Monday, August 4, 2014

Chapter Book Read Alouds 2nd and 3rd Grade

My class loves to listen to me read to them.  Since my students are 2nd and 3rd graders now, I like to try to expose them to chapter books as read alouds.  The following is a list of some of the books we read this past year with some brief comments about each.

1) Boxcar Children #1

I chose this book because it was one of the extended complex texts that was recommended to go with our first unit with our reading curriculum, Wonders.  The students liked it and enjoyed the adventure of the children living in the train boxcar.

2) Stuart Little

"Stuart Little" was our next read aloud because of a play we were scheduled to see.  My district is very fortunate to have a lot of support for education for children within the arts.  Part of that is experience at our local theater for live performances.  "Stuart Little" was actually a very difficult book to read to my students. The language and vocabulary that is used actually puts it much higher than a second or third grade level (I think it's more like 5th or 6th grade.)  However, my students loved the story.  We  went through this book pretty slowly and stopped to explain a lot of the words or phrases in the book.  By the time we got to the play, my class loved that they could "see" parts of the story they already knew and we had great discussions about the parts that were different.

3) Horrible Harry and the Drop of Doom

Horrible Harry has a great series of introductory chapter books.  I read this book to my class to introduce Harry and Song Lee to my students.  I have found that once students are familiar with some of the characters they are more likely to make the transition between picture books to chapter books.

4) Santa Clause Doesn't Mop Floors
We read this book as a purely enjoyable read at the holidays.  As we progressed through the story, we had some great conversations for our social skills lessons.

5) The One and Only Ivan
Oh! How I loved this book.  The story is told from Ivan's point of view.  Ivan is a gorilla that was once wild and is now kept in captivity in a shopping mall.  My class loved hearing about Ivan's thoughts and feelings and solutions.  They also loved learning that the story was based on a real gorilla.  This gave us the chance to talk about what they phrase "based on a true story" means (how often the main idea and the theme of the story stay true but frequently the author changes some of the details to make the plot of the story work.)  **This was my favorite read aloud this year.

6) Little Dog Lost
We all enjoyed this story too.  It is written in the style of a poem, even though it is also presented as a chapter book.  This was the first time my class had seen a free verse poem this long.  That was a great way to show them there are many different ways a writer can share their thoughts and ideas with the reader.

7) How to Eat Fried Worms
If you have read any my previous post about "How to Eat Fried Worms," you will know I love this book.  I first was introduced to it when MY second grade teacher read it out loud to my class.  I remember simultaneously loving it and being grossed out by it!

8) Charlotte's Web
My students loved this book...well except for the one who hated it and the one that it stressed out (but she still loved it!)....For more information on this read here.  Overall though, the class really did like this classic!  This was a novel that we had plenty of copies of throughout our school.  I was able to get a copy for every student in my room and the liked tracking our progress in their own book as I read it to them.   We ended our school year with an "old school" thematic until based on this novel.  My class loved that kind of structure to our day.  I wish we could do more of it.

Photo credits:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Doll House and Choice Time

At the end of the day this past year, my class enjoyed "Choice Time."

If you were to walk in my classroom, "choice time" looks remarkably similar to "free time."  I don't call it "free time" however, because the children are not "free" to do whatever they want...they have to make a choice from the leisure activities we have available and then stay productively engaged, unless they have asked permission to make a different choice.

Unproductive wandering throughout the classroom is one of my "teacher pet peeves."  It drives me crazy and I have found that unproductive wandering leads to lots of management or behavior issues. Hence, we have "choice time" and not "free time."

One of my older third grade girls wanted me to buy a Barbie doll house for them to play with during choice time.  I explained that Barbie houses cost a lot of money and we didn't have enough to buy one.  She accepted this and went on to play with something else.

A few days later while browsing on Pinterest, I came across this pin that uses a 3 ring binder to make a Barbie doll house from Southern Disposition.  Take a look.  Kendra includes lots of ideas and instructions.

