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The 2011 Basketball Draft Lottery & Neurofibromatosis

Living in South Florida, basketball has been a hot topic this year.  The formation of the ‘dream team’ including Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh has definitely created a stir.  While many eyes are still on the finals and who will win the championship, this week the basketball Draft Lottery was conducted.   The Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost Lebron James as their star player this year, definitely came out on top in the draft.  They now have the first and fourth selections in the 2011 draft this summer that can allow them to pick 2 top players to help rebuild their team.


The interesting point, which connects this post to education and special needs students  is that the individual who made the pick which allows the team to select the first player in the draft was the Cleveland Cavaliers  owner’s son , and good luck charm, Nick Gilbert.  Nick is 14 years old and became a celebrity overnight.  He was dressed to impress and has had many complements on his throw-back glasses and bow tie.  The unique thing about Nick is that he has a genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis.  His popularity from this event will hopefully raise awareness about the disorder in hopes for a possible cure.


Neurofibromatosis, or NF, is a genetic disorder that caused the growth of tumors on nerve tissue.    The tumors can cause various problems with the skin, skeletal system, and other neurological problems.  The severity of the disorder can vary.  NF is also commonly linked with other learning disabilities, epilepsy and leukemia.  There is no cure for NF.  Therapy is done to reduce the number of tumors and surgery can remove the tumors, however more tumors will grow back.  If the tumors are cancerous, then chemotherapy is administered.  The Neurofibromatosis Association is hopeful that there will be a cure within the next 5-10 years.

Nick has had brain surgery and chemotherapy to help him to manage with the tumors and secondary complications related to NF.  Nick has also lost vision in one of his eyes.  Despite his health issues, he is a very optimistic and energetic boy.

Nick is also the ambassador for the Children’s Tumor Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports research and awareness of NF.  With his exposure on the Draft Lottery, I hope that Nick will be a great ambassador to encourage others to support the research of NF through various fundraising activities.  May is NF Awareness Month and May 17th is also World NF Awareness Day.  In conjunction with these events, during the Draft Lottery, Nick tweeted, offered special prizes, and encouraged participates to text in a donation to help support the Children’s Tumor Foundation matching all of the funds raised.

NF & School

NF can be very difficult for children in the classroom, especially if the tumors are large and in places that other students can notice like the face, neck, and arms.  Some of the most well-known cases of NF are stories that have been aired on television involving teenagers who have tumors on their faces and then undergo surgery to remove the tumor.

Students with NF can struggle mastering material, have difficulty with penmanship, and language delays among social concerns and issues.  Like with most disabilities, early intervention, building a good relationship between the teacher and the child and family, and understanding how the disorder will affect the child’s education are very important.

Links for Learning about & Teaching Students with NF

  1. Children’s Tumor Foundation
  2. Preparing Teachers to teach a student with NF
  3. Brochure including helpful facts and figures about NF

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Tools for Teaching a Sensitive Subject – Health and Grooming

eaching 7thgrade is definitely one of the most difficult grades to teach.  This is typically the time when students are going through many changes in their lives.  These students aren’t the babies in the middle school anymore, but they aren’t getting ready to head off to high school either.  They are ‘stuck’ in the middle and they are going through many changes; hormonal changes, body changes, emotional changes, and behavioral changes.  One day they love their friends, the next day they hate their friends.  One day the girls love boys, the next day boys have cooties again.  One day they want to be the class clown, the next day they want to be the teachers’ pet.  Through all of these changes, there is one major necessary and sensitive subject to talk to students about – hygiene habits.


Health Class Essentials

Typically the 7th grade science teacher at my school holds a week long lesson around this time of year discussing these exact changes.  This is centered around a unit on Health and Nutrition.  She discusses not only the changes that take place during puberty, nutrition, and exercise, but also the sensitive subject of items as brushing teeth twice a day, brushing hair, taking showers every day, washing hands, and most importantly, the use of deodorant.  Most typically, the students then go home and continue the discussion with the parents to make any needed changes and updates to their morning health and beauty routines.

These subjects that not only need to be covered with tweens, but it is also an important subject to cover with special needs students of all ages.  If kids learn the habits when they are younger, and learn the different changes and necessities as they age, it will make socialization and ‘growing up’ a little bit easier.  Students who do not learn these skills typically get picked on with hurtful comments and during the day at school teachers and other students hear those famous phrases “I don’t want to sit next to him, he smells” or “her breath stinks, I don’t want to work on the project with her.”

Life Skills Lessons & Activities

For special education students, this topic is usually covered in a unit or lesson on life skills.  A great way to start off the discussion for students to learn these health and grooming skills is through the use of communication cards.  Students who are non-verbal will have these cards (either physical cards or digital) to help them communicate.  You can pull out the specific skills you want to cover to spring board the conversation.  Another way to approach this subject is by having guest speakers like doctors and dentists to come in and show them various products to use, or when possible, to model how to do some of the various grooming skills.  They may even be able to provide samples of items like toothpaste or deodorant.  A good guide that I read on how to teach life skills to special needs students on a site called How To Do Things.

Another great resource for kids to learn about this topic is through the Teens Health Site.  This site is written specifically for teens and tells them what they want to know, in their ‘lingo’, about the changes they go through from being kids to teenagers.  Two adaptations on this page that were really great for special needs and ESOL students is that the page has links so that all of the pages on the site can be read aloud to the student and they also have Spanish translations!  One idea to incorporate using this site in the classroom is to have the students work in small groups to research one main concept and then create a presentation on the topic to share with the other students.  They could make something like a PowerPoint or a video to cover the topic.  They projects could even have a ‘fun’ twist by having them make infomercial-style presentations where they first cover the topic and then they can ‘sell’ a product that can help solve the problem.  For example, if one group is covering the topic of why we sweat, they could discuss the topic in science terms, and then ‘sell’ the solution, which would be deodorant or perfume sprays.

There are many different ways to teach about health and hygiene topics.   It is a sensitive, but important topic to cover for all ages of students.

Other Online Resources to Teach about Health & Hygiene

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Strategies for Educating EH and SED Students

Teaching students classified as Emotionally Handicapped (EH) or Seriously Emotionally Disturbed (SED) in the inclusive classroom setting has been one of the most challenging experiences of my teaching career.  Statistically this group of students makes up only 8% of all of the disabilities under IDEA, however 80% of the students labeled as EH or SED are male students.  EH and SED students have difficulty with displaying appropriate behaviors and emotions, including facets of depression, aggression, withdrawal or other behaviors that may be disruptive or distracting to other students in the classroom.  These behaviors or actions have contributed to the EH or SED student often being academically unsuccessful.



Following many of the accommodations on the Individualize Education Plan is a starting place for helping these students be successful in class.  The accommodations that I have worked with previously include setting specific classroom rules and expectations directly for the student, and creating a preventative discipline plan.  For younger students, following a card based system like the “Stop Light Game” (green for great, yellow for warning, and red for stop) is one behavior strategy that helps students to visually see their behaviors in the classroom and it is a quick way to modify the behavior.  If the student is on red at the end of the day a consequence should be set in place.  Working together with the parents to use a similar system at home helps the student to be aware of their behaviors and the consequences that go with the behavior, both good and bad.

“The Good Student Game” is another positive preventative discipline option.  This game works great with younger and older students.   Students work in pairs during class to monitor each other’s behavior.  The teacher will indicate certain points during the class period when they evaluate each other’s behavior.  This can be done through a simple card with a check yes or no or percentages (example on the link above) which is then reviewed at the end of the class.

Get to Know the Student & Planning Ahead

Getting to know the student who is EH or SED is one of the most important aspects in helping the student to manage behaviors and to help them be academically successful.  This way, as a teacher, I know what the triggers both positive and negative behavior in a student.  This way you can plan the best approach for dealing with situations like incomplete homework, not performing well on a test, tattle tales, emotional shutdowns, and the like.  Using simple back-to-school style ice breakers will help in the “getting to know you “process.

