Tag Archives: back to school

Equal vs. Fair- Changing Attitudes

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If you are looking to revamp your class in 2014, let me suggest that you start by changing attitudes. The best classrooms I’ve been in offer differentiated instruction for ALL students based on individual abilities. To accomplish this you may have to change the atmosphere of your class by adjusting the attitudes of your students’. (And maybe even yourself?)

We live in a society that promotes equality for all. Kids grow up expecting to be treated EXACTLY the same way as the students sitting next to them.

I’m not opposed to equality. Equality is the foundation of equal access. Equal access is mandated by NCLB and means that EVERY student, no matter his or her ability, should have equal access to high quality education.

But in today’s inclusive classrooms, providing equal access in the form of accommodations and modifications is often seen as “unfair”. The practice of students (GT, ESL, Special Ed. etc…) leaving the General Ed classroom to receive services is becoming less and less common. Instead ALL students are staying in the General Ed (mainstream) setting to be educated. This means students who have never been exposed to these differences and teachers who may have never taught to these differences are now seeing what it takes for some students to even ACCESS the General Ed curriculum.

Now whether or not you agree with this shift is a debate for another time. The point of this post is that inclusion is our reality. Agree or disagree, if you want to be a good teacher you must start thinking about how you can address the diverse needs in your classroom. The way to do this is with differentiated instruction.

Differentiated instruction in today’s classroom is no different than it has been for the last 20 or more years. Good teachers have always looked at ability as the base of individualizing instruction. The difference in today’s classroom is that the range of student abilities is sometimes wider and there are a greater number of students who need accommodations and/or modifications to have equal access the General Ed curriculum.

The diversity in one class can sometimes be overwhelming. I’ve talked with lots of great teachers (both new and experienced) who get frustrated and down on themselves because there are so many needs in their classes and they don’t know how to address them all.

I don’t have a magic answer. And to be honest there is no ONE answer. But the best place to start is with differentiating your instruction. That can also be overwhelming and in my opinion the first step is the hardest. The first step is to change attitudes.

Differentiation starts with an understanding of equal vs. fair. I found the following statement on Pinterest with a link to this site:www.msfultzcorner.com I don’t where it originated.

I would post this in my classroom and review it regularly.

EQUAL vs. FAIR

Equal means the same.
I will not be treating you exactly the same way.

Being fair means that I will do my best to give each student what he or she needs to be successful.

What you need and what someone else needs may be very different.

I will always try to be FAIR but this means things won’t always feel EQUAL.

Start teaching your students NOW that you are going to challenge everyone and that means they won’t always use the same materials, work on the exact same assignment or be assessed in exactly the same way. But that’s OK, because everyone will be working toward success.

Differentiation is a shift in the way you structure your class, plan your lessons and teach your students. You can’t make that shift without changing the attitudes around EQUAL vs. FAIR.

There are a lot of challenges in education. If you became a teacher because you thought you’d work an 8-4 job and have all summer off; I bet you feel stupid now. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take one challenge at a time. Change one thing that isn’t working for you and keep moving forward.

Happy New Year!

Below are some great websites to learn more about differentiated instruction.

http://www.differentiatedinstruction.net/

http://www.caroltomlinson.com/

http://www.paulakluth.com/

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Clearing the Air

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I spent this last week speaking to educators about accommodations and modifications. I gave the same presentations EIGHT times, but every time it was a little different. Even though every group was a little different, there were a few common questions that kept coming up. They were so common that it made me realize this is information that may not be clear for many people, so I’d like to clear a few things up.

First, please remember an accommodation is meant to level the playing field. Accommodations are designed to reduce or even eliminate the effects of a disability. A modification changes the field you’re playing on. This is a fundamental change in the curriculum, or here in Texas, this means you are changing or not expecting mastery of all the TEKS.

