Archive for the ‘research’ Tag

English Language Learners with Disabilities

There is a growing number of English language learners (ELLs) in Maine’s schools. For example, I recently learned that Westbrook has experienced an increase of over 200% of students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, in just the past year. Portland and Lewiston are also known for their services to high populations of ELLs. And, of course, schools in communities across the state are working to meet the needs of newcomers from all regions of the world.

While a good deal of research is available on best practices for teaching ELLs in the content areas (with more needed and being conducted), less has been produced for ELLs with disabilities. This is an area of need. For ELLs who are academically underachieving, it is often difficult to determine the cause. In some cases, students are prematurely placed in special education. This can be the result of the absence of best practices for teaching ELLs. In some other cases, the cause of failure for an ELL is mis-identified as language acquisition difficulty. That is, in the latter case, the student actually has a strong grasp of English, but a disability (e.g., a specific learning disability) is going undetected.

What if the delivery of instruction (both classroom and ESL)  is appropriate and grounded in best practices for ELLs, and yet the student is still experiencing difficulties in meeting learning objectives? What is the best process for determining that a pre-referral for special education is appropriate? And for ELLs who receive special education services, what are the indicators of an effective implementation plan for supporting the student’s IEP goals while at the same time ensuring that progress is being made with ESL programming?

These are important questions that are being considered nationally and here in Maine. This morning I found a synthesis of research on ELLs with disabilities that I thought I’d share (see link below “ells_disabilities). It’s a 2004 report, but it’s written in a usable form for educators who are looking for a summary of best practices, as well as the issues related to the complexity of teaching ELLs with disabilities. It’s titled, “Synthesis Brief: English Language Learners with Disabilities” and was prepared by Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE)



Concept Maps: Powerful & Accessible (and free!)

Many teachers and learners have discovered the benefits of creating and sharing concept maps, which are also referred to as visual maps, mind maps, and graphic organizers. While the name given to any of these may imply a specific purpose, they are characterized by nodes (concepts) and links (identifying the relationships between and among the concepts).

According to Joseph Novak, a pioneer and developer of concept mapping, purposes include to:

  • generate ideas (e.g., brainstorming)
  • design complex structures (e.g., Web sites, reports)
  • communicate complex ideas
  • integrate new and existing knowledge, thereby aiding learning
  • assess understanding/diagnose misunderstanding

Although concept maps have great value as “organizers,” I think one of their most powerful (and perhaps least utilized) contributions to teaching and learning lies in how they convey connections that exist within and among our content areas. And not facts, necessarily. Concept maps can serve as effective frameworks for supporting kids’ (and our own) construction of how the pieces of the world fit together, whether it be history or science, or math or music (or how history has impacted science or music impacts math). And concept maps aren’t static; they grow and evolve over time, a reflection of how dynamic learning is.

As an early adopter of Inspiration software, the value of simple and intuitive concept mapping isn’t lost on me. And, as technology costs go, Inspiration isn’t overly expensive. But we have to face the fact that any cost is prohibitive in the current climate of shrinking school budgets. So, if you and your students haven’t been mapping your minds freely online (literally and figuratively), it’s a good time to start! is a free Web-based concept mapping program. If you’re familiar with Inspiration, you may be disappointed in the lack of some features, such as a symbol library and a RapidFire tool, but it’s got function and ease of use, and did I mention that it’s free? Some innovative features include the ability to export your concept map as an outline in HTML, which can be opened and edited in a program such as TextEdit, which is in the Applications folder of your MLTI device. You can share your maps with other users, and even collaborate on a project online. I highly recommend that you learn more at the Web site of Tech-Bites, which hosts a tutorial page with both video and text.

Another option to consider is IHMC CmapTools. It’s a bit more sophisticated, but also research-based and documented. It was one of the first online tools that supported remote collaboration by users.

Here’s some more information and reasons to use concept maps for teaching and learning:

Introduction to Concept Mapping by Joseph Novak

Using Concept Mapping as an Assessment Method

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them


TPCKI’m writing this from the Houlton Higher Education Center, where several of us from the MLTI and Apple are delivering the 9th of 9 regional leadership sessions. These leadership sessions are on the tail of the teacher leader sessions that Rob Munzing, Jim Wells, and I facilitated in February and March. The current sessions have been an opportunity to review what we learned from the roadshow with teacher leaders – particularly what’s working and not-so-much as we close in on the first year of the high school deployment of MacBooks. This time around schools are arriving in teams and being given time to talk among principals, tech leads, librarians, and teacher leaders, among others.

Something that we learned from the earlier discussions we led with teacher leaders is that we overly focused on the technology itself. On the surface this seems logical. After all, we’re coming together as a result of a deployment of devices. What we failed to do is to set the discussion in a framework of teaching and learning. So, this time around, we adopted the TPCK framework as a model on which to focus the sessions. This was at the suggestion of Bette Manchester. She was right. Here’s why.

