Philosophical Chairs: Critical Thinking Based Instruction


Philosophical Chairs is a strategy for instructional use within the classroom to allow students to “critically think, verbally ponder, and logically write their beliefs” (Macdonald, 2)  Students would be expected to come to class prepared to discuss a newspaper article, essay, short story, or passage that they have actively taken notes on.  After reading and taking notes, students will be prompted with a teacher developed question that will provoke thoughtful discussion.  Students will then be separated into two separate seating arrangements in which one side of the room identifies that they are in support of the given question, while the other side disagrees or challenges the merit of the question.  Each student must speak and contribute their supporting evidence at least twice and must structure their responses in a constructive and respectful manner (i.e. “I understand what you are saying, however the article states…”).  Students are allowed to switch sides if they feel that the opposing group has presented a valid argument.

When is it useful?:

This activity is useful in any subject area during an activity that requires students to read and find supporting evidence in a particular piece of text.  The concept that is pulled from the text for discussion should be thought provoking and engaging.

Video: View an example of who it can be effectively used.

Who does this strategy benefit? What students may struggle with this particular strategy?:

This strategy benefits those learners who prefer to get out of their seats, move around, and actively engage.  Students who may struggle with this activity would be those who identify as intrapersonal learners.  These students may not choose to participate in the active discussion or debate.

Further Adaptations/Modifications:

If there are too many students to hold what would be considered an effective and on-task classroom debate, students can be further split into sub-groups and can be assigned additional roles.  An additional role that could be assigned would be “the judges”.  Students can grade each group on the effectiveness of their supporting evidence and clarity of speech.  Another additional role could be a moderator who ensures and keeps documentation that each speaker gives at least two responses.

Connection to Readings:

Silberman states that inquisitive minds would like to “know”. Students are naturally curious and as educators we can capitalize on their curiosity with the use of a constructive strategy (Silberman, 84).  Silberman suggests that within the two groups to create subgroups and “ask each subgroup to develop arguments for its assigned position, or provide an extensive list of arguments they might discuss and select” (84)  Although this activity reaches for higher critical thinking skills, one must keep in mind Hehir’s suggestion that teachers come to the conclusion and determine that “all students could reach high academic standards in inclusive settings” (79).

Positive Outcomes:

During my placement at Hughes, I had the opportunity to witness and facilitate Philosophical Chairs in ELA.  During one particular class period, students read an article on the impact of Facebook on your future (i.e. privacy, job interviews, college scholarships, etc.).  Students each took a side: “Students should be careful monitoring what it is they post on Facebook” versus “Students should be able to freely post what they please”.  Each group provided detailed arguments that were constructive and grounded in textual evidence.  Students were actively engaged and even students who would normally choose not to participate, chose to participate in this particular classroom discussion.  Students really got a feel for why textual evidence is so important to support your ideas.  Students discussed vocabulary words such as bias, “sound” evidence, relevant vs. irrelevant, compare & contrast, opinions, debate, and more!  The rules of the activity are structured and will be more effective once a routine is established and expectations are clear.  I found that as time went on, students took less time to transition and were more effective in delivering evidence to support their main ideas.

Written by: Jessica Bochmann


Hehir, T., & Katzman, L. (2012).  Effective Inclusive Schools: Designing Successful Schoolwide Programs.  San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, INC.

Macdonald, A, Philosophical Chairs: A Tool To Teaching Critical Thinking, 12/17/12,

Silberman, M, Active Learning: 101 Strategies To Teach Any Subject, Allyn and Bacon, 1996,

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Content Differentiation: Use of Lexile Levels

“The challenge for the typical teacher facing a heterogeneous classroom of readers is that there is often a gap between the abilities of the students and the required text.  Armed with the information provided by Lexile measures, the teacher can overcome these differences, improving both reading skills and content area knowledge in the process.” (Scholastic)


Determining the appropriate match for instructional success is necessary to ensure student access.  Lexiles provide a common scale for measuring text difficulty and student ability.  It allows instructors to track student progress, while simultaneously providing the ability to assign appropriate reading materials to students.  The Lexile Conversion Chart allows instructors to identify where their score falls in terms of grade level ability.  After determining a students Lexile score, there is an online software program called the Lexile Analyzer that allows users to plug in a reading or passage to determine its “readability” or appropriateness for that particular student.  If you’re not sure or are in search of an appropriate reading match you can Find a Book with their online search engine based on your lexile reading score range.

Lexile Overview Video

When is it useful?:

Lexiles are useful for varying circumstances and can be applied to make the reading more challenging to stimulate growth or less threatening in terms of background concepts, vocabulary,  and fluency.  This strategy is the most useful in classrooms where Lexile reading levels vary greatly.

Who does this strategy benefit? What students may struggle with this particular strategy?:

Students of all reading levels can benefit from use of Lexile reading scores.  Students can be appropriately challenged at any reading level and should be provided with an accurate match to facilitate student progress.  Students who may struggle could potentially be those whose interests are outside of their reading level and would prefer not to be limited in terms of what they should or should not read.

Further Adaptations/Modifications:

In addition to paying special attention to Lexile scores, instructors should also differentiate content material based on culturally responsive techniques.  Culturally and linguistically diverse students are often placed inappropriately in special education programs due to their inability to comprehend, relate to, or make personal connections to the literature and textbooks they read.

