* Do tell?

Should parents talk to elementary aged kids about being autistic?   Parents can best decide if this discussion would make any sense to their child, so I don’t believe this is a teacher’s decision.  Every child is unique, with quite different views of themselves, school,  and relationships.  Would this disclosure cause confusion?  Would it create distress or relief?  I do believe there is a point where students may feel reassured by an open discussion of their unique gifts and challenges, especially if they have tormenting fears about themselves and their future.

Should teachers talk to elementary aged kids about being autistic?  Not without parental request.  First of all, young kids with any learning difficulties (kindergarten and first grade, typically) don’t automatically know they have a “label.”  If they are mainstreamed into a regular classroom, they would be one of numerous kids who work with adults in a small group setting.  If handled correctly, most kids are pleased to get extra adult attention.  Second, unless you can tell that the child is concerned, there is no reason to focus on differences; the goal is to build strengths and shape problem areas without drawing unnecessary attention to differences.  That being said, I have worked with kindergarten students who were well aware that they were different from other kids in some way.

As they mature, kids who are high functioning will definitely notice differences between themselves and their peers.  They may question having social skills instruction and simultaneously, wonder why they don’t have friends.  Obviously, if parents have already had this discussion with their kids, it’s not “classified information,” but any child’s understanding of themselves is a gradual process (and that goes for adults, too) .  What a student understands about autism as a 10 year old will be vastly different from what they know as a young adult.  I would ask, “How does this discussion help the student?” “How does it improve my instruction for this student?”  If I feel that students are struggling with some aspect of labeling, perhaps having overheard conversations or developing an understanding of their IEPs, I would talk to parents about starting a dialog on this topic. I believe we need to follow the child’s lead in this.

What’s my experience when kids know they are on the autism spectrum?   It’s been varied and limited (primarily because I’m an elementary teacher, although I’ve worked with older kids on the autism spectrum, too).  A couple of kids have successfully tried to eliminate any outward manifestations of differences, with that approach taking quite a toll on one of them.  A few kids have wanted further opportunities to talk openly about their disability, in part because they felt special in a positive way and in part because they were exploring their new understanding.

I know this topic can be a difficult one for kids, parents, and teachers alike.  I would welcome your opinions and experiences on this issue. 

* Watch yourself: the benefits of videotaping

lens-456818_640Videotaping is at the top of my list for improving your teaching.   I have referred to this strategy before but want to supply more detail.

First and foremost, videotaping is a powerful tool for shaping your behavior.  It’s the place to start if you need to shape students’ behavior, as well.   Although a single tape can inform your instruction, especially if you’re filming a bumpy situation, videotaping on a regular basis will allow you to see and analyze patterns of interactions, responses, and much more.

You can analyze the types of questions you typically ask your kids.  Are you intelligible?  How rapidly or slowly do you speak?  What level of questioning do you use?  Are your questions prompting analysis and application?  How much wait time do you allow after questions?  Do you call on all students equally?

You can analyze your patterns of movement and observation in the class.  Do you monitor the entire class or only focus on certain areas?  Where and when do you move in relation to students?  Does your proximity to students vary?  In what ways?  Do you move or are you glued to your “teacher” chair?

You can analyze the authenticity of your responses to students.  Do you validate their answers?  Do you extend or rephrase their answers?  Do you notice if they answer incorrectly?  Are you communicating what you intended?  Are you laughing with kids or at them?  Are you genuinely smiling or simply baring your teeth?  Do you appear firm or ambiguous?  Do you look as scared as you felt?

Analysis of your responses to behavior outbursts can be a goldmine of effective information.  Flip on that camera at the first sign of trouble and enjoy the rerun later that day.  Did you maintain a neutral and calm expression (including body language) as you handled the meltdown?  Did you use sarcasm or any belittling remarks or body language?  What kinds of directions or prompts did you use?  Were you fair and kind?  Did you help kids recover and save face?  Did you quickly return to the classroom routine?

