Fine Motor Control Development: Lego Build Activity

 Lego Build is an activity I developed for some of my sweet special education students. That being said, fine motor skill development is critical for children of all abilities. Making this activity valuable for general ed classrooms or home learning as well.  Students will develop their visual-spatial abilities, as well as their fine motor control as they replicate the patterns.

Image 1You can head online to extend this activity. Google has created an incredible digital Lego workspace, Build with Chrome, where your students could also build their own towers digitally.  Some fine motor movement is involved in manipulating a mouse and typing, but the digital method won’t promote fine motor development to the same degree.

In my own classroom, I have used Lego Build as an independent, stand-alone lesson for those needing fine motor practice, or as an “early finisher” or reward activity. The activity is adaptable for both one-on-one intervention sessions, as well as small group settings.  I found that my students loved the activity and excuse to make Lego “educational”, so it quickly became a reward for my students who loved to build.

Since this is a repeat activity, I laminated multiple color copies to save having to photocopy new handouts each lesson. In addition, I have had colleagues use this resource in her kindergarten general education classrooms by laminating a couple copies and storing them in her Lego bin. The resource served as a way to help inspire students who don’t feel confident building from their imagination. Continue reading “Fine Motor Control Development: Lego Build Activity”

Digital Assessment Tools for Teachers

 I have another article posted for the Yellin Center! Below you will find a copy of my latest piece. Enjoy!

Digital Assessment Tools

Assessment is a large, important, and oft-debated necessity in education. The traditional view of assessment hinged strongly on summative evaluations –  assessments after the fact, such as a comprehensive exam or final paper. However, the current best practice in evaluating learning is to deploy frequent and thoughtful formative assessments, where teachers build in “check-in points” during the learning process that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. The goal of this evaluation framework is to inform the educator of what specific needs are present in their students and whether they need to augment their future lessons in response to those needs. It is important to note that the post-evaluation reflection and intervention is the defining feature of a formative assessment. Measuring student performance or collecting data is not formative unless you use the information to help your students.

Continue reading “Digital Assessment Tools for Teachers”

Top Five Resources for Special Education Teachers

IMG_5079The past month I had been asked by a few sources to cull my bookshelves and devise a list of my tried and true manuals for special education.  One list I comprised for my former University will be coming out to showcase 10 exceptional resources.  However, today, for the Yellin Center, I whittled and augment my list down to a mere five texts that make my life as a Learning Specialist a touch simpler. In my article, which you will find below, I elected to focus on technical texts, rather than teaching resources.  The literature detailed in the article are resources on the current research and practical strategies for applying the best practices in learning theory.  I hope they are as helpful to you as they have been for me. Continue reading “Top Five Resources for Special Education Teachers”

My second print article is out in Canadian Teacher!

Canadian TeacherIt has truly been a huge week! I had my first print article come out in Canadian Student magazine about life as an international student at Columbia University.  Now I have had my second print article published- this time in Canadian Teacher magazine.  Canadian Teacher is an amazing professional magazine aimed at discussing the current trends and methodologies in twenty-first century learning.  My particular article focuses on a few of my favourite Ed Tech tools for empowering struggling writers.  In the piece I dig into the advantages of using Storybird, Essay Express, Stationary Studio and Comic Life in the classroom.  Each of these exceptional tools provide an engaging, dynamic way to engage reluctant writers, while building their skills in a personalized and differentiated manner.  You can read my specific article, Beyond_Paper, or if you are interested take a look at the entire issue- there are a number of exceptional and informational articles in the Spring edition of Canadian Teacher.

Essay Express: A Writing Intervention Software

method=get&s=essay-express-boxshotAnother article is up on the Yellin Center Blog! You might remember that last fall I reviewed FableVision Learning‘s Animation-ish program.  While during my exploration of Animation-ish, I stumbled across a few other awesome resources that FableVision has created.  One of which is an amazing tool for learning how to structure an effective essay called, Essay Express. Crafting an essay requires multiple abilities including, spelling, understanding of grammar and sentence structure, master of written conventions, understanding of semantics etc.  It is an area of writing that many students (all the way into their college years) struggle with and takes time to truly master.  Often students come into the clinic having some of the key abilities in places but weaknesses in others.  Essay Express is an exceptional tool that helps strength a students strengths and fill in any gaps they may have in the writing process in order to teach them how to devise strong written output.

So head over to the blog to read my review, the research that went into creating the program and the amazing aspects of this software that will make it beneficial for both home and school use.

My Story in Headline Magazine

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A few months ago Healine Magazine, the publication for the British Columbia Brain Injury society, approached me about running a profile on my post-accident story.  The idea being that my story could inspire others, and also is a powerful recount of how professional interventions and supports can lead to long-term success even in the midst of drastic changes.  I was honoured, excited and hesitant all in one. I was given the opportunity to maintain creative control, which allowed me to write the story and focus on the aspects of my recovery I wanted to. I elected not to focus on the logistics of the accident, or the nitty gritty of the years of continued rehab.  Instead I kept it positive and choose to focus on the impact the accident and subsequent injuries have had on my educational and professional pursuits.

However, even with the opportunity to share my tale in my own words I was still anxiously left feeling less than brave.  The story of my accident is something I keep close to my heart and only a few people, mainly my mom and Jay have been let in to see the full extent of my injuries.  I often frame all the ramifications in positivity (because regardless there is a vast silver lining to my experience), and down play the severity. A brain injury is permanent, so although I have come a long way thanks to an amazing team of rock stars, so many of my challenges remain.  Therefore, I still spend so much of my time and energy compensating for the long-term effects or masking my perceived deficits. Ironically, this level of protectiveness has ultimately been the only cause of conflict surrounding my accident.  I have learned through trial and error that when you aren’t transparent with your needs, others are not aware of them and that is when a breakdown in communication occurs. Therefore, over the years those closest to me have challenged me to be candid with my experience.  So when I agreed to do the story I shared with a few trusted people that it was going to print.  However, I held fast that I wouldn’t share it with the wider world because no one I knew would be reading Headline and I could still protect my story.  They all gently prodded me to be brave (since that was my goal in penning the story at all) and trust that those who loved me would only be appreciative to glean greater insight into my experience.  So with their words bouncing around in my head I am now letting you, my big world of dedicated readers, friends and family, in on the story.

The print versions aren’t on shelves just yet, nor is the latest edition up on their website yet. But with that being said if you are in any medical center, neurological office or rehabilitation space in the province of British Columbia grab a print copy of the magazine in the next week or so.  Otherwise,  feel free to download the PDF version right now and head over to page 10 for my article: 2014 winter Headline.  I hope you enjoy, and please share your insights and stories with me in connection to the article. Getting queries and e-mails from readers is one of my favorite aspects of up keeping this blog.

Gift Ideas: Books to Teach Social Skills

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Another article authored by yours truly is up this week on the Yellin Center Blog, and getting lots of traction.  Last week I highlight a few of my favorite developmental learning toys, which would make great gifts for teachers and students alike.  This time around I am sharing some of my favorite books for teaching social skills (We all know how much I LOVE integrating picturebooks into my curriculum).   Social learning can be hard for children to grapple with, and it can be an even greater challenge to effectively teach social skills in an enjoyable, nonthreatening manner.  In my own classroom I often wrote my own social stories, or social building tales based on the needs of the students in my class.  However, a teacher’s time is precious and there are a few remarkable authors out there, like Janan Cain and Julia Cook, who have done all the heavy lifting for you.  So head over to my post, Books to Teach Social Skills, for a list of resources for teaching skills like sharing, controlling your voice, learning when to speak and expressing one’s feelings.  On the Yellin Center Blog you will also find a discussion on why mastery over social conventions is so vital to a child’s overall development.  Happy Reading!

Gift Ideas: Toys for Developmental Learning

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I have another article up on the Yellin Center Blog.  With Christmas just around the corner, my most current piece discusses some of the excellent play-based learning toys created by two of my hands-down favorite ethical toy companies, Melissa and Doug and Plan Toys.  My focus is primarily on tools designed for a special education setting.  However, the versatility of both toy maker’s developmental learning materials means they will benefit every child, regardless of ability.  Every child needs an interactive way to build key developmental skills.  So head over to my article for a discussion of the research that backs each toy’s development, and highlights of some of my personal favorite toys offered by each company.  Whether you are looking to improve a child’s gross motor function, speech and language skills, life skills or cognitive abilities there are a wealth of fun, engaging tools to help you do so. Learning can and should be playful.

plantoys1So whether you are shopping for a gift for your child’s teacher or your own child, you can’t go wrong with any of the exceptional resources created by either Melissa and Doug or Plan Toys. Happy shopping!

Ed Tech Review of TumbleBooks and The Importance of eBooks and Audiobooks for Reading Development

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Another Ed Tech review is up on the Yellin Center Blog, this time about a suite of eBook and audiobook resources called TumbleBooks.  You can head over to my review to learn about the ages each application is appropriate for, as well as all the teacher and librarian resources that are integrated right into the program.

However, what my review doesn’t elaborate is how vital eBooks and audiobooks are for developing the literacy skills of struggling or reluctant readers.  Beyond being below grade level in reading ability, one additional challenge struggling readers have to combat is a lack of background knowledge.  Often we glean vital information from texts that help us create connections, encode new ideas and enrich our learning experience across curricular areas. However, without exposure to this content struggling readers are unable to build a wealth of prior knowledge which can often lead to challenges in all academic areas.  Therefore, when designing literacy interventions the lack of exposure to new vocabulary, a variety of content and diverse ideas needs to be accounted for.  This is where audiobook and eBooks become an invaluable resource.  These mediums allow students to access the same rich content as their peers, and build their knowledge base without hinging on their decoding or comprehension skills.  I work with a lot of students with reading difficulties, and eBooks and audiobooks are two of my most recommended reading support strategies.  Personally, I have witnessed a lot of success using alternative reading materials, but don’t simply take my word for it because research backs this evidence based practice also. So if you are looking to bolster your students interest in reading, as well as their content knowledge check out TumbleBooks because they offer a great variety of resources across grade levels and genres.

Teacher Resource: Blends Bingo -A Letter-Sound Game

CaptureAnother resource is up on the Yellin Center Blog, and this time is it for the Blends Bingo game I designed. This game aims to improve student’s understanding of different letter-sound relationships which are critical to the development of a child’s early reading skills. Mastery of this fundamental phonological awareness skill has been linked to overall success in reading decoding and comprehension.

I use this game primarily in special education and reading recovery settings.  However, it can be easily adapted to a whole class environment.  If adapting for a large group, it is important to note that every sound is on every card. Therefore, you should expect to have multiple winners at a given time. The reason every sound appears on every card is that this game was designed as a purposeful play activity. As such, Blends Bingo has the objective of each student participating by locating a new sound every time a new playing piece is drawn by the teacher. There is no waiting in this activity, and every child is able to continually work to manipulate sounds.

For detailed description of the research that backs the creation and implementation of this game, how this activity aligns with the standards and detailed instructions of how to run this activity in your classroom please head over to my in depth discussion on the Yellin Center Blog. There, I also discuss how I have used this tool as a formative assessment measure, as well as a few alternate game play structures to keep your students engaged.

This activity was rather labor intensive to create due to formatting and finding images that clearly represented each sound.  As such, this game is one of my paid TpT resources but today it is on sale! The sale lasts through the weekend, so you can head over to my Teachers pay Teachers store to download Blends Bingo.  Furthermore, since my Blends Bingo Post went up on the Yellin Center Blog I have been routinely asked where I procure affordable or free materials for my curriculum designs.  I understand how tough it can be to find copy write free materials, so for this game and most clip art infused resources I often use Classroom Clip Art. It is an affordable membership service, with a pretty robust selection of images that are education centric.