Friday, February 27, 2009

RTI 2.0

RTI stands for Response to Intervention and is a wonderful system to catch kids early who are struggling in school, provide them with research-based interventions, and chart their progress. It is most frequently used with reading.

Tier 1 is the research-based instruction that all children recieve in their general education classroom in reading.

Tier 2 is for children who struggle a bit and are not meeting benchmark for their grade level. They may recieve extra help in a small group with research-based strategies.

Tier 3 is for children who don't respond to Tier 2 intervention and need a more intense intervention from a highly research-based program. This intervention occurs more frequently, for longer periods of time, and group sizes are often smaller than Tier 2.

I love RTI but it forget someone? What about kids who are far above benchmark when given the CBM 3 times per year? Do they just stay doing the same work as everyone else? Shouldn't they recieve extra challenges? Is it fair that they sit doing grade level work that is basically "busy work" and work they understand easily?

I propose that the RTI model should not be a pyramid but a diamond with two steps above and below grade level to require teachers to challenge all students regardless of ability or disability. This is something many teachers are doing on their own already but some may need to be kindly reminded.

How Students Really Learn: Instructional Strategies That Work

The book How Students Really Learn by Linda Henshall Wilson gives tips on how to teach students the way they learn best. While it's very basic, it does give some good tips. Here are my favorite tips from the book.

1. When you start out the year, have students determine the way they learn best by taking a learning modalities quiz such as the one found in RTI Success.

2. The part of the day where we experience the lowest energy is half way between the time we wake up and the time we go to sleep. For example, I typically wake up at 7 and go to bed at 11 so my low point is around 3pm. Plan the most important instruction before time when most of your students will experience low energy.

3. Bell work at the start of the day should be engaging, exciting, and get students excited for their day at school. Consider activities that include more gross-motor stimulation to get them moving a bit.

4. Students loose focus after about 20 minutes of sitting so give them a stretch break or do a hands-on activity that allows them to move around after 20 minutes of instruction. Another option is to take a brisk walk around the building.

5. Increase oxygen levels in your classroom by opening windows and/or having plants in the classroom.

6. Encourage students to drink water frequently throughout the day as well as munch on healthy snacks such as fruit, veggies, popcorn, and granola.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Person First Language

I have a tendency to email people employed by mass media companies when they do not use person first language. After emailing a well known online special education website about an error they made I recieved the following response:

I have been thinking about your letter. I basically agree with you and use people first language most of the time. As a person who has been in this field for a long time and a person with a learning disability myself, I am painfully aware of the problems that come from oppressive language.
However, the title "Tips for Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Child with a Learning Disability" seemed confusing and awkward when I wrote it. And we don't use people first language with other targeted groups- we say "woman" not "person who is female." When we talk about race, we say "black person" rather than "person who is black" and "white person" rather than "person who is white." In the English language, we usually put the adjective first and understand that it modifies a noun and doesn't define the person.
The history and experience of oppression for people who have disabilities is harsh, so I tend to agree with you. It's just that editorially it doesn't always work.
Your letter will make me think harder, however, the next time a similar situation arises.

Thank you for writing.
Mr. Yellow

My response is as follows:

Dear Mr. Yellow,

You do have an interesting point although I don't typically refer to people by the color of their skin either.

White, Female, Non-Disabled Person

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Summer Tutoring

This post is from summer but I'm just getting around to posting it now...
After summer tutoring, Jack increased his words read correctly per minute from 8 to 25 according to AIMSweb Oral Reading Fluency! This was the summer before his first grade year! Way to go Jack!!!

Bedtime Story

Here is a bedtime story read to me by the little girl I babysit- I've been watching her since she was 11 months old and now she's 4 1/2! Notice what a literary genius she is when she comes to a page with no words and doesn't read anything on those pages. How cute! What a great example of someone just starting to explore written language!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Building a Reading Brain: I

This is the first of many posts on the brain and reading. There is so much information out there it's overwhelming! Here's what I've learned so far reading Brain Literacy for Educators and Psychologists by Virginia W. Berninger and Todd L. Richards.

