Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Somebody Else's Kids Blog

 Somebody Else’s Kids Blog

Tomaso Gonzalez is a 10th grade student in my chemistry class at Howard High School in Texas. I learned through record reviews and conversations with the counselor, the special education teacher and the principal that Tomaso has had a very unstable home life since he was very young. His mother died when he was an infant; when he was five years old, he witnessed his stepmother murder his father and older brother. Tomaso spent many years in and out of various home settings, including more than ten different foster care families and living with an uncle who made him work in the strawberry fields at age seven and later abused him. Unfortunately, Tomaso missed several years of schooling during the course of his countless transitions. He is currently in foster care again, since having been removed from yet another uncle’s home, so this foster family is a new transition for him too.
Tomaso is not mentally or physically disabled, but because of his lack of attendance at school, his inability to confront the reality of his father’s death and his poor anger management, Tomaso has not been able to learn and excel at the rate of a normal child. Thus he has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Tomaso has made some strides, according to everyone else with whom I have spoken, yet he still reads at a 7th grade level and often times refers to his dead father as if he is still alive. In addition, he has an explosive personality which anyone can unknowingly trigger by drawing attention to his shortcomings, including his low skills and his unstable home life, or anything that reminds him of his father. The challenge will be managing Tomaso’s high needs with the needs of the other 25 students (including six other IEP students) in the classroom.
Tomaso needs very personal attention, especially if the assignment requires reading at a high school level or beyond. Often times, I will use science articles from “” because the website offers articles in differentiated format. Thus each student can read the same content at his own reading level. Tomaso’s IEP requires that he sit close to the whiteboard so that he can focus on his work and minimize distractions that may lead him to have an outburst. He uses inappropriate language and often gets into heated arguments with other students and sometimes staff members, which can turn violent. This disrupts the class and takes time away from instruction for everyone. In addition, the major requirement of his IEP is that Tomaso not be expected to learn the same amount of material as his peers because his reading ability is so much lower than the average 10th grade student. He receives additional reading support in his Reading class, which is targeted for his level, but his core content teachers must modify all of his work so that Tomaso only has to complete a portion (85%) of what the other students complete, unless reading is not a major component of the work. Many times, we teachers provide Tomaso with guided notes. This entails giving him pre-copied notes of the lesson with blank spaces for him to fill in along the way. This is to continue to encourage Tomaso and not have him fall into a downward spiral of depression because he cannot accomplish all that the other students can. The goal is that with scaffolding, in time Tomaso will advance to a level close to that of his peers and at a minimum will be able to function as an adult in the world at the time of graduation.
The main drawbacks of providing the accommodations for Tomaso are his pride and his becoming dependent on them. Tomaso does not want the other students to know how much of a deficit he has. He also does not want anyone to highlight his shortcomings. In trying to meet Tomaso where he is, he may get upset if he notices that his work does not exactly match the other students’ work. In addition, the other students themselves may point out that Tomaso receives different assignments. I sometimes have to have a talk with the students and explain that “equal” is not always fair. The students are used to being in classes with students who have IEPs so this does not pose too big of a problem for most students. Also, it is necessary to make sure that Tomaso does not use the modifications as a crutch and begin to lessen his efforts in class. Thus, it is very important that his teachers modify his progress periodically to ensure that he is moving forward.
As his teacher, I can best accommodate Tomaso by realizing first that he is a person not just a statistic. Understanding his plight and having the insight about why he behaves the way he does allows me to have empathy for him and approach him from a less rigid perspective. No matter what he does to try to push me away and make me hate him, I can remain calm in every situation I encounter with him to let him know that his techniques do not work with me and that I care about him. I can offer him time to leave the class to get a drink of water or to take a quick walk to regain his composure if he needs to “cool down.” Because teachers are not allowed to touch students, I could never physically restrain Tomaso, but I could call for additional support from the resource teacher, special education teacher, contract room teacher, or administration if needed to escort him for a walk. Eventually with patience and time, he may grow to “let down his guard” and let me into his world. This may help him to better control his temper.
Upon realizing that Tomaso has a tender side, another strategy is to use flexible grouping and pair Tomaso with other IEP students who also need help with reading. Allowing Tomaso to help other students will give him a bigger purpose and help grow his self-confidence. Giving Tomaso other responsibilities within the classroom will also work to help him remain even-tempered. I might even recommend Tomaso for an after-school program where he mentors and reads to elementary and middle school-aged children. This will boost his confidence greatly and help him form a bond with the younger children who will grow to rely on him.
Some of the personal challenges that making the accommodations might pose for me are that I could easily begin to feel worn down by always feeling like I have to fight with Tomaso and working hard to not lose face in front of the other students if I ever get into a disagreement with Tomaso. Even though I need to appear calm on the outside, I will still feel the agitation of the situation on the inside. I will need to continue with coping strategies such as breathing exercises, being extra nice to Tomaso, giving him positive reinforcement, and trying to get to know him on a more personal level. Before I go home to my family, I will need to take at least a 30 minute respite to get my mind out of “school mode” and transition into my evening routine (“home/family mode”). I will try various techniques such as walking at a park, yoga, or meditation. Also, it will pose a challenge for me to remain composed in heated situations, but it will be so necessary because I do not want the other students to think that they can affect me by easily getting me upset. In order to not lose face in front of the class, I may need to talk quietly and privately to Tomaso or change the structure of the activity we are doing from large group to smaller group (or vice versa) just to mix up the dynamic and draw attention away from him.
I know that Tomaso Gonzalez is a challenging student, but with empathy and understanding, I feel that I can help to effect change in him and support his academic growth during the school year.


