What Creativity Brings to Student Accommodations

I have worked with several teachers over the years who have specialized in supporting students with exceptional needs, and  have also worked in my own classes to utilize the resources at my disposal to support learning in the classroom. I have learned through this work that one of the most effective methods of providing student accommodations is to look at the problem with a creative lens.  While at times this seems counter-intuitive, as there are long-standing patterns of support used in many schools, by thinking manly about the needs of the student and what they need to be able to do, sometimes we are able to bring a very cost-effective and meaningful solution that would have escaped us if we were just looking in the standard book of solutions.

Case in point; I was in discussion last year about several students in my class who were ADHD and or otherwise easily ‘distractible’ in my fourth grade class. We had tried several accommodations for them that had worked moderately, but they were still unable to function well in the quiet times of class, where they had to maintain focus on a single task for a period of time.  As I watched them carefully, I was reminded of my tenth grade non-academic students who functioned in much the same way during writing times.  Those students, with permission (or sometimes without,) would trot out their iPods and focus themselves by tuning out the rest of the class with their music.  While I didn’t always prefer their musical selections, or the level at which they played them, I could scarcely deny the effectiveness of this self-accommodation to tune out their peers.

With the support of our administration and the learning support team last year, I was able to purchase iPod Shuffles for the classroom. I loaded these up with classical music to drown out the background noise, nothing lyrical, just pleasant and engaging music. The results were astounding. While it didn’t work for every student experiencing difficulty; for those that were engaged, it was a profound change for them.  In fact, the students began asking for the iPods immediately as we sat down to work.  Since the iPod shuffles have no screen, no other distractions, the students are not tempted to ‘play’ with them and are not distracted by the technology.  They simply put the headphones in and get down to work, which is what I was looking for.

Our school has purchased 10 iPod shuffles and they are used in several classrooms now, with great results.  Students enjoy the independence and focus it offers them, and teachers are enjoying having another, relatively inexpensive, accommodation to provide for their students. If we can look ‘outside the box,’ sometimes we will find what we are looking for set just outside. How can you approach student accommodations differently?  What could your students need that no one has seen before?

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The Spontaneous Premiere of #edchat8CST on Twitter

I had just finished a very brief chat on #cdnedchat tonight and, as I had joined late, found myself in the mood for more educational conversation. What happened next was one of those moments on Twitter where you realize the power of social media. Darin Johnson (@AnIowaTeacher) was lamenting the lack of a chat at that moment, and so I dropped the suggestion that we start one. At that moment #edchat8CST was born and both myself and Darin sent out the call for educators to join. Within moments we had a topic: Using Social Media to Start Something New in the Classroom and I moderated the conversation with four questions. We had teachers join through the whole hour, and I was astonished that there were people creeping the chat (reading and watching without participating), new connections to both Darin and myself, and the conversation was electric. One of the greatest outcomes was the side-chats and spontaneity of the group, willing to put more ‘out there’ because it was not a ‘regular’ chat. Our four questions over the hour were as follows:

Q1: What social media do you think would be most conducive to classroom use?
Q2: What innovative uses have you found for Social Media as you teach?
Q3: Brainstorming time; If you had unlimited technology available, what WOULD you try using social media in education?
Q4: How can we spontaneously make better use of SM in our classrooms? Like this chat?

I was so impressed that a tenuously connected group of educators (I had never had a conversation of any great length with Darin prior to our staring the chat) could create such a great collection of ideas and resources, experiences and positive conversation. It was the highlight of my week on Twitter, and it’s only Monday! At any rate. Thanks to all who joined in, and we will use the hashtag again for impromptu chats, keep watching! Please read the storify below for the full conversation!

Support for iPads in the Classroom? Check your Staff!

I had a great discussion today that reminded me why I feel it is so important to do what I do with Developing Education, New Teacher Chat #ntchat and other supports I am involved in online.  My conversation was focused on the best way to deliver support to teachers with the various technologies we have been providing teachers.  While there is an inclination to digitize support and send the teachers to a website, video tutorial, or even Google, this misses the mark with teachers who are already overloaded and don’t have the ‘extra time’ to go out to these sources to learn about technology.

Think about it for a moment, if teachers were apt to go online and had plenty of time to spend on their own personal development on their own time, I think the uptake with technology in many cases would be exponentially further than it is.  The truth is, great teachers worry about the art of teaching and the preparation for it in their own time.  Their dedication is part of what makes them great to start with. We burn these teachers out by pushing them to do more in an environment they don’t understand, even when we provide support by way of training videos or websites.  They simply don’t have a passion for technology learning, or they would be doing it themselves.

Instead of offloading training and support for technology to be done ‘at your leisure’ (how many of us have leisure, or use leisure time for that?) look to someone on your staff who does have the passion for using technology in learning.  Give that person some extra prep time, collaborative time, or better yet, make that person a full-time educational technologist.  If you are able to provide your staff with someone who effectively uses a passion for educational technology in the classroom, and has or is developing a knowledge of the curriculum links associated, I bet you will find that the money spent on that position will go far further than the man hours putting together presentations on technology or training guides.  Every teacher I’ve known who has taken up a technology I have offered has seen the value of that technology to their own classroom and situation before they started.  It is hard to instil that value without a passionate, articulate teacher who is willing to walk with them into the classroom and help them make it happen.  Think about your team, your staff, do you have someone you think could fill that role?  You may be further along the path to great technology instruction than you thought!

