Dan Henderson

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is My Intervention Working?

By Dan Henderson

Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching

Help me! After many failed attempts to try to influence a child, the teacher or parent needs to start using an intervention. When we here the word intervention we may think we need to invite the whole family over to sit down around the couch to talk to Jimmy.  Most interventions do not warrant a family reality show. An intervention should be used to change a current situation or create a replacement behavior.  In academia we rate interventions in essence on a scale of one to three, three being the most intense interventions. When I teach I use a range of interventions all the time.  I break up these interventions into broad categories of academic and social/emotional.  The purpose is to help all learners access the curriculum and to create a replacement behavior.

Three Academic Interventions Any Teacher Can Use

1. Differentiate your instruction:  I once took a course on how students learned by using objects to start the conversation instead of starting with a written text. The  children had to touch and investigate what the object was used for in the past.  It was a tapered 18th century candle mold. Then we watched a video on the 18th century candle making process.  Only after this object was passed around and we saw the video did we read a primary source written article on the history of candle molds.  There are many ways to differentiate and this was one example. The key is to always differentiate your lesson.

2. Name the steps: It sounds rudimentary, but when you name the steps you scaffolded the problem so that you can fix any step the student misses. It is easier to fix one step at a time then  the whole staircase.

3. Use a rubric: Show students an example of below and grade level expectations before you release them to do independent work.  They will be able to have a reference to guide their work when you give students examples with a rubric to follow.

Two Social and Emotional Interventions Any Teacher Can Use

1. Model the behavior: Many children or teenagers do not know how to act simply because they have not seen or experienced the behavior to reproduce that particular demeanor. Some quick ways to model behavior are to watch a video and create class rules that the teacher or students model. Afterwards the class agrees to follow the rules they help create. The real problem with expecting a certain type of behavior is not giving the child a chance to witness the behavior they need to mimic.

2. List the logical progression of consequences: Children are master manipulators.  They will wear you down with whining if you have not laid out the consequences for their actions good or bad.  If you do not have a protocol for how you handle the interpersonal conflicts between child and teacher the child can easily win. The rules need to be discussed and a natural progression of consequences needs to follow a set path. There is little room for debate when the rules have already been agreed to.

A story from a class down the hall...

Too see if an intervention is working you need a baseline score, measurable goal, determine the frequency of the intervention ( ex: 30 mins four times a week. ), identify who is tracking or administering the intervention (is the intervention tracked by the teacher or student ) and to verify it is a scientifically proven intervention.  If you do not have these basics it is hard to measure the results of any intervention.  One teacher need help with these principals.

"When you interrupt your classmates again and again they start to call you a jerk!" Mr. Connell said to Eric as he blurted out the answer again.  Mr. Connell referred to this behavior as stealing the knowledge from the class.  Although it was not constructive to call Eric a jerk, Mr. Connell had run out of patience.  He came to the RTI ( Response to Intervention ) team for advice.

"Eric just won't stop calling out the answer. I keep telling him to stop and then I have put him out of the class circle when he blurts out the answer. " Mr. Connell is explaining his strategy that really is not an intervention.

"Have you tried any other strategies?" The team asks patiently.

"Well, then I take away a class privilege." Mr. Connell leans back in his chair and rubs his hands over his head.

"Does he seem to care?" The team asks.

"No, not really. That is why I came to you."

I spoke up. "I think you should try a few strategies. First, you should find out what he wants and have a system that he can track for when he does not call out. Second, I think you need a visual sign to show Eric when he can and can not ask questions. I think you need to reward him on a goal he wants."

"That's it?" Mr. Connell asks shrugging his hands indifferently. "Alright, I will try it next week." We give Mr. Connell some data collection sheets Eric can use to track his progress.  Four weeks go by and he brings the sheets back to the team. With bright blue ink some words are written, I am not a jerk.

"Why would Eric think he is a jerk."  I ask.

"Never mind the importance thing is he is not a jerk." Mr. Connell grins unabashedly.

Teachers and parents can feel overwhelmed by certain behaviors children are producing. When you feel stuck get an outside perspective.  The important part is being able to find a replacement behavior and track to see if the intervention is working, If you have the time it also measure to see if Eric is a jerk.

A good book to review replacement behaviors is the Hawthorne Behavior Intervention Manuel.

If you enjoyed this story check out Dan's new book That’s Special A Survival Guide To Teaching.

Email me at [ Dan ] [Henderson ] danhendersonthatsspecial@gmail.com

Reviews from That’s Special A Survival Guide To Teaching:

If you were considering a career in teaching special education students and read Dan’s stories, you might think twice. After reading about his tools, however, you should see how it can be a rewarding option thanks to his tools and your own hard work and caring.

