Category Archives: student development

Is your child in the right courses?

For students in middle and high school it is extremely important for parents to keep up with the courses that they are taking. The classes should offer the right amount of challenge (not too easy, not too hard). They should be preparing your child for whatever their goals are for life after high school. More importantly, the courses need to be chosen so that they meet the graduation requirements for your school system. With many schools using computer programs to create schedules for students, it’s not hard for the needs of individual students to be overlooked.

For many students who have disabilities, course selection is even more critical. For some students it will be important to make sure that they are placed in the course sections that are co-taught by both regular education and special education teachers. This can offer real-time assistance and support to help students be successful with grade-level material. The co-taught classes can be selected in the areas most likely impacted by the student’s disability. Sometimes the assumption is made that, because the student has an IEP, they should automatically be placed in the lowest level course available. This approach would keep many students from building on their strengths to reach their full potential. Students who need support in some subjects can also take typical or even honors classes in subjects that are areas of strength for them.

These days, most high schools are using block schedules that cover the entire content of a course during a single semester. It may be important to make sure that the courses that will be most challenging for your child are not all piled into the same semester. With thoughtful planning, the school can create a schedule that spreads the work load out more evenly. For example, your child can take two really hard classes at the same time plus a support class and an elective in an area of interest. This kind of planning from the very beginning will usually allow students to complete all of their graduation requirements within 4 years so they can graduate with their peers. Even if they have to pick up a summer class or return for an extra semester, the goal is that the student experiences success and gains knowledge that will help them throughout their life. The extra time will be well spent.

Parents also need to look out for other kinds of scheduling problems:

  • Make sure that courses are taken in the right sequence. The level 1 course should come before the level 2 course.
  • Make sure that your child is not assigned to a course that they have already successfully completed. With rare exceptions, they will not earn course credit the second time around.
  • Make sure that your child was not placed in an elective course that they have no interest in, or one that is a poor fit, just because there was space in that class. Forcing an extremely shy kid to take a drama class will probably not end well.
  •  Make sure that your child is on track to graduate when expected. Your child could be taking math and science classes that are counted as “electives” that do not meet the graduation requirements for that subject area. If your child comes up short by missing even a single graduation requirement, they will not get a diploma. At least once a year have your child’s guidance counselor review the courses that your child has taken and compare them to the courses required for graduation.

Read your child’s class schedule carefully as soon as you get it.  If you see anything on that doesn’t look right, contact staff at the school immediately.  Go to the school in person if you need to.  The sooner any problems are corrected, the easier it will be for your child, and the better their educational experience will be.

Plan Ahead for School Transitions

  • Starting Preschool for the first time
  • Entering Kindergarten
  • Moving from Elementary to Middle School
  • Beginning High School

It’s time to move from thinking to planning!  Take steps to make this transition as smooth as possible by gathering information about what might be coming up, and sharing important information about your child with the right people.


If your child is staying at the same school, find out what might be different for the coming year (e.g. class size, number of teachers/aides, daily schedule, curriculum, meal times, etc.).  Each of these factors could  impact your child and may require some changes in how your child’s needs are met.  You might also want to speak with the Principal about the classroom environment and/or teacher styles that are likely to be successful or unsuccessful for your child.  Hopefully, the Principal will use this information to make a good match when class assignments are made.

If your child is moving to a new school, you will still want to know the things mentioned above, PLUS,

  • Visit the new school to check out the physical layout and ask about a typical day
  • Think about any possible barriers or challenges that your child might have in the new setting
  • If your child is entering middle or high school, ask about required courses and any options that may exist. Some courses are offered at multiple difficulty levels, and there may be other ways to help make sure that your child gets a course schedule that will work for him/her
  • Request a transition IEP meeting to discuss and make decisions about any changes that may be needed in the accommodations, modifications, supports, services and/or goals
  • For many children, it is helpful for them to have an opportunity to walk through the new school and possibly see their classroom(s) and meet their teacher(s) sometime before school starts. There may be other steps that can be taken to help make this transition a smooth one.

Most importantly, stay positive and help your child feel good about the upcoming school year!

Help children understand Election Year

Image result for votingAs the United States of America moves through the process of electing our next President, there is an opportunity for children to learn more than what they will see in the political ads and sound bites.  The 2016 election cycle will undoubtedly be discussed in political science classes for years to come. Our children are living though history in the making, and it would be great if they had some understanding of what is going on around them.