Hayden, T. (1981). Somebody Else's Kids. New York: Avon Books/Harper Collins Publishers.

McKinney, K. (2013). Addressing Students' Needs. Retrieved from CIRTL Network:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Special Education: 504 vs. IEP

I created my Venn Diagram in a Prezi to visually represent the similarities and differences between a 504 Plan and an IEP.

I enjoyed working on this blog post because it helped me to learn more about the differences between the two plans. Ironically, I work in a middle school where I share an office with a Speech Language Pathologist (who attends IEP meetings several times a week), I visit classrooms and sit in meetings all day so I hear these terms all of the time. Some of my students even have them (mostly 504's). Yet, until now I never fully understood the complete difference between the two.

I think that it is interesting how a student may have an IEP and that would cover any accommodations that they would have from a 504 because a 504 is strictly outlining accommodations for the student. However, a 504 would never be extensive enough to cover all of the special learning needs for a student with an IEP. Unfortunately, as Swanson and Laviano (Swanson & Laviano, 2013) mentioned in their video, many times schools will administer a 504 to a student who actually needs an IEP simply because the 504 requires less work and effort to put in place. This does a disservice to the student. I am hopeful that with more education, people will learn to do what is in the child's best interest because ultimately that is best for society as a whole. I have the wonderful opportunity of being able to educate parents about the differences and how they can best advocate for their children. I am grateful to be armed with this new knowledge.


Great Schools. (2012, November 12). What is special education? Retrieved from YouTube:
Logsdon, A. (2014, November 25). Section 504 - Learn About Section 504 in Public Schools. Retrieved from
Swanson, J., & Laviano, J. (2013, September 1). IDEA Basics: (504 Plan) How is an IEP Different from a 504 Plan? Retrieved from YouTube:
The Nemours Foundation. (1995-2015). Individualized Education Programs IEPs. Retrieved from Kids Health:
University of Washington. (2013, January 24). What's the Difference Between and IEP and a 504? Retrieved from DO-IT:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

History of Special Education

Timeline for the history of special education:

State of Special Education

The current status of special education is that we have come a long way since the start of the movement in 1960’s. Yet, we still have a long way to go to reach complete and total equality for all students in the classroom. Legislation has evolved over the years to reflect the changing perceptions of people with mental and physical disabilities. Prior to the 1970’s, there was such a strong stigma attached to having a mental or physical disability, that authorities, medical professionals, and families kept those individuals locked behind closed doors in mental institutions or other highly restrictive facilities. Then, in the early 1970’s there were a series of exposés that elucidated the conditions in those facilities. The widespread publicity shed light for the American public on how inhumanely the staff members from the institutions were treating their patients and students. This lead to a public outcry and new laws to protect individuals with disabilities. The advancements made in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s paved the way for America to start viewing everyone as equals. Presidents from John F. Kennedy all the way to President Obama have signed laws in reference to making conditions better for special education students and their adult counterparts.

The National Education Association and the Council for Exceptional Children, along with other public interest groups, encourage their members to urge Congress to make the proper changes for equality in the special education classroom. Congress will for the first time in over 13 years, renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and hopefully make changes as needed. Equality for special education students means access to a challenging, motivating, and rigorous education via one-on-one support from highly trained educators, classrooms equipped with the appropriate technology to enhance the students’ learning experience and schools that are ready with facilities to receive the students.