-Dr. Doug Green

Like the Facebook page at 


*Disclaimer: All names have been changed to protect their identity.  All specific geographic indicators have been removed from these stories. Additionally, these stories are written about incidents that happened one year or longer from this date. @ That’s Special January 2017

Monday, August 8, 2016

4 Strategies For Implementing Learning Stations In Your Classroom
What is a center or station? Desks or tables are grouped according to a particular skill or participants academic level in a group. Each group or table is differentiated to meet the learner where they are at academically. Here are a few tips for creating centers or stations.
  1. Grouping your students: After the first four to six weeks of school you should have some diagnostic data on where you children are academically. Maybe you are further along in the year, but you need to place your groups in similar academic levels via beginning of year formal assessments data. The idea is each academic group comes to the teacher in groups of four to six students for direct instruction. In the other centers activities are planned out for groups to do independent work.
  1. Differentiate the work in your centers and stations: Take each station and think of it as a common core or state standard. Make levels of difficulty A-D of each standard for your groups and neatly organize your packets A-D. “A” being the foundational skill and “D” being mastery. You can come up with your own system, but there needs to be levels of increasing comprehension they can access independently. Sometimes it’s best to have different levels or learners in a center around the same activity. The more advanced children can help the students that are struggling on their A or B level packets. The key is the center is differentiated for all learners at the table for each learner at their level.
  1. Managing the flow of movement: Model, model, model how the flow of movement will look like going from center to center. Get a timer, live by it. Expect 100% participation and do not let any kid slow down the movements of the group.
  1. How to re-evaluate your groups: Students will inevitable advance to more difficult levels towards mastery. Each Friday I do a quick exit quiz to see if a student should advance to a harder level. Then I write on the board the updated list of who can participate at what independent activity at a center. If you want to keep this information private you can have students carry around folders indicating their level. However, giving students access to all the levels is not harmful. In fact many argue that this access to levels A-D or all levels in a center is necessary for a child to advance at the speed they are learning.
A Story From My Classroom
A game played by aging senior citizens and in your child’s elementary classroom. There has been increasing scientific support stating children need to experience joy in order to learn. With joy comes retention of knowledge and the chemicals in our brain want to trigger that reward response again. Viewing kids play games inside a classroom can either resemble a precision portrait or modern art. The modern art visual being a seating arrangement designed by Picasso. If there is game  in the classroom while students learn does it matter? I let a student who loved to win play games at centers, but he would not lose gracefully. Would we all be experiencing joy when Tyrell lost bingo?
As adults we often try to tell kids that winning does not always matter. Situations of small fights or small disputes on the playground are easily forgotten as we grow older. In the moment, telling a child a game is not important is not the best strategy. It would be better to acknowledge the child’s feelings before trying to give them advice. After acknowledging their feelings give them two choices. Children often get stuck in a feeling and do not consider the alternatives. This is how I set up centers and stations to play bingo in my classroom.
I had set up my stations around the classroom in groups of five desks. After 20 minutes the students would rotate to another group of five desks. At each center there were different activities. I had bags labeled A-D at each desk. On the board there where names that corresponded to the letter each child was in at the corresponding center. For example, during our math rotation students were working on fractions. Some students were on a level D and some on a C in a group of five desks. Each child can play a game with someone at their level or by themselves. In the end the idea is that kids are having fun playing the game while learning.
Tyrell and Ben were in the same group playing fraction bingo. The goal was to add fractions on your card. For example, in a square it would list 1/8 + 3/8. Then someone would pick a separate set of equations from a stack. You had to solve the equation on your bingo card once someone called out the fraction. If someone called out 4/8 or 1/2 you would mark your square. Then all the normal rules of bingo applied. Ben had a successful streak of bingo’s this week, yelling loudly to announce his victory.