After getting to know the student very well, this will help you to plan ahead for your lessons, activities, assessments, and tasks such as planning for the flow of the class schedule.  Planning ahead for group assignments, buddy pairs, classroom seating, ways of including the student, and time management can help the class run smoothly.  This also means having a plan ahead of time for when the EH or SED student has an outburst or withdrawal period. Other students need to understand that when the student is in withdrawal that the student may not want to be comforted or touched and may prefer to be left alone.  Students may also need a ‘cool off’ period where they go to use the restroom or to get a drink of water at the water fountain.  If a student has an outburst, the teacher has to have a plan to remove the other students from any harm (like a flying chair or fists).  Planning ahead may also include making academic changes to lesson plans, worksheets, tests, or quizzes.  There are many ways to assess mastery of content and lessons, test questions, or assignments may be modified based on the student’s learning style.  The teacher may adapt tests for special need students based on Bloom’s Taxonomy., for example, a well written multiple choice question may be as effective is assessing mastery as a short answer question.  Checklists are a great way to help to in preparing and planning ahead.

What other suggestions do you have in helping EH and SED students to be behaviorally and academically successful?  Feel free to share your tips, tricks, and links by commenting below.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Specific Learning Disabilities – Differences with Students

As a teacher, trying to understand and implement strategies for a student on an IEP(Individualized Education Plan) indicating the child has a specific learning disability (SLD) is like reading an essay written in a foreign language.  This is one of the catch-all terms for students who have learning disabilities that can affect their ability to listen, think, read, write, spell, and complete mathematical questions.  The wide variety of issues a student may have under the umbrella term of SLD makes it difficult to determine the correct classroom strategies that should be implemented.  Sometimes the IEP is helpful in providing goals and strategies that the student should aim to achieve.  This information can provide insight as to where the student struggles and what strategies should be implemented.  Unfortunately, on some IEPs, the information is very vague and it will take time to determine strategies to help the student to be academically successful.


Many students who are classified as having a SLD have dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia.  Dyslexia makes it difficult for a student to read, dysgraphia makes it difficult for a student to write, and dyscalculia makes it difficult for students to compute math problems.  Many times, these issues are compounded with other disabilities including ADD or ADHD.

One resource that can help a teacher with students who are diagnosed with SLD would be the Learning Disability Association of America site.  On this site, there is a specific section for teachers.  This page provides information and articles about LD, ADHD, social aspects of the disability, and reading strategies for the classroom.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities also has a page on their site directly for teachers.  This site provides information to support effective teaching strategies, monitoring the progress of the students, and Universal Design for Learning.  All three of these sections contain supporting articles written about the hot topics in teaching students with learning disabilities.  One article I found interesting was about how tweens with learning disabilities have a difficult time mastering the challenge curriculum where higher-order processing skills needed.  This article breaks down a study that was completed on this topic, and includes the teaching techniques and strategies as well as outlining the findings.  The recommendations  provided were to break down the steps of the tasks the students must complete, provide repetition, small group instruction, modeling when appropriate, and providing multiple exposures to the material (drill, repeat, practice, repeat, review).  The articles provided on this website offer a depth of research-based materials for implementation into many different special education classroom settings.

The website Great Schools has an interesting article about assistive technology for students with Learning Disabilities.  They suggest the implementation of simple technology such as online learning programs like Learning Today or the use of an electronic dictionary to help a student with spelling.  For all of the technologies that they list as good tools for students with learning disabilities, there is a link to another short article describing the tool and the classroom uses.

All of these resources can help teachers to implement strategies for success with students with specific learning disabilities.  Understanding the deficit and then providing the student with the tools they need to be successful will make the school year gains increase for the student.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Links for Teachers on Teaching Children with Special Needs

I had an enlightening discussion today with a colleague about special needs students, their accommodations in the classroom, and classroom strategies.  The teacher is a core-curriculum middle school teacher and has several inclusion ESE students in her daily classes.  Every teacher at our school is provided with the appropriate paperwork (called an Individual Education Plan, IEP or 504 Plan) and documentation about the students’ type of disability and accommodations.  The colleague I was talking with was curious to know more in depth about her students’ actual disabilities to have a better understanding of how to better serve the educational, developmental, and social aspects for the special needs students.

Below you will find a list of links that can assist teachers to learn about specific disabilities, development and academic abilities, classroom management techniques, appropriate ways to build social skills, and other facts to increase student learning outcomes and independence for special needs students.

Teacher Vision

Teacher Vision has a section of their website devoted to students with special needs.  They have tips and advice, modifications for reading, math, and ESOL students, curriculum suggestions, and IEP accommodation information, among many other resources.  The pages that had the best information to help my colleague were under the Tips & Advice section.

There is a link about Students with Exceptionalities.  This link provides teachers with terms and definitions that are associated with special needs education.  It also provides specific teaching strategies to increase learning outcomes for students with different disabilities and ability levels.

Another link in this section is called Teaching Students with Special Needs.  This link provides information for teachers on indicators for students with learning disabilities.  They provide and extensive list of behaviors and struggles that a students with learning disabilities may have and how to make learning more accessible for them.  They also cover the opposite end of the spectrum by discussing indicators of gifted students, their learning struggles (ie. not being challenged), and how to adapt your teaching and lessons to challenge gifted students.  Overall, this is a great site for teachers to learn more about better educating students with special needs.

New Horizons

The New Horizons website offers information for teachers and parents about inclusion, ADD/ADHD, Autism, Gifted Learners, and English Language Learners.  They provide definitions and examples for the disabilities and learners along with providing links for best practices and research-based strategies.  This is also a good resource for finding information about federal laws about the education of students with special needs like IDEA and 504 plans.

Children with Special Needs

The Children with Special Needs site has a section of information devoted to informing teachers and parents about special needs.  This site has a link list of 13 disabilities along with information on general disabilities.  It provides information about the disability and common symptoms or behaviors of the disability.  They then provide a great links section with more information on classroom strategies, laws, advocacy groups, or social skill strategies when teaching students with those specific disabilities.  This is a great starting point for learning more about special needs students.

Article by Laura Ketcham

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You Are What You Eat – Food Education

If there is one thing that Americans do greatly, it is that they eat.

America is one of the unhealthiest countries in the world. Children in today’s society will live lives shorter than their own parents because of the food they are eating. Diet-related diseases are increasing and are currently the biggest cause of death in the United States today.

Famous chef and food advocate Jamie Oliver came to the United States to start a “food revolution”. He spends much of his time campaigning against the use of processed foods in national schools and poor cooking habits. Starting in West Virginia, the unhealthiest state, he talked to real people about their real habits. He shows a young girl who has only a few years to live because of the food choices she has made. He shows another woman and her children who just like other Americans, were never taught to cook at home and eat highly processed foods. He shows more young people that have experienced deaths of close family members all due to obesity. These deaths don’t just affect that person; it affects their children, friends, peers and everyone else around them.

Jamie sees the problem of obesity as a triangle between the home, school and the main street, or modern day life. The main street is where fast food has taken over the country. As the supermarkets and big companies take power, most foods that Americans eat are those that are largely processed and full of extra additives and ingredients. Portion size and labeling are also huge problems that we have in our country.

As life changes, we have to step back and readjust the balance. School food is something most children have twice a day and for that reason is very important and he stresses this through the video. School cafeterias are run by people who don’t have enough food knowledge. We are not teaching kids enough about the food. There is a clip where Jamie goes to an elementary school and asks the kids what certain vegetables are. They can’t seem to name any of the ones he shows them. If they do not know what they are, they either have not eaten them or will not eat them. It is this alarming fact that helps us realize that we have to start teaching our kids about food in school.

The good news about all of this bad news is that it is preventable. To make real change, big brands need to put food education at the heart of their business. Work places need to offer fresh food. Schools need to cook proper and fresh food for the children. Life skills like recipes that children can make, need to be learned.

If change can be made in this country, starting with properly educating our children about food, beautiful things will happen in this world.

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