A major challenge we face today is that not every school gets the funding it needs to carry out the necessary tasks to properly support our special education students. Sometimes the families and the community do not know how to effectively support the students. Because training may not always be available, it can be difficult to retain highly qualified teachers, aides and other staff members. Staff members may leave when situations become too overwhelming or when they do not have sufficient resources to complete their job. In the past, we learned that even though law makers may have good intentions when they create a law, poor implementation and management as well as overlooking key factors can lead to poor results for everyone, especially the students. By getting Congress to modify the laws for the benefit of the students and taking into consideration the pleas that the teachers, family and staff may have suggested, we can ensure that the special education reform process goes smoothly and makes positive strides going forward.


Council for Exceptional Children. (2015). Current Special/Gifted Education Issues. Retrieved from Council for Exceptional Children:

MSDE. (2003). Overview. Retrieved from Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE):

Monday, May 4, 2015

Verbose Software - Literacy Web Tool

ED 625 Module 6 Literacy Web Tool Modeling

     I researched several different web-based literacy development tools, including mind mapping, text to speech, speech to text, multimedia CD storybooks, text and pictures (rebus), audiobooks, e-books, and electronic resources (online versions of dictionaries, thesauri, and encyclopedias, etc.). The one that I would use first with my English Language Learners and students with learning disabilities is text to speech. This is very similar to the concept of an audiobook in that a digital voice (patterned after a real human) is reading the text aloud while the student reads (silently or aloud). What makes the text to speech tool superior to an audiobook is that the speech changes color as the digital voice is reading. For example, if all of the text is black, then the active word that the student is currently reading would be highlighted in a contrasting color such as yellow or red. This helps the students keep pace with the book. I found this highlighting feature more prevalent with the paid text to speech programs than with the free ones. Almost all of the speech to text sites offer a download option in a format such as mp3 so that students can save the file and use it at their leisure. This would allow students to save the file and listen to it repeatedly at home, if necessary, until they gained the full meaning of the text.
     To show my students how text to speech works, I would assign them an article from a site such as Newsela, “Art and science intersect at the School of the Art institute.” (Brotman, 2015) Then I would direct the English Language Learners, the struggling readers, and the students with a reading disability to a text to speech site. The students would copy the text from the article and paste it into the box on the text to speech site. The site would then read the article to the students. Using headphones, the students could read along with the digital reader and this would increase their comprehension of the material as well as their decoding and pronunciation skills. The great thing about using an article from Newsela is that if the students who read on a lower level have a problem with the story, they can always get the same article at a level that is more appropriate for their success. After the students were done reading the article, they would have to answer questions about the text that they read using the text to speech reader.
     The pros of using a text to speech tool are that the sites offer the option to read the text aloud, immediately as well as the option to download the audio version of the text and save it to mp3 format. The mp3 format is portable so that students can listen on their tablet or cell phone while they are on the go. Another positive about the software is that it is very easy to set up and activate. Within minutes of downloading the software, students will have it up and running. Students have the ability to alter the speed, pitch and volume of the text reading and in some cases, they can choose an avatar to read that is male or female, based on their preference. Students can download new voices as they fit to keep the reading interesting. Using different voices to read the same material also helps the students to decipher slight variances in speech patterns and solidify pronunciations while developing their own speech style. Finally, students can use the text to speech software with Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, and other text-based programs.
     The cons of using a text to speech tool are that without scaffolding, the students could begin to use the software as a crutch. The cost is also a con. The Verbose program is approximately $40; however, the teacher would need several copies - one copy for each student. There is another program called Dragon Naturally Speaking which costs over $100. Unless there is a sponsor or an anonymous donor, the cost of these types of programs might hinder some teachers or students from purchasing them. I have also read that the Verbose program does not uninstall and it is constantly running in the background. This could lead to slowing down of the current system and pure frustration once the students are done with the program and want to move on to something else.  
     Other than those minor issues, I think the text to speech software is a great tool to use for students who struggle with reading.


Brotman, B. (2015, April 8). Art and science intersect at the School of the Art Institute. Retrieved from Newsela:

H. Silver-Pacuilla, K., Ruedel, K., & Mistrett, S. (2004). A Review of Technology-Based Approaches or Reading Instruction: Tools for Researchers and Vendors. National Center for Technology Innovation, 1-49.

McLaughlin, M. (2015). Content Area Reading: Teaching and Learning for College and Career Readiness. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.

Monday, April 27, 2015

MD Teacher Technology Standards Blog

The following are how I would implement the Maryland Teacher Technology Standards in my future classroom.