Connection to Readings:

 “Content includes what is to be taught; what level of understanding knowledge, and proficiency students are to demonstrate; and what context, materials, and differentiation are necessary to allow all students a point of entry to learning. (Thousand, 66)”

Thousand describes content in terms of context, use of materials, and differentiation.  Lexile reading levels allow instructors to manage the context and materials that students will receive in order to effectively differentiate to meet student needs.  Thousand also discusses examples of differentiated access such as variety of text materials and learning centers that contain different learning materials (71)

Positive Outcomes:

Throughout my placement at Hughes, I have had the opportunity to use Lexiles in ELA to facilitate station learning centers.  Groups are assigned based on Lexile reading scores and a text is decided based on an appropriate content match.  Although groups are reading different texts, they are working towards the same concepts and instructional strategies (i.e. setting, conflict, use of text codes, etc.).  Students in a typical classroom environment at Hughes vary greatly in terms of grade level reading abilities.  Without this differentiation in content, many students would feel either less challenged due to the overly accessible nature of a text or too challenged and less likely to engage with the materials at hand.  It is important to find an appropriate match for each student to ensure that students’ needs are met.  I have had successful experiences thus far in facilitating these literature circles and the students are excited to be able to enjoy a text at their appropriate grade level.  Students appear to be much more engaged and invested in the reading materials at hand when they feel that their access to the material is appropriately provided.

Written by: Jessica Bochmann


Lexiles: A Systen For Measuring Reader Ability and Text Difficulty:  A Guide For Educators, 12/17/12, Scholastic INC., New York, NY

Thousand, J. S., Villa, R. A., & Nevin, A. I. (2007).  Differentiating Instruction: Collaborative Planning and Teaching For Universally Designed Learning.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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Metacognition: Thinking About Thinking


The use of metacognition in the classroom allows students to feel a sense of control or ownership over their own learning.  In turn, students are given opportunities to feel invested in their role as a learner.  Instructors can implement this strategy in the classroom by encouraging students to plan out approaches to assigned learning tasks, asking students to monitor their own skill sets, urging students to evaluate the progress that has been made, and prompting students to reflect on what works best in terms of making themselves a successful learner.

Video:  How do incorporate metacognitive strategies into the classroom?

When is it useful?:

Using the terms “metacognition” or “metacognitive analysis” in the classroom environment is just another way of stating that students should be “thinking about thinking”.  When we are presenting new information as instructors, whether it be facts or higher order thinking skills, students should be asked to focus on the “why” rather than simply the “what”.  Additionally, students should be continually looking at relationships between bits of information, finding analogies that relate the content to everyday life, and writing down learning strategies that will help them be successful throughout the units’ entirety.  Therefore, this strategy is always useful and should be implemented for all learners during classroom instruction.  In this way, students will transition into active learners who are engaged in the process and who know how to significantly impact their own learning.

Who does this strategy benefit? What students may struggle with this particular strategy?:

I believe that all students would benefit from this particular strategy and that the very delivery of metacognitive analysis further demonstrates the concept of a “least restrictive environment”.  Metacognition can be tailored to each student’s needs and can be accessed and assessed in a variety of ways.  In other words: If a student can think, a student can think about how they learn.

Further Adaptations/Modifications:

Technological supports should be provided to those who need assistance communicating how they learn, what strategies benefit their learning, goals/objectives for improvement, and reflection-based thinking.

Connection to Readings:

Hehir states, “For many of these students, who have grown used to lowered expectations and restricted access to higher-level curriculum, this is an entirely new approach that requires them to adjust their views of themselves as learners.  This emphasis on metacognition or understanding the self is increasingly viewed by researchers as an essential component in improving outcomes for struggling learners, particularly adolescents (71).”  All students, especially those who are described as “at risk learners”, require an opportunity to understand themselves in terms of their current abilities and the ways in which they learn.  Learners who struggle with particular skill sets may need to become aware of how serious the situation is, understand what is expected from them in the curriculum provided, and must develop a plan on how to better access their strengths as a learner in order to succeed.

Murawski and Dieker’s article continually emphasizes the need for instructors to “ask students” about their learning.  In this way, students are becoming active participants in their own learning process.  For instance, when accommodations are being made for learners the article suggests that questions should be formed and delivered in the following ways, “On the basis of your own learning style, would you prefer…”, “If we include these activities as an instructional method, do we have your commitment to interact appropriately?”, and “Is class boring?  If so, what are your suggestions for making it more interesting- while still ensuring that we teach the content adequately?” (45-46).

Carter describes the “fading of adult support” in the following way, “…striking the right balance between encouraging interdependence and providing a foundation of ongoing support is essential (71).”  Students are already given many natural supports in their learning environment such as peer supports, technology, differentiated delivery, and supports provided from direct instructor interaction.  In addition, some students are also given the support of a paraprofessional to further guide and facilitate their learning.  However, students must still build the skills necessary to monitor and evaluate their own learning process.

Written by: Jessica Bochmann


Carter, E. W., Cushing, L.S., & Kennedy, C. H. (2009).  Peer Support Strategies For Improving All Students’ Social Lives and Learning. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing, INC.

Hehir, T., & Katzman, L. (2012).  Effective Inclusive Schools: Designing Successful Schoolwide Programs.  San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, INC.

