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Notes from the Dec 2 Webinar: Strategies & Tools for Tier I Instruction

Image of Juto

Academic vocabulary through images

We had two informative sessions last Thursday and I’d like to publicly thank my guests, Hillary Brumer and Jamie Jensen of RSU 21, and Robyn Bailey of Lincoln Middle School in Portland.

I’ve been promoting and teaching universal design for learning (UDL) for ten years, and as a former science teacher, I look at UDL through the lens of content area teaching. So when Response to Intervention (RTI) came along, I immediately made a connection with Tier 1, which is general education classroom instruction for all students. Now that schools are planning and implementing RTI, the demand has grown for strategies that work with the widest possible number of students. How to leverage technology with those strategies was what we aimed to deliver in both the afternoon and evening shows.

A Primer on RTI

Although most of us are either aware of or woking within RTI in schools, we introduced the webinar with a brief overview by defining it as a system of tiered interventions. One part of the history of it’s origins is that it was a response to the shortcomings of the existing referral process for special education, which is the discrepancy between a student’s IQ and how far they’ve fallen behind in general education.

The first tier of this system (Tier 1) is general classroom instruction. Tier 1 is made up of universal interventions or strategies that are known to work for most learners. According to RTI’s mandate, 80% of students are expected to respond successfully to Tier I interventions by the general education teacher.

Tier 2 interventions are more targeted than Tier 1 and are provided in the general education classroom, and Tier 3 interventions are the most intense with one-on-one instruction, typically by a specialist.

The most important message that I wanted to send about RTI is that the tiers are fluid. Students who don’t respond to Tier 1 instruction at any given time should be expected to move between or among the tiers, rather than remain in either Tier 2 or Tier 3 for extended periods of time.

For more information about RTI, please visit the Maine Department of Education and the National Center on RTI

Adopt a Capacity Mindset

“Capacity thinking” means that we believe that all students have the capacity to learn. Tapping into that capacity is the first step of Tier 1 instruction. To collect information about students’ capacities, such as their preferred ways of learning, interests, prior knowledge, culture, and content readiness, we introduced a variety of systematic learner profile tools and methods:

Learning style inventories

Conversations

Observations

Interviews

Surveys

Home visits

Family conferences

The Tools & Strategies

Because the specific topics of the morning and afternoon sessions differed, we’ll branch off here and review the 3:15 to 4:15 PM show, followed by that for 7:15 to 8:15 PM.

Afternoon show: Strategies & tools for students with diverse learning needs and preferences

This was really a “don’t they all?” hour because the most important message that emerged was that there’s no strategy or tool for all students. As we talked about the featured MLTI applications, we continuously returned to the need to remind ourselves that technology opens up options, and not one of the tools that we demonstrated should be used without considering or combining with the others. All of the applications can be used for both teacher instruction and student learning, leading us to discuss the power of having students understand their own learning preferences and, therefore, to independently apply the strategies that work best for them. To accomplish that, explicitly teaching learning strategies to students needs to be as much a part of Tier 1 as selecting the most appropriate instructional strategies for our content areas.

Here are the tools and associated strategies:

Readability

Readability converts a “distraction-full” web page into a “distraction-free” and customizable display that clearly presents the content of the page, allowing kids (and grownups) to free themselves of the temptation to pursue an advertisement or conduct any other other off-task task.  It’s easy to set up in 2 steps at the web site of Readability

Text to Speech

Your MacBook has built-in speech, meaning that any digital text that appears on your screen can be read aloud by your computer. The history of speech synthesis might lead you to assume that all system voices are mechanical and without inflection, but recent research has contributed to great strides. Apple introduced “Alex” in Leopard and this voice continues to be a favorite among speech synthesis users. With inexpensive earphones or earbuds that many kids carry with them, the possibilities are endless:

Support for students with specific learning disabilities who benefit from both seeing the text and hearing it read aloud (with the independence to stop/start/rewind as needed)

Focus for students with ADHD

Scaffold for English learners

Proofreader for writers

For instructions, see my QuickTip at iTunes U

Additional voices, including world languages, are available for download from commercial vendors, such as

Cepstral

AssistiveWare Infovox iVox

Add (text selection) to iTunes as a Spoken Track

Another option is for students to convert digital text to a separate audio file spoken by Alex, which can be transferred to an MP3 player or iPod. This can be an appealing option for students who are strong auditory processors and for whom seeing the text is actually a distraction. Being “digital natives,” many students might simply prefer to listen to the audio file because it’s an opportunity to use the technology they more typically use outside of school. (But don’t forget to do checks for understanding to make sure this method is actually working for them.) Here’s how to create a spoken track of digital text, which will work in any application that is native or built for Mac OS X, including but not limited to Safari, TextEdit, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Mail, and NoteShare:

  1. Highlight the text that you want to convert to an audio file
  2. Go to the application’s menu (e.g., if you’re in Safari, go to the Safari menu in the upper left corner of the window)
  3. Choose “Services”
  4. Choose “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track” (If you don’t see this, choose “Services Preferences…” at the bottom of the same menu. This will open System Preferences. In the scrolling area on the right side, find the Text section, and then choose the box for “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track”)
  5. The file will open in iTunes.

