The Emergence of Additional Adults in the Classroom as an Educational Support

One thing that I have seen more and more as I have progressed through different roles in schools (from student teaching in various math classrooms to special education in a K-8 building) is that there are more and more adults in the classroom, especially when a school or classroom is considered “inclusive.”  It seems that the use of a paraprofessional or aide is becoming a support, often being placed in a student;s IEP as one of their supports.  This is highly beneficial when students look at academics, but has many shortcomings when other areas are considered.  I feel that it only becomes more of an issue when the aide or support is considered one-on-one supports.

This is becoming such a common support that many parents and general educators (and sometimes overstressed special educators) will request that certain students receive a one-to-one aid or support (Carter, 8).  This will happen because parents have concern for their children and feel they will only be successful if there is constantly an adult with their child.  General educators want the extra adult in the room to help with presence and to keep students on task.  Sometimes even the student wants the support and will not work unless they receive this support.  I am not going to argue that additional adults in the room does not help, but does it have to be one-on-one?

Anyone who has been in an inclusive school lately has seen the scene in which there is a student with special needs and just in tow is that student’s aide or paraprofessional.  That person is keeping the student organized and making sure that everything is in order for the next class.  What is this doing for the child, however?  I have seen situations in which if the aide or paraprofessional is absent one day, the student attached to that aid shuts down and will not work in class.  When I got a chance to talk to that student while I was student teaching he told me, “It isn’t that my aide isn’t here, it’s that I don’t know how to be organized without her and can’t stay focused without her.”

In a way I feel that this support is doing a disservice to the students that are being supported in this method.  They never learn the skills to keep themselves organized or to focus themselves because there has always been someone there to do it.  What will they do after school is over?  It can also be argued that the student may sometimes have a harder time socializing because there is always an adult associated with that student.  Sometimes they are even at lunch with their adult!

The potential problem is that there are significant academic benefits to having that aide there with a student.  They are more organized, more focused, and are prompted more at the check for understanding part of the lessons.  It seems to be a good academic support, but doesn’t actually teach the student anything. I do not want this to all come out negative, there are some very good one-on-one support teachers out there.  They do what their job is intended to do by teaching the student how to be organized, deal with their emotions, back of during socializing time, and the skills to focus them self.  This is often what the intention of having a one-on-one support is as these are often IEP goals.

One alternative to this would be to have the student be supported by other members of the classroom community.  This could even be accomplished by preferential seating and/or strategic seating arrangements in which the student sits near students who will help them with organization and staying focused.  This is but one other strategy that could be used, there are many more.

AT Fair – Colored Reading Filters

In this post we wanted to take the time to critically look at a piece of assistive technology that really has had a profound impact on many people who struggle to read due to learning disabilities relating to reading.  Colored filter line readers are a combination of two low-tech assistive technologies.
1) Line reading helpers which assist readers in their ability to stay focused on one or a few lines at a time.
2) Color filters which decrease the eye strain often caused by the black on white text on paper and thereby can increase comprehension, reading rate and reading accuracy by those who use them.
By combining the two technologies, readers who may have compounded difficulties with reading can minimize the number of tools needed for them to be successful readers.

A Brief History:

While colored reading helpers are a newer technology (mid to late 1990’s) the adapted from a technology 10+ years their senior.  The benefits of colored filters were first discovered in the early 1980’s by Helen Irlen.  She spent much of the early 80’s interviewing 1,500 adults with reading problems and for her 1 group stuck out.  A group of adults who could read, but found it unpleasant even painful and who “avoided it at all costs” (Irlen, 19).  This caused Irlen to question why reading was unpleasant.  She interviewed adults who were normal readers and found that the problem was in what the paged looked like to readers.  A normal reader will tell you they see words on a page, where as, a struggling reader may say that all of the “words [run together into] a black line and I don’t see them anymore” (20).   Through much trial and error Irlen discovered that if struggling readers, read a page with a colored gel over it that they were less likely to feel like it hurt to read.  While it took awhile for a reader to find the gel or filter that worked best when they did they found that reading was “much improved” (23). Since this discovery that colored filters or gels could improve reading abilities of people the filters or gels have been added to glasses and contact lenses to improve vision.

