Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Treasure Trove of Resources

What if you could find the best educational resources, vetted by experts, and based on the latest research -- all free, in one place, and focused on the needs of students and families like yours? You can, right on our own Yellin Center website.

We've always offered a website section with links to Resources, but over the past few months, our team of learning specialists has spent some time expanding and updating our hundreds of listings and we want to shine a light on what we think is an excellent starting place for families seeking information.

Our offerings include educational gamesreading, and fourteen other categories, with dozens of links in each. The best way to get a sense of the links and listings -- each of which has a brief review or description -- is to scroll through them. We think you'll find them helpful. And we hope you will let us know if you do.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Top Five Resources for Special Education Teachers

There is an abundance of exceptional, well researched literature out there for teachers who work with diverse students to draw from. However, I find that there are a select few texts that I refer back to regularly for clarification, insight or strategies. I have culled and whittled down my bookshelf to my top five picks, and described the merits of each text:

1. Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today's Schools (7th Edition) by Ann Turnbull, Rud Turnbull, Michael L. Wehmeyer and Karrie A. Shogren

Exceptional Lives provides a detailed, robust description of the different disability categories and federal special education laws. This excellent text is a foundational "read and return to" resource for any teacher working with diverse learners. Throughout the text, the authors use the framework of three guiding themes: Inclusion, Partnerships, and Universal Design for Progress.
2. Assistive Technology in the Classroom: Enhancing the School Experiences of Students with Disabilities by Amy G. Dell, Deborah Newton and Jerry G. Petroff

This text discusses how assistive technology can be used to achieve the ideals of universal design for learning and differentiated instruction. The authors do not focus on disability categories; they reject one-sized fits all approaches by focusing on providing strategies and tools for specific needs. However, technology is changing rapidly and any book written about technology can become obsolete quickly. Thus, one of the merits of this resource is that the text comes with an accompanying website that the authors update with new tools and advancements in the latest research. 

This practical text describes the underlying principles of universal design for learning (UDL), and details tangible ways to use UDL to meet the needs of diverse students across age levels. This book has the power to equip teachers with the skills required to develop classroom goals, assessments and learning materials that use UDL. The book is cross curricular and provides examples and strategies for reading, writing, science, mathematics, history, and the arts. 

4. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD

Although traditionally a parenting book, the principles of The Whole Brain Child are equally as valuable for teachers working with diverse learners. The book is a simple, practical resource that features twelve strategies for helping kids thrive in the face of common childhood challenges. The text hinges on the current medical and psychological understanding of child cognitive development and describes how a child’s brain is wired. The book explains how to use the understanding of a child’s brain to promote pro-social behavior in children. Drs. Siegel and Bryson also publish the The Whole-Brain Child Workbook: Practical Exercises, Worksheets and Activities to Nurture Developing Minds to help educators and parents deploy the twelve strategies.

5. Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD

Often learners with special needs struggle with the important executive functioning skills required to sustain focus, follow directions, complete tasks and regulate their impulses. Smart but Scattered is a great resource for both parents and teachers to help children learn the important skills of organization, time management, problem solving and coping with their emotions. The book provides simple assessment tools to help evaluate your students' strengths and challenges accompanied by activities and strategies to help build their deficient skills.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Happy 25th Anniversary to the ADA

We realized we have been blogging for a long time when we sat down to write about the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) upcoming on Sunday, July 26th – and found our post from five years ago, on the occasion of the ADA’s 20th Anniversary.

As we noted then, the ADA was signed into law by President George H. Bush on July 26, 1990, as a latecomer to the legislative initiatives that grew out of the civil rights laws of the 1960’s. For example, the predecessor legislation to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (which took the name we now shorten to IDEA in 1991) first became law 40 years ago as the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Likewise, Section 504, the law that families of school age children may encounter because it also provides services and plans for students with disabilities, is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The ADA is a much broader law than IDEA or Section 504, but does not provide the depth of services on which school aged students and their parents rely.

