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Special Education


How to adapt a high school course for a student with special education needs:


Making the standard curriculum and assignments accessible.

* tapping into student’s prior knowledge

* many opportunities to ask questions

* frontloading selected vocabulary

* relating ideas with analogies and visualizations

* Clear instructions and expectations.

* Have students use interactive apps to comprehend size and scale, e.g.

The amazing cell and DNA size and scale app
Interactive scale of the Universe

* Historical, cross-curricula connections. e.g. our unit on the lawsof motion, and models of the solar system, have strong historical components.


Providing a different level of curriculum and assignments.

* Material from alternative textbooks (e.g. AGS and CPO Physics)

These books have a reduced wordcount and embedded vocabulary support for reluctant or struggling readers.

* Using this teacher-developed website as an alternative to the book.

Features step-by-step explanations, color graphics, and interactive apps from a variety of sources, enable the student to access grade level topics.

* Shorter homework assignments.

* Adapt the list of topics to suit a student’s processing speed and ability.

Differentiation vs. Scaffolding

The following is from the Great Schools Partnership, Glossary of Education Reform.

… Because differentiation and scaffolding techniques are used to achieve similar instructional goals—i.e., moving student learning and understanding from where it is to where it needs to be—the two approaches may be blended together in some classrooms to the point of being indistinguishable. That said, the two approaches are distinct in several ways. When teachers differentiate instruction, they might give some students an entirely different reading (to better match their reading level and ability), give the entire class the option to choose from among several texts (so each student can pick the one that interests them most), or give the class several options for completing a related assignment..

Alternatively, when teachers scaffold instruction, they typically break up a learning experience, concept, or skill into discrete parts, and then give students the assistance they need to learn each part….

Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction?

Daniel T. Willingham writes:

Question: What does cognitive science tell us about the existence of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners and the best way to teach them?

The idea that people may differ in their ability to learn new material depending on its modality—that is, whether the child hears it, sees it, or touches it—has been tested for over 100 years. And the idea that these differences might prove useful in the classroom has been around for at least 40 years.

What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his best modality doesn’t affect his educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality.

Daniel T. Willingham writes:

All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality …the different visual, auditory, and meaning-based representations in our minds cannot serve as substitutes for one another. Our minds have these different types of representations for a reason: Different representations are more or less effective for storing different types of information.

Visual representations, for example, are poor for storing meaning because they are often consistent with more than one interpretation: A static image of a car driving on a snowy hill could just as well depict a car struggling up the hill or slipping backwards down the hill. And some concepts do not lend themselves well to pictures: How would one depict “genius” or “democracy” in a picture?

But aren’t some students “visual learners” or “kinesthetic learners”? In a word, “no.” This is one of the greatest urban myths of education. Peer-reviewed science does not support this claim. Daniel T. Willingham writes:

“Because the vast majority of educational content is stored in terms of meaning and does not rely on visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory, it is not surprising that researchers have found very little support for the idea that offering instruction in a child’s best modality will have a positive effect on his learning.”

“A few studies show a positive effect of accounting for students’ best modality, but many studies show no effect…. Kavale and Forness analyzed 39 studies using a technique called meta-analysis, which allows the combination of data from different studies. By combining many studies into a single statistical analysis, the researchers have greater power to detect a small effect, if one exists.”

“Kavale and Forness’s meta-analysis provides substantial evidence that tailoring instruction to students’ modality is not effective; across these many well-designed studies, such tailoring had no educational effect. … we can say that the possible effects of matching instructional modality to a student’s modality strength have been extensively studied and have yielded no positive evidence. If there was an effect of any consequence, it is extremely likely that we would know it by now.”

– See more at: http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2005/ask-cognitive-scientist

Do students really have different “learning styles”?

By Howard Gardner

It’s been 30 years since I developed the notion of “multiple intelligences.” I have been gratified by the interest shown in this idea and the ways it’s been used in schools, museums, and businesses around the world. But one unanticipated consequence has driven me to distraction—and that’s the tendency of many people, including persons whom I cherish, to credit me with the notion of ‘learning styles’ or to collapse ‘multiple intelligences’ with ‘learning styles.’ It’s high time to relieve my pain and to set the record straight.

Problem #1. The notion of “learning styles”’ is itself not coherent. Those who use this term do not define the criteria for a style, nor where styles come from, how they are recognized/assessed/exploited. Say that Johnny is said to have a learning style that is ‘impulsive.” Does that mean that Johnny is “‘impulsive” about everything? How do we know this? What does this imply about teaching—should we teach “impulsively,” or should we compensate by “teaching reflectively?” What of a learning style that is “right-brained” or visual or tactile? Same issues apply.

Problem #2. When researchers have tried to identify learning styles, teach consistently with those styles, and examine outcomes, there is not persuasive evidence that the learning style analysis produces more effective outcomes than a “one size fits all approach.”

Sometimes people speak about a “visual” learner or an “auditory” learner. The implication is that some people learn through their eyes, others through their ears. This notion is incoherent. Both spatial information and reading occur with the eyes, but they make use of entirely different cognitive faculties. Similarly, both music and speaking activate the ears, but again these are entirely different cognitive faculties. Recognizing this fact, the concept of intelligences does not focus on how linguistic or spatial information reaches the brain—via eyes, ears, hands, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the power of the mental computer, the intelligence, that acts upon that sensory information, once picked up.

These distinctions are consequential. My goal here is not to give a psychology or a physiology or a physics lesson but rather to make sure that we do not fool ourselves and, as important, that we do not short change our children. If people want to talk about ‘an impulsive style’ or ‘a visual learner,’ that’s their prerogative. But they should recognize that these labels may be unhelpful, at best, and ill-conceived at worst.

The Washington Post, Oct. 16, 2013
Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’


What will a student ultimately learn?

In the end, the responsibility and ability for learning lies within the learner. Cognitive science proves that students only learn what they are thinking about. If your child isn’t concentrating on the subject during class, and does not actively think about it while reviewing at home, then they will not properly learn the subject.

See this column from the American Educator: “How We Learn: Ask the Cognitive Scientist”, by Daniel T. Willingham.


Issue: The teacher presents a strong, coherent lesson in which a set of significant facts is clearly connected to a reasonable conclusion. But, at test time, the students show no understanding of the connections. Some students .. spit back memorized facts, but don’t see how they fit together. Though the lesson wasn’t taught in a rote way, it seems like rote knowledge is what the students took in….Why?

Response: ….Cognitive science has shown that what ends up in a learner’s memory is not simply the material presented – it is the product of what the learner thought about when he or she encountered the material. This principle illuminates one important origin of shallow knowledge and also suggests how to help students develop deep and interconnected knowledge..

cartoon hilois-20121109-multitasking

Issue: How much should students practice what they learn?

It seems obvious that practice is important….on the other hand, it seems just as obvious that practicing the same material again and again would be boring for students. How much practice is the right amount?

Response: For a new skill to become automatic or for new knowledge to become long-lasting, sustained practice, beyond the point of mastery, is necessary. …The unexpected finding from cognitive science is that practice does not make perfect. Practice until you are perfect and you will be perfect only briefly. What’s necessary is sustained practice.

By sustained practice I mean regular, ongoing review or use of the target material. This kind of practice past the point of mastery is necessary to meet any of these three important goals of instruction: (A) acquiring facts and knowledge, (B) learning skills, or (C) becoming an expert.

The above is from a column in The American Educator: “How We Learn: Ask the Cognitive Scientist”, by Daniel T. Willingham. Click the link for the complete article.



Autism, Asperger’s, Neurotypical issues

Is a ‘Spectrum’ the Best Way to Talk About Autism?

A genetic link between autism and prodigy? By Renee Morad

Understanding Neurotypicals: How people with Asperger’s may see non-Aspie people

Geekiness and autism: Is there a connection? CNN editorial.



Book: A Field Guide to Earthlings: An autistic/Asperger view of neurotypical behavior. By Ian Ford

Autistic people often live in a state of anxiety and confusion about the social world, running into misunderstandings and other barriers. This book unlocks the inner workings of neurotypical behavior, which can be mysterious to autistics. Topics include the nuances of friendship, dating, small talk, interpersonal conflicts, image, learning styles, social communication, common sense, and white lies. Proceeding from root concepts of language and culture through 62 behavior patterns used by neurotypical people, the book reveals how they structure a mental map of the world in symbolic webs of beliefs, how those symbols are used to filter perception, how they build and display their identity, how they compete for power, and how they socialize and develop relationships. From the introduction: This book reveals psychological patterns of neurotypical humans, from an autistic perspective. I wrote it to help you understand them. You might read it if you are autistic and have to work harder to understand why people do what they do, or you might read it if you are neurotypical and want to understand an autistic person in your life, or you might read it because you are interested in new ways of looking at personalities and behavior.

Asperger’s From the Inside Out: A Supportive and Practical Guide for Anyone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Michael John Carley.

Michael John Carley was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at thirty-six-when his young son received the same diagnosis. This fascinating book reveals his personal experience with the confusion and trauma associated with this condition-and offers insights into living an independent and productive life.Now the Executive Director of the world’s largest Asperger’s oranization, Carley helps readers in such areas as: Social interactions. Nurturing interests. Whom to confide in-and how. Dealing with family and loved ones. Finding work that suits your strengths and talents.


What about standardized tests?

Standardized tests are determined by the state, or in the case of the SAT and AP exams, by the College Board. Teachers may not introduce their own modifications.
multiple choice cartoon

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