Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Shining a Light on NYC Special Education Crisis

Anyone dealing with special education laws in New York City -- parents, attorneys, teachers, schools, and hearing officers -- knows that this is a system in crisis. Too few hearing officers, extensive delays, even too few hearing rooms (all of which are located in often inconvenient downtown Brooklyn) are just a few of the issues apparent to those who are seeking legal intervention to obtain the services and setting that children with disabilities are entitled to under law, specifically, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Now, thanks to a report prepared by an outside consultant, Deusdedi Merced of Special Education Solutions, LLC, and made public by The City, the full extent of the problems with this system and how these problems impact students and families is being made clear. The report was initially commissioned in early 2018 by the New York State Department of Education and the consultant was charged with examining the policies, procedures, and practices relating to impartial hearings in New York City. According to Mr. Merced, a well-regarded attorney who has served in roles in all aspects of the special education system in New York, D.C., and elsewhere, delays in completing this report were "directly attributed to actions taken by the New York City Independent Hearing Office and/or New York City Department of Education."

When the 49 page report was issued on February 22, 2019 it was only released after a public document disclosure request by The City was granted. The news of the report with a link to its contents appeared in yesterday's edition of The City.

In addition to the discussion of the report in The City, there is another piece about the report, its findings, and the current state of special education proceedings in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Both news reports make for a quick and concerning read. The report itself is dense with information, but some crucial findings include:

  • New York State has almost as many due process complaints (the initial step to contest an issue under the IDEA) filed each year as the next six largest states combined; 90 percent of these are filed in New York City.
  • Logistical issues abound:  On an average day there are 122 hearings scheduled but there are only 10 hearing rooms. Hearing rooms often lack sufficient furniture and are poorly ventilated.
  • Hearing officers are poorly compensated and there are frequent recusals. There are insufficient hearing officers for the number of matters. Hearing officers are appointed without anyone checking on their availability (few do this as a full time career).
  • Failure to use uncontested methods -- mediation - or to keep students in their current uncontested placements adds to the burdens on the system. 
The report urges prompt action -- by both NY City and NY State -- to keep this vital avenue for parental redress open and functioning. We hope someone is listening.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Calling In" to Build Classroom Tolerance and Learning

We are living in an era when statements that are racist, sexist, cruel, or just ignorant or unkind, are no longer given a pass in our society -- and that's a real step towards making a better world. But "calling out" people who make such offensive statements can often involve harsh language and humiliation. And when an inappropriate (or worse) statement is made in a classroom setting, it is important that teachers respond in a way that not only challenges or corrects the statement, but also educates the speaker and the listeners.

An excellent discussion of a technique for handling such situations in a classroom appears in an article by Loretta J. Ross in the Spring issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine - "Speaking Up Without Tearing Down". Ms. Ross proposes that when teachers are faced with language or an argument that is wrong or offensive, that rather than "calling out" the student, that the teacher "call in". As she explains, 

"Calling in is speaking up without tearing down. A call-in can happen publicly or privately, but its key feature is that it’s done with love. Instead of shaming someone who’s made a mistake, we can patiently ask questions to explore what was going on and why the speaker chose their harmful language. 

"Call-ins are agreements between people who work together to consciously help each other expand their perspectives. They encourage us to recognize our requirements for growth, to admit our mistakes and to commit to doing better. Calling in cannot minimize harm and trauma already inflicted, but it can get to the root of why the injury occurred, and it can stop it from happening again."

Ms. Ross makes clear that calling in is not for every situation. She notes that when people use bigotry, fear, or lies to hurt others, that they should be called out for such speech or conduct. But she explains that a classroom is a special setting, where mistakes and misunderstandings need to be acknowledged and opportunities for learning abound. She gives a number of examples as to how a teacher can begin "a call in conversation" to address offensive or ignorant statements, and to educate and enlighten his or her students. Her examples include:

  • “I need to stop you there because something you just said is not accurate.”
  • “I’m having a reaction to that comment. Let’s go back for a minute.”
  • “Do you think you would say that if someone from that group was with us in the room?”
  • “There’s some history behind that expression you just used that you might not know about.”
  • “In this class, we hold each other accountable. So we need to talk about why that joke isn’t funny.”
This article should be required reading for every educator -- and everyone who lives or works with others. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Skip-Counting – The Threes & Sixes, Plus a Game

Today's post winds up our "From the Trenches" series by Colorado classroom teacher and former Yellin Center Learning Specialist Beth Guadagni. In Beth's prior posts, she explained how our brains learn math facts and how she uses songs to help her students -- all of whom have dyslexia -- learn the fours multiplication facts.