Who are they not made for:

As wonderful as they can be for the students who find benefit in using them, colored filters and line readers may not benefit all students.  Students who may not benefit for the colored line helpers include:

  • Students who need more assistance in identification of specific words or who are only reading 1 word at a time may be distracted by seeing all of the words in a line or on multiple lines.
  • Students who’s work is done on a computer may benefit from a full filter in front of their screen but will likely find the colored line helper useless.
  • Students who are greatly visually impaired or blind will not find the level of assistance of a line reader useful.

Who are they made for:

Color filter reading helpers are designed primarily for the reader who has already gained independence in reading, but who needs additional tools to be truly successful.  For example the reading helpers can be helpful to the student who had early success with reading when there were fewer words on the page, but struggled to maintain single line focus as reading level increases.  Ex. the transition from story books to chapter books may be a time when the color filtered reading helpers could be used to transition a reader who is struggling.

Even those who do not have learning disabilities have found that colored filters, or Reading Helpers, made it significantly easier to read basic black and white text.  I know this because I, [Mike S.] have recently started using a yellow colored filter to help me track and read printed text easier.  It is something I have started to use because I found one lying around in my resource room and tried it out.  There have even been studies regarding the use of colored filters as a reading intervention showing that approximately 80 percent of specifically reading disabled children have an easier time reading while using a colored filter (Williams et al, 1992).  The effects have been seen from grad students to special education professionals alike, some because they use them, some because they have seen the effects, and some for both reasons.

Our very own Claire Drawe has this to say about this assistive technology:

“My name is Claire Drawe I am a graduate student at Syracuse University and were it not for colored reading helpers and colored filters I probably would not be here.  I am dyslexic and have a difficult time focusing on one line of words at a time.  Most of the time when I read without reading guides I blend words and letters from multiple lines together making it impossible for me to comprehend what I am reading.  I also suffer from chronic acute migraines which make it difficult to constantly stare at the black on white of regular texts.  For these reasons colored filters and colored reading guides are crucial to me being successful academically.  The reading guide on its own helps me to focus on one line at a time while the color tint *I like working with blue and greenish Yellow* allow my eyes some rest while I get my work done.  Line readers also allow me independence from needing a computer to read all of my texts making them an extremely practical solution.”

Other professionals in the field also have seen the effects of colored filters in the classroom:

“I am a Resource Specialist, and I have a student who could not read, no matter what program or method I tried. He has serious visual motor, visual discrimination, and visual processing difficulties. I told him that I had a magic wand, your sample strip, and it was going to help him read. He believed it, just like Dumbo’s feather, and he read to me for the very first time. The yellow made the words stand out visually, and it helped his tracking. When I showed and told his mom she cried. Actually we both did because we had tried so many different things. I thought you should know that your invention changed the life of a child, mom, and Resource Specialist. Thank you so much! I can’t wait to give him his very own ‘magic wand’.” S.B., Resource Specialist, Antioch, CA

It is very important to know that these filters come in a variety of colors, which is an important factor when considering using these with a student.  Know that some people will only respond to one or a select few colors and may respond adversely to the use of colors that make it more difficult for the user to read a text (O’connor et al, 1990) .  For this reason, when considering using this as a reading intervention, make sure you have an array of colors available for your student.  A company called reading helper ( produces a kit with 9 different colored filters to help with this process.  This company also makes helpers in a variety of sizes to help with different sized text.

The reading helper sells individual standard strips for $2.00 and the entire 9 piece set for $17.00 which is on the higher end of what they can be found for online ($0.75- $2.50), though they do have all of the most commonly found colors available: red, green, blue, yellow, pink, orange, purple, aqua and clear for students who may need line focusing help but who may not suffer from scotopic sensitivity syndrome*.   They also sell wide and long helpers for $2.00 each however they only come in blue and yellow.

What are they REALLY doing?

