Thursday, August 30, 2012

Involve Me and I Learn

Today I tried a new formative assessment with my AP Computer Science students. We are working in bases and I was having a difficult time telling who was really getting it and who wasn't getting it. I realized I needed a new formative to check for understanding.

That is when the above Chinese proverb came to mind. I told them, but they were forgetting, I taught them and they were remembering but not able to apply it, so I needed to involve them. So what formative assessment would work in this case? Simple, involve them and let them write the assessment.

It started with a piece of lined paper for each student. I had them fold it down the middle the long way, or as one student said "hotdog style". They put their name on each half. On the right they had to come up with 9 problems: 3 problems that convert from Base10 to Base2 (or visa versa), Base16 to Base2 (or visa versa), and 3 more that convert Base16 to Base2 (or visa versa). They could put the questions in any order they wanted. On the right half, they had to create the answer sheet.

That's right, I had them creating pop quizzes.

That meant they had to work through the 9 problems they created to come up with the answer sheet. I told them they could ask for as much help from me as they wanted to write these quizzes. My stragglers quickly popped up. Most did OK, some wanted me to check their first few questions then completed the rest on their own. One student needed one on one help through the whole process, and I had to reteach her most of the concepts. She had an "Ah Ha" moment and completed writing her quiz and answer sheet.

Then came the exchange.

I used a ruler to tear the page in half. I kept the answer sheet and the other half went to a different student, who put their name under the creator's name. They took each other's quizzes, and went to the student who originated the quiz if they had a clarifying question. I collected the quizzes as they finished them.

I collected them but I didn't correct them.

When we return to school next week, I will hand out the quiz and answer sheet to yet another student. That student will add their name under the quiz taker's name and will use the answer sheet to correct the quiz. If there is an answer on the quiz that does not match the answer sheet, then the student doing the correcting needs to determine which one is right, the quiz or the answer sheet and mark them accordingly. I will then take the quizzes back and enter their formative grade before giving them back their completed quizzes. If I see any patterns that need to be addressed, we'll take time to do that in class.

If all goes well, we can start Base8 on the next class day!

This formative is a keeper. I was able to reteach on the spot and it gave confidence to the students who understood the work.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Setting Up a Competency Based Classroom

Our school has been going through a redesign and transformation to a competency based system. Every year has been a little different than the year before. One of my pitfalls during this process has been the posting of the competency we are working on.

I started setting up my classroom this week and decided to make it a priority to come up with a system that would be easy for me to follow, and right in front of the students.

I have put my competencies on construction backed strips with magnets on the back. I sectioned off the dead space on either side of the SmartBoard portion of my white board. One section for each prep. Each class has 6 competencies. We usually concentrate on one at a time, sometimes two.

I can remove the competencies that we are not working on that day, which also frees up space in that section for me to write items of importance (such as the essential question!).

Helping students reflect on their work is also another area where I have struggled. I have put together a board of prompting questions for reflection on learning so that students will have it at their disposal.

Clock Watchers

Not really a part of the competency based class room but in a computer lab where the clocks on the computers have a different time than the clock on the wall, it can cause much confusion. To resolve this confusion, I have cleverly covered the clock in my room to encourage them to keep their eyes on their computers, where a clock is readily available.

I would like class room management ideas from other high school teachers who run competency based class rooms. Thanks in advance.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Celebrating Academics

Tonight was our Academic Award night. My own daughter walked away with hardware for the shelf. It is an amazing feeling as a parent to see your child's value of education recognized, but even better, to celebrate and elevate the hard work of your own students.

My other daughter is a Senior this year so we are going through the ending of an academic era in her life. That is bittersweet. I am excited about the next step in her life, but sad that she is moving a couple states away. This is no small accomplishment for her. She struggled through and was a C student throughout. This year she really pulled it together and became the student I always knew she could become, but she regrets not taking it to this level sooner. She didn't get into her first choice for college, but she is going. I assured her that the taste of success she is feeling now will carry over to college. I think she'll find college the place where she'll bloom.

