Posts Tagged ‘learning disabilities’
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My son came home with his weekend reading books from his first grade teacher. Yet, every time I asked him to get his reading books, he avoided it. Nothing is unusual about that. So I sat him down and started looking at the books, and he surprised me.
“No, not that one! Keep that one covered!”
“The one with the ginormous ant!”
Overlooking the current portmanteau (a faux compound word), ginormous, I had bigger fish to fry. Larger-than-life sized ants on every page made me wonder if the Good Lord made ants very small on purpose. It is from that perspective only that they could ever be called cute little creatures. Hesitating to pick up the book myself, I suggested that we could cover the pictures, something that we do often. No dice, he already saw the book pictures during school and will remember them as he reads the book. So we read the other books, none of them dealing with bugs.
The next night, we received a red folder with a book and follow-up activity from his Special Education teacher, Ms. Christine. We sat at the kitchen table, I opened the folder, and Erik began screaming “Biters!” It was a spider book. No photos, just very detailed drawings depicting even hair on the spider’s legs. That was a no-go. At home, we are working on Erik’s fear of bugs with a therapist. “Biders” are enemy number #1. All of the rest come in a close second. He used to have a keen interest in bugs, but I think maybe he learned too much.
Now I feel pretty guilty about this development. I do not like bugs. There are some bug names that I will not speak or nor type out. I stay out of their way as long as they stay out of my way. And if they come my way, like my grandmother inadvertently taught me: jump, run, squeal. Well, we live in the country, the birthplace of Lyme-disease, and my super power against all bugs big and small is the vacuum. Unless it is too big and won’t get suctioned up. And then I’ll let it crawl away, and I will turn my eyes away. I don’t like them, dead or alive.
As a mom of two boys, I didn’t want to pass on this heredity trait, so when my boys took an interest in bugs I would calmly tell them, “Oh, show your father.” When Erik took out library book-after-book on bugs, I didn’t read those to him. I nonchalantly said, “Oh Matthew would LOVE to read that one to you.”
I don’t know when this changed…Maybe when the wasps kept coming in from the hive in the attic…Or when I had to call a neighbor to remove a wasp that had chased us onto the enclosed three-season porch. Oh wait, that was me. Last fall, our babysitter rang the doorbell, Erik opened the front door and began screaming blood-curdling yells, staccato, at the only girl he has ever loved. The poor girl jumped back, “What’s wrong?”
There was a spider web, reaching from all corners of the front door frame. And a big, black spider looked him in the eye.
Our babysitter-superhero grabbed a stick and flung the web and the spider into the bushes. And we haven’t thought about spiders since then, except in therapy sessions.
I told my son we didn’t have to read the spider book. He asked me to get permission from his teachers and I promised. And then – thinking that I solved the reading problem of the day, he began bawling. I reassured him to no avail, and in-between sobs, he admitted, “I can’t read chapter books. Everyone in my class can read chapter books, why can’t I?” A bad opportunity to explain autism, dyspraxia, or another complicated label, I told him that he will learn.
So we have a bigger problem than arachnophobia. We have to build up his confidence while waiting for his reading skills to improve. Not ready for chapter books, his teacher will help him practice books that resemble chapter books. A good compromise. And I need to figure out how and when to explain what learning disabilities are – without limiting his potential.
In the meantime, no more bug books will be coming home.
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My son sat on the couch and was speaking, but I couldn’t follow. I was busy doing something, any of those mundane things that moms seem to do in the kitchen.
I asked, “What did you say?”
He repeated, slowly with deep pauses, “Thank you for the birthday gift.”
“Are you reading?”
“Yes. I have a card from my friend.”
I ran over to him, giving him a well-deserved, yet unwanted hug, “I am so proud of you reading your thank you card!”
My son is seven-years-old, and this is the first time I ever heard him read new reading material, spontaneously and without help! Clearly not at seven-year-old reading benchmarks, we do sit and read practiced books from school, where he can show-off his “reading skills.” I quote his skills because he uses every reading “strategy” that the school teachers endorse – from using picture clues to memorization. Reading is not a leisure activity, even though we sit on the couch together instead of at the kitchen table.
