Bringing Progress Monitoring To Center Stage

Why do we monitor progress ? What is the real purpose of our Tiers and forms? I thought about this today as I sat down to fill out a form for one of my students. I know exactly where this student is, what the strengths are, what the struggles are. Getting all that on paper, or entered into a short form to kick start the meeting process, is just a chore. And finding time at the end of the day to reflect and scribe the data from that 15 minute small group lesson 4 hours ago….well most days it’s hard to make that happen. That’s real.

So I started thinking. How can this task be transformed into what it really should be? How can this be moved from something I do at the end of the day (week) to Center Stage? After all, this information is golden. The key to unlocking the potential and closing gaps in this child lies in this information. If I could just somehow bring it to life. Lay it out like a road map complete with street names, detours, mileage, landmarks, pictures ….


A map. Data. Pictures. Video? Recorded in real time and then over time, as we travel, the path starts to reveal itself. I could then take others along this journey. Show them the landmarks. Give them the guided tour.

So I started to create the map. Destination Success.

The first thing I did was decide I need to be able to record data as it occurs. Which means for me on my iPad. Right there as it is happening. I need a spreadsheet to enter this into. Excel doesn’t work on iPads. But wait….google drive does. Hello Google sheets! I opened the program and built the sheet. Columns and rows for date, frequency, task, skill, intervention, data, and next steps. Now I can capture my thoughts immediately as the student works. Over time the path will begin to reveal itself. But wait…it still isn’t “alive”.

After a little more tweaking I discovered the missing piece of luggage I need for this journey. Artifacts. Pictures I can take -in real time- and upload right alongside the entry. And that led to….VIDEO! Yes, if I’m testing  fluency, for example, why not video it and upload that as well? And so, my map was born. A 360 degree tour of my student. Dropbox was the answer for downloading…and then linking…the pictures and video. All that was left was to try it out. But wait…other educators are also along for this journey. This student receives instruction through a pullout program every day for 30 minutes. The nifty thing about google docs is they can be shared. Others can be assigned editing rights, input data, and the document is automatically updated on all ends. Goodbye email!

Today I worked with this student, and as each task was completed I recorded. I captured this kiddo working through problems, choosing strategies, explaining thinking.  I recorded data.  I recorded my thoughts and what our next steps would be. The entire process was 10 minutes. And I have it all to relive at any given time. I have a map, a direction, and a vehicle. The first step on our journey has begun, and we continue to build the map as we go.

It just might revolutionize this entire piece for me. How I reflect, how I teach, how someone learns, and how I capture it all….in living color.

Center Stage. I can’t think of a better place for progress monitoring.


Dancing Along The Spectrum

Dancing Along The Spectrum


Nineteen years ago, I was still oblivious to the signs of something called autism. My knowledge of this condition was very limited. At the same time, my second child was born. My beautiful, peaceful daughter. I had no idea the journey into that unknown sphere was about to begin.

Now she has made it through high school and currently is in her first year of college– living in a dorm. Amazing!! Diagnosed with Aspergers, this is a person who spent most of her life preferring to be alone, living in the shadows, never going out with friends or taking risks of any kind. She is the ultimate definition of a worrier. She was also fearful of people due to so many episodes of non-acceptance and avoided groups or socializing of any kind. Nowadays, she has 4 roommates, spends weekends having “girls day out”, has gotten a tattoo, writes essays, stays up late, and has dyed her hair. Oh my!! Granted, these are typical events for a college kid– but these are huge leaps for her. This thrills me! (Well, not so much the tattoo–although she chose one that says “Hope“, saying it represented how she has always hoped for friends and fun and now she is finally not afraid to jump in there and experience life….so I actually LOVE that tattoo now).

Having a child on the spectrum has taught me many things which have helped me be a better teacher…a better parent…a better person. Here are five of them:

1. Be a self-esteem +1 ‘ er.

People with autism are often the victim of bullying. Their uniqueness isn’t always appreciated and understood. This can have a devastating effect on self-esteem. To offset that, try to involve them in things that will help build confidence.  And be open to anything.  We signed up for Taekwando, where she went on to earn a green belt. Who knew my shy, quiet, introverted daughter would be good at martial arts?

2. Recognize and celebrate individual passions.

My daughter never watched cartoons or played with toys. She spent her time watching The Weather Channel and building weather stations in the back yard, where she collected data. She can look at the sky and name every type of cloud, she can tell you the latest tropical storms, she can discuss the weather patterns forming across the eastern seaboard or the latest update on a tropical depression forming off the coast. Though not always a favorite topic of her peers, it was through this interest that she learned to read, calculate, make predictions, understand cause and effect, and draw conclusions. Not to mention find places she wants to one day visit (or never visit). Recognize passions and show you accept them for who they are. They need the positive vibes.

3. Initiate “check-ins” often.

My daughter was never going to ask a teacher for clarification. If she received a bad grade on an assignment, her embarrassment over that and lack of confidence would result in her just putting the paper away and moving on. Some teachers saw this as her “not taking initiative” in improving her grades. That wasn’t the case. She would suffer great anxiety over those things, but that happened internally. Communication is her biggest area of struggle, so if you can initiate the conversations around this, please do. Not everyone is comfortable having discussions, much less initiating them.

