How do we measure our students’ success? Grades? Standardized test scores? Dropout rates? Educational attainment level?
Over the years, mandates have been put in place, guiding student’s educational paths, as well as providing the objectives for teachers’ lesson plans. One such mandate created educational standards. Think of these as learning goals for all students based upon their grade level. The goals are not a curriculum; rather, they provide an end goal of what students should know and be able to do by the end of a grade level. The Common Core is an example of educational standards.
So with standards, comes standardized testing. With standardized testing, comes… well, a whole number of things. But let’s save that discussion for another time.
While these are all mechanisms for determining success, they also measure weaknesses. What all of these assessments demonstrate is an increasing achievement gap among students.
When the teachers of yesteryear uttered the phrase “achievement gap”, they were typically referring to the disparity in academic performance between black and white students.
Today’s educators know that this term encompasses so many additional groups of students.
-Racial and ethnic minorities
-English Language Learners
-Students with Disabilities (Special Education students)
-Boys and girls
-Students from low-income families
Achievement disparities are often attributed to issues educators have little to no control over such as...
Additionally, there are many more subtle influences that affect achievement gaps as well…
-Not to mention, students who have experienced traumatic events, extended absences, and homelessness, all of which students can experience over the course of just one school year.
So where do we stand today?
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, provides a bi-annual review on how the United States’ students are performing in schools. In 2017, NAEP reported few score changes across student groups nationally, including English Language Learners and students with disabilities.
Additionally, while the report noted few changes in 2017 when compared to 2015 results for score gaps between racial/ethnic groups, there has been some racial/ethnic score gaps change compared to the early 1990s. For example, the achievement gap between whites and blacks narrowed in grade 4 mathematics and reading compared to the first assessment years. the achievement gap between whites and hispanics also narrowed from 1992 to 2017 in grade 8 reading.
Some of the successes in the data can be contributed to some common reforms that schools have implemented such as inclusion, reducing class size, increasing early-childhood programs, raising academic standards, recruiting quality teachers provided to poor and minority students, and career- and college-readiness skills have been offered for all students.
When reviewing the research, experts seem to agree on THREE main criteria to close the achievement gap:
We already have the standards in place, and there is no denying that they are high! However, I think our focus here needs to be on setting High Standards for our subgroups.
Our subgroup students who can access the general education curriculum with supports and/or modifications have these same High Standards set for them. And they can do it! What they need is support.
They need support in the form of strategies and modifications to the general education curriculum, and this is where our schools are lacking. Our special educators are our strategists! Let’s employ these instructors to teach our subgroups strategies for independently accessing the general education curriculum. These strategies should enable them to be independent, even in spite of a learning disability.
ALL students must be guided to achieve the highest of his/her potential. This means that school systems must have a Challenging Curriculum.
A Challenging Curriculum is an inclusive set of intentionally aligned clear learning goals with correlating assessments, organized in a sequential manner for studying and learning.
Progress monitoring is an important component of a Challenging Curriculum. Progress monitoring can help identify lagging skills to be targeted in small group or direct instruction. By strengthening lagging skills, students can continue to make effective progress toward achieving grade level standards.
Our strategists (AKA special education teachers) can also create modified curriculums to support our subgroups! With some common planning time and professional development training, our special educators could create modifications to our current curriculums in order to maintain High Standards for ALL students!
Some students will need educators’ support with a Challenging Curriculum. They may need supports to help them strengthen their lagging skills, gain unlearned standards, and achieve grade level standards all at the same time in order to close the achievement gap. It is possible! We just need to support them.
Educators are important.
Educators educate our future. Educators perform a wide variety of tasks on a daily basis. But sometimes just by building relationships with students, educators are able to single-handedly close the achievement gap. And even if an educator can do that for one student, he/she has achieved success
While the data showed improvements, we only made slight gains.
We still have a mountain to climb, but once we get to the top, the hard part will be behind us - we will just, then, need to close the gap by building the bridge to the other mountain.
~ By Miss Rae
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 1990–2017 Mathematics and Reading Assessments.
