Final Project for kids in SEN

Please follow the embedded google document below to see my UbD Project for the Learning Resource Class to build students Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy Skills as they transition to the following grade.

UbD Project Plans

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
  • I chose this topic because unlike many teachers, who have a set curriculum and standard to asses, I find my passions lie within my three pull out courses for the Learning Resource Classes. Classes that, in my opinion, are not a glorified study hall (where there are a time and place for those classes as well) but a class for students to become more self-aware and begin to take control over their education by growing in advocacy skills. As a special educator, I feel my number one job is to advocate for these students, but by the end of each school year, hopefully have taught and empowered each of the students on my caseload to become better advocates for themselves.
  • I revamped a previously created learning experience by changing it from a PowerPoint/google slides presentation to a video. All the components have remained the same, but the final project to submit is different. I thought about adding choice to this piece but want to try one year with this new video component to see the difference in final products. I also feel short videos will be more memorable for the audience.
  • This learning experience was different from other learning experiences I have designed, as I created this one without the help of other co-teachers and utilized the official UbD template.
  • This learning experience relates to things I learned in Course 1, by adding the video technology component and the accessibility of the technology that I have gotten more used to trying during this course.
  • Selecting the ISTE standards and creating my own goals for this course has influenced me the most. It is reflected within my learning experience as the entire unit plan is all about students reflecting on their own identities and creating goals and support plans.
  • I hope that my students have a successful transition to the following year (high school) and hope that their new teachers are able to know each of them to be able to provide proper accommodations and encourage the advocacy skills right from the start of the new school year. With students complete this learning experience I hope that they each are confident in themselves as learners, can focus on their strengths, and be proud of the things that make them unique individuals. I especially hope that they view their contributions to the learning environment positively and are able to meet their individualized goals.
  • We are only partially through this unit and with moving to distance learning it will probably still continue to evolve. With moving to distance learning, I have learned to not wait until 2nd Semester to start much of this project but continue to do pieces of it throughout the year.
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Share passion projects & let students speak freely about their own passions as much as possible

…like in this project, kicking it off with the focus of their big dreams and what interests them. Get other teachers to know your students by what they love doing outside of the classroom to be able to bring their passions INTO the classroom.

Authentic Audiences bring purpose to learning

….whether its the following year’s teachers or the next year’s students giving your current students an authentic audience will provide that motivation for a successful learning experience. Continue to explore widening that audience beyond the school community and how to reach more global viewers and listeners.

Remote Reflections for Distance Learning

… I found that starting my classes off every day with a short (under 5-10 minutes) flipgrid video allows for me to be fully present in my student’s mind and accessible with the office hours posted. Since we are “asynchronous” I felt it’s important to still establish the 1:1 communication with the students in SEN as well as provide a platform for them to still get to interact with one another and get social time with their peers especially during a time of many self-isolating and family quarantine going on. Flipgrid responses at the end of each day/week has allowed my students the ability to check in with a structured reflection question guide as well as comment on the progress others are making during their time of many individualized works. Edpuzzle has also been great for the mid-video check ins and google survey for quick check-in responses.

What tools have you found for distance learning…most beneficial for SEN students*?

*I firmly believe in person-first language, “students in SEN” but in this case, it fits the visual text box better. Apologies.

VIA Character Report Comes highly recommended for all ages
Power of your own mind and coping with failure
It’s okay to not like every teacher you have and Middle School is all about finding friends who share your values.
Learning Styles, finding the right combination of them all

Week 5: How Learning Happens- Theory to Practice

In this week’s readings, it was said that “Teaching and learning are not synonymous; we can teach, and teach well, without having the students learn.” But in my mind, if learning isn’t actually taking place- can we really even call it teaching? What do you think?

 My favorite excerpt I came across was from “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age (Siemens)” where it stated, “Experience has long been considered the best teacher of knowledge. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. ‘I store my knowledge in my friends’ is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people (undated).”

It reminds me of the quote by Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” It is with both that quote and excerpt above that really allows one to reflect on their goals and surround themselves with people whom one admires. But it’s even bigger than that! We all need to make sure we are in the right surroundings, but if you would like to read more about it, click here.

Similarly, with our students and making good choices when selecting partners or groups to work with (on the off chance they actually get to do their own selecting, but honestly don’t we all prefer to hand-select those we enjoy working with?) It was also said that deeper learning takes place when a there are different opinions being voiced. All this leads me to believe the importance of making sure collaborative work continues even when moving to a digital classroom.

