Most people know that PCI Education develops and publishes materials for students with special needs and learning differences. What many people do not know, is that we employ individuals with special needs as well. Over most of the past 20 years, Janet and Nicole have been working in product assembly and Janet even illustrated a catalog cover several years ago. They are treated as part of the team, we laugh and talk about the weekend over coffee. They also enjoy participating in as many company events as their schedules will allow.
PCI was also a vocational training site for a school for special needs located very close to our facility on the north side of San Antonio. This program allowed students to try different aspects of our business – from filing in the Finance Department, sales kit assembly in the Marketing Department and basic computer work in the eCommerce Department.
As with all relationships, we learn something new about someone else. The opportunity to work with the individuals we are committed to serve has afforded us rich learning experiences and keeps us focused. One young man in particular, has captured our hearts for his resilience despite tremendous tragedy.
Christoper S., interned with us last summer for a few hours each day. He is shy until he get’s to know you, then he shares his wonderful sense of humor. He went to Camp CAMP (7-Day overnight program) last summer—his mother was trembling but Christopher thrived and had a wonderful time.
Shortly after school began last year, Christopher’s father, a Sergeant in the Bexar County Constables Office, was killed in a tragic auto accident. A few weeks ago, Christoper was invited to a ceremony at the White House for family members of fallen officers and took this great photograph with President Obama.
Christopher and President Obama
Now that school is ending, Christopher is looking for a new internship opportunity. If you have an indoor/ air conditioned office environment in the North-Central to USAA area, give us a shout and we will put you in touch with his mom, Tanya.
In closing, I have to say that my personal mission statement has been 100% in line with this organization since I came to work here. Is YOUR personal mission statement in line with that of your company? Is it really close? If not, maybe you should consider embracing the human impact of the mission, or maybe you should make a change.
From Struthers, Ohio, Laurie is an Intervention Specialist for students Pre-K through 4th grade. Laurie helped an autistic student, Michael, learn how organize his day and thus be more in control of himself. Michael’s success with this idea in elementary school carried over to middle school success to be fully included. Now that is a terrific teaching tool!
The Project: Michael’s Magical Transformation.
Michael is an autistic student who as most autistic children had a difficult time initiating conversation with other people, tantruming, and adapting to change easily. We began with a binder with his daily schedule and slowly added pictures of who he was to greet daily, a feelings page, social stories and other pages as the need arose. As the binder got heavier and more organized, Michael felt more in control of his days and gained self control in all areas. His success has carried over to middle school.
Since initiating this binder with our Michael, we have also used the idea with other students who had difficulty with similar things. The binders are interactive (velcro) so that the students can manipulate their choices and feel more in control of their daily lives both in school as well as out. They will learn the skills that they need to function better whether they are ADD, ADHD, LD or autistic. It will help them to focus on their particular needs for the school day and life skills.
We have used this system that we used for Michael with other students in our district that had similar needs. This system has worked with other autistic students but also just as well with students who had ADD or struggled with organizational skills. Michael is now an 8th grader fully included at our Middle School. He no longer tantrums at school or at home. Yay, Michael!
It’s that time of year in schools across the country. The end of the school year is a time when we reflect on all we and our students have learned and accomplished. As a mom, I’m marveling at the fact that my son’s kindergarten celebration is this week and my daughter’s 2nd grade slide show is next week. The year has gone by so fast. With benchmarks and other tests behind them, teachers and students are planning a variety of ways to celebrate the community of learning they have become during this school year.
As a student, I always loved the end-of-the-year awards assemblies. Awards give us a chance to recognize outstanding achievements, hard work, perfect attendance, and excellent citizenship. I’ve discovered that my children’s school does an amazing job including all students in the end-of-the-year slide shows and celebrations. My daughter is in a regular education 2nd grade classroom. My son is in a self-contained setting with some inclusion opportunities during the day. But I know I will see both in their grade level slide shows in the coming week. And, like any proud mom, I will cheer seeing them laughing and learning.
I will attend the AEP awards ceremony in Washington D.C. June 8, and I will be cheering there too. It is a joy to see the “best of the best” curriculum and learning tools get well-deserved recognition. Even better is the fact that the award finalists and winners are all chosen by educators in the field, who recognize the kind of high quality teaching and learning materials we need in our schools.
