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Using Technology to Support Struggling Learners

VT-HEC Announces New Learning Opportunities

The number of applications and computer programs that address specific learning issues and target particular skills has exploded over the past few years.  These new learning tools have greatly increased the options for helping struggling learners practice and apply the specific skills that they need and to become more independent and effective learners. There are so many choices and the quality of programs ranges so dramatically, however, that it can be very challenging to find the best programs and to know how to use them in an effective manner.

In the coming months the VT Higher Education Collaborative will be offering exciting new opportunities to explore the use of these new learning tools to support students with various learning challenges, from mild organizational issues to significant disabilities such as Autism.  These workshops are part of the VT-HEC’s continuing focus on helping to ensure that students who have barriers to their learning receive the most effective and appropriate learning opportunities and supports.

First, is a 2-part workshop series focused on how technology can be used with students who have a wide variety of challenges to their learning. Chris CichoskiKelly will explore this topic in depth and give participants time to address the needs of their own students. Chris will share a process to help choose which technology learning tool to try and how to collect the right data to evaluate its impact on student learning. Chris will also share his knowledge of effective programs to support students in reading, writing, note taking and others areas. Participants will have the opportunity to try out programs with students between the two workshops and receive direct feedback and support from Chris. This will be a great opportunity to get practical support in using technology to address learning challenges from an accomplished expert in the field.

Next, is a workshop that will focus on using tablets (Ipads, Ipods, etc.) when working with students who have Learning Disabilities (LD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or other moderate to severe developmental disabilities. Kathryn Whitaker will be leading the morning session targeted on helping students with Learning Disabilities to practice and learn new skills and become more independent learners.  In the afternoon, Kathryn will focus on ASD and other developmental disabilities. She will show how tablets can be used in areas such as scheduling and self-management.  Kathryn will also share how tablets can be used for increasing learning for students who are more concrete learners. Kathryn serves as consultant and trainer for children with autism spectrum and other neuro-developmental disorders in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. She is also a trainer for Structured Teaching as well as being an instructor and presenter for the VT-HEC.

To find out more about these exciting learning opportunities see:  and


ASAP: VT-HEC’s Comprehensive Training Program on Autism Spectrum Disorders

ASAP  – Approaching the Solution to the Autism Puzzle

The Vermont Interagency White Paper on Autism Spectrum Disorders of 2006 confirmed what all school districts in Vermont have been experiencing: a dramatic increase in students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) over an extended period of time.  Among the things the White Paper identified as being critical to address this growth was a significant increase in professional development to expand the capacity of case managers and staff to meet the needs of these students. Unfortunately, research has shown that most inservice training never results in the new skills and knowledge being consistently applied to benefit students.

VT-HEC’s new program, ASAP, aims to change that by developing a sustained, comprehensive and coordinated professional learning program on ASD that includes graduate courses, embedded professional development and workshop series that provide multiple year-round options for effective professional learning on ASD.  ASAP graduate courses can lead to VT-HEC’s Autism Specialist Certificate and include two courses to be offered this spring, ABA I starting in January, and ASD: Issues in Assessment & Intervention taught by the distinguished Dr. Particia Prelock of UVM. (If you have not taken a course from Patty you are missing a great opportunity to learn from an extremely knowledgeable and accomplished educator)

To help ensure professional development actually results in changes for students ASAP is providing a coordinated program of sustained and embedded inter-disciplinary professional development and supports for schools working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The ASAP team of experts takes the best interventions and assessments from multiple perspectives and delivers training and coaching to the school team to help them work together to apply the new skills to the students they are working with. Ultimately, it is the goal that these local school teams will be able to act as supports for other members of their school community in addressing the needs of all their students with ASD. ASAP has been piloting this program in Barre City and is now ready to accept new school districts in the program.

To compliment this work, the ASAP program is also offering a series of three workshops this spring focused on increasing learning opportunities for young children with ASD as well as a special workshop focusing on using iPads with students with ASD.  Chris Knippenberg, OT, will be the lead presenter for the series of workshops that will have participants actively engaged in developing the kind of appropriate tasks and materials for pre-school and early elementary-aged students with ASD that will result in increasing their engagement, independence and learning.

