

There are four hypotheses that may help us organize the study of increases in SPED referral and student use of electronic media.

  1. Excitement hypothesis
  2. Displacement hypothesis
  3. Attraction hypothesis
  4. Third variable hypothesis

Very briefly, the excitement hypothesis proposes that electronic screen media may make other activities (e.g., work or school) seem less interesting by comparison. Displacement hypothesis says exposure to electronic media may take up time that could be used for schoolwork. A third possibility is that individuals who have attention problems are more attracted to electronic media—the attraction hypothesis. The last suggests there is a third variable such as sex or age that may explain this association. However, studies included variables like sex and other factors, steering us away from the last hypothesis.

boy and a girl playing video game

The study included 3,034 children from 12 different schools in Singapore with a 99% response rate. This is a reasonably large sample from which to derive good data. The measurement of average weekly video game playing as a benchmark showed strong test–retest correlations. Participants indicated how many hours they played video games during each of three times (morning, afternoon, and evening) on a typical school day and on a typical weekend. Then, they calculated the average weekly video game playing time.

Participants completed the Current ADHD Symptoms Scale Self-Report. Participants also completed 14 items from the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11. Consistent with most previous research, this study found video game playing is associated with greater subsequent attention problems, even when earlier attention problems were statistically controlled.

It seems we have been witnessing a real phenomenon in increased special education referrals and placements. Based on my general observation, diagnoses of ADD and ADHD are on the rise. Diagnoses of conditions like Asperger’s and other forms of autism are also on the rise. For the past 30 years, most of the research on attention problems has focused on biological and genetic factors rather than on environmental factors. Many believe that there are other environmental influences. By identifying and studying those factors, we can create a more detailed picture of the problem to create effective solutions for schools.

More research needs to be done, but teachers must pay increased attention to student activities after school and in study halls. Those ubiquitous mobile devices may be part of the reason for increases in SPED referrals.

To read more about this:

The paradox: can we use video games to help treat attention deficits?

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: Dreyfus Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Description: Giving on a national basis to support museums, cultural, and performing arts programs; schools, hospitals, educational and skills training programs, programs for youth, seniors, and the handicapped; environmental and wildlife protection activities; and other community-based organizations and their programs. Organizations seeking support from the Foundation may submit a letter of request, not exceeding three pages in length, which includes a brief description of the purpose of the organization, and a brief outline of the program or project for which funding is sought.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Disabilities, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 11/10/14

Annual Total Amount: $2,800,000.00 – $4,000,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $20,000.00

Address: 2233 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Suite 414, Washington, DC 20007

Telephone: 202-337-3300

E-mail: info@mvdreyfusfoundation.org

Website: Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Availability: All States

IEP Strategies for Reading Support

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

teacher little girlOne of the most common disabilities you’ll see in the new pile of referrals on your plate this fall will be a vague reference to “reading disorders.” The regular classroom teacher has many strategies for teaching reading in her domain, but there are always odd-man-out students whose reading skills are so low that they may require special education intervention—but do they?

Many SPED teachers I know, especially resource teachers, are often commenting on the number of students they have who are not really learning disabled, but are just behind in reading. Once a student falls behind, it may take strong measures to bring him up to grade level.

If a reading-challenged student has passed through committee and it is determined he will require your special skills, there are tactics you can use to help him right away. In general, you are not a reading teacher. You are always teaching reading, but it is not your specialty. So, how do you help these students?

boy reading libraryYour goal should be to get these students out of the special education pipeline and back into their regular classrooms full time. You don’t have time to be a dedicated reading teacher for students who otherwise have no need of your services. In fact, in some schools the special education teacher has devolved into being an overqualified and specialized reading teacher.

Your first line of defense is the IEP. Within the confines of that document, you can construct a path for a return to regular instruction. You will be wise to make it the first goal in the learning objectives of the IEP. “Student will be provided targeted reading support for return to the regular classroom.” Or, if a student is being referred for the first time, work with your teams to prevent placement (RTI).

These days there are many ways to accomplish this. One of the reasons I became a special education teacher was to apply my love for educational technology to students at risk. There is an ever-growing list of reading instruction programs online to serve as additions to your district reading program. I’ve provided a list of resources for your perusal below. One of the positive things about digital instruction in this case is that students take to it almost immediately (in general). In addition, you can structure and schedule instruction to set you free to provide more sophisticated services like assessment and evaluation. You will have the time to fine-tune those skills. There are many tools for integrating distance learning in your classroom.

Resources for distance learning in your reading program (things that have been useful for me):

Remember, reading instruction is part of what you do—not your entire life. I have found that tablet computers and mobile learning devices have greatly helped us provide the key resources needed to bring reading levels up to par so students can return to the regular classroom. The devices are right there at all times; students can tune in to their prescribed programs any time from school or from home.

Take a look at the virtual stack of IEP’s that have been given to you for study over the summer. I’ll bet more than half have targeted reading instruction for students who may not be truly disabled. You might start a task force in your district to study this issue to find early intervention for these kids so they aren’t referred for SPED services in the first place.

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Patterson Foundation

Description: The foundation provides resources to programs and to nonprofit organizations in the areas of oral health, animal health, and occupational and physical rehabilitation. Funds are granted for: Health and Human Services programs related to the focus areas that benefit economically disadvantaged people or youth with special needs; and Education as it relates to the focus areas, especially programs that increase the number of underrepresented people in the dental, veterinary, occupational health and physical health fields.

Program Areas: At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $500,000.00 – $800,000.00

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $75,000.00

Address: 1031 Mendota Heights Road, St. Paul, MN 55120-1419

Telephone: 651-686-1929

E-mail: information@pattersonfoundation.net

Website: Patterson Foundation

Availability: All States

Community Resources in the Special Education Classroom

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

Pennies on the Dollar - bill with pennies on white background.

I’ve talked often about costs for services to our special needs children. We can all agree that it is an investment in our future. In one lifetime, I have witnessed special kids who were once warehoused in government facilities, but are now assimilated into the general school community. Everyone benefits from this arrangement, even “regular” kids who learn tolerance and respect for others in the process.

Teaching can be isolating. We are in our classrooms all day, with huge responsibilities and very little help along the way (or so it can seem).

To banish this feeling of isolation we can tap in to community agencies. These rich resources are government and private organizations devoted to bringing the disabled citizen into active participation in community activities. There is nothing that says you can’t reach out for help running the day-to-day management of your classroom.

Be sure to bring your principal into the decision making process, but why not call the ARC in your city to see if there are volunteers who might be willing to come in and assist students in your class. The Salvation Army runs wonderful summer and after school programs for low-income children. Disability.gov has a clearinghouse of information for community resources for many disabling conditions. Did you know there’s a National Center for Accessible Instructional Materials? They can guide you and help you select appropriate planning tools and materials for your classroom situation.

The list goes on and on, but a place to start in your town might be the Chamber of Commerce. They have directories of agencies and organizations in your location. Another one-stop shop for directories of agencies that can help teachers with their disabled students is the United Way.

Assistance can take many forms, your local school of education or social work in a college or university can supply volunteers, teacher aides, and student teachers (who can’t use another set of hands?). Agencies might help to find computers for your students, or basic school supplies that are always hard to find. The assistance is only limited by your imagination and willingness to ask for help. Isn’t that what grant writing is after all, a willingness to ask for help?

I find that whenever I have that isolated feeling, it’s time to start eating lunch in the “teacher’s room” again. I usually avoid these repositories of gossip and useless chatter, but an occasional visit can renew alliances. It’s also a reminder that you are part of a community. It’s tempting to be sucked in to the drama of the moment in these rooms, but if you keep it occasional, you can learn about new resources that may be available to you.

