Friday, June 27, 2014

Math Homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Charlotte's Web

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

Here are a few of the lessons we completed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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