A student DOES NOT have to be in Special Education to receive accommodations. Glasses are an accommodation; however glasses do not qualify you for Special Ed. A student may be successful with mild accommodations without the need for Special Ed services. With that being said, most of our Special Ed students DO receive accommodations. So while needing an accommodation does not make you a Special Ed student, if you are a Special Ed student you likely need accommodations. Find out what those are EARLY so you can be prepared to design lessons that meet the needs of ALL the students in your class. You should be getting IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for all your Special Ed students. IF you aren’t find your Special Ed teacher and ask for them!

Paraprofessionals do NOT need to be the ones making the accommodations or modifications. Paraprofessionals are extremely valuable to students, teachers and class environments; however there are limitations to what they should do. As the teacher you should be thinking about the needs of your students while you design lessons and activities and make those accommodations/ modifications ahead of time. It’s all about “frontloading”. For more information about how to most effectively utilize your paraprofessionals look at this TEA approved document: Paraprofessional_2013

When thinking about the classroom setting for your Special Ed students please remember that the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is, according to Texas guidance, the General Ed classroom. Please see the LRE guidance document. LRE-QA
Least Restrictive Environment is referring to the environment that restricts the student from the General Ed population in the smallest way. That is why the genera Ed classroom is the LRE and anytime you pull from there you are “restricting” the child’s environment. This does NOT mean that ALL students should be in the General Ed classroom all the time. In Fact the guidance document goes on to discuss the continuum of services that is required. But, according to TEA guidance, when you pull from the General Ed classroom you are moving into a more “restrictive” environment even if it is the most appropriate. LRE does NOT refer to the environment in which they are free to move about the room or be louder.

Special Ed students still need to be challenged. So when looking at accommodations, make sure you are still setting limits and pushing your students; EX: extended time does not mean until the END of time. Make sure they know the boundaries. Special Ed students CAN FAIL a class. They have to work just like everyone else. They may need a different approach, change in content or material, but there still has to be a standard. If you have questions about grading for a Special Ed student talk with your administrator, your district should have grading policies. For the most part, those will also apply to your Special Ed students. There may be rare instances when they are adjusted, but that should be discussed on a case by case base.

Bottom line, know your students. As educators we are here to help ALL kids be successful in academics, but also in life. That’s a big job, so take it one kid and one day at a time. Have a great school year.

Here’s to a Fresh Start!

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appleSummer is almost over. Some are anxious to get back to school, back to the routine that they so comfortably fall into. Teachers ready to teacher, parents ready for kids to learn and yes some kids are even ready to get back to the pace of the school day. But some, teachers/parents/kids, don’t look at the school year with great expectations. There are many barriers that could kill a successful school year before it even starts.

1. Transition: Not everyone transitions smoothly into the school year. I’m not just talking about student either. Let’s start with teachers. Some teachers don’t even look at their classroom until the first day of in service. While others are up there weeks in advance preparing their rooms. It all depends on what makes them most comfortable. Parents, consider transition with your students. Some students may need to go visit the school a few times before the first day. Have a calendar on the frig counting down the days. Also, consider starting the routine of getting up earlier a few days before the BIG FIRST DAY. Then sometimes the transition issues are all with the parent. A good example of this is my sister who is sending her son to preschool for the first time. This is causing her some anxiety. The same transition strategies can be effect for adults. Put the big day on a calendar and count down, go see the classroom or school ahead of time and talk to the teachers, practice the change in routine.

2. Teachers: Get to know your students ASAP. (I mean before they even set foot in your room!) Find out who is in Special Ed, 504, RTI, GT, ELL, etc… so you can start a plan for your classroom. Talk to the teachers from last year, pull their permanent file, do some digging. Remember, when thinking about accommodations and modifications, accommodations are meant to level the playing field and modifications change the game. Accommodations do NOT change content, only make it more accessible. Modifications DO change content and MUST be aligned with IEPs. The IEP team or ARD committee make these decisions.

3. Parents: Get to know your child’s teacher. Keep up with what’s going on in class. Make sure your child is doing their homework and getting the help they need. Be friendly to the teacher. Remember they have a WHOLE class of kids. If you have an issue, start by discussing it with the teacher first.

A new school year is a time for new beginnings. Start fresh, with a fresh outlook and a fresh attitude. Good luck and have a great year!