Make sure you have signed permission slips from parents that include specifically how these videos will be used.  If you are filming for your eyes only, check with your exceptional needs director for your district policy.  I always let parents know that I will videotape to improve my instruction.

I’ve mentioned before that filming can change your behavior even if you don’t watch the films.  Videotaping automatically triggers self-monitoring, which is vital to effective teaching.  That means I don’t need to watch everything I film.  And that means I can end up looking rather silly:

I was teaching a class for kids with behavior and emotional disabilities.  The Exceptional Children’s director asked me to show a typical social skills session for parents of a student new to our district.  The student had an IEP that indicated placement in a self-contained setting, but his parents were naturally anxious about what that would look like.  We met in my classroom to watch a 20 minute clip of social skills.  As I started the recording, I realized that this was one of those films I had not actually reviewed.  Duh.  But I remembered the lesson and figured it would be representative, so here was an opportunity for me to analyze it, along with the parents.  The recorded lesson had gone pretty well.  The kids were all engaged and there were some funny and touching moments.  Unfortunately, that included some touching I hadn’t noticed at all:  Halfway through the lesson, Alex began picking his nose with a purposefulness that defied imagination.  He was sitting on the edge of the group, digging away (oh dear, I didn’t scan the whole group continuously).  He contributed comments and watched others, but by the end of the film, I was amazed that dear Alex hadn’t triggered a nose bleed.  As the parents sat with me, they were chuckling and enjoying the lesson, reassured that this placement was going to be fine.  All I could see was Alex.  And his nose.  And his fingers.

See?  Videotaping is an excellent way to improve all kinds of skills.

* What is phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness refers to the manipulation of individual sounds, of which there are 44 in conventional English (and several more in the Southern US!).  A basic phonemic awareness skill is blending an onset and rime  (a rime is a vowel and any consonants that come after it, more popularly called a “word family”).  In my experience, this is a skill that most teachers emphasize and is often mastered by dyslexic students before they begin specialized instruction.  However, there are nine other skills relating to phonemic awareness;  depending upon the severity of their disorder, dyslexic students may need systematic instruction through all of these skills.  Phonemic awareness instruction is often improved by the use of visual cues (such as blocks or tapping the sounds using fingers).  Phonemic skills instruction is not phonics instruction.  Phonemic awareness is sound manipulation, whereas phonics includes the use of letter-sound associations and spelling patterns.

See the post under Reading.

* Blocks used in phonological awareness

I’ve had a question about what I use to assist students in visualizing the manipulation of sounds.  When I do my initial assessment, I use small wooden blocks.  Nothing fancy, just blocks like these which probably came from my son’s toy collection.

blocks

During actual instruction, I teach kids to use their fingers for blending and segmenting.  They touch their thumb to each successive finger (starting with the index finger) for each sound.  (You model it on YOUR left hand so the sounds are presented in a left-to-right sequence).  If kids want to use this strategy unobtrusively in their regular classroom, I teach them to tap single fingers in order on their lap (or on the edge of their desk).

* High functioning AU kids and bullying

I have yet to work with a high functioning student on the autism spectrum (AU, PDD) who has not been bullied.  When I refer to bullying, I am using part of the definition from StopBullying.gov; I am not referring to teasing. which may occur in isolated instances and is often reciprocated.   Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.  Bullying can be verbal or nonverbal and include systematic exclusion from the group.  The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.  Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. 

Why have AU students been targets of bullying behavior?  I have seen the following factors at work.

1.  AU kids usually don’t have peer support as protection.  The “bystanders” may not have a vested interest in the well-being of the kid being ridiculed. (See #3 below.)

2.  AU kids often have at least one atypical behavior that makes them an easy target.  For instance, a number of my high functioning AU kids had some grimacing or “stretching” behavior that had become habitual, related to earlier sensory input issues.  (Students may still need additional support in this area.)  Even very high functioning kids may have a bit of hand flapping or repetition of sounds/comments as they enter kindergarten.  Many of them have not yet eliminated asocial behaviors such as nose-picking or groin-touching.  Some atypical behaviors emerge as a reaction to the social pressure of a regular classroom setting.