It is well documented that this helps students with reading, but what exactly does it effect.  Robinson and Conway (1994) found that colored filters and line readers help students with their reading rate and comprehension, but not necessarily their accuracy of the words they are reading.  in other words, students are able to understand what they are reading better (which is sort of the entire point) but are not necessarily reading all the words correctly.  As a result of this, it has also been found that students perception of themselves in school has drastically increased.  Students are now perceiving themselves as better performers in school and more capable of completing grade level work.  Moreover, students who were part of the Robinson and Conway study decreased the amount of pauses while they were reading throughout the course of the study.  Just again, be sure that the colored filter you are using works for the student (or you) who is using it.

*Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome is the name that Helen Irlen came up with to discuss what she was seeing in the individuals who benefited from colored filters.

Irlen, H. (2005). Reading by the colors, overcoming dyslexia and other reading disabilities through the irlen method. Perigee Trade
O’Connor, P. D., Sofo, F., Kendall, L., & Olsen, G. (1990). Reading disabilities and the effects of      colored filters.Journal of learning disabilities, 23(10), 597-603. doi: 10.1177/002221949002301006
Robinson, G. L., & Conway, R. N. (1994). Irlen filters and reading strategies: effect of colored filters on reading achievement, specific reading strategies, and perception of ability . Perceptual and motor skills,79(1), 467-483. doi: 10.2466/pms.1994.79.1.467
Williams, M. C., LeCluyse, K., & Rock-Faucheux, A. (1992). Effective interventions for reading disabilites. Journal of the american optometric association, 63(6), 411-417. Retrieved from


*Note: This blog post was completed by Michael Scharvella, and Claire Drawe.  This post can also be found on Claire’s blog.

Technology Based Testing: A Review

This week I would like to discuss an accommodation that I believe will better represent the learning of students who take an assessment.  I call technology based testing an accommodation and not a modification because I see this as a way to accommodate different learners, not modifying the test so it is accessible.  This adaptation provides for a written assessment to be available on a computer based program.  This program can read the test to them, use speech to text to dictate answers, and provide easier access to visuals.  There are also some issues along with this adaptation.

Now, I am all for using computer based testing more, but as with anything this does have a fair amount of issues associated with it.  The main one that I can think of is high-tech cheating.  Generally this involves accessing unauthorized information while using the computer.  This could take the form of instant messaging, email, web browsing or even using a cell phone. This can be avoided by using programs that let you monitor what is on the students screen and turning off wireless networks (Salend 2009).

Other limitations are found in the preparation and expertise with new technology, both on the part of the students and the teachers.  In other words, in order to use this students need to be proficient with computers and, in some cases, the only times students have access to a computer is when they are in school due to limited resources at home.  This also requires additional preparation on the part of the teacher to set up the testing environment and proctor the assessment.  In addition, the teacher must be prepared, an allow, a student to take a written version of the test because of the “digital divide” that exists between families that can afford to have technology in their homes and those who can not (Salend 2009).

Let me be the first to say that I am a huge proponent of the computer based testing.  I personally have taken a computer based test and a similar written test and have seen the results.  I, an individual with no labeled disabilities, had a significant increase in scores when I took the computer based teacher certification test versus the written versions.  The test could be read to me while I was taking it, it let me highlight things, there was scrap paper to write things down on, and I was able to type the essay response.  Not only did this make the test more accessible, but it made the entire process significantly less stressful.

Using computer based testing also meets many of the Principles for Universal Design.  The following table from Salend, 2009 shows the many ways technology based testing meets these principles.  How Technology Based Testing meets the Principles of Universal Design

So, after all is said and done, it is apparent that this adaptation does have some issues.  There is also a persuasive argument from many that this is a valuable tool.  I am not the only person who thinks so, but there is so much research on the topic that if still interested it is better to look it up yourself.  Either way, in the end I am sure you will find a reason either to use this or not use this.  It all depends on how you look at it.

Positive Things

This week I choose to take a different focus on things.  Instead of looking at the bad or dwelling on difficulties I am going to focus on all the good that our placements are giving us.  Now, I don’t want to make this sound like it is a challenge, there is plenty of good that happens throughout the school, but it is generally not what we focus on.  I am going to discuss three areas today: The environment, the people, and the students.

What I have found thus far is that the environment that the school creates for children is especially important to the children that attend the school.  In my placement, I am finding that the school is first and foremost a safe place for kids to be 6-7 hours a day.  It provides them 2 meals and a structured environment that they are sometimes lacking at home.  The school I am in has outdoor areas for students to eat lunch or work on projects at.  The school has banners proclaiming they have the best middle school students as well as banners with positive messages and role models on them.

It is the students that really make up the composition of the school environment, however.  The students at my school bring such a wealth of knowledge and background to everything they do that it is hard to not want to explore every one of thier questions or concerns in a class.  I mean when I teach, the students bring curiosity and complexity into everything they do.  This is different from some other schools that I have worked at in the past.  My students all have a slightly different background and, as such, bring different experiences and background knowledge to the classroom.  There are even a variety of cultures apparent in every classroom throughout the school.  It is this composition of students that makes teaching truly interesting and fun.  If it wasn’t for the kids, I wouldn’t be here.

The final piece of the puzzle that is school is the people that work there, the staff.  In the past I have mixed feelings about some of the teachers I have worked with, but it isn’t like I am going to like every person I will come across.  That being said, the staff where I am currently placed are unique and bring a variety of experience to the building.  Specifically, the team I am working with (special education) is a genuinely great group of people.  Between our cooperating teachers and the other resident teacher staff here we have made great gains in little time.  They have supported us through everything we have encountered.  The other teachers in a similar position as me have supported each other and we have formed a little bit of a family type atmosphere through the past month and a half.  There are not enough good things I can say about them.

So, what I have found this past week is that when you look at the positive side of things instead of dwelling on the negatives, the day seems to go by a little quicker, Friday seems to come a little sooner, and everything seems to go a little smoother.  Of course nothing has changed about the flow of time, it is all about how one chooses to look at it.  If you haven’t tried doing something like this before, it is well worth the time to try it now, think positive.

Universal Design for Learning: Differentiating so Everyone can Learn

This week I would like to begin by saying I am not one to complain.  It is one of the only things I hate doing more than being late.  But, being in the unique position of a student who has been in many classrooms through observations, internships, and student teaching I have seen many lessons which have one instructional goal in mind and only one or two means to get all their students there.  I too must say that I am guilty of limiting my instructional goals when I have student taught, but by the end I had evidence that I as meeting the needs of many learners by backwards design unit planning and effective assessments that address multiple intelligences.

When I go into a classroom where I still see a lecture style format with a movie once a week and a quiz or test every Friday it is disheartening.  Not only because I worry that I, too, may end up there one day, but because those kids (sometimes the kids who need it most) are not getting the education they deserve the education they need. There have been times when it has been a struggle to just get some teachers to put closed captions on their movies (that they show once a week) never mind a full lesson plan or unit plan.  It is almost comical.

The research and literature shows that proves backwards design unit planning and differentiating instruction are so important and truly contribute to the learning of all students.  I really like the essential question provided by McTighe and Brown which asks “How can teachers address required content and grade-level performance standards while still remaining responsive to individual students?”  Here are the answers I expect from so many teachers:

“Yeah! How am I supposed to do that!?”

“I am doing all I can you know, it’s not like I can accommodate for all 30 of my students in each of my 5 classes.”

I would like to tell them to use backwards design and differentiation including the multiple intelligences theory, but I am concerned that I will hear:

“We already tried that here, and it didn’t work.”

Our kids deserve this, and they deserve so much more and, like I said before it is just very disheartening to see these practices.  Especially when things can be done to help remedy it.


Your Children to My Children to Our Children

Much like any other distinguishing factor, disability can be a very powerful force in multiple directions.  On one hand you have schools like the Boston Arts Academy or the O’Hare school in Boston, MA.  Both are very successful schools at this point which appear to follow a full inclusion model.  This happened because they have leaders (principals mostly) who believe in the vision and direction of the school and  and believe it is non-negotiable.  These schools include everyone, even those with the most severe disability, and make sure that those children can do whatever it is they want.  For example there are even children in wheelchairs participating in dance classes at the Boston Arts Academy.

