Patty V. Reilly has helped me grow immeasurably as a teacher. In my mind, and with over 15 years of experience with consultants, Patty is one of the best, hands down.
Supporting Struggling Learners is her second book with Heinemann. And I am sure there will be many more as Patty is a constant learner and researcher herself, always working to perfect her craft and help others. Driven by her own passion, she brings heart and a tireless enthusiasm to the art of teaching. Below is a description of her book and the tools you can gain from it:
As teachers, how do you meet the needs of all your students while also meeting the demands of the curriculum? With over two decades of experience in the classroom as a teacher, staff developer, and national consultant, Patty Vitale-Reilly has been there. And with Supporting Struggling Learners, she shares 50 of her tried and true solutions that make learning accessible for all students.
With these 50 instructional moves that can be applied across subjects and grades, Patty shows you how to make a positive impact on student thinking and learning. Loaded with practical tools and templates, including forms, checklists, questionnaires, and more, Supporting Struggling Learners provides strategies and structures to help you:
Jennifer Cronk is an educational speaker, staff developer, teacher, parent and a learning disabled student-turned hard-core advocate for learning disabled and special education students across the country. She is the host of the blog transparently teaching and the podcast #assist learning.
Her podcast investigates how we can teach all varieties of kids better and I was honored to be one of her guests. In this episode, Jenn and I discuss the paradox of being teachers and parents, and how the intersection of those expectations and mindsets can both be a blessing and a curse.
An old friend’s father recently passed away. The old friend, I’ll call him Richard, and I, we don’t speak often; in fact we haven’t spoken or seen each other in a few years, at least. Then, I was told that his father passed and left a message to which he quickly replied and we spoke on the phone.
It’s amazing how many memories can come rushing back when you reconnect with someone after years of distance. In an instant, I recalled playing long chess games with Richard. We would set up a game and let it sit until we were done. A day could pass, days even.
What’s more, when I recall Richard’s father, all I see is a smiling, grey haired, blue-eyed man. His smile was soft, and inviting. He was truly someone you could describe as ‘warm’ and be perfectly accurate. And complete. Richard’s father, who I will refer to as Marvin, was a class act. He exuded confidence and joy. He was a man content with his life: his four diverse and equally talented children, all of found success. Richard has achieved enormous respect in the legal community, and his oldest sister is a known name in the film industry.
What's more, Marvin enjoyed a decades-long marriage to his wife, Richard's mother. their marriage outlasted many others of their peers, including my own parents' 18-year run. Yes, Marvin had a lot to feel good about.
And then illness comes.
And there's nothing you can do about it except treat, be present and loving. As Marvin would have for anyone.
Richard mentioned that the shiva was a nice distraction. In the Jewish culture, the mourning family sits shiva, they remain home for seven days (shiva relates to the number 7) while friends and family bring meals, they bring prayer and mourning services, and they bring themselves. So while it’s a nice distraction, it’s also a burden, having to be social when you just want to be alone.
And then, they leave. And you are alone.
And there's nothing left to do but be aware of the fact that someone you loved dearly for your entire life is gone.
Did you know that 'gone' has a sound? And a weight?
How heavy absence can be.
A barbell weight at the end of a necklace, pulling you down when you're just trying to walk on your own again.
Richard and I spoke about that impending quiet. Eventually, the mourners and visitors go away. The shiva ends. And the family – Marvin’s family, Marvin’s wife, Richard’s Mom – will be alone. There will be audible silence. There will be a gaping absence.
And as a child, I remember: playing with Richard and his family, while his father, Marvin, smiled in the background. A consummate support, steady and there.
Marvin, your love is still present. The love you gave to others is carried in their hearts, passed on to those they love; and it will be passed on again to future hearts, and on and on.
A piece of you, Marvin, will continue to love many more than you could in your lifetime.
Reconnecting with Richard, I missed Marvin through the phone.
My 5th grade son has ADHD. He struggles to sustain attention and focus on longer tasks, or any task that he not fascinated by, which is 99% of them unless they include Lego or Minecraft. Homework is a chore. Long assignments like essays and writing projects where he has a month to do them are put off and ignored until a frantic last-minute push. His mother and I get frustrated by his short-term focus and his avoidance. After all, in my classroom, my students are expected to take their learning seriously.
I am a teacher. I teach English and English Language Arts to a wide variety of learners. I am good at what I do.
My school district asked me to build a learner active, technology infused (LATI) classroom – that’s a classroom that uses a multitude of resources so that students of varying learning styles could access and consume content they needed to think through solving open-ended problems. I was good at that. I was so good it that my district asked me to be a Teacher Leader, and help other teachers in the district.