“Bingo, haha I won again. You suck.” Said Ben mockingly.
“I don’t suck I won last week. You just got lucky.” Tyrell yells back.
“Nah you suck bro.” All eyes in the classroom turn on Tyrell and Ben.
“Shut up.” Tyrell picks his game board and throws it at Ben scattering plastic chips all over the room.
“Hey, stop throwing the game.” I yell from across the room. Tyrell stands up making a fist aggressively over his chair. I get upset and stand to see the potential fight.
“If you don’t sit down you will never play bingo again.” In the moment the words felt righteous, but shouldn’t I help Tryrell through this situation by offering him a choice, so he could reason with his feelings? I don not make it a priority and separate the two bingo bandits. I move about my day rotating kids through centers.
The next day I tell the children to rotate to their next center and warn Tyrell and Ben about their previous bingo shenanigans.
“If you lose today Tyrell, it’s no big deal. Just say good job.” This leave it to beaver advice bounced off his ears like telling teenages to eat one plate of food at the all you can eat Chinese buffet. You will regret it later, but at the time that General Tso’s chicken tastes so good. The same pleasure receptors are going off in the child brain. Winning is good, winning is all I care about.
“Bingo!” Ben yells again winning two days in a row.
“Shut up” Tyrell yells.
“Listen don’t be a baby about it. Baby.”
“You such an *sshole.” Tyrell yells.
The whole class goes. “Ohhh” We enjoy an awkward few seconds of silence. I ring my bell to silence the classroom. Worried eyes look in my direction and the plastic pen I hold is unnaturally bending. I spent all this time creating games and they fight over bingo. B12 you said, what a coincidence. That is the same classroom for your detention.
“That’s it. Ben and Tyrell no more bingo. You are not playing this game again.”
“What what!” Tyrell starts breathing heavily, his chance at bingo redemption, the holy trinity of horizontal and diagonal lines is suddenly dashed. Would Tyrell’s quest to greatness be ousted by this tyrant teacher. Tyrell faces grows defiant.
“Haha I guess you will always be a loser.” Ben points triumphantly.
“Ahhh.” With a quick sprint Tyrell scatters the game on the floor. Then finds a crayon box, breaking 1-2 crayons at a time and throwing them against the wall. Books start flying off the shelf. I sigh. Then wonder, did I remember to switch to Geico?
“Tyrell, Tyrell, calm down, calm down. We do not always get our way or win.” I say urgently.
“You got your way, I can’t play bingo. It’s not fair I just want to play again. I want to play again.” Tyrell is literally screaming the solution at me. By taking away his joy and his opportunity at redemption, I took away his motivation to behave. Was bingo so bad or was it just how Tyrell responded to losing. Yes, you need to give consequences, but was this the best consequence. The point is to teach our children how to respond to losing, correct?
I start off by acknowledging his feelings and then offer a choice. “I know losing is hard. You must be really tired of losing.” He slows down breaking crayons. The magenta is spared.
“Alright Tyrell you have a choice. You can continue to make a mess that will ultimately lead to you seeing the principal or you could stop, clean up the mess and have a conference with me on how you will play bingo again.” He holds up the Jitterbug Jade still breathing heavily. It was 128 crayon set people, I did not name these colors! Think of the Jade! I try to telepathically relay to spare my crayon box set.
He slowly puts down the Crayola. “Fine, I will have a conference with you.” Tyrell says relaxing his shoulders. I breathe deeply, but lower my voice.
“Clean up this mess and class get back to work.” Students slowly move to start their work back up again.
I call a conference with Tyrell to talk through a new strategy of losing. We come up with some immediate strategies like forecasting if he would lose to ward off a tantrum or picking other partners other than Ben. Then we model Tyrell losing again and I asked him what he would say, he said. “Let’s play again and good game.” To some degree I think he was just saying the words teachers want to hear.
“You can try playing again tomorrow, but not with Ben.”
“He is a jerk right.” He says deadpanned.
“There will always be jerks you play against, but what matters is that you don’t let jerks mock or tease you. That’s how you really lose.” Tyrell nods as I give this sage advice.
“So I can tell everyone you think he is a jerk.” Oh the joy of what kids find important for their teacher’s to acknowledge.
Centers and stations work to help differentiate group work, but don’t be discouraged if you have a few bingo bullies.
If you enjoyed these teaching mishaps and want to read similar stories visit my blog at http://danhendersonthatsspecial.blogspot.com. You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co