How serendipitous!

When we got to choice time the following day, I asked that little girl if she would be interested in looking at a possible solution to our Barbie doll house problem.  We looked through the website and directions.  She was hooked!

I happen to have lots of scrapbook paper at home that I don't use anymore because I now do most of my photo albums digitally.  I also have a scrap craft bucket of ribbon, lace, beads, etc that I keep for projects at school.  I purchased some scraps of cheap fabric from the scrap bin at Jo-Ann's.

I also happened to know that our bookkeeper has A LOT of old binders that no one wants to use because they aren't perfect.  They were "perfect" for us because they were free!

So for about $8 for fabric scraps and some Stitch Witchery (no sew tape that fuses fabric together), we were in business!

Two girls wanted to make doll houses but they didn't really know where to start.  We talked about how sometimes people use an "inspiration room."  I asked them what colors they wanted their rooms to be.  One chose blue and the other chose pink.  We googled images of girls bedrooms.

One girl choose this blue room from Amecdes as her inspiration.

The other girl chose this pink and green and cream room from Bess.Net as her inspiration.

Our choice time lasts for 15 or 20 minutes at the end of each day.  For about three weeks, the girls spent their choice time creating, figuring things out, problem solving and adding details to their doll house.

Here's one girl making a mirror out of a file folder, aluminum foil, and lace ribbon she cut apart.

Here's her room after she covered up a granola bar box for her bed.

And here is her final product.  The curtain rod is a pipe cleaner with some blue beads we had in our craft bucket (I think they were table scatter beads from the Dollar Tree.)  The curtains are just lengths of lace ribbon she cut and then threaded onto the pipe cleaner.  The rug is a scrap of felt. We printed an image of a dresser off of another Google image search and she glued it to the wall.  The bedspread is a scrap of fabric that she cut.  I helped her make the pillows and the column of fabric that covers the 3 rings with an iron and the Stitch Witchery. (Hot irons and young children are not a good combination!)

Here is the other girl after she finished her mural and began working on her window.

And here is her final room.  She decided to make her bed a daybed.  We used a Girl Scout cookie box for this and scraps of fabric that she cut.  Her curtain rod is a pipe cleaner with some of a pearl strand that she twisted together (the pearls were is my scrap bucket.)  The curtain ties are more of the pearl strand.  The rug is a scrap of felt.  She also cut some mat board to frame her butterfly mural.  Again, I helped with the iron and Stitch Witchery of the column of fabric in the middle and the pillows.  

The two rooms together looked like this (sorry the photo is a little fuzzy!):

The girls had so much fun making their own doll house bedrooms.  They also had a lot of fun playing with them during choice time once they were completed.

I know I can't prove that they practiced their social skills or their problem solving skills and I certainly don't have any data to justify letting them spend 15 or 20 minutes every day making a doll house.  However, these little doll houses have been one of my favorite memories from the year.  To me it shows:

1) Willingness to accept and handle disappointment and the word "no" (We didn't buy their doll house that they wanted.)
2) Willingness to accept a compromise and take responsibility to follow through on the compromise
3) Ability to think in a problem solving process (Watching the one girl work for 2 days to get her mirror to stand up by itself was awesome!)
4) Ability to persist at a long term task (relatively speaking)
5) Thinking creatively
6) Using materials for another purpose other than its intended use

****One little girl is in my class for help with an emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD) and the other is in my room for  help with a severe learning disability.  I'm pretty happy with all of the skills they practiced in an authentic and personally meaningful way.

Many, many thanks to Kendra at Southern Disposition for her great idea!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Talk Tuesday

Since the summer has been in full swing, I have done a lot of blog hopping and reading links on Twitter streams.

I just found Gladys's blog over at Teaching in High Heels.  She and I have several things in common: like Gladys, I could spend large amounts of time and money investing in children's literature.  And I also agree everything LOOKS better in high heels, but I have to admit, I always have a pair of sparkly flip flops under my desk for when my feet hurt!