One source of information about how our government works is the U.S. government itself. Almost 20 years ago, President Bill Clinton issued a memo on “Expanding Access to Internet-based Educational Resources for Children, Teachers, and Parents.” He directed all departments and agencies of the federal government to make high-quality educational content available on line in a way that was user friendly and fun for kids. The full content of the memo can be found at http://clinton2.nara.gov/WH/New/NetDay/memorandum.html

Much of this kid-friendly content can be accessed through a single website called “Kids.gov.”  Kids.gov is the official children’s portal to the U.S. government. Information is targeted to four different audiences: children in grades K-5 or 6-8, parents and educators. Of course, you can select the material that best matches the learning level of your child or student(s). The information, games, posters and videos, etc. are also organized by topics that include art and music, math, reading and writing, exercise and eating healthy, science, on-line safety and more.

Right now, I would especially like to draw attention to material under the heading of “Government.” https://kids.usa.gov/government/index.shtml 

There you will find information about the three branches of the federal government, how presidents get elected, and even the National Conventions. There are lesson plans for more formal instruction, but parents might choose to use the colorful posters to walk their child step-by-step through the process that is playing out before our very eyes. Please take full advantage of this teachable moment to help your child better understand this great country of ours. One day they will become adult citizens who will have the right to choose future presidents and legislators. Let’s start getting them ready!

 

Math learning disability? There are options for success in high school and beyond

With accommodations, modifications and thoughtful course selection most students who have a learning disability in math are able to make it through elementary and middle school. High schools operate on a different set of rules however, and for some of these students and their parents the path to a diploma can seem like a minefield! North Carolina’s Future-Ready Core Course of Study was designed to satisfy the minimum admission requirements for the University of North Carolina System schools and have all students graduate “college and career ready.”

adamtglass-com[1].jpgThis is a noble, and perhaps necessary, objective. But what about those students whose brains are hard-wired in a way that will always make algebra a foreign language for which there is no translation? The Future-Ready Core requires 4 units of math that include Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, and another math course beyond Algebra 2. The content of the first three courses can also come in the form of integrated Math I, II and III courses, but that does not make it easier to learn.

Fortunately, the activism of the Learning Disabilities Association of North Carolina many years ago still benefits the high school students of today. When Algebra 1 was first added as a graduation requirement a clause was placed in our Public School Law clarifying that:

The State Board (of Education) shall not adopt or enforce any rule that requires Algebra I as a  graduation standard or as a requirement for a high school diploma for any student whose individualized education program (i) identifies the student as learning disabled in the area of mathematics and (ii) states that this learning disability will prevent the student from mastering Algebra I. [N.C.G.S. 115C-81(b)]

Because of this provision in the law, schools have to provide other ways for these students to satisfy the math graduation requirement. The student and parent can consult with school guidance counselors and others to put together an alternative sequence of four math courses that is appropriate for that student. The math sequence must be approved by the school principal in order to satisfy high school graduation requirements. As a general rule, students will still have to take two “pure” math courses, but they may be “Introductory…” or “Foundations…” courses that focus on basic skills.

Many career and technical education (CTE) courses have enough math-related content that they are approved to count as math credits if they are part of a student’s alternative math sequence. In some cases, the student may have to complete a 2-course sequence in order to gain one math credit. The CTE courses also still count as elective credits. Hopefully, students will be able to find eligible CTE courses that relate to either a personal or career interest. Even though no high school offers every possible CTE course, many of them are available as on-line courses through the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS). The NCVPS can greatly expand the range of course options that can be considered. This can be especially helpful for students in smaller high schools or school systems, or those enrolled in public charter schools.

Using an alternative math sequence may not allow a student to go directly into one of North Carolina’s 4-year public universities, but it can offer a path to a high school diploma. The diploma, in turn, opens the door to lots of possibilities. A student can choose to move directly into the workforce and be able to check “yes” when a job application asks “Did you graduate from high school?” They will be eligible to enroll in any of our community colleges to further their education. Private colleges, trade and technical schools set their own admission requirements. They may be willing to accept a math-challenged student into a major or program that does not require a high level of math skills.

There is no single path to success in high school, or in life. With planning, hard work and perseverance there are few limits to what young people can achieve. Calculators come in handy too!

Explore careers (really) early

NEWSMILEYCUT[1].jpgPeople often ask young children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Very young children will typically respond with something like football player, firefighter, doctor or princess. Their list of options is limited by their experience, or lack thereof. They see athletes on television; visit doctors and nurses in their offices; community helpers are introduced in preschool and kindergarten; and there is no shortage of princesses in storybooks and children’s movies. The odds are very against children ending up in the jobs that they talked about when they were 5 or 7 years old. However, there are things that we can do to expose children to many more of the hundreds of the different types of jobs and careers that are out there.

