Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Visible Thinking

I learned about creating visible thinking routines at an early childhood International Baccalaureate conference I attended in 2007. I immediately saw the value of these routines and slowly began to implement some of them with my pre-k students. In a nutshell, using a visible thinking routine structures a lesson so that children can make connections and reach higher levels of thinking about a given topic.

Hands down, my favorite visible thinking routine is I See, I Think, I Wonder. This routine encourages students to make observations and connect their thinking and questions to the observations they have made.

I have created some very simple visual supports with Boardmaker software that I tape to chart paper to create a chart to record student responses. I laminated the visuals so that I can re-use them and simply tape them to a piece of chart paper. I draw lines to create three columns and I am ready to record.

I then choose a prompt. Sometimes it is a poster, sometimes it is a page from the story we are reading and sometimes it is a set of objects that we will using to create something. I set the stage and then guide the conversation according to the routine. "Raise a quiet hand if you can tell me something you see." "Sally saw a gray cloud, raise a quiet hand if you can tell me what that makes you think." "I see a gray cloud and I think it might rain, I wonder...."

Sometimes, I don't even do a "formal" lesson with this strategy, I just model it and encourage it within conversation. For example, my fish tank in the classroom was getting algae growth on the sides. While the students were napping, I ducked off campus to pick up a "sucker fish" from our local pet store. When I came back, I put the fish in the bag, in the fish tank so it could acclimate to our water temperature. It was also a natural prompt to generate conversation and thinking when the students woke up and saw it. I just followed the thinking routine guiding their comments and observations. What do you see? What does that make you think? And then finally modeling a wonder statement (which tends to be most difficult for my students) "I wonder if our tank will change?" and encouraging them to wonder also. They watched as we opened the bag and let the fish into the tank and then we started all over again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Interactive Holiday Sites

It's the holiday time of year! We are busy learning traditions and celebrations from around the world. With this comes many natural opportunities to build language through stories, crafts and games. Since my pre-k classroom is equipped with an ActiveBoard and we have fourth grade students who earn to come down on Thursday afternoons to be our "computer buddies," my students especially love many of the interactive games that can be found for free on the internet.

Here are a few of our class favorites:

Make Rudolph: Visual Spatial Activity

Make a Snowman: Visual Spatial Activity

Decorate a Christmas Tree

Spin the Dreidel

Shake the Snowglobe

Design a Snowflake

Kwanzaa Puzzle

Create Fireworks for Diwali

I'd love to find a child friendly Diwali, Festival of Ligths game and a Las Posadas game. If anyone knows of a link will you post it in the comments section?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


It's been a long time since I've posted! Sorry.

In that time, my principal retired, our new principal started, a friend and I presented a session on Visual Supports with at our state Council for Exceptional Children conference and finished an online post-grad course.

Not to mention Thanksgiving, guests in town and Black Friday shopping with my sisters.

I'll get back in the groove and update you all on the IB Safety Unit we just finished and the December Celebrations Unit we are beginning.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hot Pumpkin

Shelley Lovett at Childcareland has started posting YouTube videos about the lessons she teaches with the materials she creates and gathers.

This month she posted a lesson about playing a game "Hot Pumpkin" (similar to hot potato) during her large group time.

Here are the features that I think Shelley does exceptionally well with her site and her pumpkin video:

  • She provides and models the materials.
  • She gives suggestions for alternative materials.
  • When she purchases materials, she tells where they are purchased and the cost.
  • She identifies potential problems and provides cautions against them.
  • She creates a lesson that can be naturally differentiated!
  • She demonstrates how she differentiates with different skill levels.
  • She explains how she makes her teacher decisions.
  • She tells where she gets her music and offers alternatives.

Check out more of the videos of Shelley's Lessons and explore all of the creations on her site.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Book lists and vocabulary

Have you noticed my Shelfari shelf has changed? (You may have to scroll down the blog and look to the right hand side to see my shelf.)

I was originally playing with the features of Shelfari with the books that I read for myself. Then the Boardmaker listserve on Yahoo had a thread going about favorite books and correlating vocabulary.

That made me think.

Since this blog is really about education and educational strategies, what if I used Shelfari to organize the books that I use in my classroom? So I started playing with the features again.

Here's what I've decided so far:

I will post the book and how many stars I think it deserves for classroom use. Under the review feature (move your cursor over the picture of the book on my Shelfari shelf and you will be able to see my review), I will post:

age/grade level
vocabulary words

I will try to have a blog post with a list of all of the books in a particular theme.

Since I'm still in the "playing with the features stage,"
I reserve the right to change my mind. :-)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Teaching Rhyming

One of my listservs has been pretty active lately on the topic of teaching rhyme. It has been an interesting topic, because the person interested in ideas has already tried many strategies to help her particular student master the concept.

So it made me many different strategies and different materials would help teach the concept of rhyming.

Ideas for parents and teachers about how to teach rhyming:

Rhyming at Succeed to Read

Rhyming Ball Game

Rhyme Time

You Tube: Teaching Rhyme with Songs

You Tube: Teaching Rhyme

Free Downloads for teaching rhyming:

Using Nursery Rhymes: Free Printables

Raffi: Down by the Bay Song

Kelly's Kindergarten Rhyming Pictures

Erase A Rhymes

More Erase A Rhymes (scroll down 2 or 3 sections)

Free Online games/videos for practicing rhyming:

You Tube: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

You Tube: Sesame Street "et" Rhyme

You Tube: Becka and the Big Bubble

Interactive Game: Oobi Rhyme

Interactive Game: Gus and Inky Rhyme

Interactive Game: Rhyme Time Picture Match Up

Interactive Game: Scholastic Reggie Loves to Rhyme

Interactive Game: Elmo Rhymes

Products to purchase:

Jack Hartmann: Shake Rattle and Read

Lakeshore Rhyming Books

Lakeshore Rhyming Tubs

Super Duper: Rhyme Deck

These are just a few of the many resources that are out there. Have fun exploring!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Memorable Moment #5/ Functions of Behavior Revisted

Have you ever had one of those moments in the classroom that could be recorded and published in text book as a classic example?

We had one today. In Memorable Moment #4, we looked at functions of behavior. To re-cap, every behavior that any person exhibits has a function. That means it gets the person something he/she wants or needs. There are four functions of behavior:

Attention: to get someone's attention (positive or negative attention)
Escape: (to get out of something)
Tangible: (to get something tangible)
Sensory: (to get some kind of sensory stimulation)

Trenton is a four year old boy with a developmental delay in the social emotional domain. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we set up a center rotation that includes 5 centers with a staff person at each station. Today's centers were: 1) playing store with my assistant in the dramatic play area, 2) playing in toys and being pulled one-on-one with me for baseline assessment data, 3) playing hopscotch with the assistant next door, 4) speech/language therapy group, 5) playing in blocks and being pulled one-on-one with the teacher next door for baseline assessment data.

Trenton was assigned to start in the dramatic play area. He wanted to start in my center. I reminded him that everyone would get a chance to go to every center, but he had to do "store first and then toys." He told me again that he wanted to come to my center. I reminded him that his job was at the "Store center."

The students all transitioned to their appropriate centers and we began our lessons.

Trenton sat on the floor and howled. Picture a low toned and constantly repeated "no, no, no." He also threw in a few "uhhn, uhhn, uhhn" moans for us.

He was sitting on the floor and wasn't hurting himself or anyone else. All of the other students were engaged and playing in the the appropriate places. I was at my center working, my assistant was at her center playing with children, and the teacher next door was at her center working with students. All of the children were playing except Trenton. He continued with his moaning and howling.

