Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Holiday Story

It was days before Christmas
And all through the town 
The lights were a-twinkle
Both uptown and down.

And here in the office 
We were working away
When outside our windows
There flew an old sleigh.

We couldn't believe it
But then we all jumped.
From the roof right above us
There came a loud thump.

We heard heavy footsteps
And then he was there,      
Red suit and red hat 
And long flowing white hair.

"I'm Santa," he said
As he entered the clinic.
We all rolled our eyes
Like good New York cynics.

"I've got gifts for all students
(you don't need to believe)
But let me bestow them 
Before I must leave.

"For the youngest I've got books
To read with mom and pop,
Since once they become readers, 
The habit won't stop.

"For older kids, games
That will help them learn math
And set them upon
A better school path.

"For high schoolers I've got smartpens
And a book filled with knowledge
About how kids who struggle
Can find the right college."

We said, "What about us?
We don't want to nag,
But don't you have something 
For us in your bag?"

Santa gave a big smile 
And packed up to go.
"You've all had the gift
Of the students you know.

"The great satisfaction
Of helping them grow
And making them realize 
Just how much they know

"With supports and good strategies,
Your gift's what you do...."
And as he departed,
We knew that was true!

The Yellin Center will close between Christmas and New Year's and will re-open on January 3, 2011. We wish you all a happy holiday and look forward to blogging again next year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just Ask the Kids

Preliminary findings from a study financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, looking at what makes an effective teacher, make it clear that students are excellent judges of their instructors. The study findings, reported in the New York Times, used gains on standardized tests to measure teachers' effectiveness. But it was not the teachers who spent the most classroom time on test preparation whose students did best on the tests. The teachers whose students scored higher were those who maintained order in their classrooms, helped students learn from their errors, and who explained the course material  in several different ways. And it was these same teachers who were higher ranked by their students.

As one teacher commented when we mentioned these findings, "It's no surprise. Students say they like classes where the teacher makes it easy, but what they really prefer is to learn how to think. Teaching can't be a popularity contest, but we need to give substantial weight to what students think about their teachers and the way they teach when we evaluate instruction."

This study focused on public school school students, but the idea of listening to students when evaluating their teachers has been around for a while on college campuses. Sites like "Ratemyprofessors.com" have long allowed college undergraduates to share their opinions about their professors, for better or for worse. Whether this is always a positive step and whether it should be used for students at all levels can be debated. But, as noted by the individual who developed the student questionnaires for the Gates Foundation study, "As a nation, we've wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school reform efforts."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Technology for Serious Communication Issues

Almost all of our blog posts are focused on educational issues for typical learners or students with learning difficulties. Sometimes, as we work our way through the myriad of journals, email newsletters, and other resources that provide much of our inspiration and material, we come across items beyond our regular scope, that we believe our readers will appreciate.

For example, we've written before about how technology can help many students with tasks like note-taking and with organizing materials for a writing project. But for students with serious disabilities, technology can make even more of a difference. A New York Times article on the use of the iPad to help profoundly disabled individuals communicate noted that this device was easier to use than a computer, in part because of the sensitivity of its touchpad,  and that it enabled students who could not previously express themselves to share their thoughts and needs with their caregivers. Ben Yellin, today's contributing blogger, shares his work experiences with technology and students with profound communication difficulties:

Contributing Blogger Ben

I encountered several situations like the one described in the New York Times article this past summer, when I worked at Ramapo For Children. Ramapo is a summer camp located in the Hudson Valley region of New York that works with kids who are struggling with autism or behavioral issues. I remember having one camper came up to me, iPod touch in hand, and we started having a full fledged conversation. I was amazed that this camper was able to do that. I was also amazed at the ability he had to write out full sentences and thoughts. For kids with serious speech related issues, the thoughts are there, they just don’t have a way to communicate that which they want to say. Devices like the iPad or iPod Touch help them with that.

