Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Week of School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Last Day of Summer

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

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

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

This was our view:

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

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

"Back to Life Back to Reality"

He's soooo mean!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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