Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Do You Make?

For anyone who hasn't seen Taylor Mali's defense of teachers yet, you simply must.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Moving Day - Update

Last month, I blogged about T, one of my buddies who was moving to 6:1+1 classroom from a general education room. At the time, T was very upset and distraught about not only leaving his friends and classroom, but going to "that class."

The first week was tough for T. He assumed that the new placement was only until he brought his grades up or turned his behavior around. No amount of explaining and rationalizing stopped him from setting arbitrary dates for his return to a general education classroom. T also dealt with a lot of teasing from the students in his old classroom. Not wanting to let go of his thought he was returning to his old class, he sat with his old classmates at breakfast and lunch, and would wander the halls to talk to them during their transitions. They bullied him for being "dumb" and all the rest.

After a little adjustment period, I'm happy to report that T is doing fantastically in his new placement! He has been coming down daily to show us good daily report cards. He has made good friends with another student in the class, is sitting with the group in breakfast and lunch, and is showing genuine interest and care for the rest of the boys in the class. T is also doing much better academically. T is completing class and homework, is complying with directives in the room, and has actually increased his reading fluency by 26 words per minute in the past two weeks. That's huge! The classroom won Homeroom of the Month for this March, and I have a feeling T might be getting the Student of the Month honor.

Gotta love it when an initially tough situation turns out great! I can't wait to see how the rest of the year goes for T and his classmates. I must say I'm biased, they're probably my favorite class in the building. Favoritism? Hush.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Get ready for a Debbie Downer post. Wah waaaahh... (that was the Debbie Downer noise, by the way)

We had some rough CSE meetings today. Two students who have social-emotional and behavioral issues were found ineligible for services by the committee, much to the dismay of their teacher and for one student, parent (the other's parent didn't attend). The decision was based on assessment data and teacher reports that revealed that the students were of low average cognitive ability, but had standardized achievement within an average range. They are benchmark in reading and math and while their grades were not Ivy League, but they were not terrible. This information tells us that, while they have behavior problems that are difficult within the classroom, the issues are not significantly impacting their achievement or grades. Since special education is about providing service to students with educational disabilities, we could not qualify the students because their academics were acceptable.

Enter the firestorm. The teacher was very upset, and I don't blame her in the least. These students are tiring, frustrating, and difficult to manage when they are "off." The teacher is a good teacher who has expended a lot of energy managing her entire class. It was understandable that she was dismayed. The parent of one student was also very upset, because she obviously wants anything to help her child. She is going to appeal our committee's decision at the district level, and we encouraged her to do so.

Thankfully, both students are receiving counseling within the building and are also being seen by outside agencies. Wraparound services are going to be discussed to provide both families with more behavioral help in the house and respite. The two students do not have individual behavior plans and show inconsistent response to the classroom plan the teacher has in place. We're going to set up behavior plans for them, in addition to providing them other supports to help them in the classroom and during testing.

I think the worst part of the whole ordeal was the knowing that the students needed some kind of help, but being unable to provide them with services. True, I wouldn't say that they needed special education, because they did not appear to have educational disabilities, but they have obvious issues that need to be addressed. It was a tough place to be in with a fine line to follow. I felt very unsatisfied and drained after the meetings, like nothing had been accomplished. It's hard to deny a kid who has problems help that they may need, especially when it upsets other key players in the child's life, like the teacher and parent. I would have given these kids the world if my hands were not bound by state and district eligibility requirements and expectations. I'm hoping that through concentrated counseling efforts, behavioral intervention, and medication, if appropriate, we'll start to see the behavior and mental health concerns improve. The situation still stinks though.

Blech. Ick. Ugh.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

CSE Meetings for Dummies

In checking my blog "stats," I discovered that some people have found my blog recently by Googling how school psychologists present at Committee of Special Education (CSE) meetings. First, I have to thank Google, or as I call it "The Googs," for helping people find my blog. Hi friends, welcome to the party!

Second, I'll give you a rundown of how a CSE meeting typically goes in my building. I posted a brief ditty about CSEs at the beginning of the year, but I'll get more in depth now for those who are interested and Googling their hearts out.