Next year I will have the largest AP Computer Science class that our high school has ever seen. A large APCS class in the past has been 6 students, next year I'll have 14. I'm very excited about this because it shows that our student body is starting to see a value in a more challenging class, and the competitiveness this course will afford them as they compete for spots in top notch colleges.

This year's graduation class had two students who made it into the first round of the Merit Scholarship competition, and one of them became a finalist. His reward for all his hard work is a full scholarship to Northeastern, which is his first choice school. The other student will be attending Yale in the fall, with a large scholarship from the college that will nearly pay all her tuition.

Tonight we announced that in our Junior class, a student has moved into the Merit Scholarship competition. I can't wait to see where it takes her as she is entering her Senior year.

There is so much negative in the media about our students not hitting the target. I think it is important not to forget that some are hitting the target, and others are creating that target. I'm so proud of them all. I can't wait to see where all this hard work takes them. This is the time of year we can truly celebrate our academics!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Will Education Look Like in Ten Years?

I have been thinking a lot lately about what school will look like 10 years from now. I am finishing my 6th year of teaching right now and it has changed tremendously over those 6 years. Most of the changes are related to technology but I think the bulk of the changes are a reflection on how the world is changing around us.

The world is flat once more. We are able to connect in so many ways that we couldn't connect just a few years ago. Today at a PD presentation, another teacher told us about QuadBlogging. We can now enroll our student or classroom blogs into this blog exchange system with other schools throughout the world. We can get feedback from outside of our buildings. It is the digital version of our old penpal projects done when I was a student in the public school system.

So what will schools look like in 10 years?

I think school (the physical building) will be a place where students go when they are struggling, or need resources, or need to collaborate with people in person. School will provide offices for their teachers as a place where they develop curriculum or meet for professional development or to meet with students for individualized instruction. Schools could very well abolish their bells and become a place of computer labs and recording studios. Learning will become an anyplace/anytime venture. Students will be able to enroll in courses online from a menu of schools who employ highly skilled instructors. Students might be enrolled in multiple online schools so they can have their pick of classes as well as instructors. Their local institution may end up becoming a clearing house for their learning by tracking what students are required to do, testing their competency, setting them up with internships, referring them with online programs that meet their individual needs, tutoring services, learning portfolio and project presentations, etc. Texting their teachers might become as common to them as texting their friends. Accessing learning will be done on-the-go using cell phones and tablets with data plans.

This is just what has been rattling around in my mind. It makes me wonder as a professional instructor how I should prepare myself for this shift? I am currently developing my courses to be blended, requiring all my students to use an online component. I suspect that eventually I will have requests for my blended material be made available to students who cannot fit Computer Sciences into their regular schedule as a way to earn their credit in the subject area. They will become distant learners, but in the building with their online instructor.

An important aspect of this shift will live with the students. They will need to become managers of their own time. They will need to start planning so they can fit it all in. Right now we plan their time and direct that time with bells and a school year that ends on the 180th day. A student that has good time management skills can finish a course in half the time whereas a student that does not manage their time well could end up taking twice as long. Time to learn becomes rolling, and honestly, makes it necessary to have school year round. Learning could become what it should be, a natural process of curiosity and discovery.

Again, this is just what is rattling in my brain. In fact, 10 years from now, kids could still be required to enter the building, spend 6 hours a day there and go home at the end of the day. Maybe we will still have a bell system that moves them from one subject to the next throughout the day. But my gut tells me that the digital component that is entering our lives will force a change in the physical part of how we educate our students.

Grade Level Expectations

I read this post

Here is my response:

In 1999 I was not in education but I was a parent with students who were above grade level expectations. It was the Kindergarten teacher of my oldest who suspected her acting out in class was because she already knew how to read and write and was bored during those lessons. We lived in Arizona at the time and she suggested a Charter School for my daughter. My daughter had to go through testing during that summer before her first grade year to determine her placement. As a first grader she was changing classes throughout the day and working through levels (but never "grade" levels). She was promoted twice in her reading classes during the school year and then promoted (later demoted back) in her math class. She never saw herself as a "first grader" but she could say "I'm on level C for math and Level J for reading". She knew if she wanted to advance, she had to put in the work to do that and if she slacked off in the next level, that she could be sent back a level.

