Guest Blog: IEP Q&A for Parents by, Emma Savino

I am pleased to welcome back School Psychologist, Emma Savino to EdGeeks. She really has become our resident guest blogger. Today, Savino de-mystifies the IEP process for parents. Thanks for sharing Emma!

IEP Q&A for Parents

Emma Savino, M.A., C.A.S. – School Psychologist

Starting the process for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can be daunting for parents.  Legal terms and IEP jargon can be overwhelming, resulting in many unanswered questions for parents. Here are some basic IEP Q&A’s that will help you on your journey.

  1. What is an IEP, anyway?
  • An IEP is a legal, binding document that is exactly what it states. Once your child is found eligible for special education services, the Committee on Special Education Team (CSE) will meet to devise an education plan for your child.
  1. Who are all of these people sitting at the table?! A typical CSE team includes the following people:
  • CSE Chairperson
  • General Education Teacher
  • Special Education Teacher
  • School Psychologist
  • Parent
  • Possible additions: translator, parent/family advocate, related service providers

Note: Parents also have a right to have a community member present at their meeting.  This team member is someone in your school district who also has a child with a disability. They can help guide you and provide insight on the process. You can also invite anyone who knows your child well. Students may attend meetings when old enough, between middle and high school.

  1. When do CSE meetings take place? CSE meetings take place depending on what will be discussed.
  • Annual reviews take place every year and plan for the following school year.  Changes may be made depending on your child’s needs and progress. Parent
  • Reevaluation meetings occur every 3 years.  This is when updated psychoeducational testing is completed to determine if your child still meets criteria.
  • A program review is held anytime a change needs to be made to your child’s IEP.
  • As a parent, you also have the right to call a meeting at anytime.
  1. Will my child have an IEP forever?
  • Maybe. Depending on your child’s needs, they may require an IEP for their entire school career (available through age 21).  However, some students, if intervention is started early, make exceptional gains with special education support.  If this is found, the child may be declassified.  An alternative to declassification is to gradually reduce services to promote independence.
  1. What is my role as a parent in this whole process?
  • Be supportive and open-minded.  The Committee may make recommendations that you do not agree with.  Be sure to hear them out and gather as much information as you can before making any decisions. Remember that you have the final say, but also remember to keep your child’s best interest in mind.
  1. What will my child receive on their IEP?
  • This varies from student to student depending on their needs. Some may only require testing accommodations, while others may need special programs or related services (i.e. speech, OT, PT).  Services also tend to change with age.
  1. What happens if my child does not qualify?
  • If your child does not qualify, this means that their learning profile does not fit under any of the 13 classifications.  This means that although your child may struggle, their skill deficits do not necessary warrant special education services.  Providing them with AIS supports and building level remediation may be all they need.  Also, be sure to rule out any medical issues that may impact learning.
  1. How does an IEP help my child in the classroom?
  • School staff is legally obligated to follow an IEP.  This ensures that specific services/accommodations for your child.  More importantly, an IEP meeting allows the team of student advocates to come together and design specific goals for the year. It supports teachers to provide differentiated instruction and allows students to be exposed to grade level material that is presented on their level.  The goal of an IEP is to promote maximal independence in the classroom and provide the least restrictive environment for a child.

Still have questions? Feel free to submit via email and Emma and I will do our best to help!

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Paraprofessional Possibilities

I was walking down the street the other day when I ran into two people who used to make me smile everyday! One of them was a paraprofessional (I’ll call him Superman) who I had the privilege of working with for two years. The other (I’ll call her Wonder Woman) was a paraprofessional who I got very close with but sadly did not get the chance to share a classroom with. Superman was a role model for me in his ability to develop strong relationships with his students, yet always focus on fostering maximum independence. Wonder Woman’s dedication and selflessness made her a major inspiration for me while I was developing my teaching practice. Seeing them reminded me that I have not yet written about the power of paraprofessionals.

Sadly, so many teachers have had negative experiences working with paraprofessionals. I lucked out because in my first few years of teaching, I worked at a school that had some incredible paras. I spent three years as a special education teacher in an inclusion program for students with motor impairments. Each year I worked with a team of between 5 and 8 adults. The team was comprised of two teachers, at least one student teacher and 3-5 paras. While this could be overwhelming at times, building a community of adults was such a valuable force in the classroom. It gave children a chance to work with various adult personalities and it made our teaching stronger. Building a strong team takes work though!

Sometimes paraprofessionals are assigned to a classroom to offer support all of the students, but many paras are assigned to support a specific student. As a teacher it is important that you understand your paras role. Is it to support one or all students? Is it to  assist a student with mobility, health or academics? These are the questions that a teacher needs to ask!