Within 5 minutes, Trenton had stopped moaning and howling and moved to his assigned center. He approached my assistant and said "Please, I can play?" Of course she replied yes and asked him to find some items that he would like to "buy." He entered the center and began playing with the other students and my assistant.

So what do you think? What would you hypothesize was the function of Trenton's behavior?

We hypothesized it was attention seeking. He wanted to start in my center and thought that if he couldn't get there with a request, then maybe I would pay attention to him if he acted out. The aspect that struck the staff as being classic was that he was truly denied ANY attention. All of the children were engaged, all of the staff in the room were busy with other children, and Trenton was just left space to cry on the floor. He eventually figured out that his behavior was not getting what he wanted and he stopped.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pre-Planning Prioritizing

For years and years, I always went into my classroom early because I couldn't get everything done during my pre-planning week. A few years ago, I finally figured it out.

I'm NEVER going to get everything done that I want to get done. There will ALWAYS be things that I could do or would like to do.

I finally learned that it was a matter of prioritizing.

There are some tasks/meetings that my district says I MUST attend.

There are some tasks that I MUST get finished within the pre-planning week or I am uncomfortable as a teacher.

There are some things that I WANT done before the first day of school but its not the end of the world if I don't get to it.

And of course, there are things that are on my never ending list of materials I would like to prepare but if I get it done this week, this semester or next summer, I will still have students who are safe and learning.

I have also found that some of the "must do's" are procedural tasks from the school or district. I have finally figured out that my assistant and I are a team. She is happy to take care of some of those tasks, if I let her! I learned to delegate and share tasks.

The following are my lists and their respective categories of importance to me:


Not my choice:
1) Attend annual policy and procedure welcome back meeting for the school.
2) Attend the superintendent's video meeting and welcome back.
3) Create take home packets including: student code of conduct, emergency medical forms, room mother forms, etc. (I ask my assistant to do this.)
4) Call the families of all of the students in my class and invite them to "Meet Your Teacher."
5) Attend team meeting at my school.
6) Attend depratment meeting (pre-k teachers) at the district level.

My Choice:
1) Try to schedule any initial IEPs and staffings that have been added to my caseload over the summer. (I like to get these done during pre-planning because then I can start with students on day 1. It doesn't always work out, but I try my hardest to get it done.)
2) Get the physical layout of my room organized and ready for children.
3) Have a welcoming bulletin board outside my class (my assistant does this for me).
4) Set up my anecdotal record notebook (my assistant does this for me).
5) Set up a folder/list of IEP due dates for students for the year.
6) Lesson plans for the first week of school. (I plan and my assistant helps me gather materials or prep materials for lessons.)
7) Take my assistant out to lunch! (We frequently go with other teachers and staff, but during the school year, we rarely get the chance to have lunch together. It's nice to carve out some time during the pre-planning week to spend some time together.)

I have found, that if I complete all of the tasks that the district requires of me and I have all of the things done that make me comforatble as a teacher, then I usually have an afternoon or two to take care of some of the special tasks that I enjoy (creating new visual supports, surfing the internet for new lesson ideas, visiting other classrooms and "stealing" other teachers' ideas).

Prioritizing what the district requires and what I need helps me to stay focused on the most important tasks and complete them. As a bonus, it reduces the stress and anxiety of completing numerous tasks in a short period of time. When the stress is reduced, I'm much more productive.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Web Resources from Successful Teaching

I just love the resources listed in the Useful Ideas In and Out of the Classroom at Successful Teaching.

I especially liked:
Arcademic Skill Builders



Both sites are new to me and look like great resources to share with the other teachers on my team and to use with students I tutor.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Free Online Books

I've been reading more and more about Universal Design for Learning in the past few months. I found a site that was new to me, UDL Wikispace.

As I was navigating my way through all of the cool resources, I hit on one in the Literacy Tools. There are many links to help students of all ages access literacy.

I browsed several sites with free online books that were familiar to me, but it made me wonder if there were other sites and resources that were similar.

Yes! There are tons!

Here are a few that I liked:


TarHeel Reader


(You have to create an account, but it is free.)

E-Books for Young Readers

Reading A-Z Interactive Books; RAZ Kids
(Click on free samples. A subscription to the complete library is $29-$59).

Clifford Books

Magic Keys

This one would be for older kids and adults....Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Jules!
Read Print

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Interactive Books

As I am preparing for a new school year, I have been thinking about what resources and materials I use on a weekly basis that could be easily shared.

I love to use interactive books and visual supports. I find that my students attend to the lesson and remain engaged for longer periods of time when a lesson is structured in a supportive manner.

One of my all time favorite sites for interactive books and visuals is the Speech-Language-Hearing Services of Jefferson Parish Public School System.

Here are a few tips to find great printable materials from the site:

Check out the AAC button (Augmentative/Alternative Communication).
The home page of the AAC button has many interactive books that you may download for free. This page requires the user to own a Boardmaker CD.

If you don't own Boardmaker, make sure to click on the Adapted Stories button. This is a group of shared materials that can be printed directly from the website. Under the Fall tab, I have printed, laminated and velcro-ed the Going to School book. I usually use this book during the first week of school. This was the first book I printed from this site....after using it in my classroom, I was hooked. I've printed, laminated and velcro-ed many more since.

For those of you who are new to interactive books or maybe just looking for more ideas on how they are used in the classroom, check out the Photos of Activities button. This section gives a photo of the finished interactive book and other classroom materials that the teacher used with the lesson.

Also be sure to look for the Lang Activities button. This button has many, many Power Points designed to increase language skills.

I use the Power Points as a "sponge activity" when students are bathrooming and washing their hands. My classroom is set up with an Active Board (an interactive white board). I use the Power Points on my Active Board, but you could also use them with a projection screen or connect your computer to a TV.

This year I think I'm also going to try using the Power Points with our computer buddies. We have a general education 4th grade class that visits us once a week to work on the computers. My school has a student drop on our server. I'm going to try uploading the targeted Power Point to the student drop and have the 4th graders download it to the student computers. Then they can read through the power point one on one with their partner. After they finish that, they will be able to chose an online game that supports the skill. I'll let you know how it goes!

Happy exploring and navigating the is such a wealth of ideas and resources.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Quick and Easy Communication Tool

One of my friends and I have a saying.....we like strategies and interventions that are effective and "quick and dirty."

Kate hit a ring dinger because she has one that is effective and cheap and quick and dirty!

Check out her post using Dollar Store key chains for a yes/no communication strategy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Math Games

I'm tutoring a 4th grade student in math. He understands concepts really well, but has not memorized his basic facts, so that slows him up a bit. Since we're working on his speed and fluency, I've been searching for free online games for him that put a fun aspect to the "drill and kill." I've added them to the links under "Student Games" so you can easily find them again.

Some of these games have versions that are appropriate for many differing levels. Check them out.

Math Mayhem: Basic Facts Add, Subtract, Multiply or Divide

TimezAttack Basic Facts Multiplication (You have to download this one and provide an e-mail address. The basic version is free and the kids really seem to like it.)

Spacey Math: Basic Facts Add, Subtract, Multiply or Divide

Math Arcade at FunBrain: Math Skills all grade levels

Two Minute Warning: Multiply

Primary Games: Lots of Pre-k through 4th games

Cool Math Games

Math Playground

Harcourt Math Games (This one isn't as "arcade" oriented but I like they way it uses the math vocabulary in the problems.)

A Plus Math Games

Explore and have fun!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Anchor Activities

An Anchor Activity is an activity that is readily available in a classroom at all times. Anchor Activities are one of the most important classroom management techniques because they allow for children to be productive after independent work is finished or if the teacher has to attend to something unexpected.

