Posts Tagged ‘Standards of Learning’
Posted on September 13, 2012 by Terry Doherty in Classroom Ideas, Personal Experiences, Reading Lists.
Tags: book review, Books, humor, Math books for kids, math concepts, Math picture books, nonfiction picture books, read alouds, Standards of Learning, Sylvan Dell Publishing
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I must confess: math is not my strong suit. I am a Word Girl. Still, as we point out to my nearly 11-year-old daughter, math is part of our everyday life. We use it all the time … often without realizing it.
About six years ago, we discovered Sylvan Dell’s series of math-based picture books. The publisher had sent me some titles to review for The Reading Tub, my nonprofit. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. My daughter was in Kindergarten and the concepts offered by One Odd Day, My Even Day, and My Half Day were just what we needed. In fact, she enjoyed them so much she took them to school to share with her classmates. As my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher said “[These books] succeed in getting the kids excited about math. You can’t ask for more than that.”
What began with One Odd Day has now gone on to include picture books that help kids with concepts like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. With the exception of The Great Divide by Suzanne Slade (division) , we have not seen the other titles. Still, I’m betting they are just as wonderful as these three …
One Odd Day
by Doris Fisher and Dani Sneed; illustrated by Karen Lee
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2006
Is it really possible? This is truly odd! From the numbers on the clock, to the sleeves on his shirt, our young student has a day filled with nothing but odd numbers. Even Princess, his dog, has five legs! This rhyming book helps children learn and distinguish odd numbers.
- The class (25 Kindergarteners) laughed their way through the numbers, pointing out lots of the smaller elements in the illustrations.
- Humorous illustrations and a rhyming story combine to help kids identify odd numbers from 1 to 99. A coloring activity at the back helps them create visual effects of number patterns for themselves.
- “I love these books and I’m going to order them for my classroom.”
- You’ll want to have it at home for several of the early math years, because it will help reinforce learning in a way that makes sense to them.
My Even Day
by Doris Fisher and Dani Sneed; illustrated by Karen Lee
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2007
What would you do if your mom had two heads and you had two left shoes? How would you handle the class trip to the zoo? Such are the dilemmas our young student faces when he wakes up and realizes that everything in his day is an even number!
- The Kindergarten class (25 kids) had a lot of fun with the story. They liked the silliness of it and there was plenty of laughter.
- We read this with One Odd Day so when we got to the end and our student sees only half his hair, they were ready to read about fractions!
My Half Day
by Doris Fisher and Dani Sneed; illustrated by Karen Le
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2008
In words and imagery, My Half Day walks children through the portions of life. This is a humorous fantasy that builds learning fractions into the story.
- Our daughter has been waiting anxiously for this book ever since her class read My Even Day. She laughed her way through the book, pointing out the differences, changes, and otherwise funny things (like camp counselors on skates).
- This is fun to read, and the illustrations offer lots of opportunities for exploring (with or without reading the text). It will take a couple more readings before our child gets past the humor of the story and settles in to its lessons.
- For kids who are just learning fractions or are struggling with them, this would be a handy book to have. It’s much more fun than flashcards.
If Sylvan Dell were a person, I’d be offering a bear hug right now! That’s how happy I am to see that this publisher’s science-related books have been added to Big Universe’s online bookshelves. I read one, then another, then another. All wonderful!
Sylvan Dell Publishing is a South Carolina-based company on a serious mission to create science-related picture books that excite children’s imaginations, are artistically spectacular and have educational value. Each of their books offers fun and warm stories featuring science, math and nature themes and must pass inspection by a scientist or educator from NASA, NOAA, SeaWorld, Houston Zoo or other nature centers before they are published.
The company website lists each book’s alignment with national science and math standards in its searchable database, making lesson planning simpler. The ratings are based on the story text and each book’s “For Creative Minds” section. Each state has its own listing. Alignment ratings are based on:
- National Council of Teachers of Mathematic Standards
- National Science Education Standards
- National Geography Standards
- North American Association of Environmental Educators Standards (Pre-K to 4th grade)
In addition, Sylvan Dell’s books are published in both English and Spanish versions. The company’s website features loads of teaching activities, quizzes and information geared to teachers and librarians, as well as parents and homeschoolers. It even has a section for children, including animal webcams, word searches, crossword puzzles and scavenger hunts.
Big Universe has partnered with many other publishers contributing excellent science and technology picture books for children, too. Click here to go directly to the Big Universe science book shelf or browse by specific category.
Listed below are a few of the Sylvan Dell Publishing books that I have read on Big Universe so far. I couldn’t give them 5 out of 5 stars fast enough! They are good for reading at home or sharing during science time in a classroom setting via white board display.
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.
There was an article in the Washington recently, which discussed portfolio assessments. A portfolio assessment is an alternative assessment, which the state of Virginia and some other states are choosing to allow instead of the annual standards of learning exam for some students with English language deficiencies and students with learning disabilities. Are they fair? Do they give a real picture of what’s occurring in our schools? No, but not for the reason that non-educators think.
Within the walls of the school buildings teachers are working harder than ever to teach each and every child. The “standards” that each state has decided all children must be held to, though in theory is a good idea, and are in reality having a negative impact on our children’s education.
Teachers have less time to prepare students now for the material they should know than ever before. So much time is spent on teaching test taking strategies and practicing taking standardized tests that there is little time left for teaching the depth of a topic that makes up the real education our kids need.
Right or wrong, the way teachers are teaching today is to pass the standardized tests. WRONG, yes. Is it going to change just because it’s wrong, NO.? Is it the teacher’s fault? ABSOLUTELY NO!