3.  AU kids don’t often appear “friendly” as they enter kindergarten.  They may not appear to listen or look at others.  They may not respond typically to classmates’ comments or questions.  They are unlikely to initiate conversations or appropriate play interactions.  Bullying behavior may, in fact, simply reinforce false impressions that kids have already formed, such as “That kid doesn’t even notice the ‘teasing,’ or “That kid isn’t friendly, anyway.”

4.  AU kids are often an anomaly to the regular classroom teacher, who can then inadvertently set the stage for them to appear even more atypical.  That teacher may have lowered expectations for their participation, may not use effective strategies for engaging them, and/or may be fearful of outbursts.  In such a case, the other students may follow the teacher’s lead. 

Can anything be done or is this a hopeless situation?

This is NOT a hopeless situation.  There are a number of effective strategies for addressing these four factors.  I’ll link the following strategies to each numbered item above:

1. Teach all students how to respond to bullying.  (This is in the domain of regular education.)

  • If it is not already in place, conduct regular (weekly) anti-bullying sessions with the entire class.  Give kids a definition of bullying which includes systematic exclusion of others.  Teach “bystanders” how to respond.  Since much bullying occurs at recess or lunch, make sure that adults are vigilant in protecting at-risk kids during those times (that means physical proximity to address verbal aggression or exclusion from activities).  Adult responses such as “Go play,” or “Stop tattling,” should be few and far between when kids ask for help. 
  • Be explicit in teaching kids how to respond positively to differences among themselves.  Be culturally proficient as well as special ed-proficient.  Use community meetings to teach social skills, including not prejudging others. 

2 and 3.  Teach needed social skills.  (This is the special education teacher’s domain.)

  • Assuming AU kids have at least resource support, teach them social norms for what they do with their bodies at school.  This can be a balancing act for specialists because the last thing AU kids need is another person telling them they aren’t OK.  Prioritize skill instruction.  Use observation and classroom teacher comments to determine which behaviors most impact the student’s inclusion in the group.  It is possible to substitute a more acceptable form of sensory feedback through breaks or activities done “privately.”  Occupational therapists have provided mini-trampolines for some kids, I’ve purchased bendable materials for others, and taught kids how to press down on a table or pull up on the sides of their chair without drawing attention to themselves.  Parents have played a vital role in providing after school gymnastics, martial arts, or other physical activities which give kids a chance to really move around.  A little chewing on a pencil may be more acceptable than chewing a shirt into pieces.  Incorporating subtle, prearranged visual cues in the class may be helpful.  And which kid doesn’t enjoy games which explore the perimeters of “personal bubbles?”
  • Teach social skills systematically and provide opportunities for generalization, such as lunch bunches or buddy activities.  Use videotaping and rubrics to assist kids in learning new skills and seeing their progress.  Team with the classroom teacher, other specialists (OT, speech), specials teachers (such as art, music, etc.), and the student’s family for consistency in practice and vocabulary related to specific skills. 
  • Support your AU student in reporting bullying incidents.  I have yet to meet ANY child who didn’t internalize bullying and respond initially with shame and embarrassment.  Explain what bullying is and how kids feel when they are bullied.  Develop the kind of relationship where kids feel safe to talk honestly about their school day.  Teach them how to talk about problems with someone (their parents or guidance counselor, if not you). 
  • Balance social skills instruction with regular and frequent opportunities for AU kids to “shine.”  They may have a unique ability to recite all the basketball and football scores for the week, or perhaps they’ve completed every level of a certain video game.  You can let them share these skills with a small group, share digitally with family members, or share with their classroom.  Some schools have daily morning video announcements.  Your AU kid might be thrilled to share the latest weather information or sporting stats.  Be creative! Making them a “big buddy” is a perfect opportunity for them to amaze others with their special talents, to be admired and sought after.  Remember that none of us could survive an environment that consists solely of correction and emphasis upon our weaknesses, even if the intentions are good.