Anchor Activities answer the age old student question, "What can I do now?"

The value of having your Anchor Activities established as a classroom routine, is that students should ALWAYS know the answer to that question. They should ALWAYS know what they are allowed to do if their work is finished or if the teacher has to attend to another situation.

In my classroom, after I decide what activities would be my Anchor Activities, I make a big poster with the words and pictures of the activity. This is posted in my room so that every student can see it. During the first week of school, we review this procedure and practice it so the students know what it means.

The following are some guiding questions that may help you decide what activities you can use as an anchor activity in your classroom:

~ What is the length of time required to complete the activity?
~ Does it require another student?
~ Can each child do it independently?
~ Is it always available?
~ How do students begin and end the activity?
~ Where will students complete the activity?

The following are some Anchor Activities I have used in the past:

~ Read a book
~ Write in journal
~ Do a puzzle
~ Draw
~ Bonus Work: "Bonus work" is extra skill worksheets that I keep in a basket on the counter. I use a Sharpie to write "Bonus Work" at the top and just keep them all together in one stack. Students can pick whichever one they want. I think that reviewing a previous lesson isn't going to hurt anyone. :-) The bonus points are recorded for our treasure box day.

More resources on Anchor Activities:

Best Practices: Instructional Strategies and Techniques

Differentiated Instruction and Anchor Activities

More About Anchor Activities

Vocabulary Anchor Activity

Anchor Activities

6th Grade Anchor Activities

4th Grade Anchor Activities

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summer School Rodeo Part 2

I previously posted some links about and information on my rodeo theme for summer school. Since then I've been sorting through activities and finding ideas and skills that will be best for my group of students. I found one idea about having a field day/rodeo day on one of the websites. Great idea! Time to call on my friend...she's a pre-k teacher who just happened to be a physical education teacher for 17 years. Here's what we (and when I say "we" I really mean "she") came up with:

Rodeo Day

Rodeo day is organized on a center rotation with a teacher, assistant or parent volunteer assisting at each center. Each center rotation will last 12-15 minutes, so the whole rodeo day / field day will be over in an hour or so. Just in time for lunch afterwards and singing around the campfire before!

There will be three or four children in a group. (If we add another class or more students, we will increase the centers accordingly. I want a maximum of five children at a center, three or four would be best.) Activities are designed to encourage oral language develpoment, social/emotional development, gross motor development and fine motor development. We we will ask the children to come in jean shorts or overalls. At school they will put on hats and vests they have made.

Key component: You want to have as many children as possible actively participating in centers at any given time. It is important to practice waiting for your turn, but more active participation at any given time equals less discipline problems. Makes sense...the students are involved in the task rather than getting in trouble.

Morning Circle: Sing Around the Campfire, review "Rodeo Rules"
1) Safety comes first! (hands and feet to self...this includes horseshoes, lassos and hobby horses)
2) Stay in your center until the whistle blows
3) Listen to the "cowhands" (staff and volunteers)


Lasso the cows:
Set up:
~Tie a jump rope to a hula hoop to make a "lasso." (You need two of these.)
~Place a big picture of a cow on a sawhorse or a playground cone to make a "cow." (You need two of these.)
~Get four carpet squares. Each child sits/stands on a carpet square. We place two in front of one "cow" and two in front of the other "cow." It visually cues the children on where they need to be. (Make sure to place them a "lasso" apart. You don't want a child accidentally getting hit by a flying hula hoop. If you have five children in a group, you need five carpet squares. Every child should have a spot.)

~The child sitting on the carpet square closest to the "cow" tries to throw the "lasso" around the "cow." We usually give 2 or 3 chances.
~After the turn is completed, the child who was on the "waiting square" moves up to the "lasso square" for his/her turn. The child who was throwing moves to the "waiting square" to wait for another turn. This step is important because it teaches children how to wait, but they don't have to wait for very long. When you have two lines at each center like this you have at least 50% of the class actively participating at any given time. Remember: more children actively participating in the lesson equals less discipline problems.
~Repeat until the whistle blows. The first whistle blow is the cue to "clean up". After the clean up whistle, we have children point to their next center. The second repetetive whistle blow is "move to the next center". Since today is rodeo day, we will "gallop like a horse" to our new centers.

Practice social/emotional skill of taking turns. Throwing movement naturally requires students to cross their midline. Great opportunities for oral langauge. 50% of the children are actively engaged at any time.

Panning for gold:
~Paint rocks with gold spray paint to create your gold.
~Fill water table (if you don't have a water table, Home Depot or Lowes have mixing tubs in the concrete/masonry area that would work. They look similar to this, but I have seen others for $6 or $8.) with sand at the bottom and just enough water to cover the sand, so that it resembles a stream.
~Gather 4 or more sifting tools.

~Let students "pan for gold" with the sifters.
~Move gold to a "safe spot" with tongs or "cheater chopsticks."
~Repeat until the whistle bows. Clean up and get ready to gallop to a new center.

Great sensory activity. The practice with the tongs and cheater chopsticks exercise the muscles needed for writing and cutting. Lots of opportunities for oral language. 100% of the children are actively engaged the whole time.

Rodeo Clowns:
Set up:
Set up any obstacle course of your choosing. You may want to use tunnels, rocking boards, hurdles, etc. Rodeo clowns help rodeo riders stay safe when they get thrown from a horse. They have to be able to duck and move quickly.

~Set up "waiting carpet squares" similar to Lasso the Cows. This keeps a familair structure/routine.
~Students crawl through the tunnels, balance on the rocking boards and go over and under the hurdles.
~Repeat until the whistle blows.

Students practice taking turns. The practice following multi-step visual/oral directions. 50% of the students are engaged at any time. This is a great activity to practice action words (crawling, balancing, stepping, galloping, jumping, etc.)

Trail Mix
~Gather mix items: for example Cheerios, raisins, M&Ms, & pretzles. Also get juice boxes (not authentic, but gets the students a drink!)
~Create a picture recipe.
~Gather a bowl, a spoon, small cups or bowls and a box of baby wipes.

~Have students clean their hands with baby wipes since soap and water won't be available.
~Have students "read" the recipe with you.
~Have students add ingredients and stir the mix.
~Eat the trail mix and drink a juice box.
~Enjoy until the whistle blows.

Students practice early literacy skills when reading the recipe. Students follow a sequence of directions. Students get a chance to cool off and have a less active center. 100% of the children are actively engaged the whole time.

Horse Race:
~In previous class lessons, have students make a hobby horse. (I plan on using a wooden dowel and a white sock. PreK students will choose what color they want their mane and the eyes. We will stuff the sock and then invite an older class to help us "thread and sew" the mane. The older students will use yarn needles to push a pre-cut length of yarn through the sock. The older students will help the PreK students tie the yearn in a knot.)
~Set up waiting carpet squares.
~Set up a "corral" for horses that are "resting."
~Set up a playground cone at a distance away from the carpet squares.

~Children will take turns "riding their horses" around the playground cone and back.
~Repeat until the whistle blows.

Gross motor parctice galloping. Practice waiting their turns. 50% of the children are actively engaged at any time.

Not really...don't want an open flame near children on school property. We will probably just eat a hot dog lunch (cooked in a crock pot) with baked beans (warmed in a crock pot) and potato chips.

All of the cowhands, cowboys and cowboys are tuckered out! Cool down and rest...perhaps with the video Fievel Goes West.

