Posted in general education, literacy, math, mind, more seeds, special education

Using the Daily 5 and Daily 3 in High School

A New Normal

I’m having flashbacks of teaching my self-contained high school last spring.

Kids on Zoom, coming to school anywhere between 7:45 am and 6:00 pm. Kids leaving to go to the store, go to the bathroom, go on the trampoline, go to sleep. Sometimes, they didn’t “leave us” to do those things (another flashback to reminding a student that he was taking the whole class with him to the bathroom – yikes).

I had great lessons prepared, and had worked out the technology kinks ahead of time. But I was exhausted by the sheer MOVEMENT of students into and out of this little window of space in front of me. At any given time, I could have two black screens, one student twirling a toilet brush like a baton (I’m not even making that up), one student with her head thrown back and mouth gaping open in a snore, two students saying, “Miss, what do I do…” or “Miss, I need help,” all while I’m trying to coax another student to NOT go to the grocery store with his mom and stay in class at least until 11:00. Oh, and don’t forget texting/emailing/calling students who have “ghosted” for the day. 

Because I work with students who have a multitude of behavioral health and academic needs, I also need to build in time to explicitly teach rules, routines and procedures that would help them build the skills they needed to be advocates for themselves and lifelong learners. Students need to learn how to wait, how to use their time wisely, how to find and submit work, how to use on-screen etiquette ~ all skills that will benefit them in post-secondary or workplace settings.

One reason I love teaching summer school is that I have a small group of students that I can experiment with for the next school year. They love being the experts in the fall, and I look like I’m an expert, too, because I had a chance to fail, refine and reimplement for 6 weeks.

Over the past summer, anticipating some form of online learning would take place, I practiced my old, elementary workshop model. The workshop model allowed students to still get individualized attention (even if that attention was a phone conversation on the importance of coming to school), while allowing kids to take a break from looking at the entire class for a period of time and practice the skill of coming and going ON A SCHEDULE. Kids appreciated the customization, fewer students fell behind on work, and the movement on the screen was more predictable.
hybrid learning workshop
Managing student needs in a hybrid learning model can be challenging. Use a workshop model to help organize student needs ~ and create structure! {Image credit: (c) 2020, Kim Bennett. All rights reserved}

Workshop: The Daily 5 and the Daily 3

The Daily 5 is part of a learning model (the Daily CAFE) developed by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, two sisters who also happen to be elementary educators and literacy experts. Their model uses kid-friendly language to explicitly teach students all the skills in a comprehensive literacy program, as well as the self-regulation skills that they need in all subject areas. The original model was designed for K-5 students: however, more and more secondary educators (and not just SPECIAL educators) are finding that it presents an elegant way to manage a classroom of diverse learners, give them time to work with individuals and small groups, and manage the classroom at the same time.

The Daily 3 is a similar learning model, focusing on math instruction in a workshop model.

Two paragraphs in a blog post do not do these learning models justice. I encourage you to check out their website, or even become a member (as I did this summer). Fear not if you are a high school teacher – there is a large community of secondary teachers who are members of the Daily CAFE.

What is the CAFE? How do I use the idea in a secondary setting? {Image Credit: 2013, Duncan C via Creative Commons}

Adapting the Daily CAFE Model for a Secondary Setting

First, I took the liberty of creating high school-sounding equivalents for the “5” and the “3,” leaning toward terms that my students would already recognize.

Element in the Daily 5… Becomes This in My Classroom
Read to SelfIndependent Reading
Read to Someone{Part of Conference with the Teacher OR Assessment}
Listen to ReadingChallenge Reading (with audio support)
Work on WritingWriting
Work with WordsWord Work or Vocabulary
The elements of the Daily 5 and what they look like in my classroom

The elements of the Daily 3 model, and what they become in my classroom.