4.  “Normalize” your AU kid.  (This is under the domains of both special and regular education, but the specialist must lead  the way.)

  • If at all possible, prepare the classroom teacher ahead of time for her special needs student/s.  Reassure her that you will be there to provide support and instruction in social skills and any behavior issues.
  • If at all possible, set up a transition meeting for the AU student and family to give the child a chance to explore his or her environment before the official back-to-school melee.  Prep the teacher for this orientation as well.  After she introduces herself, and perhaps points out where the student will sit, let her talk to the parents while the kid explores.  The specialist should be there to observe and provide support.  Once the student has roamed freely, the teacher can then review the cubby assignment (which should be easily reached without having to get through a maze of kids), expectations for bathroom breaks, etc.  The student may have some questions to ask (parents can check on this before the orientation). 
  • A classroom teacher cannot be expected to provide the systematic and individualized instruction needed in managing potential frustration or outbursts.  The specialist must address these from day one in order to help the student fit into the classroom and reduce the wariness of peers. 
  • Work with the classroom teacher to seat the AU kid with potential playmates during group and table work .  Make sure the AU kid is lining up between kids with good social skills.  Besides seating positions, you can provide support for effective strategies for teaching, following classroom routines, managing transitions, and practice related to ongoing social skills instruction.
  • Normalize your role (that is, of the specialist).  Assist other kids in the classroom, not just the AU kid.  I always had a sizable group of kids who begged to come to my room once I started pull-out services.  Note:  You may have to deal with teachers and assistants who say, “Oh, THAT one will be joining you soon enough!”   “Yay! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” is one of my responses.

To summarize, it is possible to create an environment where the AU kid is accepted as one of the gang.  I’ve seen my AU kids celebrated by their classmates instead of being bullied.  It is possible to break the cycle of bullying, even if it has already begun.   Both take perseverance and a red-hot desire to see all kids treated with respect.

* Start the day off right

Right now there’s a a lot of advice out there about how to start off the school year.  In fact, I have offered some.  But it’s important to remember that each day is a new start.  It’s worth learning how to do that.

The best way to start the day off right is to end the previous day right.  If it was a generally terrific day, spend time talking about what went well.  If it was a generally stinky day, spend time talking about what went well.  And then pull out your handy one-page-a-day calendar and rip that stinky day into little shreds.  I’ve seen relief and joy in kids’ eyes as their terrible, horrible day is torn to bits and tossed in the trash.  It’s gone.  No hard feelings.  No record of wrongs.  No punishment waiting in the wings.  Note that I said “their terrible, horrible day.”  Sure, it may have been mine as well, but it’s mostly theirs.  They came to school, as I did, with the best of intentions.  No kid walks into school saying, “I’m going to destroy the classroom today!”  No teacher walks in and says, “I’m going to make this day miserable for every child!”  So, reward good intentions and scrap the day.  Literally.  A caveat:  My primary response to a hard day is to analyze what I did and how I reacted to the kids.  I cannot control how they reacted, but I can control my own reactions.

So you are starting a new day.  You know that your kids may have endured a yucky bus ride or a fight at home or simply feel out of sorts.  They may come in the room crying.  Or perhaps they are ready to explode like a volcano, hot magma at the top.  How do you greet these kids?  It’s certainly easier once you know them, because you can read their cues more effectively.  Regardless, I try to remember that this class is about their needs, not mine.  I may want to look like a perfect teacher (read: have a perfect day), but teaching is messy.  Kids (and teachers) are messy.  The classroom should be a haven, a place where kids get what they need.  There’s no one right way to handle a kid starting off in distress.  Here are some options: Give them space.  Follow the classroom routine. Let them chill in their cooling-off space.  Hand them a favorite book.  Start them on a favorite activity.  Ask if they want to talk.  Let them draw or use other materials to express themselves.  I didn’t include “smile” because you are hurting for them and with them.  This wasn’t what either of you wanted.  A gentle and caring expression works well.