First of all, lets start off with why we need to know about the brain. This book brings up an interesting point by saying that teachers educate minds EVERY DAY yet learn nothing about the brain. The viewpoint of the authors is that "educational practice might also become more effective if grounded in a scientifically supported conceptual framework integrating neural, cognitive, linguistic, and developmental science rather than atheoretical pedagogical procedures."

I'd have to agree with them and express my frustration at the fact that the only place in the US to study more on this issue is Harvard which is very expensive and not accessible to all teachers. I feel that at least a very basic overview of cognitive neuroscience should be taught in every teacher prep program throughout the US. I guess the only option for those not able to go to Harvard is to teach themselves which brings me to this blog entry...

Reading and the Brain
With experience, dendrites grow and branch off forming new connections and creating a web of communication in the brain. Early intervention for reading is needed because 1) there is less emotional interference due to repeated failure and 2) it's easier to create new connections in younger children.

Different brain structures are specialized for different tasks however they all interact and have more than one job. When we teach students to read we are using brain structures that already have a purpose and training them for another job. This is great, but students must have the structures already developed and working properly at the first job before they can be cross-trained for another task. Another way to look at this is that teachers "remodel" the brains of their students.

As stated above, different brain structures are specialized for various tasks. During reading the auditory, visual, and vestibular senses interact and are re-trained for reading. Take vision for example; most children are adept at extracting visual features from things they see but when they learn to read they are taking this and creating a new job description- Written Word Visual Extracting Specialist. They now must use their visual skills for a new purpose.

Large print is often used for beginning readers not just to prevent them from being overwhelmed but physically, it helps eyes better track the words on the paper. Blue transparent overlays may also help in this area.

Finally, the most interesting thing I've read so far was the possibility that the vestibular sense may be frequently impaired in students with dyslexia. It was suggested by the book's authors that possibly pairing motion sickness medication with intense reading intervention may help a student's eye movements across a page of print and help with their reading difficulties. How fascinating!

Check back later for more information on reading and the brain. I'm trying to keep myself from being overwhelmed by the amount of information out there!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

One Laptop Per Child


A laptop for the same price as a textbook.

One company created a computer for $100 that can be purchased on and donated to children in developing countries all over world.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thought of the Day...

"Educational theory must be research-based, just as medical theory is."

-Kurt Fischer

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Relaxed Alertness

Why is relaxed alertness important?
Relaxed alertness is the brain's optimum state for learning. Children learn best when in a state of relaxed alertness.
What is relaxed alertness?
Relaxed alertness is when a learner is put into a state of being where they feel comfortable yet experience a high level of challenge. Experiencing relaxed alertness often starts out with students experiencing small successes, but after multiple successes- it becomes a way of thinking and learning that seems natural for the student. When relaxed alertness becomes a way of life for a student, it's actually easier for them to learn new things.
Students who experience relaxed alertness believe in themselves and always want to challenge themselves to be better than the day before. They also bounce back easily from failures; possibly because of their confidence based on previous successes. Finally, they take charge of their learning by setting goals for themselves and using strategies they've learned to help them be good problem solvers.
How can I help my students achieve relaxed alertness?
1. Give them frequent, specific, positive feedback on what they are doing well on in class. 5 positives to 1 corrective!
2. Help students set goals within your class and reward their progress towards a goal. For example, students practice fluency daily in our classroom. Once weekly they DIBEL'd and are shown their score and how it relates to the aim line drawn on their book. They know how they are progressing towards their goal. However I thought it would help them on their daily fluency reads to draw an aim line on the graphs they were using to record their daily scores. They are more motivated and are becoming very confident each time they exceed their goal!
3. Make your classroom a low-threat environment. Encourage students to take risks and let them know that it's OK to make mistakes- that's how we learn!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ultimate Research-Based Strategy!