Kathryn Whitaker will be leading the workshop that will show how iPads can be used effectively and creatively for students with SLD in a morning session and ASD in the afternoon.   To find out more about these exciting learning opportunities see:  and

If you are particularly interested in how technology can be used with students who have challenges to their learning, the VT-HEC is offering another interesting option: two workshops with Chris CichoskiKelly that will explore this topic in depth and give you the opportunity to try out programs with students in between the two workshops

For more information on ASAP and VT-HEC’s other related offerings contact Joy Wilcox, ASAP Coordinator  ([email protected])


Making Standards Work in the Real World

Exciting New Workshop Series and Course for Middle & High School Educators

Can a standards-based approach to education actually work in today’s schools? Using Neuroscience to Make Standards Work for ALL Students  is a new series of four workshops that address real-life issues encountered when implementing a standards-based learning approach, such as crafting student-friendly learning targets; designing performance tasks that get students excited about practice; making the transition to standards-based grading and using data management tools to make standards doable for teachers and students. The series is being designed and presented by: Bill Rich, Susie Girardin & Wendy Cohen.

The roll out of the Common Core, new science standards and new assessments have set significant challenges for education across the nation, but teachers in real-world Vermont classrooms need to figure out how the new standards and assessments will actually work with all their students, their curriculum and grading system and any school-wide standards that already exist in their schools.

To help teachers work through such practical questions, the Teaching All Secondary Students (TASS) program of the VT-HEC is developing an annual series of workshops and courses.  TASS has been working in VT middle and high schools for the past eight years to support their efforts to improve by applying the best research findings from neuroscience and education. It is this knowledge, experience and expertise that will go into the design of these new learning opportunities.

The workshops can be taken individually or together as a three credit course.  You won’t want to miss these days.  To find out more go to:

Grant Wiggins: Current Views on Curriculum, Testing and HS Diplomas

What if Curriculum Focused on Performance & Ability and High School Really Prepared Students for Their Adult Lives

In a couple of deeply thought-provoking articles the co-author of books such as Learning By Design and Schooling By Design asks us join him in thinking about some basic assumptions about what the goal of education should be, how we should determine what should be taught and how we should measure progress. In a recent post to his blog, Wiggins asks us to think of action, not knowledge, as the essence of an education; to think of future ability to perform, not knowledge of the past, as the core . (more…)

Culture, Caring and Character – All Linked to Student Gains

While the emphasis on school transformation focuses on standards, cognitive skills, and teaching strategies, research is mounting that character, culture and social/emotional development may be just as important.

The programs described below may emphasize different qualities and have somewhat different strategies but they have strong common themes and have all been associated with increases in student progress and/or improved student behavior, perseverence, etc.

  • Character education focuses on a curriculum teaching students qualities like honesty, kindness, perseverence and responsibility.
  • Social/emotional development programs key on relationships, problem solving and caring.
  • Some efforts put the focus on increasing positive feelings and interactions.
  • Other efforts  put the focus on school culture and look to apply similar qualities into the whole school environment. (more…)

An Interview with Daniel Pink: Selling Students to Become Self-Directed Learners

Teachers as Persuaders, Problem-Finding vs Problem-Solving and Learning Goals vs Performance Goals

One of our favorite authors, Daniel Pink (Drive), has a new book and was recently interviewed by Larry Ferlazzo for Education Week.  Pink’s new book is titled: To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others.  In this conversation with Ferlazzo, Pink talks about how teachers can “sell” more to students to help them to become self-directed lifelong learners and how current education practices, assessments, etc. help or hinder us in this goal. (more…)

Early Childhood Education: An Economist’s View

Is High Quality Early Education a Good Investment?

We have often heard educators say that it pays to invest in early childhood development, but what would an economist say about  early childhood education as a public investment? In his article, “The Economics of Inequality”, economist James Heckman explores that question, not just from the moral equal opportunity viewpoint, but also from the perspective of investment return and the factors that will be most effective in increasing the productivity of the American economy. (more…)

Classroom Design Features Have Surprising Impact on Student Progress

Study Finds that Classroom Design Can Affect Academic Progress by as Much as 25%. 

This year-long pilot was carried out looking at 750 elementary students in 34 classrooms over a full year. The study looked at two sets of data. The first was student data such as age, gender and performance levels in reading, math and writing. Then there were ten different design features evaluating the holistic classroom environment, such as classroom orientation, natural light, noise, temperature and air quality. Other parameters such as flexibility of space, storage facilities, organization and use of color were also evaluated. The study looked at both the design features and use factors, such as adjustments made to accommodate student or learning activity needs.

The results were very surprising.  (more…)

Helping Students on the Autism Spectrum Meet Common Core ELA Standards

Struggling Learners: Helping Students on the Autism Spectrum Meet Common Core ELA Standards

This is a summary of an article which explores the challenges that students, who may be quite bright but are on the autism spectrum, may have meeting the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. The authors believe this process will go more smoothly if educators and parents have a good understanding of three important psychological theories and develop classroom strategies to support students with these deficits.  The theories covered here are: Theory of Mind, Central Coherence and Executive Function. (more…)