Reviews from That’s Special A Survival Guide To Teaching:

If you were considering a career in teaching special education students and read Dan’s stories, you might think twice. After reading about his tools, however, you should see how it can be a rewarding option thanks to his tools and your own hard work and caring.

-Dr. Doug Green

Like the Facebook page at 


*Disclaimer: All names have been changed to protect their identity.  All specific geographic indicators have been removed from these stories. Additionally, these stories are written about incidents that happened one year or longer from this date. @ That’s Special 2016

Friday, July 22, 2016

The school year is right around the corner and there will be a new teacher who needs some help. Enter into my Goodreads giveaway to win a free printed copy of That's Special A Survival Guide To Teaching to give as a gift!

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by Dan Henderson

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Monday, July 4, 2016

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Friday, June 24, 2016

How Can We Control Facebook Usage In The Classroom?

Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching

Before the technology supervisor decides to block Facebook on the school server, we must of had enough updates to track the social standings of our student’s by the minute. These updates were discovered by a parent while they were working. Given the fact that we are entrusted with the safety and education of these children, a Facebook status update that says, “OMG I can’t wait to go home to play Mario Cart!” doesn’t bode well for the reputation of our schools curriculum.
The update statuses are from a collection of boys and girls in the fifth grade class. A computer cart was wheeled each day from classroom to classroom for each grades’ designated computer time. The computers were used primarily to help reinforce the math skills teachers had previously taught. Teachers place a computer in front of each student, stare at a screen intently, clicking away with speed and hopefully precision. The teacher uses this time wisely to lesson plan.
I watched my busy bees typing away on their personal computers. I was at my desk in the corner, preparing for my next unit in mathematics. I had the vantage point to see about half their computer screens. The classroom is grouped in desks of four. Another advantage I had was that I could assign each student a certain number of problems from my computer. I can even check to see who has completed the problems in real time. 
By constantly refreshing my browser, I was able to check which students are working. I slowly paced the room, checking work, answering questions. I do have a Do Not Disturb sign if I really need to accomplish a task, but for the most part I answer all raised hands. I was too relaxed in checking minimized browsers on their computer screens, I was only checking on the completion of their assignments. After thirty minutes we would put the computers away and this is what I thought a typical day of mathematics looked like in my classroom. The next day would prove to be very different.
This was a period in my teaching where schools were just getting laptops and Facebook was relatively new. Today, everything is blocked and sometimes my students have trouble logging into PBS kids. 
It was a rainy fall afternoon and I was planning away for my next weeks lessons. I was startled when my principal asked me to come to the main office.“Mr. Henderson.” The principal’s long pause after your last name was never good sign.
“I have some troubling news. It seems that many of your students are logging into Facebook during class.” The principal said.
“I am so sorry, I had no knowledge. They must be logging in during our math time. How did you find out?”
“Tim really wants to play Mario kart after school.” My principal chuckled. I really enjoyed that my principal had a sense of humor..
The principal continued, “Ms. Richards called me today because she is friends with her son’s Facebook account. Ms. Richards replied to Tim, asking, ‘Are you in school?’ and, when she got no response, she got a little worried. Ms. Richards called the reception desk and I assured her Tim was at school. I told her we would take care of the incident.”
Knowing that my relaxed supervision did not help this scenario, I thought of an idea to possibly redeem this situation. 
“Could we wait until during my math class today, when they are all on the computers to give Tim a consequence. Also, if more students are on Facebook, I would rather find out who they are. I have a plan.” I said conspiratorially as I relayed the plan.
“Go ahead.” my principal sat back in her chair and started rocking to listen to my idea.
“Why don’t I act like everything is normal? I will have all the students come to the carpet. While they are there, I will check their computers one by one.” My principal agreed. With a flick of the hand he sent me away to deal with the situation.
I left angry. Let kids get away with something and they will. I walked up the steps, formulating my plan. I had to play this one cool and make sure they did not close their screens. I wanted to catch them in the act for the shock value. 
I began the lesson with a Powerpoint presentation and a marker. My strategy, before I had a smart board, was to have slides with step by step instructions. However, I would shine the presentation on a white board and sometimes draw over the projected problems, writing out the steps. 
One by one, I invited other students to the screen to add mixed fractions. I wanted to give Tim a particularly hard problem, revenge for essentially getting me in trouble. I tapped my fingers against a desk to restrain my anger and then the students proceeded to do independent work on their personal computers. I sat, ready to strike my own status update. “No Mario Cart For Tim Tonight.”