CSEs meet for initial referrals for special education services or if changes need to be made to a student's program, such as adding or removing services, changing a student's classification, or moving a student to a different classroom placement. In my building, the CSE chairperson, school psychologist (me!!), social worker, child's special education and general education teachers, and child's parent(s) are invited. The parents also may bring whomever they choose, such as an outside counselor or another family member. Unfortunately in my district, not many parents attend (nature of the urban, inner city beast).
We tape our CSE meetings with a handheld tape recorder. It's much easier than trying to write or type minutes during the meeting, while attempting to keep up with what's actually going on and being discussed. Plus, it holds everyone at the meeting accountable for what was agreed upon. The meetings begin with introductions of everyone in attendance, then the parent reports about the child's progress or concerns. The social worker provides information regarding developmental milestones, family life, and other life concerns and how they might relate to the child's school-life. The teacher provides information about the reason for referral, how the child is doing in the classroom, their concerns, and the child's academic and behavioral functioning.

Then we get into the meat of the meeting: the evaluations. As previously discussed in my blog land, most CSE meetings contain two assessments, the achievement and cognitive. These measure a child's potential to learn (the cognitive, my domain) and what they actually have learned (the achievement).

I always begin my report at CSE meetings with behavioral observations. Typically, I observe a child in the classroom before giving the cognitive test to see how the student works, solves problems, and interacts with peers and adults. I also document these same behaviors during the actual assessment. I discuss the child's work habits, frustration levels, effort and motivation, etc before getting into the juicy test findings.

My description of the cognitive testing results depends on what assessment I give. Typically, the assessment I administer produces one overall Full Scale Intelligence Quotient (FSIQ) score that is a combination of four areas--verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. To start, I describe the FSIQ and where it falls in relation to the child's other same age peers (i.e. is the child Average intelligence?). I describe each of the four areas, what they measure, and how the child performed on each task subsumed beneath them. I try and describe tasks in as plain of language as possible, so that the teachers and parents understand what exactly is being measured. For instance, instead of saying something like "nonverbal part-whole synthesis ability," I'll say "ability to assemble puzzles and replicate a pattern." Makes more sense, eh?

I also point out any strengths/weaknesses, oddities, discrepancies, or scatter, and if they are related to anything I observed behaviorally from the child. If a child performs averagely on one working memory task, but bombs the second, what does it mean? If the child has average verbal comprehension but extremely low perceptual reasoning, why does it matter? I try to describe in terms of what the child can do or is "good" at, and then what they may struggle with. In the working memory case, I might say something like, "Tammy has strong memory skills when asked to remember simple, rote information, but might have difficulty when she has to both remember information and also put facts in order or recall information at a later date." I always discuss positive points with negative ones. Nobody wants to listen to everything the child has trouble with or can't do. Special education is not about how or what a child can't learn, but how they learn differently.

In my building, my CSE chair reports the achievement testing and she discusses strengths & weaknesses in regards to basic, intermediate, and comprehensive reading, writing, and math skills. After she describes the achievement scores, I will relate my test results back to hers. I point out any similarities between the achievement and the cognitive. I also discuss what the implication the cognitive results will have for the student's academic achievement. For instance, if a child does have poor "nonverbal part-whole synthesis ability," meaning that they have trouble putting parts together to make a whole product, they may have difficulty in reading. Letters and letter sounds are put together to make words, words are put together to make sentences, etc... and all result in a final synthesis into something that has meaning or comprehension. Capice?

After hearing from the teacher(s), parent, social worker, and all the test results, we discuss the outcome of the meeting. If it is an initial referral, the psychologist (me again!!) will provide evidence for or against special education services and will suggest an educational disability classification for the child (one of thirteen possible classification areas). Discussion ensues, and if the parent and CSE agree to classification, then an Individual Education Plan (IEP), including goals, testing accommodations, and program modifications will be developed. These are designed to "even the playing field" between the general education children and the child in special education, so that they can access and benefit from the curriculum equally. We then all say we agree to what was discussed and developed (aye), turn the tape off, run to the restroom, and get ready for the next meeting.

Now you know... and knowing is half the battle. Knowing also takes away the mystery of what goes on behind closed doors that have "CSE Meetings in Progress, Do Not Enter" signs on them. Our magic spell is broken!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Believe You Have My Stapler

J is a student who has had some behavioral difficulties this year. J's home life is pretty tough and a lot of those troubles come to school with him. He also, like many pre-teen boys, has some hygiene issues, which are exacerbated by problems at home. He isn't well-liked by his peers or teacher, sadly.

In J's case, an inch of attention and positive reinforcement goes a mile. J has been coming to visit my office for about a week now at the end of the day for good behavior. Normally, I'll play games with kids or let them color to reward a good day. But J isn't all that interested in games. Instead, he wants to run errands and help out around the office.