When we moved to NH in the middle of her second grade year, there was no grade level on her transcript so the school here had to call Arizona. Arizona told her that at their lowest level she would be in third grade. NH decided that she was too young to be in the third grade, so they put her in the second grade. The acting out began again. I asked them to promote her up so she would be challenged and assured them that if they did, the acting out would disappear. The school board did not agree with me and she has resented it ever since. Even now as she is getting ready to graduate with 7 more credits than our high school requires, she says "I could be in college right now".

So I agree, from experiencing it as a parent, and watching my own students, that grade level expectations sort of puts a kink in competency based learning. Students can be promoted (or demoted) based on real-time performance throughout the school year.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reporting What I Learned at ASCD12

I have been consolidating my notes from the ASCD conference in Philadelphia. I do have to say that the convention has recharged me and relit my love for my job. I have been in the muck lately. I haven't ventured out to meet others with like minds, passion and new ideas. I have been doing my research in a redesign bubble. It also made me realize how far ahead we are in some aspects at my school, but how far behind we are in other aspects.

The convention also helped me realize that I'm on the right track with the blended classroom model I am trying to develop. Before the convention, I based my practice for this model on the research I've been doing independently. Now that I have been able to interface with like minds who have been doing this longer, I have found new ideas that I can inject.

I also found out how I can use social networking tools to keep my PD personalized and up to date. I am trying to make a habit out of using Twitter to start building my personal learning network (PLN). This allows me to get information in real time about things I'm interested in learning about. I have even been getting incidental information about things I didn't know were out there.

I wish our school would open up social networking to our professional staff so I could show them what I'm learning. Right now, the way it stands, I would have to capture video on my computer from home and bring in the video if I wanted to show them. Too many road "blocks" in place right now.

I also like the idea of a senior academy as a means to help our seniors transition to a world of work and independent learning. A nay-sayer this morning at the teacher's table said "We had that at our old school and we found that the kids were packing in all their required classes their first 3 years so they can make their senior year as light as possible." And my response was "Really? They started planning their freshman year with the end in mind? They tried to manage their time so that they can graduate on time?" I was probably a bit too snarky, but the point was that is what we want them to do! We have students here that are on the 6-year plan because they drag their feet through the mud, not seeing a value in taking their classes, doing well in them and going in to the world ready to work. But if they get a motivation, like a light senior year, to start working in their classes so they can do better, finish them on time, and then have a lighter senior year then yeah!

But the point of senior academy is not only to open the campus for our seniors who don't have classes, but also to free up their time so they can work on that in-depth senior project. It frees them up to do community service which will help them become competitive for scholarships, or prepare them to be good citizens. It gives them some independence to learn how to juggle school and work, much like they will have to when they go to college. Sometimes I think we are not really preparing them to be independent with their time. They finish high school with every minute of their day planned for them and then three years later they are like lost lambs on a college campus trying to figure out where and when they are supposed to be someplace.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When the Teacher is the Student

One of my hobbies is weaving and another is sewing. I enjoy fiber arts, and it is such a remove from my job teaching technology that I look forward to working on my projects. Yesterday my daughter and I went to a fiber arts symposium broken down into various classes.

I signed up for five classes, none of which were weaving. The first class I took was "Learn How To Knit". This is something I've always wanted to do, so it has been added to my bucket list.

I had a very patient teacher. I needed so much help with every step that I thought to myself "why am I bothering?" Why? Because I have always wanted to learn this. It would be a good skill to have. People have been doing this for hundreds of years and I would like to continue that tradition. I just wasn't getting it.

I found casting on very challenging. My yarn was coming untangled as I knit. She stopped the class to show me how to cast on. Then she showed us how to do the knit stitch. She had to stop the class to show me how to knit stitch. Then we practiced. I was getting pretty good with the knit stitch, even getting a little faster. My confidence was building, my fingers were going faster and it actually started looking half decent. Then she stopped us to have us do the purl stitch. I now had to wrap my mind around a different stitch. I was fumbling, I was untangling and I was highly frustrated. She stopped the class to show me how to purl.