At any rate, I'd like to piggyback on Chelsea's "Book Talk Tuesday." Lulu is new to me and I love finding new books.  I can't wait to take a look at her series.

A series that my class has throughly enjoyed this year is Skippyjon Jones.

Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese cat who imagines spectacular adventures for himself as a chihuahua.

There is a whole series of books telling of Skippy's adventures.  They always include a warning from Mama Junebug, Skippy entering his closet as the cue that his imaginative adventures are beginning and poems that get the kiddos in my class clapping their hands and begging for me to repeat it "one more time."

I love to hear kids interacting with books, laughing and enjoying the experience.  I hope its one more step on the path for life long readers.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Math Homework

Within my self-contained varying exceptionalities class, I typically have quite a few students with language impairments.  These students usually need extra support when completing math word problems and multiple step math problems.  They also most frequently need extra time to practice skills and concepts.

I like to have the students practice math skills, but the homework component that is part of the series my district has adopted just didn't work for us this year.  The homework pages were "busy" which made it difficult for the students and families to discern the most important information.  They also moved at a pace and changed skills so quickly, that my students didn't have enough time to truly master some of the computation skills or concepts, let alone apply those to word problems.

I ended up using a combination of resources to make sure each student had math homework that they could independently complete.  Here were some of my most frequently used:

KidZone Free Math Worksheets This site offers several different computation skills and at different levels of difficulty.  The printed pages are "clean" and not visually busy so they were ideal for homework.  (And it's free!)

Calculating Area and Perimeter This site offers a worksheet generator that allows the parent or teacher to pick whether the child will work on simple or complex shapes; metric or English units of measure; or various combinations.

Touch Math This is a program that includes blackline reproducibles that our principal purchased for our special education department.  It is an investment up front, but well worth it.  My school has the Upper Grades program.

Since I'm sharing resources that I use for homework, I will also share my homework philosophy.  I believe that what I send home for homework should be work that the students in my class can complete independently (or with very minimal support.)

I believe this because, I don't want the child going home and practicing a skill incorrectly 2 or 3 nights every week!  I also know that the parents of the children in my class have differing levels of the support they can provide for their children with homework.

I also believe that it is important for children to learn how to become responsible for their own actions. Completion of homework assignments is one of the criteria for the students in my class to earn their "choice time" at the end of the day.  I don't think it would be fair to assign a student to do homework that he/she cannot complete on their own and then also tie their choice time to the completion.  If I know they can independently complete the homework, then I feel comfortable setting the expectation that you must have completed homework before you go to choice time.

This criteria and philosophy has worked for the classes that I have had for the past several years.  It's always possible that I may get a group of students in the future that need a different plan; or an individual within a group that needs something different.  Since I have a full time special education classroom, I also believe it's my responsibility to be willing to change my homework expectations when the children's needs warrant a change.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Charlotte's Web

We ended our school year with a novel study.  Two of the general education teachers and I pulled together a unit on Charlotte's Web for the students.  I'm so glad we did!  After so much emphasis on our standardized testing this quarter, it was refreshing and rejuvenating to go back to great literature and helping children understand and enjoy it.

Here are a few of the lessons we completed:

1) Every student had a novel and was expected to follow along.  I hadn't typically done this in the past when there was such a difference in my students' reading skills and the level of difficulty of the text.  This sounds silly, but it was almost an "A-ha" moment for me.  The brailled book that we had was in contracted braille and Gabby is still reading uncontracted braille.  This book was too hard for her, but she was able to explore the book and track through some of the chapters when she had 1:1 support.  I have 2 students who are also still reading at a beginning first grade level.  When they were given a simple verbal prompt on when to move to the next page, they could inconsistently track with us too.

2) We completed a "following directions" lesson based on the passages in the text to map out and create the barn scene.  We added more details as we learned them throughout the book.  (The white circle is just blocking out all of the kids names.)

