Monday, April 30, 2012

Book-Finding Websites

Here at The Yellin Center, many kids who are considered reluctant readers tell us that they like reading, if they can only find the right book. This caveat proves to be a frustrating challenge for both kids and their parents and teachers alike. The three websites below, however, may provide much-needed help in the search for that perfect next book. All three are easy enough for most children to use themselves and will allow kids and parents to make informed choices about their reading lists. Note that all three sites can search through titles for all ages, so children can use them to find books similar to The Hungry Caterpillar while parents can use them to decide what to read after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

What Should I Read Next? is about as no-frills as its name suggests. Type in the title of a book you enjoyed and uncover a list of recommended titles. The site allows users to link easily to Amazon where they can learn more about the books on the list and purchase them. Users should double-check recommendations before purchasing, as some of the results from this site can be a bit unusual. A search for titles like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie yielded many great choices, like Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patrician MacLachlan, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Mongomery, and All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor. Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs seemed a less relevant match, however.

YourNextRead is both user-friendly and visually appealing. Simply type in the title of a book you enjoyed and similar books will appear in a colorful diagram. Click on the image of a recommended book to read a brief description and reviews of the book, and if none of the suggestions are appealing (or if you’ve read them all), look for the More Books option at the bottom of the page to see even more suggestions. A search for books like James and the Giant Peach yielded The Fantastic Mr. Fox, also by Roald Dahl, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and many others. Hovering the mouse over the book will cause various thumbnail links to appear, allowing the user to easily find the book on Amazon, save it to a favorites list, email the title to a friend, preview sections of available books, and more.

Membership (free) is not required to useYourNextRead, but members can save searches and view their search history, so it may be worth the time it takes to sign up.

GoodReads works well for those looking for a spur-of-the-moment recommendation, but users who use it to record their reading may reap the biggest benefits. Nonmembers can simply visit the site, click on Recommendations, and start searching by genre. We clicked on “young adult” and found loads of titles appropriate for readers between the ages of 14 and 21. Descriptions of the books are easy to access: simply hover the mouse above the image of the book’s cover. A helpful text box on the right of the screen offered Related Genres such as Young Adult Fantasy, High School, and Coming of Age for further refining searches. And by scrolling down there were lists galore, with titles like “Most Read This Week,” “Best Creative Plots (w/ Love),” and “Best Young Adult Realistic Novels.”

As above, users don’t have to create an account to use GoodReads, but membership has great benefits. Members can enter and rate books they’ve read, and based on their preferences the site will recommend other similar books to them. Keeping such a record can be fun and rewarding for kids. Additionally, the site will save books in an “I want to read this” list for future reference.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Teen Reads

Teen Reads is an outstanding resource not only for teens, but for their teachers and parents as well. This website is a gold mine of book suggestions and reviews geared toward young people.

Users can sign up for the site’s monthly newsletter, or, for those who just can’t wait that long between installments, browse hundreds of book reviews and author interviews. Teens may enjoy participating in polls, which will allow them to compare their opinions and experiences with those of their peers around the country and world.

The site also features various contests for teens. For instance, entrants can submit their contact information for the chance to win the monthly Grab Bag, containing a selection of books. And for would-be authors, there are writing contests, too; for example, this month teens can submit a short story that puts a modern twist on a classic story for the chance to win an e-reader, gift certificates, and more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

3 Keys to Fostering Resilience in Children with LD and ADHD

Dr. Yellin recently contributed an article about a favorite topic of conversation here at The Yellin Center, resilience, to the newsletter of Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, a Connecticut-based non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the parents of children with learning disabilities and attention-deficit disorder.

Paul B. Yellin, MD, FAAP

In the article, Dr. Yellin writes: "So many of the children I see in my practice are their own harshest critics, exaggerating their weaknesses and diminishing their strengths. Helping children appreciate their strengths and talents is often the first step to resilient thinking."

Read 3 Keys to Fostering Resilience in Children with LD and ADHD here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Learning Difficulties in Students' Own Words

High school student Bryan Stromer has written a terrific piece in the New York Times/WNYC "SchoolBook" feature about his experience applying to top New York City public high schools. Bryan has a learning disability and cerebral palsy and was given twice the standard time to take the highly competitive exam that is required for entrance to the most demanding academic public schools in the City. He scored well enough to earn a place at the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School but decided to continue his high school career at the New York City Lab School where he had attended middle school. Why? Because there was only one special education teacher for more than 5300 students at Brooklyn Tech, the largest high school in the city, but where less than one percent of the students have special needs.