 How do you use the learning theories in your everyday practice to support student learning?

Bloom’s taxonomy and the lower to higher-order thinking skills is something that plays a huge part in the world of SEN. We must constantly be looking at the material presented in the general education classrooms and checking it’s accessibility for the students we work with. Keeping in mind:

  • Before we can understand a concept we have to remember it
  • Before we can apply the concept we must understand it
  • Before we analyze it we must be able to apply it
  • Before we can evaluate its impact we must have analyzed it
  • Before we can create we must have remembered, understood, applied,
    analyzed, and evaluated it

Remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating are all things that at times need to be presented sequentially, for those who are English Language Learners, or especially for students with learning differences who struggle with short term memory, recall, or critical thinking skills or may require that additional time, repetition, or framework to move from one skill to the next.

Real-life learning is messy and complex. Classrooms that emulate the “fuzziness” of learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning.

We need to be sure to check in with our students and have them reflect often to ensure that they are not reaching cognitive overload with all the new learning experiences and feelings of isolation that will accompany digital learning.

Anxiety can be defined as the gap between your perceived ability and the perceived demands of the task; in other words, what you think you are capable of and how demanding you think the task is; the bigger the gap between these two perceptions- the greater the level of anxiety.

 To help manage students’ anxiety in a world where social media and poor sleep habits seem to be growing, having a trusting relationship with an adult such as a teacher or school counselor can be a helpful tool against the negative effects of stress. It is important we teach students about this and have them share their reflections on learning and the process and continually reminding them of their strengths and successes.

Have you begun modifying what you do in your classroom/school?

My SEN Teacher experience in a general education math classroom and overall feel at faculty meetings was the idea behind us wanting a “digital learning drill” in other words, a rehearsal. Can we set something up while we still have our students to ensure that they know how to access things and have the ability to learn digitally, or more importantly- to play nice. Needless to say, of course, our rehearsals went well (probably better than the small group of teachers I was apart of where we trialed Google Meet, that was a good well-timed and needed laugh) from the practice Zoom meeting to a full lesson delivery of “take your laptop and phone somewhere in the building and pretend you are anywhere, see if you can complete today’s lesson” they nailed it. 6th graders, and if they can do it then 7th and 8th should be able to as well.

Gadget, Devices, Technology, Smartphone
Image taken from https://pixabay.com/

I believe what it showed us, was that it all comes back to the educators, the fear or perceived added stress of “going to digital learning” (aka change) may be a steep learning curve and many additional hours for preparation for most, but for our students, it’s just another day where they get to be behind a screen learning how to interact in additional ways. Allowing them to grow and be contributing members to the school community. I think we all need to take a deep breath, model calmness, and show the confidence that moving to digital learning is a new and exciting endeavor, one that won’t change the expected growth of our learners, but give them new learning experiences.

Are you starting to notice different things in your classroom/school?

First off, I am very thankful to be at a well-resourced school where all students have access to the internet at home as well as 1:1 devices. What I am noticing is that whether it’s an iPad, phone, or laptop all kids are engaged and seemingly enjoy the projects they are working on. From video book clubs to podcasts, to filmed talk shows, the learning experiences happening at AASM are engaging.

Back to the ‘How Learning Happens’ we need to remember to always be: “Taking advantage of the incredible opportunity to help children reach their full potential by creating positive relationships, experiences, and environments in which every student can thrive.”

The keyword for me in the above passage was EVERY. Our job as educators is to ensure that the rich experiential learning we provide is accessible to all learners who walk through our doors. Just as Constructivism suggests that “learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences” (Driscoll, 2000, p. 376), it is the experiences we create for our students that allow them to reach their full potential.

Week 4: A Mindset for Embedding Tech

Embedding technology into SEN is always a rabbit hole. There are so many different things to try to help students with their executive functioning skills. Finding ones that work for you and your students is important, but also something that changes each year as the needs of your students also change year to year.

In addition to using Reading Plus & Khan Academy on a regular basis to help my students set goals and close skill gaps to achieve grade-level mastery, Trello was another site we found useful in a classroom that is more small group or 1:1 to keep track of what needs to be completed for their general education classes or the APP Ace Your Self-Study to help students with scheduling their time. Whereas for a pull-out English for Academic Purposes class, I found Duolingo for Schools, incredibly helpful, especially when not all students in your small group share a mother tongue language.

When supporting Humanities and Math courses I found Good Reads & Desmos: an online graphing program are another two technology components that really should be added to any classroom lessons; that is both incredibly reliable and easy to use.

What other handy go-to sites would you recommend? These are only a drop in the bucket to what is out there.

I always have my fall back website of Super Teacher Tools that has allowed me to create and save customized review games for any class that students need help in. Other tech-rich lessons I’ve planned for usually happen directly after our Fall and Spring MAP testing. Once my students have completed their Reading, Language, and Math exams, we dissect the scores and set goals with many of the wonderful reports that NWEA offers: Student Growth and Student Profile pages to name a few. We are able to identify the areas where skill gaps exist along with celebrating their strengths. This NWEA Response to Intervention is an easy to use site that helps you target the specific skills and standards students need to focus on to build their confidence in the general education classroom and perform on grade level.

Here is a helpful PDF that explains more about MAP Skills Navigator.

What really stuck out to me this week was the importance of ensuring all lessons include:

Relevant real-world tasks & Authentic Audiences

I find any lessons that have an authentic audience, such as a project with a final parent expo, advice columns for younger grades, or self-advocacy/self-awareness projects for transition years (their next year’s teachers will be reading them) are more meaningful and students tend to put more effort into them. I would love to start incorporating more of a larger audience like things on-line to really engage students in what interests them most.

The example lesson plans from fellow special educators around portfolios incredibly useful and gave me great ideas on how to tweak my own student video reflections. The site Teachers Pay Teachers is yet another example where I would love to be a contributor and not just a lurker (with the occasional interaction).

The ted talk: The Power of belief – mindset and success | Eduardo Briceno | TEDxManhattanBeach does a great job of explaining how hard work, focus, and persistence are all byproducts that are critical for success and that when addressing student’s levels of grit and persistence, we, as educators must address the mindset the underlies the task at hand.

This is all backed by the research of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. I find her Ted Talk on The Power of Believing that you can Improve even more inspiring.

But whether it’s fixed or growth mindset isn’t what truly matters, but the ability to recognize when you have each one and how to switch it that allows you to be reflective and grow.

What things cause you to have a Fixed Mindset? Change? Technology? How can you overcome this, or better yet, switch it to growth?

Week 3: Connected Learning in the Digital World

My new learning goal or objective is to transform my classroom to deliver pull out SEN services known as LRC – the Learning Resource Class into one that can be done 100% digital. With “inevitable” campus closure looming on the horizon and the possibility of our school following suit; as many other International schools have done these past few weeks, I want to ensure that I am able to maintain a high level of support to the students in the SEN program, whom I case manage.

Goal: Effectively transform a Learning Resource Class into an online service delivery model.
My Action Plan: Steps I am currently taking to reach my goal
  1. Research what other international school SEN programs are doing with a campus closure (by March 8).
  2. Trial run conference platforms like Zoom and Google Meeting (on March 5 & March 11).
  3. Attend a new SEN software program meeting through Jump Rope (on March 6).
  4. Attend 2 sessions of Teachers Teaching Teachers Professional Development around digital learning (on March 10).
  5. Develop a plan and expectations for myself, parents and my students I case manage (by March 12).
  6. Develop lesson plans along with procedures and “classroom” expectations (by March 13).
  7. Be ready to implement the said plan (TBD).
  8. Actively reflect on how the lessons are going and the levels of student engagement (TBD).
  9. Learn how to video blog and develop a lesson plan around this (by March 13).
  10. Assign a video blog for my students to engage in advocating with their general education classroom teachers around their Individualized Learning Plan Goals along with any accommodations they may require (TBD).

Which do you prefer?

I plan to take advantage of my Professional Learning Networks, by asking questions to help me with my first objective: See what others are doing. Why re-invent the wheel? Build off of what others have already started to learn from. What’s working for them? What isn’t? And how can I take the positives and continue to build and strengthen what already exists in the world of SEN? This learning goal will help me empathize with the learners in my classroom, as online digital learning is something that none of us are familiar with. They will see me learning as we go, just as they are. It will allow even more room for a feeling of a safe space or learning environment. I can model how it’s okay to take risks, try new things, and fail, before hopefully… eventually getting it right.

With all the digital creativity coming at us full steam ahead, something that really caught my attention was the ideas and concepts around “tinkering” or simply “messing around”. I feel as we become adults, there is very litte time in our lives for us to embark on such funtivities. Whereas before diving first into the world of education, and teaching, or really never having left- “Geeking Out” or in other words: following our interests in a self-directed way at a passionate level, is something I find myself doing less and less. I would like to also set a personal goal of getting back to those original things that do get me excited to once again “Geek Out”.

What Passion Projects do you wish you made time for? My list is ever growing….

With all that has been said I also agree that students (even ourselves) are “Immersed in things all the time”; we must make time for reflection.

Reflection is something I don’t think we, as a species, do nearly enough. Along with my own willpower to remove the distractions…… it all just takes practice.

And as I reflect it makes me, even more, want to be a “Connection Builder”; to help students discover their passions and interests. Including individual interests and personal identities to build connections through shared interests for mentoring programs, like school’s advisory programs are an amazing idea, yet one that I’m surprised many schools more than likely do not follow. What a new and fun challenging idea on how to go about building a mentoring program. Wouldn’t any educator get excited over a small class sized group of students who are all passionate about a similar thing and can celebrate the love of learning together? Pros? Cons?

Don’t you hope to be someone’s learning hero?

Last, I really enjoyed a quote I came across in this week’s Ted talk: Forget university? 4 steps to design your own education | Till H. Groß |

I implore you, don’t miss that starting gun.

Week 2: Do YOU Seek Knowledge?

I think by engaging students more in the “authentic experiences” allows our students to make those real-world connections. This makes each lesson more meaningful for them, and in turn stay motivated. Like it said it in the Ted Talk video- “Why do kids have to come to school when they already have the information?” I feel that getting students engaged in the learning process and allowing them to fail, showing them that mistakes grow brains, and in order to do so getting fellow educators who are not afraid to move away from all the things done in the past, because of it’s routine or simplicity. But it is our job to question and advocate for our students to ensure that each and every day we are empowering student’s voices and embracing failure as a cause for celebration.(TEDx Talk, Laufenberg)

Visible Learning, by James Anderson

What to do… when you don’t know what to do?

The Learning Pit- Overwhelming sense of achievement and satisfaction.

Seeking out knowledge is something educators strive to get out of our students, instead of relying on it being delivered to you- such as in the form of a lecture or as my students would say, “Just tell me what I need to know for the Assessment.” Yet the true discovery of information can be met with hostility and even frustration, especially to those with any sort of learning difference. I know as an educator, I try my best to model this for my students, many times by answering their questions with more questions and prompting them with a general, “Where do you think we could find that information?” As a SEN teacher, expected to be a specialist in all classroom subjects (right), learning how to research things is vital. Many times I find myself having to teach something to myself before then attempting to teach, pre-teach, or re-teach it to a small group I am instructed to work with. I think- resiliency, grit, or our school core value of perseverance is another crucial value that needs to not only be taught in school but practiced and celebrated. (Along with guts and determination to not be scared to dive right into the entire learning process- such as shown above as the learning pit.)

Activity = Visibility = Connection opportunity

I will actively seek out knowledge, instead of letting it come to me by utilizing my RSS feeder and growing my own PLN-Personal Learning Network. This is something I myself am in the learning pit. Knowing that the many times I have been in the learning pit in the past; allows me to be thankful for my ability to persevere as I understand these tools will help me become a better educator and reach my goals in the end.

So what role does research play in my daily practice as an educator?

As a SEN teacher, I am constantly trying to stay up to date with the latest proven practices to ensure that the limited amount of time I am given with the students on my caseload is being used as efficiently as possible. In order to make more than one single year of growth in a year’s time, the interventions taking place need to be delivered with fidelity. In addition to the lesson plans and staying current with our Individualized Learning Plans, seeking out new professional development opportunities is also not only crucial but rewarding.

Journal of Adolescent Research– Making the Most of Adolescence: Harnessing the Search for Identity to Understand Classroom Belonging.

This article shows how students struggle with the issues of identity and trying to make themselves known. In a world where technology has changed how we interact with each other, it contributes significantly to a student’s sense of belonging. We not only have to focus on how technology changes the way that we interact with information and finding answers to the questions we seek, but to the student’s sense of who they are within it all, at the same time while trying to remain engaged and connected to their own cultural identities (especially in the international school settings.)

Being an active researcher impacts my practice

I would use the word “active” in slightly less capacity here, though I do believe I am constantly in the state of learning. I believe every day, I don’t just teach something to my students, but I walk away every day having learned something from my students as well. Which in turn, makes me a better educator than the day before.

Every day’s a school day. So jump right in!

Assessment and Data Tracking is one other article I find quite useful when it comes to constantly reassess interventions as a way to measure the impact one is having on a child’s success and growth.

