23 September 2014

Have You Heard of "Twice Exceptional" Students?

I read this account (via Quartzof a NYC public school student who is exceptionally gifted intellectually, but (in part because of his intellect), was really struggling with attention on class, interacting with and understanding his peers emotionally, and otherwise doing "school" activities. Ordinarily, these behaviors would sound alarm as a child probably in need of an IEP and special accommodations, but because of his strengths elsewhere, the necessity for services and supports are either masked or compensated for by the student, or ignored by his teachers.

This boy's experience was a representative anecdote for what educational psychologists are calling "twice exceptional" children - children who may be traditionally "gifted" in one area, but in desparate need for interventions and supports in areas of the school environment. (Special Ed Manual from Idaho Dept of Education) This boy's story went on to recount bullying the boy ended up enduring even in a "gifted" classroom and a general dislike and failure of school. He had taught himself to read before he was 4, but was regressing in a classroom setting he struggled to adapt to and cope with.
Do you have any students like this?
Have you ever assumed that a bright student must also work well and lead in a group setting? If you've seen the Steve Jobs biopic or are familiar with his story, you've experienced this fallacy)
Have you ever been surprised that a student on your IEP list in a co-taught special ed classroom might be need the most support emotionally or behaviorally, but ALSO be the most gifted intellectually? (That IEP stigma can stick hard, can't it?)
Do you ever find yourself giving "gifted" students a free pass on other aspects of learning and growth? 

Thinking through my own experience working with these students (and maybe even reflecting on myself as a student), let me share with you some tips for supporting the needs of "twice exceptional" students and engaging them in your classroom.

1. Don't assume that your "smart" or "honors" students must also have the best behavior.
Honors students may need your PBIS measures and expectations reminders, too.
If you're struggling with a student's behavior, you may be particularly frustrated that he or she isn't being a "leader" for the others. Thy may really WANT to be "good," but be unable to for some reason (and this probably frustrates the student, too.)

2. Focus on educating the WHOLE student. 
Kids that are exceptionally gifted in one subject math give up or accept that others are (and will always be) weaknesses. As the student stresses one and ignores the other, the divide between strength and weakness will only widen. Find nuggets a student can mine and go further. If you really believe that your students should be life-long learners, then no matter how bright your student may be he or she STILL has things to learn - things to learn from YOU.

3. Have a conference with parents early I'm about ways they would like to see their child receive extra support or be challenged to improve. 
Whether or not they can EXPRESS it in edu-speak, they have goals for their child's interventions. One of the most shocked/delighted reactions I can remember at parent-teacher conferences was when I told the parents of a student with a 36 on the math portions of the ACT that I was really wanting to work on his writing and communication of all the math he could perform operationally. 

4. Let the genius/crazy happen as it wants to.
Resist the urge to fit your twice exceptional students into whatever mold you want to see them in as "successful." If they're introverted, don't force group work on them. (But find ways to force interactions on them in more digestible nuggets). If your student has noise or sound sensitivities, be prepared to adapt your lecture/lesson to that student being able to isolate themselves when they're overwhelmed, but still continue learning activities. Give a student's work time to bloom and come to a full realization before you shoot it down. I've dismissed several "bad" drawings from my 4year old in this manner that after I listened to her explain it, I saw her reasoning and artistry more clearly.

5. Be proactive in your support. 
Conference ithat he student and acknowledge that you understand and are aware of their needs, but also that you have a plan of x, y, z for them as a student in your classroom and in your subject. Engage them in that journey.

18 September 2014

On Being An Expert

Think about anything you consider yourself an "expert" in - a skill related to your profession, a hobby, a category of trivia or knowledge. How did you become an "expert?" You probably have a certain acumen for learning new things related to your area of expertise, but ultimately, it came down to a decision you made at some point to seek and find knowledge about a topic. And then to do it again and again and again.

Talent is something you are more or less born with. Expertise is nurtured, coddled, and deliberately tended to so it will grow. You may have few talents, but anyone can develop expertise. It's a numbers and perseverance game.

That said, my district is in up to our knees in a software transition for every major information system we use. Every employee in the district is in effect relearning how to do their job this semester. Through a little bit of formal professional development and a whole lot more informal and self-directed, I've become the go-to guy for SIS tutorials, questions, and gripes.