Three boys, Tim, Ryan and Eric, had smug grins on their faces. I stayed at my desk, pretending to not look in their direction. I waited for the perfect moment. 
Ten minutes into the lesson, keys were diligently tapping away. My computer told me even my three friends were completing a few of their math problems. I grabbed the armrest of my chair springing to my feet. 
I yell,“Hands on your head like this! In three, two- this mean you,” I put my hands on my head to signal what I wanted. Tim, nervous, started clicking furiously on his computer, but not quick enough. “-Tim, one!” I rushed over to their desks and saw Facebook accounts open on all three computers. 
Tim motioned toward his keyboard. I gave him my best Dirty Hairy look, thinking. I know what your thinking, ‘How did I know? Will I call your mom? Do I have enough juice left in my cell phone battery?’ Well you gotta ask yourself, do you fell lucky today punk!
“Everyone to the carpet.” Luckily, from my early days of teaching 1st grade, I still used a carpet from time to time. Although they were bigger kids, they all had assigned spots on the carpet. The transition went smoothly.
I clicked on the Powerpoint presentation and gave a marker to Samantha. 
“Samantha, please call students up one by one to the board to complete the problems. Remember to have each student who comes up explain their reasoning with each step.”
The three boys looked at me with terror. Sweat started running down foreheads. Ryan looks especially remorseful as if I might need to buy him some Depends. I walk to their computers and sit in the tiny chair to open their status updates.
I read, “I know you like Samatha Ryan just admit it.” Tim wrote to Ryan. 
“No, ok maybe just a little. What should I do.” Ryan wrote back.
“You should kiss her after school.” Tim persisted.
“I haven’t kissed a girl before, what do I say.” Ryan questioned.
“Tell her she is like one of the hotter girls in fifth grade and like you should plan a time to kiss.” 
I read this attempt at love and thought. “Tim, Tim, Tim, don’t give advice if you have never kissed a girl.”
I may be an old man, but I had a girlfriend of mine translate this male language into what a girl would hear.
Female Translation.
Hi, my name is Ryan. Listen, you are probably the seventh maybe sixth most attractive female in this class according to my ranking model. Your prospects of snagging the best mate are slim. This is why you should settle for me. I do not have the courage to actually kiss you now. I am going to trust my hormones on this one and never call you on the phone to see how you are doing.
The students were still sitting with their legs folded and their backs straight on the carpet. My three culprits still looked very nervous. I began to think of how I could teach these kids that social networking can be dangerous. On Ryan’s computer, I searched Samantha’s name. I wrote Samantha a long love note using Ryan’s login. After my long winded message, I cracked my knuckles and looked at my friends with a big grin. I had just devised the best motivational tool ever. Checking the message once more to add the words, “I promise to wear clean underwear whenever I am with you.,” I summon my friends.
“Tim, Ryan, Eric come here please.” They rose and Ryan sidestepped as if he was approaching a wild animal in the brush. In the past, I had used some pretty creative ways to prove a point and they were worried after the cell phone incident with Claudia earlier in the year. 
“I want you all to read what I wrote to Samantha.” Ryan gripped the desk and turned white in horror.
My message on , “Samantha I think you are really hot, like the sixth most attractive girl in class. Do you wanna you know, kiss sometime. : ) I promise to wear clean underwear whenever I am with you.” 
“You wouldn’t.” Ryan begged.
The other boys started giggling. I think they wanted me to send the message. No loyalty in this crew.
“Tim and Eric, I wonder if I were to scroll though your accounts, which are left open here, do you think I would find any message about girls?” 
The giggling ceased and they look at me deadpanned. As I rose from the chair, they stepped back and looked up at my eyes. I was about a foot and a half taller then the tops of their heads when I stood up. I closed the three computers with a hearty slam and carried them over to my desk, inviting the boys to follow.
“You know that any other website other than the math practice is off limits. Facebook is especially forbidden in our school. You did this knowingly and, worst of all, I see you talking behind other students backs. This is your choice. I am going to hold onto these computers with your Facebook log in information. Either I send messages to all the girls in your account or you stay late all this week for after school detention.”
“Detention.” They all said in unison, after taking about two seconds to decide. 
“Plus during your detention you will be on our math program completing extra problems. I will make sure that someone is watching your screen at all times.” I said with authority.
“Boys one more thing. When you like a girl, tell her she is beautiful and don’t rank her. Plus, if you want to kiss her she will send you signals. You will know.” Samantha owed me.
“Please go see the principal.” Tim, Eric, and Ryan, with heads tilted low, walked towards the door.
I direct the class to go back to their computers. Samantha asked me, “What did the boys do?” Samatha asked me as she walked briskly to my desk, overhearing her name.
“They were writing messages on Facebook to each other. I just want you to know they are going to have detention for three days. If you want more information, you can follow my status update.”
“Mr. Henderson, you are on Facebook?”
“No, but I can write you my status on the board.”
Mr. Henderson status update: “Angry. Tired. Might eat children if they don’t get back to work.”
Most students laugh and I pull out a bottle of ketchup from my mini fridge just to seal the deal.