If you’re unfamiliar with iTunes or otherwise need help beyond this step, don’t hesitate to contact me or any MLTI Integration Mentor.

Speech Recognition

We discussed both the successes and the pitfalls of speech recognition, which is a technology that allows users to control their computers by speaking. It is commonly suggested as a potential solution for students who have difficulty with writing because the spoken words appear on screen. It’s true that speech recognition has been shown to work for this purpose, but only when the software has been purposefully matched with the needs, preferences, and strengths of the student for whom it is being suggested. You can learn more about speech recognition for the Mac at the web site of Nuance.

GeoGebra

Jamie, who is now the K-12 Technology Integrator for RSU 21, is a former high school math teacher. He gave a demonstration of how he used GeoGebra to help students interactively visualize and graph algebraic equations. GeoGebra is pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks.

Voice Recording

For some students, speaking what they know is the most effective way for us to measure the extent to which they are making progress toward meeting unit objectives. And, as teachers, conveying information in both text and voice can mean the difference between some and most students’ understanding of our message. This can be accomplished using QuickTime Player on your MLTI MacBook. Here are the steps:

  1. Open QuickTime Player
  2. Go to File > New Audio Recording (note that this version of QuickTime also supports movie and screen recordings)
  3. Press the red record button on the Audio Recording floating window
  4. Make your recording
  5. Press stop button
  6. Play your recording back to confirm your satisfaction
  7. Save the file to your computer and share it via email, web site, blog, wiki, pen drive, etc

iCal

Hillary shared with us a screenshot of a student’s iCal calendar. It’s color-coded by subject area. Beyond due dates, it includes projects that the student is working on to make sure they are completed by the due date, as well as activities outside of school. iCal can also be shared across computers, enabling parents and others to support students’ organization and schedules. iCal is pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks.

Concept Mapping

We concluded with the process of concept mapping, which is a meaning-making strategy. Sometimes called mind mapping, visual mapping, or webbing, among other terms, this has shown to be effective at helping learners make connections among ideas, facts, and concepts. When used as formative assessment, it’s a way to identify learning misconceptions. MLTI MacBooks have two concept mapping applications that we discussed and demonstrated: OmniGraffle and Freemind.

Resources that were shared during the afternoon show:

CITEd TechMatrix

UDL Toolkit

EdTech Solutions

LD OnLine

WestEd’s Using Technology to Support Diverse Learners

Evening show: Strategies & tools for English learners

We began the evening show by discussing the unique needs and preferences of English learners. Robyn provided us with a description of teaching science to English learners. We chose to focus on strategies associated with academic vocabulary because, although a unique process for English learners, it is a need for all students across the content areas. Robyn introduced us to Juto, whose picture appears on this blog post, a student whose first language is Japanese and was the mini case study of our webinar.

Robyn walked us through the steps of a strategy that she commonly uses when introducing a new unit. We broke the steps down into individual strategies and accompanying tools.

The first strategy we call “multiple means of accessing text” by using Open Education Resources (OERs) in digital text format that can be accessed via text to speech, conversion to audio file, text enlargement, or Braille.

The second is “differentiation of text types and complexity” by providing tiered instructional materials at her Portaportal page (Lexile level, use of images, amount of text vs white space, etc).

The third strategy we identified is “supporting legibility and readability of text” by utilizing Readability.

The fourth is “student identification and recording of unknown words,” for which Stickies, pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks, was chosen.

And, finally, “analysis of words and building of vocabulary” was demonstrated through the use of a digital Frayer Model.

Resources shared during the evening webinar included

MARVEL (Maine’s Virtual Library is host to numerous databases and can be searched by Lexile levels)

IRIS Center’s Cultural and Linguistic Differences:  What Teachers Should Know

IRIS Center’s Anchoring Math Instruction to Cultural Relevance

IRIS Center’s RTI and Cultural Considerations

English Language Learner Instruction in Middle and High School

Pre-reading Activities for ELLs

NCCRESt Practitioner Briefs

Across both the afternoon and evening webinars, we concluded that

  • Tier 1 universal interventions are based on what we know about how most students learn;
  • We need knowledge of our students in order to select the most appropriate strategies, and therefore the right tools;
  • Technology opens up means and modalities by which students can meet the same high expectations.
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