 For example:
  • The ADA applies to all individuals, not just school-aged students, as does the IDEA. 
  • The ADA applies to all kinds of settings – workplace, transportation, and all kinds of schools. Section 504 only applies to businesses and other entities that take federal funds and thus generally does not apply to private schools. 
  • Unlike the IDEA (but just like Section 504), the ADA applies to a very broad array of disabilities. The IDEA requires that a student fit within a specified list of disabilities. 
  • However, the ADA only requires accommodations. It does not provide for services or require that students get “FAPE” – a Free, Appropriate, Public Education – as do the IDEA and the parts of Section 504 that apply to school age children. 
It is important to keep in mind that even students who receive services or accommodations under the IDEA or Section 504 are also covered by the ADA. But, because the accommodations it requires are not sufficient for most students, it is generally not used when providing educational or other supports for students with disabilities up through 12th grade. Testing organizations, such as the College Board and the ACT, are covered by the ADA, as are colleges. Students transitioning from high school to higher education or the workplace – where the IDEA and the student-specific sections of 504 no longer apply – should become familiar with the ADA, since that will determine the accommodations to which they may be entitled.

As President Obama noted in remarks earlier this week, “Thanks to the ADA, the places that comprise our shared American life — schools, workplaces, movie theaters, courthouses, buses, baseball stadiums, national parks — they truly belong to everyone.” It's something to be celebrated.

Monday, July 20, 2015

No Surprise Here: Parental Involvement Correlated with Student Achievement

Sometimes researchers devote a lot of time and resources toward “proving” something that seems like plain common sense. A recent meta-analysis (that is, a study that examined the findings of lots of different experiments to search for patterns) certainly seems to fit that trend; it determined that parental involvement is positively correlated with student achievement. The meta-analysis synthesized findings from 37 recent studies carried out in kindergartens and primary and secondary schools.

This finding hardly seems newsworthy, but the study turned up a few interesting points. For example, parental models most linked to high achievement were those in which parents supervised children’s learning activities in a general way. In other words, parents were present and involved without being too domineering. Additionally, parents with high-achieving children set high academic expectations for their kids, communicated with them frequently about school activities, and helped them to develop good reading habits.

To us, this balanced approach to parental involvement feels not only achievable but also authentic. The study indicates that being Super Mom or Super Dad isn’t necessary or even beneficial. Instead, being present while allowing kids to learn and explore, telling them you know they can do well in school, asking questions about their schoolwork, and reading together all seem to help youngsters thrive in their classrooms.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Play’s the Thing

Most people have clearer memories of something they experience than of something they hear or see. Episodic memory, or memory for experiences, is an important part of long-term memory that savvy parents and educators use as much as possible to improve learners’ recall of important material.

This topic probably brings hands-on science experiments to mind, but experiential learning has its place in language arts, too. Allowing children to act is a lot of fun, but it can also help them remember new words, recall events in stories, and understand plots and character motivations in new ways.

Acting and Vocabulary
  • Studies show that children, especially English Language Learners, understand and recall new vocabulary words more easily if they act out the new words while learning them. It’s easy to act out a word like “slumber” or “skip,” but some words require a little more imagination. For words like “perplexed” or “humble,” remember that facial expressions can go a long way. When defining a new word, act out the meaning and encourage the child to mirror your actions. Later, say the word and ask them if they can remember the motions.
  • If you’re looking to move vocabulary practice beyond flashcards, try vocabulary charades. One by one, players secretly choose a word from a previously studied list, then act it out without using words. Whoever guesses the word correctly gets to act next.
Acting and Literature

Performing stories can be great fun for students, and it also helps them to think actively about the plot because they are experiencing the events firsthand. There are a number of ways in which students can act out what they read.
  • The simplest way to act out a story or a scene from a story is to assign parts after kids have listened to the story (ideally more than once) and ask them to act it out from memory. Reassure actors that they do not need to remember their lines verbatim; paraphrasing is fine. Even shy kids will enjoy participating if given non-speaking roles; most books have plenty of these and they are often critical to the plot. Allow kids a rehearsal before they run through it more smoothly a second time. This can be a particularly interesting exercise for books in which the characters’ lines are not spelled out. If a book contains a scene that describes a conversation without actually documenting the words used in the conversation, for example, challenge students to make up lines that reflect what was probably said.
  • Readers’ Theater is an excellent format in which to read stories that have lots of dialogue. It does require some preparation on the part of the adult, though, as scripts with characters’ lines (drawn straight from the text) need to be typed up. An adult should present scripts to elementary-aged readers. Those working with middle or high school students, however, might put students into groups and assign each one a chapter; the students can be assigned to write their own scripts together, and a whole book can be performed in this way!
  • Got a single student on your hands? Provide him with figures such as Legos or dolls so that he can play all the parts. We are particularly fond of Playmobil for this purpose because sets come with so many props.