Do you think Math on the computer is an effective way to teach Mathematics?
Is social media hard to control at your school?

If you enjoyed these teaching mishaps and want to read similar stories visit my blog at http://danhendersonthatsspecial.blogspot.com. You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

3 Tips To Help Prepare Your Student For A Test
Contributed by Dan Henderson, Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching
At the moment, standardized testing is here to stay in America. Since we subject our students to these tests of achievement, we might as well help our students succeed. Here are a few tips to help your students become successful when they have to endure a standardized test.
1. Practice success so they know what it feels like.
Have you given your student the opportunity to know they are successful? It is beneficial for the student to see a correct answer on a test and praise their work. When I create a practice test, I make at least my first two questions a review of the standards. All of my students get these first few questions correct.

This practice test of success should be done one to two weeks before the big standardized test with no more than 10 questions. Additionally, do not have all the questions be multiple choice. Any long term transfer of knowledge will not be retained by cramming, so you might as well put your students in a positive state of mind by motivating them with a practice test in which they got at least a few correct answers.
2. Help them learn to justify their answers with questions.
Whether with groups of two to four or in the whole class have the students justify their answers on the practice test. Start this activity by asking your student questions about their chosen answers. Many times answering a question in groups is more beneficial than students completing a test and never circling back. If you want to know what questions to ask, check out A Quick Guide To Questioning in the Classroom.
3. Create a positive state of mind.
The day of the test will arrive with mixed anxiety for your pupils. Some may be taking the SATs or you will have a third grader with a pencil in his nose. At this point it is the student’s state of mind that will determine how long they stick with a problem. If they give up early, it won’t matter how much information they have retained during the year. Praise hard work, give them a pep talk or any strategy you use to bring positivity will work. The real importance is that the positive tone is set.
While am I not a huge fan of standardized testing, I do realize these tests analyze the transfer or retention of knowledge over a year. I understand the need for an independent agency outside my school to test for retained knowledge. We need something to test for achievement, but the atmosphere created by this new testing security would make anyone anxious.
The heightened testing security could rival the security at Fort Knox. Also, these tests lack multiple ways for students to express knowledge on the exam (aka multiple choice). These protocols have left my brain cells longing for dementia as I try to restrain myself from screaming as I proctor these standardized tests in our schools. Schools that have be retrofitted to communist style prisons for this testing season.
What Testing Looked Like For Me This Year
My recent standardized testing nightmare. A testing story from my school…
A dull blade pierces the teacher’s psyche. Time for the proverbial standardized testing season. The strict demands made on proctoring over these students transform the once energetic teacher into a futuristic robot. I am told by my test coordinator that I cannot add any emphasis in my voice, as I could potentially give a student a clue to an answer.
“So, I talk like a robot?” I ask the test coordinator in a subtle jest.
“No, just normally.” She turns her head away from me, ignoring my joke in an attempt to enforce the absurd rules she is required follow. Quickly she goes back to the monotonous PowerPoint presentation, now on slide 32.
Due to cheating scandals across our nation that have been a source of national embarrassment, schools systems have ramped up testing security. I try my best not to mock the presentation, but after slide 53 I whisper to my coworker in my robot voice. “Complete all answers mortals or you will be eliminated.” As I long for old age to take this memory away, tomorrow will be the first day of testing.

Tensions are high the first day of testing because a testing monitor from the downtown office is monitoring each test proctor’s every move. I slowly remove the testing booklet from the secret envelope assigned to me. The central office monitor whispers in a Russian accent, “Hello Mr. Bond I see you have the secret code.” With dark black hair and her hair in a tight bun above her head the test monitor is taking her mission as test coordinator seriously.
“Yes, with these codes I shall break you, I mean break the common core.” My Russian monitor gives me a seductive eye brow raise and a provocative slit in her dress exposes her upper thigh as to indicate she wants my digits.
“Dan, Dan,” I snap to reality as she impatiently asks, “Are you going to put the test codes on the board?”
“Yes, I’m so sorry.” I write the codes and tense up again as all eyes watch me write the four digits required to begin the test.
I start reading the directions in my designated robotic voice. I tell my students, “Choose between A, B, C, or D. Eliminate the incorrect answers. If you do not choose the right answer you will also be eliminated.”
The boys and girls laugh at my robot “from the future” voice. My monitor is not amused as she scribbles furiously in her notepad, clearly to inform my principal that I am not taking this standardized testing seriously.
I repeat the directions correctly to appease the monitor. I know my students need a well timed laugh to release the testing stress. Monitor be damned; I was told by my test coordinator I had to talk like a robot, and I am a literal person!
The students’ eyes squint at the computer monitor as I begin to occupy my thoughts with no aid from books, internet, or conversations with other adults. The hours seem to never end, and I am alone to ponder my thoughts with my only help really to give scratch paper and watch for cheaters. Students are absent, and it delays the process even longer. We cover all the walls with white posters boards so no student can gain an knowledge from our posters of indescribable wisdom.
This room! With white padded walls, they have finally done it; they have put Dan in an insane asylum without my knowledge! Clever or maybe this is a secret initiative to put teachers in insane asylums to cut pension benefits. Five straight days of testing and my thoughts wondering in this direction. On the last day my patience was nil.
The craziest part of this standardized testing process is that we can’t help the children with technology questions. All you can say is, “Try your best TRY YOUR BEST! ( x 1000 ).” Yes, we must eliminate cheating and gather a true snapshot of student knowledge. However, we can’t even help our students with information they already know.
A student I am testing, Trevor, is trying to put a colon in the written response short answer question, but doesn’t know how to type the colon on the computer. He asks me for help and my reply is “Try your best,” as I try to telepathically communicate the right keys to him.
Trevor knows the answer and is trying to give a time measurement response accurately on the computer. Trevor grabs my arm pleading, “It looks like this and proceeds to draw the colon on his scratch paper with the time of 9:30am. Without the colon the testing center has deemed his answer incorrect. Ridiculous! 
With a hawk-like gaze my monitor watches me to screw up by helping the student. She will be able to write me up; the first useful thing she has done in weeks.
I look at the colon key on the board. All I have to do is point to the key so that Trevor can get credit for the work. What about the piece of paper you ask with 9:30am written on it? Could Trevor get credit then? Luckily, most of the school budget has been relocated to send space shuttles with testing scratch papers on a trajectory into the corona of the sun.
For the last time and gazing at the test monitor I sarcastically repeat, “Try your best.”
Trevor looks down at the floor defeated. Standardized testing has become so anal that I cannot even provide him with the technical assistance in typing the correct colon key to give this student full credit. Trevor knows the answer, but his standardized tests say that, because he can’t find the colon key, he can’t tell time.
I don’t like these new rules. I know I am opening a can of worms on this topic. I see the benefits for and against standardized testing. However, there are multiple ways students can show their intelligence.
I regret that his teacher did not have the time to teach Trevor to press shift then the colon key, but he was able to provide a different way on scratch paper to formulate the correct answer. My complaint with standardized testing is two-fold. What real intelligence are we not capturing from our students? At best it’s part of the picture. (See also The Inconvenient Truths About Assessments.)
Why can there not be exceptions to provide multiple means of expression on a standardized test? The alternatives tests leave much to be desired. Even if the question does allow for another means of expression, they are requiring the student to get every single portion of the question correct to get full credit.
Maybe it’s my fault.
I did not teach my class in my robot voice soon enough.
If you enjoyed these teaching mishaps and want to read similar stories visit my blog at http://danhendersonthatsspecial.blogspot.com. You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