Our last post gave background and instructions for teaching multiplication facts for four and eight. Using different songs, Beth explains how the same techniques can be used to teach the math facts for threes and sixes.

Skip-Counting by Threes

“Three” is repeated three times to get the rhythm to work out. We add “and thirty-six” at the end in the same way people add “and many more” to the “Happy Birthday” song. Jazz hands, while optional, are highly recommended.

Row,                   row,                      row                      your                     boat,

Three,                 three,                   three,                   six,                        nine

Gently                down                    the                       stream,

Twelve,               fifteen,                   

Merrily,             merrily,                   merrily,                 merrily,

Twenty-one                 Twenty-four                   Twenty-seven

Life is but a dream.

Thirty   thirty-three

…and thirty-siiiiix!

Skip-Counting by Sixes

Happy                birthday                to                     you,

Six                      twelve                    eighteen          twenty-four

Happy                birthday                to        you,
thirty                  thirty-six               forty-two

Happy                birthday               dear           [name]

Forty-eight               and                 fifty-four

Happy                birthday                 to you!

Sixty                   sixty-six                 seventy-two!

Game: Domino Draw

To give students practice applying skip-counting sequences to real math problems.

Materials for the game:
A set of dominos, turned face-down or in a bag.
If you don’t plan to play long enough to go through a whole set of dominos, use a timer so that students play for a set amount of time. Be sure, once it goes off, that everyone has had the same number of turns.
There are two variations here.

1. To target the sequence students are learning:
On his turn, each player draws a domino at random. He adds the number of dots on the domino, then multiplies that number by the sequence you’ve been practicing. For example, if his domino had 11 dots on it and you were practicing the threes, he’d get a product of 33 and earn 33 points.

2. Once students have learned all the sequences, try this variation:
On her turn, each player draws two dominos at random. She adds the number of dots on each domino, then multiplies them together. For example, if one domino had four dots on it and the other had twelve, she’d get a product of 48 and earn 48 points.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Skip-Counting by Fours ... And a Multiplication Game

In her last post, Colorado teacher Beth Guadagni shared the concepts behind one of the methods she uses to  help her students (all of whom have dyslexia) learn number sequences. As part of her advice "from the trenches" we share the specific techniques that she uses in teaching them to work with fours, getting them ready to do multiplication and division. 

To help students memorize number sequences that will help them with multiplication and division.

First, make sure the students know the song. I like to start with the fours and use "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"  because the rhythm of the song fits perfectly with the number sequence, which is not always the case. Don’t try to teach the whole song-number connection at once! I usually like to start with the first five or six numbers, or the first two lines. In this case, the song breaks nicely after 28.

1. Write out the numbers from 4-28. Sing the first line and then ask the students to repeat it. Do this a few times.

2. Next, ask the students to close their eyes. Cover a number, then ask them to open their eyes. They should sing the line, filling in the missing number when they get to it. Do this a few times, covering different numbers each time.

3. Once they seem to be comfortable, add the next line of the song and repeat the procedure.

4. Cover or erase all of the numbers in your chosen lines and sing through them with the students once or twice.

5. Ask students to write the sequence as far as they’ve learned it.

For additional reinforcement, I like to hand out a sheet on which I’ve written the sequence they’ve learned a few times. Each time, it is missing more and more numbers. They have to complete the sequence by filling in the missing numbers, then cover the top part of the sheet when they’re ready to tackle the next, more challenging section. At the end of the sheet, they have to write the whole thing from memory. I also like to include a few multiplication and division problems from that family that they have to solve, using the memorized sequence to help them. They are not allowed to peek at the sequences from the top of the sheet unless they’re really stuck!

Teach the whole song, bit by bit, this way until you’ve taught the whole thing.

Take            me              out                    to the                     ballgame, 

Four          eight            twelve                sixteen                    twenty 

Take me out                to the crowd, 

Twenty-four               twenty-eight 

Buy me some                 peanuts and                      cracker-jacks, 
                             Thirty-two                      thirty-six                          forty 

I don’t care                           if                           I ever get back…. 