I was thinking about all this on the way home. How much accommodation this teacher made just for me. I met the objectives of her class. I'm able to sit on my own and cast on, knit and purl. I'm not very good at it YET but I know with practice I'll be doing it as mindlessly as I weave or sew. In fact, I had even bought an extra learning kit so I could show my older daughter how to do it when I returned home, because she couldn't be there with us that day.

That is when I faced my first test, or summative as we call them at our school. I had to switch from knitting student to knitting teacher. That would be the real proof of my understanding. Could I pass my knowledge on to someone else?

I was not very successful at teaching her how to cast on, so she looked it up on YouTube. She finally figured it out. I was able to successfully teacher her how to knit. I have not taught her how to purl yet, but she was fine with that because she wants to master knit before purl.

This morning I tore apart my project again and practiced casting on. I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. Then I started practicing knit again and decided to stick with that until I can do it mindlessly, then I will do purl again.

My teacher couldn't have given me that extra attention that I needed if it had been a class of 30. We were a class of 6 students. I was learning hands-on. I didn't need to know the entire history of knitting before picking up a needle. I jumped in there and started learning by doing. I didn't need to have an IEP in place to get that individualized attention, I just needed a teacher that could read me. I didn't need to be assigned homework to practice the skills, I went home and discovered my short comings in the craft when trying to teach it to someone else, and my daughter showed me how using available resources (YouTube) can enhance learning. Most important, I didn't need to get a grade or have credit attached to what I was doing to make me want to learn it.

What did I need?

I needed a desire to learn it
I needed the opportunity
I needed the materials (needle and yarn)
I needed a patient teacher
I needed to be able to share what I learned with someone else who wanted to learn
I needed to be able to make mistakes and start over
I needed to determine what I wanted to practice, and what I wanted to wait to practice

Now I need to figure out how to transfer this discovery of what I needed in order to learn to my own students so they will want to learn in spite of credit, grades or graduation requirements.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Teacher Evaluations

I've been waiting for something interesting to come through my email groups today so I can read and reflect but nothing has come through except opportunities to take webinars. I have my system of "to do" sticky notes on the table next to my laptop. Once of my sticky notes says "Admin Paperwork", which means I need to fill out my Teacher Evaluation Summary. It's made it to the top of the priority pile so I've been jotting down notes on it all day as things come to me so I can type it up later.

I was talking to one of my seniors who is a subject-level intern in one of my classes (it's a program we have at our school to encourage students to be mentors). I showed him the template we were given and said that I have a hard time evaluating myself. His response was "Why not just use that survey you asked us to take at the end of class last semester?"


We are not required to survey our students at the end of a course, but I have the technology in front of them and a free surveymonkey account. I use the surveys to improve my own teaching and methods. We're not required to do surveys at the end of a course. I remember how much I liked doing them at the end of my college courses because I felt I was adding to the quality of education. I wanted to do that for my courses as well.

I took screenshots of their responses and printed those out to attach to my evaluation worksheets. I also reread over their responses and realized that I have made many changes to my courses that are now working because of the student feedback that I received half-way through this year. I am now thinking I can include that improvement in my reflection section of my worksheet.

Keeping this blog is the beginning of an exercise in ongoing reflection, not just reflecting when you complete a unit or complete a semester. Seeing how much I learned from the student surveys today tells me that this is a good practice that I should continue this practice. Of course, like any tool, you can own it but if you don't use it, then nothing gets better.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New AP Courses

Ed Week blogged about two new AP courses that will be offered in some pilot schools. One of the AP courses will focus on critical thinking skills and the other will focus on research skills. One of the things I thought was interesting in the blog is that it stated "The research courses are not designed to replicate a college course, but rather prepare students for college-level work and be an indication of readiness for elite college admission."

