Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Using Social Stories

I love the idea of social stories.  Before I returned to school, I worked as a classroom aide at a program for kids with emotional and behavioral disturbances.  The last couple of years I worked there, we had a couple of students with Asperger's.  Both of them were pretty high-functioning and were very coachable when it came to social skills.  However, they were both very thrown off by any break from the regular routine.  Any time we knew the day was going to be out of the ordinary, some of the staff worked together to make social stories.  For example, one year the whole program went bowling at the end of the year.  One of the social workers went to the bowling alley and took pictures of the front of the alley, the ball racks, the lanes, the shoe counter etc.  I then put them together in a book that walked the kids through the day and gave each boy a copy.  "I will come to school.  I was eat breakfast with my class like always.  Around 9:30, I will get on a bus.  We will ride to the bowling alley.  I will go to the counter and get a pair of bowling shoes." etc.  I think they were very effective and the boys loved them.  We made hard copies of them which I really liked because they could carry them around.  We even took them to the bowling alley with us, and if one of them started to look a little overwhelmed, someone sat down with him and went through the story with him.  In addition to just offering a distraction, it reassured him that he did know what was going to happen next and that it was going to be okay.

I think Cori More perfectly summed up what I like the most about social stories. "Because the stories are individualized, they can be tailored to meet the needs of each learner."  In what little experience I have with autism, I know that you can have five students with autism and every single one of them will be different.  Some of them will need more guidance in peer interaction, some of them will need more reminders about routines, some of them will need more guidance in classroom behavior.  A social story can easily be made to address any issue in any of those categories.  Each child will probably also have specific needs and that's adjustable too.  Digital stories can be created for students who have difficulties manipulating the pages of a book or who need audio.  Text can be included for students who have difficulties focusing on spoken words.  Text and audio can go hand-in-hand for students who do better with the double reinforcement.

I also really liked the discussion at Healing Thresholds about why social stories seem to work with kids who have autism.  At first, it does seems kind of strange that kids might learn better through them than through a real person instructing them, but it does make sense that kids who are frustrated by social interactions might be so distracted by their relationship with the person teaching them that they lose what's being said.  Removing that interaction frees them up to focus on the information at hand.

I'd never used Photo Story before and I was really surprised at how quick and easy it was.  I spent more time finding photos that worked than I did actually putting the story together.  In the real-life scenario I mentioned above, when I had photos of my own, it would have been a very easy process.  I decided to focus on something I saw students struggle with - playing games with peers.  A number of things seemed to cause problems - agreeing on a game, taking turns, not making negative comments to peers ("Boy, that was a stupid move!") - so I made sure to include them.  I had students who weren't on the autism spectrum who had similar difficulties with peer interaction so while everything we read stressed how great social stories are for those on the spectrum, I think it's important to realize that they're adaptable to all kinds of students with all kinds of needs.

Here's my story!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Collaborative Assignments on Google Docs

I admit, I probably hurt this particular assignment by waiting until almost the last possible second to do it.  If I had started earlier, I could have interacted more with everyone else's contributions which is probably the point.  That said, even coming in late, I could definitely see the benefits of using a shared document for collaborative assignments.  I particularly like that you can click on "See revision history" (under the file document) and see not just who wrote when but see exactly what they added or changed highlighted in the text.  That's super useful for something like this when there's more than a couple of people working on something and it might not be immediately obvious what changes were made.  Ideally, there would be more communication between team members - judging by the history, most of us did our piece and then most left things as they were - but the potential is obvious.

I really love the idea of using shared documents in class.  I think it's a really neat tool for students who maybe aren't as outspoken or confident enough to assert themselves in a group.  By opening a document for everyone in the group to use, a student can type his or her ideas right in.  Once an idea has been contributed, if it's good, most other students will go along with it.  I mentioned on the discussion board last module that a friend and I used to occasionally use Google docs to co-write blog posts for our Sabres blogs.  In addition to making changes to the actual text, we communicated with each other with little notes.  Things like "Do you think we need more here?" or "This part seems wonky" or even "HOLY CRAP, THIS IS FUNNY!"  While we did it mostly for the sake of convenience - it was like combining email and editing in one - it's another way to make group assignments easier for less confident or less outgoing students.  I might even encourage students to give each other feedback in the document, commenting on things they like or offering some constructive criticism about things they think aren't working or aren't clear.  While kids do eventually need to learn to talk with each other, it might be easier to ease them into that.  I'll definitely use Google Docs in some way or another in my classroom.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Webquests and AT

