What all teachers need to know: The role of Executive Function Processes in the classroom

What exactly are executive functions?  They have been described as the processes required for planning, organising, prioritising, memorising, shifting (eg moving from one idea to another), self-regulation and self-monitoring.  They are like the brain’s “CEO”.  All teachers have across students who exhibit difficulties that interfere with their learning: students who are inefficient with their work, are forever forgetful and disorganised and who have difficulty getting started on tasks, have difficulty memorising facts, being on time, controlling emotions, showing what they know, difficulties with integrating subskills and co-ordinating it all together along with difficulties studying, planning, writing essays, taking notes etc.   Unfortunately, they can be labelled unmotivated or lazy and heading for failure.

Dr Brown describes impaired executive functioning affecting one’s ability to:

  • Organize and get started on tasks.
  • Attend to details and avoid excessive distractibility.
  • Regulate alertness and processing speed.
  • Sustain and, when necessary, shift focus.
  • Use short-term working memory and access recall.
  • Sustain motivation to work.
  • Manage emotions appropriately

He likens ineffective executive functioning as being an impairment of the brain’s cognitive processes and likens it to the operation of a symphony orchestra, where even though individual members may possess specific skills, without an effective conductor to manage them they will not perform well.

Although deficits in executive functioning are common attributes for individuals with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Fragile X Syndrome, schizophrenia and other disorders, students without a diagnosed disorder may also be affected (Meltzer, 2010; Brown 2007; Landon & Oggel, 2002).  Such findings deliver an important message to educators:

Any student who struggles to achieve may well be faced with the challenges of impaired executive functioning and not just those with a diagnosed disorder.

Executive Functions and ADD

A great deal of research has been done on individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder without widespread identification that individuals diagnosed as such experience deficits in executive functioning. ADD has been described as the most the most commonly diagnosed, extensively studied, as well as the most controversial of disorders.   It is estimated that the prevalence is around five to seven percent of all school-aged children, which translates to there being at least one or two children with ADD per classroom (Heward, 2009; Brown 2007; Sherman, Rasmussen & Baydala, 2008).    The clinical description of ADD is that the condition displays hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive behaviours presenting frequently and severely compared to peers of comparable development (Heward, 2009; Guereasko-Moore, Dupaul & White, 2007; Sherman et al, 2008).  For decades then, ADD has been diagnosed as inattentiveness or hyperactiavity behaviour problems and managed with medication.

It’s not a simple behaviour disorder, but rather a complex syndrome of impairments in the management system of the brain. – Thomas E Brown

Such behaviours are examples of impaired executive function in self-regulation which undoubtedly affects cognitive performance.  The prognosis for these individuals is generally poor, including greater risk for low academic achievement, school non-completion, expulsions, increased chance of engagement in higher-risk behaviours, ineffective relationships and increased risk for psychological and emotional problems (Huang et al. 2009; Guereasko-Moore, Dupaul & White, 2007; Barkley, 1997; McQuade & Hoza, 2008; Klassen, 2004; Wolraich et al, 2005).  Additionally, it has been identified  that ADD individuals have at least one other problem to contend with, or are at greater risk of conditions such as oppositional conduct disorder, anxiety, mood disorders or depression (Wolraich et al, 2005; Dendy, 2004; Klassen, Miller & Fine, 2004).

It is therefore extremely enlightening that a newer model of ADD has begun to emerge recognizing the role of executive functioning in the disorder (Brown, 2007; Meltzer, 2010, McCloskey, 2008).

Although deficits in executive functioning are common attributes for individuals with conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Fragile X Syndrome, schizophrenia and other disorders, students without a diagnosed disorder may also be affected (Meltzer, 2010; Brown 2007; Landon & Oggel, 2002).  Such findings deliver an important message to educators:  any student who struggles to achieve may well be faced with the challenges of impaired executive functioning and not just those with a diagnosed disorder.