Linking Prior Knowledge to New Knowledge!
I know linking my new knowledge to prior knowledge helps me learn new information so I try to have my students do the same in almost every lesson I teach! My AP Psychology teacher, Sandra Johnson, always said that we had to create more "hooks" in our brain. The more you know, the more you can learn, so why not try out this idea in your classroom to increase relaxed alertness and access prior knowledge!

What is the strategy?
Concept Anchoring Routine
Adams, G., Bulgren, J., Cornine, D., Davis, B., Deshler, D., Grossen, B., & Schumaker, J.
*(2001). Making learning easier: connecting new knowledge to things students
already know. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(4), 82-85.

Appropriate Grade Level: 1st-12th grade.


  1. Give students a pre-test on the new material you will be covering.

  2. Create scaffolded notes by splitting a word document into three columns and label the column from left to right "Prior Knowledge", "Both", "New Knowledge". Then create scaffolded notes for the prior knowledge you want them to recall, the similarities between the concepts, and the big ideas on the new concept.

  3. State objective for the day's lesson and introduce new concept.

  4. Name and describe what they are already experts on and fill in the "prior knowledge" column together as a class.

  5. Describe how this new concept is like the concept they are already experts in. Fill in both column as a class.

  6. At this point I usually take a break from taking notes and either have the kids explore the new concept to formulate their own ideas about it or will "Power Teach" the new concept.

  7. At the end of the lesson is when I will have them fill in the "New Knowledge" column of their notes. It's a great review and helps them form the big idea of the lesson in their brains.

How Can I Use This?

Concept Anchoring Routine in Action!

The following is a lesson I taught to a first grade student I was tutoring in math and reading during the winter of 2008.

Lesson Plan: Skip Counting by 5’s
Subject Area: Mathematics
Content Strand: IV. Number Sense and Numeration
Content Standard: Content Standard 1: Students experience counting and measuring activities to develop intuitive sense about numbers, develop understanding about properties of numbers, understand the need for and existence of different sets of numbers, and investigate properties of special numbers. (Concepts and Properties of Numbers)
Benchmark: Develop an understanding of whole numbers and read, write and count using whole numbers; investigate basic concepts of fractions and decimals.
GLCE: N.ME.01.01 Count to 110 by 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s, starting from any number in the sequence; count to 500 by 100’s and 10’s; use ordinals to identify position in a sequence, e.g., 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
Goals: By April 15, 2008; G.D. will increase correct number identification on the grade 1 number identification curriculum based measurement from 26 to 33 or more correct with fewer than 4 errors.

Lesson Objectives:
1. From memory, the student will demonstrate knowledge of skip counting by 5’s by counting to 100, starting at 5, within 20 seconds with 100% accuracy.
2. When presented with a concept anchoring table, the student will demonstrate comprehension of skip counting by 5’s by comparing and contrasting skip counting to counting by 1’s with 100% accuracy.

Materials and Equipment Needed:
Shower curtain separated into 100 squares with one number in each square (1-100).
1-100 Chart
Concept Anchoring Routine graphic organizer
Story Problem Picture
Clipboard or something hard to write on

Anticipatory Set:
What are the two rules we need to follow when we work together?
1) Follow directions 2) Pay attention
What happens if we follow these rules?

We are going to do math. I have a story problem for you. You have 3 friends and you want to give them each 5 pencils. How many pencils do you need? You may use the picture to help you find your answer.

Today we are going to talk about counting by 5’s. I know you already know how to count by 1. Counting by 1’s is like (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) can you keep going?

Nice job remembering! This sheet is one we are going to use during the lesson today to compare what we already know to what we will learn. Let’s write down what we know about counting by 1. What can you tell me about counting by 1? (Wait time) Do we count all numbers or do we skip some? (Wait time) Does it take a long time to reach a high number or a short time? (Wait time)

Presentation of Information:
Both counting by 1s and counting by 5s deal with numbers. We look at or say numbers when we count by 1s and when we count by 5s. Let’s write that down; what did I say is the same? Both use n_______ (numbers). Also, each is a way to count. Let’s write that down too, each is a way to c______.