Murawski, W., & Dieker, W. (2008).  50 Ways To Keep Your Co-Teacher: Strategies for before, during, an after co-teaching. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40(4), 40-48.


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Livescribe: A Tool for Taking Class Notes

Written by: Jessica Bochmann & Lisa Kernahan

What is Assistive Technology?

Students with disabilities can face numerous barriers to learning everyday, assistive technology can remove the barrier that one’s (dis)ability can obstruct. In school, assistive technology can be any tool or technology used by individuals with (dis)abilities to give them equal access to education.  Hannon tells us “such products succeed best when they remove obstacles that stand in the way of the joy of learning” (16). It can be as simple as giving a student with vision impairment larger print or a student with dyslexia books on tape to providing kids with autism devices that allow them to communicate. Teachers can use the flexibility of assistive technology to create materials that capture students’ strengths and address their weaknesses.  Particularly, assistive technology can be the rope that strengths access, for these students, to enhance communication, learning, social relationships, and/or active participation in classrooms.  Removing these barriers empowers a student with (dis)ability by supporting their opportunity for a meaningful life that includes: education, social interaction, and employment.

Why do students take class notes?

Nigel Ward and Hajime Tatsukawa argue that notetaking is not simply an “archaic method for acquiring information,” but rather is a technique to engage and facilitate learning (960).  There are many forms of assistive technology that replace the act of notetaking, rather than enhancing it.  However, Ward and Tatsukawa emphasize the impact the art of notetaking has on student performance (960).  According to these authors, notetaking is said to have two functions.  The more obvious of the two is the idea that if notes are taken, they will be useful products for reviewing the material or content at hand.  The second outlines the process of notetaking itself, which is said to assist students with the process of learning the material through the act of encoding.  Encoding ensures that the students’ mind receives the instructor’s input, both verbally and in written form, and requires the notetaker to re-express or summarize those inputs at a deeper level (960).

Livescribe in a Nutshell: 

What is Livescribe Technology?

The company’s tag line, “never miss a word,” sums up the usefulness of this technology. The livescribe smart pen is a ballpoint pen embedded with a computer processor and digital audio recorder and writes on special dot paper. Central to the livescribe pen is its ability to record what it writes, play it back, and transfer notes and audio to your computer. It captures everything you hear and write and links audio to written notes, so that you will never miss a word. This product comes from the same inventor who created the Leap Frog learning tools for preschool children (Hannon, 16).  Kapp explains that the Livescribe works in conjunction with a special notebook and while at a glance it looks like a slightly oversized pen, it contains a number of sophisticated features, such as an integrated microphone, USB connector, and an infrared camera. He further states “the pen keeps track of where it is positioned on a sheet of special paper so that it can record a digital version of everything that is written.” By doing so the pen creates a visual library of the work written and is the stored for later search and access.

Are there different versions? What are the costs?

4GB Sky™ wifi smartpen   US$199.95

  • Holds up to 400 hours of audio* and thousands of pages of notes
  • Wirelessly syncs notes and audio to your personal Evernote account
  • Seamlessly syncs your smartpen content across any computer or device running Mac
  • OS X®, Windows®, iOS®, Android™ and more
  • Includes exclusive Livescribe plan for Evernote, with 500MB additional monthly upload capacity for smartpen notes and audio

2GB Sky™ wifi smartpen     US$169.95

  • Holds up to 200 hours of audio* and thousands of pages of notes
  • Wirelessly syncs notes and audio to your personal Evernote account
  • Seamlessly syncs your smartpen content across any computer or device running Mac
  • OS X®, Windows®, iOS®, Android™ and more
  • Includes exclusive Livescribe plan for Evernote, with 500MB additional monthly upload capacity for smartpen notes and audio

2GB EFIGS Echo™ Smartpen   US$119.95

  • Echo smartpen with 2GB of memory (actual user available memory will be less)
  • Livescribe Connect Basic: Facebook, Evernote®, Microsoft OneNote, MyLivescribe or
  • Mobile Device (download)
  • Livescribe Desktop software for Mac or Windows (download)
  • 500 MB of personal online storage
  • Starter dot paper notebook
  • Micro USB cable for charging and data transfer
  • Interactive Getting Started Guide
  • Smartpen Tips and Tricks
  • Two ink cartridges (including one pre-installed in the Echo smartpen)
  • One smartpen cap
Side by Side Comparison:

Who would benefit?


According to Jennifer Bogard and Mary McMackin, most students, including students with disabilities struggle with the act of planning in terms of their writing.  Students would benefit from the ability to verbally rehearse narrative or formal writing and using these recordings to stimulate and guide students during the use of written expression (315).  Additionally, students benefit from having the ability to obtain documents in various ways, including being searchable, editable, easily shared, and most of all, more legible (Ward and Tatsukawa, 960).  In place of using a notebook computer, it is more readily accessible and easier to carry around.


Smartpens as an assistive technology not only benefits all students, but teachers as well. By making a student more independent allows teachers to spend more time on group activities and to give students more one-on-one attention. Additionally, it can provide teachers with added alternatives to meeting different learning styles for individual students using visual, auditory, and tactile approaches. 