The LATI Classroom, a term coined by Dr. Nancy Sula, creator of Innovative Designs for Education (IDE Corporation), serves to allow all students and all learners find their means of understanding content and expressing their thinking. Like I said, I was good at that.
Kids had use of many Google apps and tools, like Google Classroom, and the Google tools suite. I used Screencastify to let students hear my voice in a video recording as I guided them through necessary concepts and made it available over and over again. The IDE term for this is to clone yourself. I cloned myself. Over and over.
Students in my classroom had access to tons of websites, links, and other tech-based or web-based tools to assist them in their pursuit of deeper thinking.
At home, my son had me and his mother. His mother is an old-school, write with good penmanship, proper spelling and punctuation; hand in neat work, nothing sloppy type. She would sit and drill him through his efforts. And she is good at that.
In my classroom, students were encouraged to use each other before they asked me for help. They were encouraged to view each other as experts in various parts of the learning process, each one a master in their own field, working together as a team. My classroom was a team.
At home, my son had me. Me and his Mom.
I was not able to see my son’s abilities due to the frustration of watching his obstacles take over. Alone, with only me to guide him, he would bounce from a bathroom break, to a water break, feeding the dog, asking off-topic questions – good questions, interesting questions – and insisting on pursuing those thoughts instead of returning to the task at hand.
Each time he swerved off-task, it was a labor for him to come back. The flow of the work pace would build and then die out. We’d build it again, and again, a distraction would kill it.
Do you know how exhausting it is to constantly be restarting something? It’s awful. It requires more mental effort to restart than to keep it running. Cars use more fuel when they start than if you left it running while parked.
My son never left himself running in park, with the heat on and the music playing. He’d turn it all off, start something else, then turn that off and restart the thing he did not want to do in the first place.
And yet, he wants to do well. He wants to be accomplished.
I shouted, I banged the table with my fists. He’d feel terrible and beaten down. By the end of what seemed like forever, we were both frustrated and tired. I went to bed questioning my abilities as a teacher. What’s worse, he, I’m certain, was in his bed questioning his ability to learn. A ten year old boy experiencing self-esteem bruises. It was awful.
Then I started working with Jenn Cronk on a book about Universal design for Learning (UDL). UDL is one of the cornerstone concepts behind Dr. Nancy Sulla’s LATI Classroom. In a universal design for learning, multiple means of representation of content is provided for students. Just like in my classroom, a kid should be able to access knowledge in a way that made sense and was easily absorbed by them. They had multiple ways available to them.
Jenn Cronk worked in my son’s 4th grade classroom as a tech consultant. She introduced him to voice recognition add-ons in Google Docs. Suddenly, the kid who didn’t like to write found an easier way to express his thinking. He only had to speak clearly into the microphone of a chrome book.
Why didn’t I think of that?
Voice recognition tools are an option in my classroom but I wasn’t fond of it. I wanted my students to be able to physically write. In my view, they weren’t going to get the opportunity in the workforce or college to speak their ideas into text when they needed to deliver their thinking to a colleague, professor or boss.
And if I wasn’t fond of it for my students, I certainly wasn’t a fan of my son using it. Until I discovered that it worked for him. However, the longer the writing assignment, the longer he had to work at it, the more likely he was to bail on it. Still, using voice recognition software made the act of ‘writing’ more engaging.
Fast forward about a year. Jenn Cronk invites me to co-author a book on - guess what? – UDL! So, while I had created the LATI classroom beautifully in my classroom, for my job, I did not understand the basic concepts, as written and expressed in words, of the UDL process. I read and I read and I read. And Jenn taught me plenty more about it.
The basic idea behind the need for UDL is that every kid is bright and capable in their own way; not every child learns the same way. We must allow them the opportunity to access knowledge and express their thinking their way.
Shortly after embarking on the book, I was again sitting with my son, helping him write an essay. While he worked, I began to see him as the unique learner that he is. And I began to see his abilities and his needs. I considered how I could help him find alternative means of expressing his thinking.
He didn’t want to rewrite the essay he had done. Most kids, especially those with disabilities, dislike having to redo anything. It’s a lot of work to complete the first draft, can’t that be enough?
After I acknowledged that most of what he had done was good he was willing to dig in and rewrite. He felt confident and engaged. His face was the picture of determination as he busily scrawled words onto the page. We discussed possible alternative words, synonyms for the appropriate 5th grade syntax he had chosen. His suggestions blew my mind. His vocabulary was far richer than his writing conveyed.