But there he was, on the couch, with no prompting, reading. All weekend long he has been reading everything he can – from finding his favorite ice-cream in the freezer (no pictures on the label) with nearly no assistance to reading (and rereading) the calendar on the kitchen counter.
This success story is one that I want to share with his teachers who work so hard with him on reading. My husband and I fought against school administration, arguing to retain him after his first year of Kindergarten because he didn’t met benchmarks. End of year, he still struggled with identifying letters and phonics, and we didn’t want him surrounded with first graders who were well into advanced sight word lists.
His second year of kindergarten was better, but what was the game-changer was when his IEP’s PPT (Planning Placement Team) suggested sending him to an outside evaluation by a nuero-developmental pediatrician. We already knew that he was on the autism spectrum with PDD-NOS, which is as non-specific as you can get. This means that you can’t fit his learning, speech and social skills into any sort of “autism-box” or common stereotypes. You have to know him and the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and see where he fits, and the puzzle piece is the best metaphor to explain him and PDD.
So when the new evaluation report came in, we saw that he was still diagnosed with autism, yet his struggling speech was more than stuttering and articulation issues. The doctor said that he also had dyspraxia, another neurological condition that affects his brain cortex, which controls his speech and motor skills. I found out in our meeting with this doctor, this is the reason why he will sometimes ask for “salt” when he means grated “cheese” – and even why as a non-verbal toddler learning sign language, he would confuse the hand sign “more” with his other main sign “done.” The doctor recommended different reading and articulation programs. My son’s resource teacher and speech therapist implement these, and his first grade teacher works very closely with them – providing writing samples that illustrate his articulation errors.
I have learned the hard way that finding out what works for a child with special needs is a series of trial and error, but the best starting point is with an expert. If we had begun my son’s schooling with this piece of paper, I can only wonder if we wouldn’t have lost a year.
This reading breakthrough reminds me of the first time he signed on his own. At the time, he was non-verbal, and we were all outside on a warm spring day playing. Above us, in a tree, a bird began singing. I looked at Erik, and he was standing there, under the tree, signing “bird.” Unprompted. Spontaneously. An amazing moment even greater because that sign was not one that we learned with birth-to-three therapists, over and over like many others that he still confused. He picked it up from the DVD series “Signing Times” and just applied it. Soon after, he spoke his first word ever. It was the beginning of a new developmental stage – just like this weekend’s spontaneous reading – and I am one proud mama.
Posted on January 12, 2010 by Big Universe in Uncategorized.
Tags: alternative assessments, assessment, Big Universe, hydrocephalus, learning disabilities, NCLB, Online Children's Books, Portfolio Assessments, Reading Comprehension, Special Needs, Standards of Learning, VGLA Worksheets
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I didn’t go into to teaching for the money. No one goes into teaching for the money. I love children. Ask any teacher that stays with teaching why they do it and they’ll tell you it’s because they want to make a difference in children’s lives.
Way, way, way……..back when I first wanted to be a teacher, when I was in high school, we were being told the market was going to be over run with teachers so it wasn’t a good choice. That was all I truly ever wanted to be so that threw me into a sort of inner turmoil. I started college going towards a medical degree, changed that to English and finally left after two years when I was 20 giving up a full scholarship.
Fast forward to a husband and three beautiful children all in their teens now… when the youngest went into first grade, the first year of all day school, I returned to college to get my degrees. First my bachelors, then my masters, with a double major in elementary and special education.
I always knew that I couldn’t just teach in a regular classroom. I love all children but I have always hated to see the “special” child taunted and teased and left behind. As a teacher I hate to teach to the masses and leave that small percent behind. I wanted to be the one to teach the small percentage.
So here I am today living my dream. I wanted you to have the history so you can see that I did not just choose teaching and go into it straight out of college without giving it any thought. I knew what I was doing. I even substitute taught while my little ones were in school when I didn’t have classes. The graduate program I took was a hands-on program where I spent a full day co-teaching and then took my classes at night. I knew what I was getting into. I knew. But, the lack of respect by my leaders is something I wasn’t expecting.
The Council on Exceptional Children has identified the top 10 Critical Issues Facing Special Education. The number one issue they’ve identified is the “National Special Education Policy.” Included in this is No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB all children are expected to show their achievement at grade level. While there are some alternative assessments those assessments are still missing the point. In order to show progress we as special educators need to be given a format to show that our students have shown progress commensurate to where they began, not that they are making grade level progress. When I can do this I will be doing my students justice.