Awards do give us a sense of accomplishment. So do stories of how something we’ve done has touched someone else and made a difference. Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Council for Exceptional Children conference. One of the best moments was seeing one of the student “Yes I Can” Award winners stop by the PCI booth, point to the PCI Reading Program, and say, “That’s my reading program.” My co-author, Janie Hohlt, and I were honored to take a picture with this award-winning student. Seeing that smile on her face as she held up her favorite book meant the world to us.
Happy end of school year to all of you! Thank you for all you do every day to help all students achieve in school, at home, and in the community.
Jill’s responsibilities include managing the development of proprietary reading curriculums, training customers on PCI’s reading curriculums and other proprietary products, conceptualizing new products, writing sales and marketing literature related to the reading curriculums, staying current on reading and other educational research, overseeing the research conducted on PCI’s products, and staying current on federal and state legislation related to education.
Prior to her career with PCI Education, she was a national reading consultant and a seventh grade reading teacher. In 1999, she was named Teacher of the Year for San Antonio ISD and won the Trinity Prize for Teaching. Haney earned a BA with honors and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Trinity University in San Antonio. She has additional graduate reading hours from University of Texas San Antonio.
by Janie Haugen-McLane, Co-Founder PCI Education (Second in a Series: 20+ Years Building PCI Education)
There will always be certain students whom you remember fondly. For me, the first was Russell M. in my classroom in Houston, Texas, 1987. In order to save money (in a tough economy), a teacher who resigned from the campus… “adults with special needs,” was not replaced.
All the teachers had to draw names from a hat to get four new students. I had only been there a few weeks and didn’t know any students other than the ones in my classroom. I drew the name, Russell M. and was quite surprised when a long-term teacher looked at me and with wide-eyes exclaimed, “Whew, I’m glad I didn’t get him.” That was a little scary to say the least.
I was nervous the next morning anxious to see my students when the door opened wide and they blew in. One student stopped dead still, looked over at me, and said, “A princess!” Here was this tall, early 30ish handsome man with an impish grin from ear to ear. He held out a hand to shake and said with the slightest lisp, “I’m Russell. You are pretty.”
We were crazy about each other right from the start. In fact, he became a little too infatuated with me so I had my big, burly husband, Jeff, come visit the classroom and Russell “fell” for him too! While on business trips, Jeff began sending Russell postcards from all over the country—it was the perfect win-win solution. After each trip, Russell would ask my husband if he saw any “grrrrs,” their secret word for pretty girls and when not out of town Jeff would often take off work early to come visit with Russell – some time for man talk.
In March of that year, Jeff sent a bunch of daffodils, King Alfreds, for my birthday. I told Russell that since I was a little girl, I had called them Buttercups because yellow was my favorite color… he never forgot that conversation. Even years later, Russell would talk to me or write me and mention my favorite flowers. Of course, he always called them Buttercups. How I loved him, his mischievous almost shy smile, and his entertaining stories.
I met Russell’s parents and we all became friends. When my husband decided to start a bio-tech company in San Antonio in 1988, the hardest part was leaving Russell and the other students in my class. We all cried and Russell said, “I’ll be over to see you, don’t you worry.”
And you know what? His family did come to San Antonio in their motor-home and we had a wonderful time. Russell is one of the bright lights in my life.
I thank God everyday for allowing me the honor of drawing Russell’s name from that hat. It turned out to be my lucky hat. Sometimes things just fall into place, and Russell fell into the center of my heart. I miss him greatly!
Question of the Week: Who was that first student who stole your heart and made you love teaching? Please use the first name and last initial for privacy reasons. PCI and I would love to hear your experience.
Come on board with PCI and blog your story to the world.
Janie Haugen-McLane, creator of PCI’s flagship product, the best-selling Life Skills Programs, Series I and II, draws on her years of teaching to develop real-world, innovative educational products. She has conceived of and developed more than 95% of PCI’s proprietary products and has attracted a number of nationally recognized authors to PCI.
Morgan’s Wonderland, PCI Education and WeAreTeachers are thrilled to announce the top 10 finalists for theMorgan’s Wonderland Contest. Nearly 250 teachers nominated a student and his or her family for a chance to win a free trip to Morgan’s Wonderland. Located in San Antonio, Morgan’s Wonderland is a 25-acre park designed specifically for children and adults with special needs, their families, caregivers, and friends.
