Category Archives: Notebook and self-help skills

Address Challenges at Performance Points


In the photo above you see a contrast between how children learn and how educators often teach necessary skills. Children learn to ride a bike by actually performing the target skills. This is a performance point – the setting in which the child actually performs. In school students are often taught necessary skills in isolation, away from the performance points. Imagine teaching a child to ride a bike by having him sit at a desk while the parent points out all the steps for riding a bike.

Often accommodations and supports are provided in isolation or out of context. Students with autism have lunch buddies in a contrived setting with an educator leading conversation. Students with ADHD have a weekly time to organize their notebooks. Students who have trouble functioning in a general ed classroom may be pulled out as a result.

Below are a couple of examples of how support can be provided at the points of performance. The photo below shows a checklist I used for a students with autism in my algebra class. They would follow the checklist and self-evaluate by checking off each step as it was completed. They were learning how to perform necessary skills at the point of performance.


Another overlooked point of performance is in organizing a notebook. Students should organize a notebook while IN CLASS and on a DAILY basis. I use the rubric below to help support students with this task.


Dr. Russell Barkley, an expert on ADHD, talks about performance points for students with ADHD in his book and in his ADHD Report. This focus at the “points of performance” can and should apply to any student with a disability (and students in general).

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Perseverance in Math

perseverance checklist

A major challenge for students is not content but how to “do math” which includes perseverance. The photo above shows a table that can be used to monitor progress on perseverance. It addresses two situations involving perseverance (see below).

The focus of perseverance in math is making an informed attempt when a path or next step is unclear (and does not necessarily result in a solution). Paths can be categorized as using a strategy, e.g. drawing a picture, or following an algorithm, e.g. steps to solve an equation. (See excerpt of CCSS Standards of Mathematical Practices below).

Perseverance in math involves two situations:

  • The initial entry point (strategy or algorithm) is not apparent but one is selected and implemented
  • An ongoing strategy or algorithm is determined to be insufficient and an alternative strategy or algorithm is selected and implemented

From the CCSS Standards of Mathematical Practice (bold font is my emphasis on the perseverance component)
1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt. They consider analogous problems, and try special cases and simpler forms of the original problem in order to gain insight into its solution. They monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary. Older students might, depending on the context of the problem, transform algebraic expressions or change the viewing window on their graphing calculator to get the information they need. Mathematically proficient students can explain correspondences between equations, verbal descriptions, tables, and graphs or draw diagrams of important features and relationships, graph data, and search for regularity or trends. Younger students might rely on using concrete objects or pictures to help conceptualize and solve a problem. Mathematically proficient students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, “Does this make sense?” They can understand the approaches of others to solving complex problems and identify correspondences between different approaches.

Tagged , , , ,

Independent Study Skills List

independent study skills listThe purpose of special education is to provide students with skills for future education, employment and independent living. A major obstacle for our students who have the potential to pursue post-secondary education is they do not develop effective independent study skills. Here is a list (link to WORD document) I have generated from professional experience and from research in this area.

If your child who is receiving special education services has the potential for attending college he or she needs to learn how to do a lot if not all of what is on this list to be successful. This means pushing for services to support these study skills.

Self-Help Skills Video Presentation

See the video (link below) to find out about this photo.Slide28I believe one of the greatest problems in education is the challenge students have in taking an active role in the learning process.

This is a video of a presentation on issues related to academic self-help skills and how to develop them. This is especially important for students with special needs.

The sound quality is not what I want it to be but the slides may help make up for this. I intend to re-record this presentation.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Subtraction Poem

subtraction poem


From the blog Bits and pieces. This would be a great poster to put on a learning wall while kids are learning the rules. In lieu of showing the kids repeatedly what to do simply have them follow this – training to follow examples.

Tagged , , , ,

Questioning and Critical Thinking



This is a page from an Elmo book in which a cutout figure of Elmo can be inserted into various settings such as a bakery. In lieu of reading the book I asked my 4 1/2 year old son questions about each setting, e.g. “what is Elmo now?”

The questioning approach I used was to ask open-ended questions and follow up or leading questions, e.g. “how do you know he’s a baker?” This approach works at all ages but is probably more common at earlier ages. What I have found is that students progress through school learning that math questions are typically right or wrong with little critical thinking. Students are afraid to answer questions because it’s all or nothing. On another post I address how we can shape critical thinking and this questioning is another approach.

I have a video showing this questioning of my son on youtube.

Tagged , , , ,

Conceptual Understanding

discount tax problem

I gave a student a pop quiz on percent change – find discount and tax – after she completed  independent practice on this objective. The student followed the steps very well, as you can see in the photo (I added the ink later) up to the very end. At that point she added the tax to 6 for a total cost of $9.36 – good deal for an $80 coat!

This is hardly uncommon if not typical in education both at the secondary and post-secondary level. The focus is largely on steps and not concept building. I asked her follow up questions (as opposed to telling her what to do to fix it) to flesh out the concept. “What did you do first and why?” “What does discount mean?” “What did you do here (pointing to the 6/100 part)?” “What do you pay the cashier?” She was confused because she wasn’t thinking real life situation but got caught in the weeds of the math steps.

What often happens is that students give up when pressed to think. I often have students tell me “can’t you just tell me the answer?” and “you’re the teacher, you’re supposed to teach me.” I respond “Yes, I can show you and I already taught you; now it’s your turn.”


Tagged , , , , , ,

Middle school to college

college long range planning (2)This is a photo of a table I created for a former 7th grade student of mine. It laid out his academic future leading up to college. The arrows were a visual part of my explanation of how college applications are largely based on the 9th, 10th and 11th grade high school years.

This is significant because many students struggle their freshman year of high school. If they have a bad year academically one third of their courses used to compute their gpa for the application is a drag on the gpa. There are other negative consequences for a bad start to high school such as a diminished confidence, poor study skills, shifting into a lower level academic track and self-fulfilling prophecy.

Preparing for college (or post-secondary education in general) really does start in middle school. This is magnified for students with special needs. Training them to be self-sufficient and to self-advocate can take a long time. The longer it takes to start this training the longer it takes for them to become fluent at these self-help skills.

As a long time adjunct instructor at various colleges and universities I have repeatedly been witness to the same poor study skills in college as I see in high school and middle school.

Tagged , , , ,

Art = Critical Thinking

guernicaIn my MATH class I use Picasso’s Guernica to get students to think – shaping critical thinking. This is a tribute to my art and architecture class which was the coolest class I had as an undergrad – the act of art speaking to life blew me away. I show them a photo with the following directions:

What do you notice in this painting? Write any ideas at all on your own paper.

I find that after prompting, prodding and not accepting “I don’t know” almost all will share something, e.g. “people look sad.” That singular effort alone is a big step for many. Here is information about the painting that I share afterwards (credit to Wikipedia):

Guernica is a painting by Pablo Picasso, in response to the bombing of Guernica, Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces, on 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

 Guernica shows suffering people, animals, and buildings wrenched by violence and chaos.

  • The overall scene is within a room where, at an open end on the left, a wide-eyed bull stands over a woman grieving over a dead child in her arms.
  • The centre is occupied by a horse falling in agony as it had just been run through by a spear or javelin. It is important to note that the large gaping wound in the horse’s side is a major focus of the painting.
  • The bull’s tail forms the image of a flame with smoke rising from it, seemingly appearing in a window created by the lighter shade of gray surrounding it.
  • Under the horse is a dead, apparently dismembered soldier; his hand on a severed arm still grasps a shattered sword from which a flower grows.
  • A light bulb blazes in the shape of an evil eye over the suffering horse’s head (the bare bulb of the torturer’s cell.) Picasso’s intended symbolism in regards to this object is related to the Spanish word for lightbulb; “bombilla”, which makes an allusion to “bomb” and therefore signifies the destructive effect which technology can have on society.
  • To the upper right of the horse, a frightened female figure, who seems to be witnessing the scenes before her, appears to have floated into the room through a window. Her arm, also floating in, carries a flame-lit lamp. The lamp is positioned very close to the bulb, and is a symbol of hope, clashing with the lightbulb.
  • From the right, an awe-struck woman staggers towards the center below the floating female figure. She looks up blankly into the blazing light bulb.
  • Daggers that suggest screaming replace the tongues of the bull, grieving woman, and horse.
  • A bird, possibly a dove, stands on a shelf behind the bull in panic.
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Lone Ranger vs Self-Help

In leadership class I studied the Lone Ranger approach to problem-solving. When a problem arose in an organization the boss would ride in and solve the problem. Afterwards he or she would ride off and the employees would be no better prepared for the next crisis or problem. The point of the analogy is empowerment – get the individuals to take responsibility for problem-solving. lone_ranger

The same holds true for the relationship between educators and students. All too often educators jump in to solve problems for the students without training students on responsibility. The students are not empowered or held responsible. This problem is magnified for students with special needs.

The most common example occurs during meetings with parents. When a student struggles the first suggestion is often asking teachers if there is additional time available to tutor or help the student individually (parents are not the only ones asking this). The original problem of poor self-help skills is not addressed and the adults shoulder more of the responsibility. As a consequence, the students’ belief  that external forces will or are necessary to fix their problems is reinforced.

My suggestion is to look at how the student can be supported as he or she is trained to be more effective in employing self-help skills. Is he taking notes? Is she doing all of her homework? Do the students follow examples in the book or use other resources?

The following are anecdotes of how learned helplessness is developed.

  • A student was having problems with a math problem. The para asked if he needed a calculator and walked over to get one for the student.
  • A student had notebook organization as the focus of an IEP objective. Each week his PARA was organizing his notebooks for him.
  • A special ed teacher started to copy a homework assignment for a student because he didn’t have a pencil.
  • Many math teachers, when asked for help, will show students how to do a problem instead of pressing the student to find and follow an example.

The evidence is clear. Students learn to say “I don’t know” and the adults show them what to do as the students passively observe.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: