Don't Give Them 50 Math Problems if They Can Only Do 10 to Prove Mastery. Sheesh.
November 21, 2010 5:51 AM   Subscribe

Teacherfilter: I had a crazy idea and want to know how/if I can make this work. The problem? There are over 500 regular education teachers in our system who would benefit from easily understood information about disabilities but more importantly, HOW to create IEP-directed classroom accommodations (y'know, like a kid needs materials distilled or a word bank, etc.).

Here's my idea: with the help of the very-annoyed-and-stressed-out special educators (I'm one) to create an online by invitation only community that would have all this information.

So if the English teacher has 13 students with ADD, he can click on ADD, get a little info about what it is and how it affects the kids, and then they can click on specific accommodations (reduce quantity of written output) and have a little tutorial (or something) about how to put that accommodation in place.

But that's the limit of my brainpower.

How would something like this be created? We have a Ning community and a lot of teachers have wikis and blogs.

What would be the best way to have short bites about various disabilities and ways to work with them in the classroom (additional points if you can tell me how to sell this without appearing like a know-it-all)?
posted by dzaz to Education (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suspect that the information is already out there. I did a google for Accommodations for Learning Disability and ended up here..

I would suggest that it might be much easier to get a small group interested in putting together a list of links specific to each disability. Why reinvent the wheel?

I would suspect that teachers would appreciate the resource.
posted by HuronBob at 6:00 AM on November 21, 2010

From my layperson perspective, the problem isn't that the information isn't available, it's that the teachers who need it have to go get it. And they are already overburdened and don't. So while I applaud your initiative, this methodology doesn't really address that.

Can you think of a different way to get this information to these teachers? Maybe a monthly electronic newsletter? (Push vs. pull)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:05 AM on November 21, 2010

Sorry, I wasn't clear.

Yes, there's a TON of info out there and all of it is incredibly helpful to the sped teachers.

The gen ed teachers, however, don't want to wade through it. They also don't like it when we give them links to various resources.

What I'm envisioning is one-stop shopping where they can go this imaginary community (that's the part I can't figure out how to create), click on "Working Memory Disability," see a little primer on how it affects a student and then click on the specific accommodations that the sped teachers write for those students with info on how to implement them. Then the same for ADD, Processing Speed, etc.
posted by dzaz at 6:09 AM on November 21, 2010

You're asking how to design a web site. There are a lot of options available, iWeb works fine for something fairly simple like this (the downside is that the original must be worked on from the same computer, which defeats any collaborative effort).

Google Sites would allow multiple people to create content.

Blogs probably are not the format you want, I don't picture a wiki as the way to go either...

I'm not sure how to give you information as to how to garner support from spec ed peers to contribute, this is an effort that might be helped with some admin support/encouragement in terms of release time to create the content and meet periodically to coordinate efforts.
posted by HuronBob at 6:15 AM on November 21, 2010

I'm not sure where the "community" aspect comes into play. This sounds like a pretty standard static website with a whole bunch of different sub-pages for various categories. You could whip this up pretty quickly/cheaply if you find a local computer science student to code the template, or you could just use Wordpress and use different categories of posts to differentiate the different types of resources for different disabilities.

The advantage of using Wordpress is that it's pretty easy for someone non-tech-literate to figure out, you can leave comments and feedback on individual posts, and you can password-protect posts if restricting access is really an issue, although I don't see why it would be.

What specifically are you envisioning that would require the type of engagement and interaction that would need a social media type platform?
posted by Phire at 6:16 AM on November 21, 2010

What specifically are you envisioning that would require the type of engagement and interaction that would need a social media type platform?

I was thinking of having a feedback opportunity for the gen ed teachers...this didn't help, this did help, I really need more info about _____.
posted by dzaz at 6:19 AM on November 21, 2010

Hm. In that case I would say that a blogging type platform would actually be perfect for you. You could structure them as pages or as posts, but with comments enabled future visitors can see what past visitors have said about the information on those pages, as well as how it was then incorporated into the main material. All you need to post a comment is an email address, though again, if you're concerned about access it's certainly possible to lock down the posts and use a universal password that only your teachers know of.
posted by Phire at 6:22 AM on November 21, 2010

Yeah I would go for a WordPress blog and put information pages into categories based on sped need. Leave the pages open for commenting and you can have conversations about them.

I so want to let you know that while you may need to do it for some reason or feel like you have to, registration will be a hurdle here. It's a barrier to an audience that may not be that motivated to climb over it. From a UE (user experience) point of view, please re-consider if this is necessary.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:25 AM on November 21, 2010

As a teacher, I find it extraordinarily difficult to find time to go on line during a working day and I'm young and relatively tech-savvy. In my school board (I'm in Toronto), the special ed teachers actually give us standardized one page double sided print outs for each kid with an IEP listing strengths, weaknesses and accommodations at the beginning of the year. I can then neatly file them into my attendance/tracking binder and refer to them when necessary. The tree-killing aspect of this system is regrettable, but it really is the easiest way to give teachers the info they need to accommodate in the classroom. The standardized format makes it easy for me to see at a glance what the accommodations are and the fact that I get it as a print out really saves me time and aggravation. You could probably look up the format easily at and adapt it for your needs.
posted by Go Banana at 7:12 AM on November 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would suggest going to someone at your district (perhaps the coordinator of special ed services?), proposing this, and seeing what support they can give you in creating a site that will work for your district. This sounds like a fantastic idea, and it seems from your question that you want it to be open to all the teachers in your district anyway, so hopefully the district would be willing to provide some support in the form of web design, etc.

As far as how to sell it, I recommend lots of examples of appropriate assignments that use accommodations, with the assignments being from the district's curriculum, so the teacher can pull a few, try them, and be motivated to put in the time once they see how accommodations make their life (as well as the student's life) easier.
posted by epj at 7:15 AM on November 21, 2010

I interviewed with a small startup company called The Guidance Group, which was looking to create an online clearinghouse (of sorts) for parents, teachers and caregivers of kids both at-risk and special ed. My research is turning up this website:

It looks as if you may have to weed through some of the non-relevant content, but from my recollections of the interview, this project seems to meet the criteria of what you are looking for. I also recall that it was going to be a member site, meaning you would have to join (and possibly pay) for access to the resources.

This was just a quick search for me, so I'll do some more digging and memail you if I come up with anything of value for you. It also gives me a chance to reconnect with Dr. Shapiro (founder) to see how the hiring is going, lol.

Anecdotal: I'm the parent of a 12 y.o. boy with Aspergers who receives special ed services in NYS. I highly recommend my school district (Bedford Central SD), and their site it if it helps you.

Much luck to you!
posted by sundrop at 8:04 AM on November 21, 2010

P.S. Sorry for not linking those sites directly - I haven't quite mastered the art of that here.
posted by sundrop at 8:05 AM on November 21, 2010

Go Banana: "In my school board (I'm in Toronto), the special ed teachers actually give us standardized one page double sided print outs for each kid with an IEP listing strengths, weaknesses and accommodations at the beginning of the year."

Yeah, this is what we currently do and we sit with the teachers to discuss disabilities, etc. but it looks like the teachers are overwhelmed with HOW to implement an accommodation. We've tried professional development, meetings, etc., but not all the teachers are comfortable making changes, and because the sped teachers can have anywhere from 5-35 students and we're the point person for 10+ teachers and all of their related curricula, we don't have the time to make these changes ourselves.

It may be that this type of website already exists, or that this is just a bad idea because teachers won't use it. I'm at a loss.
posted by dzaz at 8:16 AM on November 21, 2010

Any information that you have available has to be age appropriate because the same accommodation will look very different in first grade and 8th grade. I also find that there isn't a "universal language" among sp. ed teachers so, even though the same accommodation may appear on multiple IEPs, the sped teachers who wrote the IEPs have very different ideas as to what that accommodation means.
posted by Flacka at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2010

As someone who writes IEPs, coordinates spec ed meetings, parent advocate and as a parent of special ed kids, I'm really skeptical about the feasibility or even desirability of this. I deal with autism, and teachers say 'we don't know about autism or what types of accommodations are needed'. At the same time, in my particular system, I have made available such information, resources, supports and IEP goals in a variety of formats (print, electronic, consultation) and I've presented it in formats that are tailored to specific children and at the general level. While I in no way am suggesting that I have been brilliant at it or that there might not be other ways, nothing has particularly worked well beyond what has been precisely what that specific teacher needed for that specific student at that specific time.