If you work with a para who is assigned to one specific child, don’t ask or expect them to be an assistant teacher…let them focus so that they can be successful at their job! It would be like asking a second grade teacher to teach one section of eighth grade science during their lunch break. We see the most growth when we are given the opportunity to focus. Whether you are working with a para for one student or all students, it is crucial to develop a respectful relationship and to make sure that you offer the guidance they need to be successful. Here are some tips to building a great relationship with your para(s):

  1. Have lunch with your para as often as possible. Talking about things that are not school-related will allow you to build a friendship that can be incredibly valuable for the classroom community.
  2. Invite your para to co-teach a lesson if they are an expert in a field!
  3. Always remember that your success is intertwined with the success of your para(s).
  4. If you find that your para lacks focus or is not doing their job, have an open and productive conversation about it. Offer your guidance. Sometimes making a checklist of daily tasks for yourself and your para can help build strong routines.
  5. Use theme days and special events as a time to build community. We always dressed up as a team for theme days. I remember one year for book character day we dressed up as the crew from Little Red Riding Hood.

I’m not going to stand here and say every paraprofessional is a miracle worker. That would be like saying ever teacher is a superhero and regrettably, that is not true. However, there are paraprofessionals out there who are miracle workers in the right environment. As teachers it is our job to nurture the adult relationships in our classroom communities and to do whatever we can to support those around us.

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Guest Blog for Edutopia – Collaborative Team Teaching: Challenges and Rewards

Today is an exciting day because I have a guest blog piece on Edutopia! I love writing for Edutopia because their approach to sharing information is so proactive and they truly value the role of the teacher. As an organization, Edutopia celebrates strong teaching and shares about what works in education. Special thanks to Edutopia for having me!

Collaborative Team Teaching: Challenges and Rewards

What does CTT stand for? Some people think it’s “creative thinkers thinking,” or “cool teachers teaching.” Others say it’s “conflict tackling together.” While CTT means all of the above, it stands for “collaborative team teaching” and refers to the idea of a co-teaching partnership.

Over the years, I have taught in seven co-teaching partnerships in a wide range of classroom environments. This is the path for many dually certified special education teachers in New York City as the push for inclusion continues to spread. My partnerships have led me on an emotional rollercoaster, yet through thick and thin, my belief in inclusion and collaborative team teaching has remained constant. Though we are making strides in the right direction, we are still in the process of identifying what works in co-teaching.

Having co-taught in first grade, second grade and sixth grade, I feel confident in saying that the greatest challenge is finding a working model for middle school co-teachers. While teaching first and second grade, I had one co-teacher for the entire school year. Whatever challenges came our way, we certainly didn’t lack the time to work them out. During my time in sixth grade, I co-taught ELA, math, science and social studies. Teaching with four co-teachers leaves little time for co-planning or problem solving. Many middle schools use stronger co-teaching models where the special education counterpart teaches two subject areas or one subject and small groups, but even in those cases, co-teaching in middle school presents challenges.

What Makes a Strong Partnership?

Strong co-teachers provide seamless instruction for their students. Both teachers must come to a mutual agreement that they are equals in the classroom, and students must perceive both teachers as invaluable members of the classroom community. This can be particularly difficult for teachers who have taught alone for many years. Sometimes we don’t realize how many decisions we make alone in our classroom on a daily basis. Making decisions as a team is key to a strong partnership, but it is often an adjustment for veteran teachers.

Strong co-teachers also eliminate the “mommy/daddy” issue in the beginning of the year through a series of open conversations. The “mommy/daddy” issue refers to when a student says something like “. . . but she said I could!” in order to manipulate a set of co-teachers. This happens quite often at first. Strong co-teachers do not always agree on everything, but they realize that the time for disagreement is not during class.

Finally, strong co-teachers solve problems together. In fact, that is the best part of co-teaching; you’re never in it alone!

Benefits of Co-Teaching

Having two minds facilitate a classroom community allows students to connect with different personalities. Co-teaching allows more opportunities for small group and one-to-one learning, and stronger modeling during lessons. The co-planning process encourages two teachers to bounce ideas off each other in order to deliver the strongest, most creative lessons. I always enjoyed using my partnerships to model behavior and positive peer-to-peer interaction for students. When students experience their teachers working together, they understand the power of respect amongst peers.

Let’s not forget the most important part: it is nice to have another adult in the room! One year, I taught with a co-teacher, a student teacher and four paraprofessionals. While things got a bit hectic at times, I loved the community we were able to develop in our class. Teaching is overwhelming, but co-teaching can provide a support system so that we can do our jobs, yet remember to have fun along the way.