Currently I am working with the Virginia Grade Level Alternative Assessment. That means I need to show that my student who is reading on a first grade level (thus the term “special education”) is able to read and comprehend on a fourth grade level. I also need to be able to show that this student who has poor short term memory is able to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators. Does anyone else besides me see the problem here? The alternative to the alternative assessment is they can take the Standards of Learning exam at the end of the year and most probably fail.
So why did I give you the history of my journey to teaching? Because when you here about the high turn over rate of teachers you may think these are all young new teachers. But, they aren’t. There are many seasoned teachers being pushed to the brink and beyond.
I know everyone is facing poor economics these days. I’m looking at the total package. As a teacher there’s a feeling that as a whole the profession is treated poorly. Next year again, in my county at least, there will be no pay raises and no cost of living increases. As teachers in the county, more than the lack of money, we see this as a lack of respect. At the same time there is no money, the work load is increasing. This year alone my duties at work have increased and the paperwork has grown tremendously in special education. There are beneficial training classes being offered to help with the alternative assessments, after school.
I’m not whining. But sometimes I do want to cry. I get thirty minutes of planning time a day. That’s barely enough time to print out what I need to use that day. I go to work two hours early every day. I stay late. I work at home constantly. I have mandatory parent meetings with each of my student’s parents annually and now that’s just been increased by an extra meeting triennially. I now have an extra extensive assessment that I need to give my students. The alternative assessment is an extremely time intensive portfolio for each subject and I’m doing 10 portfolios this year. Doing these assessments with students who really don’t get the material is so… hard because the teaching is excruciating. The kids may get it for a minute. I can assess it for a minute…. . But is this learning? Is this teaching?
Luckily while I’m building the wheel everyday to teach my students there are a few websites that are helping me with my students. Big Universe is one of them. The majority of their books now have assessments that go with them. This is a great way for me to judge my children’s knowledge. For example, I have to do a biography with my students. I’m going to use Martin Luther King Jr.’s biography which has an assessment on Big Universe. I’ll show it on my Smart Board, read it aloud and have my students take turns coming up to answer the quiz questions. Along with anecdotal notes and some other work this will become part of my portfolios.
Teaching can be painful. The constant search for resources is very time consuming. If it wasn’t for the occasional gem like Big Universe, teaching would be even more difficult.
1. Use Plastic Flower Pots in Your Classroom and only throwable plants
2. Buy Unbreakable Lamps – Are there such things?
3. Always wear pull-away earrings-for those extra “special” hugs
4. Increase your supply of blue jeans – for that child who gives you extra “foot contact”
5. Patience is a Virtue
6. Sick Leave is there for a purpose —- Mental Health at risk can be considered
7. Find a really good substitute teacher
8. Use that little button in your room when necessary – administrators get the big bucks
9. Even the little ones can be really strong
10. Smile, Laugh, Eat Lunch with Others, Smile and Laugh, Remember –you LOVE YOUR JOB…Really!
“They don’t belong,” are words I can’t tolerate. I’m a special education teacher and I believe everyone belongs everywhere. It may take some children longer to acclimate to a situation than others, but with a team effort that includes the school and home, I believe it can be done. Unfortunately when a child has problems that include behavior and the child looks different, the feeling that “they don’t belong” seems to escalate.
One thing that works in my class when a student becomes overwhelmed with too much academics is reading books together as a class, that are projected onto the Smart Board. I’m fortunate to have my own classroom and a small group of boys and they all benefit from lots of read aloud so a book break is always beneficial. Seeing and hearing words and even being able to touch them on the Smart Board are very productive for these children with Learning Differences.
Sometimes I have to make really quick decisions about the book but the one site I always go to is biguniverse.com. They have a beautiful selection of top quality picture books and I’ve never gone wrong in any of my selections. I’ve started saving my favorites to my virtual bookshelf on the site so I can easily bring them up when I go to the site.
This week my special student and I are going to write a social story together using the create portion of Big Universe. We’ll write about what we can do when we feel really angry or confused. The site has 7,000 cliparts and I can even import my own pictures.