I agree that these are skills we do not focus on exclusively in a course designed for them (although it is my belief that we should) because most schools assume that these skills are being interwoven into the current curriculum. I think the assumption is there because they tell us that it is important. They tell us to ask questions that promote critical thinking skills. And if a student can produce the desired outcome at the end, then it is assumed that they had to think critically to do that.

I believe that instructors are trying their best to bring critical thinking to the classroom, but may lack the training to do so. But what is the real evidence that critical thinking is being evaluated properly in our secondary schools? The blog quoted Packer as saying "[college admissions officers] said U.S. students are not coming to college having developed research skills and the ability to integrate knowledge across a variety of academic disciplines". I have not sat on a college admission board but I can say from my experience in a classroom that many students do have difficulty pulling from one subject and applying it into another subject without a great deal of prompting and guiding.

Sometimes it is true within the same discipline!

In my programing class, which is a high level thinking and critical problem solving class by nature, I set up the formative assessments by levels (1-4). At level 1 there are fill in the blank questions, sometimes matching, sometimes multiple choice. I consider these warm up questions. Level 2 will usually ask a student to find erroneous code and fix the problem. Students can usually plug the code into the compiler, have the compiler find the problem and fix it until the code runs. Still a bit assisting. At level 3 is when I get the most questions. Level 3 usually presents code that they are told is broken, then they are asked "Why?"

It's giving the explanation as to why the code doesn't work that throws them. They often ask if they can just put it in the compiler and run it, fix it and give me the results. It is the knowing of, and explanation of why the code doesn't work that I can tell they have a deeper understanding of how the code is functioning. I explain to them that the compiler can't find everything wrong in the code and if you run bad code, you get bad output. Unless you can understand, just by looking at it, why code might not work, then you can become a better troubleshooter. Level 4 is the backwards engineering of the program. All they get is an output screen and a few guidelines on how input is expected to be gathered and they are released to create the program from scratch. Do they like this? NO. Do they do it? YES. How do they feel about it when it is done? Amazing! Their is so much joy in their face when they accomplish that level 4 task because it was not only a test of their doing, but of their thinking as well. Once a student starts a level 4 task, I have never had one give up. They become fully invested.

I applaud the idea of these AP classes but at the same time I feel that it would be more beneficial to do this type of work with students from when we get them as 9th graders until they walk across that stage 4 or 5 years later. Critical thinking, problem solving and research skills are needed at all levels in our adult life. Offering it as an AP class will only draw those kids who are college bound. Since it is such an integrated part of life, it should be just as integrated in our teaching and we need more creative professional development in the field to show us how we can integrate it into our curriculum without losing the time we need to cover all the important items in our curriculum.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Roles of Collaboration

Tonight my collaborative grad class is wrapping up. I had always assumed that collaboration is something that came naturally when put in a situation where you need to work with others, but I now realize that collaboration comes with a checklist of ways to prepare to collaborate, the agreements between collaborators and most important, time to do the work.

Tonight she talked about Smart Goals, which would be IEP goals for every student in the school, not just SPED. Smart Goals should be aligned with IEP goals (one in the same) so that every student has a set of goals to work toward. I had always thought that all students should have an educational plan, a map of sorts, to set the road of their learning down so they have something to follow.

I also like the idea of not labeling SPED teachers as SPED teachers, to just call them teachers. After all, the bottom line is that they are teachers who just happen to be trained to work with students who have special needs. For SPED and regular teachers to successfully collaborate in a co-teaching situation, they need to have an administrator that understands collaboration (all parties have agreed, trust and communicate in an agreed way) and the teachers need to be empowered equally in the room. Both should be able to plan, teach and discipline in the class room.

How do you get support from administration? Ask, be prepared with data and a plan, offer to pilot the program, get permission to ask for help, agree on the communication that will be used, set the example for others to want to follow, understand that there are sometimes other things going on behind the scenes that you may not be privy to and could affect the collaboration effort, and actively participate in the opportunities afforded during meetings.