Forty-four                   and                            forty-eight

Once they’ve memorized the song, there’s one more part to add: students have to count on their fingers while they sing it. (I allow my too-cool high school students to keep their hands on their laps, as counting on hands that are held in the air feels babyish to some of them.) This is essential if they’re going to use the song to solve math problems.

Each time they say a number, they have to hold up another finger, so that by the time they get to, say, “thirty-six,” they are holding up nine fingers and will know that thirty-six is the answer to four times nine. This is trickier than it sounds. At first, when they have to both sing and track on their fingers most kids lose their place in the sequence. To practice this skill, we sing the song until I call out “Stop!” and students have to write down the last math fact they sang. For example, if I stopped them right after they said “twenty-four,” they should have six fingers extended and so they’d write “4 x 6 = 24.”

Why This Works:
Songs are incredibly powerful mnemonics. Most students seem to remember tunes easily, and this prompts them to recall the number that goes along with each change in tone and matches the number of syllables for that particular line. Students see the number sequence while they are hearing the sequence and the song, meaning that they store the information in several formats in their memories. Eventually, they count on their fingers while singing as well, adding a tactile element. Teaching the song in segments is quite important, too; as with any new skills, students must demonstrate mastery before they can tackle new material.

Once students have gained some comfort with skip-counting, you may want to introduce a game to help reinforce their skills. My kids like the card game "War".

Game: Multiplication "War" 

To give students practice applying skip-counting sequences to real math problems.

Materials for the game:

One or two decks of cards (Use two decks shuffled together if you’re playing with three or more students)
  • Ace = 1
  • Jack = 11
  • Queen = 12
  • King =0

Because War can take ages to wrap up, I often set a timer for around seven minutes while my students play, and the winner is the one with the most cards when their time is up.

There are two variations here.

1. To target the sequence students are learning:
Each player lays down a single card, face-up. They have to multiply the card by the sequence you’ve been practicing and say the product aloud. The player with the highest product keeps the cards from that round.

2. Once students have learned all the sequences, try this variation:

Each player lays down two cards at once. The player with the highest product gets to keep all the cards from that round.

If two players get the same product, they lay down two cards face down, then use a second pair to get the tie-breaking product.

Why This Works:
Students who aren’t focused don’t learn well, and games keep kids engaged in the learning task. This game is fast-paced enough to ensure that students have to use the skip-counting sequences they’ve learned many times during the allotted interval.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Strengthening Paired Associate Memory with Song

We are continuing our series of posts by Beth Guadagni, who shares the strategies she uses teaching her students with dyslexia in Colorado. 

Like many students, mine have struggled to learn their math facts. Automaticity with the multiplication tables is essential for math far beyond simply multiplying numbers; students use multiplication when working with fractions, doing long division, calculating area and volume, and in so many other applications that it seems rather silly to try to list them!

Perhaps most importantly: students need to have a sense of multiplication to determine whether a solution to a math problem makes sense. As Dr. Yellin will tell you, memorizing math facts involves a particular part of memory called paired-associate memory. Paired associate memory involves linking and storing two related data bits, retrieving one piece of information when presented with the other piece (eg., a sound with a symbol, or the number 28 when presented with 4x7).

Paired-associate memory is what we use when we learn someone’s name, remember that the color of the sky is called “blue,” pair the /ch/ sound with a "c" and an "h" together, etc. There’s no immediate context for these associations (although savvy students and educators can invent contexts to make information “make sense”); they just have to be memorized. Paired-associate memory is generally not a strength for dyslexic students, like mine, although people who don’t have dyslexia may struggle with this skill as well.

I learned skip-counting songs from a colleague and was amazed by the ease with which her fifth graders learned the number sequences. I was eager to try this concept in my class, but I was a bit apprehensive, too. Would my high school students be willing to sing strings of numbers to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “The Wheels on the Bus”? The answer was a resounding “yes!” Although they were a little hesitant at first, my students were as pleased as I was that they could commit number sequences to memory with only a little practice. In fact (and this is true), one day one of my students, frowning darkly, exploded, “I’m really mad that I made it to eleventh grade before anyone taught me this!”

I’m going to spread the sequences over a few posts, which also is what one should do when teaching these songs. I’ll share a game for practicing math facts in each post, too. Learning the songs is important, but it’s not enough; one has to practice using the sequences to answer actual math facts, too. We'll present detailed instructions on how to use this technique in your classroom in our next post, but you can get a sense of how this process sounds from this YouTube video, posted by another teacher who used this technique.