The very cool thing about Rodeo Day is that it is fun and different but it is organized according to a basic classroom routine. We just moved the routine outside. You can use this routine and structure for almost any special event just by changing the centers to fit the skills and theme you want to practice. We use it for Fall Festival and Water Day, too.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Digital Photos and Oral Langauge Samples

I really like having digital photos of students engaged in classroom activites, field trips, or special events.

The digital camera is such a useful piece of technology because we can click away hoping to capture that one moment and not worry about wasting film.

I am very fortunate at my school because we have quite a few digital cameras available for teacher use and a number of color printers that can be used to print photos. We take tons of photos and use them to promote authentic, familiar language building experiences.

We start with photos of students playing or working in classroom tasks. At cirlce time or in small groups my assistant and I model how to talk about the picture. For some groups we work on labeling the objects or people in the picture. The next step is to use a 2-3 word phrase to tell about the picture and the action in the picture (i.e. Susie painting.) We then work to increase the descriptive words and build upon the sequence of the activity.

Our goal is to show students an array of 2-3 pictures, let the child choose one to talk about and record a language sample such as this (although it may be grammatically incorrect) : "I playing water table. I getting the crab a new home. Him like his new home because him it's big for him and him safe there."

The child who told us this story demonstrates his ability to label familiar objects and to use verbs with the "ing " ending. He also demonstrates that he understands the science concept that the crab moves to a new home because it outgrew the old one and for protection. His language sample further shows that we need to continue to work on proper pronoun usage and grammatically using helping verbs such as "am".

Digital photos act as a writing prompt or an idea prompt for young children. They spark many great conversations and opportunities to see what students have learned.

Phrase question?

Recently, Mrs. V posted some great word combinations that her children made up. It got me thinking....

Not that we are kids, but on a similar strand, my friend and I make up phrases to go with situations.

Our most used is "porch lag." My husband said it to me tonight when it took 20 minutes to say good bye to my mom and my sisters...starting at the dining room table, moving to the family room, then the driveway....eventually he whispered to me, "Enough porch lag, say good bye." Porch lag is the amount of time it takes to actually leave a relative's house, starting at the time you initally say "we need to go" and ending at the time that you actually leave the driveway.

My friend and I have been looking for a phrase for "the number of times you go back into your house for one more thing before you leave for school in the morning.."

Any suggestions?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer School Rodeo Theme

In an earlier post, I shared some of the resources and ideas that I had for a pirate theme for summer school. My thought process for doing the pirate theme was to do some adventure, treasure, ships, island lessons....using a fun organizing theme that I wouldn't use during the school year.

I received my class list and I think I need to make a change. Two of my students have had some difficulties with aggression towards peers and/or adults. One of my original concerns with the priate theme was how to remove the swords and fighting and keep the adventure and treasure concepts at the forefront. I thought perhaps I could manage it with some of the students, but given the new information on the needs of my students, I want to set all of them up for success. I do not want to organize lessons around a theme that may contribute to problems.

In light of the new information and the reflection on that information, I have now decided to go with a Rodeo Theme for the summer.

I found many resources on the internet that practice oral language skills, fine motor skills and gross motor skils. Within these skills the ideas focus on books, crafts, cooking, songs, fingerplays, games and sensory table ideas.

My tentative schedule is as follows:
Entrance Routine (I use the visual routine from my entrance procedures post)
Table Work (color page, table top manipulatives, book exploration)
Circle Time (calendar work, story, phonemic awareness)
Centers (craft, small group skill work, discovery play)
Recess (playground)
Gross Motor (organized game or play with balls, jump ropes, etc.)
Table Work ( table top manipulatives, finish craft)
Closing Circle (with the rodeo theme we're going to "Sing at the Camp Fire)

The following websites have provided a host of ideas to plug into my schedule and skill work.

Armadillo Rodeo by Jan Brett
Cowboys at the Virtual Vine
Western Coloring Pages
Wild West Songs, Games and Crafts
Rodeo and Western Ideas
Rodeo Printables
Texas Rodeo Time
Rodeo Western Day Lesson Plans
Wild, Wild West Lessons

Tentative Book List (I will certainly add to it and I may not read some....BTW, Some books have great pictures but too many words and concepts. I use the book but tell the story or the information instead of reading every word.)

Armadillo Rodeo by Jan Brett
Cowboys and Cowgirls Yipee Yay by Gail Gibbons
Why Cowboys Sleep with Their Boots On by Lauire Lazzaro Knowlton
Cowboy Dreams by Kathi Appelt

Now all I have to do is organize everything and prep the craft project materials................

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Student Led Conferences

My school was recently authorized as an International Baccalaureate School. One of the requirements of IB schools is to hold Student Led Conferences each year.

At a student led conference, parents are invited to school for a conference where the student is in charge. The teacher does not lead or guide the conference, this job belongs to the child.

As an educator, I was excited about this event. As a pre-k educator, I was a little bit nervous. How would I teach children, especially children ages 3-5 with disabilties to lead their own conference? How would I ensure that the conference was student driven, but supported enough that it would be meaningful for 3-5 year olds?
We just finished our student led conferences. They were wonderful and worth every minute of planning involved!

I explained the prep work and student led conference experience to my husband (not a teacher) with a roller coaster analogy. You wait in line for an hour and the ride is over in 2 minutes. But, if you are a roller coaster junkie, it is well worth the wait. You'll wait time and again. Year after year. That's how our first student led conferences went. An incredible amount of planning time went into them, and they were over very quickly. But they were well worth the time invested and we'll willingly schedule them again, year after year.
Tips for successful conferences:

1) Keep work samples throughout the year.
We kept 2-3 pieces for each major theme and then let the child choose which piece s/he wanted to talk about. When they chose the piece for their conference, we completed a student reflection worksheet with Boardmaker icons. The reflection worksheet helps to guide some of the conversation with parents and children.

(Note: The students did not talk about every theme that we taught nor did they talk about every piece that we saved. They spoke about 4 pieces total. Three that they chose and the fourth was a book of their oral language samples about photos of class activities.)

2) Structure and organize the work samples in a way that is easy for students and families to use.
My students are familiar with Boardmaker icons. We created a "worklist" of 4 icons about work samples they were going to talk about. A matching icon was taped to the work sample. Students removed the icon from their worklist, matched it to the work sample and then talked about that piece (very similar to TEACCH task baskets).

Parents had clues from the reflection worksheet and the work sample to talk to their help prompt their child if s/he stopped talking.
(The picture on the top is the "work list." The picture in the center is a bucket that held the work samples and the work list. The picture on the bottom is the student reflection form.)

3) Walk away!
As the teacher in the classroom you are an authority figure. Walk away from the table! This leaves the parents as the only authority figure in close proximity. If you walk away, it minimizes role confusion between the authority status of the teacher and parent. (who will prompt, who will ask a question, when to wait, etc) It also minimizes the "on the spot" climate for the student. We observed more authentic conversation about work samples when the teacher was not at the table with the parent and child.

4) Let go!
The goal of our student led conferences was to generate meaningful conversation between the child and the parents about topics they had learned. The tools and the structure were in place....let the rest go. Let the conversation emerge.

5) Listen from a discreet distance.
You'll be amazed at what the children explain and how they explain it. Student led conferences are truly a rewarding experience for the child, the parent and the teacher.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Summer School Activities / Space Ideas

A few years ago I taught a first and second grade summer school class for students with learning disabilities. The primary goal of the class was to continue working on reading and writing skills. My district typically schedules summer school for 6 weeks on a shorter school day, usually 8:30am-1:30pm.

I organized my class focusing first on literacy skills and second on the theme of space. I prioritized the organization because it is often difficult to find leveled books and appropriate theme related materials for reading practice. The most important goal was to have children reading at their instructional level, not reading a book about space.