The benefits of co-teaching cannot be denied, from extra student support to targeted small groups to someone to handle the band-aid and phone call interruptions, and finally, someone to get your sarcasm and cover an adult bathroom break!
Research studies on co-teaching between a general education teacher and a Special Education teacher results in additional individualized attention for students, more on-task student behavior, and more interaction with teachers (Murawski, 2006; Zigmond et al., 2003).
But how do we co-teach when there is no time to co-plan?
1: Divide and Conquer
Establish a skill role and a strategy role. The general education teacher, the expert of the content, teaches the skill/concept. The goal of Special Education is to assist students with disabilities in access the general education curriculum. The Special Education teacher, then, takes on the role of the strategist. After the skill/concept is taught, the strategist teaches a strategy to apply the skill in order to access the concept.
For example, the co-teachers plan to teach Author's Purpose. The general education may do a mini-lesson on demonstrating different text and media for different purposes. Then, the Special Education teacher teaches the strategy of PIE, a strategy for identifying the purpose of a text (PIE = persuade, inform, entertain).
2: Common Lesson Plan Template
Create a lesson plan template at the start of the school year together. Each teacher can fill in his/her role or part of the lesson plan. Keep a section for notes or post-its next to the plan. Comments can be added to the document in a notes section (i.e. When are we planning to have this test? Don’t forget about the assembly on Friday! Adam refused to complete his DO NOW again). Keep a package of post-it notes next to the lesson plan for these comments and questions! Add a blank page each week that is dated daily to write notes about students. Write down those things that if you don’t share them immediately, you will forget (i.e. anecdotals that were observed or shared, a heads up that mom gave in a phone call, etc.). This eliminates inquiring minds (the listening ears of our students), no time for consulting, and time off task!
3: Google Drive
Google Drive is a teacher’s best friend in the classroom! How great is it to not have to carry piles of paper home to correct?! Teachers can list hundreds of ways that Google Drive has added a benefit to their instruction and student learning! So why are we not using it for other roles in the classroom?
Re-read tip #2 and apply it to Google Drive! :)
And lastly, some words of wisdom…
Have an open mind, be willing to compromise, and be a team! And remember, above all - we are here for the students!
~By Miss Rae
Murawski, W. (2006). Student outcomes in co-taught secondary English classes: How can we improve? Reading & Writing Quarterly, 22, 227–247.
Zigmond, N. (2003). Where should students with disabilities receive special education services? Is one place better than another? The Journal of Special Education, 37(3), 193- 1999.
What is Guided Reading?
Guided Reading is an instructional approach to teaching reading.
According to Fountas and Pinnell, the reading gurus of the education world, “Guided reading is small-group reading instruction designed to provide differentiated teaching that supports students in developing reading proficiency” (Pinnell, 2010).
So basically, guided reading is when a teacher meets with a small group of students who are homogeneously grouped according to their reading levels. Students address a reading skill that is required to move onto more challenging texts - or higher reading levels.
Small group instruction typically occurs after the teachers has presented a mini-lesson focused on a reading skill to the whole class. Mini-lessons often include read alouds to model skills. While meeting with groups, students are working on addressing the skill from the mini-lesson. This can be done through independent reading, book clubs or literature circles, centers, etc.
Can Special Education Students Learn with the Guided Reading Model?
Educators must modify and adapt best practice teaching models that are currently in place for their special education students.
Special education students fall into the Tier 3 category of Response to Intervention models.
Tier 3 is the most intense level. Students with disabilities should receive individualized, intensive intervention in the area of the identified disability in order to accelerate their progress toward command of grade level reading skills.
How can Special Education Students Learn with the Guided Reading Model?
Easy! The guided reading teaching model does not need to change for special education students. Instead, educators need to maximize the intensity of the learning time as well as the breadth of skills reinforced, learned, and masters.
Decades of research has shown the benefits of inclusion on the educational progress of special education students. This supports, then, the benefit for special education students to participate in the whole class mini-lesson of the guided reading model.
After exposure to the grade level standard, special education students can then participate in a guided reading group for guided practice with application of the skill. The guided reading group may work on a modified approach to the skill, learn a strategy to apply the skill, or access the skill through entry points.
What is the Best Special Education Guided Reading Model?
Mastery of reading requires mastery of five foundational competencies: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.
The best special education guided reading lessons must include explicit instruction, review, and application for generalization and independence leading to mastery for each of these areas.
In order to accelerate the attainment of substantial achievements toward mastery of grade level reading skills, special education students must focus on a breadth of reading skills daily. By addressing competences in the following sequence, teachers create building blocks toward proficiency.
1 - Decoding
Teachers should pull vocabulary words out of the text ahead of time.
Look for 3 things when choosing words. Select words that the students will…
-most likely struggle to decode
-most likely not know the meaning
-they should be words that are integral to understanding
Teachers should write these words on an anchor chart or in a manner that makes the words visible to the students.
Begin each lesson by previewing these new words. This allows teachers to target word attack skills. Scoop or break each new word into syllables, decode each syllable, and then, read the entire word.
2 - Vocabulary
Next, look at the words in context. Read a few sentences containing the word aloud from the text. Can the students figure out the meaning of the unknown word using the context clues? If the group is able to determine the meaning from the context, write a student-friendly definition for the word on the chart, next to the word. Allow students to create this definition.
If the meaning cannot be determined from the context, look the word up. Re-write the formal definition into our own kid-friendly one. Teachers can teach dictionary skills with either a text or online or both ways!
Teachers should provide students with a strategy for each skill taught. The strategy should support the student in independently attacking the skill. Strategies will enable students to become independent when applying the skill.
The RACE strategy is a great example of a tool that enables students to attack a grade level expectation independently.
Teachers should act as facilitators, guiding students toward independence. Special educations students, and all students for that matter, should read daily. They need a chance to practice learned and new concepts. This practice is guided as it is often facilitated by the teacher; however, students are given the opportunity to apply skills independently.
3 - Read
Choose a text at the students’ instructional reading levels. Teachers should continuously challenge special education students. Students with disabilities are like all other students and should be challenged to achieve their best.
Teachers must also be careful not to move too fast. Prior to moving onto the next levels, teachers should assess that skills have been independently mastered. Once a student can apply a skill, move on to the next step!
Guided practice during reading group time can be a facilitated whole, small group reading of a text (think round robin style), partner reading, and occasionally, but only for assessment purposes, independent reading.
While reading, teachers should begin to address comprehension through oral discussion. Pause while reading to orally dissect the text for understanding. Ask students questions before, during, and after reading.
4 - Comprehension
Students should write about text daily. Writing has been cited as a tool for improving reading (Biancarosa and Snow, 2006).
After reading, students should be expected to answer at least one comprehension question about the text. Writing about a text improves comprehension (Carr, 2002). Questions should range from concrete to inferential and address the focus skill.
By addressing writing skills in student responses such as grammar and spelling, teachers can reinforce reading skills.
Special education students should also be provided with chances to read during special education services and in the general education setting to support globalization and generalization of reading skills.
Independent application of learned skills should be assessed periodically for progress towards grade level standards, IEP goals, and to enable teachers to address the areas of need that arise along the continuum of student progress.
Progress monitoring is an essential tool of guided reading. Running records of all students in the group should be implemented at least bi-weekly in order to assess independent application of taught skills, areas of need, and assigned reading levels. Additionally, research-based assessment tools should be administered every 2 months throughout the school year.
Analysis of assessments will guide a student’s instructional pathway. The framework should be modified and adapted for each student’s needs. Teachers should plan lessons to target skill deficits. Spend more time on the facets of the framework that the student needs. Provide shorter amounts of time on the opportunities for skill practice of those competencies that have been mastered.
Special education teachers should always focus on lagging skills!
Using this method for special education guided reading lessons, enables teachers to support all learning styles as they are all included in this approach. This allows the framework to be a multi-sensory as well as systematic and intensive approach to teaching special education students reading. And isn’t that best practice?!
~By Miss Rae
Biancarosa, C., & Snow, C. E. (2006). Reading next—A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy:A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (2nd ed.).Washington, DC:Alliance for Excellent Education.
Carr, S. (2002). Assessing learning processes: Useful information for teachers and students. Intervention in School and Clinic, 37, 156–162
Pinnell, G.S. and Fountas, I.C. (2010). Guided Reading Program: Research Base for Guided Reading as an Instructional Approach. Retrieved from [Scholastic, http://emea.scholastic.com/sites/default/files/GR_Research_Paper_2010_3.pdf]
5 Strategies to Teach Sight Words
Sight words (AKA high frequency words) are the most frequently encountered words in texts.
Sight words make up 50 to 70 percent of any general text. Sight words cannot be sounded out. Therefore, it is important for students to be able to automatically recognize these words in print. Basically, students should memorize these words by sight in order to improve overall reading fluency; thus, improving comprehension.
Learning sight words also has been shown to help with writing. Automaticity with spelling sight words will inevitably aid fluency in written expression.
Some school systems use the Dolch Word List, some use the Fry Words, and others create their own priority word lists by grade level.
Regardless of which list you use, sight word instruction should include these 5 strategies!
Isolation & Context!
Teach sight words in isolation and context simultaneously.
Provide students with opportunities to read and spell sight words in isolation. Such activities might include reading sight words on cards or on a list. Dictate sight words for students to practice spelling them in isolation on paper, white boards, or with tools like play doh.
At the same time, provide students with opportunities to read and spell sight words in context. Read! Have students read texts to apply side word reading in context. Have students write dictated sentences that include sight words. This will allow students to practice spelling sight words in context.
My Guided Reading Passages provide students with isolated and contextual practice. Check them out!
Get students more involved in learning through multi-sensory learning. This includes the use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways to enhance memory and learning.
Have your students spell their sight words in shaving cream, type them, write them in different colors, do jumping jacks as they read and spell, march in place...and the list goes on!
All students learn differently and require different stimuli. Multi-sensory learning is a best practice approach for ALL learners, but learning must also be meaningful.
Remember Algebra class? Remember wondering when will I ever use this in life? Remembering wanting to ask, “Why am I learning this?”
Don’t let your students wonder why they are learning! Make their multi-sensory learning meaningful!
Having your students use stamps to spell sight words is a cute idea, but we can make it meaningful. After stamping, trace over each letter, saying the letter aloud, and then, reading the word at the end. Write a sentence using the word.
Motivate your students to learn with a little healthy personal competition! Have students keep a record of the sight words that they are able to read and spell with automaticity.
Spend a few minutes each week assessing student progress. Have them color in or check off the sight words they are able to read and/or spell in under 3 seconds. Award them for each level of sight words that they accomplish! Plus, your students are maintaining their own progress monitoring data!
A great motivator is my High Frequency Words and Sight Words Rainbow Challenge!
Include sight words in your word study or spelling lists.
I provide my students with lists of sight words. We highlight the sight words that they can read with automaticity in one color. They highlight the sight words that they can spell automatically in a different color.
Each week students circle 3-5 sight words in pencil. These words are added to their weekly list. They practice reading and spelling these words, and then, these words are included on their weekly tests.
At the end of each month, students are assessed on the words that they have chosen for the month to be added to their list. They are asked to read and spell the sight words. Any words read and spelled with automaticity are highlighted in their corresponding color and added to their charts! (Hey, look! The students are keeping their own progress monitoring data!)
You can use my Sight Words Pre- and Post- Tests to assess student progress!
Let’s get visual!
Visuals give students a trick for learning! Think of different ways you can use a mnemonic device to improve your students’ memory for learning. Mnemonic devices are a memory techniques to help a student’s brain better encode and recall important information.
For example, turn words or letters into visual representations. Turn the letter /r/ in the word /there/ into an arrow, and turn the letter /i/ in the word /their/ into a person.
Grab a FREEBIE of this idea here!
AND learn a trick for WOULD, COULD, and SHOULD!
When learning becomes fun, students make progress! And when students make progress, they achieve!
~ By Miss Rae
How great would it be for students to have ONE tool to use across ALL content areas? Think about the time it would save!
AND… How great would it be if your students could DIY the graphic organizer whenever it is needed - by the student or the teacher?!
I took a course a number of years back on teaching English Language Learners Mathematics. The course provided me with tons of strategies, and the best part was that they were applicable for ALL learners.
There was one strategy that stood out above the others; I have used it across the curriculum for ALL learners in ALL classrooms.
The Frayer Model is a graphic organizer typically used for building student vocabulary. It requires students to define target vocabulary and apply learned knowledge through examples and non-examples, characteristics, and/or a visual image of the word’s meaning.
A typical Frayer Model looks like this…
Frayer Models tap into students’ prior knowledge, enabling meaningful connections to be created. Students can link prior knowledge to new knowledge, and they can determine how one concept relates to another concept.
Student success is measured by the vocabulary of information that one holds regarding a topic (Marzano & Pickering, 2005). Thus, vocabulary is important. Vocabulary is the foundation for comprehension. And for students to succeed, they need to comprehend subject matter.
So if the Frayer Model helps students comprehend vocabulary, why can’t it help them comprehend content?
The Frayer Model can make content comprehensible!
Appear to be amazed… I will now magically turn the Frayer Model, typically utilized for vocabulary, into a tool for use across the curriculum!
Here is one way to use the Frayer Model in Reading!
The Frayer Model also promotes critical thinking in students for vocabulary and content. Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment about a topic.
The Frayer Model helps students organize facts around a topic, formulate an idea connected to the facts and analyze the topic.
Use of the Frayer Model improves retention of information.
The model acts as a visual reference. The organizers can be posted as anchor charts or word walls in the classroom or kept in student notebooks for reference. Students can use them as a study skill tool. Additionally, some students may use them during tests as an accommodation.
Graphic organizers are important learning tools for our students. They help them make connections, organize thoughts, and access the general curriculum independently. And if independence is the ultimate goal for our students, let’s get them DIYing their own graphic organizers! (Plus, papers tight! How many of you have experienced the one ream of paper per month rule yet?)
Students can draw their own Frayer Model OR they can fold their own…
Make these whole class, individually, or in small groups. If the class makes a Frayer Model, it is acceptable to allow only some students to use them as reference on a test if the students’ IEPs require such supports.
~By Miss Rae
Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2005). Building academic vocabulary: Teacher’s manual. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Picture it - Sicily...1922...
To know this reference, you may have to be of a particular generation - or personality. So let me explain.
Sophia Petrillo, the wisest and eldest member of the Golden Girls, had the right idea when telling a story. She set the scene. She let you "picture it" -pun intended - before she told the story. Setting the scene helps your listeners visualize your words which improves comprehension, understanding of language, and memory of text!
Visualizing and Verbalizing
Visualizing and Verbalizing, an intervention program created by Nanci Bell of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, targets the development of concept imagery to essentially improve facets of reading. At its core, the program emphasizes the use of teacher directed questions to assist students in forming images while eliciting language.
Mental imagery has “reliable effects on improving memory for text” (National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 4-42). This skill is naturally developing for most students. However, those diagnosed with a learning disability in reading often struggle to form pictures in their head for presented words. This is often due to the fact that their focus, during reading, is on decoding the words.
If a reader has to spend most of his/her time decoding each word within a sentence, comprehension fails. This results in an inability to develop concept imagery impacts comprehension; thus, delaying the progression of reading for students.
The Verbalizing and Visualizing program employs an explicit and systematic instruction in order to support this lagging skill for struggling students.
Programs require time. And who has time for that?!
As a result of the realities of being a teacher and squeezing it all in, I modified the concept. It’s principles stand as the basis for a learning strategy that I call Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing!
Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing in Reading!
I consistently teach my students to visualize the text’s words in their head. There are moments in our reading groups, where we pause to imagine and/or act out the text.