I’m a special education teacher, so if I don’t feel like some of my students can demonstrate their knowledge on these multiple choice standardized tests adequately or fairly but can demonstrate them better via a portfolio assessment, in the state of Virginia, I can choose to do a Virginia Grade Level Alternative Assessment. It’s not just my decision; it’s a decision between me, the parent and the classroom teacher, and an administrator. But, ultimately, in my opinion, it comes back to whether I feel or see that the child is successful in taking a standardized test.
The alternative portfolio is a collection over the whole year (though it has to be done about 3 – 4 weeks before the actual standardized tests are given!) of a student’s work showing that the child was able to complete the work required in those standards. The teacher is able to give the child multiple opportunities and the testing can be done soon after teaching a concept. The method of testing is very open including oral question and answer, anecdotal notes by the teacher, and teacher created worksheets just to name a few.
The Washington Post article says that the scores on the alternative portfolio are falsely inflating the test scores for the schools. If you were a teacher turning in a portfolio for a child, given the time and knowing that this book was being graded, would you turn in a portfolio that wasn’t going to pass? Really?
The amount of work that goes into a portfolio assessment is tremendous! No teacher takes these on lightly and if we decide that they are right for a student then we are going to make every effort to teach the concept to the child so that they can pass that standard at the moment in time that we test them.
This is where the flaw comes in! Students with special needs have a variety of disabilities that keep them from retaining much information long term. Though we say they can’t take a multiple choice test, I believe the real reason they are not suited for an annual standards of learning exam is they cannot retain the information necessary to be tested at the end of the year for an entire year’s instruction. This is why we choose to use the portfolio assessment for some students!
Luckily, there are some websites that are making my job a bit easier. Big Universe is adding assessments to their books. I can now have my children read one of their books and take the assessment online. This is a tremendous help in preparing them for the knowledge they need for the standards. Many students with learning needs are visual learners. Computers become the answer for these children so finding quality websites is my number one job as a teacher when it comes to instructional planning.
Standardized testing has changed the way we teach in our schools. It takes up too much instructional time and takes away the depth of the education that was once taught. It isn’t going to go away because politicians are running the testing, not the teachers. In order to test everyone the portfolio assessment is the only option available at this point for special needs students in many states. It’s a rigorous collection of evidence that proves the student has mastered the concepts of every standard being tested. Is it fair to put the two test scores together to indicate whether a school is meeting its annual yearly progress? That’s the real question we should be asking.
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.
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As our world becomes more and more diverse it becomes even clearer that the vocabulary, expressions and idioms of the English language have to be directly taught and explained to our children. As a special education teacher I work with children everyday who don’t know the vocabulary of things I have always taken for granted – garage, valley, harbor, barn… I read through everything, on the look out for vocabulary that I need to introduce to my students so they can understand what they are reading. It’s not just the special education students. It’s the general education population. We, as teachers and parents need to make sure our children really understand their world. Vocabulary is the first stepping stone to reading comprehension.
This week my group of fourth graders, the majority with learning disabilities is reading The Baseball Card . Wherever possible I use books that are accessible on the Internet. They are less expensive, ecologically friendly, and my students love reading on the computer. The Baseball Card is available on Big Universe. The Baseball Card a beautiful picture book that tells a story of a little boy’s special experience with his father. It all centers on an old fashioned playground game and a special baseball card. Even a book about baseball has vocabulary that is confusing to children who don’t have English as their first language or who don’t have background knowledge about baseball. Some of these words and phrases are – slugger, card shark, snicker, and the phrase “tip of the hat”. These are all great starting points for a reading lesson. Vocabulary should be introduced before reading the book.
Introduction of vocabulary can be quick but it needs to be visual. The Internet has made this easy. Using the Smartboard and Images any teacher can make a quick 5 minute vocabulary presentation before a reading lesson.
After the vocabulary is understood, read the book together then have each student read the book on their own. At this point it’s time to gauge their comprehension. As we prepare for the Virginia Standards of Learning I have found that having the students do tests similar to the SOL for the text they are reading is very valuable. It helps them generalize their knowledge. SOLtypetest1 (worksheet).
Reading and vocabulary are a necessary combination. As teachers and parents we need to realize those connections are not being made naturally. Direct instruction is necessary in order for students to comprehend reading material. It’s our job to see that we use all of our many resources to link what we are teaching in a way our students can understand, through visuals and clearly defined vocabulary. Beautiful picture books, like those on Big Universe do some of the work for us, now we have to fill in the blanks.
The repeated reading of a book is very effective in helping children learn how to read and learn how to learn from their reading. I continued using Our Earth from the website Big Universe for the second week with my students. Working with students with learning disabilities is always eye opening because you can teach them something one day and the next day they have little to no recall of what you taught. On the other hand if you find something that a child really likes and has the back ground knowledge to build on to, it’s amazing how good their memory is. Using Our Earth has really kept my students interested and connected to their learning. The book is bright, colorful and easy to read. The great thing is that each time they read it, they learn something new and they are building their own background knowledge.
After reading the book Our Earth as a class using the Smart Board, each of my students went to the book on their own laptops. They were given an 8 question practice SOLQuestions1 (click here) style test. They did well though many missed the questions that require any searching of page numbers. As a teacher, that’s frustrating. The book is clearly laid out with beautiful pictures and illustrations and the information couldn’t be any clearer. I made a second assessment to make sure my students would have plenty of practice searching for answers!
I gave the second Targeted Questions (click here) quiz, which is limited to questions related to finding information on specific pages and looking to specific pages for information. This gives the students strategies in answering questions, formulating questions, and using text features. I am not a fan of standardized testing, but Big Universe is giving me some beautiful material to work with that will make my teaching and testing a lot more enjoyable.