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The Power Behind The Pencil


Written expression is often times one of the hardest areas for a student with learning disabilities to tackle successfully.  As it is, students with learning disabilities may have difficulties formulating oral language, never mind written language.  Due to these struggles, formulating their oral language into written language can be seen as an almost unattainable task.  When students are writing, not only do they have to create a complete sentence into writing, but while they are writing, they have to remember tons of rules, otherwise known as writing conventions.  So, not only do they have to formulate thoughts into writing, but they also have to remember capitals, punctuation marks, appropriate grammar, and complete sentences.  Talk about overload!!!


 George Hillocks came up with some research based writing strategies to help our struggling writers:

            Grammar in Context

            Free Writing

            Sentence Combining


            Scales/ Rubrics/ Criteria


 Hillocks describes Grammar in Context as grammar “taught in the context of student writing.  Grammar exercises separated from student work does not improve writing.”  Students with learning disabilities need to be able to make connections and link skills.  In order for students to make sense of a skill, it should be applied and worked on within their actual writing.  An instructional suggestion that Hillocks makes about grammar in context is that “error correction should be made based on student work, not on grammar exercises disconnected from student work.”  He also noted that it is important to first focus on what the students actually understand versus their grammar errors.  After students errors are identified, they should then be able to fix their work independently. 


Free writing is a beneficial strategies to all students.  This strategy helps “to improve student’s fluency in writing, but should not be the only component of a writing program.”  (Hillock)  I find free writing to be extremely beneficial with my students.  The students are given a topic and asked to write anything they want about it for 5 minutes.  After the 5 minutes are up, they then count up the number of words they wrote and graph it.  The students are able to immediately see their improvements in their writing fluency and it also works as a great influence to increase student writing.  In addition, students are not graded on this writing which allows them to focus on the content as opposed to writing conventions.  Hillock makes instructional implications as “frequent use of short free writing/ quick write exercises should be used when focusing on fluency.  They (teachers) can help convince students they are writers, and can use writing as a tool for thinking.” (Hillock)


Sentence combining is another strategy that Hillock recommends based on research.  This strategy allows students to notice patterns in sentence fluency building on their writing.  Students are asked to combine a series of short sentences into sentences that are longer and more complex.  Having students attack this strategy allows for an improved quality in their writing as well.   


I find Hillocks strategy of modeling to be an extremely powerful tool for teachers to use with their students.  Modeling allows for students to see writing examples from their teacher throughout the writing process.  They are presented with clear models so that they can see what they should be producing.  Many of the teachers I work with use this strategy often with all students and I have found this to be one of the most effective.  Not only do students have a visual representation of what their piece will look like when they’re finished, but I have found that it also clarifies the objective and gains student interest.  Hillock suggests that the pieces/ models be produced by a professional, a teacher, a whole class product, or an individual student.  As I mentioned, I feel the teacher product is the most powerful.


Scales, rubrics, and criteria are other strategies that have been researched to “improve student achievement in writing.”  (Hillock)  When students are given scales, rubrics, or criteria they have “clear targets and goals in mind while they write.  They should understand the criteria for success for each assignment they write.”  (Hillock)  I find this strategy to be extremely beneficial, but for older students.  I have mixed feelings about this strategy because I feel that younger students (K-2/3) are often overwhelmed and confused by this strategy.  On the flipside, there are some students who need this structure and guideline to assist them.  So, I feel this strategy is useful depending on the student. 


Lastly, Hillock suggests inquiry as a writing tool.  “When students see writing as an inquiry- based process, their writing achievement improves.” (Hillock)  He also suggests that students seeing themselves as writers and the choices that they would make as a writer. 



Though there are many research based strategies to help struggling writters, they are not a ‘one- size fits all.’  Each strategy should be used based on the individual student.  Students who are visual learners as well as existential and intrapersonal learners may benefit most from the ‘modeling’ strategy.  It is a final product they can see, produced by their teacher and something they can relate too.  Scales, rubrics, and criteria work best for students who require constant structure and expectations made clear.  Freewriting strategy may work best with students with anxiety with writing.  This strategy allows them to express themselves without being graded.  The strategy also allows the existential and intrapersonal learners benefit.  They can express their feelings and ideas freely without being judged/ graded. 


Writing is a powerful skill and we need to make sure we’re providing the most beneficial tools to attain and be successful with this skill. 



Hillock, G. (n.d.). Research-Based Instructional Strategies in Writing                 Instruction. Research-Based Instructional Strategies in Writing Instruction. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from www.michiganreading.org

Hillocks, G. (1995). Teaching Writing As Reflective Practice: Integrating Theories (Language and Literacy Series (Teachers College Pr)). New York: Teachers College Press.



