Category: Recommendations

Recommendations

Equally Accessible Educational Materials Across Instructional Forums

For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person

with a disability it makes things possible.

-Judy Heumann, American Disability Rights Activist, Former Asst. Secretary U.S. Dept. of Education


I’ve started doing some reflecting on how accessible my digital presence is from an assistive technology (AT) point of view. While I’m fairly versed in the use of assistive technology and the importance of its incorporation through the IEP process and in classroom instruction, it has been a while since I’ve reflected on my personal practice of creating accessible materials. It does not seem to be widely known that Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that website content be equally accessible to all, including those with disabilities. I’ve have been involved in the field of special education in one form or another for over years and just came across this knowledge this past week, thus the reflection.

My practice of making materials accessible the past few years has come from the perspective of providing adult professional development. I have relied heavily on the use of Google presentations and the use of visuals as a part of this process as well as having an interpreter present for staff who are deaf or hard of hearing. Videos incorporated into the presentations have been closed caption. I’ve also sent presentations out before getting together with staff to allow for additional reading and processing time for those who need it. The feedback from staff has been positive. This approach has allowed all of us to get hands on with our collaboration when we’re together. As evidenced by classrooms that incorporate assistive technology as part of universal design in their classrooms, the practice, tools and strategies can be beneficial to other learners as well. Yet, as I consider the tools we put into place for our students in the classroom, I am struck that my own practice of creating accessible materials is wanting.

In working with my staff to provide accessible learning environments for our students, we incorporate touch screens, screen readers, fm systems, switches, visuals, closed captioning, alternative keyboards, alternative mice, word prediction software, text to voice software, audio books, etc. As I consider this list, which is far from exhaustive, it makes me realize that there are several software and hardware considerations to be conscientious of when designing online courses and/or creating a blended learning environment.

One nice tool to add accessibility is SpeakPipe which allows students to leave a voice message via the instructor’s website. Scott McCloud’s blog has integrated these feature into his blog.

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I was disappointed to find that my chosen blogging platform, WordPress, doesn’t support this plug-in. As a result of reflecting on the accessibility of the content I produce, I have posted a request on the WordPress forum to add this plug-in as an option. This request can be supported by visiting the fourm post http://goo.gl/Iya7Rx and commenting.

The document on creating an accessible syllabus written by Xtine Burrough, FDC ATI Coordinator, has become a part of my library. As I look to develop and support accessible materials for online learners that may have a disability or could benefit from assistive technology, this will be an ongoing reference.

AT is an important niche in the world of technology and an important component of all instruction. As leaders in the field of education, special education, education technology, it is time for us to gain a greater understanding of the impact this legislation has on online/blended learning courses as well as teacher and school websites. It is also important that this doesn’t become what could feel like another overwhelming requirement for teachers. The practice of creating accessible materials falls nicely within the universal design approach to setting up a class, classroom and instructional materials. The key is, as is often the case, providing educators with the “why” behind the importance of this practice as well as the time and training needed to make it happen.

As part of the comments, I invite you to share your practices, thoughts, concerns and suggestions for providing equally accessible learning to all students.

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Developing Fluency in “New Literacies”

slide-1-638The growth of Information and communication technologies (ICT) is causing a shift in what are and will be deemed best instructional practices in our schools. Many of today’s educators participated in a school system that was based on the printed text and have had to adjust their own learning and teaching practices to incorporate “new literacies.” New literacies such as blogs, wikis, Snapchat, SnapStories, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are a part of the learning, employment and social realms of the students in our classrooms today. Add to this that new forms of communication continue to develop and enter mainstream society and we see a real need to prepare our students to be literate in a wide array of forums ranging from the traditional textbook to being able to access and analyze online content to participating in Twitter chats, Snap Chats, Instagram and discussion boards as well as wikis and blogs. The list is open ended. As ICTs continue to develop, our school systems will have to stay current and incorporate responsible and effective communication skills in the varying platforms. It is therefore necessary to instill traditional literacy skills in our students as well as newer digital information and communication skills, and to be able to adapt to and fluent in yet to be developed literacies.

The question arises, “How do we provide on-going systematic professional development that allows teachers and school administrators to stay current with continually developing literacies?” The need for an open mind set ,as characterized by Carol Dweck in her book Mind Set, and job embedded professional development have taken on a new level of importance. Consider that students entering preschool this year will be retiring around 2080. The skills these students will need to navigate jobs that may not even exist yet are challenging to imagine. We can however work with the business industry to stay knowledgeable about the types of literacies skills they are looking for in their employees. It is also important that we teach our students to be good digital citizens, that we teach them how to use social digital literacies in a way that reflects their individuality while presenting themselves to be of sound of character.

I had the opportunity to read a couple of articles on the development of New Literacies and how they can impact instruction. In the April 2004, fifth edition of Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading published by the International Reading Association, Leu, Kinzer, Coiro and Cammack in their work entitled “Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies,” offer strong historical background on the development of various literacies throughout history and how society has adapted to and adopted new methods of communication. Challenging to our society today is the rapid rate in which new technologies are influencing our knowledge and communication.

Part of the answer to the question, “How do we provide on-going systemic professional development that allows teachers and school administrators to stay current with continually developing literacies?,” can be found in David Warlick’s article “The New Literacy.” Warlick offers a nice foundation of knowledge about what are being referred to as “New Literacies” as well as an outline of to develop a strong instructional program that supports the development of these skills among our students. I’ve started to read his book Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century. In his introduction which he also refers to as a User’s Guide, Warlick provides an excellent word of caution as we look to modernize our classrooms for 21st Century learning. While redesigning our classrooms and curriculum to integrate technology has become a national, if not international focus, many of us have the process of modernization backwards. We should really be focusing on redefining what 21st Century is, what it looks like and then using technology to integrate these skills.

It is incumbent on each of us in the field of education to stay current with the types of communication being used by society. It is also important to keep in mind the historical contexts that have brought about different types of literacies as well as the reasons different groups and leaders have chosen to suppress the knowledge that allows a society to become literate. What will the impact on society be if we do not clearly define what 21st Century literacy is and teach students how to use these skills responsibly? It falls upon education leaders, teachers, administrators, politicians, parents and community members to work together to create a culture that embraces professional development that supports teacher expertise with information and communication technologies that allow the field of education to maintain current literacy practices as they evolve.

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An Observation: A Key Difference between a Son’s E-learning and his Mom’s E-learning

imgres-1My own e-learning begins fairly early in the morning and is often a large part of my overall day. I get up before the rest of my family every morning, grab coffee and dive into my email. My inbox is filled with professional articles, blogs and ed. tech resources. Some of my favorites include: Edutopia, EdReach, Seth Godin, Emerging EdTech and Ron Edmondson. I throw in a little morning humor in there with Andertoons as well.

I’m an education “learning nerd.” Not only do I love the profession of being an educator, but I love to learn! The advent of the internet, online courses, learning modules and articles, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and email have been a blessing to my learning habit. On the flip side of my joy in having learning just a click or couple of taps away is the need to find balance in life. I make a concentrated effort to put my digital tools aside when my family gets up or the clock lets me know it’s time to get ready for work. I do however look forward to when I can get back to my inbox and click on the next article to read, persuse the posts in my Twitter feed or take a look at what has been posted in the various Google+ communities I subscribe to.

There have been times when I’ve reflected on the idea of the learning being somewhat superficial or cursory and not “good learning.”  However, the topics I am really interested in are ones that I spend dedicated time with, studying deeper and accessing further resources. The cursory learning is a bonus as it gives me an idea of what else is out there that is of interest to others and also gives me a conversational knowledge that is good for connecting with others.

I suspect that other adult learners who engage in online learning would have similar responses to this type of a reflection regarding their online learning experiences. I also suspect our school age students are more likely to get distracted though. While I may sometimes veer towards a game of Jelly Splash

IMG_2109to take a break, my lives tend to run out quickly and I am able to refocus.

My son however, is taking an online driver’s education course. I noticed him working intently this afternoon, took a look at the computer screen, saw the module he was working on and made sure not to bother him so he could concentrate. Yet, when I returned to the computer to do some work for my Leading Edge Certification in online/blended learning,I was greeted by the following image:

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It turns out he had finished the unit we had agreed he would complete by the end of the day, but being at the computer gave him quick and easy access to playing games while his parents thought he was studying. He is a pretty typical teenager and I suspect most students his age would do the same thing. It’s not such a big deal over the summer, but as it gets later into a school night, the temptation to reward oneself for finishing an assignment could, and I know has in our home, result in some unintended late nights.

As we teach our students how to learn using the internet and Web 2.0 tools as well as how to become good digital citizens, we also need to guide them and teach them how to create balance in their lives to be sure they eat their meals away from the computer, engage in regular exercise, get together with friends face to face, and moderate their online gaming and socialization. These have the potential to turn into a battle of wills on the home front as watching too much tv was for my generation. Yet as educators, we can support our students and their families by sharing models of guidelines for home use of the computer for learning and entertainment. As the learning environment continues to shift towards increased use of digital resources, guidelines will need to be adjusted, but they are an important part of the overall education of our children as well as adult learners.

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Implementing a Blended Learning Approach to Professional Development

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 1.05.00 PMAs an administrator with responsibility for providing professional development (PD) for certificated and classified staff,  I had the opportunity to be part of a team that implemented a blended model approach to PD the last few years. Working with a county office of education, I had staff located throughout a 50 mile radius. In addition to the challenges that come with being separated by so many miles, staff also had different areas of expertise. While there are many similarities to good teaching across specific student populations, there are also distinct differences to be found in best practices for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, emotionally disturbed or diagnosed with autism. By implementing a blended learning approach to professional development, staff were able to engage in more personalized learning focusing on skills and curriculum that would best support the success of their students. Additionally, this provided staff with greater flexibility to engage in learning and developing their individual areas of expertise at times that worked best for them. It also provided staff who were interested in engaging in further development, resources to guide their learning.

This blended model of professional development incorporated the study of online modules, video, Google presentations, Google forms and Google documents. Teachers and classified staff whose expertise was being developed in supporting students with moderate to severe handicaps chose evidence based practices to study from AIM (Autism Internet Modules. Teachers chose two practices a year that all staff would study and one to two evidence based practices (EBPs) that they would study individually. This course of professional development was supported by two monthly in person meetings.

One meeting was a presentation style lecture led by a guest speaker, expert in developmental disabilities, and the other meeting was a small group gathering with a specific monthly format that allowed teachers to share what was working and not working within their practice in addition to sharing examples and materials from EBPs being used in their classrooms. This approach allowed for a shared base of instructional knowledge on the part of all staff while also allowing teachers the opportunity to develop expertise in areas that were of specific interest to them. Classified staff were provided with the access to the same materials as certificated staff, were invited to the larger monthly meetings and were provided with follow up training by the classroom teacher that focused on the specific implementation of evidence based practices that supported their classroom instruction.

As individual teacher expertise began to grow, a coaching component was added to this model. When a teacher would develop an interest in an area that a colleague had expertise in or encountered a student or situation that would benefit from a another teacher’s area of expertise, release time would be provided for the two staff members to conduct observations of each other’s classrooms and to work together to incorporate the new evidence based practice into the classroom’s instructional model.

In addition to the internet modules, Google presentations and videos were created and presented via an online format. For example, staff studied the evidence based practice of video modeling this past year. The video modeling presentation was was made available for all staff to view and review as per their preference. The presentation  was easily modified to offer suggestions applicable to general education classroom instruction and to provide a guide to consider when creating video models. This presentation was supported with researched based articles for staff to read as well as steps to guide the process of creating a video model for students. The unit ended with a brief reflective assessment and submission of videos that were shared with all staff to use as fit their needs.

The outcome of implementing a blended learning model was a highly skilled and motivated staff who had confidence in their specific areas of expertise, foundational knowledge in over 30 evidence based instructional practices as well as in person and digital resources to access to supplement further learning. Teachers engaged in higher order thinking skills as they evaluated which evidence based practices their students would benefit from the most. They synthesized their knowledge to design instructional programs that incorporated these strategies into the curriculum while creating materials based on the practices they had learned. Additionally, staff began to create video models to support increased student learning.