Who might have difficulty? Why?:

Students who are hearing impaired will not receive the same benefits of the audio recording features associated with the livescribe smart pen.  However, the pen does have a visual recording device that allows studies the ability to create a movie, allowing you to watch your handwriting in sync with an audio track (Kapp and Balkun).  Additional devices would be required for students with hearing loss to receive audio in caption form.

How can it be used in the classroom?

Jennifer Bogard and Mary McMackin documented a series of case studies in which children utilized audio recording features to incorporate the use of digital literacies.  In one particular study, students were taking part in “multimodal storytelling”, also known as the ability to combine and manipulate digital and non-digital composing.  They were able to record their narrative by collecting ideas and recording phrases and memories that were sparked by magazines, objects, and other outside sources (314).  Bogard and McMackin explain that “audio recordings allowed children to verbalize and elaborate on their developing stories” (315).

Another suggestion, includes the use of the livescribe smartpen to capture both video and audio while students draw visual images, such as a story map organizer.  While students sketch images associated with a given topic, students can talk through their creative process (315).

Another benefit of allowing students the use of the livescribe pen for writing assignments, is the ability for students to go back and edit their writing by listening to the pen’s playback feature.  Students can hear their writing and listen for any errors and needs for improvement.  One student from one of the case studies explains, “The pen helped me hear what the story sounded like.  It told me whether I should add more or take something out that I didn’t need (319)”.

Students also utilized the feature of the auditory recording devices during their unit on poetry.  Students were able to make decisions about the locations of the line-breaks in their poems, adjusting these breaks and re-recording as they were writing (321).

And finally, the livescribe pen can be used in general on a day-to-day basis during any activities that require notetaking skills in the classroom environment.  If you are a slow writer, you can simply record background audio clips, capture photographs as you write, and utilize the microphone to make personalized notations to refer back to at a later time.

Customer Reviews:


  • “As a student, I’ve been looking for some new technology that will change the notetaking process… One of the virtues of the smartpen is that it doesn’t serve as a distraction. Look, I’m a teenager. A laptop makes it incredibly easy to mask that you’re playing a game during a lecture or perusing Facebook. Once you mute the volume and start typing, most teachers assume that you’re vigorously taking notes. With the Echo smartpen, it is a lot more difficult”  (Pogue).
  • “The software is very easy to use. I just plug my pen in, open LiveScribe desktop, and it gives me a list of all the note books I have active with the pen, and loads all the pages I’ve written and then moving them to custom notebooks, like one for each date or subject, is just click and drag… The audio recording is pretty good, and it’s nice that it will synch the audio to your pen strokes, letting you see how you took notes during a lecture” (Siegel).


  • “ There are some other drawbacks. At the moment, there are only 75 apps available…Most of the apps are very simple and cost money. It was annoying to learn that after shelling out $200 for the pen, I’d have to drop $15 (the price of the American Heritage Dictionary app on another proprietary applications” (Pogue).
  • “The pen is too large. I’ve heard people complain that it’s like writing with a magic marker, which is a bit of an exaggeration, and there’s no problem for short bursts, but over the length of a seminar talk, I found that my hand was slightly sore from holding it differently from a regular pen. Now, I admit that my hand is sometimes slightly sore from a regular pen if I’m writing a lot…however, I think that this problem will be solved by using the pen more, and long term I expect the pens to slim” (Siegel).

Additional Resources:

Video User Review and Tutorial

Step by Step Video Analysis

This blog can also be viewed on Lisa Kernahan’s Blog: Kernahan’s Korner


Bogard, Jennifer M., McMackin, Mary C. 2012. Combining Traditional And New Literacies In A 21st-Century Writing Workshop. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Reading Teacher. Vol. 65. Issue 5. 313-323. Retrieved from ERIC: Reference# EJ961027.

Hannon, Charles. (2008).  Paper-Based Computing. Boulder, CO. Educause Quaterly. V31. N4. 15-16. Retrieved from ERIC: Reference# EJ820806

Kapp, Craig, Balkun, Mary McAleer. 2011. Teaching on the Virtuality Continuum: Augmented Reality in the Classroom. Wayne, NJ. Transformations. V22. Issue 1. 100-113, 143-145. Retrieved from Proquest: Reference# 1001215122

Pogue, David. (08/19/2010). A High School Student Reviews a Smartpen, the Livescribe Echo. In New York Times Blogs. Retrieved 10/25/2012, from

Siegel, Charles. (April 4, 2011). Rigorous Trivialities. In WordPress. Retrieved 10/25/2012, from

Ward, N., H. Tatsukawa. (2003). A Tool For Taking Class Notes. Tokyo, Japan. Int. J. Human-Computer Studies. 59. 959-981.


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Creating Meaningful Assessment


Giving students meaningful choices is an effective, easy to use differentiation strategy. Choices that teachers can provide include the products that may be used to assess student progress and understanding.  Choices should give students multiple ways to engage with the content.  It gives the students a sense of ownership over their learning and includes all individuals, taking into consideration their learning preferences.

When is it useful?:

According to Rose and Meyer, “The obvious value of embedded, flexible UDL assessment is its ability to adjust to many individual differences and focus the questions on exactly what teachers are trying to find out. With flexibility in presentation, expression, supports, and engagement, we can reduce the common errors introduced by single-mode fixed assessments. Further, that same flexibility allows teachers to align assessment more closely with teaching goals and methods and thus, to assess students more accurately” (Chapter 7).