The following was our daily schedule:

Morning Work Most days I put a skill page on the students' desks before they entered the room. The skill pages came from the free theme resources at The Learning Page. You have to register and set up an account, but there is no charge.

Shared Reading Trade books such as: Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, Planets by Gail Gibbons, My Book of Space. I had a few of these in my classroom library and found many more at the library.

Reading Groups The books for reading groups came from the curriculum materials the district provided.

Shared Writing Journals and two pen stories...more on two pen stories in another post- the explanation was getting very lengthy! :-)



Math We did some of the math facts adding and subtracting with theme based materials and worksheets. We also played a lot of bingo and file folder games addressing time and money. I particularly like Coin Counting Bingo from PCI. I have found that many children with learning disabilities have difficulty telling time and counting the values of money. These are critical math skills that are used throughout life, so we addressed them every day in summer school.

Read Aloud I used two chapter books. Magic Tree House #8: Midnight on the Moon, Bailey School Kids: Mrs. Jeepers in Outer Space. I like having the students exposed to books that are longer passages.

Earn Time Those students who completed all of their work could make rockets and space shuttles with legos, play a card game: LAUNCH (a space shuttle game similar to UNO), various cut and paste crafts with space thems, play file folder games, etc. Those who did not finish their work had this time to complete classwork.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Classroom Procedures: Continuation of the Benefits of Daily Routines

In two previous posts, The Benefits of a Daily Routine and Entrance Procedures we discussed the importance of establishing, teaching and maintaining classroom routines and procedures. A routine or procedure is different than a rule in that it teaches a student the steps to complete a task. (i.e. The line up routine teaches students the steps to successfully line up.) Harry Wong is an advocate for only a few classroom rules (i.e hands and feet to self) but supports the widespread use of many classroom routines/procedures.

The following list are some of the routines that I find important and useful. While I cannot give specific advice on how to structure your classroom procedures without knowing details about your class dynamics, your physical layout and your school rules; I can offer some guiding questions that may help you to determine routines for yourself. I can also give examples of routines that I use and you can modify them to fit your teaching situation.

When can students go?
When do they need to wait?
What will I do for students who need help?
Where do they wash and dry hands?
Where is the trash can?
How do I get custodial help for accidents?
Have I shown respect for all students?

My procedure for K-2: Students could go to the bathroom anytime during the following: morning work, independent work, centers, recess, snack or lunch. They were not allowed to go during direct instruction time (i.e reading group, math group, writing). If they asked, I usually asked them if they could wait. Most frequently, they could wait. Sometimes they could not and I would let them go. However, if this became a pattern, then I began to think it was an escape behavior. I would then ask my (meticulously organized) assistant to help me remember to send them before instructional groups started.


When can students get a drink?
When do they have to wait?
Is permission required?
How do they request permission?
When during the day can you schedule drinks in your routine?
Have I provided enough opportunities for hydration?

My procedure for K-2: Same procedure as bathrooming. Verbal reminders were given to students to get drinks after recess and physical education activities.

Pencil Sharpening
Provide an opportunity for students:
~during the first 15 minutes in the morning
~during choice time, independent work, centers

Teacher always has sharpened pencils available:
~at the teacher's table
~at the assistant's table
~on the counter for student use
Do I have a system in place to provide materials in a timely manner?

My procedure for K-2: I have to confess, this is one of my pet peeves. My procedure was created out of a need to maintain my sanity. Pencil sharpening is one the of the most distracting and irritating sounds for me. I hate it! No pencils are allowed to be sharpened during my direct instruction time. It is like nails on the chalkboard for me!

Students could sharpen pencils during the first 15 minutes of class or during center time. After that, if they needed a sharpened pencil they had to use one of mine or my assistant's. We always had pencils at our teaching tables and on a counter for students.

Line Up
Do I have a cue to tell students when to line up?
Is there enough physical space for all students to line up?
How will students move to line? (in groups, one at a time, all together?)
How will students know their place in line?
Will I have specific jobs? (line leader, door holder, light monitor)

K-2 procedure: We created a line order. The first person in line was, obviously, the line leader. The last person in line was the door holder. Each week the line leader went to the end of the line and the next person in line moved up. This allowed each child to have a turn at both jobs.

Visual tip: My husband introduced me to painter's tape. Painters tape is blue tape (easily found in the painting department of Home Depot and Lowe's) that does not leave a sticky, gooey mess (like masking tape does). I now use painter's tape as a visual cue on the floor to outline a shape for each child to stand on when lining up.

Transitioning to a new activity
What cue do you use to let students know it's time for a new activity? (timer, verbal cue, chimes)
How much time do students have to move to the next activity?
How do they know when to start the next activity?
How will they move (if required) to the next activity?

K-2 procedure: We transitioned to the next reading or math group according to a timer. When the timer beeped, it was time to move.

These are just some examples of classroom procedures that I have found to be beneficial. Teaching a procdure helps students to understand how you want them to complete a task. Procedures help students to be successful in the classroom and they help to maximize time on task by directly teaching expectations.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Testing this out!

I'm trying to learn a new skill....posting javascript within a blog entry. This post is my guinea pig. Please be patient with my learning curve!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Summer Activities

It's hard to believe that I haven't even finished the end of the school year and yet I am starting plans for summer school!

When I teach summer school, I have two priorities: 1) help children practice and master the skills they need to continue working on 2) organize skill and concept work around a fun theme!

For this summer, I have been thinking about a Pirate theme. Kids seem to enjoy the excitement and adventure associated with pirates. I have to say, my conservative nature steers the ideas more towards treasure and adventure and skill development rather than a true historical representation of what pirates were really about!

The following are some resources and ideas I plan on using this summer:

Online Game: Disney BunnyTown Captain Dan

Treasure Hunt Ideas and More

Map Skills Ideas

Pirate Theme Unit

Lego Pirate ship

Scroll Down to the Pirate Day Idea at this link:

Pirate Crafts and more

Sunken Treasure By Gail Gibbons

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Favorite Materials

It's that time of year to think about.....

Transitioning students to the next grade level? (yes, but not in this post.)

Progress reports? (yes, but again, not in this post)

Graduation and end of the year celebrations? (yes, but yet again, not in this post)

Preparing summer vacation travel plans? (yes, yes , yes! but, alas, not in this post)

Now is the time to prepare materials orders and purchase orders for next year. (Even if you still have a list of things that need to be completed for this year. ughh!).

The following is a list of materials that I use year after year. They are primarily supplementary materials (not core curriculum materials). Most of the items on the list are under $50 and could be paid for out of a classroom budget.

Materials for any grade level:

Velcro and lamination Velcro and lamination make teacher created materials durable and interactive. They help to make the materials individualized to the strengths/needs of the student. I prefer velcro dots for most materials. They reduce the amount of cutting and make creating materials more time efficient. I order velcro dots from
Fortunately, my school has a laminating machine and the laminating film comes out of the school's budget. However, I like to have some pieces laminated in thicker film to make them more durable. When I purchase my own lamination film, I typically buy from Sam's Club.

Boardmaker Boardmaker is a software program that has thousands of visual cues stored in an easy to use database. The initial cost is approximately $300, but is well worth it. I use my Boardmaker program on a daily basis to create home/school questions, visual schedules, recipes, classroom rules and procedures, interactive books, etc. Visit for more information.

Scholastic Book Clubs No cost to the teacher or school! Just register and this is an easy sytematic way for families to purchase inexpensive books for home. As families purchase books, that classroom earns "bonus points" that can be spent on new materials for the classroom. This is also an inexpensive way for a new teacher to build up a classroom library.