I had a sudden realization: My son is incredibly smart. When I stopped looking at him as my son, and as a unique student who learns differently, I saw the whole of his intelligence, not just what he was able to show. What a wake-up call as a parent.
My son’s disability – his distractibility and his ADHD – get in his own way. He and I talk candidly regarding how his brain works. We talk about how he thinks. We discuss means of helping him express his thinking. He has great ideas. He is beginning to know himself; he is beginning to become metacognitive. Being metacognitive is the ultimate goal of the UDL process. Teachers want kids to recognize what they need to learn and express their thinking best and to advocate for those needs. What parent wouldn’t want that for their own child?
It is no coincidence that Jenn Cronk of #transparently teaching asked me to join her in writing a book that she had been asked to scribe. Learning and writing about the universal design for learning for all students has opened my eyes; I am a classroom teacher and I am a father. I have the glorious obligation to be a great teacher to my son. A great teacher spends the school year helping students find their own voice and grow as learners.
A great parent does the same, but for a lifetime.
Now that my oldest son is getting a little, well, older, I enjoy talking to him more. He was never very good at articulating his thoughts. He’s more a man of action. Man… he’s 10. Still. He has preferred to express himself physically, through actions rather than through words.
This is not in itself a negative thing. Every child is different, no matter what age. The compounding issue is that he’s always been one of the biggest and usually the strongest boy in his grade. So, when he acts out physically, moving his arms and legs, making sudden impulsive movements, other things near him tend to fly – pencils, chairs, other children.
That’s a problem.
Once in pre-school he picked up a stone. A girl was looking at him. Maybe she was watching him, maybe she was curious or perhaps she wasn’t looking at him at all, just in his direction. The reports from witnesses all stated that the girl was a good distance from my son.
Nonetheless, he didn’t like what he saw and his body went into action: he threw the stone at the girl. The stone hit her in the mouth, chipping a tooth. The girl's parents were not happy with my son or with us. We were lucky they didn't sue. I think her Dad was a dentist, actually.
We come to our children’s defense. Sometimes they make it very, very hard for us to help, like when they throw a rock at a girl’s face without cause. Like I said, if the parents had decided to sue for dental expenses or whatever, they would have been within their rights. And I would have been in dire straits.
But what if we had come to his defense, and faced a lawsuit, and worked it out with lawyers and paid the fine or damages. What lesson would my son have learned? If we made him pay for the damages with what money he had accrued at the ripe old age of 6, then maybe he would have learned a lesson. I know I did. I learned that my son should not throw stones at anyone because it could hurt them. That’s what I learned. There’s only one problem with that lesson:
I ALREADY KNOW THIS LESSON!!
I NEED MY SON TO LEARN THIS LESSON!
We have to get out of our kid’s way. We have to make them face the consequences of their actions. If not, no lesson is learned and the behavior is likely to repeat itself.
Of course, none of this is news. Then why is it still news? Why do we need to repeat and remind ourselves of its importance? We’re intelligent, thoughtful parents. We know the rules. We try to enforce the rules so that they sink in.
Is this some kind of cosmic joke? Is it our destiny to teach, observe, reteach and repeat? Ad infinitum? When does the baton of responsibility get passed on?
Now I am certain that some of you reading this far in this post might be shaking their heads while thinking, we teach our kids these lessons. My children are responsible.
Is it because you enforced great life lessons as they were growing up? Or is it because your child was more naturally conscientious and mindful, unlike my child who is emotional, impulsive and reactive?
Each situation is different. Every child is different. And each child must be approached as unique and independent of any other. We cannot, as parents or teachers or caregivers or coaches, approach a one size fits all mentality and assume that every child will get it at the same rate. Of course not. That’s why there are those that shine in various areas and those that get by. And that’s fine.
No matter what our kids take on, at some point frustration will take hold. This can be especially true of the brightest and most gifted kids for whom everything comes easily. They might excel in school and sports but at some point they will meet their match. And that kid, the one who is not used to working hard, usually meets difficulty with fewer tools for coping.
That kid will need your help to get through. At the same time, you can’t do it for them. You can’t pay the fine, take the test, or do the time for them. They must put in the effort.
All our kids will need help learning tough lessons at some point. And we need to be there to guide them through. My point is this: as caregivers, coaches, mentors and teachers, we can never do it for them. We can model the process, we can show them how, but we cannot complete the task for them.
That part they have to do alone.
Final take away: No matter who you are, it’s never a good idea to throw stones at people. Someone will get hurt.
Hi. My name is Stephen Tesher. I am a novelist, screenwriter, educator, and father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and optioned screenplays, articles, and this blog.