The blended approach solved several of the logistical challenges of having staff spread across such a significant geographical area. It engaged staff as adult learners, provided flexibility for staff to engage in learning at their convenience while also capitalizing on their professional knowledge of their students’ needs and interests. This supported the implementation of instructional strategies to maximize student’s individual success. Added bonuses to using 2.0 tools and having materials available on the web were that parents and substitute teachers started to access the resources as well. This allowed for greater than expected fidelity of instruction when substitute teachers were in the classroom, particularly when staff was out for coaching. All in all, the implementation of the blended learning model to support professional development proved to be a resounding success with a positive impact on student learning.

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An Online/Blended Teaching Approach to Staff Meetings and Professional Development

teacher_cartoon-257x300After spending seventeen years of my career as a classroom teacher, four years ago, I was hired for my first administrative position. Nevertheless, I continue to find that at the core of my being, I am a teacher. Having had the chance to mentor both new and experienced teachers in my administrative role, I have become aware of the skills and insights that I have as a part of my repertoire and how to share these with other educators. I am also highly cognizant of the fact, that once out of the classroom we, as educators, must stay knowledgeable with current as well as innovative practices that have the potential to be “disruptive” to our profession. Disruptive is used here to reference the work of both Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, both of the Christensen Institute, who have collaborated to explain how new technologies can enter a market such as education. Through success with a previously untapped base, “disruptive” technologies and practices can grow to introduce effective innovations in a market that previously may have been inaccessible.

Online and blended teaching models have been a “disruptive” force in education. These models have tapped into students who have experienced struggles with the more traditional brick and mortar school system and traditional lecture style approaches to education. Online programs tapped into the market of students requiring credit recovery to graduate from high school. Given the opportunity to learn at their own pace, at a time that worked for them and with access to a computer and the internet, online learning made a significant impact in assisting students to earn their high school diplomas. This same approach was used by students who were receiving home school instruction or who required accelerated course work.

The successes did not go unnoticed and educators began to incorporate online learning within the more traditional education structure. Thus the blended learning model was born. As I reflect on how I might incorporate a blended model of instruction into my own practice as an administrator in the field of education, I see the opportunity to use this pedagogical structure to enhance professional development opportunities for staff and model how to incorporate a blended approach to a previously more traditional classroom.

Let the days of boring staff meetings be gone. Let those of feelings of our time as educators being wasted disappear. Welcome, the blended model of teacher professional development and staff meetings. I believe face to face time with staff and as a group continue to be essential components of site based communication and identity, however, using a blended approach, similar to the rotation model of a blended learning environment, could allow staff to more effectively use their preparation and professional development time. Let’s give staff access to announcements via video (and let’s make those videos entertaining), engage in discussions through a Google+ Community and focus on personalized learning to enhance individual teaching practice via internet modules and readings. In-person meetings and professional development or guest speakers via Skype or Google Hangout can be enhanced through back-channeling via Twitter discussions or by using Today’s Meet to comment and ask questions. Staff can comment, ask and answer questions for one another and share resources without ever interrupting the flow of a presentation. The level of engagement increases dramatically when the learner has the opportunity to actively engage in a presentation. These approaches offer a more effective method than the previous, “Write your question down on a piece of paper so you don’t forget it and wait until the end of the presentation,” expectation.

In order to engage staff in a blended approach to staff meetings and professional development, it is essential that the staff know how to access and use each of the technologies that will be incorporated. This requires planning and training in addition to well prepared materials to present to staff. It was not uncommon in my teaching experience to hear from the principal during lunch on a staff meeting day that the agenda for the afternoon had not yet been set. This led to the perception that administration did not place a high value on the opportunity to meet with the staff which was often reinforced by overly general agendas with a lot of “discussion” topics being made available at the time of the meeting. By incorporating a blended approach to staff meetings and PD, administration has to engage in thoughtful planning. Creating a rotation to include activities such as meeting as a large group, taking on online courses, creating an innovative lesson to share in an online community or reading an article and discussing it in a community create opportunities for increased engagement and personally relevant PD.

The intention would be that by modeling the skills and strategies used in an effective blended model of staff development and communication, staff would feel positive about their higher level of engagement as well as feel increased respect for their personal expertise within the profession. This would allow for discussion on how students could share in the same experience. Using the tools of the blended model, part  of the PD would be to learn, discuss, create and share lessons and ideas for relevant, rigorous and engaging learning.