3) When Charlotte was finally introduced in the book, the students all picked a spider to research.  They made a spider body and were responsible for finding 8 facts about their spider.  Then they read their planning sheet and facts to me; and I helped them type it into a word document so they could cut out the facts and glue them to the spiders legs.  We started them with 3 facts: all spiders are arachnids, all spiders have 2 body parts, all spiders have 8 legs.

4) The classroom staff also made a web (tulle and yarn) for Charlotte and surprised the kids each morning with the words that she wrote in her web for Wilbur.

5) In addition to these "crafty" classroom projects, we also completed several Type 1 writing pieces about what students know about a farm, what they know about a County Fair, what they think will happen to Wilbur, why Fern wasn't paying much attention to Wilbur at the fair etc.  (Our school uses the Collins writing program.  To see more about a Type 1, click here.)

6) Two social skills lessons emerged from this novel study that I wasn't expecting.  One boy had already seen the movie so he knew what the story was all about.  One day he went home and cried.  (Talk about making me feel terrible!)  His mom sent me an e-mail to let me know what was happening.  We talked about 2 options for him: 1) Finding alternative assignments for him so he wouldn't go home crying every day.  2) Watch him closely during lessons and prompt him to take a break if he needed one.  He has very quiet but consistent clues that tell you when he is getting upset.  His cheeks get red and he starts to fidgit.  Watch for these clues and ask him if he is "ok or if he needs a break."  If he chooses a break he could go to the computer and put the headphones on and go on Tumblebooks so he didn't have to hear us.  

We decided to try the second option and mom said she would let me know if he comes home crying anymore.  If he continued to be upset at home, then I would find alternative assignments for him. On one occasion he chose to take a break but out of the 3 or 4 other times I asked him, he chose to stay with the group.  I think giving him some control over whether or not he had to listen to something upsetting made it more manageable for him.

Another little girl, who can be very loud and a bit dramatic, but is also very young and sensitive to sad situations also had a few moments when the story was upsetting.  Her plan was a bit different.  Throughout the year we have had a "safe space" set up for her so that she could manage her own behavior and de-escalate herself.  She also processes information better when she is prepared for it and it is not a surprise.  (We're working on handing unexpected situations, but for this novel with the themes of friendship and life cycles and death, I thought she still needed to be prepped.)  For her, I would warn her when a sad part was coming up and let her choose her safe space or holding my assistant's hand while we read that part.  Interestingly, most of the time in the year when she was upset, she liked to be alone and choose her safe space.  Each time within this story she chose to hold my assistant's hand.  

For these two students, I spoke with their parents about the novel and how it was affecting them emotionally. My goals in the novel study started with the literacy goals of character traits, how characters change throughout a story, remembering details, researching information, etc.  For them, my focused shifted and I really wanted the social skills practice more than I wanted them to gain the literacy skills.  However, in getting at this social skills practice, I didn't want to push them so hard that they were crying or emotionally distraught at school or home.  It was a fine line...thank goodness they both have very actively involved parents who let me know how they were doing at home too!  

I wanted the boy to learn to speak up and request a break when he felt like he was getting to the "overload" point.  While he only took the break once and he needed prompting, this novel gave me some good information to share with his teacher next year so she can continue with this.

For the little girl, I wanted her to remember that she had solutions and choices that she could use to help her manage her emotions.  I also wanted her to be able to attempt to do this without yelling and disrupting the whole group.

The novel study of Charlotte's Web was a great way to end the year.  It gave the students a great piece of literature to read, fun activities that still had an academic focus, and kept them interested and engaged at the end of the year!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Keep Your Hands to Yourself..........

I'm dating myself......

Today Lewis shoved his arm out and pushed another child while "trying to get his spot back" in line.  He had a thousand reasons why it was okay for him to shove his arm out and push the other child.

All I could think of was the Georgia Sattelites song from 1986, yes, 1986........."Don't give me no lines and keep your hands to yourself....."

I had to keep mentally reminding myself not to sing it!  The rest of the lyrics are grossly inappropriate for first, second and third graders.

But, as always, I did share my thoughts with my assistants, and we had a good laugh.

Now they will have to share my misery of biting my tongue and not singing....."don't give me no lines and keep your hands to yourself......"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Minute to Win It

I know it's way past Valentine's Day, but hey, St. Patrick's Day is coming up.  I thought I'd share how I modified a Minute to Win It Board so that Gabby (the child in my class who is blind and has CP) could play with the class on Valentine's Day.  Maybe, this might spark an idea for someone else for a St. Patrick's Day idea or an upcoming Easter idea.

I found this board on Pinterest.  It came from Teaching Heart Blog.


I wanted my class to be able to play the game, but I needed to change it a bit for Gabby.  Here's what we came up with.

We just took some cafeteria straws and glued them to vellum to created a raised space for Gabby to put all of her candy items.  Then we brailled the amount and the item name so she would know what belonged in each area.  (Since Gabby has limited motor control, I also didn't have her stack or try to place things within small isolated areas.  If she got it into the right section, it counted.)  There's nothing fancy or pretty about this board, but it did give Gabby access to the game and allowed her to play! Can you tell we took the pictures AFTER she played with it and got chocolate smudges everywhere?  :-)

Finally, for the class as a whole, I told them we were going to see if we could all complete this in one minute.  If one child finished, she was encouraged to cheer on her classmates.  (I still have some very young students in my room, so I try to limit the competitive aspect of games and focus on the participation and teamwork.)

Many thanks to Colleen at Teaching Heart Blog for her awesome freebie!

Note to Colleen:  I tried to leave a comment on your original page on your blog  to ask permission if I could publish this post with attribution back to you.  For some crazy reason, it kept giving me an error message and wouldn't submit.  If this post in anyway makes you uncomfortable, please let me know I will take it down!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Memorable Moment #12...Seriously?!??

What do you do when you hear yourself say to the child who is blind, "Gabby, look at me."

 Seriously?!? Did I just say that? Did that just come out of my mouth? Yep, it did!

 Let's think about how ridiculous this was......

 1) I have had countless hours of training and coursework addressing cultural differences. I am well aware that many children do not look adults in the eye.

 2) I have had countless hours of training and coursework in classroom management and social development. I am well aware that when children are being scolded they do not want to look the person doing the scolding in the eye. (....And I was giving Gabby a "what for" because she refused to work for one of my classroom assistants.)

 3) I have been working with this child for a year and a half. I am well aware that she is blind. Did I really just tell her to look at me?

Stick a fork in me, folks.....clearly, I'm done.

On a happy note, there was some good reflection that came about because of this. Sometimes when you catch yourself doing something that "just happens" that is so blatantly not best practice, it raises your level of consciousness or deliberate thinking about that very act or concept. You don't "forget that you know it" again.

I'm pretty confident that I won't be telling ANY other child to look at me when he/she is in trouble because this lovely little incident is firmly embedded in my brain.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Remembering Sean Kilbane

Last week my husband and I received very sad news that a friend of ours died in an accident at the age of 43.

My husband wrote about him here........

Remembering Sean Kilbane

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Writing Haikus

Way back in 2009, I worked with a friend of mine who is an SLP to devise a manipulative word bank to help my summer school students with autism generate their own sentences and write a simple paragraph.  It sounds pretty straightforward, but it was actually quite a bit of work for me because I had never had to provide quite that level of support for students.  You can read about it here.

This year, I used this strategy again.  While my current students, don't have the severe needs of the class I developed the system for, I thought it would be helpful for some of them.

We were working on a unit that focused on different forms of poetry.  One of the lessons for the general education students at grade level was to write a haiku.  I wanted my students to do this too.  So I stole some ideas from my general ed teacher friends and then added some supports to them.  Here is what we did:

1) Each student painted a background of mixed colors with yellow and orange.  My assistants and I used our Elison machine to cut out some "bare trees," spiders, and leaves.  The kids used the black shapes to glue a scene to their previously painted background.  (Sorry I don't have a picture of this! I'll see if I can update this with a "fake" one that I make so you can see what I"m talking about.)

2) As a whole group we looked at the pictures that were created and generated a word bank of words that described our pictures.  I wrote them on the board and the kids copied them.  We also reviewed the rules and syllable pattern for creating a haiku.

3) Two of my students were able to generate their haikus after completing these activities, others needed some more help.

4) I transferred the word bank to post it notes and put dots underneath each word to identify how many syllables the word had.

4) The students moved and manipulated the words to create a phrase that made sense and also fit the syllable pattern for a haiku.

5) When they finished writing their haiku, they read it to me and I typed it on the computer.  We printed their haiku and they used craft scissors to cut the edges of the paper the poem was printed on.  Then they glued their haiku to their picture and we hung it up for display!

When my general education team decided this was going to be one of the "published" pieces we would do for our quarter 2 writing grades, I was a bit worried.  Writing a haiku is very abstract.  I needed to find a way to teach the syllable pattern and the emphasis on nature to my students.  The art project and the post it notes (as well as previous experience with haikus we read aloud) helped them to successfully complete this! It's nice to be "pushed" into doing something that is a bit uncomfortable sometimes. (I never would have chosen haikus as a published writing sample.)   As a teacher, it made my brain stretch and think about how to make this lesson work with my students.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dog's Colorful Day

My niece is expecting her first baby! Yay! So what's an aunt to do? Of course, I am cyber-stalking her "future mommy" page on Pinterest. I was so excited to see her pin and re-pin many felt board and felt play activities. So when it was decided that instead of giving a card at her baby shower, we would give her a children's book; I had to start thinking about which felt board books I loved so I could send her some felt play along with my book. One of my favorites is "Dog's Colorful Day" by Emma Dodd.

Dog has some very exciting, messy and colorful adventures throughout the day. The readers are encouraged to count and describe the spots that start to appear on dog's fur as the evidence of his adventures. For example, dog starts off with one black spot on his left ear, but after passing the painted door he now has two spots. One black spot on his left ear and one blue spot from the paint. The adventures continue throughout Dog's day.
My preschoolers loved interacting with this book with a felt board activity I made. As we read the book, the children would sequence the item that caused the spot on Dog at the top of my felt board in left to right progression. We would also add the appropriate spot to dog. At the end of the story, we put dog in the bath to get clean and then finally in his bed. This is a lesson the kids wanted repeated time and time again. They loved playing with the colors and the sequence of the story through the felt pieces.

Consequently, I got to have lots of conversations about colors, numbers and retelling stories through play. Isn't that the best?

 Photo credit:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Networking and Socials

For the past few days I have been thinking about the many people who have helped me develop my teaching skills.  Obviously, I have learned from college courses, trainings and observations.  However, I have also learned and developed skills in a more subtle way....simply socializing and talking with others in the field of education.

One of the teachers on my team from five years ago and at a different school e-mailed me to let me know that someone in her hallway was throwing away SRA Reading Mastery teacher presentation kits.  These kits are expensive: $1,200-$1,500.  I was thrilled!  I have access to all of our comprehensive reading materials that the district requires us to use, but I like to have a bank of supplemental materials on hand for those kiddos who need more.

After I went to her school to pick them up, I ran into some other teachers and assistants that I used to work with and they invited me to join them for lunch.  I'm always up for a summer lunch with fun people so of course I agreed.

When I got home I started thinking about this.  We did some talking about school, but lots of talking about summer activities, vacations, families, etc. etc. etc.  However, because of these relationships that were built and then held on to by keeping in touch; my friend gifted me with almost $3,000 worth of materials.