Interesting video..

Is Technology Killing Handwriting?

Brainpop activities on writing..


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I can read it, but I don’t get it

       Imagine reading a book..

no, not a book.. imagine reading a chapter..

hmmm, forget that.. imagine reading a paragraph..

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no, no.. that’s too much.. what about this, imagine reading a sentence and not understanding any of it.. at all.  Can you imagine the frustration?  The disappointment?  The confusion?  Talk about annoying!  Well, welcome to the life of many of our students with learning disabilities.  They have successfully tackled the skill of being able to read (which they thought was impossible) and now they have to actually understand what they’re reading… but how does that happen?

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        Having comprehension of what you read can be a difficult and tedious task to be successful at if you can’t read.  Students who struggle with decoding and reading fluently often struggle with their reading comprehension.  Their brains are working carefully to decode and these students often lose meaning of what it is they are reading.  For the students who cannot read or struggle with reading, there are many programs available to assist them.  Books on CD’s, Kurzweil, and Dragon Read are just a few programs that can assist students with comprehension.  The students who are able to read need strategies to improve their reading comprehension.See full size image


      According to the National Reading Panel (www.nationalreadingpanel.org), they have completed extensive literature reviews and studies since the 80’s allowing them to identify seven categories of text comprehension instruction that are supported by research.  The seven categories are as follows: (Bender and Larkin, 2009)

Comprehension monitoring, where readers learn how to be aware of their understanding of the material. 

 Cooperative learning, where students learn reading strategies together. 

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 Use of graphic and semantic organizers (including story maps), where readers make graphic representations of the material to assist comprehension. 

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Question answering, where readers answer questions posed by the teacher and receive immediate feedback. 


Question generation, where readers ask themselves questions about various aspects of the story. 

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 Story structure, where students are taught to use the structure of the story as a means of helping them recall story content to answer questions. 


Summarization, where readers are taught to integrate ideas and generalize from the text information.”  (Bender and Larkin)

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     “Research shows that explicit teaching techniques are particularly effective for comprehension strategy instruction.”  (www.readingrockets.org/article/3479 )  With explicit teaching techniques, teachers explain to students why they’re using the strategies they are using and for what purpose.  This explanation allows students to gain a better knowledge of their learning as well as feel a part of the process.  It is crucial for students to understand why they are doing something.  An important piece to learning these strategies is teacher demonstration or modeling.  Given the struggles that students with learning difficulties face, scaffolding these strategies plays a large role in students actually becoming successful with the strategies.  As the students begin to demonstrate mastery and understanding of their new strategy, the teacher can pull away allowing students to become independent with the task.  The NRP also suggests that “reading comprehension strategies should be taught in combination as multiple strategies.”  (Bender and Larkin)

            Students who have the ability to decode, but struggle from comprehension need to be given strategies to become successful readers.  Many students read paragraph after paragraph, but are not able to pull out any information and understanding from their reading.  Some students process information differently, “have difficulty with input or receiving information,” (Bender and Larkin) while “others get the information into the brain, but then have processing problems once the information is there.  Still others get the information into the brain and process it appropriately, but have problems with output or expressing the information in oral or written form.”  (Bender and Larkin)

            As educators, I do not think that we always realize and completely understand the troubles that our special education students face on a day to day and minute by minute case.  We need to be able to supply them with strategies that give them the opportunity to become better learners.  Without having the knowledge of these strategies and how to teach them to our students is a disservice to their education.  In a sense, I feel it is also a disservice to ourselves because we never truly see what our students are capable of and what amazing things they have to offer our world.

Work Cited:

Adler, C.R.. “Seven Strategies to Teach Students Text Comprehension.”     ReadingRockets: Reading Comprehension & Language Arts TeachingStrategies for Kids. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2010. <http://www.readingrockets.org>.

Bender, William Neil, and Martha J. Larkin. Reading Strategies for Elementary Students With Learning Difficulties: Strategies for RTI. Second Edition ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009. Print. (http://www.corwin.com/booksProdDesc.nav?prodId=Book231057)




(Reading Difficulties) Is Your Child Overwhelmed? Too Much Text on a Page

02:04 -10 months ago youtube.com

Sometimes your child just looks at the page and the words and letters look overwhelming. You even see the pain in their face. What do you do? Watch this video on youtube.com This video cannot be played here. Watch it on youtube.com.

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Destination Math… A fun, interactive math intervention!





                    Riverdeep Destination Math                       

          Given the large amount of students that I work with for math, trying to find a routine that worked was tricky… until I met Riverdeep. I know, I know, it sounds cliché, but it’s a great program that has not only helped the structure of how I run my math groups, but has also helped my students. I have 11 students every other day for math support. Eleven kids in a small classroom with abilities ranging from kindergarten to third grade was getting a little tricky. My district installed Riverdeep Destination Math onto our computers and ran a brief training for teachers. Riverdeep is “one of the fastsest growing education software in the United States.” (web.riverdeep.net) The Riverdeep Destination Math program is a computer based program that I use in my classroom on a weekly basis. It is a strong intervention tool that aligns with the state standards. Destination Math is a program that was created by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is varied and provides support from K- 12.

      Due to the complexity and the overwhelming amount of information for each grade, I’m going to discuss the program and how it applies to me and my second and third grade students rather than give a brief overview of the entire program. This will (hopefully) provide for a better idea of what the program can provide. Knowing that eleven kids for a math support group is crazy, I created centers in my classroom to get the best bang for my buck. Given that I had the training for Destination Math and now had the program installed on my four computers, a computer center was my first group to get rolling smoothly. Destination Math allows me to choose lessons and tests that are appropriate for each individual student. If a student is having difficulty in a specific area, I can identify that area, assign a pretest, and then assign lessons to support the difficult area. All the lessons and test material align with Massachusetts State Standards, which is a major help to teachers. For example, if I have a second grade student who struggles with money, I can go into Destination Math, choose the MA standard(s) that address money, and assign the Destination Math lessons that teach and discuss money. Personally, I would only use this program as an intervention and not in place of a core curriculum. The program is 100% kid friendly. The program is cartoon- like with a robot, Digit, who is the instructor throughout all lessons. The program provides students with access to their multiple intelligences honing in on both visual and auditory learning. Not only does it focus in on this, but I find that my students gain confidence in themselves because it is a task they are accomplishing independently. Not only are they independent, but they’re enjoying math! Special education students who are non- readers or struggling readers are able to be independent because Digit reads everything to the students allowing them to successfully participate.

      A sample view of lessons         

       Aside from being a great hit with the students, I feel it’s a great hit for special educators. Why? Well, first off, this program is great for collecting data. For each pretest, the teacher is given a breakdown of what the students answered correctly and incorrectly. Not only is the teacher able to see the correct and incorrect answers the student provides, but the program also provides the teacher with what the state standard is that correlates with the questions the students answer. After a pretest and lessons are assigned and completed, the teacher can then assign a post test to see what progress has been made. Teachers can provide the exact post test as pretest, or the teacher can create a new test that still covers the same information, just presenting it differently. This data is useful in many ways. It can be useful when completing progress reports, when presenting information at an annual review or three- year re-evaluation, when conferencing with a parent, when conferencing with the general education teacher, and when creating an IEP.  Aside from the teacher friendly tools, the information and lessons that are provided to the students are thorough and simple.  Students are able to follow and complete lessons independently.  To give you a brief idea of what the student encounters, I’ll use one of my second grade students as an example.  This student is working towards identifying money and counting money as one of her goals (she is a second grader).  Knowing that the student has an objective, which focuses on money, I can enter the program (as the teacher) and assign a pretest on money (based on the MA state standards for grade 2 math).  After the lesson, I am able to go into the program, choose a lesson and then assign it.  The student will then be given a lesson on money (according to the MA state standards for grade 2 math).  After the student completes the lesson, they are then given an opportunity to complete a workout and then a practice.  The lessons and practices typically last a half an hour, but it also depends upon the student’s pace. 

       To everything great, there must be something that’s not so great. I find very few negatives with this program, though there are some. One negative, the biggest one in my eyes, is that it can be time consuming for teachers to set up and prepare for each student.  Knowing how precious time is in the education world, this can be a significant setback, BUT the payoff is big.  Given an IEP, the goals are individualized, therefor, to be efficient, it is necessary to go into the program and individualize each lesson for each student. On the other hand, this can be seen as an addition because it is able to be individualized.   Another setback is cost.  Unfortunately, not everything in life is free.  Riverdeep is costly, but a license can be purchased by the district allowing unlimited users. 

    Riverdeep Destination Math is an intervention that I find to be thorough and helpful to my students.  It is a teaching tool that has been a great way of collecting data, which, as we all know is a big focus in schools today.  If you get a chance, try out the program… It’s great. 

Taken from the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website (http://www.hmlt.hmco.com/DM.php):

“Our portfolio of solutions empowers educators to bring innovative technology into the classroom, and integrate in their existing curriculum. Highly differentiated and flexible instruction, with proven success in reaching all students Targets students’ individualized needs through data-driven instruction Research-proven instruction is explicit, prescriptive, and focused on achievement Ongoing assessment and performance monitoring meets accountability requirements Engaging animation & audio support keeps students motivated and on task An effective student and teacher tool that promotes best practices and collaboration in instruction 24 X 7 access with tutorial instruction for extended learning outside of the classroom Supports in-classroom devices such as electronic whiteboards for whole classroom instruction Spanish versions to engage ELL students Customized professional development Examples of Research.”

An example of some of the research they have completed:

http://hmlt.hmco.com/downloads/Research/St-Lucie-County-Executive-Report.pdf Citations


Works Cited-



http://hmlt.hmco.com/downloads/Research/St-Lucie-County-Executive-Report.pdf Citations





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Executive… wait, what? Oh yea… Executive Functioning


Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.” ~Chinese Proverb

Imagine trying to row upstream in a small boat without oars, or a motor, or any object that may give direction. Difficult… or more accurately, impossible, right? This struggle can be compared to a student who has poor executive functioning. Students with poor executive functioning have the boat to get to their final destination, but the driver and equipment isn’t always there. So, the question is how do educators give these students the strategies to overcome their upstream battle?

According to Speech-Therapy-On-Video.com, executive functioning is described as, “the brain’s ability to process feedback, interpret events, and react appropriately to life’s ups and downs. People who demonstrate problems with executive functioning have difficulty planning out their day, organizing their time properly, reacting in a suitable manner, or adapting to situations that aren’t working.” Executive functioning is imperative for successful navigation through life. How can these tasks effect learning in school? Some specific examples of tasks students with executive function struggles are not successful with are “keeping track of time, keeping track of more than one thing at once, meaningfully include past knowledge into discussions, engage in group dynamics, reflect on their work, finish work on time, ask for help, wait to speak until they are called on, and seek more information when they need it.” (LD online) For some of us, these tasks are easy and mindless, while unfortunately for others, its a job all in itself. As educators, how can we help?


Although there is no single test that identify all the features of executive functioning, there are a few that can assist educators in better pinpointing the weakness. Tests such as Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, the Category Test, the Trail Making Test, and the Progressive Figures and Color Form Tests are just a few that can assist educators.

Lynn Meltzer, the co- founder and co- director of the Institute for Learning and Development and professor at Tufts University believes that executive functioning should be taught directly to students at younger ages, such as elementary age due to the higher demands put on students as well as the ever changing world of technology. Students are using technology as means of assistance, but never truly learning how to improve their executive functioning. Given this, a teaching method that has been found to be beneficial is direct instruction of executive functioning skills. Students should not be expected to gain this knowledge indirectly, it must be directly taught. Although there is not a lot of research on training for executive functioning, there are some strategies that are being looked at to help assist and improve the executive functioning. Some strategies or methods to help students with poor executive functioning that can be directly taught are-


-Visual, organizational aids

-Planned and structured transition times

-Create a checklist for students and ‘to do’ lists estimating how long tasks may take

-Use management software

-Organize workspace

-Minimize clutter

-Create a checklist for ‘how to’ complete a task

-Schedule a time to check in with student on a daily basis


Given the lack of research on executive functioning, it is difficult to critique methods used to teach ways to improve ones executive functioning, but there is enough information and research available that more educators should be informed of this major setback for some of our students. So many of our educators are quick to point fingers at students calling them ‘lazy,’ or ‘careless,’ when in fact, these students are just the opposite. These students are lacking the skills to access and apply their knowledge and skills. If more of us are educated on what poor executive functioning looks like as well as an understanding of what the currently researched methods are to strengthen these skills, then we will be making dramatic differences in these students lives. Think of it this way… given a boat with the anticipation of going upstream, would you want to be given the ‘oars’ sooner or later?



(2008), N. C. (n.d.). LD OnLine :: Executive Function Fact Sheet. LD OnLine. Retrieved February 19, 2010, from http://www.ldonline.org/article/Executive_Function_Fact_Sheet

Cooper-Kahn, J., & (2008), L. D. (n.d.). LD OnLine :: What Is Executive Functioning?. LD OnLine. Retrieved February 19, 2010, from http://www.ldonline.org/article/What_Is_Executive_Functioning%3F

Defining Stroke Terms in easy-to-understand Language. (n.d.). Improve your Speech and Language Skills: Effective Exercises you can use at Home. Retrieved February 19, 2010, from http://www.speech-therapy-on-video.com/stroketerms.html

Garner, J. K. (2009). Conceptualizing the Relations Between. The Journal of Psychology, 143(4), 405- 426.



Some great resources to check out…



You Tube Videos-



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Some great educational websites to check out…




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