“Individuals with ADD are found in all IQ levels” – Thomas E Brown

Brown recommends that all stakeholders become familiar with the new model of ADD and with appropriate intervention, most students can achieve their potential.  CHADD is a non-profit making organisation, assisting students and adults in managing ADD/ADHD in their lives.

Students with AD/HD experience roughly a 30 percent developmental delay in organizational and social skills. Many of these students appear less mature and responsible than their peers. A thirteen-year-old adolescent with AD/HD, for example, may have executive skills that are more like those of a nine-year-old child. To ensure academic success for these students, parents and teachers must provide more supervision and monitoring than is normally expected for this age group.” Barkley, PhD researcher

How students can be helped:

Intervention strategies for academic success

Approximately 50% of students with ADD/ADHD have learning disorders. It is therefore important to identify the learning problems that require support (math, reading, written expression) and to identify their executive function deficits (eg poor working memory, forgetfulness, disorganisation) and provide accommodations to address the deficits.

The following strategies will assist each of the executive function areas where weaknesses are identified.

Planning: helpful strategies include explicit teaching, breaking tasks into manageable steps and teaching students how to use a planner/diary.

Prioritizing: teaching how to highlight main points, using visual learning aids and supports such as graphic organizers as well as allocating time frames to specific tasks.

Organising: guided practice, consistent routine, using outlines such as graphic organizers, teaching summarizing skills for example, key points on index cards or ‘post-it’ notes, note-taking strategies, and using colour coding for organising tasks will support organizational deficits. Also using folders, trays, boxes and files to organize the environment and reduce clutter.

Shifting: implementing practice in rephrasing tasks and activities which incorporate multiple meanings and representations, instruction on how to identify key points as well as note-taking training will assist this deficit.

Memory: the use of a planner/diary and wall calendars to help with day-day management tasks, implementing a well-structured daily schedule and visual aids to provide reminders for routine and applied strategies.  For learning, using repetition, acronyms, mnemonics, chunking, attaching meaning, reciting and recording. To assist with deficits in internalisation of verbal working memory, visual cues can be linked to verbal prompts.

Self-monitoring can be managed via aids such as self-assessments, self-recording, clearly defined rubrics, exemplars, feedback, checklists and reinforcers (Heward, 2009; Dendy, 2004; Meltzer, 2010; McKloskey, 2008).

Other strategies include paired learning, modified assignments, testing and grading, provision of support and where appropriate, the use of technology.  Modifying teaching methods to accommodate challenges, for example, work does not always have to be in written form; alternatives can include using diagrams, drawings and oral recordings (Meltzer, 2010; McCloskey, 2008; Heward, 2009; Dendy, 2004).

Behavioural intervention

The value of behavioural and academic interventions and their efficacy have been well documented and school focused interventions have been found to be superior as opposed to a singular behavioural management approach.  Implementing research-supported behavioural strategies include a focus on the consequences of behaviour.     Behaviour management that has been effective includes clear rules and procedures and enforcing them consistently, providing encouragement, rewards and praise, teaching and modeling modulation and supporting positive self-reflection and self-talk on tasks on achievements (Sherman, 2008; Wicks-Nelson & Israel, 2009; Heward, 2009).  Graham-Day, Gardner & Hsin, (2010, p. 219) concomitantly express “simply making students aware of and accountable for their behaviour also teaches an important life skill”.

Additionally, successful school intervention strategies to improve appropriate classroom behaviour include knowing students’ weaknesses and equipping students with skills that can enable them to manage their situations as well as teacher-intervention support when needed. Additional strategies include social skill instruction, social stories, teaching de-stressing strategies,  opportunities for role-play, differential reinforcement, metacognitive strategies such as self-monitoring strategies, self-evaluation aligned with positive behaviour reinforcers and the use of report cards (Gureasko-Moore, DuPaul & White, 2007; Menzies, Lane & Lee, 2009).