So far, he's stuffed envelopes, put folders together, organized contact logs and put telephone number cards in alphabetical order, stapled packets, and delivered papers to teachers. And J has done it with such excitement and happiness! Who knew that a child would find such enjoyment in doing tasks that waste so much of my day! (although I have to admit, I would've delighted in getting to help someone at school in their office as a kid. Still a nerd.)

But the real plus side is that J is getting the positive adult attention he needs. So many of the kids in my building need just a little TLC from someone to let them know that they matter. The fact that J will behave all day long just to come down and do 15 minutes of office work amazes and saddens me. I'll kill 80 trees and make purposeful messes if it means that J can have fun putting it all back together again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Cross-Country Team

One of the biggest frustrations/obstacles/WTHeck issues in my building are what my colleagues and I like to call "runners." Runners are kids who either refuse to enter the classroom or leave the classroom during instruction and roam/run the school building. Why do kids "run"?

  • They came to school "off" from something that happened at home or on the bus.
  • They are upset over something that happened in the classroom.
  • They don't want to complete assignnments.
The concept of "running" completely blows my mind. Maybe it's the expectations I have from school environment I went through as a student. No other building I've worked in has had this issue. I've worked in suburban, rural, and urban schools before being hired here and I can count on one hand the total amount of times a student left a classroom. It was unheard of! Now, I can count on TWO hands the number of times students leave the classroom A DAY.

The biggest issues that runners pose is the fact that they are extremely disruptive and they are missing instruction. Not only do many of our runners actually run the halls, they also bang on lockers & classroom windows, throw materials into classrooms, yell, and slam doors. No, I am not joking. Yes, I work in a public elementary school building, not a day treatment facility. These kids are also out of the classroom during key instructional time. They either wander the halls, sit in or just outside the main office, or spend time "cooling down" in my office. In a building that is already "at-risk" in terms of state Math and English Language Arts (ELA) test scores, these kids need to be learning.

I'm not entirely sure why it has become acceptable for students to run. Is it something to do with the teachers? Is it the community and home life? Is it a lack of coping skills? All I know is that it can't continue if we want our building to function efficiently.

Any suggestions on how to not only help the kids, but to help the teachers and staff, are uber welcome.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Praise: Making You Wonder Why There's a Gold Star on Your Paper

While powering it out on the elliptical at the gym one day last week, I read the National Education Association's (NEA) most recent publication. Before you make a face, yes I read while working out (makes the time go by much faster... extended cardio workouts = sad face), and yes I actually read professional publications. Remember all those times I said I was a nerd?

There were two articles about praise in the educational system. The essential message was that students do not benefit from praise that is given regarding their intelligence. The authors discussed research that showed a positive correlation between praise for a student's effort and performance. They reported that:
"Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control... They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control.... [those] who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort."- Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
As educators, we need to be aware of the kind of feedback we give and message we are sending to students. Saying "You did a great job" or "You're so smart" really means nothing to a kid. Nonspecific feedback is not very useful to anyone. Think about if you handed in a week's worth of lesson plans to your principal and when they were returned, she said, "Nice work." Wait... what part did she like? Was it the group gross-motor activity in Monday's math lesson to demonstrate regrouping when adding? Did she like the time set aside for differentiated instruction on fluency during reading block on Wednesday? Or maybe it was nature walk on the playground to investigate types of rocks for Friday's Science lesson?

Do you want a kid to be wondering what exactly they did to constitute a "great job" or why they're "smart"? Specific, skill directed feedback is much more useful, and will help kids to understand exactly what they did well and how they can do it again. It gives them the control to make the "right" choices and leaves no question as to the teacher's expectations. And when it comes down to it, don't we want kids to be doing the "right thing" more often?

So what is "specific, skill directed feedback"? It's things like:
  • "Azir, I love how you raised your hand when you needed help and quietly waited for me to come over" instead of "Nice job following the classroom rules."
  • "You did the first two steps of this problem correctly, Antoinette" rather than a smiley face or gold star on a worksheet (although who can say no to a shiny gold star? Not me!)
  • "Thank you for using your manners and holding the door open for the girl's line, Eduard" instead of "You're a good line leader."
  • "Dalisha, I can tell you understand this math lesson because you followed the steps on the board and got the correct answer" rather than "You're so smart at math."
  • "I'm proud of how you gave Willis a hug when he was upset, George" instead of "What a good friend you are."
Make sense? Good. One further example, for extra credit:

I'm proud of you for taking your time and reading this blog post thoroughly, Gentle Reader! I can tell you really paid attention by the well-written and thoughtful comment you left. (we've learned that specific praise is designed to make you perform the behavior more often, right? Right?? =D )