Now I'm not suggesting you go out and make friends so that hopefully you will profit from it!  I'm just saying that sometimes those lunch dates, happy hours, chatting over coffee and socials at conferences help you build up a network of people who are happy to help if they can.  We don't always have to be actively discussing curriculum or Common Core or classroom management.  Sometimes those relationships we build with other colleagues help to support us when we are running on empty or they surprise us with happy gifts in August!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Daily Five Chapter 3

With all the concepts about setting up your room and gathering materials in chapter 3, the thing I most focused on was teaching my studetns the concept of a "good fit" book.

My assistants and I implemented the lesson outlined in the book that shows kids the concept of a good fit compared to the concept of shoes fitting well.  I brought in my husband's golf shoes, my scuba diving fins, my niece's tennis shoes (who is 3), a pair of high heels, etc.  The kids really started to understand that there was a difference to purpose and interest.

We have all of our books in bins and labeled according to their levels.  The students had their individual levels assigned to them and posted in the reading log folders.  I was in for a BIG surprise, however.

Shame on me....because they could pick out books in the library according to their levels and because they could tell me their levels, I assumed they could find them from our classroom library too.  Wrong!  They didn't understand the concept of a range.  So when I pulled out books and was showing them how to return them to our classroom library, I got lots of nods.  When I handed each child a random book and asked them to return it to the classroom library, they couldn't do it.  They didn't know that the bucket labeled 2.0-2.4, included levels 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4.

When I figured out they couldn't return books to the right spot, I decided to ask them to show me which buckets they would look in if they wanted to find a book at their level....again, they didn't know how to do it!

We had to have several days of practicing cleaning up the books and finding books in their ranges before they understood this.

That was a good wake up call for me.  I didn't really even think about understanding the concept of a range being a prerequisite skill for be able to access books quickly and easily at their levels.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sight Word Writing

This sight word strategy is truly an example of how good ideas just keep getting passed along and how many children can benefit from one teacher's great idea.

I have two children who are in second grade and reading at an end of kindergarten level this year.  They need a lot of practice with phonemic awareness skills and sight word mastery.  At this point, they have been exposed to the district curriculum materials so many times; they really need something new.  I'm always keeping my eyes open for them.

A friend of mine who is a kindergarten teacher was telling me she uses this strategy in her classroom.  She got it from another teacher on her team, who in turn got it when she and a group of teachers were working on literacy centers.  Wow!  How many times has it been passed along?  How many kids are learning because of it?  I love that aspect of teachers sharing ideas!

It's very simple.  You take a piece of plastic window screen (can be purchased at Home Depot) and cut it approximately 10 x 13.  Then you use electrical tape to tape off the edges on both sides.  Finally, use a blank sheet of paper or a simple typed up sight word worksheet and some crayons so children can practice writing their sight words "bumpy style."

I have put this in some TEACCH task baskets for these two boys.  I'm also thinking of making some more and adding it to my Daily 5 Working with Words choices.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Differentiating....How do You Explain It?

I'm currently teaching a class for our local college that focuses on an introduction to the exceptional learner.  I love facilitating this class because the questions that are generated from my students often help me to clarify and articulate what I believe and what I practice in my classroom.  Sometimes it's nice to have to formally explain what you do and why you do it.

This week we have been focusing on strategies and differentiating.  There have been quite a few questions along the themes of how do you implement a strategy and not embarrass a child who has difficulty; or how do you do something different for one and not others; or how do you plan for a child with a speech impairment during read alouds.

Since these questions were addressed and clarified my for my class, I thought the information would be of interest for this blog, too. 

To me, these are brilliant questions.  They get to the heart of  "What does that look like in the classroom?" and I'm interested but I don't know how to do that yet.  "How do I do that with all of the other demands?"

The following is what I shared with my class:

".........Not every strategy is going to work with every child. That's why it's important to know how to research strategies and methods. You may come across a child who exhausts your "bag of tricks" and you need to find a new way to teach him/her a skill or concept.

HOWEVER, sometimes a strategy WILL work if you think through the challenges and set your classroom climate to be supportive. When your thinking starts with a problem solving and supportive approach, it will often help the child succeed.

