CCLD Research Project
In recent years, the Research Project has funded action research connected to professional development provided through Math on the “Planes”®. Click below to learn more about the history of the awards, and to see the research summaries for the recipients for the Grant Awards.
Gertrude was a special education professor at Denver University and then at Northeastern Illinois University in the 70’s and 80’s. Gertrude significantly impacted the teacher preparation program and touched many special education teachers in Colorado through her classes and her dedicated work as a CCLD board member.
Gertrude approached the Council for Learning Disabilities Board and the Colorado Department of Exceptional Student Services Unit with a plan to raise money to award yearly grants to teachers who were conducting research in their classrooms. She envisioned creating resources from foundation and private contributions to give out several awards every year to deserving applicants. Over a period of time from the mid 80’s until her death in the early 90’s, her dream become reality as the CCLD Board developed an active research committee to award yearly grants.
In the Colorado Council for Learning Disabilities Research Project, Gertrude created a legacy. When she knew she was dying, she called several CCLD board members to her bedside and made them promise that they would see that the research project continued. After her death, Art Myers, Gertrude’s husband, set up a memorial fund for the CCLD Research Project.
Ellie was a special education teacher in Cherry Creek School District in the 1970’s and early 80’s. She was not only one of the early LD specialists but also one of the founding members of the Colorado Council for Learning Disabilities. She served on the Board for several years and was instrumental in bringing the National CLD Conference to Denver in the fall of 1980. The conference gave many CCLD members the unique opportunity to meet and get acquainted with some of the leaders in the field of Learning Disabilities. During this period, a strong base of dedicated Board members came together to build the Colorado chapter into one of the premier CLD branches in the country, a tradition that continues today.
Ellie began battling cancer in 1981. She retired in 1986 and shortly after that, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Ellie died in April of 1990.
Ellie’s husband made the research project one of the beneficiaries of memorials for Ellie, and the funds have continued to support classroom-based research for two decades. This proved to be s a lasting memory to one of CCLD’s important founders and early LD teachers.
Ellie’s family continues to support the Research Grant Project. In November, 2011 Ellie’s husband, Bill Smucker, donated $100 in the memory of Charles Woodward, husband of Avaril Weidemeier, long-time Special Education Coordinator in the Cherry Creek School District. Bill also donated $400.00 on behalf of Ellie’s son, Chris Tilden, his wife, and four children.
Bea Fern, the mother of Lois Adams (long time CLD member and CCLD board member), was a teacher in every cell of her body. As she often said, she’d rather teach than eat! Her favorite students were those who had trouble learning. She had a wealth of stories about her experiences as teacher/principal/janitor in a one-room school outside of Chicago. One of the stories focused on the boy who couldn’t read or write no matter what she tried. She just couldn’t get him out of her mind and often wished she had known about learning disabilities at the time she taught him. She must have, however, done something right because, as an adult, he built her a beautiful cupboard for her dining room! When she died in 1991, Lois asked that memorial gifts be sent to CCLD for the Teacher Research Project so other teachers would have support to try promising practices in their classrooms just as Mrs. Fern had done.
And so it is that CCLD, an organization that has always been run by strong, dedicated teachers has a tangible legacy to give to teachers to encourage them to explore and evaluate promising practices for students who are struggling learners. It is gratifying to know that the legacy continues as a fitting homage to three outstanding teachers.
Kathy Oviatt, a special education teacher and instructional leader at Northglenn High School, teaches math intervention classes and study skills, the latter focusing on self-advocacy, organization, and goal setting. Kathy has taught for almost 25 years.
The over-arching theme of the CCLD 2016 Math on the Planes conference was identifying and addressing factors contributing to inequitable mathematical experiences and performance for students. Having identified factors that contributed to inequitable math experiences for her students and inspired by the four pillars of knowing and believing in one’s students, redefining mathematical success, prioritizing student voice, and monitoring math identity formation, Kathy elected to focus on her practices as a teacher for her project.
During the course of five weeks, Kathy studied the effects of a number of practices. From student self-reflection and pre and post assessments, she learned that despite a recent unit on personal finance and independent living skills, a number of her students continue to struggle in discerning a purpose for learning math. Effectively incorporating group work as an instructional strategy heightened student engagement and provided opportunities for students to think aloud as they worked. Along these same lines, a focus on providing opportunities for students to work together through various models of proficient problem-solving while verbalizing their thought processes and receiving corrective feedback proved effective for student achievement. The proactive use of a teacher journal, wherein Kathy documented her daily experiences and perceptions of her students’ engagement and learning, proved invaluable. Noting that she hadn’t used a teaching journal regularly for some time, this practice reinforced for Kathy the value of writing as a vehicle to surface key patterns in her instructional practices. Finally, observation by a colleague yielded valuable information regarding Kathy’s attentiveness to and number of interactions with males, females, and students of various ethnicities.
Kathy, in an intensive five-week period, implemented and monitored the effects of a number of highly recommended instructional strategies. While eager to explore each of these in more depth with her students, she has developed a firm grasp on the strategies most suited to herself and her students in promoting growth in mathematics and assuring equal access to that learning.
This is an outstanding example of action research in the classroom, benefitting both teacher and students. Kathy serves as an inspiration to all educators.
Robert Bushta, a retired Marine officer and 5th/6th math and technology teacher at Paonia Elementary School, has taught for 11 years. This past spring, he embarked on a powerful and deeply personal exploration of fixed and growth mindsets.
Inspired by a “gates and gatekeeper” activity at the CCLD February Math on the Planes conference, Robert postulated that there were elements of his approach to instruction that were coming from a fixed mindset perspective. Subsequently, he asked himself if, as a teacher, he could “do things differently to achieve [even] better results.” His project specifically involved “avoiding triggering the fixed mindsets of his struggling students and steering them toward viewing their challenges from a growth mindset lens.”
After surveying many students, Robert determined that an individualized focus with several struggling math students was a key concern that needed to be addressed. Availing himself to additional information about mindsets and engaging in deep introspection about his own practices, he “…learned that developing mindsets is a journey. It doesn’t just happen. Most interesting to me was that adults with growth mindsets don’t just naturally pass them on to children. That includes both parents and teachers. Therefore, if I really wanted to foster growth mindsets in my students, I had to engage them in the journey. I also had to stop doing a number of things that are counterproductive to producing a growth mindset. In fact, some of the things I was doing were triggers for a fixed mindset.”
Robert deliberately altered a number of his teaching practices: He began offering students a choice of the best time for them to receive individual help; he directly assisted, encouraged, and supported students who had previously been reluctant to evaluate their mastery of objectives; he engaged both individual students and whole classes in frank, personal discussions about mindsets. He intentionally shaped his messages to students and their messages to themselves. In response to students’ choruses of “I can’t do this,” he helped them realize the power of “yet,” and together with his students, molded “I can’t do this,” into “I can’t do this, yet.” What began as a joke of sorts eventually became a student and teacher mantra for learning.
At the end of the school year, the growth of Robert’s students was exceptional. Surveying his students about what they believed most contributed to their success, one of the key reasons frequently cited was “my teacher’s belief in me.” Another reason cited was the classroom discussions about mindsets.
In the opinion of this writer, Robert Bushta took a risk as an educator. He experienced the power of mindsets at a conference, looked deeply into his soul, his beliefs, and his messages to students, and made changes in his instruction. He openly invited his students to join him on his journey and solicited their input throughout. Student achievement improved and Robert and his students learned lessons for a lifetime.
This kind of ride isn’t always easy or pleasant, and recognizing the need for change and opening one’s self up to personal scrutiny and student input is not always comfortable. But it is something that good teachers do; it is a crucial practice that helps us become better. Robert, we salute you!!
Gaby Rischel, working in the St. Vrain Valley School District, teaches algebra to students in special education. She also leads the high-functioning autism program at her school. For her research project, Gaby worked to enhance not only her algebra students’ initial learning but also their long-term retention of the process of solving linear algebraic equations. Using the Balance, Number Line, and Arrow Chain strategies presented at the MOP conference, Gaby witnessed the majority of her students’ progression from little or no initial strategies for solving linear equations to confidence in using all three models. In her reflection paper, Gaby stated that the flexible use of the models, in contrast to the more customary sequence for equations, helped her to “…see the equation and the study of different types of equations as more dynamic, and less rigid as I move forward as an educator.” Regarding her students, Gaby stated with pride, “They focused, applied themselves, and proved to me that they could do math that was harder than I expected they could.”
Jamie Reeck, a middle school special education teacher at Peak to Peak Charter School in the Boulder Valley School District, worked with an 8th grader struggling a great deal with math concepts, applications and math computation. This student’s negative self-concept around mathematics had long contributed to task avoidance behaviors and obstinacy regarding work completion. Using both a Number Line model and an Arrow Sequence Chain, Jamie saw her student gain not only in skills and confidence, but also decrease his negative self-talk and enhance his abilities to reason more abstractly with mathematics. Regarding the use of the Number Line and Arrow Chain models, Jamie stated, “While I have used other types of models and supplemental aides in the past to support students with algebra, I have never seen models that make algebra so concrete for learners.” She was particularly gratified, then, when her student asked, “Can I use these models next year when I take Algebra 10?”
Gaby and Jamie ventured out to learn new means of teaching abstract math concepts through their participation in Math on the “Planes.” Like their students, they elected the option of growth. Change, while inevitable and sometimes uncomfortable, can also be invigorating and hopeful. Gaby andJamie, the CCLD Board salutes you as educational leaders in these sometimes uncertain but incredibly rewarding times.
Dr. Patty Meek Research Coordinator and CCLD Board member
Working together with Adams State University, CCLD designed a rigorous action research project wherein participants in the February MOP conference could earn two credits through Adams State. The research project required participants to assess the math skills of a struggling student, identify a relevant objective from the Colorado Academic Standards, strategically select and implement instructional activities presented at the conference to promote student progress on that objective. These researchers conducted both formative and summative post-assessments and then crafted a personal reflection paper regarding their experiences and next steps for both themselves and their students.
Each of the following award recipients will receive a complimentary one-year membership to the national Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD) and a complimentary one-year membership to CCLD. These award recipients will also be recognized in national publications. Following is a description of our award recipients and their projects:
Our first award recipient, Ms. Bridget Link, is a computer teacher, interventionist, and technology assistant at Beaver Valley Elementary School in the Brush School District. For this project, Bridget collaborated with her colleague, Norine Green, who works as a special education teacher at Beaver Valley Elementary. Bridget and Norine selected two struggling fifth graders who lacked proficiency in understanding, manipulating, and using fractions. Specifically, while these students could recognize circle and bar models that represented particular fractions, they lacked a genuine understanding of equal shares. This led to both indiscriminant applications of fraction algorithms and inabilities to retrieve algorithms. By using math models embedded within story/problem solving contexts, Bridget and Norine were able to help these students consistently use math models to accurately represent fractions, to employ algorithms more intentionally, and to accurately problem solve with fractions in a variety of real-world contexts. Bridget wrote in her reflection piece that, “The person who gained the most knowledge in this math project was me.” Regarding the use of math models, she reminds us that, “It takes a whole different mindset to teach math in this way. Teachers are forced out of their comfort zones because this method involves more independent thinking, instead of depending on a curriculum or text book.” Norine, reflecting on the consistent use of bar models and number lines, noted their efficacy in helping students genuinely understand equal partitioning and problem solve across various mathematical situations. She noted, “Models teach problem solving thinking for a variety of situations whereas pictures apply to a specific type of problem.”
Ms. Sabrina Raugutt, who works for the Cherry Creek School District as a special education teacher at West Middle School, is our third award recipient. Sabrina chose to work with a 7th grader who was struggling in math partially as a result of slow processing speed and a poor working memory. This student struggled to learn concepts and retain information, particularly in the area of decimals. Sabrina chose to use bar models and number lines to help her student authentically understand the role of place value in decimals, compare fractional parts, and retain the information.Sabrina selected the Numeracy Project Assessment (NumPa), highlighted at our two most recent Math on the “Planes” conferences, as an initial assessment. Regarding the NumPa, Sabrina wrote, “It wasn’t until after giving the (NumPa) assessment in the beginning of this project and creating a sequence of tasks, that I really learned where Sally’s struggles stem from.” Furthermore, while acknowledging the value of an Individual Education Plan (IEP), Sabrina noted also, “I plan to use this instructional assessment next year with my incoming students. I want to make sure my instruction is tailored to their specific needs. I feel this assessment gives me data that is not covered on the IEP for goals, but is essential for the student to grow in other mathematical concepts.”
Another award recipient, Ms. Maren Eberly, teaches math at Gunnison Middle School in Gunnison, Colorado. While attending the Math on the “Planes” Conference, Maren was struck with a realization that perhaps a primary reason students struggle with percentages is that educators too often encourage students to leap to algebraic methods in math before establishing a strong background in other problem-solving strategies. Working with 70 students at the upper elementary school level, Maren employed ratio tables and double number lines to help students more authentically understand ratios and proportions. Although many students at first resisted these strategies, often preferring instead applications of standard algorithms, Maren persevered and at the end of the instructional unit, was happy to see data suggesting that a large number of students made significant gains in their understanding of proportional reasoning. Even more importantly, Maren noted that her students became much more flexible and confident in their problem solving.Maren closed her project with a number of insights, one being that students need practice and instruction in the use of these strategies before they are introduced to algebraic equations. She also notes the need for teachers to be taught how to teach and use these methods in the classroom. Finally, while she recognized the hard work that goes into genuinely understanding these models for both teachers and students, she also highlighted the enduring benefits. Regarding her students, many of which “…are so used to just finding an answer any way they can, and not even checking that it is reasonable,” she found herself “not only teaching the concepts of percent, but also character – having grit and self-control to work through problems in more than one way.”
Our final award recipient, Ms. Nicole Thayer, teaches special education at Eastridge Elementary School in the Cherry Creek School District. Working with a struggling young second grader, Cole elected to use knowledge she gleaned from the conference to help her student use addition and subtraction to solve word problems with unknowns in all positions of the equations. Using the NumPa assessment as described above, another objective Cole had for her student was for him to begin transitioning from enactive, “hands-on” problem solving strategies to more iconic, or visualization, strategies. Using ten frames, bar models, and ratio tables, Cole observed her student gradually progressing in both his use of visualization, his confidence, and his flexibility.
Cole also observed, as did other research award recipients this year, that her student’s narrow view of math was a key element hindering his progress. According to Cole, “Like many other students, he believed that if someone else solved a math problem a different way, he must have been wrong.” Addressing this critical point, Cole wrote, “…clearly when my students are wrong in their problems they are also right in so many ways too. My students and I are slowly learning to accept that sometimes there is more than one way to solve a problem. Not everyone thinks the same way in math.” Now Cole requires her students to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways. Not surprisingly, this practice has “really changed the way my students approach math problems. They think it is cool to use models to solve math instead of just using equations.”
In closing, one common thread throughout these outstanding action research projects is the effort on the part of both students and teachers to retool the means by which one demonstrates authentic understanding in math and to rethink the various way(s) problems can be represented and solved. These skills lie at the heart of the Colorado Academic Standards. We on the board of the Colorado Council for Learning Disabilities recognize and deeply appreciate the efforts of these award-winning educators in leading the way.
Dr. Patty Meek
Research Coordinator/Colorado Council For Learning Disabilities (CCLD)
Working together with Adams State, CCLD designed a rigorous Math Intervention Certificate (MIC) wherein participants in the February MOP Conference and the subsequent June Boot Camp could either earn stand-alone credit through Adams State or earn credit toward the MIC. The research project from our February conference required participants to administer the Numeracy Project Assessment (NumPa: Diagnostic Interview), electronically record and score the assessment, select relevant learning objectives from the Colorado Academic Standards or math learning trajectories, and suggest interventions utilizing resources from the New Zealand maths website.
Each of the following award recipients received a free one-year membership to the national Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD) and a free one-year membership to CCLD. Following is a description of our award recipients and their projects:
Our first award recipient, Ms. Cassandra Parker, teaches kindergarten through fifth grade at Peakview Elementary in Cherry Creek School District. For her project, Cassandra worked with a fifth grade student who demonstrated some evidence of part-to-whole reasoning, but often applied her reasoning incorrectly. As a result of Cassandra’s participation in MOP, she was able to directly strengthen her ability to assess and understand the mathematical strategies that her student was using.Cassandra encourages all teachers of struggling students to not only push themselves to learn about different interventions, but to also focus efforts on essential diagnostic skills. Cassandra reminds us that, “All kids can be successful! Sometimes students are not making the progress we expect because we as teachers have not properly diagnosed their specific skill deficits and in turn, have not implemented the correct interventions targeting those deficits. Taking the time to administer specific diagnostic assessments before beginning intervention can help ensure that each and every student soars.”
Ms. Gayle Niss, a math intervention in the St. Vrain Valley School District, also received a research award. Gayle supports K-12 special education teachers and students across the 50 schools in the St. Vrain district. For her project, Gayle selected an eighth grade student receiving services in an alternate educational environment. Second language issues and attention challenges hindered his math achievement. Her assessment enabled her to pinpoint her student’s academic needs and select a variety of promising interventions directly related to those needs.Gayle has embraced the Colorado Academic Standards for her struggling learners, stating, “I’ve come to believe in teaching the Colorado Academic Standards to struggling learners. The more we encourage our students to embrace the characteristics of being a mathematician, the better they will be able to perform mathematics. We need to challenge our students and expect great things from them. The standards of perseverance, reasoning, modeling, and precision are characteristics that will also support struggling learners beyond the math classroom and into life.”
Another award recipient, Ms. Lori Pruett, is in her third year of teaching sixth – eighth grade special education at Brush Middle School in Brush Colorado. Lori teaches reading, math, and writing to students who score below the 3rd percentile on standardized testing. Like Ms. Niss, above, Lori also chose to work with an 8th grade student for her project. Once again, second language issues hindered this hard-working student in her ability to succeed in mathematics. Using several carefully selected games from the New Zealand Math website, Lori saw fascinating results as her student mastered objectives directly related to the assessment.When asked about words for her fellow teachers, Lori cited a quote from Michael J Fox: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” Lori continued, “The art of teaching is understanding the subject we are teaching in many different ways. Giving students the opportunities to learn and express what they have learned is not just about completing the assignment. Struggling learners need to have the opportunity to express the knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them and for many it is not a written assignment or a test. Incorporating ideas outside the box will allow them to learn and you to grow as a teacher.”
Ms. Mary Ziegler Zimmerman teaches grades six through eight at Grant Beacon Middle School in Denver. For her outstanding project, Mary worked with two struggling sixth grade students. After completing her project and then implementing her selected interventions, Mary shared the following, “One (student) absolutely refused to do his math work at the beginning of the school year, and the other had such intense math anxiety, that he often had breakdowns in his class that occurred before math. After working with both of them individually, I decided to bring them together to play the Four Kings Game. These students who previously wanted nothing to do with math were giggling together, enjoying themselves, and when the bell rang, asking for more! Hence, my advice to teachers of struggling learners is to gather a deep understanding of students’ strengths and needs, and precisely target instruction to make the biggest impact for your students. Oh, and never give up!”
Our final award recipient, Ms. Annemarie Dempsey, teaches at Campus Middle School in Cherry Creek School District. Annemarie teaches sixth graders and eighth graders with learning, emotional, attention, and hearing disabilities. For her project, Annemarie assessed a first grader experiencing significant challenges in math and demonstrating many avoidance behaviors as a result. Annemarie’s analysis of the results of the diagnostic assessment was deeply insightful and she chose a number of math game activities from the New Zealand Maths website as possible interventions for her student. Regarding Math on the “Planes” and next steps, Annemarie concluded, “As a special education math teacher, I feel grateful to have experienced Math on the Planes as well as to have given the NumPa. Both will make me a better math teacher. The NumPa, when given to all my students, will help to give me an in-depth understanding my students’ strengths and needs. Its connection with the New Zealand Maths website will help to provide many activities that will address the newly identified needs of my students. Math on the Planes opened my eyes to looking at numbers differently.For beginning teachers, indeed, for all teachers, Annemarie offers the following words: “As a teachers of students with disabilities we face many obstacles. Unfortunately, all those obstacles may encourage me to think that I am not making a difference. When that happens I fall back on two quotes. The first, by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” It reminds me that I may not see immediate results from all the work I do with my students. However, our work together is good and right and it will eventually bloom. The second quote was posted on a wall when I first graduated from college and I worked in a residential treatment facility for students with emotional disabilities. “The kids who are the hardest to love are the ones who need to be loved the most.” This quote helps me get through those tough days. It helps me remember that even though some students may resist help, they are the ones who most need the support, guidance, instruction, and understanding so that they can reach their full potential.”
In closing, the projects highlighted above are indicative of the outstanding work and efforts of all who participated in this rigorous assignment. The variety of student needs, the efforts of our participants, and above all, the learning that surfaced for all educators, served once again to amaze and inspire our ongoing efforts at CCLD to enhance the achievement of all learners.
Dr. Patty Meek
Research Coordinator/Colorado Council For Learning Disabilities (CCLD)
In conjunction with our 2012 Math on the “Planes” workshop lead by Dr. Jere Confrey and Dr. Alan Maloney, Marci conducted an action research project on the Equipartitioning Learning Trajectory, which is a relevant precursor to understanding rational numbers. Working extensively with a kindergarten student, Marci explored issues of equipartitioning through a series of increasingly complex student tasks, observations and interviews with the student.*
Upon completing her project, Marci wrote, “My work with Addy illustrates that young children are able to use their developing understanding of quantity to equipartition reasonably sized sets into as many as four groups.” She continued, “Through the course of this independent study, I am now considering the idea that work on the Equipartitioning Learning Trajectory can actually enhance the development of reasoning in addition and subtraction.”
Marci enjoys working with teachers and stated recently that when a teacher says, “I think about math in a completely different way now”, Marci knows the teacher will change the way she or he teaches mathematics to children. Marci urges all teachers to understand that regarding mathematics instruction, “It has to make sense to kids and you’re not done until it does.”
To Marci Hellman, the board of the Colorado Council for Learning Disabilities extends its heartiest congratulations for her excellent research project!
As Bertha recently wrote, “Even though teaching can be very stressful and tiring, the best reward for me is being able to individually reach my students wherever their particular needs may be and hopefully introducing them to a love for learning. Seeing the sparkle in their eyes and the big smile when they “get it”, makes all those hours of planning and grading worth the time.” Bertha also offered the following advice to new teachers coming into the profession: “Don’t give up on your students. Even though some of them may work very hard to make your day difficult, we always need to keep in mind that there is some reason that they need that attention–whether it is that they do not understand the content or that they may be struggling with a personal difficulty. We always need to be sensitive to what our students may be struggling to figure out. Our profession goes beyond what is going on in the classroom. Letting students know that we believe in them is the first step to being able to reach them.”
Our second research award recipient is Joan Klein. A native of eastern Colorado, Joan has been teaching for 25 years in the La Junta/Rocky Ford part of our state. She has spent the majority of that time working with middle school and high school students in science and, most recently, mathematics. Joan chose to work with a high school student, Brian, as part of her Math on the “Planes”® project. Brian, having struggled notably in mathematics over the past two years, struggled more so when required to articulate the logic and meaning behind geometrical concepts. His struggles manifested themselves in very high anxiety in this area, along with a sense of “I’ll never get it.” Joan chose to focus, with Brian, on the concept of area in geometry, both with two-dimensional polygons and moving eventually to nets. Using an enactive (cut out models), and iconic (isomorphic dot paper) instructional approach with Brian, he was eventually able to effectively articulate the meaning(s) behind related geometric algorithms, thus transferring his new understanding(s) to symbolic, formulaic representations. Brian’s new understanding(s) were also apparent in his standardized assessment data.
Joan shared that following her participation in Math on the “Planes”® (February, 2011) and her subsequent work with Brian, she has “changed her whole approach” to teaching mathematics. Her new approach of “assisting students to articulate their knowledge and listening,” both aided by that unassuming magic question of, “What are you thinking?”, has reaffirmed her in her endeavors to focus even more on slowing her pace, focusing on big ideas, and employing more ‘hands on’ methods in her mathematics instruction. Joan also stated that, as related to Rocky Ford Schools’ ongoing efforts to enhance learning for their students, the insights gained from CCLD’s Math on the “Planes”® conference in February of 2011 offered “incredible insights” to participating teachers from her area of the state.
To both Bertha Orona and Joan Klein, the board of the Colorado Council for Learning Disabilities extends its heartiest congratulations for their excellent research projects!