For kids who typically have a bumpy start to their day, you must get at the root of the problem to improve their first moments at school.  Is it some interaction with others?  Anxiety about school or transitions?  Testing to see how you will respond?  Hard-wiring?  Hating school?  Each of these possibilities will need to be handled differently.  Bottom line: It’s worth making the effort to start off each day right.

* Survival tip #7 : Never leave class without one

Without what?  A substitute teacher!

Ask any teacher and they will tell you about the multiple times they’ve worked while sick.  Shh.  You’re not supposed to be in school with a fever.  I think there’s some kind of guilt complex and performance thing that affects teachers as soon as they’re licensed.  But a special education teacher?  It’s much more complicated.  How many subs are standing in line to work in a self-contained classroom?  As a self-contained classroom teacher of kids with behavior and emotional disabilities, I was VERY unlikely to get a sub.  As in, that’s not going to happen in my lifetime.  Fortunately, I had an amazing assistant who could carry on if I got really sick.  She and I always joked about what would happen if we were both sick at the same time.

You guessed it:  Both of us got strep throat at the same time and we were flat on our backs.  Neither of us knew the other was out, which was the only reason I stayed at home.  Of course, there was no one willing to sub in my class.  The brave assistant principal and an even braver resource teacher took turns with the class.  I heard through the grapevine that the assistant principal gave up, I think after being locked out of my room.  And the resource teacher got chased out of the room by the kids.  Neither one ever talked to me about that day.  The kids were silent when I asked how it had gone, so I knew it had been bad.  Troubled water under the bridge….

As a resource teacher, subs were usually available at least one time, but they had their work cut out for them.  The problem was that I had no way of finding out how things had gone unless there was actual damage in the room.  When my blinds were broken, I knew the day had not gone well.  Or when parents called the principal, saying they would not send their child to my room with a sub.  I always attempted to pry information out of the kids, but they were usually reticent, still a bad sign.  When the kids did talk, I knew it was serious.  One sub went through a massive bag of Skittles in two days, giving out handfuls of candy to induce cooperation.   Even with the bribes, kids were quick to tell me that she was mean.  On another occasion, the kids gave me odd looks when I asked the usual, “How did it go?”  One student said, “Maria got on the table and showed us her underwear,” so I figured that was not a great day either.  In case you are wondering why I needed subs, since I have certainly taught while sick, these absences were strictly professional leave.  (I can HEAR you!)

I do not understand why anyone would ever want to be a sub, as much as I have (sort of) appreciated them.  I had to sub for a classroom teacher who was the antithesis of me.  She had the “recess” voice, of course.  That’s the booming voice of authority that penetrates cinder block walls.  She also had a certain flair for sarcasm and a knee jerk response to any sign of insubordination.  Me?  I have a teacher “look” but I didn’t know the kids’ names, I had little idea what they were to do, and no one seemed to hear me speaking.  It did get better over time, but it wasn’t my finest hour (or three).   The turning point occurred when some students were picking on a special needs kid.  They saw the fire in my “look” and that seemed to clear the air.

My best info on substitutes came from my son when he was in middle and high school.  I was always pleased that the classes were well-behaved when a sub was there (of course he was telling me the truth).  It seemed that that by 6th grade, kids and subs had a clear working relationship:  the kids would be quiet if the sub didn’t ask them to do anything.  OK, I’m not sure that was the whole story.  But it does seem like one way to survive as a substitute teacher.

* The Top 10 Special Needs Blog Posts of 2013

The Top 10 Special Needs Blog Posts of 2013 as posted by The Special Needs Resources Blog.  I especially enjoy reading Karen Wang’s postings, a candid look at life in the special lane.  I am searching for special ed blogs out there; if you have any recommendations, please let me know.