Even with a "single" disability like autism (which itself is a spectrum disorder), the variations for accommodations vary incredibly because of the variability of needs, age, temperament, gender of the child, their particular learning style, the classroom context and the resources available, the teaching style of the teacher, and the desired intervention modality (could also be more than one) by the parents, administration and/or teaching staff. Nevermind the format changes for IEPs that occur in different contexts and over time. And you're talking about multiple disabilities? I don't think I would be comfortable as a parent or as a clinician that teachers were taking information from a single source (website or document) as authoritative, or meaningful or even in the ballpark accurate about anything to do with autism as a disability, or in providing a list of potential 'relevant' accommodations for any specific child, for example. There might also be legal implications here, depending on the degree and procedures required for an IEP to be clinically and/or child needs driven (and depending on the jurisdiction whether the IEP is a legally binding document).

I understand that you are well meaning and trying to support the teachers in your system, but I don't think there's a short cut to IEP, disabilities or interventions, paint by numbers style.
posted by kch at 5:10 PM on November 21, 2010

Maybe I'm not saying his clearly.

We wouldn't be telling the teachers what accommodations to use if a kid has "X" diagnosis.

The teachers have IEPs and related lists of accommodations specific to that kid. But those student-specific accommodations aren't always being put into place. Teachers don't always understand what those interventions even look like and so they don't do them.

The idea would be to go through the IEPs in our school, write each specific accommodation and give examples of what those specific accommodations look like to give the gen ed teachers some guidance in what to do.

So, I thought examples of:

how to create a word bank
how to distill key ideas
how to reduce visual stimulation, etc.

Or does that seem like a really bad idea? I just want these kids to get everything they deserve and meetings, professional development, etc. has done nothing.
posted by dzaz at 3:02 AM on November 22, 2010

I was a general-ed high school history teacher and this sounds like a good idea, but I worry that putting up a website as your main mode of communication will have the same problems you have now. It could be one-stop for your topic, but it will still be another place that teachers have to go for the information.

When I was a technology trainer in the same high school, I found two tactics really worked for getting info to content-area teachers:

1) Whenever possible, give them examples from their own content areas. Once they see a few examples, they start making connections to other topics within their content and can come up with lots of possibilities from there. If you have special-ed teachers who team teach in specific areas, they can be a big help with this.

2) As you said, don't make the info something else they need to wade through. Separate the info into small chunks and put it in places they already go. Start with examples that are easiest to implement-- something they could do in class or lesson planning tomorrow.

So using these two principles, I might come up with a series of flyers called "Accommodations Made Easy" or something like that. Only put up one at a time, and put them up in places where teachers will be. In my school, I would put them up on the walls by the copiers and printers, and on the inside of bathroom stall doors. Leave the flyer up for two weeks, then change to a new one.

You could archive the flyers on a website and tag them with key words and such. Maybe use categories like content areas, disabilities, classroom function (homework, test, etc.). Each flyer could have a small line at the bottom: "Get your own copy of this flyer and all our past flyers at..."

In those flyers (or whatever you decide to do), model the types of things that are good practice for helping students with special needs (and really, for all students). (How many times have you been to a presentation on differentiation that was simply a big lecture to a hundred teachers?) Use a consistent design so people start learning what to expect. Keep the information structured, easy to understand quickly, and include visuals whenever possible.

Start with the super-easy ideas. I remember being in a presentation once where the special-ed specialist said, "Let's say you're having students complete a Venn diagram. Many students with special needs require a little more structure, so just put a few bullet points in each space to show them how many comparison points they should aim for." The whole room of teachers was mind-blown that making accommodations could be that easy.

Collect examples of accommodations that teachers are using in classrooms already, and use these as models. With the teachers' permission, give them credit for the idea and for the awesome job they are doing. Find these from teachers who are already respected by their colleagues and the colleagues will pay more attention. Use them for the flyers, or attach them as real-life examples in your online archive of techniques.

Provide fillable/adaptable templates. OMG, if I found a good Word template or PDF when I was teaching I loved the heck out of that thing and passed it along. Think blank charts, strategies they can pass directly to students, test templates pre-formatted to look like state end-of-course tests to help students get used to it.

This is not a crazy idea-- it's a great one! General ed teachers do need the help because our main training was in our content area. If your district is anything like mine was, there are a lot of general ed teachers out there who want to do right by all their students, but find that their special ed colleagues are either too consumed with mountains of IEP paperwork to share this kind of info or have absolutely no info/knowledge to share because the district is so desperate for special ed teachers that they hire people who have never worked with students or studied learning disabilities.

(Sorry for the epic length, but I hope it's helpful!)

posted by scarnato at 8:09 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this video has a lot of important clues to what is good (special) education and what might be the directions for addressing them.
posted by kch at 7:04 PM on November 23, 2010

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