On the converse side of the age old argument are the schools which have tried inclusion and have failed, never to try it again.  I fear that some schools that I have been in are going to take this route.  They have tried inclusion, there have been some triumphs, but their test scores didn’t get better, their students were still not engaged, and the administration was not happy with the results.  I have not been back in that school since I saw the beginnings of their attempt at inclusion but I am fearful that it is no longer in place.  This may be because the administration didn’t hold inclusion as a non-negotiable or because they didn’t give the model enough time to really be effective, but it makes it very difficult to say if it is still in place there now.

Now when I compare to my current placement, I would like to say that I am in an inclusive school.  Well, there are “inclusive classes,” but there are also self-contained rooms and classes grouped by test scores.  So no, I am not in an inclusive school, but this place did make me think about something.  The identity of being disabled can be such a powerful, positive force for a person who has a disability.  Just the label alone can be empowering.  What most schools tend to do is give students a label to provide services and that label turns into a negative thing.  What makes that student different is never given a chance to be a positive factor in their life.  But what about at an inclusive school?  I can not say with certainty, but it seems that while disability and diversity are celebrated, the students with disability may not get to learn why their disability can be so empowering.  Perhaps this is why inclusion works some places and not others.  The schools that I mentioned earlier seem to allow students to empower themselves through their disability, other schools do not.

As it would appear I am a big proponent of inclusive schools and disability rights, and I believe this process should be learned while people are still young and malleable.  That is while their minds are still the most open.  That is why I believe it is most important to have inclusive elementary schools (and why two of the schools in the study are elementary schools), but also important to have good inclusive high schools as people learn about their disability and can rely on it as a source of strength.  Inclusion doesn’t have to be a bad thing or a dirty word, time just needs to be given to see it through and administrators need to see it as a non-negotiable.

IEPs and Accomodations

In my time teaching (which is quite limited to date) I wish I have seen what a good IEP meeting looks like.  I have seen plenty of collaboration (good and bad) and I have seen plenty of accommodations implemented (well and not so well).  I have even created some of my own accommodations and modifications, but I want to be able to see the steps leading up to the reason for accommodations and modifications.  So, given my lack of experience planning for services, I would like to talk about what I would expect when I begin going to meetings and planning for services.

The very first thing that I believe should be required is a planning phase.  That is not to say that we should just write down some things that we believe will help said student succeed, but to gather information about the student, the classroom(s) they are in, what their home life is like, social life, etc… This is quite important as if you do not know the student you can never make meaningful accommodations that will truly help them succeed in school, social interactions, and maybe even at home.  This should be a rather complex process with multiple layers embedded within. But please, do not let this simple explanation of planning trick you into thinking the planning phase is easy, it may very well be the most complex part of the process.  One must get the whole picture of a student and his or her disability with often incomplete and limited information.

Once the planning phase is complete and a meeting is scheduled it is time to begin to think of accommodations and modifications that can be used in the classroom, and school to support a given student.  Sometimes this will mean trying new things which you may find help out many of the students in a class.  as Udvari-Solner (1996) put it, “Improved classroom practice lies at the heart of inclusive educational reform, which requires significant innovation and change in daily instructional approaches.”  These changes that you make as a classroom teacher may very well lead to more inclusive teaching practices.

Once the accommodations and modifications have been thought up and tried in the classroom it is time to have a meeting, in which the parents and student should be present, to discuss what has been working and not working in the classroom and to create a plan for the student to succeed.  This plan should include goals for the student originating from student, parents, and teachers.  The conversation should continually return back to the student and his or her goals and desires and what they think they will help them as a student succeed.  This meeting is not a quick meeting, anything that the student, parents, or teachers want to say should be considered and heard.  At the end of this meeting, all the information necessary for a plan to be put in place should be outlined.

The actual making of the plan is important, but most of the hard work has been done already.  It will be important to determine where accommodations will be necessary, and where a student can succeed without them.  Many texts refer back to the point that an accommodation does not change the requirements on the student, but makes the content more accessible, much like glasses make it possible for some people to drive.

