FWSU Raises Autism Awareness to Support Needs of Learners

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments.  FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Target 4-  Engaged Community Partners:  FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state and global partners to make a difference in their community, state and world.


Earlier this week, FWSU provided a professional development opportunity for all paraprofessionals. The focus of the presentation was to provide staff with a greater understanding of Autism and develop practical strategies for supporting students. The training was offered through a partnership with Northwestern Counseling and Support Services (NCSS), and was provided by Dana Postemski, MA, BCBA and Shawna Shappy, M.Ed. The learning focused on the complexity of autism, the diversity of people and families living with this disorder, and how increasing awareness and research will continue to shape outcomes.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports:

  • Autism diagnosis rate is on a steady increase of 10-17% annually
  • As of March 27, 2014, 1 in 68 were diagnosed with Autism – this is a change from 2004 when the identification rate was 1 in 166
  • If 4 million students are born in the U.S. every year, approximately 36,500 students will eventually be diagnosed with Autism
  • 2014 Vermont Autism profile data indicates 962 children ages 3-12 are receiving special education services have Autism


Often, due to auditory dysfunction and sensory needs, the following adaptations are needed help students with Autism access the learning environment:

  • Provide a quiet area away from auditory distractions
  • Seat students in less distracting area
  • Provide earplugs, earphone to cut down on noise
  • Provide tactile replacements
  • Allow additional processing time
  • Use visual (picture) schedules


Students with Autism may have an Auditory Processing Delay:

  • Most students with Autism may not understand your first direction, and may need it repeated 2-3 times to gain understanding.
  • Space out directions, giving 10-20 seconds in between prompts
  • Don’t assume students know what you are asking. If no response, use gestures or a visual cue
  • Overuse of prompts may intensify Autistic behaviors

There are four main functions of behavior that may indicate why undesirable response is occurring:

  • Attention- To gain access to one’s attention whether the attention is positive of negative
  • Escape/Avoidance- To escape/avoid a particular activity, situation, or person
  • Tangible- To gain access to tangible (items)
  • Sensory- To gain access to sensory stimulation

Other discussion points were:

  • Extinctions Bursts- Things may get worse before they get better
  • Data Collection – maintain a systematic approach to data collection (count, rate or frequency, duration percentage)
  • Environmental constructs
  • Targeting desired behaviors

FWSU is fortunate to have a strong community connection with NCSS  and we believe that through our combined efforts, students will be successful while accessing a wide range of services through developmental diagnosis, training, educational placement,  consultation in order to support our students and families.


We also encourage everyone to remember that April 2 is Autism Awareness Day. Let’s Light it up Blue and show our support!

SBAC Training for FWSU Special Educators

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step –Increase access to resources for all students using digital tools making learning more accessible for diverse learners.

Indicator of Success – Use of digital tools to differentiate, personalize, and individualize learning.

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Last week Special Educators in FWSU participated in mini-workshop to focus on the new and upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)  assessment. The SBAC assessment strives to provide every student with a positive and productive assessment experience. With a goal of generating results that are a fair and accurate estimate of each student’s achievement.   In preparation for the assessment, Angelique Fairbrother (FWSU’s Digital Learning Specialist) guided a presentation and discussion on how to implement SBAC with accommodations for our students on IEPs or 504 plans.

There was a lot to learn. Special Educators need to understand and implement the following:

  • Using the  IEP to determine that each student has the necessary accessibility and accommodations to ensure valid assessment results
  • Universal Tools
  • Designated Supports
  • Accommodations

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Here is a brief explanation of each of the terms for your understanding.

What are Universal Tools?  Universal tools are access features of the assessment that are either provided as digitally-delivered components of the test administration system. Universal tools are available to all students based on student preference and selection

What are Designated Supports? Designated supports are those features that are available for use by any student for whom the need has been indicated by an educator (or a team of educators with parent/guardian & or student) these supports need to be identified prior to assessment administration.

What are Accommodations? Accommodations are changes in procedures that increase equitable access during the assessments.   These accommodations for students for whom there is documentation on an IEP or 504 plan.

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It is important for everyone to realize that all students are to be held to the same expectations for participation and performance on the SBAC. The only expectations are students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, approximately 1% of fewer of the student population.

FWSU will continue to support our educators, students and parents as we continue to explore the conceptual framework of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) assessment. If you have questions please contact FWSU Director of Special Education Kim Magnuson.


FWSU Provides Personalized Inservice for Teachers

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Redefine high performance in a student-centered, collaborative, technologically rich learning environment.

Indicator – Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.

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This past week teachers from FWSU spent two days together at Inservice preparing for Common Core implementation and training for new school-wide initiatives. The list of differentiated training opportunities prepared by the FWSU Professional Learning Committee and Curriculum Director Mary Lynn Riggs was extensive.

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Several unique sessions offered to our teachers are worth noting. First, eight more teachers from FWSU worked with IVECA to begin the process of connecting more students in our schools with classrooms around the globe.

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For a second year FWSU offered EdCamp. EdCamp has been described as a form of “unconference” designed specifically for teachers and their needs. Unlike traditional conferences with set schedules and topics, EdCamp has an agenda that’s created by the participants at the start of the event. This encourages relevant discussions and hands-on learning sessions.


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Finally our commitment to reaching and educating the whole child was highlighted in several offerings throughout the two-day Inservice. They included a viewing of the film The Hungry Heart with a facilitated discussion including Dr. Fred Holmes, Kim Burgess, Mary Pickner, and FWSU School Counselors. Consultant and Coach Deb Chisholm presented MePower – a Bullying Prevention training, as well as Asset Building. FES teachers participated in Positive Behavioral Intervention System (PBIS) training and planned for implementation in their school.


Our FWSU Action Plan describes this kind of flexible, personalized, and relevant professional development that meets the varied needs of teachers and staff.

FWSU EdCamp Models Flexible Learning for Adults

Target 3 Flexible Learning Environments
FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

For the first time ever FWSU educators participated in a district wide EdCamp as part of their November inservice schedule. EdCamp is an “un-conference” setting that allows for participant-driven professional development to promote innovation and creativity. It is based on the concept of flexible learning as applied to adults. EdCamps are relatively new, but are currently being facilitated by educators all over the country. VT ASCD has hosted two EdCamps over the past year – both were a resounding success. The excitement generated by this model sparked the idea of bringing an EdCamp to FWSU Inservice. 

FWSU EdCamp began with educators posting ideas for workshops and sharing educational topics with one another. Teachers spontaneously posted topics of interest and many volunteered to facilitate a full-day schedule of workshops. Topics ranged from eBooks to STEM implementation in the classroom.

Multiple sessions were posted, and a grid was developed to allow six sessions to be hosted each hour for four hours. The sessions were dynamic and flexible, presenting meaningful opportunities for teachers and administrators to share ideas and enhance their own learning.

The day concluded with a full session of all educators who participated in EdCamp. The final session featured a round-robin event where all participants shared one digital-age  teaching resource with the group. The resources were collected using a shared GoogleDoc and now are available for all FWSU staff.

The reviews by the 60+ educators who participated were extremely positive. Plans are already underway for FWSU EdCamp 2.0 to promote adult collaborative inquiry, problem-solving, and creativity.

Reinventing Inservice: FWSU Designs Personalized Professional Development Days

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning: FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative, inquiry  problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

Yesterday marked a new direction for our traditional inservice professional development days at FWSU. Gone are the long hours sitting in a school gym listening to “outside experts.” Instead, you will find our teachers across the district engaging in the real work of designing curriculum, tailoring assessments, and leading the conversations about how our children learn. We believe teachers know their own students best and have the expertise to personalize instruction for every child in their classroom. They are real practitioners who have valuable experience with students, parents, school, and community. We are giving them a voice and a platform to collaborate with their peers.

This is FWSU Inservice 2.0 and it is energizing!

Our goal is to begin to model the kind of student-learning called for in our FWSU Action Plan, and applying it to our adult learners. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to professional development, we are designing inservice days around the big ideas in our Action Plan, and creating meaningful ways to flexibly address the personalized needs of our educators and instructional support staff.

 This year we decided to group four inservice days together, in to give teachers clustered time to work in K-12 Vertical Teams. Teachers set the focus; colleagues from all grade levels and schools are working to coordinate and plan instruction. For some, that means working across schools to share resources. For others, teachers from one grade cluster in a school spend time developing assessments to identify the specific needs of particular learners. All of our educators are focused on integration of content to address the instructional shifts that will be required by the Common Core State Standards. Future inservices will also include EdCamp style professional development.

Our methods of feedback have also changed with the times. We now have teachers tweeting real-time thoughts, ideas, and questions collaboratively with one another using our own #FWSU Twitter hashtag. FWSU educators also provide further feedback through a Google-powered survey form that is emailed to to everyone’s mailbox at the end of the day.

Our first FWSU Inservice 2.0 was a great success and we are eager to continue refining our new design for personalized professional development in response to authentic learning needs!