The three words “they don’t belong” should never be spoken together. It’s our job as a society to do all that we can to ensure that they aren’t. As teachers we are the first line of defense in helping our special children develop strategies to cope with situations that exist in the real world. I’m just glad there are sites like Big Universe that make my job easier.
Bullying in schools is rampant. As much as we would like to think our children are completely safe when we send them to school, we are sending them into a land mine of social fields that we have never thought to teach them about until recently. As a teacher I see bullying occur almost every day and I am constantly trying to find ways to stop the negative behavior and teach children why bullying behavior is harmful.
One of the big problems with bullying is its definition or how we perceive its definition. There are so many forms. The one definition everyone thinks of – the big mean bully who scares children – is one we have a lot of strategies to work with. It is the other kinds of bullying that are hard to teach both the bully and the child being bullied how to deal with. This type of bullying is emotional bullying. It’s very insidious. It can occur in the classroom right in front of the teacher. It occurs during a play group right in front of a mom. It occurs on the computer, during a messaging session. Emotional bullying is the worse kind because it gets inside the child’s head and that’s not as easy to heal as a bruise.
Taunting, teasing, and laughing inappropriately at a child are all bullying. Name calling, spreading rumors, forming groups and purposefully leaving one child out are all bullying. Even the negative connotations that eye contact and a nasty smirk with a child that is being taunted and teased gets across the room from the bully can be considered an act of bullying if it goes with previous behaviors of abuse. We need to give children some pictures or examples in their brain so that the next time they are on the playground, on the bus, in the hallway, or in the classroom, they can remember some of the appropriate ways to respond to a bullying situation.
Girls are great at emotional bullying. For years, maybe centuries, they’ve formed cliques. They have spread rumors, sent nasty glances, and slipped nasty notes into backpacks or purses. Boys can be just as good but in my experience they tend to bully only the ones considered lowest in the social scale. Girls don’t have a problem forming a social group against the beautiful blonde but boys don’t get together to bully the football quarter back.
The children I see bullied most often by boys are those least able to defend themselves. These children may be receiving special education services, or they may be socially naïve and immature. Boys do not want a challenge they can’t win fairly easily. They need the ego boost. How do we solve this problem?
The important thing to note with all of these acts of bullying is they begin early – in elementary school. Current surveys show that fourth grade can be one of the worst years for bullying in the elementary years. Don’t get me wrong. The other years are bad, but fourth grade stands out.
I have found books and videos help me to show my students ways to deal with bullying in a positive non threatening way. For young children the written word becomes proof and seeing it in a video confirms to them that a behavior is wrong. There are also many websites now that have books that show beautifully on a Smart Board. After reading the books and showing the videos it’s important to have a discussion with the children. Many of the books come with quizzes as do the videos. These can help you to assess their understanding.
Big Universe has several wonderful books that address bullying with gorgeous illustrations. Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully written by Audrey Penn, and published by Charlesbridge is one of theses books. For more selections go to Big Universe and type bullying in the search engine. A great site for videos on bullying and other character education topics is Discovery Education. If you are a teacher and your school subscribes to United Streaming, you’re in luck!
We can’t ignore bullying. Just saying we had to deal with it as children and we turned out okay, is not the way to approach the topic. Pick up a book and let your student see how to handle negative behaviors positively. Let’s not send any more bullies into our world.
One of the outcomes of standardized testing in our schools is the way we handle the assessment of our special education population. Because No Child is to be Left Behind, our children with special needs are held to the same standards as all students. All children should have the same educational opportunities and should not never be looked upon as limited simply because of a disability. However, testing some of these children annually just to say that they have been tested is ludicrous.
States have been given the opportunity to create alternative assessments so a special education student does not have to take the one day question and answer test, but I have to question whether anyone creating these assessments have ever worked with these children or ever come into the classroom and asked teachers if these assessments are working. The answer is NO.
In Virginia there are two alternative assessments for the special education student in elementary school. They are both based on the premise that a student can’t take a multiple choice test (read my last blog). The first assessment is the VAAP, the Virginia Alternative Assessment Program. The student being considered for this must have a significant cognitive disability, which requires that he have individualized instruction most of the day among other criteria.