Children come into contact with people who work in a wide variety of careers, but they just don’t know  what the job titles or responsibilities are. Parents and other adults can take advantage of natural opportunities to help children learn more about the world of work. A routine visit to the grocery store could lead to discussion about the work of anyone, from the obvious cashier and stock person to the baker, meat cutter or store manager. It’s hard to not see people who drive trucks, buses, and taxis for a living. If you are lucky enough to live in NASCAR country there might even be a chance to watch race car drivers and their crews take driving to the extreme!

A trip through an airport also offers almost endless possibilities for talking about the different kinds of work that people do to help passengers and make air travel happen. Some manufacturers will schedule tours through their plants so that visitors can see how things are made. This might be possible with some power or water-processing plants. Art festivals offer a chance to look at many types of creative occupations. You might see sculptors, painters, photographers, glass blowers, potters, quilters and jewelry makers.

Just like kids gradually increase their vocabulary to go from calling all canines “dog” to recognizing and naming several breeds of dogs, we can help them become more specific in their understanding of some professions over time. You can help interested children and youth learn about the different specialties that lawyers and doctors practice. And just think about all of the different occupations that make hospitals work!

The opportunities to explore jobs are all around us. We just need to use them to help our children learn more about their world and the role that they may want to play in it when they become adults. Not everyone is going to become a firefighter who save lives and homes. Some people will have jobs of designing, building, inspecting and maintaining those homes, and so on….  So many choices!

Second Semester, Second Chance

It’s report card time and time to see how the first half of the school year went. If your child’s report card reflects solid grades and good work habits, some sort of celebration is in order. One of my co-workers learned that her daughter earned a 96 in an advanced math class. She offered to buy ice cream, but her daughter wanted her bedroom painted instead.  Fair enough!

If, on the other hand, you were disappointed in your child’s progress or performance, there is still time to turn things around. You and your child can press the reset button by looking for ways to improve on things that you have been doing. Think about changes that can be made on many possible  levels.

  • If your child has poor sleeping habits, try establishing a bed-time routine that gradually steps down the amount of activity and stimulation in the household. A well-rested brain functions better.
  • If your child wastes time in the evening and then stays up late doing homework, set a firm cutoff time to stop working, shut down the computer and place everything in the backpack (which will “live” in a designated spot in another room).  Then start winding things down toward bedtime. Provide prompts and reminders earlier in the evening to serve as fair warning.                            It may take a couple of incomplete assignments or disappointing test grades to get the real message across. Don’t cave in though, because it is essential that students develop good work habits, including learning how to effectively manage their time, if they are going to be able to sustain their success throughout the school and college years. Showing up for class exhausted and inattentive will eventually take its toll. Throwing together projects at the last minute and cramming for tests will also lead to poorer quality results that your child will take less pride in. I know this first-hand from my experience as person who went through school with undiagnosed ADHD.
  • If your child is overwhelmed by an over-packed schedule that doesn’t leave enough time for schoolwork and “down time,” consider taking a break from one of the activities.  Unless your child is talented enough that a sport or cheerleading scholarship is a real possibility, they might be better off burning the candle from only one end. Keep the activities that give them joy, and  set aside those that are on the schedule just because of habit.
  • If your child has an IEP or Section 504 accommodation plan, review it to see if it adequately addresses her current needs. It might be time to update the accommodations and supports to match performance expectations that tend to get higher each year. Get your child’s input so that any changes are going to be ones that they think will be helpful and will cooperate with.
  • Re-establish lines of communication with teachers and other school staff. If your child will have different classes for the 2nd semester, there may be new teachers who may not be aware of his special needs or the fact that you are a concerned and involved parent who expects to be considered an equal part of your child’s educational team. Set a positive tone and let them know that you are looking for this semester to be better than the last one.
  • Look for any other areas where a change for the better might be possible: diet and nutrition, general health and well-being, mental health, organization (personal and/or household), social skills, etc.  Consult with trusted friends, family and professionals to see if they have any suggestions.

If things are going great, keep doing what you are doing.  If not, try something different that might lead to better results. Remember, there can be no growth without change!

Free Audio Book Resources

Individuals with disabilities that affect their access to print have some free options  for obtaining audio and braille books, magazines and pod casts. The local public library is bound to have a collection of popular audio books that can borrowed at no cost, as long as you have a library card and return the books on time. In many libraries, books can be reserved in advance and/or brought in from another branch so you are not limited to what happens to be on the shelves of that branch on a particular day.  Public libraries often raise money by selling donated books and used ones that they have replaced. It’s a low-cost way to build your home library.

The North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has a history that goes back to 1958.  With Federal, State and private funding, it eventually became part of a regional network of libraries operated by the the Library of Congress.  Even though the name of the library has not kept up with current preferred disability language, the library itself has continued to change with the times and now offers materials in a wide variety of accessible formats fr people of all ages.  Individuals must complete an application  and provide documentation of a disability that qualifies them to use the library.   Please visit the website to learn more http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/lbph . If you don’t live in North Carolina, ask for the branch that serves your area.

 

Bookshare is another great resource for people who have print disabilities.  Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools, thanks to funding from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education. Organizations  and non-students can apply for paid memberships that will give them access to accessible materials through Bookshare. Check out Bookshare at https://www.bookshare.org  to see if you or someone that you know can benefit from what it offers.

Whether you are reading for school, work or pleasure, it’s good to know that there are some free services available to make sure that people with print disabilities have access to the information, ideas and wonderful imagining that is contained in printed text. Read on!

Curriculum modifications can go both ways

In order for many students with disabilities to be educated in the general education setting, some adjustments are required as far as what each particular student will learn or be able to do. The student should not be denied the opportunity to be in classrooms with typical children just because modifications are needed. This concept is part of the IDEA requirement that students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment where their needs can be met.

Q: What about children who spend most of their day in an exceptional children’s classroom where their skills are at the top or bottom of the range for that class?

A: The instruction can be modified, as needed, for students within an EC classroom to ensure an appropriate amount of challenge and progress.

The “I” in IEP means that instruction can be individualized to address the unique needs of a student with a disability.  The child’s learning should not be put on hold until lower-functioning classmates catch up.  We expect typical students to make a year’s worth of progress over a year of school. We should also expect that students who have disabilities will make as much progress as they are capable of over the course of each school year.  We would be doing the student a disservice if we settled for “some” progress if the child is capable of much more.

If you are the parent of a child in an EC classroom who you feel is not being challenged, try to get as much information as you can about what is being taught in that class.  Ask whether, or how, the lesson planning and instruction accounts for the fact that the students are probably not all on the same level with any of their skills.  The answer to the question should not be that “there is one curriculum and I have to teach the same things to all of the children.” One size does not fit all, and is not an appropriate approach to special education. Instruction should be differentiated to meet the needs of each individual  child.

In some schools there may be multiple EC classrooms, either self-contained or resource rooms where the kids switch in and out. It is possible for a student at the separate level of service to get instruction from teachers in different rooms.  For example, a child may get most of her instruction from a primary EC teacher, but go work with another EC teacher in a subject area where she has skills that are much higher than her classmates. On the flip side, a child can be assigned primarily to one classroom, and also go to another classroom for instruction at an appropriate, but lower level of difficulty.

Flexibility within and between EC classrooms can offer students with significant disabilities the opportunity to benefit from an educational experience that adequately addresses their strengths as well as their weaknesses.

Back to school: Look closely at your child’s class schedule

For students in middle and high school it is extremely important for parents to keep up with the courses that they are taking. The classes should offer the right amount of challenge (not too easy, not too hard). They should be preparing your child for whatever their goals are for life after high school. More importantly, the courses need to be chosen so that they meet the graduation requirements for your school system. With many schools using computer programs to create schedules for students, it’s not hard for the needs of individual students to be overlooked.

For many students who have disabilities, course selection is even more critical. For some students it will be important to make sure that they are placed in the course sections that are co-taught by both regular education and special education teachers. This can offer real-time assistance and support to help students be successful with grade-level material. The co-taught classes can be selected in the areas most likely impacted by the student’s disability. Sometimes the assumption is made that, because the student has an IEP, they should automatically be placed in the lowest level course available. This approach would keep many students from building on their strengths to reach their full potential. Students who need support in some subjects can also take typical or even honors classes in subjects that are areas of strength for them.

These days, most high schools are using block schedules that cover the entire content of a course during a single semester. It may be important to make sure that the courses that will be most challenging for your child are not all piled into the same semester. With thoughtful planning, the school can create a schedule that spreads the work load out more evenly. For example, your child can take two really hard classes at the same time plus a support class and an elective in an area of interest. This kind of planning from the very beginning will usually allow students to complete all of their graduation requirements within 4 years so they can graduate with their peers. Even if they have to pick up a summer class or return for an extra semester, the goal is that the student experiences success and gains knowledge that will help them throughout their life. The extra time will be well spent.

Parents also need to look out for other kinds of scheduling problems:

  • Make sure that courses are taken in the right sequence. The level1 course should come before the level 2 course.
  • Make sure that your child is not assigned to a course that they have already successfully completed. With rare exceptions, they will not earn course credit the second time around.
  • Make sure that your child was not placed in an elective course that they have no interest in, or one that is a poor fit, just because there was space in that class. Forcing an extremely shy kid to take a drama class will probably not end well.
  •  Make sure that your child is on track to graduate when expected. Your child could be taking math and science classes that are counted as “electives” that do not meet the graduation requirements for that subject area. If your child comes up short by missing even a single graduation requirement, they will not get a diploma. At least once a year have your child’s guidance counselor review the courses that your child has taken and compare them to the courses required for graduation.

Read your child’s class schedule carefully as soon as you get it.  If you see anything on that doesn’t look right, contact staff at the school immediately.  Go to the school in person if you need to.  The sooner any problems are corrected, the easier it will be for your child, and the better their educational experience will be.

Preparing kids at home for the Common Core Standards

Many parents have been hearing scary things about the Common Core State Standards that most states are now using as a foundation for their General Education Program or Standard Course of Study.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are intended raise expectations for what high school graduates will know and be able to do so that they will be better prepared for the demands of our 21st-Century Global Economy.  We know that students will still be taught how to read, write and do math, so many parents are wondering what’s so different about the CCSS, and whether they will still be able to help with their child’s education.

This blog will only address some CCSS highlights.  However, detailed information about the specific standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics in kindergarten through 12th grade can be found at http://www.corestandards.org.    Also, the Council of the Great City Schools has created Parent Roadmaps to Common Core Standards, which are available in both English and Spanish.  The parent-friendly roadmaps give parents information about what their child should be learning in English Language Arts and Mathematics at each grade K-8 and during the high school years.  They show how the standards connect from one year to the next and also give parents ideas for how they can support their child’s learning at home. You can find the roadmaps at http://www.cgcs.org/Page/328 .

One of the things that you will find throughout the CCSS is a focus on higher-level thinking skills.  Instead of just asking students to memorize facts and repeat definitions, the CCSS requires students to actually use increasingly complex information to understand situations, solve problems, analyze, create and evaluate arguments, explore possibilities, make decisions, communicate with others, and collaborate to reach a common goal.  Students will also be taught to become independent learners who can find needed information and use technology on their own.

While this may all sound a little intimidating, there are some basic things that parents can do to help their child develop these skills.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Expose your child to as many different kind of experiences and people as possible.  Even if resources are limited, you can expose your child to other parts of the world, art, music, theatre, nature, history and science by choosing the right shows to watch on television.  Visit zoos, museums, historical landmarks as well as state and national parks.  These experiences give your child something to connect to when different topics come up at school.
  • Build your child’s vocabulary by occasionally using words that they don’t already know or discussing an unfamiliar expression that they may hear in a story, movie or from someone else.  Look for opportunities to take things to the next level.  For example, go from “dinosaur” to talking about specific species of dinosaurs and what makes a herbivore different from a carnivore.
  • Ask lots of “why” questions.  Why do certain plants or animals only live in certain places? Why do some animals hibernate during the winter? Why is it a bad idea to start a fire outside on a windy day? Why are there more seashells on the beach first thing in the morning? Why do cars cost more than bicycles? Why did you pick that jacket to wear today? Why do they put food coloring in beverages?  The point isn’t to see if they know the answer already, it’s to make them think and communicate their ideas.
  • When reading, hearing or watching a story, ask “what if?” something had happened differently at a particular point in the story.  How would that have impacted what happened later? Would that have been better or worse? Why?
  • Actually talk about why a person shouldn’t believe everything that they hear and under which circumstances some people should be trusted as reliable sources of information.  For example, you should be able to trust your doctors to give medical advice within their field of expertise, but is there any reason to take their word on which car to buy?
  • Look for ways to use math skills in natural situations like shopping, cooking, working on a project to build something, or deciding how many cans of paint to buy to do a job.

The point is that if parents challenge their kids to think more at home and help find different ways to express those thoughts, it will go a long toward preparing them for the challenges of the common core.  Start early and don’t assume that anything is over your child’s head.  Children can usually understand, at least the basics of any topic, if its broken down and explained the right way.