Voting began on Oct. 4, when the submitted nominations were available online at WeAreTeachers. During the three-week period, the nominations received more than 56,000 votes, with the top 10 finalists receiving 35,000 votes, and the top two receiving 17,000 votes. We never expected this level of response for a first-time contest. In my humble opinion, the most awesome aspect of this contest is that not only did families and friends get behind each of these students – entire schools and communities rallied votes and support on TV and online! Over 56,000 people took the time to learn more about and vote for a student with special needs.
A panel of judges will review the top 10 finalists listed below, and select the grand prize winner, plus five runners-up, which will all be announced on Nov. 10. – STAY TUNED – THAT’S THIS WEDNESDAY!!!
The teacher who nominated the grand prize winner will receive a suite of PCI Education Curriculum products, including the PCI Education Reading Program and Environmental Print Series. Teachers who nominated the five runners-up will have the opportunity to select one of the following products from PCI Education: PCI Reading Program or Environmental Print Series.
We are in awe of every amazing student, parent and teacher who participated in this program, and we know that you will also be inspired by these incredible and touching stories. Without further ado, here are the top 10 student finalists and a little bit about each:
Brenden Baker – Abilene, Texas
Brenden is like any other seven-year-old boy who loves to go to school, eat chicken nuggets and play at the playground. However, Brenden is not average in size, as he is approximately 18 pounds and 26 inches tall. Brenden has Desbuquois Syndrome, an extremely rare form of Dwarfism. According to Brenden’s teacher Marsha Stewart, “Brenden is a very special part of our family at Bassetti Elementary School, and he reminds us often that it really is the “little” things in life that bring us real joy!”
Katherine Hobson – Stuart, Florida
Katherine has a delightful personality that motivates others around her. She is eager to please others and never gives up, despite living with Cerebral Palsy. Katherine has no functional use of her arms and legs, and is severely limited in her speech. Relying on others for her life sustaining care, Katherine appreciates each and every little thing that is done on her behalf. According to her teacher Doris Davis, “Katherine inspires me every day with her positive attitude and tremendous effort.”
Casey Rohrer – Hermosa Beach, California
Casey has a genuine smile and infectious laugh that has turned classmates into friends. He is unable to walk or speak on his own due to Cerebral Palsy, but with the help of a mobility and communication device, Casey is able to participate in the activities of every day school and home life. “Thanks to Casey, the students and staff at our school have developed an enhanced sense of empathy and understanding about his disability by learning to include him, speak with him and involve him as they would any other child at school,” said teacher Jeannine Madden.
Jose Mendez – Cicero, Illinois
Jose has a positive attitude and a creative imagination, despite his learning disability. He doesn’t let us difficulties impede his success, regardless of the challenge. Jose’s family is extremely involved and supportive, and works hard to ensure his success both in the classroom and at home. As he grows into a young adult, he is starting to become aware of his special needs. According to his teacher Julie Mensik, “This trip would help him gain more self-confidence, and illustrate that a goal is attainable with focus and drive.”
Presley Sones – Minden, Louisiana
Presley enjoys every bit of life and those around her. She has Cerebral Palsy, and uses a wheelchair for mobility and splints on her hands and feet for stability. Her family spends a huge amount of time and effort to support the needs of Presley, along with their other two daughters. “Presley comes to school with a presence about her that positively affects everyone around her,” said teacher Amy Lee, “and those that have met her hold a special place in their heart for Presley.”
Ellis Nesby – Mounds, Illinois
Ellis has Angelman syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual and developmental delays. He is learning to walk and uses a wheelchair, unless he is in his walker. Ellis is fortunate to have an outstanding mother and grandmother who see beyond his disabilities and recognize the wonders of this special child. “I enjoy working with Ellis because his eyes light up when I ask him to complete his work,” said teacher Gayla Dial. “Ellis can make me smile even though everything around me is pulling me down.”
Jacob Ingham – Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Jacob has real zest for life. In spite of the many medical treatments and setbacks he has endured, Jacob always remains positive. His special needs result from a brain tumor that negatively impacts his physical mobility, memory, vision, and stamina. “Jacob has inspired me to be a more creative teacher,” said Tina Mansfield. “I’ve learned so much about working from someone’s strengths and interests versus focusing on remediating someone’s weakness.”
Ryland Reese – Amarillo, Texas
Ryland is a joy to everyone in his entire school district. He was born premature with Down syndrome and has been very sick over the past two years. However, Ryland is a fighter and has persevered through the challenges with his health, and is now doing extremely well. According to his teacher, Sherry Lawrence, “His parents take care of him like he’s a king. In fact, to everyone in our school district, he is king. We cherish and love this kid so.”
Sierra Craft – Houston, Texas
Sierra is a special girl who captures the hearts of others. She is confined to a wheelchair and nonverbal due to Cerebral Palsy, but that doesn’t stop her from smiling and trying to communicate with others. Sierra is very observant, and willing to try the same activities as others regardless of her disability. “Sierra inspires me to tell others that even though a child may have special needs, they can still learn and do things that we may think are unreachable. Sierra has changed the minds of teachers and staff as to what students with special needs can accomplish,” said teacher Aimee Erskins.
Lauren Tebbe – Wapakoneta, Ohio
Lauren brings such joy to everyone she meets through her sunny personality and quick wit. She is a twenty-one-year-old student with severe delays in the areas of cognition, communication and academics. Lauren arrives at school each day, entering door with a smile, a vigorous good morning to all, and a handshake for each of the staff. According to teacher Nancy Maute, “We should all strive to be a little more like Lauren and this world might be a little better for it.”
Overwhelmed by the support of the student’s teachers, family and communities, PCI Education and WeAreTeachers are seeking additional resources to possibly send more than one child to Morgan’s Wonderland. In addition, the sponsors are seeking more special education materials to send to classrooms across the country.
Due to the success of this year’s contest, Morgan’s Wonderland, PCI Education and WeAreTeachers have committed to hosting the competition again next year.
What are you doing in your classroom or community to support students with special needs? Post a comment and let us hear your thoughts!
These intervention programs target reading or math and they fit snugly into our line of products for academically challenged students. They are age appropriate for middle and high school students who are significantly behind grade-level expectations and need intensive, small-group instruction.
They also have some outstanding research results – in fact SpellRead was the small group intervention program rated the highest by the What Works Clearinghouse.
Really? In this economy?
It may not seem like the optimal time to be making a move like this with the economy and education budgets looking like they will stagnate or decline for the next several years.
But as we look ahead we see an ongoing emphasis on serving all students and in particular reaching those students that traditional approaches have failed. A quick review of the policy directives coming out of the Obama Department of Education makes clear that accountability is not going to be sacrificed to short term economic pressures. That in turn means schools will continue to invest in reaching students who are struggling.
Evidence also shows that companies that invest wisely during downturns emerge stronger than competitors who pull back. We have increased our catalog distribution, hired sales reps, and boosted our on-line presence in the last 18 months. These new products fit nicely into our channel mix and should help fuel our market beating growth record of the past couple of years.
The Strategic Context
The supplemental publishing world has been in transition for several years. The traditional market for small scale ad-ons to basal materials is still there, but alongside it a world of comprehensive targeted intervention curricula has sprung up. In fact, most of the growth has come from the comprehensive side – examples include Read 180 and Wilson in reading and Carnegie Learning and TouchMath in mathematics.
The reason for this is rooted in student outcomes. Educators have figured out that instructional materials designed specifically for the job at hand are much more effective in reaching these students where they are. It is possible use adaptations and modifications of the basal textbook materials – but it isn’t optimal.
The acquisition refreshes our line on the LD side with 5 top notch programs. Our Development Team’s first reaction on seeing the materials was “this is exactly what we would have written.” We were impressed by the simplicity of design and the thoughtful structure provided for instruction in the materials.
If you are interested in seeing where we go with them be sure to tune into our web site for further developments. We have some pretty cool ideas about how to take rock solid programs and wrap them with innovations that build on 19 years of expertise in serving these students.
As educators, our task is to push students to move past the boundaries of what they are currently able to do—to expand their abilities, stretch their knowledge, test their understandings, and apply skills in new and unfamiliar contexts. We do this in an effort to help students achieve their fullest potential—to be their best academic, social, emotional, and professional selves. For most students, taking risks in a learning environment is not an easy or comfortable process. For students who have experienced repeated failures in school, the prospect of taking risks can be paralyzing.
