How I Succeeded, How I Failed

In my efforts to become a more reflective educator, I’ve been trying to figure out how I succeeded, how I have failed, and more importantly, why. I intended to write one of these blog posts at the end of the school year, but that’s something I failed to do (is that irony?!). I’d actually meant to share this a month ago, but.. <insert excuses here>.

Although the school year is off to a busy start, I’m making a point of reflecting, so below are my summer successes & failures:

Successes

Person on top of a sunset-lit mountain with arms outstretched in celebration

Hooray! (Image source)

  • teaching as an adjunct: I have been wanting to teach in higher education for a little while now since I knew it would ensure I am up-to-date on the best practices in my field, and it would give me an opportunity to reach more students, albeit indirectly. I got the chance to teach a graduate level “School-Based Speech Language Pathology” course this summer, and I would say it was a success because I survived (and so did they!). My overall sense from students during the course was that I assigned “too much work,” and while I empathize with this sentiment, it’s a lot of work to be a school-based speech language pathologist, and this was a summer intensive course, so I can live with any negative feedback about the workload. Why I see this opportunity as a success is because I could clearly see how much knowledge each of my students demonstrated and gained throughout their varied projects and assessments. I was so proud & impressed with each one of them (so it sounds to me like that much work paid off)!
  • taking an online course: It was interesting and humbling to be on the student side of things once again. I took a course in Word Finding with Dr. Diane German, who literally wrote the book on word retrieval. She taught me a lot about the subject matter (about which I will get to provide an in-service or two at my school), but she taught me just as much about how to be an effective instructor: she gave thoughtful comments, was reasonable without being a pushover, and she gave diverse resources (e.g. readings and videos).
  • Google Level 2 Certification: I applied to take this back in February, but due to some glitch, I never got my confirmation. After a few unanswered complaint emails, I finally heard back and had a week to complete it…and I succeeded! As an instructor, I was impressed by the range of questions and applications of skills the exam required. I thought it was fair, and dare I say fun?
  • writing guest blogs: Success! Read them here.
  • writing a technology curriculum: Success! I had the privilege of writing the middle school technology curriculum for my school. It was an interesting balance of content knowledge (e.g. What are the parts of a computer?) and skills knowledge (e.g. update a terrible Google Slides presentation to make it more effective), along with a sizeable Digital Citizenship component.

Failures

In typical Growth Mindset form, I consider all of these failures to be learning opportunities. While it was important for me to understand why I didn’t succeed at the tasks outlined below, I’m using these as motivators to keep trying…

Image Source

Keep at it! (Image Source)

  • writing a book proposal: I failed…and I have no excuses, except for all fo the activities listed below. I have a very clear idea of what I would like my next book to be about, but without clear deadlines, I have not finished writing up my proposal. Therefore, I have now set myself several deadlines in order to complete this task in a more timely fashion.
  • Google Certified Trainer application: I probably could have gotten my materials in on time, but then I noticed that they would be changing the application criteria for the next quarter, and all I would need was my Level 2 Certification. Although I had passed each subject area exam back when that was the route to becoming a Google Educator, I thought it would make more sense to wait another quarter and apply thereafter. Now, I’m excited to apply for the new Google Certified Trainer program. Stay tuned!
  • going to the gym regularly: Complete fail! I should have known– the less regular my schedule, the more difficult it is for me to stick to a reliable workout schedule. In the summer, I tend to walk and bike a lot, but given the heat, I kind of failed at that, too. Can I blame climate change? Maybe. Regardless, my solution to this problem is similar to the book proposal one– now that the school year has started, I both have a more regular schedule, and have my gym times in my calendar, so I’m more likely to actually go!
  • planning for the school year: Complete failure! I will use the excuse of, “Well, there will be some new students, so I don’t quite know what to plan for,” but in all honesty, after the busy summer I had, I knew I would be able to use the two week professional development and preparation time that we get at my school before the students arrive. Plus, I have a new speech language pathologist to work alongside, and our planning sessions have been so fruitful. Two brains are definitely better than one!