On another occasion, I spent time having a conversation with a camper who was nonverbal;  however, we had a lengthy discussion about both of us being from New York City with me talking and him responding back on an iPhone that he had wrapped around his wrists. That interaction truly blew me away at the wonders of modern technology and how it is ever expanding to the point that people are finding new and creative uses for it.

You might end up being surprised at what some of the devices that are commonly used in everyday lives can do. 

There are also some interesting developments on the research front of assisted communication, including the awarding of the $100,000 Team prize of the Siemens Competition to two high school juniors from Oregon, who developed a computer algorithm to more accurately detect emotion in a human speech, which could assist individuals with autism who presently are unable to "read" the emotional aspect of conversations. We expect to learn of many more exciting new technology in this field and will keep you posted.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lynn University

Kenzie Maloney
Lynn University Student
We are delighted to welcome a guest blogger,  Lynn University student Kenzie Maloney, who shares her very positive experiences as a student at Lynn's Institute for Achievement and Learning. Lynn is located in Boca Raton, Florida.
After attending my first University for three semesters, I knew that I was not receiving the help and direction from the Learning Disabilities Department that I had been promised or that I had wished for. I made the decision not to return to that University for my fourth semester.  I took those five months to do a bit of everything.  I immersed myself in a college hunt, I was re-evaluated academically by the Yellin Center, and I worked.  Most of all, I did a lot of soul searching.  I had to decide for myself what I wanted from life and what I wanted to achieve.

Throughout my academic career I struggled to attain success.  I knew that acquiring a college education was something that was exceptionally important to me.  I knew I needed to place myself in the perfect environment.

In my search I found Lynn University.  I knew that Lynn was a perfect match as soon as I visited the campus.  It was very evident that Lynn prides itself on their Institute for Achievement and Learning.  Soon I was aware that the Institute and Lynn had all I was looking for academically.

I am just completing my first semester at Lynn University and I couldn't be happier with my choice.  Everyone here is routing for student success and will do anything to see it is achieved.

Within the Institute I have an advisor  (as all Institute students do) who oversees attendance if necessary. (The Institute is very serious about attendance, which is in everyone’s best interest). My advisor is there for any questions or concerns I might have, as well as keeping me in check. Every week I have three sessions of tutoring.  I have been assigned a tutor for each subject where help is needed.  I have had the same tutors all semester, which creates continuity.  All tutors are skilled in instructing students with learning disabilities and all possess either a masters or doctorate degree.  The environment at the Institute is comfortable and friendly. 

The "Testing Center” is where all LD students are welcome to take their tests. Students never have to schedule an appointment at the Center.  They consult with their instructor and the test is waiting there when needed.  It is a quiet, relaxing atmosphere that provides students in need with the accommodations that best fit their learning disability.

Lynn University has given me all the tools I need to succeed.  I am so grateful that I found Lynn.  It is nice to be at a university whose primary interest is academic achievement and student success!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

West End Day School

We sometimes encounter young children who struggle in school for reasons that go beyond learning differences. For children whose emotional needs require a more supportive, therapeutic setting than mainstream schools -- or even most schools focused on learning differences -- can provide, West End Day School offers an important alternative for New York families.

We had the opportunity yesterday to visit this oasis of calm and support on the upper West Side of Manhattan, and were impressed by the school's approach and by the way we observed it being put into practice. Carrie Catapano, a licensed social worker and Head of School, explained that the students who were served by the school were those dealing with emotional vulnerabilities, perhaps brought on by a family crisis, separation issues, school phobia, or simply an inability to manage in a more stressful school setting. The school features a very small student body -- around 40 to 50 students at maximum -- and a highly individualized program with support for both the student and family. West End Day has a policy of keeping places for new students open so that it can offer admission to students who need this special setting at any point in the school year. As Ms. Catapano and Katy Meyer, MSEd, Education Head of the school pointed out, a student who is in need of the supportive, therapeutic setting of West End Day can't wait for the beginning of a school year for the kind of help he or she requires.

