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?