So what does "a problem solving and supportive approach" look like? It can look differently in different classrooms. I'll share with you some of the methods I use.

When I think about a strategy and a specific child I think may have a challenge with it, I try to problem solve by thinking about questions like this:

1) What skill or concept do I want the child to master?
2) Is this strategy going to help him/her master that skill or concept?
3) What is the challenge I think he/she is going to face? Is there a way to adapt or modify the strategy to adress this challenge BUT still help the child master the skill? If so, this is usually the method I try first.

Here are a few things that I do to set a positive classroom climate at the begninning of the year:

1) We hold a class meeting and set our rules for the year. I pose them as "agreements" and explain to the kids that this is like a promise. This year the teachers agree to: be respectful to everyone, make sure everyone is safe, help everyone learn new things. This year the students agreed to: listen to the teachers, be kind to each other, keep hands and feet to ourselves.

Please note: If the students don't generate an idea for an agreement that I think is necessary, I usually try to guide them to it by posing questions and scenarios about if I let someone do something to them. For example, if they didn't generate an idea similar to being kind, I might ask them: What if someone kept calling you names? Would you like that? Would you want me to help you if you couldn't solve that problem by yourself? Is this important to us as a group? If it is,maybe we should come up with an agreement about that.

2) We talk about leaders. The United States has a leader, it's our president. Our school has a leader, it's our principal. Our classroom has a leader, it's the teacher. The leaders job is to make sure that everything works together smoothly. I remind them that I am the leader in our classroom and it's my job to make sure everyone is learning what they need to be learning.

3) We read lots of literature about differences. The books we revisited many times this year are: "It's Okay to Be Different" by Todd Parr; and "Little Louie the Baby Bloomer" by Jose Aruguelo.

These two books were chosen this year for specific reasons.   The first one addresses differences in general, not related to a disability. The second one addresses how a tiger can do things, it's just that the way he does things is a little bit different than how the other animals do things (which in a very indirect way teaches kids about accomodations).

4) We have a class discussion where I explain to them that not everyone is going to be doing the same thing or have the same work. That's okay! (Establishing the role of the leader and then talking about differences establishes a foundation of knowledge for my students to fall back on when I start differentiating lessons and assigning different children different work.) I hold up our books and remind them what we learned from each of those books. Then I simply tell them those are the things we need to remember when we do our work.

5) If you were ever to come into my classroom, you would hear me redirect somone by saying "Try again, please and remember we are a kind class." or "Oh gosh...try that one more time and remember, you are a kind person." I want them to internalize that we treat each other with respect and kindness. We support and encourage each other when we master something that was hard for us (even if it would have been an easy task for someone else).

When children have this kind of positive, supportive climate every day, it becomes a little bit easier to take an academic risk because you know that your classmates are not going to laugh at you and your teacher is going to help you. And when you can do it on your own, you will be proud of yourself and others will celebrate and encourage you.

The way that I believe this relates to the questions my college students generated is that it creates a climate that allows a child to take a risk and not do well; but be able to take that risk again and do better; and finally take that risk again and master a skill. These steps attempt to support the child towards growth both academically and emotionally.

One teaching experience that I remember very vividly didn't happen in a classroom, but I think it illustrates this point.  It happened at a cooking party we had with a chef at my sister-in-law's house.  We were all laughing and socializing and having a great time.  The chef was guiding us in preparing the meal and taught us some basic knife skills.  When it was our turn to try, one of us was chopping and the chef prompted her by saying "That was very good.  Can I show you how to do it better?"  I don't know that anyone else in the room really heard her, but I did and I thought: GENIUS!  What a phenomenal phrase that was non-threatening and encouraging, but also prompted her to do better....I'm so going to steal that.  And of course I have.  

I try to recreate that type of climate.....well, there's not any wine in my classroom, but you get the idea!  :-)  .........  It's safe.  It's supportive.  It's encouraging.   It's okay to make a mistake or not do something perfectly....the people around you will help you do it better!