Internet Safety Lesson Plans are another essential unit, that can many times be overlooked, or not given enough time dedicated to. Especially for a school that has 1:1 devices, Internet safety should be a priority. I think our school still has some room for growth but listed below are a number of lessons that we talk about within elective courses or within our advisory program that meets 4 days a week for 25 minutes.

  • Digital Friendships
  • Don’t feed the Phish
  • Chatting online safely
  • Big, Big Data
  • My Social Media Life
  • Being aware of what you share
  • Sexting and relationships

“By protecting children from the worst
digital technology has to offer, and
expanding their access to the best,
we can tip the balance for the better”

-Anthony Lake- UNICEF Executive Director

Reading the state of our children, was another eye-opener. I was shocked that the “For Better” section seemed very limiting yet the “worse” and “still worse” sections were shocking lengthier. I especially loved the examples around how technology allows some students to bring the focus centered around their abilities vs. disabilities etc…..but I couldn’t help but think what a small population that includes. Yet on the opposite side of child trafficking/abuse, bullies, suicide, and sexual exploitation; I couldn’t help but think how these things will affect them ALL.

Teach them to be good humans first and everything else will follow.

Do you agree?

Week 1: Disconnecting the lurker.

Well, as you can see by my post date… it has taken me more than long enough to take that initial step and continue actual blog posts. Reflecting on week 1 material- I must admit that I found I connected more with “What does it mean to disconnect” article, as with day to day habits I have realized how much of a lurker I have (sadly) become. Yet I also find that reading all the ways to be disconnected, I have realized that above being a #1 lurker, I mainly enjoy being disconnected. Going on adventures to places where wifi is spotty and not getting a new local SIM card or “not being able” to connect I still find much joy in it. Usually, it only lasts a 3-4 days at a time, because I don’t think as international educators one can truly ever “disconnect” for much longer. (At least I know my friends and family back home would be worried). But I must agree with the article that it is healthy for us, to be present in the moments while finding the balance to capture it and have those moments as digital memories to look back on years from now.

In past years, I’ve led “Week Without Walls” or “Discovery Weeks” for groups of middle school students to travel to different countries for community building and service-learning projects. As I reflect from year to year when planning these can be amazing trips- It has saddened me that we have moved away from being truly “unplugged.” We can no longer go to those places to get disconnected from the world, yet at the same time be so thrown into the world creating experiences that the “unpluggedness” of it all wouldn’t be missed. Or what’s worse, is having a hard time finding those places where you can… it seems everywhere now has a free password. There is not a single place where our – Google fi won’t reach. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful in many ways to be able to share and stay connected, but I do feel it is important to have some aspect of life where one can truly be unplugged- and as an educator, I feel it’s even more important to be able to teach that to younger generations.

For me, any time I go for a swim or run- I love NOT having my phone and NOT having music to listen to. Though technology has improved and there are many fancy apps out there to help track your runs, log your miles, the calories, the route, your pace… even in the water with headphones- crazy…. I still find so much joy in doing these activities “unplugged” and soaking up the world around you.

What about you? Have you found a way to balance being connected? Or ways to “unplug?”

Sometimes I don’t even realize it… after a long day of “being on” using your teacher’s voice, interacting with 100’s of people from 7am to 6 pm… I tend to come home and just soak in the silence of it all. No TV, no music, just quiet. And it’s nice, I encourage you to give it a try.

Sorry- some last thoughts on… twitter, tweets, and tweeting. From being part of the original Facebook generation, I have not been one to jump on the “twitter band wagon” like many other things, I thought this would just be another fad. that would come and go, one that I wasn’t even willing to give that little blue bird a shot.

It wasn’t until after reading week 1’s resources on twitter that I have officially decided to give it a shot. And though, I haven’t been able to (yet) see how I would utilize it in my classroom….teaching a Learning Resource Class of groups of 2-5, I can at least now see the value of having another platform that is customizable allowing me to establish those connections that I haven’t yet even began to discover.

After attending a conference, you always ask yourself, what’s that 1 thing you want to take away and truly attempt at implementing to make your teaching better, and now I can only look forward to, “Twitter becomes a constant source of new ideas to explore.” (Educational Leadership, Why teachers should try twitter) Are we overwhelmed yet? For those like me, exploring new ideas to add to the classroom, I feel like one of my students who just fell down a youtube rabbit hole. Let the exploring begin!

Help me take my first step… “Who to follow?”