* Mentoring 101

Mentoring takes courage.  For the teacher being mentored, it means collaborating openly, sharing your strengths and weaknesses, and being teachable.  For the mentor, It means exactly the same.  I’ve mentored many teachers over the years, with mostly positive results.  As a special educator, it’s been a stretch for me to mentor regular classroom teachers, as well as those teaching foreign language and PE.  But the basic parameters are always the same.  Just like teaching kids, your mentoring relationship can be a natural fit or you’ll discover that you must work hard to develop an effective connection.

Given my background in teaching kids with behavior problems, I have often been assigned (or offered to help) teachers whose classroom management skills are sketchy.  At first, I found it hard to predict the outcome in this type of situation.  One teacher (let’s call her Jan), had a spotless room, incredible organizational skills, and a permanent smile.  Unfortunately, she seemed to be missing her radar.  That’s a serious issue.  How can you navigate the deep seas without radar?  Jan never spotted those blips moving closer and closer to a point of impact.  I would be cringing, waiting for the collision, while she remained smiling and oblivious.  I wanted to scream out, “Dive! Dive!”  or “All hands on board!” but just clenched my teeth and tried not to intervene.  We met over 70 times in one year, with almost that many observations. By the end of the year, she transferred to another school.  Was that because of me, I wondered?  Was she sick of hearing me talk about tuning in to all the kids?  I was never sure, but she has since become a successful and admired teacher.  And she gave me a great big hug when I last saw her (perhaps thinking, “Thank goodness I don’t have to see her face in my room any more!”).

Right after my year with Jan, I was assigned to Margaret’s room.  It was hard for me to find Margaret in the jumble of flying bodies, drifting furniture, and jet engine-level noise.  Eventually, I could hear Margaret’s laughter rising above the rest of the tumult, which was both a good sign and a bad one.  It was good that she could laugh while buried alive in chaos, but it was bad that she thought the situation was just fine.  (The principal didn’t think the situation was fine at all, which was why I had arrived.)  Margaret was an easier fit for me personally than Jan, especially in the clutter department.  Also, it turned out that Margaret had a great radar but just never used it.  She alternated between a kindly babysitter role and a birthday party clown, neither of which works for more than 5 minutes in a classroom.  Margaret also went on to become a successful teacher.

I became better at predicting mentoring success because it seemed to be correlated with the amount of hours I spent with a teacher.  I guess I either wore them down or they ran away.

That leads me to Thomas, who taught a self-contained classroom like mine but with older kids. The first major problem was that he taught in a different school, so our face-to-face encounters were limited in number.  I couldn’t just drop by and observe or chat.  We talked on the phone but that wasn’t very helpful.  We obviously had a lot in common, but I still found it hard to connect with him.  You know the disclosure model where you tell someone your own miserable failures and they will be more inclined to tell you theirs?  That was a foreign concept to Thomas, who wanted to appear perfectly perfect.  Well, so did I, but my debacles have been so notorious that I couldn’t get away with perfect.  I heard from another teacher that Thomas was dying on the vine.  His kids were tossing furniture at him, he was losing his temper, and he had no desire to disclose anything at all to me.  I had just arranged a time to observe when I got the news.  Thomas had last been seen running away from the school at a brisk pace, never to return again.

That left me with a really sad feeling, along with some chuckles on those days when I felt like running away, too. I have continued to mentor to this day and no one else has ever taken off running.  Whew!

* MathCoach Interactive

MathCoach Interactive is an ambitious site with a huge amount of resources for teaching elementary mathematics.  It has two basic paths for students: one is module based (Topic Progressions), which starts with a pre-assessment and allows the program to determine the next steps.  The other path is lesson based (Grade learning Paths), with a program determined by the teacher.  There are excellent teaching videos for most specific skills, along with games that reinforce those skills.  A writing or student feedback feature is also available, where students can describe the strategies they used.  The program is pricey for a classroom teacher but reasonable for homeschooling or tutoring.  The support folks I’ve talked to have been real teachers who understand math instruction.  You must use Firefox, Chrome, or Safari for the program to run properly.  This the screen you see after logging in.