Meaningful choices can be used for almost all classroom activities, other than those that aim to demonstrate clear and developmentally appropriate learning goals.  In other words, if it is necessary that the student demonstrates grade level writing skills, giving the option of an oral assignment would not be beneficial in terms of their learning goals.  However, if the assignment aims to demonstrate conceptual understanding, such as reading comprehension, students should be given the option to capture what they’ve learned and communicate its meaning through a variety of means.

Who does this strategy benefit?:

“When students are using tools that are familiar and appropriate for their own styles, needs, and preferences, they are not hindered by the medium of expression and are more likely to be able to demonstrate what they know and know how to do” (Rose and Meyer, Chapter 7).

This strategy benefits interpersonal learners, intrapersonal learners, verbal/linguistic learners, bodily/kinesthetic learners, visual/spacial learners, and all other learners that demonstrate the need to exercise their own learning strengths and preferences.  Additionally, meaningful choices positively effects students who would benefit from having control or ownership over their own learning.  And all students benefit from the ability to experience engaging and motivational connections to the content material.

What students may struggle with this particular strategy?:

“From the perspective of quality grading, there is nothing unfair about providing multiple pathways and support systems for learning.  What matters is ensuring clarity and stability in criteria we will use to teacher, construct assessments, and measure success” (Tomlinson, 267).

Meaningful choices should be developed to accommodate all types of learners.  Therefore, every student should be able to connect with one method of demonstrating assessed skills.  Some students may struggle longterm, as some skill sets may be more developed than others if used more frequently.  However, students should still be given opportunities to develop grade level learning goals to assess progress.

Further Adaptations/Modifications:

“By examining where supports succeed and fail, a teacher can identify how students successfully learn how to learn” (Rose and Meyer, Chapter 7).

In instances where learning objectives must be addressed and options are limited, motivational supports can be offered such as, the use of sound or images.

Additionally, Salend outlines on page 44 in Teaching Exceptional Children, a list of test creation and administration technology-based accommodations that can be used to further differentiate assessment.

I’ve created the below hyperlinks for these additional resources for convenient access to alternative assessments:

Integrating Visual Supports Into Tests Resources

BoardMaker and Writing with Symbols and Intellipics

Image Sharing Resources 

Library of Congress Photographs Online CatalogFlickr, and Picsearch

Technology-Based Gaming Resources

FunbrainBrainpopEveryday Math GamesInteractive Whiteboards in the ClassroomPowerPoint Games, and Homemade Powerpoint Games

Readability Formula Resources

Micro Power and Light CompanyReadabilityStudio, and Online Readability Software

Text- and Screen-Reading Program Resources

Read and Write Gold (TextHELP), TextAssistTextAloud Wynn and JAWSReadPleaseEasyReaderZoomText , and Window-Eyes

Optical Character Reading Systems (OCR) Resources

Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind ReaderReadingPenScan pen, and myReader2 

Alternative Methods for Using Technology Resources

Fentek IndustriesMadentecAccessAmerica, and Access Ingenuity 

Augmentative Communication Systems Resources

DynaVox TechologiesWords +, and Zygo

Voice-Recognition and Activation Systems Resources

Dragon Systems Naturally Speaking, Nuance, and ViaVoiceiListen

Outlining and Semantic Mapping Software Resources

Inspiration and KidspirationDraft Builder, and Timeliner

Word Usage and Grammar Checkers Resources

WhiteSmokeGramtTiar Expert Plus, and StyleWriter

Talking Word Processor Resources

AspireReaderWrite: Out loud, and SpeakO

Word Cueing and Prediction Resources

WordQSoothsayerGUS! Word Prediction, and Co:Writer

Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus Resources

WordsmythVoyCaBularyVisuwords, and Visual Thesaurus

Essay Grading and Feedback Program Resources

SAGraderMy AccessWriteToLearn, and Criterion Online Writing Evaluation

Online Test Preparation Resources

PracticeplanelStudy IslandThe Online Test Page, and The Online Math Tests Home Page

Test and Survey Creation Software Resources

TestTalkerPremier Test BuilderLS Test BuilderTeacher’s PetMarvel MathExamView’s Asssesment SuiteScantronPearson Educational MeasurementTest PilotPerceptionsSurvey MonkeySupersurvey, and Pollcat

Online Quiz Creation and Administration Resources

Quizlab.comQuizstarQuiaQuiz Center, and Moodle

Technology Accessibility Resources

Web Accessibility InitiativeWorld Wide Web ConsortiumA-Prompt: Web Accessibihty VerifierCynthia SaysAccMonitor, AccVerify. and AccRepairComputer Accommodations Program, and Center for Applied Special Technology

Connection to Readings:

Meaningful choices in terms of classroom assessment provides students with the flexibility and support needed to communicate strengths and weaknesses.  The readings agree that it would be a disadvantage to measure success outside of students’ strengths. Tomlinson emphasizes that “grading is not a synonym for assessment”, in other words we should not simply assess to give a numerical value of achievement.  This is often mistaken as such, he explains, due to the “rigidity and standardization” of our grading systems.  This misinterpretation of what it means to assess is a serious injustice to our students’ educations.