I hope to reflect on my school year in December when my goals include: successfully teaching an undergraduate course, using a SMARTBoard effectively in the language therapy classroom, and continuing to present in dynamic ways at national conferences.

What has helped you succeed? What has contributed to your failures, and what has helped you succeed afterwards?

Weekend Wisdom via Understood.Org

I’m excited to be part of another Experts Live! event called Weekend Wisdom via Understood.Org. As part of their #StartSchoolStrong campaign, they have a month of online events to help caregivers help their kids be successful in the new school year. I am honored to be part of a Weekend Wisdom discussion on extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, some students with LD’s/ADHD only feel successful outside of the classroom, so this is a topic I feel particularly passionate about.

Have questions about extracurriculars and students with an LD/ADHD? Participate via Understood.org’s Weekend Wisdom Group.

What The Little Prince Can Teach Us About Teaching

I’ve loved The Little Prince since I was a child, and with each reading or exposure, I get something more out of it. As a kid, I’m certain I missed some of the symbolism or allegories, but I’m sure I empathized with the fact that I felt adults didn’t always understand me, or have the right priorities.

This summer, I re-read The Little Prince for the first time since becoming an educator, and below are my three take-aways for educators:

1. On Authority

On one planet, the prince meets a King, and

“what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience.”

In his attempts to be obeyed, he would “order” actions, such as “I order you sometimes to yawn and sometimes to [not yawn].” In the book, we are meant to think this king is ridiculous, but I’ve often observed teachers wanting authority for authority’s sake. Students should not listen to you because of some perceived authority.

Students should listen to you because they trust you, respect you, and you have a reason for teaching what you are teaching.

Even if a part of your curriculum is something that has been handed down to you that you disagree with, it is appropriate to include students in critiquing that element of the curriculum. When I had to teach 4th graders test preparation, we discussed the downsides of standardized preparation (with comics such as this one), we discussed the importance of task familiarity on testing (which made us realize that despite our gripes, this class was useful after all), and we discussed the best ways we show our learning, which allowed students to reflect on themselves as learners.

2. On Expectations

Despite his insistence on authority, the king described above was a “reasonable king,” thus he realized that he couldn’t have unrealistic expectations (as that would reflect poorly on him as a king):

“‘[I]f I ordered a general to change himself into a sea bird, and the general did no obey me, that would not be the fault of the general. It would be my fault.'”

How often do we have unrealistic expectations? We expect 1st graders to be writing paragraphs, without having taught them about the structure of one; we expect students to read without having given them a minute of phonics; we expect students with Specific Learning Disabilities to learn in ways that are not evidence-based, and then act surprised when they are not successful.

Teachers must recognize their important role in education. Almost none of what we teach is innate, so without clear teaching, students should not be expected to know most of what we teach. We do a disservice to students if we expect them to know everything we teach, and we do a disservice to our profession.

3. On Responsibility

In The Little Prince, the following quote is about the prince and a fox. I think it’s a great analogy for teaching, but that only works if we replace the word “tame” with “teach, so bear with me as I say this is another of my favorite, teaching-related quotes:

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

This quote comes after a beautiful passage about how the little prince grew to tame (and love!) a rose he had, which described the care and love the prince took with this rose, a rose he’d watered, sheltered, and listened to. My take on this quote (after my initial reading in which I felt “rose” was a sexist metaphor for partners who need “taming,” a la Taming of the Shrew) is that we are responsible for our students.

We are particularly responsible for our students while they are in our classrooms, but we are also responsible for them beyond our classroom walls.

What we teach students should allow them to be confident and competent. We must practice Gradual Release of Responsibility so that students (all students) may be independent in their application of any skills or content that we teach them. We must teach students to reflect on what they are like as learners, and to self-advocate, if necessary. Our effect on our students doesn’t end when they leave our classes, and for students with effective teachers, that’s a gift!