Back when I worked at Baker Victory Services (as a classroom aide), we used webquests a couple of times with our students.  We had third graders do a short webquest on Charlotte's Web which we were reading together at the time.  We set it up as a treasure hunt of sorts.  "Go to this page and find the name of the author and the title of one other book he wrote," that kind of thing.  Most of our kids didn't have access to computers at home and weren't very comfortable with computers so it was a good way to slowly introduce them to Internet research.  They got experience with things like clicking on links, moving from one page to another, finding information on a page, but there were enough parameters that it wasn't too overwhelming.  The webquest was a way of holding their hands a bit and guiding them along rather than just saying, "Here's the Internet, find this information, go!"  I think webquests would work well for students with various special needs for kind of the same reason.  They're pretty adabtable.  It would be easy to create a webquest that presents information in different ways - text, images, charts and tables, videos - and it wouldn't be too hard to give students slightly different webquests depending on how much information they can handle at one time.  I think they're also a fun way of doing research, something that can be pretty boring even for the best, most focused students.

As for the webquest we did for class, I thought the information was really interesting.  I sometimes found the information a little confusing though and I wasn't always sure what exactly to document in the notes.  The high number of broken links did make it harder and a little frustrating at times.  I was generally able to hit Google and find what looked to be similar information to what might have been in the link, but since I didn't create the webquest, I wasn't sure if the information matched completely or not.  Obviously, when creating a webquest or re-using a webquest, I'd check for broken links.  Even knowing there were going to be broken links and knowing how to get around them, I found it annoying when I ran into them.  For a younger student, especially one with special needs, that could be enough to throw them off the assignment completely.

I don't really know much about AAC and AT so I thought that reading was really interesting.  The things that technology can do now are mind-boggling.  Machines that can read someone's eye movements and tell what letters or symbols they're looking at?  That sounds like something out of a crazy sci-fi movie.  It is good to know, as a special education teacher, that there's almost assuredly an answer to every child's needs out there if you know where to look and you know where to find equipment and funding.  I was especially interested in all the portable devices that involve pictures and symbols to help students with speaking difficulties express themselves.  I'm very curious about students with autism and I could definitely see how those things would be useful with kids on certain parts of the spectrum.  There was one device I found during the webquest that the child actually wears around his waist and I thought that was so cool.  Rather than being locked into classroom use, something like that could be used for things outside of the classroom as well, things like specials, meals, and field trips.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading more about this kind of technology.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Social Media in the Classroom

I think this was the most interesting module so far. Like most people these days, I'm a big user of the Internet and social media and I find the idea of using those things in the classroom to be really cool and potentially very innovative. I particularly love the idea of class blogs. Giving students a way to share their thoughts and ideas with more people than just the teacher could be so beneficial and even fun for the students. The ability to discuss class subjects on a blog could also be really helpful for kids who are a little intimidated by the idea of giving feedback to a peer or asking adults questions. I really love the idea of every student having his or her own space.

When Facebook is brought into the discussion, my feelings do change a bit. I definitely see the possibilities. I read "100 Ways You Should be Using Facebook in Your Classroom" and there were some neat ideas there. I particularly liked the idea of having students pick a favorite character from a book the class has read and creating a Facebook page for that character. It's a different way of doing a character study, one that I think most students would really enjoy. I also think using Facebook groups to create a class page, one that can be accessed by students or students and parents, is intriguing. I can see how something that is based in a technology that a lot of kids and parents already use would get more looks and interaction. You can do all the things a class group does on a class blog or through something like ANGEL, but you have to hope students check in regularly. Most people I know who use Facebook use it a lot which means class-related information is right there all the time.