Element in the Daily 3… Becomes This in My Classroom
Math by MyselfIndependent Math OR Skill Practice
Math with Someone{Part of Conference with the Teacher OR Assessment}
Writing About MathMath Applications
The elements of the Daily 3 and what they look like in my classroom

I also added Math Games, using Greg Tang Math and other resources, as a fourth element for math instruction.

In person, I’ve used partners and small research groups for literacy and numeracy work ~ I’m working on using the Zoom break-out rooms for this work. Stay tuned for updates!

Creating Instructional Groups for Workshop and Conferring

I did not change my procedures for creating instructional groups. To start the year, I will group the students using any convenient means, and assess their starting point during my first round of conferences. Because I’ve had my kids multiple years, I used roughly leveled groups, using their overall levels in reading and math, and will change my groups in a couple of weeks, based on conference data.

Planning for the Daily 5 and Daily 3 in High School

There is really no difference between planning for the Daily 5 in high school and in elementary school. The only difference might be the time you have available to use the model each day.

I am fortunate to have a self-contained classroom, and, because we have a school-wide focus on social-emotional learning, I have greater flexibility with my schedule (out of necessity). I DO, however, teach all the subject areas. I put together a schedule which divides my day into literacy/social studies (a.m.) and numeracy/science (p.m.), and thought about each class period (48 minutes) as 3, 15-minute segments: a mini-lesson, and two student tasks. Instead of letting students choose their tasks, I rotated the daily 5 and daily 3 elements through their schedule for the week, as well as my times to confer with students individually and in groups.

Here is a sample schedule of my school day:

But I Don’t Have a “Workshop-friendly” Schedule

No worries. 

If you have a set schedule by subject: Mini-lessons and groups address learning needs. Some are subject-specific (e.g., finding differentials); others cross all content areas (e.g., setting up a notebook entry). Think of your instruction as a week-long process: if you teach 5 classes a day, you have 5 mini-lessons and 10 student tasks = 15, 15-minutes blocks to fill. Plug in your conferences into the 10 student tasks, and sprinkle your mini-lessons and skills in accordingly – don’t worry if they cross into other content areas. This is where thematic teaching works well – kids (and administrators!) don’t say, “Why is this writing task in their math block?”

If you teach traditional sections: Again, think of your classes (now, they’re sections – maybe 4 sections of freshman biology and one of AP biology, or 5 sections of pre-algebra and 1 section of geometry). It might take you longer to “rotate” your students through the different elements, or you might assign one element to each day of the week. You might use the same framework for 3 sections of algebra, but a different framework for a 4th, because of the student needs. The point is, flex it however you need to – just think about your class period as 3 blocks of time: time to directly instruct, time for students to practice and apply skills, and time for you to work with specific groups of students based on need.

How do I Begin with Workshop and Groups?

Right now, on a piece of paper, I want you to think about your last group or section of students, and write the students who:

  1. Needed help reading the text
  2. Had difficulty following the directions
  3. Needed more time to copy notes from the board
  4. Were absent frequently
  5. Had para or Special Educator push-in support
  6. Were English learners
  7. Didn’t pay attention the first time you gave directions
  8. Frequently finished before the others
  9. Had more than one place to be during your class (e.g., speech services, band rehearsal)
  10. Needed a movement break

We’ve already come up with 10 “groups” for you to think about – and you don’t need all of them! My advice is to think about what you already do to support these kids, and PLAN for it, instead of reacting to it when it comes. Start small – one student, one need, one group, one section, one class period. Add more as you feel comfortable (because the kids adjust faster than we do!). Be okay with regrouping and trying something new. Invite the kids’ feedback. 

empty desks
Starting groups for workshop can be as simple as forming a “catch up” group for students who missed school earlier in the week. Start with what you already have! {Image Credit: naosuke ii, 2004 via Creative Commons}

A Workshop Planning Tool… for You!

I created a thinking tool for you! It represents a self-contained day with four subject areas, but you can modify it to make each “rotation” a separate section or day – whatever works for you. Feel free to modify it, change the names of the elements – whatever makes it easier for you to start. 