The switch is affecting our students and families, too, because we don't have their access to online grades and attendance unlocked yet, so the school newspaper is working on a piece about it. I was approached by a student-reporter today for some quotes about SIS. 

I spent a lot of time crafting these responses, and I like 'em, so I decided to post them here, too. :)

STARGAZER: If you know, why was there a change from Edline to Tyler?

CHUCK BAKER: The way that SIS can manage and integrate the data we generate in our gradebooks and attendance with your student records is a leap from Edline. Our attendance software was from the 80s, our gradebook from the 90s... Data is KING in the 21st century, and SIS is going to make how we manage, manipulate and analyze our student data much easier.

SG: How will the affect students and their ability to view their grades easily like they did with Edline, and will students be able to access grades on Tyler like they did with Edline -- if yes, when?

CB: Right now, teachers must give students and parents print-outs or post grades on the wall of the classroom, which is what a teacher with more than 6 or 7 years of experience used to have to do anyway because it was the ONLY option. You know how things are a little bit sucky when an app is in beta? We're in beta with our SIS implementation still.The plan according to the district technology department is to open the student/parent portal (your side or SIS) for 2nd semester, but there's a chance it could be sooner.

Some elementary teachers were using NO form of electronic gradebook, so putting everything into SIS is a HUGE leap for them. We have to wait until the majority of teachers in the whole district have the gradebook figured out.

SG: Will there be any long-lasting affect of this switch during the current school year, if yes what will they be?

CB: I don't think you'll notice any long-lasting effects of this switch during the current year from the your teachers. The grade level offices are able to check attendance and discipline much quicker now, so they might be able to be more proactive in addressing patterns of absence or behavior before they are too late to fix. I think we might see more differences next year, when much more of the staff is very comfortable with the system.

SG: Have students complained to you about their inability to easily view their grades?

CB: My AP Stats students (my seniors) complained on like, the 2nd day of school, but my other students have been cool with the printouts I've been giving them. From my experience, giving students a piece of paper is sometimes more effective in focusing their attention away from the Snaps and notifications bombarding their devices. I find it in myself, too. I often will open my laptop or grab my iPad to do some actual work, but I get lost in social media or crushin' candy - if I need to leave the distraction of iPad, I do the work on paper first.

SG: What will be noticeably different from Edline?

CB: My favorite noticeable difference for students and parents to look forward to once your side of SIS is unlocked is that there will be much more information available to you in once place. Besides just grades, attendance will also be readily accessible, and teachers will be able to post any extra directions or links to web and/or multimedia content for a lesson right on the listing on the grade report. You would not have to specially ask for such and such handout that you need to complete missing or make-up work, or to find the link to your math teacher's video lesson.

SG: If you could chose a few of the positive affects of implementing this system, what would they be? The negatives?


  1. The parent/student side of SIS looks more user-friendly than the reports Edline gave you, and I like the idea of being able to provide lesson resources right there instead of uploading them to a different site that you have to access separately.
  2. Our various data sources integrate more easily - student attendance or behavior patterns can be caught, monitored, and addressed before they become larger problems.

  1. Online grades being inaccessible for now
  2. CHANGE. A lot of people really hate change, man.

14 September 2014

"Good" Use of Education Technology

What makes for "good use" of a computer lab, laptop, or tablet cart?

The prevailing pedagogy for "21st century" or "rigorous and relevant" learning would say the ideal involves students engaged in some relevant, collaborative inquiry-based project, or simulating/investigating a model not otherwise possible or enriched by software/the web.

But what about other times?

Is standardized testing good use?
Is practice-testing for computer based standardized testing good use?
Is content-related gaming good use?
Is word processing good use?
Is watching tutorial/flipped classroom videos good use?
Are drill and kill practice websites good use?

The answers to all of these questions depends on the current situation in your building and the current needs of your students. Clearly, if all of your students have access to computers and a lot of bandwidth at home, using  the lab for students to finish projects or watch videos may not be a good  use. However, if you're choosing between students turning in 1970s-era projects or giving kids access to create polished, media-rich projects at school, the best use of resources is to have kids create in the lab.

Bottom line, the best use of school technology resources is to USE THEM. Once we're fighting everyday for access to the lab or carts then we'll be more selective and demanding of the way they are used.