A collaborative group needs to understand the needs of others, related services, how to collaborate with these services, time issues and each person's role in the group. Do you know what related services are in your building? I know I don't know all the related services in our building that are available to assist special needs in our building. I know we have a person that helps students with vision issues, we have a math tutor, we have a reading specialist, etc but I don't know what it is each of these persons can offer. I feel that puts me at a disadvantage in the building when trying to assist students in my classroom.

The major goal of collaboration is because whatever goal you are trying to accomplish "is important". Something that is important, something that needs to be done right, needs to be collaborated on. Each party has an invested interest in accomplishing the goal because it is important. Giving parents practice sheets to take home with their preschoolers to support their motor skills can help prepare them when they enter school. Parents will participate because it is important. The class room teacher talks to the speech therapist about how to detect muscle issues that may affect speech. The teacher will participate because it is important. Specialists can visit class rooms to observe students as they work and assist any student with any issue. The specialist will participate because it is important.

Something said that I liked: Respect, Accept even if you don't Agree

Friday, February 17, 2012

Living Through High School Redesign

My school has been going through redesign for a few years now. It is starting to wear on me, I feel tired all the time. Sometimes I wish I could turn back a few years and just be a teacher. Then, I watch Sir Ken Robinson and I'm reminded that the redesign is good work and will have long term benefits and I wish that what we are doing at our school was how school would have been for me.

Sometimes I feel I'm ahead of the group and I get pulled back. It makes me question my own thinking at times. Then when I give up on an idea for change, when it seems I'm not listened to, someone else says the same thing a few years after me and we start running with it. I'm happy to support an idea I had a few years before but it is discouraging to feel it was the right idea back when I had it only to give up at the time others want to adopt it. The right idea, but too soon.

Redesign is going to happen all across this country. We've been blazing some untraveled trails, which makes the work harder, because there is nothing to build on yet. We share our ideas with others who have watched us progress and want to do what we have done. We've had to make many changes as we discovered what didn't work, sometimes in mid-year. Some days I wake up and wish it was just done so I can go on with the business of teaching in a well-established system, but it's a strange organized chaos.

We are shifting from grading in the traditional way to grading competencies. Behaviors are separated out of the grade to keep it pure, so it reflects the learning. That means being late with an assignment is a behavior issue and cannot be addressed in the academic grade. So much work has built up to this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Learning How To Question

In tonight's class we talked about effective questioning as a part of collaboration with teachers and paraprofessionals.

I thought it was interesting that most of the questions that we ask each other are negative. The art of questioning is approaching the person with positive intentions. I remembered a workshop from last month when the presenter stated "Never ask 'what's going on?' when you witness a situation, instead, be direct and state your observation and what should be changed."

Tonight we talked about clarification, creating timelines, writing things down and clearing up questions at the beginning of the project. I have tried this with my students (before hearing this tonight) by giving them a timeline for the semester and found that this does work. I post it online where I know they will log in every day and they can tell you every day where they are at (behind pace, on pace, ahead of pace) and during my observation the other day, my VP asked students "Do you always know where you stand with deadlines" and the student said right away "I'm behind pace, but I'm absent a lot but I know I could catch up if I were to just log on at home and do the work I missed that day. I just haven't done that ... yet." I think it is important that all invested parties know where on the continuum they stand.

She talked tonight about making sure that we give accurate information when asked to clarify or confirm information because in our haste, we quickly answer questions without first checking the facts. I tend to agree. This happened to me with a student who I had seen working in class, and even checked his work in class, but he asked why he was failing the class. I told him he wasn't failing the class, because I had seen that his work was proficient and that he was right on track. When I went into our OpenClass system to double check his work (because his question prompted me to question my own observation) and there was no work in there. I realized what had happened was that he saved his work in the system but never submitted it. The next day I had to find out if he understood how to use the technology and realized he didn't know the difference between the "save" and "save and submit" buttons.