I really like the person centered planning approach for this process as it has everything refer back to the student who we are trying to help.  It ensures that the family will be active participants and also requires that the student speaks about what he or she wants.  There is no negative language, even if not everyone agrees with the goals and dreams the student sets.  This seems very important to me as if I was the one that needed accommodations then I would want to make sure my voice was heard.

The Culture of [Special] Education

If someone were to ask me a month ago if I knew why urban students were at a disadvantage, I do not know if I would be able to supply an answer that would paint anywhere near an accurate picture.  I can say now that this picture is slowly developing, much like a Polaroid picture that was just taken.

The first time you set foot in an urban school it is eye-opening.  Of course, the common script that is present in schools still exists and the standard problems that are inherent in a school setting are very alive, but there is more going on behind the scenes then one can imagine.  There is more going on here than in most other schools that you can set foot in, something subtle, yet very apparent once you recognize it.  Blanchett, Klinger, and Harry (2009) make a strong case that disparities still exist in public education and it often takes the form of segregation via cultural differences.  For example IQ tests use culturally biased language to determine special education placements which may be used to remove students of color from the general education classroom.  This can happen in any school.

When you get a change to “feel out” an urban school you will notice that students react to the adults in different ways.  This reflects a disparity in cultural capital in which students of color may not readily pick up non-verbal (and sometimes verbal) social ques given by adults who were not raised in a similar environment to the students.  This is also true the other in the sense that students have a language all their own.  If you don’t believe it try to pick up on all the slang words that are used in a hallway (or check out and really think about whether or not you know the meaning of the words being used.  You may be able to tell whether or not they should be saying the words, but do you really know the meanings?

In order for education and, in a sense, society to improve is to attempt to adopt a more inclusive approach to education.  This doesn’t just mean placing students with special needs in a general education classroom, but also placing students of different cultural backgrounds in the same classroom, school, and community.  In many urban settings, this is simply not the case.  As the Landsdown Position Paper defines inclusive education, it is the process of addressing and responding to the needs of all learners.  I have found that too often, inclusive education is just focusing on special education.  In fact, the school that I currently am in only focuses on including those with special needs, but still maintains accelerated courses for a (very) minimal population.

In fact, it is the standardized test scores from 7th grade that determine if students are eligible to take the accelerated courses (a score of 3 or 4 is the minimum). The issue comes to this; through conversations with some students, many students have the intelligence to perform on these tests and reach accelerated status, but the common wording of the test tends to be culturally biased much like the IQ tests.  Further, some students do not have the comprehension skills to understand wordy questions, but are still able to perform on math or science tests with appropriate supports.  This is pushing students further back and the “gap” will never be able to close as long as this is happening.

Given this, I believe students have certain rights, some of which are outlined in the Landsdown paper.  Of these are the right to a fair education for all students.  I believe that the studies which show that the more time students spend in the general education classroom, the more they learn.  Conversely, when students are removed from the classroom, the performance of the student is severely impacted.  I believe that students who misbehave still have a right to be in the classroom unless they are presenting an immediate danger to the other students.  If students have a right to education, then students have a right to be in the classroom here they will be afforded an opportunity to learn.  While respecting the education you receive is important, it is right to education, not just a privilege.  This is essentially protecting the right to education for all.  I should add that if the behavior being performed significantly distracts from the education of others, then the student should be removed from the class.  They do not have the right to take away from the education of others.  I have just seen too many times students being removed from class for something they have said, something that can be addressed later when their education is not at risk.

When it comes down to it, public schools have their own culture and commonality throughout schools.  What schools do not have in common are the students who attend and the teachers that teach.  These are the people who make up the climate of the school.  The students determine the culture among students and, sometimes, the attitude towards education.  The teachers determine the level of education and, sometimes, how different students are treated.  This, among many other factors, determine the level of education that students receive, and because of this people receive different levels of education leading to the gap that is apparent between urban schools and other public schools.  This gap can be fixed, but it will take remodeling of many of the educational systems we have in place.