At the recent Games, Learning & Society (GLS) conference , Beth King, a PhD. candidate at the University of Washington at Madison, presented on the process of “creating possibility spaces” for students within the virtual world of Sims2. King described her research with adolescent boys who were disaffiliated with school and had low academic self-esteem. The boys also had a strong affiliation with video games and gaming culture. “The project goal was to encourage each participant to consider the future not in terms of current academic performance but instead based upon their unique hopes, dreams and passion using potential self (Markus & Nurius, 1986) strategies.”
King situated herself as an advocate for the boys by creating safe places for them to practice their “authentic” selves and explore “possible” selves. Within the virtual world of Sims2, she had the boys explore who they thought they could become, who they were afraid to become, and who they were likely to become. King then conducted a series of career development interventions that included a blend of self-explorations within the virtual world sandbox as well as visits to actual worksites and college campuses. After the project, the boys who participated reported an increased ability to visualize their “hoped-for” futures. They also spoke about their individual futures with language that indicated much more agency and ownership.
As educators of students with special needs, the “possibility space” opened up within the sandbox of the virtual world is something we should be fully exploring. If we can give students the opportunity to safely “try on” a number of different occupations and explore various futures and identities, they may surprise us in ways we could never imagine.
Erin Kinard joined PCI as the Vice President, Product Development/Publisher in December, 2009. Kinard oversees product development for the company. Prior to joining PCI, Kinard served as Editorial Director, Reading and ESL for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Supplemental Publishers in Austin. During her eight years at Harcourt, Kinard held a variety of positions including Editorial Director of Steck-Vaughn, and Editorial Director of Reading for Harcourt Achieve. In addition to her educational publishing experience at other companies including Brown Publishing Network and Scholastic, Inc.,
Several months ago, I introduced you to a magical place here in San Antonio called Morgan’s Wonderland —the world’s first ultra accessible family fun park designed specifically for children and adults with special needs. Having taken an afternoon to tour the facility with one of the park directors, I can honestly say that if you have not had an opportunity to visit their website or follow their Facebook page, you are missing out on some serious warm-fuzzies. If you live near San Antonio, I encourage you to go and see the place for yourself. Please remember to make reservations first. The park directors closely manage the number of people admitted daily in order to avoid overcrowding. This is just one example of the park’s sensitivity to the needs of the audience it serves.
As part of the community dedicated to serving individuals with special needs, pretty much everyone at PCI saw a partnership with Morgan’s Wonderland as a natural extension of what we do, much like our involvement with Special Olympics and The Achievers Center. After our initial visit in February, we brainstormed ways to get involved. Now we are excited to get EVERYONE involved! Here’s how:
PCI Education, WeAreTeachers.com and Morgan’s Wonderland are teaming up to send students and their families to Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas. Starting this fall, we are going to sponsor a contest on the WeAreTeachers website that will invite teachers to nominate a student with special needs and his or her family to visit Morgan’s Wonderland. The winning student, three family members, and the student’s teacher will receive a trip to San Antonio where they will spend two nights and two days at the park—including airfare, hotel accommodations, and park admission free of charge. In addition, the winning teacher will receive a suite of PCI reading and math products for his or her school or classroom.
Here is the part where we need your help! We are looking for corporate sponsors to partner with us on this project. The benefit for all involved will be tremendous—not just for the students and families who will get the opportunity to visit this amazing place, but you will get the warm-fuzzies just by being involved!
The biggest message was his presence. It left no doubt about how seriously Obama and he feel about improving the lives of students with disabilities. This was welcome because much of the work they have done in this area so far has not been particularly visible.
He laid out a vision for the Administration’s education legislative priorities and the central role that serving people with disabilities will play in ESEA (aka NCLB). The linkages between ESEA and IDEA that were created during the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will also be strengthened and improved.
What follows is a recap of the talk and some thoughts on what this means for the SPED community.
Special Education Is The Civil Rights Issue of Our Generation
He opened by observing that Obama and he believe every child deserves a world-class education. While almost everyone says this, a gap still exists between our aspirations and reality. Subtle prejudices and roadblocks still get in the way of people with special needs.
Most of the talk teed up the idea that we have a historic opportunity to full this promise for all students with the upcoming ESEA and IDEA reauthorizations.