I see more negatives with Facebook than some of the other platforms. Sarah Steward hits on my immediate concern about Facebook in "Just to Let You Know... Facebook Does Not Have the Ability to Cure Cancer, Solve Global Warning, or Make You a Better Teacher" when she writes, "Ask yourself is it ethically responsible to insist that your students have a Facebook account when there are clear concerns about confidentiality and what Facebook does with personal information." Many students and parents have put aside these issues and already have Facebook accounts, but some haven't. If they don't have a Facebook account - whether it's for similar concerns or some other reason - I feel that's really a decision they should make themselves. I'm not very comfortable with the idea of making Facebook membership a requirement for class. As neat as some of the ideas we read about are, the majority of them can be done through a different platform, one that doesn't require so much personal information.

While it's not something I'd thought of, I also thought her point about the intermingling of school and personal life and how some kids might resent that was an interesting one. I hate having work and school emails come to my personal email address and use a different address for the three things if I can. I can see how, as a teenager, I might not like getting notifications about more school stuff when I really just want to tell everyone that I dumped my boyfriend or post some pictures from the party last weekend. I also wonder if it's a good idea to have educational things tied in with something that's such a time suck. When I sign in to ANGEL, the only thing on the screen in front of me is school-related stuff. When I sign into Facebook, school notifications will be mixed in with new pictures of my nieces and nephews, messages from friends and family, and links to things I want to read. Even now as an adult, I know I'd struggle with having the discipline to focus when signed into my Facebook account. It seems like it would be even more challenging for a young person.

But while I think I would ultimately come down on the side of not using Facebook in the classroom, there are definitely some really fun possibilities for it. One of my favorite things in school was when we did a unit on various Presidents. A teacher could assign each student a President, have them do some research, and then use that research to create a Facebook page/profile for that President. Biographical information can be used to fill out the profile, career accomplishments can be listed, and Presidents can friend political allies or other Presidents that shared similar ideologies. I also really like the idea of occasionally using a Facebook group page for class discussions. I was a smart student who generally found class discussions interesting, but I was also on the shy side and didn't always feel comfortable voicing my opinion. Discussions via Facebook give kids who are more comfortable and confident in writing a different way to express themselves and it gives the teacher a better idea of how much those students do or don't understand about the subject material. EDIT: I have par

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Fun of Simple Booklet

When I looked at the various Web 2.0 tools, I was really drawn to the ones that involved writing and illustrating stories or reports.  That was one of my favorite things to do in school so I love things that allow kids to enjoy it.  I tried three different tools, and the one I ended up liking the most was Simple Booklet.

There are a ton of different ways a teacher could use Simple Booklet in the classroom.  In the example below, I wrote a short narrative about my summer and used my own photographs.  A teacher could do something similar if he or she works with students who could bring in photographs from home.  Another option would be to take photos of a special event at school - a field trip for example - and then asks students to write about the day, providing them with photos to use.

As a specific example, let's say a teacher takes her class to the Buffalo Science Museum.  The next day, she has students create a Simple Booklet that shares what their favorite parts of the museum were and some things they learned there.  The teacher might bring in a disc or memory card of photos she took on the trip and ask students to use two or three of those photos.  One of the neat things about Simple Booklet is that in addition to using your own photos, you can use images from the Internet so students could also find photos that elaborate on things they learned.  A student who enjoyed a dinosaur display might find a picture of his favorite dinosaur.  A student who loved the Egyptian exhibit might use a picture of a creepy mummy.  There are a lot of different options.

When it comes to students with special needs, Simple Booklet allows for a lot of modification.  Students who struggle with writing can be asked to write fewer sentences or to fill fewer pages.  Maybe they find and write four interesting facts about the museum rather than six or maybe they fill a five page booklet rather than an eight page booklet.  The teacher can set up the format of the booklet for each student and no student would know what the other students are required to do.  A teacher could modify the photograph portion as well.  A student who is overwhelmed with the assignment or has difficulty narrowing down Internet searches could be provided with two or three sites to pull pictures from.  A student who is comfortable with technology might have the freedom to search wherever she likes.  A teacher could even tilt the assignment toward the student's strength.  For example, she could maybe allow visual people to do some writing but focus on pictures and illustrations.  I think that because of how nice the final product looks, even students whose assignments are modified would feel proud of what they created.