Now we are going to learn how to count by 5’s. (lay out mat). What is written on this mat? How can we use it to count by 5’s? When we count by 5’s we do not count EVERY number, that would take a long time, we make counting quick by skipping numbers and only counting every 5th number. Let me show you (step on map). When we count by 5’s we do not start at one, we start at the 5th number, (walk) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 5 is the first number we start with when counting by 5’s. Circle number 5 on your chart. We will use this chart to show how to count by 5’s and will circle all the numbers we need to count. How will I find out what number comes next? I will count 5 more steps (walk) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I now landed on number 10, number 10 is the next number we count when counting by 5.
Take off your shoes, grab your paper and pencil and let’s find the next number we count when counting by 5’s and circle it on your sheet. (Continue until all numbers are found).

Independent Practice:
You're really working hard circling those numbers! Now let’s look back on your chart and read all the numbers we use when counting by 5’s. We will start with 5 (5, 10, 15, etc). Now let’s count by 5’s in an opera voice. Now let’s count by 5’s in a whisper voice. Now let’s count by 5’s quickly.

What is the same about all these numbers we counted? (wait time). Look at the end of each number, what two digits do they always end in? If the number we’re on ends in a zero, what digit will the next number we count end in?

Let’s write down what we know about counting by 5’s. When we count by 5’s do we skip numbers or say all numbers like we do when we count by 1’s. Does it take a long time or a short time to count to 100 when we count by 5’s? What two digits do the numbers have to end in when we count by 5’s?
If the number we’re on ends with a zero, what will the next number end with?

You have 3 friends and you want to give them each 5 pencils. How many pencils do you need? Lets try this problem again, can we find the answer a different way using what we know about counting by 5’s?

Not quite mastered
: Have student bring home their 100 chart and use it to count by 5’s 10 different times throughout their evening hopping up and down each time they say a number.

Nearly there: Tell student to find a parent or older sibling and a ball. Throw the ball back and forth counting by 5’s as you throw. Each time the ball is caught another number is said and if the ball is dropped, you must start ALL over! Play this game until you get to 110, 5 times.

In need of a challenge: Have student predict the numbers we’d count if we continued counting by 5’s to 200. Then, tell students to find a parent or older sibling and a ball. Throw the ball back and forth counting by 5’s as you throw. Each time the ball is caught another number is said and if the ball is dropped, you must start ALL over! Play this game until you get to 200, 5 times.

Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation:
I will ask her to count by 5’s at the start of every math lesson until she can reach 100 within 20 seconds.
I will also teach an additional lesson that is at a higher level of thinking to give her additional practice in counting by 5’s.

Friday, February 6, 2009


What does an "A" mean? Does an A mean that a child understands the material? We all know students who are very intelligent but so... lazy. Does their "D" in a class mean they don't know the material? What about students who struggle and only get 1 question correct on a 10 question quiz? The next week they get 3 questions correct. They have just increased their score from 10% to 30%- should this not be celebrated?!!

Grading is so tricky as people are fearful to stray from letter grades but here is an idea if you're open to a change. It's adapted from ideas included in this chapter of Fair Isn't Always Equal by Rick Wormeli. It's such an amazing book and one you'll want to add to your collection!

Make a list of all objectives you'll cover in a unit and list them all as you would assignments in your grade book in a separate space. Continue to maintain a regular grade book in case parents would like to see your data. Once you feel you have enough data to determine that a particular child has mastered an objective, check off that they have completed that objective in the grade book. At the end of the unit, count up total objectives mastered and divide by the total objectives for the unit. The result is their grade for the unit. All the regular grades you took were simply data to inform your decision- not to determine it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Creating Good Test Questions

Adapted from Fair Isn't Always Equal by Rick Wormeli

Choosing Questions

Often tests measure how well a student can take a test rather than how well a student has mastered material. Thus, tests should consist of traditional questions as well as non-traditional questions such as sketches, diagrams, real-life situations, etc. In addition, you should also have an equal balance between forced choice questions (multiple choice, matching, true/false, fill in the blank) with constructed response questions such as short answers, drawings, or charts/graphs. Having different options to demonstrate knowledge ensures that you are measuring knowledge of content rather than test taking abilities!