The argument was initially framed around global competitiveness. America simply does not have expendable students if we are going to prosper in an increasingly globalized world.
But he closed this part of the speech by saying that serving students isn’t just about economics. It is a moral issue. In fact he called it “the civil rights issue of our generation.”
He hammered this point home by talking about how the civil rights battles of the 60’s for racial equality paved the way for IDEA in the mid-seventies for people with disabilities. He made a strong statement about how he and Obama are committed to making this promise a reality.
Personally I really appreciated his stand on the role of education in helping people live more fulfilling lives – regardless of the economics. I’m weary of every education policy discussion devolving into how schools are job readiness factories. Of course they are – but they are so much more than that.
Progress Not Perfection
Next he focused on what is working. We have made great strides in the 35 years since IDEA was enacted in making sure a disability shouldn’t stop any child from attending school and pursuing a career.
Students with special needs are no longer turned away at the door, housed in broom closets, or bused to a distant site. Today the 6 million students served by IDEA spend 80% of their time in inclusion classrooms and 95% are in a neighborhood schools.
He told a couple of heartwarming stories of students with special needs learning alongside their peers, eating lunch with them, making friends with them, and demonstrating real leadership in their schools. That society is willing to make this investment sends the message that disabilities alone do not define our work or our worth as human beings. Disabilities are not destiny.
He labeled all these successes are civil rights victories.
First Stop – Enforcement
Duncan at this point pointed out that will all the progress we still have not fulfilled the full promise of IDEA. The data shows us we are getting better – but we must get better faster.
By just about every measure students with disabilities are better educated than just a generation ago. The graduation rate, post secondary enrollment rate, and employment opportunities are increasing but they are all still too low. Students are leaving schools without the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.
The Obama Administration intends to work with schools, districts, and states to enforce existing laws. While this was a relatively passing remark it does mark a change in emphasis from prior administrations. Generally speaking enforcement of existing statutes has gotten short shrift over the past couple of decades (the IRS audit budget was cut dramatically while the economy grew).
For publishers who help districts meet their obligations under IDEA and ADA a renewed emphasis on enforcement means your customers will be open to solutions that help them meet both the spirit and the letter of the law.
ESEA Reauthorization Linked To IDEA
Making ESEA a building block for the subsequent IDEA reauthorization isn’t a new concept. Better integration began with NCLB. But it appears that Obama intends to create a much tighter link between the two, in fact Duncan specifically called it “one seamless approach.”
The administration also isn’t going to scrap NCLB. They want to build on what worked, but fix the things that didn’t. Much of this has been reported elsewhere.
What hasn’t gotten much press is that Special Education will be included in ALL aspects of ESEA. This is great news for the community of educators, professionals, parents, and publishers who serve this population. I believe part of why Duncan was willing to make the time to be in Nashville was simply to drive this point home.
There were three areas that he specifically called out with regard to Special Education – accountability, assessment, and teacher quality.
SPED will fully participate in ESEA’s accountability systems. NCLB did this right by requiring the participation of all students. This highlighted achievement gaps and forced districts to address populations that were underserved.
But NCLB’s assessment regime had a central flaw – it failed to measure and reward growth. From Duncan’s perspective we shouldn’t label solid progress towards goals as failure. “It is wrong, inaccurate, and demoralizing.” A school that progresses from 2 grade levels behind to 1 level behind has NOT failed – but under NCLB it has been labeled as such. He quipped that “NCLB has 50 ways to fail, very few to succeed.”
The new accountability system will be based mostly on student growth and will recognize schools that show meaningful gains. The law will continue to require teaching students with disabilities and schools will also have to improve the performance of the highest achieving students. The focus on subpopulations isn’t going away.
The vast majority of schools will also have more flexibility to implement locally designed ideas to reach the benchmarks. He believes the best ideas come from the local level.
This does not mean that schools with chronic gaps and poor performance get a pass. The school closure in Central Falls RI in February makes clear that Obama backs strong measures where needed.
In an interesting twist this accountability will also escalate to the district level. District level gaps in progress may not be apparent at the school level.
Assessment Grant Competition
In order for this to happen Duncan recognizes that states will have to significantly improve existing assessments – we must move beyond filling the bubble tests.