I believe that as instructors, it is important to develop our assessments with a few essentially fundamental questions at at: What is it that we are trying to assess?, Does this align with the learning goal(s) at hand?, and Are students’ strengths and learning preferences considered?

Written by:  Jessica Bochmann


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A Diamond in the Rough

Hughes Middle School is a persistently low-achieving school located in the South side of Syracuse, NY.  Before arriving to Syracuse this is about all I knew in terms of what to expect from my placement as a SUITR teaching resident.  I knew it would be challenging but, I’m not sure I could have predicted any of the experiences that I’ve endured thus far.

Hughes is a small school, with staff and students that are united where all else divides.   It is a cultural melting pot, with an array of languages, traditions, and beliefs.  And yet, all of our students walk in everyday as if there was nothing particularly unique regarding the diversity of their school.  I remember vividly when I was attending my own middle school, located in a suburb of Buffalo, NY, having a “host student” was a huge ordeal.  A host student was one student from another country that came to live and attend school here in America.  I remember distinctly how fascinated everyone was with asking this student questions, listening to his language, and trying to identify all of the differences that existed between him and everyone else.  At Hughes, there is no mission to seek out any differences, but rather an ongoing acceptance that everyone is in some way the same.

The staff’s unity follows suit with similar strength in numbers and diversified ability. Due to the small size of the school, every teacher is given one common planning period to allow for collaboration.  Also, team members have a weekly meeting in which all concerns are addressed and openly discussed.  And most importantly, there is comfort in knowing that everyone knows everybody else.  All of the teachers know each other very well and the administration participates and plans with classroom instructors. Additionally, when there is a concern regarding a student, whether it be behavioral or academic, we are all able to contribute and share our experiences and knowledge to reach a common and unified plan of action.

The school is saturated with a number of supports from the community in a way that I have never experienced before.  Syracuse University has not only offered up its services in providing SUITRs (Syracuse Urban Inclusive Teacher Residents), such as myself, but also Literacy Specialists that are assigned a caseload of students who are in need of reading and writing support.  Because of this support the teacher to student ratio is on average about 4 teachers to every 30 students, including ESL instructors.  This allows teachers to meet student academic needs effectively and provides improvement opportunities for behavioral management deficits.

In addition to these supports, the school is participating in a program course for its students called AVID.  Avid stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and promotes a support system that gears towards college readiness and other opportunities for post-school advancement.  Hughes also participates in a program called Say Yes.  This is a  non-profit foundation dedicated to increasing high school and college graduation rates for urban youth.  It includes services such as after school support, summer camp, no cost/low cost health care, tutoring services, family support services, and legal advocacy. Hughes even offers two additionally notable programs called Building Men and Building Women which teach and model ways in which youth can give back to their own communities.

The sense of community within the school is greater than any I’ve ever experienced thus far.  The school represents, in my opinion, a microcosm of the very core of American culture.  Hughes models an unyielding resiliency, cultural diversity, and unified supports and staff that are not willing to continually identify as persistently low-achieving.  I believe that these experiences will truly shape my future teaching career in a way that many others are not awarded and I could not be more grateful for this very unique opportunity.

Written by: Jessica Bochmann

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Great(er) Expectations

When I think back to my education I think back to a time much different than now.  It’s amazing how much can change in such a short period of time.  I graduated high school in 2005 and 7 years later here we are in an educational spectrum reflecting new standards and expectations of what it means to learn.  Rose and Meyer state, “These days, we are demanding more of students than the acquisition of facts: We want them to ask questions, find information, and use that information effectively. We want them to learn how to learn”.  So what does this even mean?  How do we learn how to learn?

My understanding is that we are moving away from an emphasis on memorization of content and leaning heavily towards critical thinking skills.  The idea is that if you can deconstruct any given concept and demonstrate real-life application you have truly acquired the skill-set.  I can relate to this in terms of my own high school experiences with math.  I could memorize any given formula and when the context of the formula was given to me to solve, I could complete the problems with great success.  However, if I was given an equation outside of the context in which it was taught I could not dissect the problem to determine which formula I was intended to use.  Therefore, I do not believe that I ever truly acquired the skill-sets necessary to succeed.  Rose and Meyer explain, “…increasing access to information can actually undermine learning, because it sometimes requires reducing or eliminating the challenge or resistance that is essential to learning. ” Therefore, because I was always given the context of the formulas to be solved I never experienced those “teachable moments” in which I could apply and synthesize the material first-hand.

I believe it is important to find a balance between what is challenging and what is beyond reasonable expectations.  Ergo, it is crucial to identify the goal or skill-set to be exercised in terms of academic expectation.  Rose and Meyer further explain, “The goals of learners more closely resemble those of the athlete-in-training than those of the mover. UDL is predicated on that difference. As educators, our aim is not simply to make information accessible to students, but to make learning accessible. This requires resistance and challenge.”  In other words, academic curricula should be determined on an individualized basis, tailoring lessons based on developmental needs.  What may be challenging to one student, may be too easily accessible to another.  And what may seem second nature to some, may be far too demanding for others.  As instructors, it is our job to ensure that every student is equally challenged according to their set goals and expectations.  However, this does not mean that we should “dumb down” or dilute the given content.  On the contrary, expectations should be kept elevated for all students.