Using Simple Booklet takes something that isn't inherently fun for most kids - writing a report - and makes it a more enjoyable process.  I think it's also much more fun to share something like this than a traditional report.  Simple Booklets can be shared on any computer so the class could look at them on a SMART board or even put them up on a class blog or wiki for others to see.

Simple Booklet is definitely a tool I'll keep in mind for when I'm in a classroom.  I've already added it to my bookmarks so I can come back to it another day.

Here's my example of what a Simple Booklet looks like when completed. I wrote it as if I'd be sharing it with kids. Click on the arrow in the upper right corner to go to the next page:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Using the Power of Technology for Good

As we discussed in the previous module, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a style of teaching that strives to find ways for all the students in a classroom to learn to the best of their abilities.  UDL should accommodate for different needs and requirements.  It should also find ways to reach various learning styles, allowing students to engage and express in ways that are comfortable for them.

A classroom rooted in UDL could certainly make use of many Web 2.0 technologies.  So many different kinds of technologies are available to classrooms now and that can be especially helpful when it comes to reaching different learning styles.  For example, students who are comfortable in a visual format can be engaged with the use of SMART boards and video.  They can express themselves through various video-making or art-oriented technologies.  Students who prefer to express themselves more privately or in writing can use things like class blogs or wikis to respond to material and engage with peers and staff.

Along those same lines, Web 2.0 technologies can be awesome for students with special needs and the teachers who teach them.  Many technologies can be quickly and easily adjusted for many needs - text can be enlarged for students with visual impairments, text can be spoken for students with hearing impairments etc.  Student feedback can also be given in different ways depending on a child's needs.  A student who has motor skills problems and struggles with pen and paper or a keyboard could maybe do a video response instead.  They could use a tablet or some kind of touch screen instead of a more traditional computer which might be harder for them to manipulate.

One of the cool side effects of Web 2.0 technologies is that they allow students with special needs to stand out less.  This is particularly great in a setting where a student with special needs is working alongside general ed students.  If every student is learning and and responding in different ways, the student with special needs becomes just another student with a different preference.  If everyone is engaged with technology, no one is using machines and things that other students don't have to use.

I think one of the most important points in "Web 2.0: A New Generation of Learners and Education" is when authors Dina Rosen and Charles Nelson point out that despite how comfortable the Net Generation is with technology, overgeneralizing is inappropriate.  There is a digital divide in the United States and it's growing.  "Roughly one half of all African-American and Latino children and less than half of all children living in families with incomes less than $30,000 have access to home computers."  I saw this firsthand in my previous work at Baker Victory Services.  Many of my students were very comfortable with computers but many of them had very little experience with them and needed a lot more hand-holding and practice.  In fact, for a while, the mere mention of using the computer stressed out some of those students.  While I think classrooms should absolutely use Web 2.0 technologies for the reasons mentioned above, I think it's important to include a lot of detailed instruction when using a device or platform for the first time and to provide plenty of support throughout the year.  Students with special needs can find new things overwhelming and that can add to anxiety they made already have about school and their ability to learn.  Web 2.0 technologies should be used thoughtfully and carefully.

I found the video for The Today Show to be pretty hysterical, but mostly because I remember that time very clearly.  At 34, I didn't grow up with the Internet the way most of my classmates did.  We had a large computer lab in my high school, but we really only used it for word processing.  We thought MS Paint was super cool.  I didn't really use the Internet until my freshman year of college in 1996-1997 and even then things like library databases weren't online yet.  Last year I marveled to a friend around my age about how I'd just searched for journal articles in the school library database while sitting on my couch at home in my pajamas late at night.  "College kids today have no idea how lucky they have it."

Clearly then, today's students are much more native to the digital world than I am.  I'm pretty experienced it and now have used a lot of different technologies but for me, there's still quite a bit of wow factor.  I think when teaching digital natives, it's important to be open to the idea that they might know more than I do about certain areas and that if a problem arises, a fix might come more quickly to them.  We should also keep in mind that there are SO many different kinds of technologies and platforms out there now, that despite being comfortable with them, not every student is going to be familiar with all of them.  Things change very rapidly and we as teachers need to really keep on on those changes the best we can.