I have had the fortune of being in this role in two schools, and let me tell you as someone who is passionate about this, it is FUN to watch teachers flip the switch.  It’s why I get so fired up about technology in the classroom!  If you want to ask me more about this, or have me work with someone you want to test in this role, see my contact link above and connect.  I would love to support you!

Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development: A Lesson

During my Masters program, I had the fortune of doing some in-depth study of the work of Lev Vygotsky, particularly in the area of the Zone of Proximal Development. What I wanted to share today was a lesson that myself and my peers developed for teaching the concept to other Master of Education students in our class. It was well received, and I thought others might benefit from it as well.
We started the lesson with an overview of Lev Vygotsky and his life, including the development of his theory. We had the voice of Lev narrated by another student who is a professional voice actor, and animated Lev’s face to narrate his own life using the app Photospeak, which is a blast to work with. What we really liked about this part of the presentation, is that there really was a sense of the ‘history’ of Lev’s work in the presentation with his photo ‘talking’ to the audience.

Once the group had an overview of Lev and his history, We wanted to create some activities to highlight the idea of ZPD. My portion was a hands-on activity in whichI discussed with my students the familiar game ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors.’ We discussed that this was a common game that most people in our culture understand. I added that we were going to expand on their understanding by adding new options to the game. I showed the group this ‘instructional video’ with the basic rules.


One of the groups asked to see the video several times, and with each group I rehearsed the new learning by showing each of the options and asking the group which other option ‘beats’ it. After this rehearsal, I had each member of the group practice the new moves to ensure they were clearly shown, and then played a tournament to see who our ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock’ champion was. It took only a couple of rounds of hesitation before the new moves became fairly well incorporated in the game and the new learning was comfortable for the students.

Zone of Proximal Development Graphic

This image show the teacher’s role in the zone of proximal development for students.

Once we moved back to the classroom and we were able to debrief, I showed this image to the class and described that the linking to a common understanding (the initial game) was key to Vygotsky’s concept, and that the initial discomfort the groups felt as they watched the video and started to practice the new game was the zone of proximal development. I knew learning was successful for the group once they lost that initial hesitation and were able to complete the tournament.

We have to remember that learning is generally not a comfortable process, and is often downright frightening for students. If we are not linking and rehearsing new concepts, students may not even be willing to attempt the new learning. It is our approach as teachers, and our ability to scaffold students to the zone of proximal development that makes all the difference to learning.

If you wish to use any of these materials with a link back to this site as attribution, please feel free to do so.

5 Key Learnings From Intern Teachers: A Reflection

I have the good fortune of having an intern teacher right now, the fourth I have taken in my career. It’s not always a perfect match or scenario, but it is always a learning experience. I have taken some key learnings away from each of my intern teachers, and appreciate so much the benefit they bring to my classroom. So, in light of recently being added to the team of moderators at #ntchat and my reflections on my current intern teacher, here are five key learnings I have gained from having an intern in my room. My hope is that if you are on the fence about this process, some of these ideas may inspire you to take the plunge and share your room.

#1: New Paths

I am always shocked by the range of approaches one can take to any classroom process. Having an intern teacher means opening your mind to the new possibilities and approaches another teacher can take. I have gained so much insight into pedagogy by seeing an innovative approach or a new presentation method that I had never considered, that the intern would never have considered doing my way. You couldn’t buy that kind of teaching insight

#2: Risk

Intern teachers are not set into particular teaching habits yet, they consider everything they do, they are obsessed with it. However, due to inexperience they have to try new things to reach desired learning. Intern teachers will risk a lesson, a few minutes, a little paper, to try something new. How many of us established teachers are willing to go down a new path because it might be worthwhile? Too often our desire to simplify our teaching experience leads us to do what is expedient and easy, intern teachers have less comfort so they are far more willing to ‘shake things up.’

#3: Passion

Slice it any way you want, intern teachers are generally pretty excited to get in front of a class. They are excited about new lessons and their preparation, they are eager! I think I’m still pretty passionate about education (I mean, I do this blogging thing and all) but I have to admit that I still get fired up just seeing how much intern teachers enjoy teaching. It’s a wonderful thing to get that shot in the arm, and witness that passion, particularly at a time of the year when teachers start to wear down for the duration of the year. Having an intern teacher to connect with, share with and redesign learning with is a great inspiration.

#4: Goals

What is your current goal as a teacher? If you are thinking something to the tune of ‘making it through the year,‘ you may want to sign up for an intern. These individuals are busting at the seams just to get into our profession, they have a very clear goal, and they work hard to achieve it. Professionally, many of us can become so focused on the day to day that we forget that there is more out there for us. Interns connect us to that world and allow us to see new places we may wish to take our careers, new directions to move in. They give us pause to reflect and consider our own careers.

#5 Research

Okay, many of you know I am a research junkie. If you don’t, you do now. I love current research and digging for new discoveries. For those of you who aren’t about to start digging through University archives, intern teachers are generally filled up to the brim with current educational theory. You can ask them about current pedagogy, beliefs, thoughts on classroom structure and discipline. If they don’t know about it, many of them will go back and do the research or ask their professors so they know. However, I have yet to have an intern that didn’t have at least a cursory knowledge of current theory. This is wonderful to connect to, even if it only affirms what you do, as some of us have not connected with those places of higher learning where our careers were born in some time.

Clearly there are many more lessons to learn from intern teachers, and this is really just the start of the discussion. If you’d like to hear more from great intern teachers and those new to the profession, join #ntchat Wednesday nights on Twitter. We would love to have you join the conversation!

If you have any other learnings to share in your experiences with intern teachers, please comment below and we will keep the conversation going!