In the ESEA blueprint and Race to the Top (RTTT) they are putting investments in building the next generation of assessments. He specifically cited including technology to measure a range of skills that have been difficult to measure.
I think more importantly there will be an emphasis on formative assessments which provide real time feedback to improve teaching and learning.
Assessment reform is especially important for special education. The majority of SPED students take the regular state tests and a few can take alternate assessments. Building assessments that are both accessible and deliver meaningful information requires specialized expertise. The DOE will run a competition to improve special education testing tools.
Students with low incidence disabilities require the same quality of assessments but the development of those tools doesn’t make commercial sense given the size of the sub-groups. It makes enormous educational and civil rights sense – so we were pleased to see the government step in to make this possible. We were also excited to see that it will be run as a competition – allowing multiple approaches which will dramatically increase our odds of finding what works.
The last area he talked about is recognizing “the uniquely transformative power of good teachers.” The Obama Administration is investing $4 billion in recruiting, training, and retaining teachers. They are going to have a specific focus on high needs areas – which includes SPED.
This is great news because the turnover in Special Ed is so high. The maturity and classroom judgment that come from experience are at a real premium. Recruiting and rewarding teachers who choose this path is something everyone in the special needs community should celebrate.
Saving Education Jobs – Foundation for Reform
A final point. Secretary Duncan echoed his remarks to Congress last week about the pending catastrophe in teacher employment due to plunging state budgets. He made the point that education reform and saving education jobs go hand in hand. At this time we cannot afford to take a step backwards.
I commented on this last week and strongly encourage publishers to get involved in supporting this effort with whatever influence you have or can create in Washington.
It was really nice to see the Administration make a concerted effort to reach out to the professionals who serve students with special needs. It sent a strong message that the progress we have made in recently will not be lost, and in fact should be accelerated as education policy evolves in the next several years.
What is a number? Have you ever tried to define that word? It’s not easy. Number concepts aren’t always easy to explain either. For those with learning disabilities, many number concepts pose quite a challenge, especially the abstract basic concepts. The best way to help struggling learners is to make the abstract tangible. Using manipulatives gives students a means to tactilely learn, manipulate, solve, and understand challenging math skills.
One concept that many of my former students had difficulty with was place value. Explaining the ones, tens and hundreds place was complex. But, many math concepts build upon this understanding, so it’s vital for students to understand what these place values mean.
To help my students comprehend place value, I used a lot of straws!
I began by demonstrating a one digit number in the ones place. First, I wrote the numerals 1 through 9 on the board. Then, students gathered the correct amounts of straws to represent those numbers, such as two straws represented the numeral 2. Then we moved on to the tens place. We counted out and bundled ten straws. As I wrote the two-digit numeral on the board, I said “zero ones and one ten.” We repeated the bundling process for numerals 11 through 19. For example, for 14, we bundled up ten straws, had four left over, and I wrote and said “one ten and four ones.” For many days I wrote numbers on the board and had students make straw bundles and explain how many tens and ones were in each numeral.
Once students grasped the concept, I reversed the process. For example, I displayed a ten bundle and six straws. The students identified one ten and six ones and wrote the numeral 16. Reversing the process helped students understood that groups of tens represented the digit in the tens place and the single straws represented the digit in the ones place.
Eventually we progressed up to 99, then added one straw to make 100. The addition of the tenth set of ten straws moved us up to the hundreds place.
What was beneficial about using the manipulatives with place value was the smooth transition into addition. For problems such as “7+9=”, students gathered sets of seven and nine straws, counted and bundled ten straws, and then counted the remainder. They understood that the sum was one ten and six ones or sixteen. When students practiced addition with regrouping, they understood the abstract concept because they were used to bundling straws into groups of ten.
In addition to identifying numbers, place value, and addition, students learned to skip count by tens. Students quickly caught on that they could count the bundles of tens by ten and that 6 bundles was 6 tens or 60.
Through the use of tangible manipulatives, learning disabled, kinesthetic and visual learners were given learning tools and skills to comprehend and understand these abstract basic math concepts. Go grab a bunch of straws and start learning!
Prior to working with PCI Education, Kristi worked for another international publishing company, editing and writing elementary spelling and reading texts. At PCI, Kristi has written a plethora of teacher resources, activities, small readers, binders, board games, and software.