Classroom environment and management

A well-organised, structured environment with clear routine, rules and procedures, minimal distractions, allocated seating arrangements, teacher use of hand gestures, visual aids, frequent feedback and checklists are effective strategies for maintaining external control (Sherman et al, 2008; Wicks-Nelson & Israel, 2009; Heward, 2009; Rief, 1993; McCloskey, 2008).  Furthermore, Students will work more effectively in an environment where there is variety, choice, regular feedback, praise and rewards. When structures are in place and students have strategies to manage self-regulation inhibitions (such as frustration, anxiety and intolerance), they are more able to access their cognitive resources. (Wicks-Nelson & Israel, 2009; Heward, 2009;  Rief, 1993; McCloskey, 2008; Meltzer, 2010).

For comprehensive strategies I strongly recommend What Works for Special-Needs Learners: Promoting Executive Function in the Classroom, Lyn Meltzer, 2010.

CHADD has excellent strategies, tips and ideas for managing executive functions at home and school.

References

Barkley, R. A. (1997). Behavioral Inhibition, Sustained Attention, and Executive Functions: Constructing a Unifying Theory of ADHD. Psychological Bulletin, 121(1), 65-94.

Barkley, R. A. (2005).  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment, (3rd ed).  New York: Guildford.

Brown, T. E. (2007, February).  A New Approach to Attention Deficit Disorder. Education Leadership, 22-27.

Dendy, C. A. (2004).  Executive Function … ‘What is this anyway?’ Retrieved  September 16, 2010, from http://www.chrisdendy.com/executive.htm

Gander, M. (2010). Failure to Launch. University Business, 13(2), 44.

Gilmore, L., Campbell, J., & Cuskelly, M. (2003). Developmental Expectations, Personality Stereotypes, and Attitudes Towards Inclusive Education: community and teacher views of Down syndrome, International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 50(1), 65.

Graham-Day, K. J., Gardner, R. & Hsin, Y. W. (2010).  Increasing On-Task Behaviors of High School Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Is it Enough? Education & Treatment of Children, 33(2), 205-221.

Guereasko-Moore, S., DuPaul, G. J., &  White, G. P. (2007).  Self-Management of Classroom Preparedness and Homework: Effects on School Functioning of Adolescents With  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  School Psychology Review, 36 (4), 647-664.

Heward, W. L. (2009). Exceptional Children, An Introduction to Special Education, (9th ed.). Colombus, OH: Pearson.

Huang, H. L., Lu, C. H., Tsasi, Chao, C. C., Ho, T. Y., Chuang, S. F., Tsai, C. H., & Yang, P. C. (2009).  Effectiveness of Behavioral Parent Therapy in Preschool Children With Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The Kaohsiung Journal of Medical Sciences, 25, (7), 357-365.

Klassen, A. F., Miller , A., & Fine, S. (2004).  Health-related quality of life in children and adolescents who have a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 114, (5), 541-547.

Landon, T., & Oggel, L. (2002) Lazy Kid or Executive Dysfunction?  CCC-SLP Innovations & Perspectives, 5( 2), 1-2.

McCloskey, G., Perkins L. A., & Van Divner, B. (2008). Assessment and Intervention for Executive Function Difficulties, Hoboken: Routledge.

McQuade, J. D., & Hoza, B. (2008). Peer problems in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Current status and future directions.  Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 14(4), 320-324.

Meltzer, L. (2010).  Promoting Executive Function in the Classroom, New York: Guildford Press.

Menzies, H. M., Lane, K. L., & Lee, J. M. (2009).  Self-Monitoring Strategies for Use in the Classroom: A Promising Practice to Support Productive Behaviour for Students with Emotional or Behavioural Disorders. Beyond Behavior, 18(2 ), 27-35.

Rief, S. F. (1993).  How to Reach and Teach ADD/ADHD Children, West Nyack, NY: Jossey-Bass.

Shah, S. (2007).  Special or mainstream? The views of disabled students. Research Papers in Education, 22(4), 425-442.

Swanson,  J. M. (2003).  Role of Executive Function in ADHD, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(14), 35-39.

Wasserstein, J. (2005).  Diagnostic issues for adolescents and adults with ADHD, Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(5), 535-547.

White, H. L., & Rouge, B. (2003).  Ritalin Update For Counselors, Teachers, And Parents. Education, 124,(2), 289-296.

Wicks-Nelson, R., & Israel, A. C. (2009).  Abnormal Child and Adolescent Psychology, (7th ed.).  New Jersey: Pearson.

Wolraich, M. L.,Wibbelsman, C. J., Brown, T. E., Evans, S. W., Gotlieb, E. M., Knight, J. R., Ross, E. C., Shubiner, H. H., Wender, E. H., & Wilens, T.  (2005).  Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents: A Review of the Diagnosis, Treatment, and Clinical Implications. Pediatrics, 115(6), 1734-1746.

ICT Presentation: blogs and wikis

Why Blog?


“Blogs: great for class portals, an online filing cabinet, e-portfolios… but better: a collaborative space for students and teachers to react to questions and scenarios … Student writing becomes authentic, relevant.”   Will Richardson, Connective Learning: educator, presenter, blogger, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms

21 reasons to integrate blogging into the classroom (thanks to Anne Mirtschin for sharing some of these ideas).

  1. It is great fun!
  2. There is an authentic audience – a potential global audience.
  3. Suits all learning styles.
  4. Increased motivation for writing.
  5. Increased motivation for reading.
  6. Improved confidence levels (via comments and global dots on their cluster maps).   Students can share their strengths and upload areas of interest or units of work.
  7. Blogs facilitate use of text, multimedia, widgets, audio and images – all tools that digital natives want to use.
  8. Increased proofreading and validation skills.
  9. Improved awareness of cybersafety that may confront them in the real world, whilst in a sheltered classroom environment.
  10. Facilitates sharing – students are already involved in social networking – why not extend that to education?  They can share with each other, staff, their parents, the community, and the globe.
  11. Providing them with ‘out there’ web technologies and tools that are in use in the world of work.
  12. Mutual learning between students and teachers.
  13. Family members can view their child’s work and writings – regardless of their geographical location.
  14. Blogs may be used for digital portfolios and all the benefits this entails.
  15. Work is permanently stored, easily accessed and valuable comparisons can be made over time for assessment and evaluation purposes.
  16. Students are digital natives – blogging is a natural element of this.
  17. Gives students a chance to show responsibility and trustworthiness and engenders independence.
  18. Prepares students for digital citizenship as they learn cybersafety and netiquette.
  19. Fosters peer to peer mentoring.
  20. Allows student led professional development and one more……
  21. Students set the topics for posts – leads to deeper thinking activities.

And if you still not convinced:

Focused on primary school children, but a great message ‘Bring the World in, Blogging with your students

Learning with blogs and wikis: Using blogs and wikis to address student literacies

11 Advantages of using a blog for teaching

Blogs in Education

Where to start?

Global teacher, Global Teacher class blog, Student blog, Edublogs video tutorial, Blog tutorial

Why wikis?

Wikis are an extremely useful tool for collaborative projects, sharing knowledge, resource reppositories for students and teacher lesson plan/resource exchange and much more.  Limited technical expertise is required to contribute to a wiki, they are quick and easy to set up.  Think Wikipedia – it is a collaborative writing space that allows users to read, add, and edit text and files of any kind including sound, movies, and even links to other websites. To learn more about wikis visit  “The Seven Things You Should Know About Wikis”.

Free online wiki sites are available at  PB Wiki, Wet Paint, Wikispaces, Wikispaces for Educators and Jottit.  Here are some great sample wikis, which show what you can do:

Wiki: WebTools4U2Use

Wiki: Web2Tools

Wiki: Cool Tools for Schools

Wiki: Examples of Educational Wikis

What are the advantages of using wikis with students?