T, P, and C represent 3 of the common and shared knowledges that 21st Century teachers need:

T = Technological knowledge

P = Pedagogical knowledge

C = Content knowledge

You can learn about this framework in detail by visiting, but we’ve only introduced it in each session. What we like about it is how it demonstrates the complex interplay among even more complex knowledges. Since the beginning of schooling, teachers have been on a professional journey of mastering how to integrate their content knowledge with best teaching practices (i.e., getting our P and C in sync).

As any teacher knows, this is circumstantial and situational – this we learn from being required to teach a subject outside of our area of training. You may have P under your belt, but suddenly your C is unfamiliar (even foreign if you’re teaching Spanish and haven’t spoken it since you were a sophomore in high school…uno, dos, tres…?).

Alternatively, it’s not uncommon for P expertise to be under-appreciated. For example, as the U.S. experiences a shortage of math and science teachers, we’re seeing an increasing number of people who are trained in math and science entering classrooms with insufficient preparation to teach. Doesn’t necessarily make them bad teachers, but it does compromise the P-C interplay.

Within my own conceptual framework of good teaching, which requires the integration of universal design principles, P and C are foundational. We’ve got to have a strong grasp on both what we’re teaching and best practices for teaching it. Takes time and perseverance. Personally, I studied science in college, practiced as a scientist for five years, and then went on to be certified to teach secondary science. From that short history, you can probably guess that I weighed more heavily on my C than my P skills (3 preps didn’t help). Took some catching up on my part to compensate for that…I’ve probably overcompensated at this point but more by choice than chance.

On to the T in TPCK: In a graduate course on educational research a few years ago, I chose to study why some teachers are early adopters of technology. I conducted a search and review of existing studies and also interviewed several teachers in southern Maine who had a reputation as effective integrators of technology. It became clear to me that early adopters weren’t motivated by administrator encouragement, professional development, or even funding. What they were motivated by, however, was not so obvious. At the time, I think I explained the motivation as simply intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation was part of it, but doesn’t alone explain the confidence with which these teachers made technology work in teaching and learning.

Looking back on it, I think the answer is embedded in TPCK. The teachers I learned about in the studies and those I interviewed had their P and C “goin’ on.” They were well trained in their content areas and were skilled at the pedagogical execution of it. Because they had a strong foundational grasp, they were equipped to identify technologies that are relevant to their content area and their curriculum and to integrate them in relevant, compelling, and meaningful ways.

As we continue to strive to help ourselves and one another to become stronger and more skilled technology integrators, I think it behooves us to return to this framework. Before we can effectively and appropriately use technology to teach or to support learning, we have to go wwwaaaayyy back to the beginning – to our content and our pedagogical knowledge. Get that right and the power of our technological knowledge suddenly becomes boundless.

Learning through Multimedia

Metiri Report CoverWe’ve known for some time now that multimodal instruction (e.g., integrating multimedia) can be more effective than conveying content using single modes of instruction (e.g., lecture only). Followers of research are aware of the dangers of overloading our instruction with multimedia – like all good things that must be consumed in moderation.

But what does effective use of multimedia in instruction look like? Under what parameters are we being responsible conveyors of content via multimedia? A new report summarize the findings of a review of multiple research studies. It’s fascinating in that it goes well beyond what we know about technology in education, extending to research on what goes on in individual learners’ minds as concepts and information are being processed under various conditions and modes of delivery.

The report, commissioned by Cisco Systems, is by the Metiri Group and titled Multimodal Learning through Media: What the Research Says
Multimodal_Learning_Media_Metiri PDF

Here’s an excerpt that I especially like in the context of universal design:

“One of the bottlenecks to efficient learning is our own physiology – the way our brains are wired severely limits our capacity to learn. It is precisely this limitation that educators must overcome through informed design of learning environments, curricula, instruction, assessments, and resources. As they design lessons, create learning environments, and interact with students, they are seeking augmentations that accommodate for these human limitations. This is analogous to the design of machines (such as cars, tractors, elevators, robotic factories, can openers, stairs, etc.) used to accommodate for our severe physical strength and endurance limitations – only now we are augmenting intellectual capacity rather than physical capacity.” (p. 7).

And when it comes to those parameters that we’ve been seeking – i.e., How do I know when I’ve got the right balance of combining modes of presentation without under- or over-doing it? – here are some principles that the report cites from multiple studies (see pp. 12 & 13):

1. Multimedia Principle: Retention is improved through words and pictures rather than through words alone.

2. Spatial Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each other on the page or screen.

3. Temporal Contiguity Principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.

4. Coherence Principle: Students learn better when extraneous words, pictures, and sounds are excluded rather than included.

5. Modality Principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.

6. Redundancy Principle: Students learn better when information is not represented in more than one modality – redundancy interferes with learning.

7a. Individual Differences Principle: Design effects are higher for low-knowledge learners than for high-knowledge learners.

7b. Individual Differences Principle: Design effects are higher for high-spatial learners rather than for low-spatial learners.

8. Direct Manipulation Principle: As the complexity of the materials increase, the impact of direct manipulation of the learning materials (animation, pacing) on transfer also increases

A finding of the report that can inform our work as instructors is that “Students engaged in learning that incorporates multimodal designs, on average, outperform students who learn using traditional approaches with single modes” (p. 13). A good reason to keep on keepin’ on!