McTighe and Brown believe, “All learners should be held to the same rigorous standards.  Every student, in fact, should demonstrate longitudinal progress toward genuinely understanding what he or she is learning via six facets of understanding (explanation, application, interpretation, perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge).  However, the pathway each student takes toward achieving understanding and related standards mastery must involve a differentiated approach to content, process, and product based on assessment and analysis of every student’s readiness levels, learning profiles, and interests” (242).  In short hand, students with special needs should be held to the same rigorous standards as those within the  “general education” spectrum.  They should simply be provided with differentiated deliverance of content, as well as any tools necessary to “even the playing field” or make accessible.

Hehir and Katzman explain, “By focusing on reaching those who were potentially most difficult to reach, these teachers found that their planning served to benefit the larger population of students” (105)  Therefore, UDL benefits ALL learners regardless of their ability or “track” (i.e. general education vs. special education).  If this is the case, I am forced to think why any educator would choose not to practice UDL standards?  Although I am unable to answer this fundamental question, I feel that I am lucky to be working closely with those who share the same professional goal: To provide equal access to education for all.

Written by: Jessica Bochmann


Hehir, Thomas & Katzman, Lauren  (2012).  Effective Inclusive Schools.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint.

McTighe, J., & Brown, J. L. (2005) Differentiated instruction and educational standards: Is detente possible?  Theory Into Practice, 44(3), 234-244.

Rose, D. H. & Meyer, A (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning.  Baltimore, MD: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  Available for FREE online at:

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The Path to Inclusion

In Effective Inclusive Schools by Thomas Hehir and Lauren Katzman there are a number of schools that truly dedicate their educational missions to the implementation of a successful inclusive environment.  I’ve had the opportunity to work in schools that are self-contained programs, as well as those that claim to be fully inclusive.  I have however, never worked in a school that is truly inclusive.   Although I strongly support inclusion, I have never witnessed what I envisioned it to entail based on my collegiate study within the field of education.  Therefore, I began to hopelessly wonder whether or not these very idealistic theories would ever transpire.  In fact, I am still hopelessly wondering whether or not these idealistic theories will ever transpire.  However, after the Hehir and Katzman reading I am far more convinced that a successful inclusive atmosphere is not an impossibility.

On many occasions I have pondered what it would take to renovate and reinvent a school that fails to demonstrate inclusive standards of education.  How do we undo what many years of exclusive pedagogy has done to our school systems?  I believe that this very fundamental question is the reason that many refuse to dedicate their efforts towards creating and implementing an inclusive environment.  An inclusive pedagogy created with utmost fidelity and ongoing vigorous exertion requires too much of our time and energy. In other words, our society is feeding off of a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

However, if we look closely to those who are directly effected by the failure to fully include we can see that the system is very broken, in fact, it inherently becomes an issue of civil rights.

What we need, according to those that are living up to the standards of what it means to be inclusive, are mission driven leaders.  It begins with creating a school culture that is accepting of what it means to include everyone, regardless of appearances or ability.  In addition to mission driven leaders, what we also need is a strong structural framework that focuses on how to coordinate these mission driven standards.  And finally, what we need to make all of this come together is the willingness to collaborate together to build these systems of support.

In conclusion, according to those who study inclusive theory, as a society, we are very aware of  what we need to make inclusion work.  However, the question I am left with time and time again is: Why haven’t we all made it work yet?

Written by: Jessica Bochmann


Hehir, Thomas & Katzman, Lauren  (2012).  Effective Inclusive Schools.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint.

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“Special” Education

In regards to accommodating students with disabilities, MaryAnn Byrnes states, “wearing glasses does not make a bad driver better or make driving easier; rather, wearing glasses makes driving possible” (21).  According to this accurate analogy, everyday accommodations are overlooked and generally accepted by society.  Accommodations such as glasses, wheelchairs, crutches, and hearing aids are often prioritized and are provided without question, however accommodations and modifications for learning are frequently considered a faux pas (Byrnes, 21-22).

Why is is that we can accept the removal of these everyday barriers on a case-by-case, situational basis?  Byrnes explains, “There is no limit to the range of abilities, therefore there should be no limit to the range of accommodations.” (Byrnes, 23).  I believe the reason that learning accommodations have become stigmatized is due to the fear that we are giving any one student an unfair advantage.  Therefore, it becomes a question of what is fair and justifiable in terms of support.  Having said this, one could also argue that accommodations that are used correctly should never alter the essential purpose of any given task.  Thus, the concern or fear should not be whether or not to provide accommodations, but rather how to do so appropriately in terms of defining a given skill. Additionally, there is a concern that students who are accustomed to support will not be able to fend for themselves and survive in the “real world”.  However, how does one define this notion of the “real world”?  In terms of college and career readiness, students with disabilities are provided with support that is consistent to that which is defined as a reasonable accommodation at the high school level.  Students requiring accommodations are protected by Section 504, which applies to colleges and employers, as well (Byrnes, 24).  Therefore, as educators we should not withhold providing support to meet the needs of our diverse learners.