The second alternative assessment in Virginia is the VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Alternative assessment. The VGLA allows the student (in reality the teacher) to collect a portfolio of his/her work in place of the standards exam at the end of the year. The teacher actually collects an extensive portfolio of material that shows the student has met a wide range of criteria for all of the standards for their grade level in reading math and sometimes other academic areas.
The grading of the portfolios is very open-ended though there are guidelines but since no child’s binder is exactly the same a lot is left up to the discretion of the graders. Often it is how well the teacher has put together and collected the material. Did the teacher grade each document? If the answer is no then it isn’t supposed to be counted. If the evidence shows 3 correct answers and 3 wrong answers on a worksheet with 6 questions then the average scorer won’t take the piece of evidence as adequate but, the teacher can turn in a work sample showing just the 3 correct problems that meet the criteria and get a good score. As a teacher I’m better off cutting and pasting the correct answers and submitting just those, but is this teaching?
A teacher could teach and assess a student over and over again on the same information until they get good evidence. For many of these kids there are memory issues so the only way to get an assessment of their knowledge is to teach a topic and assess their knowledge shortly after the teaching. They won’t remember what you taught tomorrow. Is this learning?
The average math portfolio for a fourth grade student requires approximately 100 pieces of evidence to demonstrate standards have been met. For example just one strand of one standard in math is the student must “solve problems involving 1.) addition and 2.) subtraction with 3.) fractions having 4.) like and 5.) unlike denominators of 12 or less and with 6.) decimals expressed through thousandths using various computational methods, including 7.) calculators, 8.) 9.) paper and pencil, 10.) 11.) mental computation, 12.) 13.) estimation.” I probably lost track but there are at least 13 items that need evidence in this one strand. There will probably be at least 3 or 4 pieces of paper.
As a teacher, the process is exhausting and as a student I’m sure it’s not much better. The VGLA is no guarantee of a pass but it does show what a student can do. In the end the teacher and school never get the graded binder back so we can’t truly see how our student did, we only get numbers.
I definitely believe that all students need to be given the opportunity to learn and achieve to their maximum potential. As a teacher, that’s my goal for every student. The state and federal government have stepped in and said that they now need proof that shows I’m teaching these children to the highest standards possible. Why would I want to be a special education teacher, which pays no more money than a general education teacher, which pays very little, if I didn’t want to help these children reach their highest potential?
Here are some sites where VGLA type materials are available. Unfortunately it isn’t going away.
Math worksheets at Eraser Dog, Good Example of VGLA type questions on a California standards outline, Practice Problems for California Math Standards, which can be used in all states. These are examples only and should be matched carefully to your state’s standards. Good Luck!
Posted on September 4, 2009 by Big Universe in Uncategorized.
Tags: Asperger, assessment, Autism, Big Universe, learning disabilities, Online Children's Books, special education, Special Needs, Standards of Learning, VGLA
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The school year has begun and so have the thoughts of teaching in order to pass tests and meet standards. Did your school meet AYP? That’s Annual Yearly Progress. It’s determined by the tests given at the end of the year. In Virginia they’re called the SOL – Standards of Learning. AYP is determined by looking at many things including the progress of many sub groups of students such as those with learning disabilities, minority students, economically disadvantaged and English Speakers of Other Language students, etc. Each year America’s teachers are held to stricter and stricter standards and each year the tests change and new tests are added.
There’s also NCLB. No Child Left Behind. That means that all children will be held to the same standards regardless of disability, economic status, language spoken, etc. As a special education teacher I can tell you that there are numerous flaws to this but I’m not going to go into that now.Each state has been allowed to come up with an alternative assessment(s) for those children with disabilities who cannot show progress by taking the standard assessment. In Virginia this alternative for students with learning disabilities and other disabilities that are not considered profoundly disabling is called the VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment.
The VGLA is a portfolio assessment that can be used in place of the SOL for each subject area being tested. One of the questions that must be answered as part of the qualification criterion is, “does the student demonstrate his/her individual achievement of the Standards of Learning content by means other than multiple-choice test format?” Typically this has been interpreted as, “the student can’t take multiple choice tests.”
Here’s the problem. That’s not the major difficulty with these children and the SOL. The major difficulty in judging these children via the SOL is in expecting them to remember an entire year’s worth of learning and then regurgitate it on one day in one test through 50 or so questions! Multiple choice questions aren’t necessarily the problem! Many of these kids can take short multiple choice tests after learning material, just not 6 months after learning the material – many have memory issues! However, because of the interpretation on the multiple choice question issue, the portfolio assessment only allows minimal multiple choice type questions, and as a teacher I can tell you that finding material that is not in multiple choice format is extremely difficult!
The VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment is basically a notebook binder for each subject area that a student is going to be assessed on in place of a standardized test. Then within that subject area there needs to be at least one piece of “evidence” to support the fact that the student has properly demonstrated their knowledge of this standard. The job for the teacher is to try to make it as interesting as possible for the child. In my next blog I’ll give you a few worksheets and book links that will get you started with your students. If you haven’t decided whether or not a VGLA is right for your student(s), keep reading I’ll give you more insight next week.
Choosing a book to read can be a pleasant experience. First there’s the cover of the book that draws the eye, then there may be illustrations, which draw the reader into the book. Print size, print spacing, is it a chapter book, is it the right topic, can the reader decipher the words and meaning of at least the first paragraph and does it keep their interest? All of this takes place in the matter of less than a minute for the experienced reader. But, what about the young novice reader and the reader who has difficulty with reading in general?
For a child who finds reading difficult, choosing the right book can be very hard. Where to start? Big Universe has over 1,000 picture books and you can now search the publisher books by Fountas and Pinnell levels as well as Interest Levels. The Fountas and Pinnell levels are the actual reading level where the student is performing. There are fourth grade students who are reading at a second grade level. It’s now possible to find appropriate reading material for these children on Big Universe!
For a child reading below grade level there are many books available that he or she can read comfortably and still be working within a book that is grade level material. For a fourth or fifth grade student reading at a second grade level, one of these books is Outer Space, written by Kenneth Walsh and published by Teacher Created Materials. It is written at a Fountas and Pinnell Level L, about middle second grade, but the interest level is through the age of 13.
There are many, many books like this on Big Universe. The key is to find the book that fits the child, NOT the book that fits the grade level.
This week I’ve been sorting through pictures. I’ve got thousands – the old fashion kind – taken with a 35mm camera. It’s funny how quickly things change and become out dated. I bought a converter specifically designed scan photos directly into a computer.
The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” has come to my mind many times this week. Each picture is a special time in place. A picture has the power to make us smile, laugh, or cry. A picture has the power to place us at the beach, in the mountains, in a cozy country kitchen in front of a warm, crackling fire, or in a contemporary living room, lounging on a white leather sofa looking out through a wall of glass windows at a yard of wildflowers. A picture can tell a whole story without one written word.
The magic of pictures combined with the written words holds immeasurable power in books! The right picture, with the right words can bring to life a whole world for a child and activate neurons in the brain that will enrich the learning process. Unknown vocabulary is easier for children to figure out with good picture reinforcement. Reading comprehension is deeper and more meaningful with the enhancement of quality illustrations.
There’s a series of things that need to take place in order for complete comprehension to take place. The best way to demonstrate this is through pictures:
8 Strategies for Reading Comprehension
Reading is Fundamental or RIF has a list of tips for using picture books successfully. Being able to interpret illustrations, use illustrations to decode unknown words, tell a story from an illustration, put a story to an illustration and even create stories using pictures are all things that RIF outlines in the attached literacy skills.
Tips for Using Picture Books in the Classroom
As a teacher my problem has always been finding classroom sets of picture books. Now, thanks to technology and Big Universe that’s not a problem any more. Big Universe has 1,000 quality publisher picture books online! These books can be projected to a SmartBoard or other interactive white board for teaching and they can be used on any computer system 24 hour a day. Plus, there is a very high tech, easy to use authoring tool that let’s members design their own picture books. Now everyone, children, teachers, parents, can be a published author. There are almost 7,000 clipart pictures online and a user can import their own pictures and art.
Picture books are a wonderful way to teach reading and writing. In fact, using picture books to teach any academic subject is the best way to engage both the left and right sides of the brain ensuring you reach all learners in the classroom.