I. Information Access, Evaluation,
   Processing and Application

Access, evaluate, process and apply information efficiently and effectively.

1.        Identify, locate, retrieve and differentiate among a variety of electronic sources of information using technology. – Use planning time to research various technology tools and categorize them based on relevancy for ELLs/struggling learners, on grade level students and GT/above grade level students.
2.        Organize, categorize and store information for efficient retrieval. – Keep a folder with “Teacher Resources” on an online system such as Dropbox for easy access from multiple computers. Determine whether the information is best suited for ELL students, GT students or on grade level students and put them in the corresponding folder.

II. Communication

A.       Use technology effectively and appropriately to interact electronically.

B.   Use technology to communicate information
      in a variety of formats.

1.        Use telecommunications to collaborate with peers, parents, colleagues, administrators and/or experts in the field. – Create a classroom website which lists all assignments and share it with parents. Include resources that would be beneficial to parents. Participate in chemistry or scientific webinars with presentations by leading experts from my field. Use platforms such as “Google Hangouts” or “Blue Jeans” to collaborate with colleagues about field trips, scheduling and planning. Create and share Google documents with colleagues for brainstorming lesson plan ideas and collaborating on joint projects (such as science fair and co-teaching).

1.     Select appropriate technologies for a particular communication goal. – Send emails to parents about classroom activities and events. Use electronic newsletters and videos to disseminate relevant information.
2.        Use productivity tools to publish information. – Use VoiceThread to give lectures for the flipped classroom, Microsoft Publisher to produce newsletters informing parents about the happenings of my classroom.
3.        Use multiple digital sources to communicate information online. –Use sources such as website, VoiceThread, YouTube video, blog and vlog to communicate information online.

III. Legal, Social and Ethical Issues

Demonstrate an understanding of the legal, social and ethical issues related to technology use.       

1.        Identify ethical and legal issues using technology. – Use the web to search for applicable legal doctrines and regulations regarding the use of technology in and out of the classroom.
2.        Analyze issues related to the uses of technology in educational settings.  – After each assignment in which students use technology as part of a lesson, assess how well the lesson went in regards to technology use. Determine how to improve the use of technology for next time.
3.        Establish classroom policies and procedures that ensure compliance with copyright law, Fair Use guidelines, security, privacy and student online protection. – Train and require students to document the source of all of their work that they find online or in other sources. Post technology policies on the wall in a prominent place where students can see them. Ensure that students know the rules of the Internet such as not sharing passwords and not posting anything that they would not want their grandmother or religious leader to see because the Internet is forever.
4.        Use classroom procedures to manage an equitable, safe and healthy environment for students. – Establish classroom rules that uphold equality for all students and promote

IV. Assessment for Administration and Instruction

Use technology to analyze problems and
develop data-driven solutions for instructional and school improvement.

1.        Research and analyze data related to student and school performance. – Use the school system’s grade database to determine what percentage of students are performing at or above standards. Work with the data clerk to investigate the numbers for the whole school in comparison with class data.
2.        Apply findings and solutions to establish instructional and school improvement goals. – Use technology for the betterment of the school. Use tools like Kahoot to increase student engagement.
3.        Use appropriate technology to share results and solutions with others, such as parents and the larger community. – Utilize online applications such as Twitter and other social media to remain in contact with parents and the community.
V. Integrating Technology into the Curriculum 
    and Instruction

   Design, implement and assess learning
   experiences that incorporate use of technology
   in a curriculum-related instructional activity to
   support understanding, inquiry, problem solving,
   communication and/or collaboration.

1.        Assess students’ learning/ instructional needs to identify the appropriate technology for instruction. – Give students an online pre-assessment to determine which technology would work best for them.
2.        Evaluate technology materials and media to determine their most appropriate instructional use. – Test out each new technological advancement to assess how it would best fit in the classroom.
3.        Select and apply research-based practices for integrating technology into instruction. – Allow students to take ownership of their learning and complete independent research tasks using Internet Inquiry and WebQuests.
4.        Use appropriate instructional strategies for integrating technology into instruction. -
5.        Select and use appropriate technology to support content-specific student learning outcomes. –Students will use iPads, laptops, etc. to access online content in support of their learning goals.
6.        Develop an appropriate assessment for measuring student outcomes through the use of technology. –Student performance will be measured against a rubric which outlines their requirements for their Internet tasks (Inquiry and WebQuest)
7.        Manage a technology-enhanced environment to maximize student learning. –Implement several different modes of technology to support student learning, such as videos and tailored online searches. In each one, the student is the driver of the learning and the teacher is the facilitator.
VI. Assistive Technology

Understand human, equity and developmental issues surrounding the use of assistive technology to enhance student learning performance and apply that understanding to practice.