Reading A-Z This is website of thousands of leveled readers. I use with my current pre-k students, as well as the 2 intermediate students I tutor. I have used it in the past with my K-2nd grade class and also my 3rd-5th grade class. The website is user friendly and is a valuable resource in providing students with reading material at their instructional level. The books can be printed and sent home, so it is also a great way to get instructional/independent level passages for students to read at home. It costs about $50 per year.

Materials for primary grades or pre-kindergarten:

Matt and Molly This series includes a set of simple stories paired with 4 visual cues that sequence the story. The teacher's guide includes a set of yes/no questions and a set of "wh" (who, what, where) questions for each story. It was created to work on language skills for students with autism, however, I have found that the structure and the simplicity of the visual cues are beneficial for all of my students (especially those with autism or language impairments). There are 5 sets in the series and each set is $31.95.

Jack Hartman CDs Jack Hartman has many, many, many CDs that incorporate music and movement to promote skill mastery and understanding of concepts. I like all of the CDs. If you are just starting out, I would recommend I've Got Music in Me, Vol. 1. or Shake, Rattle and Read.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Visual Supports

Do you make lists for the grocery store?

Do you use a calendar to help you remember your appointments and meetings?

Do you print out agendas for staff meetings?

Do you keep an e-mail until you attend to whatever task was outlined in the e-mail?

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions, chances are you use visual supports to help you organize your tasks or thoughts.

I have "stolen" an idea from my assistant for when I need to remember to bring something from home to school. I write a note, wrap it bracelet-style around the strap of my purse and staple the ends together. This way, when I pick up my purse the following morning, I have a visual reminder to bring what I wanted. (And, yes, I did actually pick up ladybugs from a local nursery and take them to school.)

Sometimes, if I remember something at home that I need to take care of at school the following day, I send myself an e-mail.

One of the first ways I integrate visual supports in the classroom is with a daily schedule. I have found that I prefer to make the schedule on sentence strips, glue the picture and a word and laminate each activity separately. Then depending where I post it, I put a magnet strip or velcro on the back. By laminating each activity separately, I can adjust the posted schedule when needed or when we have a special activity scheduled. It also makes it easier to discuss schedule changes that are unplanned. Sometimes things happen at school that are beyond the teacher's control (i.e. the art teacher goes home sick, it's raining). For children who rely on a schedule, it is nice to be able to tell them the schedule has to change, why it's changing and then post the new schedule (i.e. we go to music with Mrs. Smith's class, we have inside choice instead of playground.)

We also use visual supports during many of our Reading or Pre-Reading Lessons. Jefferson Parrish AAC has some wonderful books that can be downloaded, printed, laminated, and velcro-ed (ha! is that a new word? Maybe I could be like Rachel Ray and get a new word introduced to the dictionary.) We use these books to increase attention to task, teach basic concepts, and introduce new vocabulary. Literacy Visuals are also available for many common songs and stories. Again, I like to have each piece laminated separately. Then I can pass them out to children and have the child place the piece either in the story or on a felt board. Children love doing this and it requires active engagement in the lesson.

Visual supports can also be used to help students communicate. Students can point to choices, wants or needs. They can also hand a picture to a staff member to communicate wants/needs or thoughts. This is called a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). Check out the Boardmaker materials at Mayer Johnson or some of the free symbols at Do2Learn.

Adding visual supports to lessons, transitions or classroom routines helps children access the learning environment and curriculum. Visual supports help people organize their lives. They help us remember what we need to do. They help us remember ideas for later use. They help us prepare for upcoming events. If as adults, we recognize the use and value of visual strategies to help us perform, shouldn't we find ways to integrate this in the classroom?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Memorable Moment #4: "Bad" Behavior/Communication Tool

We all know that behavior communicates something. The trick is to figure out what the "something" is and then react in a way that does not reward the "bad" behavior but honors what the child needs/wants. Let me tell you...that's a great trick!!!

Behavior analysts will tell you that every behavior supports a person's needs/wants (not just a child, not just a student....adults, too.) Behaviors are exhibited to get us what we need/want. Most of the time we identify the four reasons (functions) for behavior as: to get attention, to escape a demand or task, to get something..tangible, to stimulate our senses...sensory.

My teaching partners and I found the following "bad" behavior to be quite humorous. Of course, we have to deal with the behavior and why the student was doing it, but.....the process of that can be quite funny. (Note: Make sure when "bad" behavior is funny, you don't let your student know that it's funny because they could get conflicting messages. Chances are it's only funny the first or second time....after that it's just "bad.")

See if you can figure out what the following student is telling us.... :-)

Libby is a three year old student with Down's Syndrome. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we set up a 6 center rotation where children travel from center to center according to a timer. We organize this within two classrooms that are connected by a middle door. This can be quite demanding for some students.

Libby reached her 4th or 5th center for the day which happened to be her Language Therapy lesson. In the middle of the lesson she decided she was done!

Libby hopped off of her chair and ran from the Language Therapy room to my classroom. (The speech/language pathologist (SLP) was right on her heels.) She tried to shut the door on the speech pathologist! keep in mind...a 3 yr old, shutting the door on the speech path!

Well, the SLP and I happen to be good friends, so when we saw a 3 year old attempting to shut the door in her face, we both wanted to laugh. :-) Fortunately for us, we had our wits about us. Libby was redirected back to her group with a firm voice and reminded that group was finished when the timer "beeped." (by the way....we laughed later!!!!)

What was Libby telling us through her behavior? What was the reason/function for her behavior?

If you guessed "escape," then your hypothesis matched ours. We suspect that she was telling us that she needed to get away from work at that point.

What did we do? We try to get Libby's group within the first few rotations before she gets fatigued. This way we can ensure that her time at language therapy is time well spent. We follow up her groups with gross motor or low demand activites that support her need/want for escape. In short, we go straight back to the "Pre-mack principle." (see previous post: ).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Social Stories Made Easy

Several of my students have made gains through the use of Social Stories. A social story is designed to teach a student specific details about a social situation so that when the situation naturally occurs, he/she has some strategies and vocabulary to deal with it. For more information on social stories check out wikipedia at

Another special education blog recently posted an article about using comic book formats to create social stories. What a great idea!

The site that I particularly like from this post was:

I was playing with it earlier this week. I already have some digital photos on my computer and just followed the instructions to upload some for a social story on task support. I used pictures of a particular student working with me hand over hand on a fine motor task, working next to my assistant and working in a center by himself. Then there is a place to click on speech bubbles to add text. I just added one sentence to each picture about the work task.

It's relatively easy and only took about 15 minutes to complete. The thing I spent the most time on was trying to figure out how to print it.
scroll on the right and there is a print menu box
click "download"
it will open a jpeg image and then print.

Also...IMPORTANT...when you finish the social story sequence, there is a link that toggles between "make my comic public" and "make my comic private." You most likely want to click the private one.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Feature! Favorite Lessons!

Sometimes when you finish a lesson, you reflect and say "Wow! That was really successful. The kids really learned what I wanted them to." A favorite lesson feeds the passion of the craft of teaching. A favorite lessons often teaches the teacher as much as it teaches the students.

I'd like to create a new feature that will highlight favorite lessons. If you would like to share an idea, the lesson should be structured in the format of a formal lesson plan. This will enable other teachers and parents to review the plan and apply it to their learning environment.

Please share favorite lessons in the comments section.

Here is a favorite lesson of mine that may be useful to others as the summer months approach!

