Archive for March, 2008

Teacher Role: Reporting a Learning Disability

disney in schoolLearning is a change in behavior. Teachers understand the operation of the learning process. Senses expose the pupil to a world around them. These sensory stimuli are relayed to the brain for processing which causes altered behavior patterns. It is not just an accumulation of facts. It is an aggregation of knowledge and understanding that causes these changes in behavior. Pupils learn by doing and using as many senses as possible. A teacher stimulates a pupil’s senses to accomplish learning. Teachers are on constant alert for failure to meet the desired objectives. Failure to accomplish these goals of learning can be attributed to the teacher or pupil. In this article, a possible procedure for identifying a pupil with a learning problem is offered.

Teachers create environments. So do zoologists at the zoo and botanists at the arboretum. Learning is a common factor in all the artificial environments. Zoologists and botanists have a purpose to maintain the life of the creatures with which they work. The learning is incidental to maintaining healthy live organisms. Teachers maintain the life of their pupils but that is incidental to the main goal of learning. Healthy environments, zoological, botanical or pedagogical, have certain factors in common.

  • All organisms are alive at the beginning of the establishment of the environment.
  • There is a mutual reciprocity that creates the harmony of the environment.
  • The organisms respond to the nurturing nature of the environment.
  • Outsiders can identify the progress over time within the environment.

The classroom is the environment that the teacher creates to facilitate learning. The pupils, like the flowers or animals, fill the environment when they walk in each day alive. The interactions of the pupils orchestrated by the teacher creates the harmony of the classroom. With the activities of learning, pupils are expected to become engaged. Over a period of time, the pupils within the environment grow and mature. A beautiful botanical display or real life animal enclosure capture the visitors attention. These environments are pleasing to the senses. The classroom environment is an interactive world that stimulates senses and creates changes in behavior. The classroom environment is where learning is occurring.

Teachers observe children in their role as a pupil. Within the environment of the classroom, teachers watch for pupils who are unable to work with other pupils or fail to change in behavior or takes away from the beauty of the environment. Brains operate differently. Learning occurs in different manners. The teacher must be able to determine if a pupil is exhibiting an alternate learning pattern or if the pupil has a learning problem. If the teacher suspects there is a learning problem then it is necessary to seek assistance from the experts.

What should a teacher do when a pupil seems to be acting out or failing to learn or seems socially maladjusted? First, observe the pupil. Begin a temporary log (permanent logs are a legal term that carries legal guidelines). Date and time the behavior observed. Try to identify behaviors under different circumstances. Teachers are neither psychologist nor psychiatrist. Teachers are teachers. They are experts at learning. A log entry should note a specific description of the behavior. Logs should include observations regarding speech patterns, test/quiz scores, actions directed at other children, dress, marks, etc. The comments should be as objective and clinical as possible. “Johnny is a sexual pervert.” “Mary is a typical blond.” These are comments that should be avoided let alone be included in a log. Logging a pupil’s behavior for two weeks should be sufficient. Include the intervention that the teacher used to modify the pupil’s behavior. The log can be an added burden on a teacher’s time but it is a strongly recommended procedure to follow if the teacher suspects a pupil has a learning problem

Conferring with the Special Education consultant is the next step. Regular classroom teachers are experts at teaching approaches for the vast majority of pupils. Special Education teachers are experts at learning styles and alternate approaches to pupils who have a learning disability. Where the classroom teacher tends to focus on learning-at-a-classroom-of-pupils level, the special education teacher focuses on the individual student. They will offer advice and consul to the classroom teacher. Most school districts have an established protocol to follow in identifying pupils with learning difficulties. Special education teachers provide an important resource for the classroom teacher. Special education teachers have a magic bag of alternate interventions that they might share. Every little bit will help with the BD, LD, ADD, or whatever other monogram tag wish to be applied.

The first thing most protocols require is paperwork. The paperwork expected will include one or more of the following:

  • Basic record: birthdate, address, phone number, grade level, recent test scores, etc.
  • Reasons for referral: specific behaviors, test scores or other relevant facts should be identified.
  • Interventions strategies: date used, description, result.
  • Attendance record: types of absences, tardies, parent notes
  • Teachers log: Dates: observed behavior, etc.
  • Contact with parents: dates and results.

The following usually ensues after the teacher files the report. It could take a long time in a large school system.

  • Social worker investigation: statement on family background and situation.
  • School nurse investigation: statement regarding health condition and health history.
  • School psychologist report: test conducted, observations noted.


When everything is together, the staffing occurs. The Special Education consultant or teacher, regular education teacher, parent, school nurse, social worker, school psychologist, and school administrator gather to discuss the child. Sometimes the parents request their lawyer or some other representative to be present. This meeting should result in an Individual Education Plan (IEP). (Technically, every parent is entitled to have their child given an IEP but most schools do not inform their parents of such things.) The IEP requires both the special education teacher and the regular classroom teacher to follow the IEP. Quarterly, biannually or annually a staffing should occur to revise the IEP. The staffing also determines the least restrictive environment within which the child should be included. This could be the classroom, a special education classroom, an alternate school or a hospital. IEP-team

The least restrictive environment is the regular classroom. One of the factors that teachers must consider is the amount of time that is available to each pupil in the course of a day. In a typical day of 360 minutes of instructional time and a class of 25 pupils, the average time per pupil is about 14 minutes. This includes shared time as well as individual contact time. The more the teacher is offering class instruction,e.g., explaining the procedure for division, the less individual time available. Individual time includes such things as:

  • eye-to-eye contact when having a class discussion
  • Reinforcing directions given to entire class
  • Corrective behavior modification
  • Friendly chit-chat
  • Directing enrichment activity


The special education pupil tends to demand more time from the teacher. As a result, less time is available to other pupils. All pupils crave attention. The teacher must be able to provide that attention or the pupil learns how to get the teachers attention.

The teacher plays many roles in the classroom. An important role is the recognition of pupils with learning difficulties. The teacher must be able to appraise the situation and decide on a course of action. One course of action may result in identifying a child with a possible learning disability. Understanding the process and protocol of identifying a learning disabled child may help the teacher in understanding this important role.


March 30, 2008 at 9:00 pm 2 comments

Learning Difficulties

Genius has many dimensionsTeaching is the process of creating the most advantageous environment to facilitate learning. The teacher is the artist that designs, executes and appraises the environment. Previous posts have addressed these aspects of the teaching process. Teachers must be ever vigilant of obstacles to learning. Learning is an interactive process. That is, it involves our brain identifying sensory stimuli and processing that stimuli and then reacting to it. This is a key to understanding all theories of learning. This article deals with one of the many roles a teacher must perform: Identifying the child with special needs.

The scarecrow in the land of Oz searched for a brain. The irate mother screaming at her teenager “Use your brain!” The disappointed teacher telling the class to use their brains or it wouldn’t work.

Teachers have a general grasp of the Learning Theory. In order to appreciate the learning theories, it is important to understand the pathways of learning. A person views the surrounding world as if trapped inside a space suit. This external shell protects the tender gloo that resides inside. All the information about the world is provided through the mechanics of the senses. Eyes provide the visual sights of the world. Ears provide the sounds of that world. The nose provides the smells of that world. The nose in collusion with the tongue provide the taste of objects placed in the mouth. The skin provides the tactual feelings of the surroundings. All of these sensory devices receive a constant stream of information which is passed on to the brain. All the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings are steady flowing into the brain. The brain must sort and organize a response to the combination of all this sensory information. The response is transmitted to nerves that manage the appropriate body parts. The responses provide further stimuli that have to be processed while other responses are transmitted. It is an involved and complex process. Fortunately, teachers do not need a physician’s knowledge.

Learning is the intake of sensory data (stimuli) and processing of it. This is where Learning Theory begins. From basic education courses, some learning theories might spark a recall: Constructivism, Developmental Theory, Learning Styles, Multiple Intelligences, Social Cognition and so on. The processing of the input is the essence of Learning Theory. Any interference with the sensory input will affect learning regardless of the learning theory followed.

Learning difficulties can be categorized into five groups of malfunction: Sense organ, sensory transmission, processing , response pathways, motor organ. These failures of the nervous system can be minor or major and temporary or permanent. Minor, temporary conditions might be as minor as a cold. The runny nose interferes with the senses of odor and taste. The same running nose may cause the pupil to be more concerned about wripping his nose that listening to class activity. A major permanent condition might be an individual who is blind or mental handicapped.

Today’s teacher must be aware of disruptions in the brain’s processing system. The teacher will need to be able to sort the minor problems from the major and the temporary from the permanent. Teachers cannot be expected to be experts in identifying all the learning blocks that face pupils but teachers do need to be able to recognize when a difficulty exists. The teacher will also need to decide just how serious the problem is. School districts usually have protocols for identifying and testing suspected learning challenged pupils. The protocol most often originates with the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher bears the responsibility for the “front line” recognition of a problem that needs further study and intervention.

In this case, the teacher’s role is to flag the potential problem. Identification of the problem is left for others. The teacher follows the protocol, notifies the right people and provides the assistance as requested. Subsequent testing may include eye or hearing tests, neurological workup, EGG, MRI, physical exam, psychological profile, etc. The teacher doe not make a diagnosis! The teacher identifies a possible problem that may need further investigation. That is the extend to which teachers can proceed. Conversations with parents must be carefully framed so as not to prejudice any needed mental or physical tests nor create any greater anguish than is necessary.

March 28, 2008 at 12:28 am Leave a comment

Homeschooling and California

The Department of Children and Family Services charged a California homeschoolfamily with violating the state’s requirement that children be enrolled in a school. The parents appealed the decision. Lawyers representing the two youngest children argued that California law requires that children be enrolled in a public or private school or be taught at home by a certified tutor. (#1) The court ruled against the parent’s to homeschool their children. This has caught the national attention and focused it on homeschooling across the United States.

Parents choose to home school for a variety of reasons. The most prevalent appears to be the fundamental Christians who desire to have their child raised within the beliefs of the parents. These parents point to state curriculum that mandate the teaching of evolution, the use of prophylactics, issues of sexuality concerns and a string of other concerns. Other parents express concerns over safety, social contact, health issues and poor teachers as their reasons to homeschool. There is also the a general concern that schools do not do the job. It is a constant topic in the news media and the political arena. Parents want a good education for their children and if the schools are not doing it then the parent will do it.

The state expresses a concern that the homeschooled child is lacking the state mandated goals. They feel that parents are incapable to provide the education of their children. The parents are unqualified. The solution is simple. All children must attend a state school or a school sanctioned by the state. It is in the best interest of the community.

Homeschooling is not a new concept but it has captured the nation’s attention in the past decade. There are estimates that claim over one million children are being homeschooled now and that number is growing. California alone accounts for an estimated 160,000 children.

There are thirty or more states that specifically address the homeschooling issue. California is not one of them. California law states that students must be enrolled in either a public or private school or can be taught at home by a credentialed tutor. California has rarely enforced the issue. According to the recent ruling of the California courts, “Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.” This ruling applies only to California.

However, homeschooling is under attack in other states. Nebraska is attempting to pass restrictions on homeschoolers; one bill would require all homeschooled children to score at least in the 50th percentile on state standardized test. Failure to so would result in requiring enrollment in a public or private school. In Tennessee and Mississippi, the legislators are considering a bill that would require homeschooled children to take state mandated tests that are required by all Tennessee public school students. Wisconsin has shut down an Internet school used by a number of homeschoolers in an attempt to regulate the homeschool. (#2)

There is a legitimate argument here. If a parent feels that the curriculum mandated by a local school does not meet their approval, can the parents then choose to homeschool there child? Since state tests are based on state curriculum that the parents disagree with, should the child be forced to take state tests? As mandates have moved away from local districts to state oversight and now the federal regulations, the parents are less able to influence the curriculum as much as once upon a time. A local school district might serve a community of 2000 people. The state may have 12 million. The nation has a population of is 282 million. One voice in the local community might be heard. That same voice in the state is a whisper and in the nation it is a silence.

At what point does the government overstep it authority to mandate the local authority of controlling its own curriculum? The US constitution guarantees each of its citizens in the 10th amendment:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Since not a word about education is spoken in the US constitution, that power then rests with the state and the people. Most states delegate authority for local schools to school boards in local communities. AND TO THE PEOPLE!

#1 From the Los Angeles Times March 6, 2008(,0,7343621.story)
Ruling seen as a threat to many home-schooling families

#2 Home-Schoolers, Under New Scrutiny, Pushing Back
By Lesli A. Maxwell . Education Weekly. March 12, 2008.

March 19, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Showtime: The Lesson

LessonPlanBesides relating to the pupils, planning is the single most important aspect of teaching. Teachers plan. As stated in other posts, teachers eat, drink and dream planning. Good planning anticipates events and landmarks that the teacher uses to guide the pupils toward the goal. The wise and experienced teacher allows pupils to think that it was they who chose this course and discover this goal. Good planning eliminates 85% of classroom discipline problems. Poor planning creates frustration and disillusionment about teaching.

Keep in mind the the three sections of a lesson plan. The introduction, the Showtime and the applause. Teaching is very much like acting. The teacher is an artist. Teachers create the atmosphere in the classroom. The teacher must charm the pupil at times, chastise them at other times but always with a genuine concern. The teacher paints a picture. The teacher is dramatic and comic. The teacher puts on a performance each and every day. High School teachers give up to five performances day. Like Broadway plays, the show is live and has an audience. Unlike the Broadway audience who has paid for their seats, the teacher’s audience is filled with a hostile crowd who would rather be somewhere else.

The Introduction is the hook. It is what will capture the classroom audience’s attention and create an interest in today’s show. Motivation is an important factor that seems to have been shelved over the past few years. The pupil has to see the relevancy of the lesson in order for them to become involved. This section should be short. A question, a picture, a few words on the board- the idea is to stir interest and lay the ground work for the lesson. It is vital at this point to have the pupil’s attention. The rest of lesson is lost unless the teacher captures their attention. Teachers must control what happens in the classroom. Control means to be conscious of all activity and direct that activity into the lesson. It all begins here.

Pupils learn by doing. If the teacher’s sole activity is to listen to a monologue, expect the audience to rebel or repose. Attention span is an issue that must be realized before the activity begins. This is part of the anticipation of planning. Each age level has an anticipated attention span. Lecture or direction giving are important parts of teaching because pupils learn to listen and it develops increases in attention span.But… Every thing the teacher does in class should have some purpose and it should be directed toward learning. Thinking about what to do and how to do it: These are all parts of the anticipation teachers need. Following the theme from the last post (From Instrument to Instruction), Scientific methods and its state standard will be one of the driving goals of this class. (Also listening is a constant skill being practiced as is social skill development.) As the students enter the room, two potted plants are on display. The board reads “One plant was grown in light and one was grown in the dark. The seed was planted one week ago. (Remember when so-and-so did such and such.) Which one was in the light? What lead you that answer?”

Introduction has captured students attention. Three purposes are served. 1) The students have some thing to occupy them as they enter the room. (Classroom Management Skill!) 2) Previous learning and activity is tapped. (Learning is a thread. Learning continually builds on previous learning.)and 3) The day’s activity is on display alerting the pupils to today’s lesson.

During this short Introduction period, the teacher can accomplish the paperwork issues such as attendance. (Classroom Management Skill). It is important that teacher do not allow this time to go beyond a few minutes. Too much time results in loss of attention and that results disciplinary problems.

Showtime is the main event. Get the hat and cane! Its “song and dance” time. Following the thread of the plan: As the Introduction phase ends, the teacher points to plant A. Quietly raises his hand. Pupils figure it out and raise their hands. Plant B do likewise. The teacher points to the “What lead you to the answer portion?” The teacher points to someone who had raised their hand for Plant A and Then B. You get the idea. (It’s the teachers decision to try a silent routine).The teacher watches the clock. This phase cannot run too long. It’s purpose is to show that there is a difference of opinion and to allow the expression of thought. (It also helps to reinforce large group social behavior). Notice the teacher has yet to speak a word. At this point the teacher can verbally explain the next activity or, as in this case, hand out a set of instructions and point to the back. Groups having been established earlier and routine for moving from one area to another already established, the students aware of the routine amble to the tables in the back of the room. (Or if the classroom does not have a back of the room, the teacher would have established a routine of turning desk and forming a group circle.) This show is the bulk of the lesson. The teacher must be aware of time. Having planned and anticipated various factors that should occur or could occur, the teacher moves the pupils through the activities expected.

The group is asked to write a single simple sentence to explain how Plant A or B developed the way it did. (Hopefully the language arts teachers have done their job or it’s a good time to interweave subjects together). Then they are to write a paragraph to explain what they would need to do in order to prove that their simple statement is correct. Each student will be responsible for his or her own work but they can discuss and get assistance from the group. They can even as a group design the same statement and paragraph. But each pupil should then turn In their paper. (Accountability is important. IT’S A C.M.S.)!

Time for Applause. The teachers should use whatever established routine for turning in paperwork. For example, one pupil in each team collects papers and turns them in reporting who did not do it! As the pupils take their seats, the teacher has replaced the original questions with the following:

<What do the following terms have to do with today’s work?>

/\/\/\/\Hypothesis? Experiment? Data?/\/\/\/\

Students are called on randomly.For each response, ask class to agree or disagree or modify. After having gone through the three terms, end the class by asking:

<<<<<<< And where do you suppose we go from here?>>>>>>>>

The teacher needs to watch time carefully at this point. Drag out or keep short so that the teacher dismisses the class and not the bell.

The teacher’s mind is assessing his lesson. Did the teacher do what was planned? Were the methods (plants, quiet questions, groups, etc.) effective? What else went well? What else went awry? How can it be improved? Based on these assessments the teacher evaluates the lesson: Good lesson, Needs Improvement, Dump the lesson. Time to move on! There is always tomorrow to think of!

March 5, 2008 at 5:30 am Leave a comment

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