Secondary Workshop Planner FREE
Download a planning template for your secondary workshop classroom. Click on the image, make a copy and edit it to suit your own needs! {Image Credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2020}

I’d love to hear how it turned out for you!


Posted in math, mind, more seeds, special education

Writing IEP Goals and Objectives, Part 3: Standards-based Goals

Connections: Standards ~ Goals ~ Teaching

In the previous posts, we considered a math standard for Grade 6, and unwrapped it to identify key vocabulary, skills and concepts required for mastery of the standard.

6.NS.a.1. Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem.

We determined that, in order to demonstrate mastery of this standard, a student would need to

  • know and understand (as evidenced by correctly using) the terms fraction, dividend, divisor and quotient;
  • demonstrate understanding of the concepts of fraction, quotients of fractions, word problems as a representation of division problems involving fractions, and the concept of division;
  • interpret and compute quotients of fractions;
  • solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions.

Next, we considered what obstacles to learning students might have, which would interfere with successful mastery of the standard. To do this, we thought about the kinds of questions students asked when working on work based on this standard.

Now that we’ve analyzed the standard, and anticipating where students might struggle with foundational skills, concepts, and vocabulary, it’s time to consider a student with disabilities, and determine the specific areas of support that this student might have.
IEP Goals and objectives
Match the elements of the standard to the needs of the child to determine an appropriate standards-based goal. {Image Credit: (c) 2015: Kim M. Bennett}

Case Study: Student K, Grade 7:

Student K is a 7th grade boy in a self-contained, alternative placement. His most recent standardized math testing shows him to be near grade-level, in all areas of math. He made great academic gains over the past school year, as he worked to gain control over his own behavior.

In order to use this standard as a way to identify specific IEP goals for Student K, let’s take a look at some of our observations of him over the past year:

Study Skills:

It typically takes a great deal of time for Student K to transition between areas and begin work, especially first thing in the morning: most days, it is 30 minutes before he begins his morning work, during which time he swears at staff, walks out of the room, and sometimes shrieks in the stairwell. When he’s ready, he sits down to work, and can work independently on the task through to completion.

  • Issue #1: difficulty transitioning between activities, especially when they are in different areas
  • Issue #2: difficulty with task initiation, even when the task is within his capability

Neither of these issues are specific to this standard; in fact, they persist across all content areas and across time, making them important areas for IEP Goals.

Once Student K starts working, he works VERY slowly – on everything. His work output is very low, although he works steadily, requires little help, and produces high-quality material. His Woodcock-Johnson IV scores show a low-average IQ but extremely low processing speed. Scores on classroom assessments show him at risk due to lack of fluency (computational, math fact, reading), but the only area of fluency he actually shows deficits in is rate: his accuracy, prosody and understanding are grade-appropriate.

  • Issue #3: minimal work output due to slow processing speed

Again, while this issue isn’t specific to this standard, it will impact his learning across content areas, and bears greater emphasis in his IEP.
IEP Goals and objectives
Poor performance in math is not always due to difficulties with math content, itself.


When working, Student K appears to lack a repertoire of known mathematical procedures (e.g., long division algorithms, solving for an unknown, computing using order of operations). Once he has instruction, he learns the new procedure quickly, and can use it correctly. He tends to choose numerical models (i.e., equations) to solve math problems, and avoids visual models, even when they would be more efficient.

  • Issue #4: lack of procedural knowledge and fluency
  • Issue #5: difficulty using different modes of representing and solving the same problem

If we work under the hypothesis that Student K’s behavioral issues interfered in the past with his ability to be available for grade-level learning, it isn’t surprising that he lacks a repertoire of basic math strategies to draw upon. We can assume that this is a persistent issue with him, and worthy of an IEP Goal.