3 Tips For Teaching Close Reading
by Dan Henderson, Author of That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching
Here are some best practices for close reading. Below I’ve included three strategies to support your close reading lesson, and beneath these tips I have shared a story about a close reading lesson in which a student had an interesting interpretation.
3 Tips For Getting Started In Close Reading 
1. Emphasize to your students to read the passage multiple times
As simple as this sounds, it can be difficult to have a student read the text two, three or more times. At first students can view this intense investigation into the text as punishment. Have the students read the passage silently during the first read, the second time have students read the text aloud pausing after each paragraph to paraphrase the paragraph with simple notes, and the third time have the student break down and define key vocabulary so they can inference the author’s point of view. Make sure the passage is only 1-2 pages long at most.
2. Promote comprehension through vocabulary
Once you get to the vocabulary portion, have students define vocabulary they believe that are linked to the understanding of the article and highlight vocabulary they are having problems comprehending the meaning. Have a class discussion on the vocabulary meanings.
Time permitting, have students create a sentence with the vocabulary word and if time, draw a picture depicting of the vocabulary word. Afterwards, go back to ask the students how the author uses the vocabulary words to support the author’s point of view and the students predictions.
3. Use Text dependent questions and graphic organizers
I am a proponent of graphic organizers to coincide with my text dependent questions. Close reading questions need to direct the student back into the article to find the answer. What is hard is having students cite the article and not their own opinions. By using a graphic organizer you are asking a student to tap into those executive functioning skills and look at the authors point of view with text directed questions.
The close reading lesson is really a guidebook to text comprehension. Close reading can also look at syntax, tone and a myriad of other topics. If you are overwhelmed and need a basic guide to start a close reading lesson, follow these 3 close reading steps to get started.
(For a more in depth look at close reading, check out this article close reading by Grant Wiggins.)
A Story About Close Reading From My Classroom
Close reading seems to be as popular as the Starbucks drive through or the hot doughnut sign in the Krispie Creme window. When I returned from summer break, a fellow colleague was concerned that I had no plans to teach close reading lessons. I barely had heard the term. How close do the children’s eyes need to be to the book to focus, would a cyclopes have an advantage, and would eye exams be required with the same level of debate as school vaccinations? What is close reading I pondered?
Primarily, I had taught intervention groups or special education students. Close reading was in my opinion, the general education teachers job. My principal enthusiastically announced that all staff would go to a close reading PD during the beginning of the school year. On a whim of our supreme leaders initiative and no regard to what was successful last year, we collectively drank the close reading Kool-Aid and hoped for the best. I attended the training and found re-reading the text plus text dependent questions is a major component. My trainer described close reading as a literal definition of the text. My student Jill would take a literal definition of a text on slavery a bit to fervently.
Jill was a energetic girl of 10. Opinionated and extroverted as well as lacking some social cues, Jill had landed in detention multiple times this year with a tendency to bully her opinions to the point of defiance. If you have taken the Myer’s Bridge test on personality types, you are aware that there are multiple personality types. If Jill took this test, she would most likely have scored a “J” for judgement. I was tasked with teaching close reading during my RTI (Response to Intervention) groups. Jill was a RTI student along with being one of my special education students. Jill already started off the close reading lesson on slavery with a series of questions and was not willing to answer my questions.
We begin reading the passage the first time. The passage was about the invention of the cotton gin and how it actually increased the need for slaves in America. The theme was that the cotton gin and several other inventions which were originally intended to decrease the need for slaves led to more slavery. One key in close reading is the vocabulary and the phrase westward expansion was used at the end of the article. These vocabulary terms try to point out the theme of the story, but instead Jill’s response was just her own reasoning.
Half way through the article I see Jill’s energetic hand go up in the air. “Why didn’t the slaves just run away? Why was the only thing slaves do was pick cotton?” I had barely had a chance to begin the lesson and Jill was already casting her analysis. The other five children silently waited for the teacher to come up with an answer.
I cleared my throat and signaled Jill to listen by asking, “Jill we need to find the author’s purpose, what the author had to say, and what the story is trying to tell us using the structure and vocabulary of the story. We need to read the story all over again to discover what the author’s point of view is.” I take a deep sign hoping that I have explained close reading adequately to my group.
