Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Favorite News Sources

I admit it: I'm addicted to news. I don't know when I first became interested in news. I edited a high school paper and a college paper. I've written for rural weekly papers and worked a beat for a daily for awhile. I enjoy news, and news analysis...

While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are some of the news sources that I visit more or less weekly:

  • Yahoo! News - this is more like a portal than a source. Yahoo provides links to wire service information and major newspapers, organized topically and searchable. If you want to read about politics, there's a page on politics. If you want to read about Asia, there's a page on Asia. If you want to read about science news, there's a page. You get the idea. Search by a person's name and you get a list of news articles about the person. I visit this site daily...

  • USA Today - I browse the paper once or twice a week.
  • The Washington Post - a good source for politics and for world news.
  • National Public Radio - A unique perspective on national and international news. NPR has the advantage of allowing me to listen to news on the drive to and from work, time that might otherwise be wasted...
  • The Bluefield Daily Telegraph - I wrote for them, long ago. This is the closest thing we have to a daily paper for Tazewell County. Their coverage is focused more on West Virginia, but we get their crumbs, as coverage goes.
  • The Charleston Gazette - since I work in West Virginia...
  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch - a good source of Virginia news.

Having spent a third or so of my adult life outside the Continental US, I like to read a few international papers, as well...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Friends in Finland...

I've been to Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Edisto Beach, the Federated States of Micronesia, France, Germany, Gormania, Guam, Hawaii, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kapingamarangi, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Majuro, Myanmar (maybe, hard to tell), Myrtle Beach, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, The Northern Mariana Islands, Orchard Road, Pawleys Island, the Philippines, Pigeon Forge, Puerto Rico, Boat Quay in Singapore, Rattanakosin (Old Bangkok), Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Texas, Thailand, Union Grove in North Carolina, the Virgin Islands, Wagga Wagga, Yellowstone, and several zoos. But not to Finland...

I have friends in Finland. When I lived in Canberra, Australia, the city there had a small but vibrant community of Finns. Youth With A Mission (whom I worked for there) had a steady flow of Finnish students coming through its training programs. I've lost touch now with all of them. But occasionally I see their faces in my mind and think about our old friendships.

One family in particular used to invite me to their home in Canberra.
They had a sauna they'd built themselves. (They pronounced that word as "SAU-nah," and the "sau" rhymed with "cow.") I could sit in the sauna with them. It would climb into the 80's, which is about 175F degrees. I could stand that; it was almost pleasant. But then one of them would throw a thimble or so or water on the hot rocks and steam would fill the room. I would have to exit the sauna. I could hear them chuckle as I went through the door.

I also remember drinking small quantities of a marvelous liquid with them. It was clear and tasted like berries - berries that were on fire. And if you drank enough of it the liquid made you want to sing. Can't remember what they called it, though.

I had the pleasure of doing a small amount of language work with one Finnish man for one of my linguistic classes at the ANU. Finnish is a beautiful and intriguing language, from what I remember.

Maybe one day I'll get to visit Finland...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Response to Intervention - A New Model for Identifying Disabilities

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

When the regulations for IDEA 2004 became official not long ago, a new model came to town for identifying students as having a specific learning disability. It's called response to intervention, and is abbreviated as RTI or RtI.

To understand RtI and its implications fully you need to understand the previous model for deciding whether or not a child had a learning disability. That model, called the discrepancy model, compares IQ (on something like the WISC-IV) and achievement (usually measured with something like the WIAT) and examines the difference. The idea until now has been that if a child has the intelligence to learn at a particular level but isn't, that discrepancy between intelligence and achievement is evidence of a disability.

The problem was that it takes time, years in fact, for a discrepancy to become significant enough to be considered as a disability. In first grade there's not much to measure. And in second grade there's still not usually a big enough difference between intelligence and achievement to make the discrepancy model work.

When a teacher first suspects that a child may have a learning disability in the first or second grade, everyone felt trapped under the old discrepancy model. The child may well have had a disability, but we needed evidence of the disability in order to place the child in special education. So instead of getting help then, the child got watched more closely. It was kind of like having a rule that you can't throw a life preserver to a kid in the pool until their head goes under the third time. This year the child is just behind, next year the child will have a disability...

In contrast to the old discrepancy model, the RtI model begins looking for curricular intervention designed to catch the kid up as soon as they begin having problems - back in first or second grade. RtI has the potential then to allow disabilities to be identified and defined based on the response a child has to the interventions that are tried. At the very least, RtI can replace the pre-referal process for special education. And in theory, children with real disabilities could be identified and placed years earlier and children without disabilities won't be allowed to fall further and further behind simply to see if they have a learning disability.

The Reading First people have fleshed out the concept of RtI so that most educators today think of a detailed set of specifications when someone mentions RtI. Dallas Reading First has a website that describes the process of intervention well:

  • Students get taught good stuff in a setting known as Tier I. This is the primary (or "core") instructional setting for all students.
  • Sometimes a particular student needs more. So instruction gets supplemented with an "intervention." This is called Tier II. Students come and go in Tier II instruction for short periods of time to address specific areas where the student is falling behind or failing to "get it." Tier II usually involves 30 minutes of extra instruction a day in the content area of intervention. Usually there are no more than four or five students in a Tier II intervention session.
  • When a student doesn't seem to benefit from 30 extra minutes in Tier II they get moved on up the intervention chart and start getting an extra hour a day (usually) at Tier III. Tier III interventions tend to be more individualized and involve one-on-one time with a specialist.

The Dallas Reading First site describes an intervention plan specifically for reading. And RtI is almost always thought of as a response to reading problems at the moment; but there is no reason the model couldn't be adapted to math or other content areas.

The Dallas Reading First website illustrates almost exactly what former International Reading Association President Richard L. Allington complained about in his article Research and the Three Tier Model in April of 2006. Students in Tier II in Dallas don't get help with what they did during Tier I instruction; instead they get more and different material on reading: they didn't understand McGraw-Hill so they get time in Voyager. But as Allington points out, that's not really a problem with the three tier model itself as much as with the manner in which the model is used.

Will RtI work? I suppose the more salient question becomes who will the RtI model work for? Will it work for the people who think it takes too long under the discrepancy model to identify a child who has a learning disability? Will it work for county administrators and other groups who sometimes feel that too many children are identified as having learning disabilities? And will it work for kids who don't really have a disability but do need help?

I'll take a look at some of the pros and cons of the RtI model in the near future...