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 pace 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!

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!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reading Interventions

While browsing on Pinterest, I found this incredible resource from Jen Jones on Teachers Pay Teachers.   (It's free!)  It is a table that pairs a reading problem a teacher may observe with several reading intervention ideas that can address it. 

The ideas are all tried and true strategies we have all probably already used at some point in our teaching careers.  I love this aspect of the document.  We are not reinventing the wheel, we are thinking critically and planning systematically to address a problem.

Click here to check out Jen's If / Then Reading Interventions Menu.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Smiles from kids.......

Two things have happened this week that have really made me smile.

The first happened with a little boy I tutor.  We are reading the book Cam Jansen and the Circus Clown.  He's recording one sentence for each chapter to show how his thinking changes throughout the book as he gathers more clues from the story.  In the second chapter, Aunt Molly finds out her wallet is missing.  Most kids take the clues from the title and an incident in the chapter and predict that the wallet was stolen.  This child took the evidence that "her purse was on the ground under the chair, so maybe her wallet fell out and the janitor picked it up for her."  I thought this was so sweet.  He's looking for the good in the characters and people!

Here's the other:

It's bag of crushed tortilla chips.  One of the boys in my class pulled it out of his pocket this morning and gave it to me.  I asked him what it was and he says "I saved this for you because I know you like nachos."  How sweet!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Re-visiting PreK Favorites

I've had a few comments recently about lessons for pre-schoolers.

If you've been reading for awhile, you know that when I started this blog I was teaching a self-contained class for preschoolers with varying exceptionalities.  You may want to explore some of the older posts where I posted a lot of what I was doing at the time.  Since I'm now thinking and problem solving for older students, I'm posting more about them!  But the oldies and goodies are still here.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Fall Festival

Hot Pumpkin

Post-It Graphs

I'm Thinking of a Word

Block Play

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Week of School

In many ways, the first week of school this year was just like any other.  We established classroom rules and procedures.  We talked about respect of teachers and peers.  We identified and practiced ways to solve common problems and conficts.  We read stories.  We went to recess.  We finished beginning of the year tests, etc, etc, etc.

However, this year was quite a bit different for me.  For the first time, I have a student who is blind.  She also has some other exceptionalities, but to be perfectly honest, it's her blindness that has caused so much thinking and reflecting on my part.

I've always known that I rely very heavily on visual supports.  For many children with learning disabilities and language impairments, adding a visual cue provides them another way to access concepts.  I do this deliberatley and systematically with Boardmaker, graphic organizers and simple line drawings on assignments, tests or the white board or Activeboard.  It's become an integral part of my planning and lesson delivery.

What I didn't fully recognize until this charming, engaging, delightful girl who happens to be blind was in my class was how heavily I use and rely on facial expressions and gestures.  Simple things like giving a thumbs up across the room to a child who is working on independent work while I have a group at my table.  Or using the sign language symbol for "stop" in an assembly for someone who is talking to a neighbor. Or smiling to welcome a child who is joining the group from speech therapy or OT without interrupting the flow of the group.  And of course, giving the "evil eye" when a child is doing something he/she knows is inappropriate.

I like this.......facial expressions and gestures give encouragement or redirection in a way that doesn't distract others. 

Not surprisingly, these strategies are completely ineffective for my student who is blind.  I'm in the process of re-thinking how to discretely give these types of cues to her in a way that helps her but doesnt distract the other students. 

She happens to be very affectionate, so we're practicing high fives, pinky hugs and "golf claps"  (quiet clapping that celebrates her successes).   Right now in large group settings, I'm also using a lot of proximity and whispered cues to let her know things that are happening.

In addition to this, I'm modeling talking about pictures and details of things as we pass to her and the class.  I'll have to let you know how this goes...this is one of those "gut" things.  I don't know of any educational theory to back this up.  But, my hope is that in modeling my description of pictures and things we pass, the other students will notice this and start to do it, too.  I hope that this will not only  increase their acceptance of others' with differences, but it will also increase their own skills at recognizing main ideas, important details, clues, descriptive words, feelings, etc.  That verbalizing all of these things for one child will also help the other to more fully understand the importance of them.

This is one of the most exciting parts of teaching children with special needs.  I get a chance to think about problems and hopefully come up with solutions.  Then not only do I think about the potential solutions, but I get a chance to implement it and observe the results.  Whether or not the things that I'm trying right now will work, I don't know.  I do know that the process of thinking and reflecting on this and trying things out and observing the results, which then prompts more thinking is defintitely making me a better teacher.  It's making me more aware of some of the things I do without thinking and it's requiring me to think in new ways.....that can never be be bad. 

I hope by the end of this year I have a few more posts that tell you how excited I am over my students' successes!

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Last Day of Summer

Tomorrow teachers report back to school (in my district.)

This morning it was raining.  The beach excursion that my sisters and mom and I had planned evolved into a shopping excursion.

This afternoon it was pleasant, breezy and sunny!  The shopping excursion evolved into an afternoon on the the deck of one of our favorite bay front spots!

This was our view:

We love it and thoroughly enjoyed the last afternoon of summer with some iced tea or adult beverage of our choice!

This evening it was time to head home.  My husband was already at the house when I arrived.  He greeted me with this song:

"Back to Life Back to Reality"

He's soooo mean!!!!

Although, in all honesty, I am ready to go back.

I've been reading The Daily Five this summer and I'm ready to start implementing some of the new procedures I've been thinking and reflecting about.

Thanks to my sister and sister-in-law, I've also recently become addicted to Pinterest.  I've found a lot of great ideas for supporting reading comprehension and understanding of complex passages, specifically as it supports the Common Core Standards.

However, this summer has primarily been a summer of relaxation!
  •  I've spent time with family visiting local attractions and playing games.  
  • I learned how to crochet and even completed 1 dishrag for the mere cost of $21 ($18 class, $1 crochet needle and $2 yarn). 
  • I've also enjoyed a number of books we term "beach reads"...not a lot of substance and not great literature but very enjoyable none-the-less.  
  • My husband and I have taken a few weekend get-away trips.  
  • And I have 1, yes 1, thing completed off of my "I'm taking summer off so I'll really have time to get some household projects completed list."   (How pathetic!....not that I'm worried about it...I had a great time playing instead!)

However, it is time to "get back to reality"  and I am eager to learn about my new students try out some new ideas and get back into a problem solving frame of mind.

Now I have to go set my alarm....ughhh!  if only I could start my reality at 9:30am instead of 6:30am......