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Enjoying Some Summer PD

I’m continuing to enjoy my professional development journey. The concepts behind being an Instructional Leader or Lead Learner speak to me not only in the roles I’ve played as a principal and assistant principal, but in the inspiration the learning provides me and the hope it gives me that the American Dream really is still available to all of our students. As part of my course work for the Innovative Educator Advanced Studies Certificate through Fresno Pacific University, I’m embarking on earning a Leading Edge Certification in On-line and Blended Learning.

The on-line/blended learning model is of particular interest to me in terms of how it can support self-paced learning for the gifted and learning disabled populations in particular, as well as the more introverted learner who may prefer or even benefit from a more personalized approach. The Leading Edge Certification offers a link to a self-assessment through the University of North Carolina to allow students to assess whether this format is appropriate for them. I found the assessment to be worthwhile and to offer some nice thinking points before moving further through the module. Additionally, the LEC’s first module references an article by Jamie Littlefield on the characteristics that define a successful on-line learner. Littlefield’s article, “Is Distance Learning Right for You,” is a nice companion piece to the self-assessment from the UNC.

I have a twenty year history of working with very capable students who are learning disabled or who have a disability such as being deaf or hard of hearing. These characteristics provide unique challenges within the traditional learning environment that are currently addressed through accommodations and modifications or by providing high-cost specialized learning environments. A priority for me throughout this course will to be evaluate the ways the on-line/blended learning approach can be used to reach the true intelligence and creativity of these groups of learners who have a long history of being marginalized. I’m particularly interested in learning about creating closed captioning [cc} lessons and appreciate that this will be a part of the coursework.

I invite you to access any of the links above to see if you find something of interest and please share what you’re doing to enhance your professional growth this summer in the comments section.

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The Common Core – A Challenge or an Opportunity?

When looking at the Common Core, I see more opportunity than I do challenges. I see the opportunity for teachers to engage more in the “art” of teaching. I see the opportunity for greater focus and financial support to integrate the 21st Century tools our students use in their personal lives. I see the opportunity to take all students to application and synthesis as part of their learning.   I see the opportunity for teachers to engage in the art of teaching. As a profession, we have spent significant time and resources on training our teachers in the science of teaching, direct interactive instruction and implementing researched based curriculum in a structured and consistent manner. The importance of this can not be understated as we consider Bloom’s taxonomy and providing our students with the foundational skills needed and acquired through gaining knowledge and developing skills to support comprehension. However, as we get into the higher levels of learning that support students as critical thinkers where they begin experimenting, comparing ideas, evaluating outcomes and imagining possibilities, we need to engage with them from the heart. Teaching and learning involve emotion. We can inspire a student. We can also bore a student. The Common Core with it’s focus on critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration create opportunities for teachers to engage the mind and help students understand the “why” of their learning and the “why” of what they are learning.   Part of the transition to the Common Core will be in changing the mind-set of educators on how they approach the presentation of lessons in the classroom. There will have to be a shift in professional development, the tools used to support the learning of both the teacher and the student and how we teach students to express their understanding. It will take a while to adjust from a long-held practice of filling in bubbles and circling the correct answer to supporting students in articulating how they have arrived at their conclusions, but this approach will ultimately engage the learner in much deeper learning.   Transitions can cause trepidation. Thirteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act, a policy that strongly encouraged a very regimented approach to teaching, our educators are being asked to make quick shift in their practice. It will take time to make the mental adjustment, to engage in professional development and reading that support our teachers’ expertise and to implement changes in the classroom that support the Common Core. Educators are by a nature a conscientious group of people. They want to do what is best for their students. They want to meet the expectations set forth by their profession. It can however feel challenging to have to sway with the winds of both the State and Federal legislature as politicians define the focus of instructional expectations and the funding that is allocated to support the changes of those expectations.   It is our responsibility as administrators to teach our teachers and our communities. It is our responsibility to support our educators in understanding the origin of and the “why” behind the Common Core. It is our responsibility to assist our teachers in understanding the caliber of input that was provided by our professional colleagues toward informing this educational policy.   In order to successfully make this shift with buy-in from the teachers who are charged with modifying their current practice, we need to provide them with the knowledge, tools, professional development and time to adapt their practice. This will be done through an allocation of resources that will allow for the opportunity to engage in study and professional collaboration combined with the sharing of ideas, successes and failures. A well-organized Professional Learning Community focused on the successful implementation of the Common Core can support this. As the teacher’s pedagogical approach shifts they will need access to 21st Century learning tools that will support their instruction in conjunction with on-going professional development on how to incorporate these into the classroom instructional model.   Ensuring and monitoring the success of Common Core implementation will be measured not only by the data collected from students’ Smarter Balance testing results, but also by how teachers’ instructional practices change, the tools they use, their knowledge base and comfort level with teaching to the higher level of learning that the Common Core has set forth as well as student work samples and projects. In order to evaluate on-going progress and success, site leadership should take time at the beginning of the year to collect baseline information on their staffs’ comfort level with the new standards, how confident they feel in the professional development they have been provided with, what tools and instructional strategies are currently being used in the classroom, the level of buy-in they have to the Common Core. After gathering this information, site staff and it’s instructional leadership team can decide on goals for the year and what type of professional development should be provided to support the goals for the site as a whole and for individual teachers looking to gain specific areas of expertise. The same survey given at the beginning of the year should be given to the staff again at the end of the year. Once the results are analyzed, they should be presented to the site’s instructional leadership team and then to the full staff. This process should be cyclical and can become a part of the planning done during the spring to plan for the following school year.   Are these challenges or opportunities? I understand the mind-set of viewing these as challenges, particularly in terms of funding a transition of this magnitude, but I do see great opportunity in the process of making this change. It appears that as educators, we may be participating in a revolution of our education system; a revolution that may have a similar impact on how we teach as the industrial revolution did. I suspect this period of history will one day be studied for the influence it is having on society in the same manner in which the impact of the industrial revolution is studied for its effect on our culture. This is an exciting time.

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Flipping PD with Google Docs

IScreen Shot 2013-10-20 at 1.12.18 PM‘ve been impressed by the Flipped Learning Concept from the moment I saw my first Khan Academy video. My son, who has a gift for mathematics, was in the fifth grade at the time and we had several years of well intentioned mathematics instruction behind us. We knew we were coming to a particularly crucial point in his education as he got ready for his middle school years. During his 6th grade year, he sat in a classroom with a pre-algebra book, largely teaching himself, while the teacher conducted the regular 5th grade math lesson for the rest of the class. Thank you Samuel Khan for coming to the rescue. We spent evenings watching instructional videos and his class time was spent working on math problems with little interruption to the teacher for clarification.

Fast forward a few years and I’m impressed by my teacher colleagues who have adopted this approach to teaching by personalizing their own flipped instruction using resources such as Google Docs, Show Me, YouTube, Screencast-o-Matic and SnagIt. As a principal and instructional leader who appreciates how valuable my staff’s time is, I have decided to embrace the concept of Flipping Professional Development. Rather than using our staff meetings for presentations, resources on information on the professional development topic will be shared with staff prior to the meeting and the time will be used for staff to collaborate on improving their professional practice.
The next staff meeting/professional development session will focus on collecting baseline data and writing baseline statements for IEPs. Information and resources will be shared via a Google Presentation prior to the meeting with the expectation that staff will review the materials prior to the professional development session and with the hope that they find the material relevant and worth their time.
With a nod to walking the walk when it comes to baseline data, a Google Form will be sent to staff prior to the session to collect data on their opinions to participating in a Flipped PD model. The data will be presented at the beginning of the staff meeting. The meeting will end with a post session survey collecting data on staff’s opinion regarding their participation in the Flipped Model Session. With gratefulness to those who have gone before me and shared examples of what has gone well as well as what didn’t work, I have prepared our first Flipped PD session.
For those of you reading this blog who are already flipping instruction and PD sessions, I invite you to leave comments about your successes as well as what you’ve learned from when it didn’t go as expected. I believe the most valuable part of this post could end up being found in the comments section as we share our experiences.