Unit: Marine Life Age/Grade Level: PreK

Lines of inquiry:
~An inquiry into bodies of water
~An inquiry into marine animals
~An inquiry into how water affects life

Lesson time frame:
The completion of this lesson will take at least 1 week. (Other lessons that support the established lines of inquiry will take 4-6 weeks.)

Students will need many daily opportunities to actively explore centers, songs, books and fingerplays to become familiar and fluent with vocabulary words.

It will take approximately 15 minutes to complete the prediction chart. (What do you think we will see at Mote Marine?)

The field trip to Mote Marine will take 1 full school day.

The final writing project will take 2 hours of center time. Students will work one-on-one or in a very small group with the teacher to complete their writing task. Each student will need 5-15 minutes to complete their writing project.

Objective 1: Students will use targeted vocabulary.
fish shark stingray urchin sea anenome
manatee octopus crab lobster swim
float crawl splash hide jump
dive snorkel mask goggles flippers

Objective 2: Students will write and illustrate about what they saw at Mote Marine (your local aquarium), what (a sea creature) did, and what was their favorite.

Materials: laptop, projection screen, crayons, markers, paper, letter strip with visual cues, sea life word strips, Mote Marine magazine (any aquarium magazine with photos), various books on sea life with real photos, mask, goggles, fins, snorkel, straws,

Lesson Procedure:
Prior to using this book with students, read the story to yourself and think about how you will tell the story for each page. There is too much text for pre-k, but the story line and the supporting pictures are great.
1) Introduce book "Snorkeling on a Coral Reef"
· Show the front cover
· What do you see
· Who is this
· Do you think it is cold or hot?
· What makes you think that?
2) Tell (don’t read) the story. Stop at each page and allow student sufficient time to see the details in the pictures. Discuss sea life in the pictures, the actions of the snorkeler and the actions of the sea creatures.

3) Show students the mask, snorkel and flippers. Discuss why each one is used. (mask to protect your eyes under water, snorkel to help you breathe under water, flippers to help you swim). Show students the goggles. Explain the difference between the mask and the goggles.

4) Introduce snorkeling center. Show students the bendable straws. Have them practice breathing in and out. Tell them after they are finished snorkeing with (my assistant) they will come to my table and draw a picture and tell me about what they saw.

Other centers for sea life exploration:
1) Water table with sea creatures and tongs (“safely move sea creatures to a new home). This center provides sensory input and allows practice of the tripod grasp needed for writing.
2) Book exploration. This center will include many books of sea creatures.
3) Puzzles. Puzzles of sea creatures and recreation or transportation related to water.
4) Math: Fish bowl shaped math mats with sea creatures and a die with numbers 0-5. Students practice numeral recognition and number concepts.
5) Art: Several painting projects and cut and paste projects to develop visual spatial skills and tripod grasp.

The day before the field trip:
During circle time, connect laptop to projection screen and ask students to predict what we might see at Mote Marine (your local aquarium). As students make predictions, record predictions on a 2x2 Boardmaker template.

During the field trip to local aquarium:
Give students a copy of the prediction chart and a crayon. As students are exploring the aquarium tell them to circle any sea creatures on our prediction chart that they find. Ask chaperones and staff to assist.

The day after the field trip:
In a one-on-one situation or very small group, pass out individual prediction charts that were used the previous day. Show students the three sentences starters: “I saw, The___did___, and My favorite___.” Students are to draw a picture about their experience at Mote Marine (substitute your local aquarium). They will be encouraged to write words or sounds. Those who have not yet developed letter sound correspondence will dictate to the teacher.

Strategies used to address diverse learners:
Visual cues
Total Physical Response

Rubric score of 3:
Writing includes temporary spelling of words and phrases.
Writing demonstrates and awareness of beginning capitalization and ending punctuation.
Writing is on topic.
Writing clarification may be dictated and includes 5 or more vocabulary words.
Illustration is on topic.
Illustration includes specific details.

Rubric score of 2:
Writing includes an attempt a beginning or ending sounds, but words or phrases are not evident.
Beginning capitalization and ending punctuation are not evident.
Writing is on topic.
Writing clarification may be dictated and includes at 2-4 vocabulary words.
Illustration is on topic.

Rubric score of 1:
Letter strings are evident or no writing is attempted.
Writing is dictated and includes 1 vocabulary word.
Illustration is attempted but not clearly on topic.

State Standards (Florida):
2.3 Develop vocabulary skills to support reading.
3.4 Respond to literature in a variety of ways.

Web Resources:

What will we see at Mote Marine (substitute the name of your local aquarium)?
(In this section a Boardmaker 2x2 board organizes student predictions. If Boardmaker is not available, a list with line drawings or pre-printed graphics is sufficient. To make the lesson truly successful, the prediction chart is transferred to an 8.5x11 "worksheet" so that children can circle correct predictions when they visit the local aquarium.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Memorable Moment #3

My pre-k class and I are very fortunate to be included within our school community. Sometimes pre-k classes are physically located within a school, but function as an independent unit (not wholly integrated into school activities).

At the pre-k level, one of our most important areas of skill development occurs within the social/emotional domain. Positive experiences within the social/emotional domain prepare children to be more successful in learning activities in later years.

One afternoon in January, we went to the cafeteria to participate in the Jog-a-Thon Kick-Off Assembly. One of my students who has autism (Andy), was completely overwhelmed with all of the sensory input, and we needed to leave the assembly. This really bothered me because I thought about how much of his elementary school experience he would miss if he couldn’t enjoy an assembly, school play, guest speaker, performance or concert.

What could I do, as his teacher, to help him organize an overwhelming amount of sensory input?

Throughout the next year, each time there was a class assembly or a grade level assembly, Andy and I would go to the cafeteria early (we were the first to arrive) and wave to our friends as they entered the cafeteria. I would point out people we knew and say "Hi, book buddies. Look, Andy, there's Mrs. Smith. Hi, Mrs. Smith. " We went to everything! We would also sit near the side of the cafeteria, close to a door (just in case we had to make a quick exit.) The idea was to try to point out the things and people that were familiar to him before it was a huge crush. I was hoping that once he realized that in that mess of kids and noise, there were students he knew, teachers he knew, cheers he knew, songs he knew and that he was safe.

As the noise level started to increase, he would sit with me with headphones on and watch the performance. We gradually started to attend bigger and louder assemblies and tried small moments of time without the headphones.

The following year, we had a test. It was time for the school's Winter Concert. Andy and his parents came really early so they would be the first to arrive in the cafeteria. I asked his mom to point out all the people she and Andy knew. Andy stood on the stage with his class, in front of a packed cafeteria and sang Jingle Bells! Smiling and shaking the jingle bells the whole time!

Andy is now in kindergarten and participates in school-wide assemblies without support. We recently had our noisy, stimulating jog-a-thon assembly and Andy sat in the middle of his class participating, smiling and cheering throughout the assembly

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Easy Summer Activities for Families

Summer Time is quickly approaching! Whether your child will participate in a camp, go to summer school, go on a familiy vacation, spend more time at home or a combination of all of the above; families may want to have some ideas of easy, fun activities that will keep children engaged.

Here's a list of some cheap and easy ones I have gathered!

Please share your ideas in the comments section!

1) Shaving cream bags Put a small amount of shaving cream in a gallon size ziploc bag, squeeze out all of the air, seal the top, use packing tape to tape it to an old or inexpensive cookie sheet. Have your child use the shaving cream bag as a "magic slate." Write his/her name. write numbers, draw shapes, practice math facts, doodle! You can change it out by adding a little bit of food coloring or using instant pudding.