How then do we appropriately and adequately deliver these often demanding accommodations within the classroom environment?  Alice Udvari-Solner suggests that instructors should tackle these instructional decisions with a reflexive and reflective decision-making process (247).  Initially, as educators we must make it a priority to consider any curricular adaptations that will enhance every student’s overall performance.  In terms of individualized accommodations, educators must develop the habit of self-questioning.  The internal dialogue should consider whether or not the student can actively participate and to what degree, if the student requires personal assistance or supervision to perform the required tasks, and if an alternate activity should be designed to meet the student’s needs (Udvari-Solner 249-250).  During the lesson, it is crucial that the teacher observes students in need of accommodation and ensures that they are relating the content, encouraging progress, guiding tasks, and monitoring progress (Udvari-Solner, 249).  Additionally, instructors should take the time after each instructional activity and ask themselves what worked, what may not have worked as well as you had hoped for, and how exactly you could improve this activity to ensure success in the future.   The long-term goal as an instructor, is that these questions will become second nature and positively effect student learning outcomes, teaching style and delivery, and environmental considerations (Udvari-Solner 251-253).

Modifying Schoolwork by Rachel Janney and Martha E. Snell provides and suggests the below steps to planning individuals adaptations:

This simple, yet complex six-step process ensures that the instructor is aware and knowledgable in terms of the student (likes/dislikes, what works best, and any other areas of concern), the student’s program (IEP goals, accommodation, and academic/social needs), where and when accommodations will be needed, what strategies will be used, an agenda for implementation, back up accommodations (in other words: Plan B preparation), and ways in which progress can be monitored and evaluated (time for reflection).

In conclusion, removing barriers that are a product of an individual’s (dis)ability is not simply one approach or method for instruction.  It is an individual’s given right to access content material the same way any other student would.  It is our responsibility as educators to provide the necessary support and accommodations to meet each and every students’ needs.

Written by: Jessica Bochmann


Byrnes, M.  (2008).  Writing explicit, unambiguous accommodations: A team effort.  Intervention in School and Clinic, 44(1), 18-24.

Janney, R., & Snell, M. E.  (2004).  Modifying Schoolwork (2nd ed.).  Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Udvari-Solner, A.  (1996).  Examining teacher thinking: Constructing a process to design curricular adaptations.  Remedial and Special Education, 17, 245-254.


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A “Person-Centered” Tomorrow

One cannot argue that American society as a whole is represented by significant financial disparities, resulting inevitably in disproportionate opportunities for those representing our nation’s poverty.  In the United States, it is common knowledge that people of color are more likely to be poor.  Common knowledge and research-based data depict this social and economic crisis among our masses, yet very little is done to eliminate these unethical inequalities.  Our culture must address this inequality by deconstructing and analyzing the fundamental root causes for these disparities.  One can argue: What came first, the chicken or the egg?  In other words, are our educational systems reinforcing these social barriers or are social barriers trickling down into our educational systems?

Regardless of where these injustices begin, they overlap and interweave in terms of race and (dis)ability.  The disproportionate misrepresentation within our educational institutions results in an unequal comparison to what is perceived as the social “norm”.  MR programs have the tendency to oversimplify the “umbrella” which represents varying levels of development and situate minority youths academically and behaviorally deficient in comparison to white middle class standards (Blanchett, Klingner, and Harry, 397).  Additionally, inherent Western racism assumes that students of color have inferior intelligence and greatly impact the policies and practices of our public schools.  Another bias to contend with is the classification of MR student based on IQ test scores.  The IQ tests themselves reflect social, cultural, and linguistic knowledge of the mainstream and fail to represent the very large population of students of color.  And if any one student of color manages to surpass these institutionalized roadblocks within their educational pathway, they must then face the lack of resources provided within their inner-city school districts (Blanchett, Klingner, and Harry, 398-399).  Regardless of ability, disability, color, or lack of color, everyone deserves access to an equal and valued education.

A recognition that change must occur has lead to an emphasis on inclusion as the driving force for promoting consistently equal access to education for all.  Inclusion has become a commitment to reinstitutionalizing democratic beliefs within the educational realm and creating schools that value diversity and Universal Design, rather than those that segregate and divide (Lansdown, Position Paper, I).  All students should be recognized for their learning potential, curriculum should focus on ability, rather than disability, there should be an active participation of students and their learning process, differentiation should be utilized to deliver common curriculum to all, and most importantly students should be provided with teachers who include, rather than exclude (Lansdown, Position Paper, I).  In turn, the aim is to create a generation of individuals that will accept all realms of diversity and value the individual before the perception.

A movement towards person-centered planning allows professionals to design IEPs that respect and utilize the individual’s unique qualities such as ethnicity, race, gender, class, culture, language, and sexual orientation (Keyes and Owens-Johnson, 146).  The process includes the individual, family, and participants within the individual’s educational spectrum.  This is a strength-based, reflection oriented design in which information is shared, not simply read or dictated by one member of society (Keyes and Owens-Johnson, 146).  In short, discrimination is a learned perception.  If we apply these PCP standards of equality within the educational spectrum, we can greatly impact the societal expectations and cultural standards of generations to follow.

Written by: Jessica Bochmann


Blanchett, W. J., Klingner, J. K., & Harry, B.  (2009).  The intersection of race, culture, language, and disability: Implications for urban education.  Urban Education, 44(4), 389-409.

Lansdown, G.  (2012).  The right of children with disabilities to education: A rights-based approach to inclusive education.  Position paper.  Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Keyes, M.W. & Owens-Johnson, L.  (2003).  Developing Person-Centered IEPs.  Intervention in School and Clinic, 38(3), 145-152.


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