Another perspective from students with learning difficulties appears on the website Smart Kids with LD, where a piece by Sheryl Knapp includes the views of four middle school students who discuss some of the practical issues they deal with in their schools. Pull out supports, for example, sometimes interferred with the activities going on in their regular classroom. Most of the students noted that neither they nor their parents had sufficient input into the way their program was implemented.

If you have not yet read the book Learning Outside the Lines by Jonathan Mooney and David Cole, two Brown University graduates with learning and attention issues, you may find their perspectives and suggestions useful. What worked for them might not work for everyone, but they present their experiences in a very readable, entertaining format. This book has been around for a while, but it is a solid member of the "in their own words" genre.

Photo: Lichfield Live/Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, April 20, 2012

Support Services and Accommodations in Private Schools

An article in our most recent newsletter discussed how and when students are entitled to a publicly funded education in a private school. Even students enrolled in a private school by their parents have rights to special education services if they have an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from the public school district. Parents seeking such an IEP need to contact the public school district in which the private school is located. These services are funded from a different source than is available to public schools, but once a student has an IEP he or she can get at least some special education services, no matter where he or she attends school.

But not all students who need supports or accommodations (such as extended time on tests) have "disabilities" as defined by the IDEA. Sometimes students have learning or other issues that do not require special education services, but still need some additional support or more time to take their examinations. In a public school these students would receive such supports or accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), the federal law that applies to individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities (including learning, thinking, etc.). The problem for students in private schools is that Section 504 does not apply to private schools -- only to schools that receive federal funding (as do essentially all public schools, directly or indirectly).

So, what are the options for such students, who have real learning or other issues but who don't qualify for an IEP and can't get help from Section 504? For most of these students, the answer lies in the Americans with Disabilities Act. We don't hear much about this law for school age students, since most services and accommodations are provided by the IDEA or Section 504 for this age group. However, it most definitely applies to everyone, regardless of age, and requires that all aspects of a student's education be made accessible so long as the accommodations needed to do this are not an undue burden on the school. What does accessible mean here? It means that students who need extra time to complete their exams, or who need specialized software (such as voice-to-text or text-to-voice), or who need a scribe, or audiobooks,  should be provided with these items. It does not, however, mean that students are entitled to the kinds of services that even Section 504 provides for students in public schools. There is a discussion of the ADA and Section 504 on the website of the U.S. Department of Education.

One important consideration for students in religious schools is that all religious institutions, including religious schools, are exempt from the ADA. Since Section 504 does not apply to these schools either, students who do not have an IEP may not be entitled to accommodations unless the school elects to make them available.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Still Blogging After All These Posts...

This entry marks our 400th post to The Yellin Center Blog. We thought it would be a good time to remind our readers how to search for specific information or topics of interest that have appeared in past postings. There are several different ways to do this.

First, you can use the "search this blog" feature on the right-hand side of the page and enter the subject you are seeking.

You can also search by the date on which a posting appeared; recent postings are listed on the right hand side of the page under the heading "Blog Archive" and older ones are available by clicking on a particular month or year.

Finally, towards the bottom of the page is a list of tags. Each time we post a blog entry, we label it with descriptive tags to help our readers find it when they are seeking information about a specific topic.

So why after all this time do we still continue to blog? Haven't we said all there is to say? Honestly, we haven't. New information, research, news, and legal issues come at us from all sorts of sources and we learn an enormous amount as we digest this information and pass it along to our readers. It really is our privilege to have you take a moment several times each week to see what we are up to and to know that you are reading what we have written. We look forward to continuing to do just that.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Works Clearinghouse

Educational publishing is a business, much like any other, and the marketing materials for instructional programs that are designed for use by schools are filled with descriptive language that emphasizes the effectiveness of such programs. It can be difficult for schools, individual teachers, and parents to determine whether a program or approach is truly effective in helping children with specific learning needs. Understanding how a particular instructional approach works and whether it is effective is of crucial importance, particularly since the IDEA mandates that children receive instruction that is evidence-based. 

Fortunately, the "What Works" Clearinghouse, operated by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education provides educators, policymakers, researchers, and the public with information about "what works" in education. Since it began in 2002, it has had the goal of providing accurate, evidence-based information about instructional programs that are in use in our schools. It neither recommends programs nor offers lists of programs for particular educational needs. What it does do is assess the available research and provide a sense of whether a program is truly effective for the population and learning issue it targets.

When children who struggle with academics are provided with educational supports by their schools -- whether as part of a generalized support available for all students or through more extensive services provided under an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- parents are often advised that their child will be receiving instruction using a particular program or approach. By checking the Clearinghouse, they can see the research that supports the program their child will be using, find out where it has been shown to be effective, and note those areas where its effectiveness has not been demonstrated.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Assistive Technology Update

It has been a while since we wrote about our colleagues at CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology, and other groups working in the area of assistive technology. We were prompted to think again about this important subject when we received a notice of a teleconference for attorneys and advocates scheduled for Thursday, April 19th on how children with learning and other disabilities can obtain assistive technology under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

This program, jointly sponsored by The National Assistive Technology Advocacy Project (a project of Neighborhood Legal Services, in Buffalo, NY) and The Advocacy Center in New Orleans, LA features a presentation by Ronald M. Hager, Esq. Senior Staff Attorney for the National Disability Rights Network in Washington, D.C. The teleconference will deal with some of the most common questions that arise in connection with assistive technology -- things like whether a student can take home a device such as a laptop computer and who is responsible when the device requires repairs. There will also be time for questions. More information and a registration form are available online.

If you haven't checked out the resources provided by CAST for teachers, students, and parents, you may be surprised at their scope. In keeping with its mission to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning, CAST offers a number of learning tools, most of them at no charge. These include UDL Editions, classic texts made accessible to readers of all levels, and UDL Book Builder, which lets students, parents, and teachers create their own books. We are big fans of CAST (Dr. Yellin is a member of their Board of Directors) and of their work, which also includes professional development and research initiatives.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Teachers College Opens Academic Festival to the Community

On April 21st, Teachers College will host its fourth annual Academic Festival. This year’s offerings will center around the theme “Rewiring the Learning Landscape.” Various panels will explore technology and its effect on education and the world at large. Topics will include online communities, social media and adolescence, teaching financial literacy, and virtual access to art.

Though most of the day will focus on lectures and panels more appropriate for adults, there are opportunities for kids to have fun, too. For those with young children, WeBop is sure to please both you and your little one. Come learn about this early childhood jazz education program, designed for kids ages 8 months to 5 years. Families can learn about instruments used in jazz and explore the musical genre, as well as express themselves together through dance! (Watch the video below for more about WeBop.)

Kids ages 6 and up are also welcome to enjoy a cooking demonstration and food sampling hosted by nutritionist Pam Koch.

Visit the festival webpage for detailed information about the agenda and other useful information.

Monday, April 9, 2012

School Visit: Mary McDowell Friends School

Your blogger recently had a chance to visit the elementary school program at this private special education school located in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood in New York City and came away most impressed with what she saw and with the information provided by Deborah Edel, the Director of Admissions.

Mary McDowell Friends School began in the 1980's as a K-4/5 school and over the years has added grades and changed locations so that it now also has a middle school program for grades 6-8 in a separate building in nearby Carroll Gardens,  as well as a high school program in Brooklyn Heights that presently goes through 10th grade and is adding an additional grade each year.

Mary McDowell Friends School in Brooklyn

The students at Mary McDowell have a variety of learning issues, but the largest number are students with language based difficulties, ranging from dyslexia to expressive and receptive language disorders, as well as processing issues, including central auditory processing difficulties. A somewhat smaller number of students have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), primarily of the inattentive type. Mary McDowell would probably not be a good fit for students with major hyperactivity. The school also serves students with executive function difficulties and a small number of students with nonverbal learning disorders, including those who have issues with social cognition. Deborah Edel noted that learning difficulties seldom fit into neat categories and that some students have difficulties in more than one domain.

One of the aspects of the school that we found particularly appealing was its focus on the Quaker principles, called testimonies, reflected in the acronym SPICES: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship. The students at Mary McDowell come from all kinds of religious affiliations, but the Quaker values transcend religion and infuse the culture of the school with a sense of responsibility towards others, to the school community, and to the community at large. 

Mary McDowell is not on the "approved" list maintained by New York State and families who seek public funding for tuition (now $49,000 per year) will need to seek reimbursement from their public school district.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Build Vocabulary and Background Knowledge with Podcasts

In an earlier post about building vocabulary, we wrote that reading widely is the best way to build new vocabulary. Words encountered in context are more likely to become part of a person’s vocabulary. Seeing a word is generally preferable to simply hearing it. However, today’s students seem to have particularly packed schedules, and they may have difficulty squeezing in non-required reading. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of podcasts on the rise that can expose students to great language, and great ideas, on the go.

Some of our favorite podcasts, all available for free download via iTunes (as well as other providers), are listed below. The average high school student and many inquisitive, thoughtful middle school students should be able to benefit from them. Parents should be sure to preview episodes if they have concerns about the ideas or language used; although two of the three are broadcast on National Public Radio, their target audience is composed primarily of adults. All three offer fascinating discussion of relevant topics, and can be enjoyed while a student is washing dishes, going for a jog, cleaning his/her room, or commuting to and from school or a practice, rehearsal, or tutoring session.

Enriching, Entertaining Podcasts

A surprisingly entertaining podcast about science.

Weekly episodes share enriching stories about the week’s theme.

Stuff You Should Know
Provides investigation of fascinating, universal questions, like “Is it possible to control your dreams?”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reading Beyond Books to Build Vocabulary

Studies repeatedly show that the best way to build vocabulary is through exposure to new words, and the best way to find new words is to read. People who read a lot, especially if they choose texts that span topics and genres, will encounter new words more frequently. Paired with the context provided by sentences and paragraphs, new words are more likely to stick than they are if studied in isolation or accompanied only by a definition on a flashcard.

Students averse to reading may balk at the idea that reading is the best way to improve their vocabularies. However, reading novels is not the only way to expose their minds to new vocabulary. There are an abundance of valuable reading options available that go beyond chapter books. Newspapers, for example, are a great way to pick up new vocabulary. Most newspapers are written at a level accessible to students in middle and high school, and the variety of topics covered throughout the various sections mean that there will almost certainly be something to interest just about anyone in an issue. (It should be noted that engagement is critical; an unengaged reader is unlikely to maintain the level of focus needed for vocabulary acquisition, so students should read about topics that genuinely interest them.)

Magazines can also make for great, educational reading. Check out some of the following options for:

Upper Elementary and Middle School

High School

  • Teen Voices– substantive magazine for teenage girls
  • Cicada– literary magazine for middle and high school students
  • Teen Ink– online magazine containing fiction and non-fiction on a variety of topics
  • Upfront– news magazine for teenagers published by the New York Times
  • Time/Newsweek – written on a level most high school students can understand
  • – tips on money management, career options, college, etc.
  • NextStepU – college and career advice

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

School Law Institute

Yesterday's annual School Law Institute, sponsored by the Practicing Law Institute, covered a number of topics of interest to the attorneys, advocates, and school employees in attendence -- and should be of interest to parents as well. Not covered by the program, but very much a feature of the day, was the new format in which the conference was conducted, with each participant having an iPad at their seat, set up to provide the course materials, PowerPoint presentations, and course evaluations at the touch of a button. This is the kind of experience some of our children have in their iPad powered classrooms, and it was fascinating to see how this group of professionals, who ranged from their twenties through grey-haired seniors, handled this technology.

One topic covered at length was manifestation determination, the process by which a school is required to look at a student facing long term suspension (10 days or more, or a combination of shorter suspensions which add up to ten days or more) to determine if the student's conduct is connected to a disability. For example, if a student who has been classified as having an emotional disturbance and has an IEP in place is facing a suspension for fighting, the school is required to convene a meeting to determine whether the student's behavior was a manifestation of his disabilty. If so, his IEP team needs to immediately put in place appropriate measures to address this problem behavior and set up a behavioral intervention plan (or modify the one he may already have), so that the issues that triggered the fighting are included. This does not mean that students with IEPs cannot get suspended from school. Just that before that happens, the school needs to take a look at the student's disability and determine whether his IEP is doing a sufficient job of helping the student to deal with his areas of difficulty. These rules apply to public, charter, and state approved non-public schools, but not to other private schools.

Another presentation, by former Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York, Elisa Hyman, Esq. focused on the disparities in how affluent families and those without means fare when dealing with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is more difficult for families who do not speak English, who do not know how to go about finding legal representation, or who cannot lay out tuition for a private school to avail themselves of the benefits of the IDEA. Ms. Hyman and her colleagues are working to use the attorney fee provisions of the IDEA to obtain services and an appropriate education for students who might not otherwise receive the free, appropriate, publicly funded education contemplated by the law.