Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Working Together: What Teachers Can Learn from Parents

Effective strategies for communication between teachers and families often begin with questions regarding the parent and student perspectives on strengths, areas for growth, and goals. Within college-level coursework, pre-service teachers learn what questions to ask, but don’t have the opportunity to hear actual responses. In order to offer such an opportunity to pre-service teachers, the College of Education, in collaboration with the Jones Center for Special Education Excellence, sponsors an event each semester focused on promoting teacher communication and collaboration with students with differing abilities and their families.

The event, Navigating Life with Differing Abilities: A family and student perspective, includes a panel made up of individuals and families with diagnoses including Spina Bifida, Asperger’s Syndrome, Chromosomal Abnormality, and Intellectual Disability. Pre-service teachers taking SPECED 358: Methods of Instruction will learn about the families' perspectives as the panelists answer questions including:

  1. How has the presence of a disability affected your family dynamic? 
  2. How do teachers and school staff communicate with you? What methods/strategies are most effective? 
  3. During IEP meetings, what was done/what do you wish was done to make you feel like part of the team? 
  4. What role do you think teachers can play in encouraging peer interactions? 

Following the questions, the audience of pre-service teachers may ask additional questions or follow up on previous statements. In a questionnaire provided before and after the fall semester event, the pre-service teachers indicated they felt more confident about their ability to communicate with parents and students after participating in the event. Student comments included, “[I need to be] always communicating with parents and treating them as equals” and “This panel discussion really helped [me] understand how much an educator can affect the student, parents, and family members.”
— Brooke Lylo, Assistant Professor Exceptionality Programs

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Including Learners with Low-Incidence Disabilities

Inclusive practices are at the cornerstone of what we share with students as they prepare to work with diverse groups of children in schools. Drs. Robin Drogan and Darlene Perner, Department of Exceptionality Programs, College of Education, published a chapter, Facilitating Systems of Support, in the book Including Learners with Low-Incidence Disabilities.

This book, Volume 5 in the International Perspectives on Inclusive Education series, brings a global perspective to a topic that is not often covered: supports for students with low-incidence disabilities. Drogan and Perner’s chapter highlights the major features necessary to facilitate inclusive education for students with low-incidence disabilities. Some of the features include: values and beliefs, rights, relationships, a sense of belonging, effective practices, and school community and culture. They focus on quality implementation of effective instruction and strong collaborative practices. Teachers are central to the creation of change in schools. When teachers create systems to embrace all children, we can succeed in sustained inclusion of students with low-incidence disabilities.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Brag Tags

During my first student teaching placement, I developed a Positive Behavior Support system called “Brag Tags” for use with my fourth-grade students. The target behaviors selected for the Brag Tag system were homework completion and appropriate class participation. Initially, my students struggled with turning in homework on time, as well as maintaining on-task behavior during classroom instruction.

I designed three types of tags: academic tags, behavior tags, and a birthday tag. The academic tags promoted homework completion and participation during instruction. The behavior tags reinforced positive behavior throughout the school day. The birthday tag was a formal and fun way of recognizing students on their special day. The tags were printed, cut out, laminated, and hole-punched. When a student earned one, they were provided a tag to put on their necklace. Earned tags would hang on the bulletin board for all to see throughout the day.

With the assistance of my cooperating teacher, we established clear expectations for earning a Brag Tag. We often reviewed classroom expectations with the students. This was necessary for both students and teachers to ensure the students’ behavior was worthy of a tag. Students could not request a tag nor point out behaviors of others that they deem to be worthy of a tag.

At the end of the month, students could take their necklaces and the Brag Tags they earned home to show to their families.

The Brag Tag bulletin board was set up in front of the classroom so students could monitor their progress throughout the day. The board was the first thing they could see when they walked in the classroom. It was big, visual and accessible for students to use. Each student had his or her own classroom number, by which they identified their necklace.

Students could earn a tag at any point during the day, but they could only put tags on their necklaces during transition times (i.e. between classes, before lunch or recess).

By the second week of the system’s implementation, most of my students turned in their homework assignments. Students demonstrated an increase in active engagement and on-task behavior by volunteering in class, completing assignments, and minimizing chatter.  Because it was concrete and visual, it was easy for students and teachers to get a sense of student progress on the targeted behaviors.  This also became a major boost to classroom climate.  I especially liked that even students who were usually withdrawn and never raised their hand began to interact more readily.  In my classroom, the Brag Tags were a huge success!

— Kori McManus, Student Teacher

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Benefits of Play on Whole Child Development

Today, many decisions impacting children focus exclusively on their cognitive development or development from the neck up. However, developmental experts Patricia Weissman and Joanne Hendrick endorse a whole child perspective that pictures the child as being made up of five distinct selves – cognitive, creative, emotional, physical, and social. This developmental domain approach underscores essential elements across multiple environments that children need in order to thrive. One of these essential elements is play, and recent research supports the benefits of play on whole child development.

Interactive exploratory experience, both features of play in unstructured social environments, enhance cognitive understandings. According to Anthony Pellegrini, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, different types of play foster social competence. That includes respect for rules, self discipline, aggression control, problem-solving skills, leadership development, conflict resolution, and playing by the rules.

When provided with frequent opportunities to play, children develop self-determination, self-esteem, and the ability to self regulate – all vital elements of emotional development. Active physical play builds strength, coordination and cardiovascular fitness and moderates childhood obesity and its associated health complications. Children engaging in pretend play exhibit a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity across the lifespan. 

In Bloomsburg University’s College of Education, we value these play interactions. We are lucky to have on staff Dr. Michael Patte, who has a number of publications which focus on play. Most recently, Dr. Patte and some colleagues published the book International Perspectives on Children's Play with Open University Press. Dr. Patte also recently penned a piece on the decline of unstructured play for the National Toy Industry.

Weissman and Hendrick (2013)
Action for Healthy Kids (2008)
Pellegrini (2009)
Barros et al. (2009)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010)
Russ & Fiorelli (2010)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rethinking ASL Concepts

Guest speaker Betty Colonomos and BU faculty
Jessica Bentley-Sassaman and  Kristin Lizor
Rethinking ASL Concepts Betty Colonomos, a pioneer in the field of interpreting, came to BU on Oct. 24 and 25 as part of StreetLeverage’s StreetTour Series. StreetLeverage is an organization geared toward the promotion of innovative ideas that will lead to a positive change in the field of American Sign Language (ASL)/English Interpreting. The StreetTour is specifically designed to introduce sign language interpreters to contemporary thinking, concepts and ideas that will assist them in reflecting upon, and being more consciousness of, the decisions they make in their daily work. The goal of these tours is provide thought-provoking lectures and interaction that help practitioners and students rethink how they view themselves and their role as professionals and as members of both their local deaf and sign language interpreter community.

This event, Self-Sabotage: How Do Interpreters Prevent Fear from Creating Indecision? was partially funded by the College of Education’s Special Initiative Fund, the Pennsylvania chapter of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and Sign Language Interpreting Professionals. This training was conducted in ASL by all participants and attended by a mix of interpreting students, pre-certified and certified interpreters, and a deaf interpreter.

The training offered an introspective look at how interpreters sabotage themselves through negative self-talk. As interpreters, there is an expectation of perfection, even though research has proven simultaneous interpretations (which is not “simultaneous,” but a few seconds behind the speaker) is about 87 percent accurate (Russel, 2005, p. 151).

For one activity, groups formed according to experience: seasoned, experienced, or new/student. It was interesting to see that fears about mistakes during interpretation are the same for members of all three groups. This realization helped participants understand that all interpreters have similar fears, no matter how many years they have been in the field.

The goal of this introspection and the thought-provoking activities that followed was to reconsider the decision-making process and use the knowledge to provide high-quality interpreting services for the deaf community. The training also focused on how we can build communities through communicating with one another. This training was astounding and Betty Colonomos is a great presenter who makes interpreters reconsider their approach to interpreting.

Students who attended the event wrote about their experiences:

I really enjoyed being in this workshop with fellow students as well as interpreters with varying years of experience. This workshop opened to my eyes to the fears and anxieties that are present in our occupation. Betty created a safe atmosphere where participants were encouraged to analyze the root of their anxieties and how to utilize different controls to subdue them. The small group discussions and hands-on activities were also beneficial. Mrs. Colonomos promoted positive change within the interpreting community; we should strive to support and encourage each other. As a student, I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop because of the advice, critical thinking, and support from everyone involved. — Cassidy Sangrey ’16. 
The StreetLeverage Workshop that was held on October 24 and 25, 2015 was a wonderful experience! I thoroughly enjoyed working with different people with different backgrounds and learning from them as the workshop leader, Betty Colonomos. The workshop focused on discussing our fears and self-sabotage. It was interesting to learn that both new and experienced interpreters shared similar fears. — Betsy Lacey ’16. 

This innovative training was as beneficial for new interpreters as it was for experienced interpreters and an all-around amazing experience. It was engaging mentally as interpreters were challenged to rethink their approaches, rethink how they make decisions and communicate with their teammates, and rethink how to incorporate the deaf community into the decision making.

— Jessica Bentley-Sassaman

Russell, D. (2005). Consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. In T. Janzen (Ed.), Topics in signed language interpreting (pp. 135-364). Philadelphia, PA: Jon Benjamins.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Regional STEM Education Center: Teaching the Teacher

Planning is underway for the second annual STEM Teacher Academy to be held during summer 2016 at Bloomsburg University. The academy’s first session gave regional PreK-12 teachers new skills for their classrooms, with a focus on developing strategies to infuse Inquire-Based Teaching (IBT) into their science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum. Sixteen teachers from 11 regional school districts participated in this intensive training, which was a collaborative effort between Dr. Todd Hoover, associate professor for Teaching and Learning and course instructor, and Dr. Kimberly Bolig, director of the Regional STEM Education Center, as the enrollment, logistics and facility coordinator.

The teachers spent the first week of the academy at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, recognized as one of America’s best programs for educators. Its professional programs are Act 48-approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Dr. David Smith, senior director of science and strategic initiatives for the Da Vinci Science Center and recipient of the National Science Teachers Association’s Distinguished Informal Science Educator in 2014, and Ms. Karen Knecht, director of education and exhibits at the Da Vinci Science Center since 2010, comprised the center’s professional development team. Participants in the STEM Teacher Academy were trained using IBT curriculum developed by San Francisco’s Exploratorium Teacher Institute. They interacted with exhibits, engaged in hands-on classroom activities, and shared teaching strategies. Dr. Hoover oversaw the week of training and coordinated information with the rest of the course.

Dr. Hoover continued to instruct participants in IBT methodology through the creation of lesson plans and curriculum during the second week of the academy, held on BU’s campus. In addition, the participants received a full day of training on The Power of Micromessages, provided by National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE). Micromessages are defined as conscious and unconscious words and actions, such as facial expressions, gestures or tone of voice that, over time, can affect students’ self-concept or self-efficacy and influence career choice. NAPE developed a research-based professional development program for educators that employs micromessages to improve classroom pedagogy and increase the enrollment, retention, performance, and completion of underrepresented students in nontraditional careers. This inclusive professional development solution is designed to help educators address specific school needs related to equitable learning environments, student academic success and readiness to pursue high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand careers.

In evaluations conducted at the end of the STEM Teacher Academy, participants expressed appreciation for the academy’s organization, content level, and professional development opportunity. One participant stated it was “definitely one of the best professional development experiences I’ve had.” Additional evaluation was provided through student reflection papers. Students were graded on their ability to incorporate IBT into their curriculum through their final project and received three college credits from BU upon successful completion of the academy.

Bloomsburg University and the Regional STEM Education Center received a grant from the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation to partially cover the cost for the Teacher STEM Academy.

 — Kimberly Bolig, Director, Regional STEM Education Center 
and Todd Hoover, Associate Professor, Teaching and Learning

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

McDowell Institute: What is Mental Health First Aid for Youth?

BU’s McDowell Institute is becoming increasingly involved with Mental Health First Aid – Youth, both on campus and statewide through its membership with the Community of Practice on School-based Behavioral Health (CoP SBBH).

Mental Health First Aid – Youth (MHFA-Y) is help offered to a person (in this case a youth) developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. MHFA-Y is provided until appropriate treatment and support are received or until the crisis is resolved. MHFA-Y is not a substitute for counseling, medical care, peer support or treatment.

 In Pennsylvania, a process has been established for training to become certified in MHFA-Y, similar to credentialing in first aid through the American Red Cross. This training to receive a certificate as a mental health first aider is eight hours in length.
There is also an established process for someone to become a credentialed instructor in MHFA-Y, requiring one full week of intensive training. The process has numerous, required fidelity/treatment integrity metrics relevant to training after one is credentialed as an instructor in MHFA-Y. Schools across the Commonwealth are increasingly exploring training and credentialing of teachers and other school staff to meet the Act 71requirements associated with suicide prevention.

MHFA-Y is an offshoot of Mental Health First Aid for Adults. It is considered an evidence-based program by numerous federal-level entities, including the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The Community of Practice on School-based Behavioral Health (CoP SBBH) is a statewide community of cross-sector stakeholders and leaders who share a commitment to the advancement of early childhood, school age and adult behavioral health and wellness. The CoP SBBH supports children, youth, families, schools and community partners through development of comprehensive early childhood and school-based behavioral health support systems.

 This is carried out to overcome non-academic barriers to learning so all children and youth can successfully transition into adulthood. Current focus of the CoP SBBH is on:

  1. Promoting implementation and sustainability of evidenced-based multi-tiered systems of supports (PBIS);
  2. Promoting integration of evidence-based programming into decision-making frameworks (e.g. situating mental health EBPs within the PBIS framework); and
  3. Fostering and leveraging articulated and robust school-community partnerships. 

The CoP SBBH believes it will have been successful when children, youth, families, educational entities and community agencies have access to services, supports, training, technical assistance, and collaborative opportunities that ensure academic and emotional/social success for all. The CoP SBBH operates the Affiliated Network of PBIS Facilitators (Trainers) in Pennsylvania and is in the process of organizing a parallel Affiliated Network of MHFA-Y Trainers in Pennsylvania.

 To learn more about MHFA-Y, along with other kindred evidence-based approaches to address non-academic barriers to learning, contact McDowell Institute at .

 By Tim Knoster, co-director, McDowell Institute