  1. Relatively simple technology
  2. Promotes “real-world” collaboration skills
  3. Fosters richer communication than synchronous communication (Mabrito, 2006)
  4. Pools strengths of many
  5. Assessable, easy to track
  6. Online collaborative writing produces higher quality writing than face-to-face collaboration (Passig and Schwartz, 2007)

Help with getting started:

Getting started with Wikispaces tutorial

How to set up a wiki at Wikispace

Alternative search engines for school research

I’ve been thinking about alternative search engines besides google, that would be more suitable for primary and lower secondary students.  The information provided by google is often more in-depth than what is needed by school students. Here are some of the search engines that my teachers’ network suggested and use.

Studysearch.com:  Whilst studysearch.com.au provides a full Google search, all search results have Google Safesearch activated. This provides a level of protection from inappropriate content. Studysearch.com.au is operated by an independent group that utilises the Google custom search engine. The sites in the database are contributed by Australian teachers, librarians and site volunteers. These sites are selected based on their content and ease of navigation.

Eyeplorer.com: This has a graphical interface so great for visual learners. This is in Beta and information on the site states ‘We aim at radically improving the way users interact with knowledge and information online. Recent studies show that human thought processes have a strong visual component and that the brain can process images significantly faster than textual information. We are convinced that it is time for innovative, interactive, visual methods of working with and discovering facts and information instead of wading through ever longer lists of documents and search results’.

DuckDuckGo is a great simplified engine for kids, providing simplified information.

Twurdy: Another great site for children and those with low literacy as it identifies the reading difficulty of the articles.

Review of kids’ search engines: A review has been written by Debby Richman on popular kids’ search engines.

AOL for Kids
Cybersleuth Kids
Fact Monster
Kids Click
Lycos for Kids
Quintura Kids
Yahoo Kids
ZOO
About.com
Ask.com
Google
MSN
Yahoo

Resources for students with Down Syndrome and Autism

Looking for resources to teach special needs children, found the following which are going to be added to my essential classroom materials.

Sparkle Box: great selection of early primary resources for literacy, numeracy, signs and labels, resources for themes (role play, everyday life, living things, weather and seasons, places etc), classroom management tools, editable resources.

do2learn: Ahuge selection of resources for games, songs, communication cards, print resources and information for special needs.

The Learning Program: It is necessary to register for these resources, no charge though.  Great selection of literacy, maths and daily living resources for young Down Syndrome learners from early intervention to primary.  Literacy resources here are free, word cards and booklets can be printed free of charge. Level 2 readers need to be purchases.

I was particularly inspired by the research that had been done by Natalie Hale and have learned a lot about how Down Syndrome children can learn to read, using the correct instruction.  I’m reprinting this valuable information below for the benefit of special education teachers, general teachers and parents.  Thank you so much Natalie!  Natalie has additional resources available at Special Reads for Special Needs.

The following is taken from Special Reads for Special Needs.

HOW TO MOTIVATE YOUR STUDENT WITH DOWN SYNDROME TO READ

This one’s easy. We work with whatever floats their boat, whatever fires their jets. What do I mean by that? We begin to teach reading by focusing on topics that they care about more than anything in the world, and work from there.

Particularly with learners who have a reputation for being strong willed (what, my child?) it’s essential to hook their motivation. It’s not an exaggeration to say that engaging motivation is a prerequisite for teaching your learner with Down syndrome to read.

Our children have enough challenges before them; to struggle to read about things which do not interest them in the least is counter-productive. We want to hone in on their absolute favorite things on the planet and work with reading from there.

Are you ready? Good!

We begin by making an “A” list. Start your project by listing three items in each of these categories:

  1. favorite people/family members/pets
  2. favorite foods
  3. favorite toys/ activities/sports.

Your list of 9 topics will vary greatly depending on the age of your learner. Once you’ve completed your list, you’re armed with 9 different routes to the heart of your learner’s reading motivation.