Instead my response from Jill was “We have to re-read the story twice! Come on Mr. Henderson, really.”
“Yeah, why do we have to re-read it again.” Another student begrudgingly echoed.
I guess from the student’s perspective they assumed they were being punished or I had implied they were not intelligent enough to find the answers the first time. Patiently, I tried to explain close reading mechanics 101.
“We will always read a close reading article at least twice. Notice these are short articles. I am not saying you did not gather great information the first time you read the article. However, the purpose of reading the article at least twice is for you to find the answers for my text dependent questions. I will put it this way, for the first lesson if you can’t quote your answer from the article, then I don’t want your answer. I want the author’s point of view, not yours Jill. I need to know you comprehend other people’s point of views and the question I am asking.” I see the students slouch in their chairs realizing they only heard the words, read the article twice.
I further explained the lesson adjusting my posture and gaining eye contact from my students. “I have a graphic organizer for you to use to define the vocabulary. I want you to write down either the vocabulary you don’t know or vocabulary that supports the text dependent questions I am asking.”
I placed a graphic organizer in front of five students. The pupils begin grinding lead into the bleached white paper writing their names. The graphic organizer I supplied had spaces to indicate the paragraph and line numbers to support their paraphrased work. Then to the right another section where students can write the vocabulary definitions. After I explained paraphrasing to the students for two minutes, I redirected slouching students to start their work.  I rushed this explanation because I saw their attention was gone. However, Jill sat upright with her pencil ready to write the author’s point of view…I hoped.
We began reading the article a second time. The article was about the cotton gin and westward expansion. The question was did the cotton gin increase or decrease slavery in the US? The students were armed with highlighters and the graphic organizer. Jill took a deep breath and diligently re-reads while also paraphrasing in the graphic organizer. My students begin to realize the advancements in cotton gin technology lead to more slaves who needed to pick cotton.
More cotton could be manufactured with the new technology of the cotton gin. Thus, this led to an actually increase in slavery since more cotton could be produced at a quicker pace. Cue light bulbs, choir of heavenly angels singing with this new enlightenment. Neurons have expanded in my pupils minds, and the teacher is happy. I did not get a chance to view Jill’s work so I asked if she needed help and she replied “no.”
“Pencil’s down,” I announced as we prepared to discuss the paraphrased student work.
“Great, Who can tell me the central message the author is trying to relay in each paragraph? Let’s being in paragraph one.”
Jill enthusiastically raised her hand. I point to Jill.
“White people are mean.” She says with confidence.
“What. What are you talking about?” I asked intently.
“White people kept on making more inventions that they said would require less slaves, but they actually needed more slaves. They were greedy. Then there was this westward expansion thing. They were to lazy to go on their family trip alone, so they brought the slaves with them to do the work and why didn’t they leave them in Africa? Why did they have to make so much cotton?” I raised my hand to politely silence Jill.  Although some of her opinions were justified she was not sticking to the assignment.
“Jill, Jill I am not going to say you are entirely wrong in you interpretation. However, I am going to say we need to look at the author’s point of view. Again we are talking about the question, did the cotton gin increase or decrease slavery in the US, that is it.Period. Maybe I should rephrase the question. How did the cotton gin and similar advancements in technology increase slavery? Quote your answer from the text.”
Jill ponders my question, reads the text and writes down a revised statement on her graphic organizer.
“Got it.” She says with confidence. “White people are mean because they used technology to make more cotton stuff and needed more slaves.”
Shaking my head and thankful for the upcoming staff happy hour I do my best to patiently reply.
“Remember I said you had to quote vocabulary or portions of the text. Where did you find the exact words white people are mean.” I persist.
“Ok I didn’t find it, but the white people were mean right? Isn’t slavery wrong?” Jill asks.
“Slavery is wrong; it’s just you are not answering the question I am asking. You are focused on your opinion on slavery.” Jill looks at me blankly, and I realize I need to go back and explain author’s point of view. Then I realized I should do another close reading on making political correct statements in elementary school.
When teaching Jill, I left out a thorough definition of the author’s point of view and examples of text dependent questions. I should of modeled some examples before letting my student undertake the assignment. I often tell stories of how my lessons go wrong in an attempt for teachers to not make similar mistakes.
If you enjoyed these teaching mishaps and want to read similar stories visit my blog at http://danhendersonthatsspecial.blogspot.com. You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co