Understood.Org Facebook Chat

Exciting news to share! I am tremendously thrilled to be an Expert on the Understood.Org site. The site has been the most consistently well-researched yet accessible (in all senses of the word) that I have come across. My first act as an honored member of this community is to be a part of an Understood.Org Facebook Chat. My topic? Ask An SLP!

Individuals may submit their questions starting 12pm (EST) Monday, June 6th. Click the link to the Facebook Chat learn more!

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

I wrote my first post for BAM Radio’s EdWords blog, and I’m cross-posting it below. To view the original, please click here.

 

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

superhero

Teachers are superheros! 

When students struggle with a task (e.g. reading), understandably, they may become unmotivated to do that task. As expected, much of the time when students struggle to decode (turn words into sounds that they can understand), they do not read as much. This is a tragedy for two reasons- one, because there are several, well-documented ways to teach decoding. Second, students with the Specific Learning Disability, dyslexia, have average to above-average intelligence by definition (i.e. in order to obtain the diagnosis). However, if students limit their reading, then their background knowledge, vocabulary, and general comprehension can be impacted.

It is our jobs as teachers and educators to ensure that this worst case scenario– in which children with difficulty decoding don’t read, and therefore become less able to understand complex information– does not happen for our students. “When children beat their heads against a wall of failure for several years, they are often scarred for life” (Wolf & Stoodley, 2007). Therefore, first and foremost, students with dyslexia should receive direct, explicit instruction from a reading or learning specialist or special educator so they can learn to decode. Decoding intervention is one of the most studied and most successful interventions there is. An Orton-Gillingham based approach (which is a hierarchical, multi-sensory approach to reading instruction) helps students with dyslexia learn to read with astonishing success (it even changes the structure of their brain!).

Dyslexia is not something people outgrow (which is positive considering all the benefits it has), but decoding struggles are absolutely something that students can be instructed beyond. Reading may always be effortful and slow for individuals with dyslexia, but it is an injustice if any student cannot properly decode words when there are evidence-based ways to instruct students in decoding.

How Technology Helps

All teachers can help support students by using technology tools to increase access to texts. We don’t want students thinking that reading only happens in the reading classroom, and therefore they should only be able to access the content in a reading class. Once students learn about text-to-speech tools, or teachers begin to use audio comments for commenting on student work, ideally, all content teachers will employ these tools to help all students students succeed. As a teaching team, ensure that you are all on the same page about expectations: Can students use technology tools to decode for homework? (My suggestion: yes!). Can students bring headphones to school to do “ear reading” at school? (My suggestion: yes, or to provide headphones for them to do the same!). Should teachers record audio comments for all content areas (My suggestion: yes!).

 Final Thoughts

On an even more soapbox-y note, I feel compelled to add that it is also an educator’s job to help students lovesomething. Many students with dyslexia do not like school (partly evidenced by the fact that 32% of them do not complete high school; NCLD, 2013), so it’s essential that we point out the benefits of dyslexia (and acknowledge their struggles), but also find something for them to love. Some students with dyslexia gravitate towards art because it’s visual, while others gravitate towards science because it’s hands-on and piques their curiosity; others gravitate toward music (although students with dyslexia tend to have difficulty with reading music) or theater (despite the reading, embodying a character can be a great source of joy for students with dyslexia, and reading scripts repeatedly also helps their reading fluency).

 

This post has been adapted from Differentiated Reading Instruction: Strategies and Technology Tools to Help All Students Improve, which is now available via the publisher, Routledge, or Amazon. It also appears on my personal blog, julesteach.es.

Podcast for 1 Year(s) Teaching

Hi there!

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to chat with Justin from the 1st Year(s) Teaching podcast. I had heard about the podcast because of his interview with NPR Ed writer Anya Kamenetz. We discussed common misconceptions, philosophies about teaching, and technology tools to support all learners.

Listen here!

podcast

Guest Blog: 5 Google Tools to Support All Levels of Reading

In order to reach different types of readers, I’ve submitted some guest blogs to other sites. More means more feedback, and more information dissemination about tools and best practices I’m passionate about.

I am honored to be featured on the Emerging EdTech blog (by Kelly Walsh). Read my guest blog: 5 Google Tools to Support All Levels of Reading today!

 

Comments welcome here, and on the Emerging EdTech blog.

On Teaching: Polanyi’s Paradox

I was recently reading an article about ALPHAGO, the computer that’s been programmed to be the best Go player ever. In the article, the author described Polanyi’s Paradox, which can briefly be described as “know[ing] more than [you] can tell.” One example the article cited was face recognition– most humans are incredibly good at this, but we cannot describe how to do this (and it is difficult to program a computer to do so, as seen in the infamous “gorilla” tagging incident last year). In the case of professional GO players, it struck me as somewhat funny and somewhat interesting that the players simply cannot explain how they are so effective (and consistently so) at playing the game well. I imagine some musicians (particularly improvisational musicians) may be in the same boat.

On Teaching: Polanyi’s Paradox?

So what does this all have to do with teaching? I worry that a lot of effective teachers experience Polanyi’s Paradox, even though effective teaching requires multiple, diverse skills. I have to admit that I, myself, am a better researcher and writer than teacher, so I do very consciously what I think many teachers have automated over the years. For example, if a student is interrupting, I still go through an internal monologue where I coach myself to ignore the first student, then praise another student for raising a quiet hand while calling on them, then going back to the first student directly after if they have now raised their hand. Teachers who have been teaching for several years likely don’t go through such a language-heavy internal monologue, thus over time, they may not be able to explain what they do, or (more importantly) how and why they do it.

teacherclass

Familiarity with research on effective classroom environments is important

Even if a teacher is self-aware and reflective enough to be able to explain their internal monologue, many teachers may not be able to provide a consistent framework or research evidence about their teaching.

Aside from being a stickler for evidence-based instruction, an inability to explain why something a teacher is doing is effective makes generalization difficult, and there is absolutely no way that any professional development or teacher training program could address every single scenario that is likely to arise during teaching.

To be clear, PD and teacher training programs shouldn’t address “every single scenario” since teachers shouldn’t teach all scenarios as being different; there are a handful of methods that are effective for vocabulary development, for behavior management, for reading instruction, etc. thus those are all that need to be taught explicitly. Think about the analogy of vocabulary learning: it is complex, but not every word is explicitly taught, so students need to be explicitly taught about prefixes/roots/suffixes, explicitly taught essential content words, and explicitly taught how to apply context clues, but then students consciously or “automatically” (aka subconsciously) will learn thousands of words independently).

research

More research is needed & that research needs to more accessible to ALL teachers

Why do I say I “worry” about Polanyi’s paradox? For one, it perpetuates the myth of great teachers being born not made. Several research studies have countered this assumption (which is a relief since otherwise, any teacher training or effectiveness research would be irrelevant). In addition, the idea of internal professional development is appealing for certain purposes– it is often more relevant (since everyone knows the students, it makes linking theory to practice easier) and it celebrates the talents of people at your institution (which is valuable for morale and for teacher retention). Do note, that strictly local PD is also ineffective (see Ilana Horn’s excellent post about the need for diverse types of professional development, both internal and external).

If you are able to describe how and why you teach as effectively as you do, not only can you prove to be an effective mentor or instructor, but you are more likely to be consistent in applying those strategies or frameworks. Think of pedagogical frameworks as being like the law– there are certainly some grey areas and times when multiple laws need to be considered simultaneously, but it is still a set of rules that determine what is “right” and what is “wrong” (or in the case of teaching, what is “effective” and what is not). I am not against experimenting with new methods of teaching, but I am against not having pedagogical knowledge as this harms students (i.e. teachers don’t know what they’re doing) and teachers (i.e. teachers feel that they do not know what they’re doing).

All of this to say that I value the presence of “Pedagogical Content Knowledge” in TPACK as

it is not enough to know your content and to know about technology; if you are unable to teach your content and apply technology effectively, all of that is irrelevant!

Stay tuned for my reflections on teaching and Higher Education, which is an area often criticized for lacking Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

 

What are your thoughts, world? Is it too much to ask that effective teachers be able to explain why their teaching is effective?

Response to the ILA Research Advisory on Dyslexia

It’s been almost a week since someone shared the International Literacy Association’s Research Advisory paper on Dyslexia on one of the listservs I’m on. I am not 100% satisfied with my response, but I am 1 person doing this in my spare time not a whole panel of experts, and I still feel that I have a more nuanced view of the issues than the paper conveyed (this is not meant as an insult to any individual, but the paper as a whole is a disappointment). I have rarely felt such a shift in tone and research validation over a 2-page span. Basically, I agree with everything on page 2, and almost nothing on pages 3 and the top of 4… but this is not just about my “feelings” and whether or not I “agree” with what is written (in fact, they acknowledge the emotionality of the issues right in the first sentence!). Instead, I’d like to delve deeper into my critique of the piece in my:

Response to the ILA Research Advisory on Dyslexia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Good

The “nots”

Again, page 2 is stellar in its recognition of the diverse types of dyslexia. I’m also impressed with the paper invalidating vision problems and a slew of other supposed indicators of dyslexia (including handedness and clumsiness or attention deficits; read my latest Noodle article about the differences between ADHD and Specific Learning Disabilities, including dyslexia). Per a number of academies committed to the study of children and their vision, “Vision problems can interfere with the process of learning; however, vision problems are not the cause of primary dyslexia or learning disabilities.”

The need for evidence-based instruction for all students

Quote from ILA: “When beginning literacy instruction is engaging and responsive to children’s needs, however, the percentage of school children having continuing difficulty is small (Vellutino et al., 1996; Vellutino, Scanlon, & Lyon, 2000).”

This aligns with Response to Intervention (RTI), and I appreciate that it acknowledges that all students are currently not receiving evidence-based instructions. Dyslexia is neurological thus not preventable, per se, but some of the symptomology and frustration could certainly be prevented for individuals with dyslexia, if they received structured, hierarchical, multi-sensory reading instruction from the get go (particularly as compared to whole language instruction). Appropriate instruction could also prevent individuals with reading disorders from developing these reading disorders (reading disorders differ from dyslexia in that whereas a diagnostic criteria in dyslexia is “effective instruction,” the determining feature in someone having a reading disorder is not receiving effective instruction).

The Bad

BAD

On Orton-Gillingham

Quote from ILA: “For instance, research does not support the common belief that Orton-Gillingham–based approaches are necessary for students classified as dyslexic (Ritchey & Goeke, 2007; Turner, 2008; Vaughn & Linan-Thompson, 2003). Reviews of research focusing solely on decoding interventions have shown either small to moderate or variable effects that rarely persist over time, and little to no effects on more global reading skills. Rather, students classified as dyslexic have varying strengths and challenges, and teaching them is too complex a task for a scripted, one-size-fits-all program (Coyne et al., 2013; Phillips & Smith, 1997; Simmons, 2015).”

This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the goal of Orton-Gillingham based reading programs. While at my school, comprehension is often laid on top of the OG program that is used (PAF), the primary goal of OG is to support decoding and encoding development.Further, I’m surprised at how relatively few studies are in the reference list of this paper; I am unsure if it is an oversight or purposeful selection, but the reason why some OG research studies are low very clearly explained in the National Reading Panel’s paper about all things reading-related. From the fluency chapter, they write the following about OG: “Effect sizes ranged from a high of d = 0.68 for the Lippincott program to a low of d = 0.23 for the Orton-Gillingham-based programs. Possible reasons for lower effect sizes in the case of Orton Gillingham comparisons are evident in Table 6 (Appendix F). Class-based instruction predominated, and this instruction was tested exclusively with older students (2nd through 6th graders) many of whom were poor readers. These conditions may have made it harder to produce substantial growth in reading.” (National Reading Panel, 2000) Not to mention, that there are studies that have shown OG’s merits (including Joshi et al, 2002).

 

The Ugly

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On Intervention in General

Quote from ILA: “Some have advocated for an assessment process that determines who should and should not be classified as dyslexic, but this process has been shown to be highly variable across states and districts in the United States, of questionable validity, and too often resulting in empirically unsupported, one-size-fits-all program recommendations.”

Orton Gillingham based reading instructions are not one-size-fits-all programs. At my school, students are consistently assessed to ensure they are in appropriate intervention groups. Further, each teacher alters their PAF group as needed. When one group of students have more severe language disorders in addition to their decoding/encoding difficulties, then their is necessarily vocabulary instruction and a recognition of multiple meaning words, etc. plugged into their teaching. Simply because something is structured does not mean that it is one-size-fits-all.

Quote from ILA: “Optimal instruction calls for teachers’ professional expertise and responsiveness, and for the freedom to act on the basis of that professionalism.”

Translation: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

It is misleading and dangerous to say that teachers can decide what reading programs are best for their students with dyslexia. Not everyone has adequate training. Also, it is untrue that we don’t really know what works for student. Although older than I like references to be, the National Reading Panel’s phonics instruction chapter is well-researched and makes clear conclusions about what types of phonics instruction works. Plus, the National Reading Panel’s other chapters highlight how to teach fluency and comprehension effectively, too (the fact that dyslexia also includes difficulties beyond decoding is beyond the scope of this blog post/rant).

#SayDyslexia

Quote from ILA: “Assessment that gives us data on how to support instruction that is responsive to individuals’ needs and comprehensive in scope is more useful in meeting students’ needs (Vellutino et al., 2004). So it may be that not using the term dyslexia would, on balance, benefit the teaching/learning process: Professionals’ attention would be turned away from an arbitrary cut-off point for making decisions about a learner and toward a focus on what that learner is ready to learn and, from there, on to how to provide beneficial instruction.”

I agree with the “arbitrary cut-off point” idea; as with ADHD, dyslexia is on a spectrum, so I am happy to accept a shift in terminology to reflect that. However, to argue against the use of the term dyslexia is offensive and counterproductive. It seems to miss that dyslexia is not a dirty word: Dyslexia is a diagnosis, yes, but it isn’t just a diagnosis.

Dyslexia is a social justice issue. Dyslexia is a community. Dyslexia is a list of strengths.

Read more about the whats and whens and whys and hows of dyslexia on Noodle.

4 Chrome Extensions to Increase Productivity

I use Google Chrome extensions for a variety of reasons, but some of them simply help me work more efficiently. Below, I list

4 Chrome Extensions to Increase Productivity

 

  1. Google Docs Quick Create helps you do exactly that: simply click on the extension and select the type of Google Drive Application you would like to create: Doc, Sheet, Presentation, Drawing, or Form. Simple as that!

    Google Docs Quick Create

    Google Docs Quick Create

  2. Send from Gmail: Although I predominantly use Inbox now for my emailing (because I find it, too, increases my productivity, and I like its built-in prioritization), “Send from Gmail” is a nice extension since it lets me share articles and websites easily with just 1 click. Click on the extension and the URL will already be included in an email to whomever you like!
  3. Context: As I’ve mentioned, I used many extensions and for diverse purposes, so I value that Context lets you easily sort your extensions into categories so you can access each, as needed.
  4. Tab Cloud: Although I try not to have multiple tabs open at a time, sometimes – particularly when I’m researching something – it is necessary if I get interrupted and don’t want to bookmark each site. I use Tab Cloud to save my open tabs, and then I can go back later to read each of the articles (that I have in open tabs), or visit those saved websites.

    Tab Cloud (for some of the research for my book)

    Tab Cloud (for some of the research for my book)