In general, Student K is fluent in his basic math facts, and can compute whole numbers and decimals accurately. His decoding and comprehension of grade-level text, including word problems, is adequate. He works independently, and learns new material quickly. We can feel that, with the proper supports, he will be well able to master grade-level content.
IEP Goals and objectives
It helps to consider the Rule of Four when identifying areas for developing IEP Goals and Objectives in math.

The Standard and the Student

Now, let’s return to our standard, and figure out what parts of the standard he might have trouble with:

  1. Procedures for computing fractions: dividing by multiplying the reciprocal, representing the problem with a visual model
  2. Identifying and representing the problem to be solved in a real-world situation or word problem involving mathematics: restating the problem in his own words; representing the problem using numerical (equations) and visual (area) models.
  3. Starting a task on time
  4. Completing a task within the allotted time

Of these three areas, only one is specific to the standard (#1), but, since fractions represent an area where so many students have difficulty, and since grasp of fractions by 6th grade is important for later math courses, it is worth focusing more on in his IEP goals.

Our Standards-based IEP Goals

To address the specific learning barriers we mentioned above, we write the following goals (the specially-designed instruction is in italics):

  • Goal #1: Given 2 fractions with 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 as the denominator, Student K will accurately compute the fractions, using numerical and visual models, with 75% accuracy.
  • Objective #1.1: Given 2 fractions with 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 as the denominator, Student K will accurately divide the fractions, by multiplying the first fraction by the reciprocal of the second, with 75% accuracy.
  • Objective #1.2: Given 2 fractions with 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 as the denominator, Student K will accurately divide the fractions, using an area model, with 75% accuracy.

We have limited the types of fractions Student K needs to use to demonstrate understanding of the standard, and have specifically named one new visual model we want him to use when computing.

  • Goal #2: After reading a word problem at the 5th grade reading level, Student K will explain the problem to be solved, and represent the problem using numerical and visual models, with 75% accuracy.
  • Objective #2.1: After reading a word problem at the 5th grade reading level, Student K will verbally restate the problem to be solved, in his own words , with 75% accuracy.
  • Objective #2.2: After reading a word problem at the 5th grade reading level, Student K will represent the problem to be solved, using an appropriate equation , with 75% accuracy.
  • Objective #2.3: After reading a word problem at the 5th grade reading level, Student K will represent the problem to be solved, using an area model , with 75% accuracy.

Again, we have controlled the level of the text to focus K’s energy on the content, have let the student explain verbally (rather than in writing), and have specified a new procedure (the area model) to add to his repertoire.
IEP Goals and objectives
Make sure to consider multiple ways of showing what you know when determining if a student has mastered a grade-level standard.

Other Goals

We noted areas not based on this standard, but which would definitely affect Student K’s performance of this (and many other) tasks. We will also include IEP goals on transitioning appropriately from one area to another, and on starting a task within 5 minutes, and will add accommodations that Student K has a reduced number of items to finish per task, and/or extended time to complete tasks.

Summing up our Standards Work

As previously stated, you would not unwrap every standard for a grade level. However, simply choosing one standard in a problem area (use the reports from your standardized testing to help you choose), and doing this exercise will help you focus in on what your student’s most important obstacles to learning are.

Have you ever unwrapped standards?

Posted in math, mind, more seeds, special education

Writing IEP Goals and Objectives, Part 2: Identifying Obstacles to Learning

Identifying Obstacles to Learning

In the past post, we analyzed a grade-level standard to determine the skills, concepts and knowledge that all students need to gain to master the goal, as written.

For students with disabilities, this grade-level goal will be challenging to reach in a year, without specially designed instruction. Analyzing the essential components of the standard helps us determine with which parts of the standard our students will need more assistance. From this, we will come up with annual goals to help get the students where they need to, ultimately, be.

To achieve this, we need to identify, for our student, the main obstacles to the child accessing the grade-level curriculum as represented in that standard.
Writing IEP Goals
To determine a student’s main obstacles to learning, consider the kinds of questions the student asks when doing grade-level work. {Image Credit: (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

What Part of the Standard Will We Address?