While my students are amazing, they are like all students. We didn’t just jump right into these learning moments. Instead, I utilized some key tools to improve students’ reading comprehension.
The first step was through STORY MAPPING. Story mapping is a visual framework strategy for building comprehension. The map enables students to summarize main ideas, organize information and ideas, make connections, recall text events, and communicate about a text.
After reading a text, create a visual of what you read. Students should identify story elements such as characters, problems, setting, etc. Essentially, you are drawing what happened.
To help your students with this skill, ask them questions. Where were the characters? What could they see? What were the characters doing? What were the characters saying? What is the problem of the story? What actions did the characters take toward solving the problem? Did the setting change? Was the problem solved? What is the lesson learned? (Insert a social emotional learning moment here!)
Create a visual with these questions as a scaffolded support towards independence with the skill.
Have students verbalize the answers to the questions you ask. Teachers should promote a class discussion of the events that occurred in the text. This promotes oral language development, not only social language, but also academic language is being developed as students learn how to discuss text.
Verbalizing a text’s ideas also allows students to wrestle with the text! Any misunderstandings can be ironed out, while different perspectives can be debated.
The oral discussion enables students to apply newly learned vocabulary connected to the text as well as practice oral discussion rules and the language of book discussions!
My story maps include words and pictures. The words that I jot on our story maps are key vocabulary related to the text. The pictures tell the text’s story, while the words help to match ideas and images. Both tools go hand-in-hand to support understanding of the text.
You can use a variety of graphic organizers to support this strategy or just wing it with your own on the fly mapping!
Story mapping can be applied to the content areas too! After reading a non-fiction text, we re-read it, going line by line. We analyze what the sentences are saying by Visualizing and making connections between the ideas. We Verbalize these concepts through discussion. Simultaneously, we draw the ideas. Next, we do some Vocabbing, by jotting down keywords needed for comprehension.
Another tool to support Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing is visual thinking.
Here’s how it works!
I will post an image on the front board related to the text we are reading. Students will come to the front and write around their images, their reactions, questions, things they noticed, etc. around the image.
I then have them discuss the image in groups. If they have any new ideas, they can write it around the image. Lastly, we discuss the image.
The writing around the image enables students to apply newly learned vocabulary in the context of the written language. It also gives struggling students a written support for the oral discussion of the image.
In both instances, students are getting multiple and varying opportunities to apply vocabulary.
For example, one of my groups is currently reading Number the Stars so I have been using primary source images from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The students have begun referencing the images while discussing the text. Anecdotally, I believe that the images are helping the students visualize and as a result, are demonstrating improved comprehension and verbalization of this understanding.
Read alouds are another excellent practice that supports Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing. Read aloud texts are chosen for their lively and explicit language. When we read aloud to our students, we should be modeling the language of a text.
So how do I implement read alouds using my 3 V strategy?
Read the text aloud. Have your students form mental images. Ask them to close their eyes and picture the image that the author’s words are creating.
Build oral language through discussion of these images. Make your visualizing real through modeling your visualizations of the text with visual representations. Draw quick pictures of what the words help you to imagine.
Talk about specific words and sentences. How do these change what you are visualizing? What tools is the author using to help the reader visualize?
Connecting Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing to Writing
You can connect this strategy to a writing prompt or lesson! Have your students use language that creates vivid mental images. Partner them up to visualize each others’ writing!
Read a text about Paul Revere’s ride in Social Studies. What does the night look like? How are the people feeling?
Ask questions! How do the author’s words and your background knowledge help you to visualize? How does the vocabulary support your learning and understanding? How does this tool help you comprehend a text better?
Read a math picture book and follow the same procedure!
~By Miss Rae
Here are some resources that demonstrate this technique if you want to implement it in your classroom for enriching discussions AND improved comprehension!!!
National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. NIH Publication No. 00-4754. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Hi! I'm Miss Rae! I'm a Special Education Coordinator with a passion for creating research-based resources for DiVeRSe learners.