2) Shaving cream on sliding glass doors (outside!) Messy, messy, messy! Put some shaving cream on the outside side of your sliding glass doors. Use the shaving cream to write or draw. Occupational Therapists (OTs) will love you! Writing and drawing on a vertical plane, crossing the midline...all kinds of good stuff built in. When you are finished, hose down your child and the door.

3) Go for a walk (make a list of all of the things you see, hear, smell, etc.)

4) Check out the Parent Page at Summer Bridge Activities They have free resources online and a book/computer game package that can be purchased. The book/cd, organizes the summer calendar according to grade level and one activity per day. Students of mine from previous classes have purchased this and found it beneficial.

5) Cook with your child Cooking involves so much authentic reading, math and science....and it's fun! Start with some simple recipes and build up. One recipe my class (3-5 year olds) loves to make is what I call a "dump and stir" recipe. Hawaiian salad: 1 can of mandarin oranges, one can of crushed pineapple, 1 cup of mini-marshmallows, one small container of sour cream....dump, stir, refrigerate. They love it when we use "big" vocabulary words too. Check the "recipe," do we have all of the "ingredients," what's the first step in the "procedure."

6) Make a book list Write down a list of books you want to read. Highlight the titles each time you read one. Read every day!

7) Observe ladybugs Go to your local nursery and ask them if you can have some ladybugs. Use an old fish tank, or large mayonaise jar and create a ladybug habitat. Observe them for a few days and then release them in your garden.

8) Go to the library Take a trip to the library with your child. My local library has videos, DVDs, CDs, book kits with puppets, as well as books!

9) Let your child take photos Help him/her make a photo album with them writing or telling what the picture is about.

10) Play! Play! Play! Make a tent with a sheet over furniture, build with legos, kick and chase with soccer balls, play hairdresser and make special hair-do's, play board games, play card games. Think about play activities.....I bet when you stop to think about the skills a child needs to play successfully, you will be able to come up with several pre-academic or academic skills that are embedded in the play!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Entrance Routines and Procedures

I'm a procedural person. I like having a procedure set with the over-riding goal understood by all classroom staff. This helps me when I'm lesson planning.....I can quickly figure out if new ideas will work with the structure of a procedure or if they need modifying to be successful.

Teachers and/or parents sometimes fear that creating a routine will stifle creativity or limit a child's imagination. While that fear is understandable, my experience is quite the opposite! I see children becoming more creative and more willing to take risks because they have a safe and familiar way to access materials and interact with peers. Exploration, discovery, risk-taking, problem solving, inquiry....all can be embedded into a routine. (Check out an earlier post about daily routines:

A natural place to start with classroom procedures is an Entrance Routine or Procedure. At every level of education students have to enter the classroom. The beginning of your lesson will be more effective if you SET and then TEACH your students an Entrance Routine or Procedure.

I have observed quite a few master teachers at work in their classrooms. I have seen a number of ideas for Entrance Routines, however, they all have certain characteristics that are similar. Things to think about before determining your personal entrance routine.

1) What are staff assignments? (bus, parent drop off, classroom)
2) Have a consistent routine in place. (the option or activity may change as the student's skills increase)
3) Can EVERY child participate in the routine? (Is staff support available for those who need it?)
4) Have I set the tone for the day/lesson? (SMILE :-), staff greets student, student greets staff)

I first observed how effective an entrance routine was in my Level 2 internship. (Thanks, Heather, for teaching me such a valuable lesson!) I was interning at a middle school. The teacher I was assigned with taught several different levels of math throughout the day, however at the beginning of each class all of her students did the following:

First: "Do Nows" (board work, usually review problems)
Second: "Mad Minute" (precision teaching based, math fact drills,
Third: Homework Review

Heather posted her routine and every class period completed this routine when they entered her class. She varied the assignments according to the class and student needs, however, everyone was able to participate successfully. Inevitably, a smooth entrance and preparation for learning made her instructional time much more effective also!

Ideas for Entrance Routines (Please share your entrance routines in the comments section!)

Idea #1: Journals:
The teacher assigns an option based on student's skill set:

Option 1:
Student draws a picture in journal
*tell an adult about the picture, adult writes dictation
*write beginning sounds to match picture, adult writes dictation
*write a sentence about picture (adult only re-writes sentence if it is not easily decoded)

Option 2:
Student writes sentences only
*student reads journal entry to adult

When daily journal entry is finished:
*student moves journal to corner of desk to "cue" adult they are finished and ready to talk
*adult listens and draws "star" or "smiley" at top of page
*student returns journal into his/her desk until the following day

Completed journal (last journal entry finished) goes home

New journals
*pre-made new journals are stored in a tray on a bookshelf or counter for easy student access
*students independently get a new journal from the tray when needed
(Journals I have used in the past are pages of developmentally appropriate writing paper, stapled together with a construction paper cover. Easy and cheap!)

Idea #2: Visual Entrance Chart
*Create or purchase a poster large enough to accomodate all student pictures or names (leave room for new students/growth). Laminate poster. Stick loops (soft) velcro squares or dots on poster. (We started with a school house poster purchased from a teacher supply store....easy and got us going! Since then we have created posters to match theme units or skills: shapes, colors, numbers, harvest, insects, sea animals, etc.....more work but helps to develop skills and vocabulary.)
*Write students' names on poster board/tagboard. Laminate or cover with sealing tape. Stick hooks (hard/rough) velcro on back of name.
*Stick loops velcro (soft) velcro dots on cubbies or below backpack hooks.
*Place student name on velcro in cubby or below hook.
*When students hang up back pack, they take their name and place it on the chart

Idea #3: Independent Work Folders
*Create a file folder for each student. Fill file folder with individual worksheets based on IEP goals. (I used these a lot with math goals. i.e. Adding to 10 with blocks. Adding double digits with re-grouping. Multiplying single digit by double digits.)
*Work must be able to be completed WITHOUT adult assistance.
*Post goal and mastery chart on or in file folder. (I used a small strip of paper and wrote the goal and mastery level on it. i.e. I can add to 10 with blocks 80% or better. Then I drew a quick and easy chart with 10 small squares.)
*Put sticker or star on chart towards mastery.
*10 stickers = mastery
*Change goal when mastery achieved.

Note: This is a great way to collect data towards goal mastery for progress reports. The students are empowered by helping to collect their data and they have "proof" of their progress. My K-2 class got so excited by mastering their goals, we some-how morphed into having a "goal dance" when they reached their goal.... 10 seconds of a dance with the staff and kids saying "Go Jason! It's your goal dance!" Cheesy but effective (with that group!) :-)

Remember: When creating independent work folders, you should be choosing activities that will move the student towards independently demonstrating IEP goal/objective mastery.

Idea #4: Earn Time
Student Must:
*turn in signed daily report and agenda
*turn in completed homework
*hang up backpack
*say good morning/ greet staff

If all are completed then:
*student may choose a center for play
*clean up cue is the bell for school news

If all are not completed then:
*student completes homework at desk
*student may draw at desk

Idea #5: Table Work / Desk Work / Bell Work
*Teacher chooses an activity that is placed on students tables/desks as they arrive
*Student completes work/activity
*Pre-K example: choice of puzzles, book exploration, choice of selected manipulatives (I choose the type of activity. The child chooses which specific item he/she wants.)
*K-2 example: math pages, Explode the Code, individual whiteboards/chalkboards
*3-5 example: calendar work, cursive handwriting, Explode the Code (check out link)

Entrance routines allow students and staff to start the day on a positive note. Entrance routines establish a framework teaching students HOW to enter the classroom and prepare themselves to learn! There are limitless ways to incorporate this into your day. I love learning successful strategies from other teachers and parents!

I invite you to share your successful entrance routines in the comments section!