Let’s reconsider the math standard we analyzed from the last post:

6.NS.a.1. Interpret and compute quotients of fractions, and solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem.

When we closely examined the standard, we determined that, in order to fully master this standard, students needed to be able to do the following:

  • know and understand (as evidenced by correctly using) the terms fraction, dividend, divisor and quotient;
  • demonstrate understanding of the concepts of fraction, quotients of fractions, word problems as a representation of division problems involving fractions, and the concept of division;
  • interpret and compute quotients of fractions;
  • solve word problems involving division of fractions by fractions.

In order to write the standards-based goal, we must first determine the portion(s) of the standard (or implied foundational parts of the standard) with which our student is struggling. I think about the questions that the student asks me, when we’re working on problems based on this standard. Below are some questions students ask, and what they might indicate. I’ve categorized them into two groups: general instruction issues and specially-designed instruction issues.
Writing IEP Goals
Sometimes, there’s a major foundational skill that interferes with a student otherwise accessing the grade-level. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

General Instruction Issues

General instruction issues are problems the student has that are parts of the grade-level standard that any student might reasonably need help with, because they represent new grade-level content. In other words, for this example, given a class of students in Grade 6, and new instruction, many of your students might not have fully mastered the skill or concept, until the end of the year, because they haven’t been taught fully yet. These would not be ideas to focus on in your IEP goals, as they should reasonably be met through general education instruction or early intervention supports:

  • “I get how to divide whole numbers, but what does it mean to divide a fraction?” (the student has difficulty understanding division as it applies to numbers that are not whole numbers)
  • “I know what it’s asking me – but how do I divide fractions by fractions?” (the student doesn’t know a procedure to use to solve the problem)
  • “How do I set that up?” (the student does not know how to represent the word problem using visual models or an equation)
  • “I read it, but I don’t get it. What am I supposed to do?” (the student has difficulty understanding the word problem as a problem that can be solved using mathematics)
Difficulty with using multiple means of representing mathematical ideas is a common area for student difficulties in mathematics. {Image Credit: (c) 2018, Kim M. Bennett}

Specially-designed Instruction Issues

Close examination of the grade-level standard, and the student’s performance in class, will often indicate underlying difficulties the student has which make accessing the grade-level curriculum standard difficult. Since our goal as special educators is to develop customized instruction to help the student access the grade-level curriculum, these are the areas where we should focus our IEP goals and objectives, as they represent current obstacles to the student mastering the standard, as written:

Vocabulary Issues

  • “What does this word say?” (the student has difficulty reading key content vocabulary)
  • “What does this word mean?” (the student has difficulty with the meaning of key content vocabulary)

Reading Comprehension Issues

  • “What does this word problem say? What does it mean?” (the student has difficulty reading and comprehending mathematical word problems as a genre of literature)

Fact Fluency Issues

  • What’s 8 divided by 4?” (the student lacks fluency in basic math facts)

Computational Fluency Issues

  • “I did what you said, but the answer is wrong… why?” (the student lacks accuracy in computation)
  • “How do I divide this?” (the student has difficulty with the idea of division as making equal shares of a whole)

Other Issues

  • “What is a fraction? What does a fraction really mean?” (the student has difficulty with the concept of fractions as relative parts of a whole)
  • “What does THIS fraction mean?” (the student has difficulty interpreting fractional notation – he may understand “1/4” when represented using concrete objects, but has difficulty when presented with the symbolic representation)
  • “How do I say this [fraction]?” (the student has difficulty reading numbers expressed in fractional notation – this is similar to the previous)
Fractions represent a common conceptual challenge to many students, with and without disabilities. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

Identifying a Focus for SDI

Of course, you don’t complete this process for every grade-level standard. And you don’t write an IEP goal for every area that a student has difficulty. However, even if you did this activity with one grade-level standard, chances are that you will see patterns of challenges for a particular student. For example, I have one student who would struggle with this standard, simply because he cannot decode the text. If you read the problem to him, and allow him to represent the problem with a drawing or concrete objects, he can accurately complete the grade-level task. You wouldn’t want to give him an elementary task, simply because the reading level is easier for him – that’s not respectful of his math ability.