When isolated, you may find that a refresher course or professional development class can be just the ticket to rebuilding a feeling of community in your school. Some resources for professional development for SPED teachers:

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASPET)

Education Week

Linguisystems

Professional Development Institute

Knowledge Delivery Systems

Add to our list, help guide this blog, and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: USGA Alliance Grants

Funded By: National Alliance for Accessible Golf

Description: Grants support organizations which provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to learn and enjoy the game of golf and its inherent values. The Alliance and the USGA share the belief that the game of golf is exceptionally well-suited to allow individuals with disabilities to participate in a recreational or competitive activity with participants who have various types of disabilities as well as those who do not have disabilities. We encourage inclusive programming – opportunities that allow participants with disabilities and participants without disabilities to learn and play the game side by side.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Health/PE

Eligibility: Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $20,000.00

Address: 1733 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Telephone: 812-320-1126

E-mail: grants@accessgolf.org

Website: http://www.accessgolf.org/grants/alliance_grants.cfm

Availability: All States

Pre-Referral Strategies for Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

girls sassy

When I was in graduate school for learning disabilities XYZ years ago (years disguised to protect my vanity), I wrote a paper with the title “Overrepresentation of Minorities in Special Education.” It was a huge undertaking and the paper ended up asking more questions than it answered. The gist of my thesis was that behavior issues unfamiliar to the average middle class teacher were causing more SPED referrals for minority students than for others.

The professor took pity on me and gave me an A probably because I had the temerity to tackle the subject in the first place. As I was researching the topic, I realized one of the keys to success is to give teachers the support they need to identify and remediate difficult behaviors before the referral process is under way.

Since then, much has been written about the pre-referral process for students with behavior disorders. Teachers become frustrated with kids who are acting out. They have no way to mitigate behaviors before they escalate. In many cases, they don’t know how to set limits and provide options to students who are frustrated in their own right. Students have a way of behaving themselves into a corner from which there is no escape. Both teacher and student need strategies to de-escalate situations that can get out of control.

Many years after the ambitious paper was written, I have experienced difficult kids and have found ways to work with them to find viable solutions to problems. There are some wonderful resources available for teachers now, especially since the advent of the Internet (see the end of this article to find some of them). My favorite is a big red book called “Pre-Referral Intervention Strategies” by Stephen B. McCarney, Ed.D. There are hundreds of forms and checklists for teachers to use. The resources establish step-by-step behavior interventions that work.

Schools are developing a team approach to work through problems to prevent referral.

Team members:

  • Work together to identify a child’s learning strengths and needs,
  • put strategies into action, and
  • evaluate the impact of the interventions so the child can succeed in the general education classroom.

Since public law 94-142 was implemented, the goal has been to mainstream children into the least restrictive environment, ideally the regular grade level classroom.

A team should include parents, psychologists, and other teachers who meet with the child in other classrooms, a special education administrator or behavior specialist. It’s not always possible to bring parents to meetings, but an interview with them is essential so you can know how they deal with behaviors at home. When strategies are finally developed, they work much better if they are delivered in a coordinated fashion at school and at home.

At a team meeting:

  • A child’s strengths, interests, and talents are described.
  • Reasons for referral are listed, including behavior and academic achievement.
  • Interventions previously tried are discussed and if any success has been achieved. (Interventions may include accommodations, modifications, and behavior plans to try at home and in classrooms.)
  • Interventions are shared to address immediate concerns.
  • Interventions are carried out.
  • Strategies are evaluated to see what works.

Here are some resources to help with developing a pre-referral team approach in your school.

Pre-Referral Intervention Manual
Strategies
RTI – Response to Intervention
Parents in the referral process
Other resources

As always, keep in touch and let me know how your school works with pre-referral teams.


Grant Name: Family Service Community Grants

Funded By: Autism Speaks

Description: Autism Speaks seeks to directly support the innovative work of autism service providers in local communities across the United States. The focus of our Family Services Community Grants is three-fold: to promote autism services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism; to expand the capacity to effectively serve this growing community; and to enhance the field of service providers.

Program Areas:   After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Library, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 3/25/2015

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Telephone: 917-475-5059

E-mail: sselkin@autismspeaks.org

Website: Autism Speaks

Availability: All States

Becoming a Better Teacher

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

teacher little girl

They say that experience is the best teacher of a teacher. That is certainly true in my case. When I first started teaching in a special education classroom, I was kind, giving, quite frankly, a sucker. Kids manipulated me into a corner every single day. So, over time, I learned to be less of a friend and much more of a guiding hand, sometimes a shoving hand.

There are some things that teachers can do though, above and beyond waiting for time to pass, and letting experiences teach lessons the hard way. One thing I have done religiously every year is to make home visits. It is the single most important thing I do – I set the end of October as my deadline to make sure I visit every student’s home (unless the family expressly forbids it – and that has happened.)

I learn so much about my students this way. I can observe family dynamics, see where my student fits in the family order, see how parents interact with their kids. Are they warm and loving and supportive? Are they stern, controlling? Are they protective (or over-protective) of their special education child? These characteristics and family interactions give me ways to approach the child in the classroom, I understand them better.

I can observe the home itself and I don’t mean for House Beautiful comparisons. For many years I worked in urban schools in inner cities. I saw poverty first hand, and also saw how tempting the street can be for students. When you don’t have much, it makes sense to join with a group of kids who also have very little. These bands of poor kids can, if guided by a mentor, do wonderful things. I have the utmost regard for organizations like the “Y”, Girl’s Clubs and Scouts, etc. If students have a sense of purpose, and a responsible adult to guide them, the negative effects of a gang mentality can be avoided. I also work closely with the police. The schools I have worked in were lucky to have community officers. They helped to prevent many bad decisions kids choose to make on any given day.

Another must for me has been taking advantage of every possible opportunity for professional development. Lately it has been attending workshops on Common Core State Standards curriculum integration for Special Education, and on technology. I haven’t decided yet exactly how I feel about distance learning; this is true of professional development as well as some of the new “courses” online for schools. For classrooms, asynchronous learning by itself is not sufficient. You need a teacher and interaction of some sort with other students. Some of the credit-granting schools for students who need more classes to graduate from high school may be helpful to some, but I worry about academic rigor. With SPED kids, there are many other factors to consider that an online solution may ignore.

Not all distance learning is suspect. I’ve discovered a website called Lynda.com. There are a slew of video based tutorials here on computer software programs like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat. These lessons are very helpful in bringing me up to speed on new products, too. There are other examples of this for teachers. This kind of online learning, no stakes informational presentations, will flourish and do well. I worry though about online degrees and online high schools.

There are so many new software products for managing the day to day operation of your classroom, including the automation of IEPs that I can’t list them all. I found an article that shows you how to choose an effective system.

And, hold on to your hats, I still grab a good book to stay up to date on what teachers are reading. A list here stays on the topic of becoming a better teacher.

So, out of the box, you are no doubt a great SPED teacher (or “regular” teacher). Just remind yourself that there are some specific steps you can take to brush up on new skills, and improve the ones you have.

Let us know some of your tips and tricks to be a great SPED teacher. I learn from my readers all the time.


Grant Name: Lawrence Scadden Teacher of the Year Award in Science Education for Students with Disabilities

Funded By: Science Education for Students with Disabilities

Description: The recipient will be recognized at the annual National Science Teachers Association Convention, at the Science-Abled Breakfast, sponsored by SESD and Reaching the Pinnacle for Students with Disabilities. The winner of the Scadden award is expected to attend the NSTA conference to accept the award and a check for $1,000.00. The $1,000.00 stipend associated with the Scadden Award is provided to offset travel expenses to NSTA.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Science/Environmental, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Private School

Proposal Deadline: 1/20/2015

Average Amount: $1,000.00

E-mail: pverones@brockport.edu

Website: Science Education for Students with Disabilities

Availability: All States