Common Challenges of Co-Teaching

Co-teaching has its benefits, but be sure to understand that it has its challenges as well. The most common complaint I’ve heard from colleagues in co-teaching partnerships is that it is difficult to work with someone whose teaching style and philosophy differ from your own. In my own experience, success is less dependent on similar philosophies and more dependent on an open mind and willingness to compromise. If you are in a co-teaching partnership with someone who views learning and teaching differently, make sure to talk about it. Look at it as a chance to widen the scope of your practice by incorporating multiple styles into your teaching.

Another common challenge is in regards to the inequality that often forms in the classroom. Special education teachers often struggle to present themselves as equals to their students, and this becomes even more evident in the middle school setting. Elementary co-teachers share a classroom all day, but a middle school special education teacher can feel like a guest in a general education teacher’s space. It is crucial to have conversations with your co-teacher surrounding these issues. Setting up the classroom with your co-teacher in September can help build a strong foundation for an equal partnership. Practicing a variety of co-teaching models also helps foster equality.

A challenge that followed me through many of my partnerships was the issue of grading. Do you grade all students together? Does the special education teacher grade all students withIEPs? Does the general education teacher truly understand the purpose and implications of an IEP? These are all important questions to ask. I have found that it works best when you discuss this issue at the beginning of the year. While more time-consuming, grading all students together as co-teachers is the most fair and consistent way to grade. Grading together allows the special education teacher to share his or her expertise in IEP goals with the general education teacher, and it allows the general education teacher to weigh in on IEP goals for his or her students.

Five Tips to Becoming a Strong Co-Teacher

  1. Say this mantra: “All students are our students.”
  2. Come to planning meetings prepared (with an agenda) to maximize co-planning time.
  3. If you feel something, say something! Open communication is the key to a successful partnership.
  4. Realize that the success of your class depends on the strength of your co-teaching relationship.
  5. Use a variety of co-teaching models to help maintain equality.

“Inclusion is not a place, but instead a process.” – Anonymous

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Guest Blog: My Ideal Classroom (Emma Savino, School Psychologist)

I want to welcome back guest blogger Emma Savino! Savino is a school psychologist and today she will share about the importance of social development in school, and how to effectively utilize support staff (ex: school psychologists, social workers, etc.) to bring these skills into the classroom. In her piece, she proposes two models for collaboration.

My Ideal Classroom

by, Emma Savino, M.A., C.A.S.

Being relatively new in this field, I find myself struggling with the traditional set-up of public schools. I initially got into the field of school psychology because I wanted to work with children. I loved that I could conduct evaluations AND counsel students. Now that I’m actually in the field, I find myself doing mostly testing for special education placement and state mandated re-evaluations. The job does vary depending on the district, however, testing is often prevalent, leaving little time for counseling and staff support. I find that the school psychologist can be underutilized due to the caseload of assessments

Because such a heavy emphasis is placed on test preparation and academic performance, there is little time to teach students how to be happy, productive individuals. Children often miss out on important skill building opportunities like social problem solving, learning how to develop strong relationships and building coping skills. It is important to remember that just as we have to work hard to do well in school, we have to work hard to be happy and well balanced.  Strategies to develop this way of life can and should be taught in the classroom.

Classrooms need to be therapeutic because kids need help solving problems and managing their behavior. When a child breaks his leg, we bring him to the doctor. We don’t expect him to mold a cast or build some crutches independently; we go straight to a professional. Providing tools and seeking help from mental health professionals is important too.  This shows children that they do not have to handle their problems and worries alone.  Creating a supportive environment will allow for trust and shared understanding. The best part is, these professionals have years of training and are there to support you. In fact, they live and breathe in your own school!

How do we make classrooms and schools more therapeutic? I’ll propose two models: the ideal and the realistic. As a caveat, my ideal classroom could only exist with adequate funding, staffing and in the absence of high stakes standardized testing (hence the word ideal).

My ideal classroom would be similar to the CTT (collaborative team teaching) model that is currently a staple in many special education settings. A school psychologist or social worker would co-teach with a classroom teacher (either part time or full time, depending on the needs of the class.) While this proposed model would help all students, this set-up may be most appropriate for students with behavioral and emotional challenges.  However, teachers can pick and choose techniques that fit their classroom demographic best. This model would allow for:

  • Behavior modification and intervention to occur in the moment.
  • Instruction and behavioral interventions to exist simultaneously.
  • Psychologists to plan, manage and collect data for individual behavior plans.  This way, the psychologist can target and address specific behaviors, rather than blindly implementing interventions that do not zone in on the real problem and are unsupported by data.
  • Daily whole or small group counseling to address issues in the classroom allows for a free flow of discussion and a team approach to problem solving.

The first model is unrealistic for most schools at this point in time. Here are some ways teachers can self implement or utilize support staff in a traditional classroom setting:

  • If you are experiencing behavior problems in the class, determine what time they occur most.  Ask a support staff member to push-in and intervene during these times.
  • Collaborate with your psychologist for behavior management strategies.
  • Take suggestions from others. Simple changes to the classroom environment (i.e seating, lighting, use of positive language) may improve behavior more than you think!
  • Incorporate weekly social skills lessons into your teaching and include support staff in the planning process. Take it a step further and invite your school psychologist/social worker into the classroom. This will help students identify staff they can seek out if problems arise during the school year. Having weekly sessions also allows for rapport building to start immediately.

Final Reflections by, Marisa (Your Resident EdGeek): 

A special thanks to Emma Savino for this thoughtful guest post! Last year, I taught sixth grade at a school with two incredible social workers. They were constantly in the classroom supporting our students. While the state was busy testing our students in reading and math, our social workers and teachers were busy collaborating to support students in becoming thoughtful, caring members of our school community. Sadly, there is little importance placed on social growth in schools, and no test that measures it…but I could not agree more with Emma that school environments need to be more therapeutic.

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Google ChromeVox

When my friends tell me “Google is taking over the world,” I usually just shrug. Recently, I’ve been starting to think, “Wow, maybe Google really is taking over the world one function at a time.” This shift in my thinking came after reading about ChromeVox, an app developed for Google users with visual impairments. Then I began checking into the other apps for accessibility, including ChromeShades and ChromeVis, and quite a few others in the Chrome Web Store (make sure to search for accessibility.)

Google is taking accessibility seriously and that is what we need around here! We are behind in providing accessibility for all of our children in schools, but it is good to know that Google cares. They are attending the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. According to Google’s blog, they are not just attending the conference to discuss their own progress, but also to “discuss improvements for the future.” Thank you! There are some wonderful things happening in the world of assistive technology and augmentative communication, but more is needed, so lets be sure that when we discuss progress, we do it with a desire to continue innovating new technologies that support accessibility for all.

If you have ideas for how to improve accessibility through development of new products or improvement of existing products, submit them here. I just submitted multiple ideas for supporting kids with LD and those who struggle with reading, including one idea to develop  a tool to support struggling readers to navigate the internet for research purposes. Will someone write back? I’m not sure, but if you have an idea about how to support accessibility, it’s worth submitting for the small chance that Google may find your idea intriguing.

Thank you Google, for taking all learners and users of your technology seriously…and for giving us a voice.

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Tracking Progress Using Portfolios

For better or worse, “tracking progress” has become a buzz phrase in education. As teachers, we are constantly being asked how we are tracking student progress across the content areas. I have mixed feelings about the current state of assessment in education, but one thing is for sure – I don’t think we ask our students to track their own progress and self-reflect nearly enough.

Reflection: a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of long consideration

Great teachers work towards a constant goal of instilling a sense of intrinsic motivation amongst their students. In order to encourage students to want to push themselves to their potential, we must show them what progress feels like. We must teach them to recognize growth in their own learning and to engage in personal goal-setting. This comes from studying their own work over time. Students should constantly be asking themselves these 3 questions:

  1. What was my work like when I first started?
  2. What is my work like now?
  3. Where do I want my work to be in ________ (fill in the blank by setting a reasonable amount of time.)

While this process of reflection is important, there is no doubt that it is a challenge for us educators as well as our students. Depending on the age of our students, we must support the reflection process at different levels. Youngsters (more specifically, birth-Grade 3) will need maximal support throughout the reflection process, while older students will be able to work towards greater levels of independence with appropriate modeling and practice.

There are a number of different ways that we can support students in reflecting on their growth as learners. Today, I am going to focus on one method which I have found to have a strong impact on my students throughout the years. The method is using the reflection process with a portfolio.

Portfolio: A collection of materials which are representative of an individual’s work

Many administrators request (or even demand) that teachers keep portfolios for their students in different content areas. In many classrooms, the portfolio is a teacher-based tool. The teacher creates the portfolio by compiling student work samples and the teacher has access to the portfolio. Today, I am suggesting that we teach our students to organize their own portfolios for different academic areas such as writing, math, reading, science and social studies.

Students can keep a portfolio in a number of different ways but my favorite is the folder. While many teachers (including myself!) have found that students struggle to organize their folders, I think we can all recognize that maintaining an organized folder is an important skill in itself. With explicit modeling, this skill can be taught. I have always had my students keep a folder for each subject. On the inside of the pockets of the folders, they would write labels such as: “What I’m Working On” and “What I Have Finished.” Adding labels to the pockets of a folder can help a student stay organized.

Sample Science Portfolio

I always liked giving students a cover sheet for their folder. The cover sheet would be different for each grade level and each subject area. For example, for first grade I might only include date and title of work. In sixth grade I might add other categories such as progress and goals. Here are two sample cover sheets available for download. Feel free to modify them. I had my students glue them to the cover of their folders.

Sample Math Portfolio Cover Sheet (Click to Download)

Sample Writing Portfolio Cover Sheet (Click to Download)

The Reflection Process

  1. At the end of every month, choose a week to be “Reflection Week”
  2. Assign one subject area to each day of the week (ex: Math Monday, Reading Tuesday, etc.)
  3. On the corresponding day, during the corresponding period, use the time to lead students through a reflection activity as well as “spring cleaning” (see below).
  4. On the following Monday, repeat the cycle by handing out new portfolio cover sheets for students to glue/staple onto their folders.

Possible Reflection Activities:

  • Students make a timeline of their work and fill out a graphic organizer describing how their work has changed over time.
  • Students look over their pieces and choose their least mature and most mature work from the pile. Then students get to post both pieces up in the room and do a gallery walk where they can see everyone’s work. This can also be displayed on a bulletin board in a “before/after” style.
  • Have students choose their most mature piece of work and fill out a goal-setting sheet for how they hope to improve their work in over the next month.
  • Do a portfolio scavenger hunt (ex: “Find a piece of work where you have at least 3 spelling errors,” “Find a piece of work where you added at least two details to make your story stronger,” etc.)

Through looking over past work, students can see how they have grown over time. They can better understand the importance of care and hard work. Even a disorganized, careless portfolio can teach a strong lesson. A student who cannot find a “most mature” piece of work needs the most support through the reflection process. It can feel overwhelming for a student who views his/her portfolio as “weak” to set goals, so it is our job to support them  as best we can.

I always liked setting goals as a class. The most important way that we can support our students is to ensure that the goals being set are measurable, appropriate and most importantly reachable within a month’s time. Setting goals as a class is helpful because it allows the teacher time and space to model what makes a goal strong. Vague goals can be overwhelming, so choosing one small category can really help. Some vague goals might be: “I will read more,” “I will get more math problems right,” or “I will spell better.” These goals are not easily achievable or measurable. Here are some super specific goals that my students have set in the past…and been able to achieve over time:

Do you have ideas about other reflection activities, goals or methods for self-tracking progress? Share them by posting a comment!

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A Very Special Education

Hello and Happy New Year to all of my readers! Welcome to 2012. I have taken the week off and I feel refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired – and I hope you do too. In 2012, I aim to bring you fresh ideas and thoughts on education today. Let me start with this…

Recently, I found this photo hanging on my friend’s refrigerator. It was so perfect, I had to share. When we say “visuals are a great tool for learning,” this is exactly what we are mean.


Sometimes listening and talking just isn’t enough –  so let’s take a close look at this cartoon and think for a minute…what can we learn from this?

A Very Special Education

For the purpose of this piece, I will refer to special education teachers as magicians.

I must admit I never excelled in mathematical logic. I remember getting very confused by the “If-then” concept. One thing I do remember is that my teacher told me that when Fact 1 is true and Fact 2 is true, then the entire statement is true.  If that is true, then I wonder…

If: We know that every child is different and…

If: We know that all children have unique life experiences, which shape their learning and…

If: We understand that all children learn differently…

Then: Why isn’t all education special?

Every time I attempt to use logical means to solve this puzzle, I end up with the same outcome. If we know all of these things to be true about children, then all teachers should be special educators. There is no such thing as “general” in regards to education.

A magician teaches ALL children. Magicians must be creative and find ways to meet the needs of every student who steps foot inside the classroom. A magician does not specialize in only one area because all magicians realize that there is no such thing as a homogenous class. If all students learn differently, then a variety of teaching strategies and methods must take place in the classroom.

Now I want you to close your eyes and imagine a world where every child receives a special education. In this world, all teachers are magicians with never-ending bags of tricks. All children receive what they need in order to grow to their potential. In the words of the great Louis Armstrong, “and then I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

That is what I’ve learned…what have you learned?

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Guest Blog at Edutopia: Breaking Down Differentiated Instruction

This is an exciting day for EdGeeks because this post was written as a guest blog for, which is one of my favorite educational websites! The article discusses differentiated instruction and breaks the concept down into more manageable pieces. Thank you Edutopia for all you do in education and for giving EdGeeks a platform to share ideas.

What does the “Special” in “Special” Education mean?

Quiz of the Day: What does the “Special” in “Special” Education mean?

A. That every child learns in a special way?

B. That every teacher teaches in a special way?

C. That a teacher specializes in educating all kinds of learners?

Actually it’s

D. All of the above

What kind of chef are you? How are you in the kitchen?

If I posed this question to all of my friends, I would receive a wide range of responses. Perhaps I would have one group of people who could barely follow the instructions to make a box of macaroni and cheese. Others could probably make eggs and spaghetti but that is the extent of their culinary expertise. Then I would have this top tier of friends who are so amazing in the kitchen that they make their own sauce from scratch! That’s how I judge top notch…sauce from scratch.

What does this have to do with learning?

Well, I would never ask my “macaroni friends” to make their own sauce, nor would I toss a box of macaroni to my top tier friends, when I know they could be creating a divine meal from scratch! Let’s apply this idea to the classroom.

Content / Delivery of Instruction / Resources /Product and Assessment

These 4 ideas are interconnected but to truly understand how to differentiate instruction, it is more manageable to look at them separately. 


Content is what we teach.  It is what we want students to learn, understand and be able to apply as a result of instruction. 


Delivery of Instruction is the how of teaching.  This can mean how activities are designed to help students make sense of content.  Delivery of Instruction also includes the process of teaching and even integrating different co-teaching models if you have multiple adults in the classroom. 


Resources act as the medium through which you teach students. Resources can include texts, supplies, videos, materials, field trips, etc.


A product is the evidence of learning. It is how the student demonstrates his/her understanding of an idea.  A product is a method of assessment and in a differentiated classroom there are multiple product/assessment styles offered to students.

Here is an example of how one lesson might be differentiated in all 4 ways.

Example: In a differentiated classroom, students are learning about communities.

Differentiated Content: Some students may be working on developing an understanding of the term “community” by exploring different books, photos and videos about communities. Others might be working on understanding the difference between rural, urban and suburban communities. Here, the content for each group of students is different.

Differentiated Delivery of Instruction: A teacher might teach a lesson about the different types of communities by watching a video and taking shared notes. A teacher might then pull a group of students and do a read aloud activity using a book with vivid photographs that show the different types of communities. Here, the students are learning the same content through different learning activities. The instruction is being delivered differently. 

Differentiated Resources: A teacher might have 3 groups of students researching communities. One group might be using a series of easy readers and picture books to compile their information, while another group uses higher-level non-fiction text with chapters and text features such as glossary and index. Perhaps there is a third group doing independent Internet research. In this case, three groups of students are using appropriate texts in the classroom. 

Differentiated Products: To assess learning, perhaps some students do an oral presentation of their findings, while others create a poster full of research. Others design a test and answer key on the subject! In this case, student learning is being demonstrated in different ways.

Let’s remember these 3 things:

  1. In education, one size does not fit all
  2. All students deserve and are entitled to appropriate instruction
  3. We can accommodate in small, simple ways that will support growth in all of our students

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Home-School Connection: What’s the deal with A.D.H.D?

This article was written by a wonderful school psychologist who also happens to be an amazing friend. She works primarily in student assessment and is a wealth of knowledge on many different areas of student needs both in the classroom and at home. Her ideas truly offer us ways to bridge the gap between home and school. This is my longest post yet…and while I thought about breaking it into two sections, I didn’t want to make my readers wait to read the second half. Yes, it is long but it is informative and sends a message of hope to all of us out there working with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

What’s the deal with A.D.H.D? by, Emma Savino, M.A., C.A.S, NYS Certified School Psychologist

We’ve all heard someone self-diagnose themselves with ADHD; “I can’t focus today! I’m so ADHD!” The truth is, we are all inattentive or become restless at times.  Most of us have the self-awareness and cognitive control to bring ourselves back to reality when this occurs.  However, about 10% of the population struggles with maintaining focus and conforming to environments that require controlled behavior on a daily basis.  Imagine how tiring that would be for someone who has limited control over their impulses, attention, organization and ability to remain still.  Now imagine that person as a child stuck in a classroom for 6 hours each day behind a desk.  This is a daunting task for many children in our classrooms.  Some feel that ADHD is over-diagnosed (which it probably is), however, it does exist!  What separates those with true ADHD from those with attention difficulties depends on the frequency, severity and length of time behaviors have been present.  For these individuals, there is hope! We can treat ADHD just as we treat medical disorders, through various modifications and behavior management systems in home and school settings. This helps create a better and more productive work environment for everyone involved.

What is ADHD? Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological disorder characterized by inattentive and hyperactive behaviors that are developmentally inappropriate.  These behaviors tend to interfere with daily life, impacting school performance, social relationships and productivity.

When do children display these behaviors? ADHD can manifest at an early age.  Be sure to rule out developmentally appropriate behaviors.  Kids are inattentive! That’s just a fact of life.  My professional opinion is to seek help if behaviors persist through 1st grade.  I do not feel comfortable assessing a child in pre-K or kindergarten for ADHD.  First grade is where students usually begin to be required to function in more structured settings.  If you (parent or teacher) are actively teaching self-control through the use of a structured routine and other direct teaching strategies in which the child is not responding, further investigation into ADHD may be warranted. Be sure that these behaviors are impacting your child across various environments.  If behaviors are specific to one setting (i.e. the classroom) modifications in that particular setting may be all that is needed to see improvements in behavior.

*It is also important to rule-out learning disabilities or any medical problems that may contribute to inattention/hyperactivity. If you have concerns about your child’s performance, contact your school district to find out how you can refer your child for evaluation to assess these areas.

Who can diagnose ADHD? School districts can use screening tools to determine frequency and significance of behaviors, however, cannot diagnose.  Once this information is gathered, school districts will typically recommend you share the data with an outside medical professional.

Although your general pediatrician can diagnose ADHD, I recommend follow-up with a neurologist, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.  These individuals have more training in this area and may be able to conduct additional assessments to determine whether a diagnosis is warranted.

Guidelines for Diagnosis The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) is the mental health professional’s bible.  This manual outlines behaviors associated with various disorders.  Individuals must meet a specific number of criteria, occurring for a pre-determined length of time. For ADHD, symptoms must be present for 6 months and be disruptive to daily life or are considered developmentally inappropriate. They also must be present across at least two settings.  There are three different ADHD diagnoses (the term ADD is no longer used):

a. Predominately Inattentive Type: This describes the child who is inattentive and does not display significant hyperactive behaviors.

  • Inattentive symptoms can include:
    • Trouble organizing activities.
    • Trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
    • Is often easily distracted.
    • Does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
    • Loses things needed for tasks and activities.

b. Predominately Hyperactivity Type: This describes the child who is hyperactive and does not display significant inattentive behaviors.

  • Hyperactive/Impulsive symptoms can include:
    • Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.
    • Runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate.
    • Has trouble playing or enjoying leisure activities quietly.
    • Is often “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor.”
    • Trouble waiting one’s turn.
    • Interrupts or intrudes on others.
    • Blurts out answers before questions have been finished.

c. Combined Type: This describes the child who displays both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.

Recommendations for Teachers and Parents

General Recommendations:

  • Be patient with your children with ADHD.  The calmer and more collected you are, the more they will respond to you and follow directions within the classroom or household.
  • Provide these children with visually stimulating and interesting material such as maniuplatives, to help catch their attention.  You can also allow a student to hold an object in their hand while working (i.e. stress ball, play-doh, etc.).  This can sometimes help increase focus.  However, this technique should only be used if the item itself does not become a distraction.
  • Students with ADHD often suffer from deficits in working memory or “immediate memory.”  This is where we initially process information and then store the information into our short or long-term memory.  When we repeat a phone number in our head in order to remember it as we get to the phone, we are using our working memory.  Individuals with attention problems may struggle with using their working memory.  Therefore, always break up instructions into individual steps.  Writing down these steps on paper can also act as a visual reminder.
  • Teach organization! If your home and classrooms are organized, the more likely your child will be organized.  At home, organize toys into categories and colored bins.  You can also label these bins and put pictures on them displaying what’s inside.  For school books, color code folders and binders into separate subjects.
  • Attention to task and school performance for a child with ADHD can fluctuate.  Some days you may notice this child is “on point” or they may score high on a test.  This is normal for these children so it is important to expect patterns of fluctuating performance and attention. Again, be patient.

Recommendations specific to teachers:

  • Have the student sit in close proximity to you.  A simple tap on the students’ desk may be enough to redirect them to task.
  • Reward this student when they are focusing.
  • Provide them with movement breaks throughout the day.
  • DO NOT take away recess as a punishment or for the student to catch up on work.  These children (wait a tic; all children) NEED recess.  Recess is not a significant amount of time to keep the student from participating.  What is recess nowadays, anyway? Fifteen to thirty minutes? Let the kid play!
  • Use visual schedules so the student knows what to expect each period during the day.  This can be posted on the child’s desk or in the front of the classroom.
  • Rules should be clear, concise and their implementation should be consistent.  The student will eventually learn your expectations and this leaves no room for surprises.If and when you have the time, work one-on-one or in a small group with these children.  Attention can significantly increase with less distraction in a smaller setting.
  • Expressive tone of voice when teaching will help keep your student’s attention.

Recommendations specific to parents:

  • Homework can be challenging to finish with any child.  Create a homework routine.  Complete homework at the same time each day.  Have a “homework box” near where your child completes their work to avoid disorganization and interruptions during homework time.  This box should include ANYTHING that your child could possibly need to complete homework and small projects.
  • Medications:  Medicating your child is a big decision and is solely your decision.  I’m not going to speak too much on this matter because the truth is if you are considering medication, you really must speak to a medical professional about benefits and side-effects.
  • Encourage healthy eating!  You are what you eat, right? Good foods that act as fuel are the healthy ones!  These foods can help improve focus and productive energy.  Therefore, avoid sugary foods that are going to make your child MORE hyper.  Have a healthy snack waiting for them when they get home from school.
  •  Limit video game time.  Many parents think their child does not have ADHD because their child can play video games for hours! However, the intense stimulation provided by video games is making your child’s brain happy, but is not necessarily good for them.  Although a child can partake in a healthy amount of video game playing, try to get them to do something more productive like build a sculpture out of blocks, play with a friend, create artwork or help you with chores around the house.
  • Let your child play! Take them to the park and let them play outside.  Use play time as a reward for your child.  As long as all of their school responsibilities are fulfilled, they should be playing, running and jumping to release that energy, particularly after being cooped up in school all day.
  • Keep open communication with your child.  Do not keep their ADHD a secret from them.  Many children with ADHD have average to above average intellectual abilities.  Therefore, there is a good chance they know they’re different! Educating your child about their strengths and areas for growth, and working with them to determine what works best to manage inattention and impulsive behaviors will only benefit them.

In closing, remember this when working with these children:

  • There is no cure for ADHD, but managing the disorder is possible.
  • Be sure that inattention/hyperactivity is significantly impacting your child before searching for a diagnosis.
  • Ignore behaviors that are not causing disruption to others or are not jeopardizing safety for anyone. If you try to correct each and every problematic behavior, you will go crazy.
  • Use every opportunity to teach your child.  Teachable moments occur everyday and many of the skills that children with ADHD lack can be taught directly with repeated practice.
  • Take a deep breath.  Remember, you are working with a child and they need your help; and hey, they keep you on your toes, right?  Accept the challenge and do all you can to create enriching experiences and environments for your child.

Resources:  – This website is a great resource to learn about ADHD and connect with other parents or adults who have been diagnosed.  They also offer a bi-monthly magazine that you can subscribe to so you can stay informed.

Emma also highly recommends this book for parents and teachers that are working with children with ADHD:

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Gadgets for EdGeeks: Microsoft Word Speech Function

Last week EdGeeks reviewed Dragon Speaking Naturally, a speech-recognition software program, and discussed how it could be used to support writing. Today, I am featuring another possible option for supporting students at home (or in a classroom with computers/laptops). What is so great about today’s post? If you have a computer at home, chances are you probably have Microsoft Word and this post will teach you how to tap into a special function that can revolutionize working with your child!

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Tech Tool: Microsoft Word Speech Function (This function includes both speech-recognition and text-to-speech. This particular review focuses on text-to-speech capabilities since last week’s post was in regards to speech-recognition.)

Description: For those of you who are already proud owners of Microsoft Office…here is a nice tool for you! Microsoft Word has a speech function that allows any Word Document to be read aloud. This is referred to as “text-to-speech” and can be a very helpful tool for readers at any level.

Application in the Classroom: This tool can support readers at all levels by taking a challenging text and reading it aloud. If you have a splitter and headphones, you can potentially have multiple students listening to a text at once.

Concrete Examples of In-Classroom Use: This function can support students in the classroom in many ways. It can:

  • Take a challenging text that you have found online and read it aloud
  • Read aloud the news
  • Read aloud a piece of writing that a student has written
  • Support students with editing and revision by playing back the audio version so they can hear what their writing sounds like

Concrete Examples of At-Home Use: 

  • Help your child with a challenging reading assignment
  • Help improve your child’s writing by having him/her listen to the audio version while editing
  • Help your child research a topic by copying and pasting the content into a Word Document and using the speech function to read it aloud
  • Many teachers now post homework online – download a worksheet and have the instructions to an assignment read aloud
Appropriate Grade Levels: K – Forever
How it Works: Instructions below are based on Microsoft Office 2008)
Step 1: Open a Microsoft Word Document
Step 2: Type an original text or copy and paste a text from an online resource
Step 3: Click View, Toolbars, Speech (See photo below)
Step 4: Highlight the text that you would like to be read aloud
 Step 5: Go to the speech box and click on the microphone icon
Special Note: If you go into system preferences you have a lot of options for the speech function including both text-to-speech and speech-recognition functions. (See photo below)

Step 3

Special Note

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