He also struggles with basic multiplication facts. So, for him, focusing on “work-arounds” for the text-based portion of the standard, and providing accommodations for the math fact fluency issues, would be helpful no matter what math standard he was working on. Make sense?

Always consider embedded literacy skills as areas of difficulty with many math students. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

Writing that Standards-based Goal

In the last post, we unwrapped the grade-level standard, to identify key vocabulary, skills and concepts embedded in the standard. In this post, we reviewed where our student would struggle with the standard, using his questions as a guideline for diagnosing his obstacles to accessing the grade-level curriculum. Then we identified obstacles that would likely pop up in multiple areas of his curriculum, to prioritize what we set for goals for him.

In the next post, we will use what we know about the grade-level curriculum and our student’s needs, and write IEP goals that will enable him to better access his grade-level curriculum.

Posted in general education, homeschool, literacy, math, mind, more seeds, science, social studies, special education

Tech Tools and Education Apps You Have to Try This Year!

Living in a Technological World

Kids these days are technology natives.

From the time they were born, they’ve held some kind of electronic device in their baby hands: a cell phone, a remote, a game console controller… Their classrooms, likewise, are full of technology that the rest of us never even dreamed of, including interactive white boards, document cameras, digital recorders and web cams, and 1:1 Chrome books and iPads.

Many of us charged with teaching said students with said devices are, unfortunately, technology immigrants. We may have assimilated well (or not) into the world of technology, but it doesn’t come second nature to us. Consequently, there are many of us who use our Promethean board as simply a tool to project videos while the kids eat snack.

And, of course, there is a growing anti-technology movement, based on the very clear evidence of some very real, and detrimental, effects of excessive screen time to the minds, bodies and spirits of kids and adults.

It is safe to say that the digital world is here to stay. There is no doubt that electronics, today, bring many benefits to our lives: the digital mammogram I just had is instantly readable by all of my doctors; my cell phone and a Roku app replace the TV remote that died because it sat in water on the coffee table; the music from my Pandora account streams live to two Onyx speakers in my house, so I can clean and listen to Bonnie Raitt at the same time; I can look on my laptop to see who came to my door at home, while sitting at my desk at work.

In what ways will I use technology to enhance my students’ lives and learning this year, while making sure that they live balanced lives, in the process?

Technology Tools in Today’s Classrooms

There is an amazing graphic that’s been around for a number of years, which shows about a zillion (okay, that’s an exaggeration) apps that correspond to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Perhaps you’ve seen it?
educational technology
apps for learning
iPad apps can be effective and modern ways to address all of the levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

My students prefer to have real textbooks, but they are much more engaged when I incorporate interactive technological tools into my daily lessons. The “menu” above is a good start, but there are now so many more!

What’s on My Technology Menu for 2019-20?

Here are the apps and websites I’m using with my students this year:

Language Arts

Old Standby: ReadWorks: I have used this free website to download leveled articles for all subjects for a number of years. Last year, I began using some of the other features as part of my explicit instruction in language arts.

  • articles have an option be projected onto my Promethean board for whole-group lessons
  • the Article-a-Day feature can be used to build background knowledge on a new topic with my students
  • I can rotate through a number of articles on the same topic, on different Lexile levels, through the course of the week, so students can apply learned skills to increasingly difficult texts
  • the comprehension questions can be sorted by question type, for monitoring IEP goals and objectives
  • there are question sets for specific skill areas (e.g., Author’s Purpose questions, vocabulary questions)

This summer, I used ReadWorks articles to assess Oral Reading Fluency as well as Silent Reading Fluency, once a week for all students on my caseload. One downside to ReadWorks is that there are fewer articles at the higher Lexile levels. Enter my new favorite literacy site…

ReadWorks offers many options for teaching reading instruction to students of all levels. {Image credit (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

My New Favorite: Newsela: Like ReadWorks, Newsela offers leveled passages for students to read, and comprehension questions to answer. This summer, I set up a free version of the account, and invited my summer school students to participate. While we considered and declined to purchase a PRO account (it was pricey), the free version was well-liked by my students, and will become part of our regular instruction this coming year.