This focus on emotional and social needs does not come at the expense of academics. Extremely small classes, broken down by both ability levels and student readiness to learn in a classroom setting, employ Smart Boards in every room, and follow New York State Standards. Scientifically proven instruction methods geared towards each child's specific learning needs are employed in all academic areas. Although West End Day School is not on the list of schools for which New York will provide direct payment, the school will help parents find assistance with Carter funding to help them with tuition expenses.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Children's Books 2010

The New York Public Library has released the 2010 edition of its annual list of reading recommendations for children. The fantastic list of newly published books, Children's Books 2010: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, was compiled by a committee of librarians working in the branch libraries of the New York Public Library, and includes suggestions for a wide range of ages. 

View the complete list here, or as the NYPL says, "on-lion." 

Photo Credit: Luis Villa del Campo

Friday, December 3, 2010

Brain: The Inside Story at American Museum of Natural History

I just checked out the newest exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History here in New York, Brain: The Inside Story.

The exhibition is running now through August 14, 2011 and is definitely worth a visit. You enter the exhibition through a tunnel housing a stunning art installation of lights designed to replicate the firing neurons of a brain. This was definitely a “wow” moment that serves to pull you further into the exhibit. The exhibition includes images of brain scans, artistic interpretations of various elements of the brain, as well as a number of interactive components demonstrating how areas of the brain work. My family and I had fun attempting to trace a star while looking at our hands in a mirror, comparing our ability to read color words written in the same color as their meaning (e.g., “blue” written in blue) versus those that are not (e.g., “blue” written in red), and trying to replicate the pronunciation of words and phrases spoken in a variety of languages. The exhibition takes you through your “Sensing” brain, highlighting the 5 senses; the “Emotional” brain, comparing human emotions with those of other animals; the “Thinking” brain, examining language, memory, and problem-solving; the “Changing” brain, outlining human brain development from infancy though old age; and the “21st Century” brain, exploring where brain research and science are going. I was excited to find a number of connections to our work here at the Yellin Center, specifically, in their discussions of the various parts of memory, the links between memory and language, the role of attention and executive functioning, and the ability to actually strengthen areas of the brain, particularly memory.

The Museum also offers a number of upcoming programs to accompany the exhibition. We’re excited to check out “Brain Fest” on January 14!

Watch a video preview of the exhibition below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Historical Anniversaries

Today is the 55th anniversary of Rosa Parks' historic refusal to "move to the back of the bus" as directed by a City bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest for violating state segregation laws that required, among other things, for blacks to give up their seats to white passengers, led to a boycott of the Montgomery City buses that lasted more than a year and culminated in a U.S Supreme Court decision declaring that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional.

What does this important event in the civil rights movement have to do with educating students with learning and other difficulties? Plenty. It was the civil rights movement and the court cases that grew out of the movement, such as Brown v. Board of Education  that established the principles that all individuals were entitled to equal access to public services, including schools and transportation. Once that basic rule of law was settled, it laid the foundation for literally opening the doors of school houses to other victims of discrimination -- children with disabilities, who had often been denied access to public education.

It took way too many years for Congress to pass the predecessor legislation to what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was called Education for All Handicapped Children Act when it was passed in 1975. In the records of Congressional findings leading up to the 1975 law, it was determined that of the eight million children in the United States with disabilities (of all kinds), more than half were not receiving appropriate educational services and at least one million were excluded from school completely. From its earliest incarnation, 35 years ago this past week, the IDEA established the standards that must be applied to all children with disabilities -- the right to a Free, Appropriate, Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), based upon a student's individual needs (IEP).

So, the next time you are sitting at an IEP meeting, arranging the support services your child requires to help him or her deal with learning or other difficulties, take a moment to remember the people and events that led to a national realization that discrimination and exclusion of any of our citizens from public services is not permissible under our Constitution.