"Take time before you ask questions." She is so right. I'm very guilty of opening my mouth before I had a chance to formulate the question. I have also often felt stupid or humiliated by the question I asked. I tend to ask fewer questions, or I write out my thoughts as another person is talking so I won't forget what I want to ask but at the same time may find the answers in my own notes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Teachers and Paraprofessionals Working Together

As a classroom teacher, I appreciate and depend on the paraprofessionals assigned to my room. In my subject area (Computer Sciences), it is very difficult to find a paraprofessional that is both comfortable with the computer and the content. When I first started teaching, I did not like having a paraprofessional in the room because I would often have to stop and show the paraprofessional how to do things on the computer that my digital native students were already comfortable doing. If there was an error message, the paraprofessional would often shut down much like students did in that situation. It felt like the paraprofessional was creating more work at times. It was frustrating.

Stopping to help a paraprofessional so that they could in turn help the student they were assigned in the room to help, often took me away from the other students that needed scaffolding or help with technical aspects that were creating road blocks. In the article I read for this reflection, I agree with the premise that "[t]eachers and paraprofessionals work together in providing the best learning environment for students with disabilities, which also benefits the rest of the students."("What Is a Paraprofessional Role to a Teacher? |," n.d.) When I had to stop to help the paraprofessional who lacked technical or computer skills, I was not able to live up to my half of that premise.

About 4 years ago I was assigned a paraprofessional that was comfortable at a computer, had tremendous technical skills and took copious notes. She also asked precise questions regarding the software and came in before and after school (unpaid time for her) to get clarification on using the software and learn the project steps before the student had to do that project. I was completely impressed by her dedication and willingness to learn new things in order to give her students full attention and support during class time.

I found out later that she also has a degree in graphic design, which accounted for her computer skills. I realized that she had the assets that my particular subject required from a paraprofessional and had a meeting with the SPED director, explaining the difference between previous experiences and my experiences with this particular para. We both agreed that if a para was required in my classroom, she would be the para given the assignment, and she has been the only para in my room for the last 4 years.

Our professional relationship has grown over this time. I am able to share lesson plans with her and she is often approached by the regular education students when I am tied up elsewhere (usually troubleshooting). Because she continues with me year after year, she has archives of notes she has taken, her own photocopies of worksheets and critical pages from the textbook. She has also become an expert on the software we use in class.

Last week my para was out because of an ill child. In the class she is assigned to, she centers her attention around 3 IEP students, all very high need. With her out, my attention was focused more in that area of the classroom. I was sitting with her highest need student. I was concerned that maybe the para was doing more for him then usual (because of his needs) and that he wasn't learning to do it on his own. I used her absence to assess how much he had learned. To my surprise (and my relief) he knew how to do everything I asked him to do without help. He complained about his para being out through the whole process but he was able to use the software to root his folder, insert pictures, insert text, create webpages, etc. Anything I asked him, he could do. His para was his primary instructor because his curriculum pace was altered, but he was doing better and working more independently then some of my regular ed kids were. I was very proud of him, and of her, for meeting the competencies of the course.

I would not have been able to help him do this without the para. I would not have been able to give him the complete attention that his disabilities required to keep him focused the way she did. His para and I communicated daily about where he was at and where he needed to be. She asked terrific questions. I was able to share lesson plans with her in advance and we made adjustments on those plans together when needed. We really do have to work as a team because of the numerous factors that are going on in my classroom versus what goes on in a Math classroom or English classroom.

I feel the benefit of having a para in the room every day. I find it more beneficial to have a para with a technology background. I have often reflected on how beneficial it would be if para's came in with a background in particular subjects (like teachers do) and can be assigned to that department. If not, paras who are willing to get training in that area. My para came in with a technology background but not a programming or web design background, but that didn't stop her from coming in and getting training from me. I would have done that for any para that asked, but she was the first.

Something I learned from working with paras is that it is important to give a "heads up", or preview, of what will be taught. A week in advance seems to work best so questions can be cleared up before we get to that class time. If the para is as prepared as the teacher before class time, everyone in the room benefits.

Read more: What Is a Paraprofessional Role to a Teacher? |

Works Cited
J. (n.d.). What Is a Paraprofessional Role to a Teacher? | Retrieved 2012, from