  • students can control the readability of the text in real-time, and see the changes when they adjust the Lexile level
  • they can monitor their own progress, and have learned how to choose a “just-right” level, or a challenge level, by viewing their “binder”
  • there are more selections at the higher reading levels than in ReadWorks
  • there are fewer questions at the end than with ReadWorks
  • by logging into the students’ accounts, I can see their overall progress, as well as sort their data by question type (NOTE: with the PRO version, there is a teacher dashboard, but not with the free version – so I make it part of my conference with the student to log into their account with them)
  • Newsela is a useful learning task for independent work during the literacy block
In Newsela, students can monitor their progress in their “binder.” Green dots represent articles read where the students scored at least 75% on the response quiz. {Image credit (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

Have to Try: Last year, I struggled to teach literary themes to my students, until, out of desperation, I began playing popular music for them from YouTube videos. Students were quickly able to identify the theme when it was embedded in music.

A colleague introduced me to Teach Rock, which has over 150 lesson plans and 16 units of study for teaching literary ideas through the study of popular music through the ages. We dabbled with it this summer, and I’m working it into my Language Arts work for the school year. Stay tuned!

Tools to Use: I have a handful of students who struggle with writing, either because they have difficulty spelling the words they want to use, or their physical writing process is slow and laborious. I introduced them to Windows Speech Recognition, which comes free with your Windows OS. You simply go into your settings, under Accessibility features, and activate it, so it runs in the background. With a command, it turns on, enabling students to speak their written responses. Early results show that the students are interested. NOTE: as with the voice commands on your phone, it does take time to learn how to talk so that the computer understands you, and to train the computer to understand your voice. I advise assigning particular computers to particular students, to help with that.

Windows Speech Recognition runs in the background, and can be activated by voice, to enable speech-to-text accommodation for students. {Image credit: (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}


Old Standby: I have been using Khan Academy with students (including my own homeschoolers) for years now. Many of you probably have, too. Khan Academy is free, and is especially strong in the area of mathematics, although this summer I started using the computer courses for students who needed a technology class for graduation.

Khan Academy offers high-quality, customized learning paths for students of all grade levels.
  • students can be assigned individualized work to meet IEP goals and objectives
  • students can be assigned re-teaching work, based on their grade-level assignments
  • Khan Academy can be used as an anchor activity, while you work with a small group on other skills
  • I have had students use Khan Academy outside of school, toward credit recovery
  • users can log in anywhere – helpful when kids are homebound, hospitalized or absent for any reason
  • there are initial quizzes that help determine a starting place, then a course is charted for the student
  • I have also used Khan Academy as part of an enrichment group in an elementary setting

Some students find that there is too much reading involved – this can be a barrier for students with reading difficulties.

Tools to Use: One of my teens has difficulty subtracting with regrouping, and I didn’t have base 10 blocks in my summer school tools. I discovered virtual base 10 blocks that I can use on the Promethean board at CoolMath4Kids. The kids love using the virtual manipulatives on the board – check out their site for more manipulatives.
There are a number of places where you can access virtual manipulatives. This is CoolMath4Kids. {Image Credit (c) 2019. Kim M. Bennett}

Science & Social Studies

Old Standby: I have a free account to Kids Discover, which has thousands of online articles, units of study and infographics, on high-interest topics of current interest, with built-in interactive parts. You can use the articles on your interactive white board. Every week, you’ll get access to a selection of free topics – more than enough to use for your entire curriculum, if you’re a homeschooler. My teens in my CDT class like it for a change up. There is a paid version, but I have not used that one.

  • useful for current topics (to supplement your regular curriculum with timely articles)
  • could be used for independent reading assignments
  • texts are high-readability for most high school students
  • colorful, interesting layout
Kids Discover
Kids Discover is a handy supplement to your science or social studies curriculum, offering high-interest articles on current topics. {Image Credit (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

Have to Try: My assistant shared the website Recyclebank with me. All of the articles are geared toward green living, health, ecology and the environment. The articles include links to high-quality, non-fiction articles from good sources, such as the Department of Environmental Protection or the USDA. There are fun elements, such as the Question of the Day. Reading articles and taking quizzes earns points, which can be redeemed for magazines and other items.

I like to have online current events sites that we can explore without a set assignment. I plan to use this site to teach kids how to efficiently explore and evaluate online sources, and to teach them how to build a reading log using online sources.

Earn points to use for rewards while you read articles on healthy lifestyles, green living and ecology, on Recyclebank. {Image Credit: (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

One “old standby” which I’ve used as a homeschooler, but which I will start using this year, is Journey North, a nature-based, citizen-science website. In a survey of possible topics of study, my students selected “nature walks” and “nature study” as preferred topics. One of my students recalled using a bald eagle “nest cam” in his middle school class. Again, stay tuned!

Tools to Use: Over the summer, I’ve been experimenting with a number of digital tools and looking for ways to incorporate them into my instruction, in an authentic way.

I am fiddling around with creating infographics in Canva, using the free service. It is a powerful app, but with that power comes a lot of information. I created a circle map about the influence of the Norwich Millionaires, and I’m thinking that we might practice this one type of graphic, using Canva in our US History class to continue to emphasize similar relationships in history.
Canva is a powerful tool for creating infographics and many other graphics, like this one on the influence of the Norwich Millionaires. {Image Credit: (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

One app that I’m planning to use to organize my classroom presentations is Sutori, another powerful digital tool, even when using the free version. I used the free version to create a timeline presentation of the early history of the city of Norwich, Connecticut. I feel it could be a great way to organize lesson materials, and will experiment with this in the coming year (see the linked blog post for a discussion on the use of Sutori to organize unit materials).

Teacher Tools

Old Standby: For the past several years, I have used a paid subscription to PlanBook Plus . It takes a little bit of time to enter plans if you use all the fields (I personally like to include the grade-level standards, and related standards from the students’ IEPs, in the plans), but I don’t mind that. One thing that is handy about this digital planbook is that I can pull it up from any device (including my phone), and that I can move lessons forward if something happens and I don’t get to something on a given day.

In the past, I included the instructional sequence for lessons in PlanBook Plus, but, this year, I think I’ll just put the “big” items (lesson title, textbook reference, standards), and leave the details for my written, daily planbook, since these might change.

Have to Try: As a special ed teacher in a self-contained classroom, in an alternative setting, I collect a lot of data, for a lot of classes, in addition to progress monitoring data. I have asked my principal to purchase a subscription to the Daily Cafe with CC Pensieve, which is a web-based data collection tool that can be used for conference notes, reading assessment data, science quizzes, and just about any information that I might collect. Because all the data is in one place, it is easy to print out a report in real-time for a PPT or a conference. It also helps me plan a workshop, or “cafe,” model for literacy and numeracy instruction, something which I experimented with at the end of last year and which the students liked, as they felt they were busier and got more individualized attention.
Daily Cafe
Daily 5
Daily 3
The Daily Cafe (for literacy and numeracy) was originally designed for use with elementary students, but is increasingly adaptable to struggling readers in the middle and secondary grades. {Image Credit: (c) 2019, Kim M. Bennett}

Technology Tools in Your Classroom

What are your go-to tech tools, apps and websites? Share the “best of the best” below, in the comments section!