Good teachers are typically very efficient and able to get a large amount of work done to a high standard in a short period of time. They find ways to make things easier on themselves without sacrificing quality. Allow students the same curesy by setting up their test in a manner that is easy to read and quick to respond to. For example, next to true and false questions write "T F" and have students circle one. Another tip is to reduce page flipping- put needed information and questions all on one page. Also, don't make questions more confusing by adding the word "not" to the question. "Which is not a month: Monday, June, August, September?" This causes students to have to spend more time on those questions and many students misread them. For essay questions, make them clear and give bullet points with expectations for the writing following the prompt for students to check to make sure they followed directions. If they get the question wrong it's because they didn't know the answer, not because they didn't follow directions. Also, consider giving smaller tests over time rather than one large test. It will save you and your students a lot of time and the tests will be more meaningful. Finally, don't have more than two or three similar questions- no need to be redundant! We have so little time with students, let's not make the test take any longer than it needs to or make it any harder on students.

Closing Thoughts

Please don't give timed tests! No one ever has timed tests in real life- it's a school thing.

Assess student the way you taught them. Don't ask them to do things on a test that they have never done before.

Make tests fun by including students' names, famous people (Miley Cyrus often make an appearance), and real-life situations. Students score better on tests after laughter so make them chuckle in their seats with some great questions!

On another note: Please check out my professor's new book!

Ponderment of the Day...

Why does LD stand for learning disability? It should stand for learning difference?!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tiering Assignments

The following information is adapted from Chapter 5 of "Fair Isn't Always Equal" by Rick Wormeli

As we know our classrooms today are filled with diverse learners. In one classroom teachers have a variety of ability levels, learning modality preferences, multiple intelligences, and lifestyles. When we are tiering assignments and assessments we adapt them to the different needs in our classroom- most often ability levels. This is something that should be done very dramatically at the start of a unit but should slowly fade out so you are no longer tiering as everyone is achieving on grade level. Of course we can't always stop tiering, but it is the goal for the end of a unit.

There are so many fun ways to tier assignments/assessments and the following are some of my favorites!

Bingo or Tic-Tac-Toe Boards

Create a blank Bingo or Tic-Tac-Toe board and fill it with various assignment options. For full credit students must complete 3 (or 5) assignments in a row! I used this for spelling when I interned in 6th grade creating a Bingo board full of various ways to practice spelling according to the main learning modalities as well as research based strategies. Students had to complete 5 practice activities by Friday and have a parent/guardian initial the boxes.

I found another spin off of this idea while subbing in a 3rd grade classroom in Portage, Michigan. The teacher had a giant Tic-Tac-Toe outline on one of her boards and worksheets were taped on to the board. When students finished early they could choose a worksheet to work on and there was a prize for finishing 3 in a row!

Learning Menus
Learning Menus are very similar to Bingo/Tic-Tac-Toe boards and simply list a variety of assignments for students to choose from to meet the requirements of their teacher. I first heard about this strategy when I was in high school and was a tutor in Julie VanDyken's classroom in Jenison. She frequently used learning menus. Each assignment was worth a certain amount of points and each student had an individual point goal they had to reach by a specific due date. There was a variety of assignments to reach children with various multiple intelligences. It was a great system of tiering instruction!

Learning Contracts
Often times students are pulled off to the side in class and/or quietly given a different assignment than their peers. A learning contract is a great way to show students what is expected of them during this time. Learning contracts list the student's responsibilities, the teacher's expectations, the consequences for not living up to those expectations, rewards for working hard, as well as checkpoints/due dates.

Students create a cube from poster board. They then write one prompt on each side of the die: describe it, compare it, associate it, analyze it, apply it, argue for it or against it. A topic is given and questions are asked based on what they roll.