4. Learning styles matter.

Some kids love to collaborate. They share ideas, they enjoy working with others. But not all students are like this. My daughter prefers to work alone. She also expresses herself much more successfully through writing and technology, which is why I was so thankful for those teachers who allowed her to choose how to learn, and demonstrate that learning. Not everyone should be required to speak in front of a group or conduct an interview to gather data for a survey; if the assignment can be adjusted to accommodate styles and preferences, while maintaining the integrity of the task, please do!

5. Small acts of kindness have far reaching effects.

My daughter was fortunate to have some of the most outstanding teachers during her years in school, but one thing that really helped was that she also always seemed to have that one teacher who went above and beyond. It might not have even been a teacher on her schedule, but it was an adult in the building that always spoke to her, looked out for her, asked her how she was doing and really wanted to hear the answer. One example that sticks out: she never wanted to eat in the cafeteria because of the crowds and noise—so this one teacher would write her a pass to allow her to come to her classroom during lunch. That simple act made such a difference in how her days went-where before she would start feeling the anxiety of lunch and it was only 7:00 am!

For someone with autism, to have to navigate the social minefield of the high school cafeteria (who to sit with, how to approach the group and ask to sit…) well, that’s almost too much to bear. There are so many things which we don’t even realize are so stressful for others. Try to be sensitive to all the little nuances because they might be huge challenges for them.

Finally,  try to avoid assumptions. While there are many common characteristics or traits, no two people on the spectrum are the same. Get to know individual talents, skills, and struggles because there are many stereotypes and they are just that: stereotypes.

Even after 19 years, I don’t have all the answers on raising or teaching those with autism, and I know I never will. But these are some of the things I have picked up that have helped me (and her), and I wanted to share with you.

Thank you to all the teachers, parents, friends and strangers that have gone out of their way to show kindness and love to my daughter. You have mattered.


Pirate Tales

So I’ve started teaching like a pirate thanks to Dave Burgess and his inspiring book by the same title. Even more energizing are the #tlap chats I’ve begun participating in weekly. I’ve begun following several fellow educators from all over the world through #tlap who have led me to even MORE twitter pln’s. And the spiral begins…

I’m now knee deep in PD and learning alongside some very smart & creative people. It’s like a caffeine jolt to my practice and I’m feeling very much engaged with my profession and my craft. Exciting.

My first experience as a pirate has been …I’d say fair. It started with a non-fiction article on the Maya civilization. I chose it basically for the non fiction reading strategy practice we needed (plus, the topic is cool). So the Maya became the backdrop for my lessons in drawing conclusions, making predictions, inferencing, analyzing, categorizing, and critical thinking (just how could they have predicted astronomical patterns such as an eclipse 34 years into the future, or Venus’ revolution to within mere days, without advanced technology)?

I searched online and found a YouTube clip, already segmented in 10 minute sections arranged by topic (glyphs, math system, astronomy, and way of life). These mirrored the article exactly. What luck!!

Seeing the potential for a pirate lesson, I seized it. The Maya Mystery Experience was born. I hung white sheets from the ceiling (to mirror the Maya interior of their homes) and removed the chairs. I put down mats (thanks PE teacher) to serve as the “thinking mats” which the Maya used (this info was in the article).

I met them at the door and told them to prepare to have their minds blown. Immediately they were hooked. As the kids entered the room, the only light came from the screen, which projected an image of a Maya tribal leader in full headdress. The mystery & excitement filled the room…and I had them! Immediately, the video segment began, bringing another world into the classroom. For 10 minutes they were completely mesmerized.

After adding to their journals, and what they thought the image was, we began asking questions. I told them, “as the week continues, you will learn these answers and more”. They didn’t want it to end. Exactly what a teacher strives for!

Each day has featured another video clip, more answers, and more questions. Today they were given the article to begin our reading and they COULD NOT WAIT to read it. We read only 3 of the 6 pages today (out of time!) and they literally moaned & begged to continue. Some asked if they could read ahead during recess. I have never, in 15 years, witnessed a more engaged reading lesson.

They made inferences, and justified them with text evidence. They drew on background knowledge to make predictions. They created categories and filled them with examples, delving into such character traits as “resourceful, insightful, ingenious, mysterious, advanced) and they found common themes (religion). They identified cause & effect. And they were in love with reading.

Tomorrow, we will watch the last clip. We ended today on a cliff hanger (they were not happy)! They cannot wait to complete the reading.

They requested (during math) that I give them problems to solve using the Maya number system of dots & bars. They learned of that today & were fascinated. What’s one more thing?!

But now….a problem. The students got together and proposed a project to me today. They want to create things to show what they’ve learned with technology, as a sort of tribute to this civilization. They explained that one group could do a play, another a documentary, another a slide show….they would include glyphs, pictures, maps…..and we could put it all on a wiki page. Our own Maya website.

Oh boy!! I could get lost in this wonderfully creative display of learning….but…time is so short!! We start a major science project next week, and a DBQ in Social Studies the week after. Our writing benchmarks are next week. There isn’t time for this extension!

So it seems my lesson was great but has brought forth some struggle & some questions. It’s so hard to stop progress but at the same time I have to say no to class time project. Could I let them do it at home? Don’t we want our kids to extend their learning? To take it home and continue learning because…wait for it….they WANT TO!? Maybe that’s the answer.

Other reflection: I was going to dress up in loud, colorful clothes to kick this off Maya style, but it was “Generation Texas” week and we were supposed to wear a school shirt. So I did. I should have worn the Maya clothes. The impact there would have been greater than them seeing me in the school shirt (again). That isn’t something they will remember.

Next time, I will.

And the journey continues….I will pirate on. Fearlessly.