1.    Identify and analyze assistive technology resources that accommodate individual student learning needs. – Collaborate with other professionals in the building such as the Speech Language Pathologist and the Special Education teachers to determine what assistive technology resources they are using with their students. Subscribe to magazines such as “Education World,” which provide the latest in assistive technology and research which technologies are best.
2.     Apply assistive technology to the instructional process and evaluate its impact on learners with diverse backgrounds, characteristics and abilities. – After determining which assistive technology tools are best for my students, find the financial resources to purchase and implement them in the classroom. Quarterly, assess how well the assistive technology is working for the students.
VII. Professional Growth

Develop professional practices that support continual learning and professional growth in technology.

1.        Create a professional development plan that includes resources to support the use of technology in life-long learning – At the beginning of each school year, research relevant training opportunities, register for them and add them to my calendar. Attend conferences that support new innovations in technology in and out of the classroom to remain relevant.
2.        Use resources of professional organizations and groups that support the integration of technology into instruction. – Join professional organizations such as the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) and the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) and subscribe to their newsletters in order to stay abreast of new and useful changes to technology in the classroom.
3.        Continually evaluate and reflect on professional practices and emerging technologies to support student learning. – Quarterly, after submitting report card grades, do a personal assessment to gauge how well technology is working in the classroom and determine areas for improvement.
4.        Identify local, state and national standards and use them to improve teaching and learning. –Collaborate with other STEM teachers and identify new ways to incorporate standards in the classroom.

Accepted by the Maryland State Board of Education, March 22, 2002

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Significance of Grouping Students Accordingly

Looking back at the Unit Plan from ED 605, I would need to consider the academic abilities of my students when determining how to group them. I had not considered this when I was initially working on the unit plan, but I see the importance of the collaboration between and among students of varying abilities. Previously, I had always believed that homogeneous grouping of students was most beneficial, and in some cases, it is. However, I now realize that sometimes it is just as important to pair stronger students with developing students, including English learners, struggling readers, and special needs students so that the progressing students can have a model of either the language or a different way of thinking and approaching a problem or discussion. In my classroom, I would purposefully vary the types of groups that I assemble over the course of the unit so that everyone got a chance to work with different types of students, as opposed to making the groupings permanent for the school year. (McLaughlin, 2015). At certain points, I would deliberately make homogenous groups so that students of similar academic levels could work together and get the most from the groupings. In addition, the homogeneous groupings discourage the weaker group members from getting accustomed to relying solely on the work of a stronger group member. During the homogenous groupings, I would walk around the room and check on the groups, paying the most attention to the weakest groups because they might not have anyone in their group who catches on to certain points that other groups might find obvious. (Timson, 2014) Then, at other points during the lesson, I would group the students in a homogenous manner so that the weaker group members do not get tempted to rely solely on the work of another group member.
            I would need to consider each student’s reading and writing skills when deciding on the groupings because if the class contains a large disparity between student reading levels, then I would want to have the students work in small groups of threes and/or pairs. Within each pair or small group, I would combine a struggling reader with a student who is stronger in reading or has more knowledge on the topic of solving systems of equations.
            Some potential problems that might arise from poorly thought out groupings would include the weaker students getting frustrated easily and feeling discouraged. For instance, in the case of a Jeopardy game or a competitive academic event, if the strongest students always won, the weaker students might begin to feel defeated and hopeless. Thus, in this case, it would be best to use heterogeneous groupings. Also, if there are a large number of “high-level thinkers” in the class, they might grow bored of whole-group activities that go on for too long. For this reason, it is a good idea to first teach a new concept to the whole class and then use small homogenous groups to allow the students to practice the concept or extend to a more challenging application of the concept. Finally, if the groups are heterogeneous for too long, the weaker students might not get enough time to fully grasp a concept because either they were too afraid to ask their questions in front of their peers or they hide behind the stronger students and I would have no way of knowing how much they really know about the topic. For all of these reasons, it is a good idea to thoroughly consider the purpose of the activity and the types of learners in the classroom at all points during the lesson.


Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
McLaughlin, M. (2015). Content Area Reading: Teaching and Learning for College and Career Readiness. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
Timson, K. (2014). The Importance of Homogeneous Grouping. Retrieved from Vimeo: