How do I support English Language Learners who are struggling in my classroom?

This question may be easy if you have a background in Teaching English as a Second Language, but what if you don’t have a degree in TESOL or have never even had students who speak another language in your class? It can seem like a huge mystery. What do I say? How do I say it? If you, as the professional teacher in the room, are having these panicky thoughts- imagine what it must be like for our students we call English Language Learners.

It is an exciting time in New York State for teachers of ELLs. Lots of attention is being devoted to this rapidly growing population of students. However, this excitement may also manifest itself into panic for teachers who may have never had linguistically diverse learners in their classroom. Continue reading

Measureable Goals in the Co-Taught Classroom

More and more these days you see Integrated Co-teaching as the service delivery model on the individualized educational programs (IEPs) of students with disabilities (SWDs). The special education teacher pushes into the general education classroom and works together with the general educator (and possibly other teaching assistants and service delivery professionals) to meet the needs of all students. In this model it is especially important for all staff working with students with special needs to know and understand the students’ annual measurable goals.

At times, as a Special Education Continue reading

A Time for Reflection “We don’t learn by doing, we learn by reflecting on what we’ve done.”

What a year and it is only April! If you have been following any of the recent special education blogs, you’ve noticed a consistent theme – news and changes within the field of special education. There have been changes in exiting options for students with disabilities, information regarding least restrictive environment, a field advisory regarding the key principles governing special education, and so much more.

It is time to take a minute to reflect upon the consistent messages that are within all of these memos, regulations, and changes.

  1. Special Education is a service, not a  Continue reading

The Least Restrictive Environment

The NYSED recently released a field advisory entitled, School Districts’ Responsibility to Provide Students with Disabilities Specially Designed Instruction and Related Services in the Least Restrictive Environment. The advisory provides reminders for Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Federal and State requirements and serves to help raise the awareness of parents and districts to maximize the participation of students with disabilities. It also identifies components of quality inclusive programming and provides a draft policy proposal that identifies, among other things, changes in reporting requirements.

As per the field advisory and in preparation for proposed policy that includes both preschool and school-aged programs, the Department recommends that districts: Continue reading

What is “Special” about Special Education?

In a word…EVERYTHING!! This is a very exciting time in the world of Special Education!! Did you know that there are currently more high school exiting options available for students with disabilities than ever before?  This is a hot topic when considering that the graduation rate in 2014 for students with disabilities was 50% as compared to 81% for our general education students (

Let’s take a look at some New York State diploma options:

  • Advanced regents
  • Regents
  • Local Diploma using the Low Pass Option
  • Local Diploma using the Compensatory Option
  • Local Diploma using the RCT Option (RCT option will no longer be available after June 2016)

Continue reading

Teacher Evaluation and Special Education Settings


Section 30-2.9 of the Rules of the Board of Regents provides that, in order to be certified as lead evaluators, administrators must be trained in nine elements. One of the required components is: “Specific considerations in evaluating teachers and principals of ELLs and students with disabilities.” In our initial Lead Evaluator Training, at OCM BOCES, we address this topic specifically with the help of the Regional Special Education Technical Assistance and Support Center (RSE TASC). Recently, this year’s cohort did just that. This component, however, has not received the attention that it should in the continuing training we provide for Lead Evaluators who have been previously certified. Continue reading

Popsicle Sticks and Non-Volunteers

Untitled-2When working with teachers on the tenants of explicit direct instruction, we spend a good deal of time talking about how to formatively assess and do quick checks for understanding in the classroom.  One of the things that capture the teachers’ attention is the very simple task of calling on “non-volunteers”.

Many of the teachers I worked with admitted that they often call on those students with their hand raised. The teachers said that they would listen to the answer, look around the room, maybe even ask, “Any questions?” and when met with no response, move on. Every student heard the answer to the question…so now they know it too, right??  There were no questions asked, no puzzled looks…so the rest of the students must surely understand also…right?? That is often not the case.  Students have learned that their teacher is going to call on the one’s whose hands are raised and who eagerly want to reply.  So, the less eager student can ‘tune out’.  They may not even listen to the question or may not have any idea of the correct response, and yet the lesson continues on.

When we do quick checks for understanding we want to elicit proof that ALL of our students have a grasp of what we have been teaching them during the lesson.  A great way to engage all learners is by creating an environment where your students have to listen and take part in the lesson.  You can simply do that by asking questions every few minutes and soliciting responses from non-volunteers.  One easy way to do this is to put each of your student’s names on a Popsicle/craft stick and put them in a cup.  Pull out sticks randomly to call for responses from your students on the questions that you raise several times during the lesson. It is also good to call on several students for the same question.  You can see if they agree on the answer or you can ask them to go into more depth with their responses. As the teacher, you can correct any misconceptions and make sure that they all hear and echo the correct response. Make sure to put the stick with the student’s name on it back into the cup though.  We want to send the message that each student could be called on at any given time and therefore they must always be listening!

Several teachers in one of the schools that I work with decided that they would give this a try.  It is an easy strategy that they could leave my training with and put into place the very next day.  When I met with them again a month later, they were amazed at the results.  They found it fascinating that so many more kids were paying attention to the lesson.  The teachers also found out that they were much better able to assess what kids grasped the information and to what extent.  Students never knew when they would be called upon, so they had to really listen.  Many teachers reported that their students were much more engaged in those lessons and many students even asked for the Popsicle sticks to be used!

Of course, you can use other methods to call on non-volunteers.  Some teachers put their student’s names on chart and call on students randomly.  They can also use the chart to gather data on each of their students.  Some teachers put the names on an index card or on a piece of paper folded up and tossed around in a bag. If you like technology, there are random generators that can be used.  When the computer picks a student’s name, it pops up on the screen and that child would then answer your question.  By using different means to randomly select students the kids think it is fun and the teacher gains more information on what each of the students has learned or remembers. Here are a few websites that will help you randomly pick students’ names:

Siobhan O’Hora