Artwork courtesy:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Stressed Out? Lucky You.

We’ve written before about the positive impact some stress can have on test-taking. Now, recent research adds even more reasons to be at least a little grateful for looming deadlines or long to-do lists.

According to Dr. Salvatore Maddi of the University of California Irvine, people who understand that stress is inevitable tend to perform best under stress. Those who try to avoid it, on the other hand, are not only fighting a losing battle, they are setting themselves up to let stress get the best of them. Stress is not just a necessary unpleasantness, though. Stress is actually an opportunity: it can help us learn and grow.

According to Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., a psychologist at Stanford and author of The Upside of Stress, our bodies release both nerve growth factor and a stress-recovery hormone called DHEA when we experience stress. Both of them increase neuroplasticity, priming our brains to learn from our experiences. Interestingly, undergoing stressful situations helps inoculate people for future, similar stresses; this explains why realistic training situations help prepare Navy SEALS or why seasoned emergency room doctors can keep their cool in the most chaotic of situations. 

Understanding stress can help make the difference between being paralyzed and empowered. Researcher Alia Crum tested this out with a group of students at Columbia Business School. Both groups underwent a stressful interview. First, though, half of the students watched a short video about how stress can improve performance. The other half watched a video that described the negative effects of stress. Sure enough, the group that watched the positive video actually released more DHEA during the interview, setting them up to be enriched (instead of crushed) by the experience.

To learn more, watch Dr. McGonigal’s TED Talk on this topic:

Appreciating the benefits stress can have on our ability to improve and learn may not make you feel thrilled when you’re totally swamped. But we hope it feels like a silver lining.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Summer Skills Building: Phonics

Today's post continues our occasional summer series on fun ways to build academic skills during the summer.

It’s hard to blame kids when they groan at yet another phonics worksheet. Workbooks can be important skill builders, but they’re not the only way to reinforce phonics skills. Make it fun (especially in summer!), and kids will argue when it’s time to stop instead of when you ask them to start! One way to do this is with a nearly endlessly adaptable game we developed called Phonics Toss.

You can set this up to practice with lots of different phonics skills, but we’ll imagine you want your child to practice the long a sound for the sake of this explanation.

  • several sheets of paper and a marker
  • something to toss that won’t roll, such as a poker chip, a coin, or a popsicle stick
  • a roll of masking tape (optional)
  • a list of words. You can also make up words as you play!
  • Isolate whichever sounds you want the player(s) to focus on. (See the end of this post for some more suggestions if you’re not sure where to start.) There are three primary ways to spell the long a sound in words, so write “ay,” “ai,” and “a_e” in large letters on separate sheets of paper. Lay them on the floor.
  • Optional: designate a line or make one with masking tape so no one gets too close to the letters when throwing.
  • If there are multiple players, ask them to decorate their marker somehow. They can draw on a popsicle stick, choose a sticker to place on a coin or poker chip, etc.

The adult should start each round by saying, “The 'a' sound in” and then saying a word with a long a sound such as “chain,” “state,” or “play.” Staying behind the line, players should toss their marker at the paper with the correct letters on it. Markers that land on the correct paper earn a point. The adult in charge can offer a reward if a certain number of points are reached, or eliminate scoring to play for fun.

Other Sounds and Letters to Practice (in order of difficulty):
  • Number of syllables (for this one, write numbers on the papers instead of letters)
  • Initial sound (e.g. words that start with f, g, or h)
  • Rhyming words (instead of writing letters, draw simple pictures on the papers like a cat, a man, and a sad face and call words that rhyme with “cat,” “man,” and “sad”)
  • Digraphs (e.g. /sh/, /th/, and /ch/)
  • Short vowel comparisons (e.g. short e versus short i)
  • Short vowels versus long vowels (e.g. short o versus long o)
  • All long vowel spellings (like our example above, but with e, i, o, and u)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Picture Books That Celebrate Latino Culture

Some of childhood’s earliest lessons come from the pages of books. Trips to the bookshelf can expose kids to new information and ideas and teach them vivid lessons about life, all without having to leave home. It is too bad, then, that most of the picture books children see and hear feature characters that look the same. Kids of color love reading books about diverse characters, but young readers of any race or ethnicity can benefit from picture books that value the experiences of non-white characters.

To diversify the reading list of children in your life, here are some picture books we love that feature Mexican and Mexican-American characters. Race and culture are major themes in some, while others are simply stories in which the characters’ ethnic background is not underscored. Some of the books contain Spanish words, which children will enjoy learning; others are bilingual so that the whole text is presented in both English and Spanish side-by-side. For extra fun, we recommend helping kids look for cognates, or words that are the same or almost the same in both languages, such as “diaro” and “diary” in My Diary From Here to There.

Our list is roughly organized from less sophisticated themes to more complex themes. We recommend reading these books to children below third grade or so.

Abuela by Arthur Durros

Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales

What Can You Do with a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla

My Abuelita by Tony Johnson

The Old Man and His Door by Gary Soto

I Love Saturdays y domingos by Alma Flor Ada

Dear Primo by Duncan Tonatiuh

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto

The Perfect Season for Dreaming by Benjamin Aliera Saenz

Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora

Alejandro’s Gift by Richard Albert

The Gullywasher by Joyce Rossi

My Diary From Here to There by Amada Irma Perez

Friday, July 3, 2015

Summer Skills Building: Vocabulary

It's summer and thinking about academic skills is not high on any student's "to do" list. But the slower pace of the summer months makes them an excellent time to build skills that will be helpful when school begins again. This summer we will be featuring several blogs that will be looking at ways to build skills, work on problem areas from the past school year, and get ready for the challenges that September will bring. Don't worry -- we know it's vacation time and won't be suggesting anything too rigorous. We hope that our suggestions can help your student have fun, build strengths, and start the new school year ready to tackle what lies ahead.

We have written extensively on building vocabulary, and our prior posts have included a number of tools that can enrich students' vocabulary at all levels, from computer games to books to the importance of talking to young children to build their skills. Take a look and see what might be helpful to your child.

We have a few more suggestions that you might want to have your student try: 
This computer-based program for grades K-12 teaches new vocabulary and definitions with audio and visual support. It also offers online games and activities to help reinforce the new vocabulary learned from the word lists.
This subscription service sends daily emails containing words selected for students in middle and high school. Students receive a daily email including the word, its definition, origin, and pronunciation, and several sentences containing the word. Students  should be encouraged to learn and use the new word regularly to gradually increase their vocabulary.
  • E Readers
Another way to build vocabulary is to do summer reading on an electronic book reader, such as 
Amazon’s Kindle. An eReader allows students to tap on an unknown word to easily access the precise definition without interrupting their reading. Keep in mind, however, that the kind of light emitted by EReaders can interfere with sleep, so they are not good choices for before bedtime reading.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Inclusive Classrooms Project: An Excellent Resource for Teachers

The idea of inclusion makes some teachers nervous. In the education world, inclusion means placing students with special needs alongside typically developing students so that they learn together. While most would agree that this arrangement sounds great in principle, teachers are often intimidated by the demands of serving kids with a diverse range of needs in one classroom.

Teachers College’s Inclusive Classrooms Project aims to support teachers in providing effective education for all populations. The developers of the project believe that students labeled “disabled” can participate in, and benefit from, general curriculum when provided with appropriate supports.

There are several ways teachers and administrators can benefit from TCICP’s work. For example, educators in the New York City area can arrange for on-site consulting or a workshop for their school, or visit one of the TCICP Demonstration Schools to see the model at work.

For those too far from New York to learn in person, the project’s website is an excellent resource. The Practices page provides teachers with ideas for incorporating tested techniques into their classrooms; topics include culturally relevant curriculum, positive behavior supports, technology, assessment, peer support, and multi-modality. All downloads are free. The Learning Library shares recommended titles, both print and digital, that teachers can consult for even more information.

Since both students with and without disabilities have been shown to benefit from inclusion, TCICP supports teachers in creating a win-win scenario.