Math Coach interactive

What kids do:  After logging in, students can create an avatar from a variety of cartoon-like characters and animals.  Here’s an example:

math coach for kid

Students can view their most recent assignments and progress at the top of the screen, the completed assignments in the “Done” category (available by date ranges), and their unassigned work/games under “On My Own” at the bottom (again listed by date ranges).  Looking at the left sidebar, you see that students may select their own activities from the same subject menu as teachers and look at/print special certificates on their Brag Page.  When a student completes an assignment, they click “turn it in” and that work cannot be modified by the student again.  Students may also click “back” or home/dashboard” to return without completing an assignment and return to it at a later date.

What teachers get:  As noted above, teachers may work from either or both of two modes: module-based and lesson based.  You may search through a sequence of all math skills for kindergarten through fifth grade, or go to a module on a specific skill.  Under each skill, you will see what resources are available for that skill (whether printable, online, video and/or game) as well as a reference to Common Core State Standards.  Referring to the top illustration, you can see that it’s possible to search for a specific skill or worksheet, as well for as online practice (which includes games and teaching videos).  For any lesson you want to assign, there is a link for “assign,” “play,” or “download,” as appropriate.  Teachers can monitor student progress through their Gradebook.

Pros:

  • This program provides a complete scope and sequence for teaching math skills at 6 grade levels, which is very impressive.
  • There are an incredible number of printable worksheets available.
  • The teaching videos are excellent, with a real person guiding students through a concept.
  • The games closely match skills being taught and students seem to find them interesting overall.
  • Students may choose how they play many of the games (by selecting variables, type of play, etc.).
  • Monitoring and managing students is quite simple.
  • The Help section is well organized and provides solid support.
  • The graphics and images are excellent.
  • Assigning activities is very simple.

Cons:

  • The site needs a better linking system (I’m sure there’s a technical term for that- hyperlinks?).  Every link opens a new window, so students (and teachers) may have multiple homepages opened at once.  There will also be a new tab for anything you open, which is equally confusing.  Partial Fix: Keep closing all but one homepage.
  • Printable student assignments can be humongous, which is startling for both teachers and student (see the 64 exercises above).  Printables cannot be monitored by a computer; it is often difficult to enter responses because theses exercises were never intended to be used online.  They are only useful if downloaded and even then, they are often very lengthy.  Fix: Only download printables.
  • If students do not return to their homepage, none of their work is saved.  Fix: Remind them to return to their homepage.
  • If students select “turn in assignment” before it is completed, they cannot do anything about it.  Partial Fix: Remind them to be careful about finishing before turning in work.
  • Student scores are always visible within a specific date range.  For fragile learners, it can be devastating to see a 17% score on an assessment.  Partial Fix: In the case of the above student, I created a new home page so that that child’s previous scores and assignments were no longer visible.
  • Related to the point above, a student can also venture “on their own” and then face an equally dismaying set of scores.  Partial Fix: Over time, those scores will not be evident unless you change the date ranges.
  • Once a student starts an assignment, the teacher cannot delete it, even if it turns out to be a mismatch for that kid.  Partial Fix: Be careful when assigning lessons.
  • Some students want to change their avatar with each log in or open homepage.  Partial Fix: Set a limit on the number of avatar changes per a certain time period.
  • While the videos and lesson introductions use real voices, other content is read by a robotic male.  Fix: Just laugh along with the kids.

Top recommendation to MathCoach: Hire a new programmer to Improve links to eliminate multiple open windows; allow teachers to remove scores and assignments from students’ homepages; make printables downloadable only; and allow teachers to determine whether an avatar may be changed once selected.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.