Popsicle Sticks
Pam Ide at Winchell Elementary in Kalamazoo writes general comprehension questions on colored Popsicle sticks. She will often assign students to choose a certain colored stick and write a response to the question on the stick. The sticks are color coded for various ability levels so a student who struggles may pick a purple stick while another student in need of an extra challenge may choose a green stick.

There are so many other great ideas for Tiering Assignments in this book as well! What ideas have worked for you?

Differentiated Instruction

Adapted from Fair Isn't Always Equal by Rick Wormeli
Chapter 1: The Differentiated Instruction Mind-set: Rationale and Definition
Using what we know about how the brain learns best is actually the best way to differentiate. YEAH- brain based research!

Classroom management gets easier in differentiated classrooms as students are all appropriately challenged and learning is maximized.

When we don’t differentiate we actually make things EASIER for students who struggle. It’s a lot easier for them to give up and not try because the task is so challenging for them. When work is differentiated they are challenged and must work much harder.

If we are testing students on material that was not differentiated, then the test is not even accurate of what they are able to do. They don’t have the tools to learn well.

Chapter 2: Mastery
Students who thought teachers and peers were focused on mastery and independent thinking scored higher on a district-wide curriculum-based test than students who thought their classroom was based on ability.

Evidence of mastery should include 1) multiple assessments and/or 2) tracking the progress of a few important works over time.

Chapter 3: Principles of Successful Assessment in the Differentiated Classroom
Teachers should always be concerned about where their students are at right now in their learning and how to get them to where they need to be.

Informal and formal assessment should be taking place 24/7.

Assessment should focus not on documenting deficiencies but on shaping instructional decisions.

A short pre-test should be given at the start of each unit before planning for the unit begins.

Nothing in adult life is kept a secret so don’t keep what’s on the test a secret either.

Prioritize unit objectives by categorizing them as essential, highly desirable, and desirable.

It’s ok to remove or change an essential objective for students who struggle but make sure they have a plan to get back on track and achieve that objective.

For students who are advanced, make sure they achieve the essential objective but don’t require them to put in the time practicing it if it’s already mastered.

To stay focused on the overall goals of a unit, write the test out before you even start teaching.

A unit should include a pre-tests, mini assessments throughout the unit, and a final assessment.

Providing students with specific, frequent feedback on their progress towards a goal increases their achievement by 37 percentile points!

More focus should be on the mini assessments in the middle of a unit than the beginning and end tests.

Assessments should 1) be similar to how students will apply their learning in the real world and 2) be similar to how they are learning in class.

Assessments should never be saved for the end of a unit.

Don’t give students “fluff” assignments unless they are for extra credit. Make learning fun, but take out the fluff assignments.

Steps for a Differentiated Lesson
1. Identify essential knowledge.
2. Identify students with unique needs (high/low, attention, modalities, multiple intelligences, etc.)
3. Design formative and summative assessments.
4. Design and deliver pre-assessments.
5. Adjust assessments if needed.
6. Design learning experiences for students based on what you found out on pre-assessments.
7. Check to make sure your lessons will help all students learn the material.
8. Review your plan with another professional.
9. Create materials for the lesson.
10. Conduct the lesson.
11. Evaluate the success of the lesson.
12. Record advice for yourself to use in the future.

Keep a folder for each student. Record information from observations and other methods on sticky notes. At the end of each day put the sticky notes into each of the student’s folders who you wrote notes on. If you need the notes for the next day’s lesson then put them by your lesson plans. Once a week copy the sticky notes onto a running record in each student’s folder.

Tracking During Reading

Students often have difficulty moving from one line to another while reading. Many students in our class use colored popsicle sticks to track their reading. I like this because of the color contrast it's easy for them to see exactly what line they are reading. I read somewhere though that if students put the "tracking devise" above the line they are currently reading, rather than below it, they read more quickly because they can see the words on the next line as well. So far students seem to be reading a lot more words correct in one minute when using this strategy!
P.S. I have no idea why this picture is sideways- I have tried 5,000 different things to get it to flip... it's saved correctly on my computer!