So now what?

Now you begin. This plan, which is research-based and respected as best practice for teaching individuals with Down syndrome to read (regardless of age!), begins with sight words coupled with personal books.

Head to your nearest office supply store and stock up on the following simple items:

1. 5” x 8” blank index cards for making flash cards (if you can’t find blank, use the reverse side of lined index cards)

2. A ream of 110# card stock paper, white (for printing your books)

3. Several red markers: broad or chisel-tipped (for making flash cards)

Your job will be easiest if you have access to a computer and a printer, and I’ll assume you do as we progress through this reading process. But if you don’t, you’ll just write everything by hand.

With your Hot Topic List and your office supplies in hand, you’re going to write your first book.

For this exercise, I’m going to assume that you have an emergent or beginning reader as a student. If your learner is more advanced, simply write your reading books at a more advanced level.

1. Write the text for your first reading book. For a beginning reader, try to limit yourself to a vocabulary list of only 10-15 words. Here is an example of what you might do; keep in mind that each short sentence occupies a page all by itself. I am Joseph. I love my Mama. I love my Daddy. I love Sarah. I love my family. The End. After each short sentence page, the next page turn will reveal a picture all by itself: pictures will be of Joseph, then Mama & Joseph, then Daddy & Joseph, then Sarah & Joseph, then a picture of the whole family. Kids love “The End,” because it gives them a feeling of reading accomplishment and success, so teach those words from the beginning. With this example, you’ve got a total of 11 vocabulary words. Perfect for your first book.

2. Create flash cards for all the words, using your index cards and the red marker. The most effective reading method for learners with Down syndrome uses large red letters, so make your words as large as possible on your 5” x 8” cards. Either print them or computer in red ink, or use your red markers and try to make the letters as uniform and well-formed as you can. You’re after visual clarity, so keep that in mind.

3. Take photos which correspond to your text (digital camera is most convenient if you have one), or use magazine cut-outs if appropriate.

4. Write the text on your computer and print it, with these guidelines:

a. Set the page setup as landscape
b. Use 70 to 100 point type, black ink
c. Use the 110# index paper stock you’ve bought
d. Print only one short sentence to a page
e. Assemble your book with NOTHING ever on the left page when you’re looking at a double-    spread.The best way to bind it is to take it to an office supply store/kinko’s/etc and ask for “plastic coil binding.” Don’t use “comb binding.” It lasts about 5 minutes in the hands of a child before coming apart.
f. Assemble it in this way:

1. text page on right side page
2. turn the page
3. picture page illustrating the previous text, on right side page also
4. turn the page
5. next text page, right side page
6. turn the page
7. next picture page illustrating the previous text, right side page again
8. etc.

So this is what we’re doing: we are creating a book which is Hot Topic for your learner with Down syndrome, a reading book which is highly motivating and personal. We’re coupling that with your learner’s first reading vocabulary. And we’re going to use the fastest, most effective method for teaching those sight words.

And what’s that method? We call it Fast Flash. It’s simple, astonishingly effective, and has a decades-old track record of success.

Here it is: divide your flash cards into groups of 5 or so; show each set 3-4 times to your learner, calling out the words as you move the cards at a rate of approximately one per second. There are brain-based reasons which support this method, and we’ll cover that in another lesson. But for now, just try it and you’ll believe it!

Then read the book to your learner and enjoy it together. End by showing/calling out the flash cards again, 3 or 4 times in a row, as before. End of session!

A frequent question is: “Does my student have to repeat the word aloud as I flash them?” No. The only requirement is that they look at the cards and listen as you say the word.

As your learner begins to be able to recognize the words, encourage him/her to read the words aloud. Eventually you’ll have an independent reader for this book, and that’s just the beginning.

Many parents and educators have made the amazing discovery that, using this reading method, their learners with Down syndrome grasp and retain all the vocabulary words in as little as a few weeks’ time. When this happens, motivation and excitement are so high that your learner gets on the reading fast track and, with continued reading support, just keeps going.

We love to see what you’ve created; so if you feel inspired to send us a photo of your child and his/her reading book, please do!

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN TO READ
When You Have Down Syndrome

I could give you an official quote from a highly respected research source to back up this claim, and I certainly will later in this article.

But I want to start with the story a young man I’ll call Brian.

A recent transplant from out of state, Brian arrived at my tutoring doorstep nearing his 12th birthday. He was standing at my door only because he had missed the boat. That elusive reading boat had somehow passed him right by.

He could read only a few color words and the names of his former classmates, the latter skill sadly being of no use whatever in his new home in California.

In addition to Down syndrome, Brian had just a touch of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and basically had only one interest in life: emergencies. Ambulances, hospitals, and “Call 911!” floated his boat, big time.

These restrictions and his disinterest in reading not withstanding, his parents ached for Brian to be able to read. So here he was.

My method with our learners with Down syndrome, regardless of age, is to begin teaching reading by focusing laser-like on what interests them most.

Many years ago, I did that with my own son Jonathan (now 24), who also has Down syndrome. At age 5, I made his first book, “Spaghetti,” because it was his Number One Favorite Food in the universe. Within two weeks, he had learned the eleven vocabulary words in the book, and could read the homemade picture-less book perfectly. I continued the method and creating homemade books, and he was soon off and running as a reader.

But back to our friend Brian.

I created personal reading books for Brian built exclusively around emergencies. I downloaded internet images of stethoscopes, blook pressure cuffs, wheechairs, you name it – all those things that made him sit up and take notice with eyes wide open.

I knew that this was the way in, the way to hook him, and I was prepared to make these books ‘till the cows came home, until I could reel him in and land “Brian The Reader.” I didn’t care how long it took.

After several months of this, one day Brian arrived for his lesson and noticed—for the first time—a stack of early reading books I designed and use with my other students. These books had always been close by, and Brian had always ignored them. But not today. Today he grabbed several of them and plopped them on the worktable.

“These!” he announced. I was nearly speechless. “Brian, you want to read those books?”

“Yes!” he yelled.

Veeery carefully, treading gently lest I shatter this amazing moment, I led him through reading the books. When we finished, he pushed his chair back from the table. “MORE!” he yelled.

“You want more books like these, Brian?” I was stunned.

“YES!”

And we were off and running. I felt like high-fiveing Helen Keller’s Annie Sullivan. Dude! Within weeks, his mother reported, “Brian came home from the school library today with books on volcanoes and Native Americans!” Who knew?

And that was how Brian The Reader was born. There are many other stories, of course, from many other teachers, but this one remains my favorite.

Now for the official research quote I promised you…This is from Sue Buckley, head researcher and director of Downs Ed International, and can be found in their series, Teaching Reading and Writing to Individuals with Down Syndrome:

“It is always too early to say that children, young people, or adults cannot learn to read…children with Down syndrome can ‘take off’ with reading at any age.”

She further states, “Almost all children with Down syndrome are capable of reaching a level of reading achievement that will be functionally useful if we, their parents and teachers, believe that this is possible and steadily help them to progress.”

Well said! And repeatedly proven to be true. It’s NEVER too late to learn to read!


Posters, Certificates, Reward Charts and more

I was looking for behavioural charts so began my search. Teachers are always strapped for time, so rather than having to design these resources, it is worth a little bit of time searching which does save time that it would take to create them from scratch.  Here’s a selection of what I found which other teachers may find to be useful:

Activity Village: stationery, reward certificates, alphabet and number strips, reading logs, games, masks, printable money, spelling charts, blank flash cards as well as special occasion and seasonal printables.

Primary Resources: Classroom management aids such as posters to use in the classroom: good listening, noise level chart, class contract and more; target sheets and behavour checklists and behavioural posters; certificate and reward sticker charts (such as kind and thoughtful, good behaviour, working hard). Smiley face charts, personal goals etc.  Documents are ppt, Word or Publisher, so can be modified to suit.

Worksheet Genuis: This is a great resource as you can create your own desktop published worksheets.  Worksheet Genuis is full of printable worksheets, puzzles and activities that can be differentiated and randomized at the touch of a button.  For example, language resources include anagrams, bingo, falsh cards, matching pairs, mixed-up sentences, phonics, slideshows, spelling tests, word lists and word searches.

Math resources: addition, bingo, clocks, division, subtraction, greater than / less than, larger/smaller, multiplication, percentages and place value.

Free Printables: cards, calendars, games, worksheets, invitations, crafts, labels, nametags, stationery, coupons and more!

ABC Teach: has some excellent early education resources, although not all of them are free and require a subscription.

Games (not computer) in the classroom (and outside)

Games are a great way to change pace, motivate, learn and allow students time away from their desks.  They can be great for developing leadership and co-operative skills.

A friend alerted me to this wonderful site which has ample games for all aged students. I’m going through finding new ones to use!  Visit Mr Gym, click on the left hand side for games and activities. Here there are numerous games – co-operative games, games for small spaces and many others

Back Home

After a wonderful trip to the UK visiting family and friends I returned home this week.  International travel can be exciting and also exhausting.  What should have been a 24 hour trip home ended up taking 48 hours!  You can view some of our visits to museums in my home town, Leicester, below.

Back in time via PhotoPeach

Leicester is a city with a thriving ethnic minority community which makes up more than a third of Leicester’s population and continues to enrich city life.  I loved the Indian grocery shops that populated the main streets of Belgrave, along what is known as the Golden Mile – named after the unusually high number of traffic lights that line the street. Owing to the community that populates the area, it is no surprise that many fine traditional Asian restaurants are on offer the whole length of The Golden Mile, pulling in a large number of locals and visitors alike.

Belgrave Rd, Leicester

Belgrave Rd, Leicester

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Returning to one’s home town can be an emotional experience.  I visited the primary school I attended which brought back many memories. I remembered the day my mother dropped me off at school as a five year old.  By the time I had left junior school at age 11, my mother had died.  The school buildings haven’t changed that much since I attended in the sixties (the school opened in 1930) and I remembered each of the classrooms, the hall and the playgrounds.  I was quite impressed with the ICT facilities, a computer lab, and the appearance of interactive white boards in each classroom.

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I also visited a school of the future, Soar Valley College, only opened in June this year.  The facilities were  modern, spacious, inviting and impressive. What impressed me greatly was the fact that this is not just a school but a community facility.  Out of school hours, it can be used by members of the public and groups for learning, leisure and events such as weddings.

Soar Valley Community College, Leicesteruk-photos-0141

Create a booklet – easy!

I wanted to create a booklet and although I found information that enabled me to do this in Word, it was turning into a complex task.    From the print menu I needed to identify my pages in order of printing, ie page 12,1; 2,11; 10,3 etc.  Despite doing this, it wasn’t working as simply as I would have liked.  When I numbered my pages in a 12 page booklet, the printer churned out page after page, with numbers such as 52 and 64 on my pages.    Also it would appear very tedious to have to identify pages in order of printing with a very large document.

I came across a really simple solution via Office Watch.  I saved my Word document as a PDF file, (Office 2007 users can do that with the free Save As PDF add-in) and then printed the PDF saved version as a booklet.

How to print your PDF document as a booklet:

Go to File > Print, then, Page Scaling (left hand side of the Print menu) – click on ‘booklet printing‘.

If your printer is capable of back to back printing, go down to booklet subset (underneath page scaling) and select ‘both sides’.  Quick and simple.

If you are creating your A4 document to be printed as an A5 booklet, I’d recommend replacing a 12 pt font with 17pt in your original document, and make headings 20 pt.